Monday, July 14, 2008

Natasha Mostert Guest Blog and Interview

Here is the lovely interview Natasha Mostert agreed to do for me. Her newest paperback: Season of the Witch has just been released through Bantam. Natasha's website is here and this is her Myspace page.

How do you cope with having two publishers – one in the UK and one in the States – without losing the plot?

Sometimes I don’t just lose the plot, I lose my marbles! Seriously, it can be a challenge if you are published on both sides of the ocean by different publishing houses. Both my editors are excellent at what they do, but they edit the manuscript independently from each other and according to their own vision. I end up receiving two sets of notes and I have to find common ground. The last thing I want is for two widely differing novels to appear under the same title! But even when I try my hardest, I know the two manuscripts will end up showing small, but quite significant differences.

This is the case with Season of the Witch as well. If you buy the book in the States, you will have a slightly different reading experience than if you buy it in England. British editors tend to be more gloomy and American editors more chirpy. American editors like the hero to be victorious; British editors like them to suffer stoically. The author, who is stuck in the middle, has to tread carefully.

What do you get up to before you start any of your novels? For example, do you research before or during your writing?

I tend to do the biggest chunk of my research before I type the words Chapter One. This is when I go into wikipedia mode – moving indiscriminately from link to link on the internet and seeing where the research leads me. During this period I also read more non-fiction books than I care to remember. But there is never a time when I draw a line under the research and say: enough. It continues right up to the end and even beyond. I’m working on the edits of my new book at the moment and I still find myself researching!

Are your characters fully formed once you sit down to write and do you allow them a bit of freedom to do their own thing or do you plan each novel rigorously and force them to behave?

I’m a disciplined writer. My novels are planned to the last chapter otherwise I know I’ll write myself into a corner. But my characters are usually larger-than-life and they are feisty and difficult and temperamental. I know them inside out once I start writing, but they still manage to surprise me. Very often they’ll insist on taking off in a direction I had not planned for them. But that’s what keeps the buzz going and stops the writing from becoming stale and predictable.

You mention either carrot or stick as motivation for writing but do you ever go through an afternoon or a day that you would rather be kickbox against Jet Li than write?

This is a trick question, right? If I have a choice between sparring with Jet Li or sweating at my keyboard, believe me I’ll go for the flying kicks!

Writing is hard work! And not as much fun as people may think. Once the manuscript is finished it is the most wonderful feeling imaginable but sitting in front of your computer six to seven hours every day with only your own thoughts as company can be tremendously draining.

On the other hand, I am like most writers and would be desperately unhappy if I didn’t get to write every day. As one anonymous writer said: “I have to write, even if it is only a suicide note!”

Do you listen to a lot of music when you write and similarly are any of your scenes influenced by any music scores?

I won’t be able to write without music. In fact, I won’t be able to live without it: music is oxygen. Hans Zimmer’s soundtracks are fantastic background music for writing, as is the music of Shahin and Sepher. My mother is a voice coach for opera singers and opera is one of my passions. And then there is Loreena McKennit: she sings the way I wish I could write.

Who is the most famous person you have met in your writing career?

Stephen King. He kissed me! I met him at The Edgars Convention in New York and we started talking about Season of the Witch. Not that he had read my book, but he could hardly have failed to notice the T-shirt I was wearing. Emblazoned across my chest were the words “Prepared to be seduced”. I’m all for subtlety in my stories but when it comes to publicity…Anyway, the darling man not only signed a copy of Lisey’s Story for me, but also kissed my cheek. I didn’t wash my face for a week.

What was the very first thing you did when you found out you are to be a published author?

Called my husband. Called my mother. Called my aunt. Called all my friends. Called people I hardly knew. I think I may have stopped perfect strangers in the street.

Do you have a ritual that you do once you’ve completed each book?

I open a bottle of wine and force my long-suffering husband to listen to choice tidbits from my new manuscript.

The timeframe of 18 months that you mention on your various blogs, to complete your books, are these times you set for yourself or are they only “mental” timeframes and do you allow yourself leeway?

They are very much linked to contract deadlines. If a publisher gives you a contract, there will be a very strict time limit and you miss that deadline at your peril. A publisher will usually grant an author either a year in which to come up with a finished product, or two years. I’m a two year writer – I usually finish in eighteen months, but I like to give myself six months of elbow room.

Can you give us a hint of what to expect in your next book Dragonfly?

I am sad to say the book will no longer be called Dragonfly. I am not happy about this but my publishers have the final say and both editors – UK and US – thought the story should be retitled. The book is now tentatively titled The Book of Light and Dust and is a suspense novel about martial arts, quantum physics, tattoos, sweaty men and chi (the vital energy, which the Chinese believe to flow through our bodies.) Now, does that not pique your curiosity?

Authors are sometimes recorded as saying that writing is a very lonely job. Do you make sure you go out to meet up with friends and family once you’ve started a new piece of work or do you hide from the world?

I pretty much go into a cave when I write but I like to keep my evenings free for my husband. And some weekends I do meet up with friends. But during the week I follow a boring routine. I write six to seven hours a day and try to turn off the light at ten so I can be fresh when I get up at 5.30. And then I have my kickboxing: I’ll be lost without it. Apart from the cathartic aspect of it, it is amazing what good friends you become with people who trade blows with you on a regular basis!

Do you get to have a say on any of your book covers?

As with the title, my contract states that I need to be consulted on this decision. In practice, though, it means my publisher has the final vote. I’m allowed to moan – and believe me, I do -- but in the end, I’m not the one who gets to say yeah or nay. This is a big bone of contention between author and publisher and can make for a lot of friction.

Any favourite TV shows or DVD’s that you make time to watch?

Even though I don’t get much time to watch, I like TV – although I know that’s a terrible thing for an author to admit. I love James Woods – great timing – and will watch Shark if it’s on. I like Numbers – I think the math geek is a hottie -- and I love Firefly and Inspector Morse. (The soundtrack of the Inspector Morse series is another favourite when I write.) When I can’t sleep, I watch cage fights on Bravo or on Men and Motors. I am a big Randy Couture fan and am very sad he has retired.

I laughed out loud when I read about your book signing that took place in Borders at Oxford Street. Have things improved since?

No, publicity events are always dicey. You never know if you are going to have two people in the audience or twenty. And sometimes people will get belligerent. My big problem is my terrible memory. By the time the publicity events roll around, I’m already knee-deep into the next manuscript and can hardly remember the name of the hero in the previous book. This can make for an adventurous evening.

It is very clear that you read widely and enjoy doing your own research. Do you ever find yourself getting lost in your research and struggle to get back into your writing?

Research is both potion and poison: I love the research part and because the topics I write about are esoteric and complex, I need to spend time familiarising myself with the material. But I have to take care not to allow myself to be carried away or I'll never get going. It is a struggle.

Do you have any favourite genres that you read in? Horror, fantasy, urban fantasy, literary fiction, etc?

I do not discriminate. I read everything from Cormac McCarthy to manga.

Do you think you are superstitious?

I don’t throw salt over my shoulder and I’ll happily live on the thirteenth floor of an apartment building. But I grew up in South Africa and my nanny was a Zulu woman who introduced me to African mysticism and the world of the isangoma (witch doctors). She definitely sharpened my awareness of things that are not easily explained: synchronicities, coincidences, those small ripples that hint at something hiding behind the dusty curtain of everyday living. It influenced my way of thinking.

What is the strangest thing you do when you write – discounting melting cheese in the microwave, that is!

Does talking to myself in the mirror count? Or does everyone do that?

Do you have any favourite authors / literary heroes?

I am totally captivated by Jorge Luis Borge. He is a literary magician who plays with his reader's mind, taking you down labyrinthine paths, bringing you in confrontation with doppelgangers and teasing you with artefacts from strange exotic places: strange one-sided discs from which a king derives his power, a frightening book that infinitely multiplies its own pages, incomplete manuscripts that tell of stories in the land of immortals. A brilliant, melancholy and elusive voice.

Any books / websites that you find invaluable whilst writing?

I suppose I always start off with Wikipedia, although I do take care to check the facts independently as well. And then there is my trusty Roget’s Thesaurus – my favourite book in the world.

How would you sell Season of the Witch to a customer should you be a bookseller in a bookshop?

If the customer looks hip and funky:

“ You have to read this book! The characters are two beautiful sisters who live in Chelsea, London, do bungee jumping, practise witchcraft and pose in the nude. You’ll love it!”

If the customer looks serious and intellectual:

“You have to read this book! It takes on big themes: love, death, alchemy and the power of the human mind to transform and transcend reality. You’ll love it!”

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

When you write, switch your internal editor to mute and just write. If you second guess yourself constantly, you’ll block your creative energy. Don’t give up. And don’t take yourself too seriously. Remember what G.K. Chesterton said: “Angels fly because they take themselves lightly…”

Season of the Witch has just been released through Bantam and you can buy directly from their website or from Amazon or
I received an extra copy of Season of the Witch from Bantam - thanks chaps! - and would like to offer it as a giveaway. I'll let the competition run for the week. Respond to this post with a favourite book or author, of any genre, and I will do a random lucky draw at the end of the week, week ending 18th July. Remember to check back for the notification of the winner!


Alessandra said...

Can international readers enter?
If so, please count me in! The book sounds awesome, and you did a great job with the interview!

One of my favourite authors is Jodi Picoult.

-.- said...

If you allow Canadians to enter, I'd love to win this book too.

Two of my favourite authors are Natsuo Kirino and Colleen Gleason.

I've also linked this at my blog. It's on the side.


~ Popin