The Lens and the Looker | The Fiction Studio | Young Adult, Post-dystopian, Science Fiction Fantasy
Three spoiled teens from the 24th century are kidnapped back to 14th century Verona, Italy. There they have to adapt to the harsh medieval ways or die.
Please describe your writing environment.
What an odd question. I write in my home office in Kingston, Ontario Canada. The cleaning lady can go into any room in the house, except my office. Consequently, it's not dirty, but it's messy. Since I spend four to ten hours a day in that room, I have a very comfortable chair and a large screen that sits at eye level, so I don't have to crane my neck or look down.
Please tell us your latest news!
The book was just released on March 16th and is gaining some very nice reviews.
Here's one from a teen blog reviewer from Ohio: http://thatteencanblog.blogspot.com
Here's another from a Toronto, Canada school teacher. She left this one on the Amazon site: http://www.amazon.com...
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
The Lens and the Looker was finished over a year ago, so when I read it, of course there are passages or phrases that I would change or tighten up.
Although, the other week I said to a friend, who had just finished reading the manuscript, that I sometimes wished I had shortened the first part of the book, to get the protagonists into the thick of the story quicker. But he objected, saying they liked it just the way it was, with lots of description of the History Camp. Another friend said that they would have liked the opening section of the book to be longer. So there you have it. Three different ideas about the same thing.
The reality is, when all is said and done, when I reread The Lens and the Looker, I am very pleased with it and I am filled with pride. I just turned 60 and worked off and on for fifteen years on the History Camp idea and the last five years almost full time, honing both my skills and the story.
Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
Man oh man, I refuse to name one author. I've got three kids and that would be like trying to say which child is my favorite. How about, in honour of my three kids, I keep my list to three authors?
First, a dead one. Ernest Hemingway. Clean, strong, spare, colorful characters. My favorite book of all times, and the one that really informs the action sequences in my writing would be FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS. Some of Hemingway's writing is starting to read a bit dated lately, but not this one. This one I think is his masterpiece.
Now, two living writers. First there's Neil Gaiman. His THE ANANSI BOYS is tied for my favorite book by a living author. I loved the way he wrote his characters and smoothly moved from one POV to another. I learned so much about writing third person limited writing, especially the parts where Mr. Gaiman was in the head of the book's villian, Grahame Coats.
The third author is David Benioff. I just read CITY OF THEIVES and it forced it's way past all the other hundreds of books right to the top. Again, he writes so you're right in the heads of one character after the other. Warning, while this book is partly marketed as a young adult book, it's not for young, young adults.
Then again, neither are my other two picks.
Do you have a specific writing style?
I am told I have a young adult writing "voice" and I like writing in third person limited. It allows me to not only switch from one character to another but it's also allowing me to develop a whole bag of writing techniques, gags and tricks, some of which I make up and some of which I steal. The trick to using techniques is that the reader is not supposed to notice what you're doing but just sees a movie running in their brain.
Do you see writing as a career?
Well, I just turned 60 and have a successful business that my sons more or less run now, so I can actually say I work full time on writing. I've started many businesses and know that it takes three to five years to get a business on its feet and having momentum. I'm approaching writing in the same way. It's taken me five years to get my writing skills up and make the connections into the publishing business to get me to this stage. I expect it to take another three years before I can hopefully say I have some type of following. If I get to that point, then I'll be able to say I have a career.
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
When I was about 14 I read Lord of the Flies and I was hooked.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Read, write, read, write, read, write, take a workshop, read, write, read, write, read, write, take a workshop . . . get the picture?
How does your family feel about having a writer in the family? Do they read your books?
My daughter, Jessica Suzanne Kaufman is my line editor. She's lived in Shanghai, China for the last seven years, but that's what the internet is for. My sons think my writing is okay, but they're not into it. Oh well.
Do you write full time? What did you do before you became a writer? Or Still do?
I write full time plus oversee a business my sons more or less run and do the work.
What is your writing process? Do you outline, fly by the seat of your pants or a combination of both?
I used to do what I call free-fall writing, but that means you write for months, following a thread of a story that then often gets thrown off. Better to outline, day dream, outline, etc, then write. I sometimes read books where it seems that the writer wrote an outline of a plot, got it okayed and just filled in the missing bits. My idea of an outline is different. There's a lot left open and a lot of questions unanswered. I like a story with layers, where a reader can pick the book up again and again and sees different things. You can't have that by just having a simple outline and then filling it in.
What main genre do you write in?
Teen / Young Adult
Do you plan all your characters out before you start a story or do they develop as you write?
My stories start as inspirations that quickly turn into grunt work. I'm from the school that says all art, including writing, is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. So, once I get inspired I start mapping out characters, story lines, testing them with short bits of writing and dialogue, then writing out short essays to myself to clarify why I'm writing it, what the characters represent and then I go on to an outline.
If this sounds too contrived and dry, it's anything but. This is all to just save me months and years writing and rewriting and writing and rewriting, following a thread that can ultimately be thrown out.
And once I have an outline, it's not an outline that says exactly what's going to happen. The outline is to tell the adventure who's going on what and why and a few of the other major characters they're going to conflict with. There's thousands of more decisions to be dreamt up along the way. And I like nothing better than writing my characters into a corner where I have no idea how they're going to get out. I sometimes end up writing around it, having the story go on, and come back to it over and over for months, till finally POW, the answer comes and I get this surprise tingling all over my body. I figure if I'm surprised by event, then maybe the reader will get a kick out of it too.
What's been the most challenging part of writing for you?
Everything is a challenge. The standards are so high to compete in today's marketplace, and that's a good thing.
Did you pick the title for your book? If it has been changed please tell us about the process.
I choose the title for the first book. For years it was just called History Camp. That's when it was one long book. When it got broken into two and I could see a trilogy happening, I had to come up with three titles. I wrote THE LENS AND THE LOOKER and Lou came up with THE BRONZE AND THE BRIMSTONE. For the third book, yet unfinished, I came up with THE LOVER AND THE LOVED and Lou suggested a twist that I heartily and quickly agreed to, THE LOVED AND THE LOST.
Do you like to mix genres?
I don't worry about writing genre stuff. I write what I write and I try to do original, not derivative stories. Sure, nobody does completely original work and everyone subconsciously steals from what they admire, but I like to think that I'm just writing a story that I hope others will get into.
What inspires your writing?
I want to be in a discussion on the future of the world, adding what I can and arguing against what I don't like. When you take a look at the old dystopian novels I grew up with, 1984, Brave New Worlds, The Crysallids, and Lord of the Flies, they were all serious books that explored the future and our current world.
How many books do you plan on writing each year?
I hope to finish an average of one a year, but I'm probably always working on three at a time.
What are your hobbies?
Golf, Squash, Walking, Dinner parties.
How much research do you do for your books? Have you found any cool tidbits in your research?
I am writing, in part, historical fiction, so there is tons of research. The problem I have, though, is keeping focus. I read a few paragraphs of research and my mind spins off into a story from what has just crossed my eyes. I stopped that when I am researching in a museum by using my digital camera. I see an artifact, take a picture and then take a picture of the plaque that is by it. This way I can print them both out and have them for later and I'm not stopped staring into space in a museum.
If a bookstore was putting up "Is Like" plaques, who would be listed as being like you?
Of course, what I'd really like to see is an "Is Like" sign which says, "Is Like" nothing you read before.
I'm told my concept of History Camps is quite unique. At the beginning of the book the reader gets hints of a post-dystopian world that is as close to a Utopia which humans can achieve. To create as close to perfect citizens to live in this society, the planetary elders have constructed History Camps, almost exact replicas of cities from Earth's distant pasts. Here teens are required to spend time living for extended periods the same way their ancestors did, experiencing the same hardships and degredations and instilling in them a true appreciation for the perfection of the world they actually inhabit. The whole story is based on the quote from Edmond Burke, "Those who do not learn from history are condemed to repeat it."
As far as "Is Like" plaques, I would say THE LENS AND THE LOOKER audience would be readers who enjoyed THE HUNGER GAMES, UNWIND, THE GIVER, UGLIES, and THE ADORATION OF JEANNA FOX. These are current examples. That's probably because early influences of my writing would include 1984, BRAVE NEW WORLD, THE CHRYSALLIDS, and my fave number one oldie, LORD OF THE FLIES.
If you had to choose one person to have dinner with, who would it be? And why?
I'd choose any of the three authors above, because they seem interesting people and they are strong technical writers. I love talking writing and I would imagine they could all be great to sit across from during a four hour meal.
What's your favorite drink?
My favorite drink? That's an odd question. I like root beer by itself. I like Coke when I'm eating Asian food, I like water during the day, herba matte tea when I'm writing and a good shiraz wine when I'm at a dinner party or out for the night.
How did you choose your publisher? What was the process?
When I got my writing to the point where I thought my writing could be published I hired Lou Aronica as the best SF editor available. I needed someone to tell me yes or no, as to whether I was ready. He made me work another two years tearing apart my first two books, THE LENS AND THE LOOKER and THE BRONZE AND THE BRIMSTONE, and then when he was starting a new imprint, Fiction Studio Books, he offered me a place on it.