Maybe Almost Successful

Posted: April 1, 2014 in Monday Meme
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Snapshot_048(The following is an excerpt from “Maybe Almost Successful: An Interview with Emily Marik” by Roderick Van Kirkenov.  Some of the questions were first posed in Strawberry Singh’s blog challenge, “The Book Meme.” )

RvK: (whimpering) Please don’t hurt me, please don’t hurt me, please don’t hurt me…

EM: I feel like this interview may need some stronger ground rules, Rod.  We’re doing each other some mutual favors; we need to respect each other. That would be easier if you were actually a respectable journalist rather than a sleazy opportunist, but fortunately I have a really weak grasp of reality so I can make this work if you can.  Can you make this work, Rod?

RvK: Is sex still on the table?

EM: I can absolutely guarantee that sex is not on the table.  It’s going to be on a beautiful plush rug from X-Clusives Animations, but only if we make it through this interview without me killing you.  You claimed you wanted to talk to me as a writer, albeit one who has made very limited in roads into the world of publishing, and as a reader, since the books I read are my examples, mentors, and inspirations for my own writing.  I understand your purpose is to compare and contrast me with established and published authors, particularly since those restraining orders make it difficult for you to interview an established author directly. Ground rule one, however, is that you will not refer to me as a failed or unsuccessful writer.  I will accept novice, neophyte, or even wannabe- those are accurate since I’m inexperienced and still creating my opportunity.  I don’t like wannabe, since it implies I’m only a dreamer who may never take the next step, but until I have a few more steps taken I can’t actually dispute it.  Failed and unsuccessful, however, make it sound like I’ve been taking those steps but I just haven’t been good enough to cut it.  In a semantic sense, being a failed writer would actually be a step forward from where I am now, indicating that I’ve gotten a handle on how to proceed and only need to determine how to improve and whether I should persevere.  However, my ego is tender, and I’m at a point where self-belief is crucial because the circumstances of my lives, both real life and First Life, are against creating the right mix of fluidity and structure to turn my ADD into an asset rather then obstacle to writing.  Anything that gives me the message, “you’re not going to succeed so why even bother?” is an emotional poison that I need to avoid.  If you tell me I’m a failure, I will get angry and I will respond accordingly.Snapshot_046

RvK: Message understood.  Just for the sake of clarity, however, can we go ahead and add ground rule two: don’t threaten Roderick with pieces of furniture?  

EM: Sure.  Any actual violence, as opposed to threatened violence, will be with my bare hands.  It will be more emotionally satisfying that way.  And ground rule three is that you will stay on topic with your questions.  That is to say, stay on the topics of writing and reading.  I’m way too busy lately to go on tangents about the upcoming past memes that are going to require a sexual partner, about my adoration-bordering-on-creepy-stalkerish-obsession with Strawberry Singh, about what’s going on in my chaotic schedule, or even about how excited I am that my local almost-alum is advancing to the sweet sixteen as an 11-seed.

RvK:  So you give me an order against straying off topic and than dump several tempting forbidden off-topic topics right in my lap.  You, miss Emily, are both a tease and a bitch.  So does the rule against off topic questions extend to asking your favorite off topic question of all time, “What are you wearing?”

EM: Um, I hate to say it, but yes, it does.  So I’ll just go ahead and answer the question before you ask it, and that way we stay within the ground rules.  One plus-side of my aforementioned weak grasp of reality is that I’m really, really good at rationalization.  To talk about books, I wanted a more ‘studious’ appearance.  I’m back in my ‘default’ GiGi Teen shape from Kids5B.  The skin is a new purchase from Angel Rock, ‘India High Caramel M9’.  On one hand, I paid too much, but on the other hand, I’ve wanted to get my hands on some quality ‘asian’ skins for a while.  I’m not sure what it says when I’ve had an easier time finding quality inhuman skins than quality ethnic skins.  I’m also wearing the Emeli heavy mascara soft blended kohl makeup tattoo that came with the skin.  Not only does it help me look Indian, but I, of course, love the name Emeli.  I should have gone with some jet black hair for the look, but I always love to punk it up so I’m wearing a cutely colored Laia hairdo in platinum and coral from Muchly & Muchness.  My dress is Cubist Pencil Dress from Miss Canning.  I’m also wearing some source unknown fishnet hose and I realized as I was dressing I have sneakers and boots out the wazoo (which is a painful place to keep one’s shoes) but desperately need to find myself one or two pairs of sensible ‘business women’ shoes.  I went rummaging through my collection of complete costumes and found these workable black heels as part of a source unknown RLV transformation set.  The only other accessories I grabbed were these cute glasses I’ve worn before out of a ‘sexy teacher’ costume from Lusty, my razor wire bangle from Grumble (one of my favorite bracelets ever), and I kept the source unknown black choker and nose piercing I was wearing when I went to the gacha fair last post.

RvK: I would tell you that you look lovely, but I don’t want to be accused of being off topic.  So I’ll just ask you instead, are you a book worm?

EM: Less so than I used to be, but yes.  Not only do I read a lot, but as part and parcel of my particular flavor of ADD I have superficial interests in many different subjects, so I will read up on wildly divergent topics.  I’m also blessed with a fast reading speed.  I’m not one of the so called “speed readers” who can skim a book as fast as they can turn the pages, but I can generally knock out a novel in two to four hours of straight-through reading.  As a result, even while I’m cursing the fact I don’t have nearly the time to read that I used to, I’m still reading two or three books a week.  I’m complaining because that is half or less of the reading I used to do, but it is comparable to what most of my contemporaries read in a month, so it is all perspective.Snapshot_047

RvK: So which is better: hardback, paperback, or e-book?

EM: Oh, I like it hard, baby.

RvK:  I repeat, both a bitch and a tease.  If I have to stay on topic, so do you, Emily, so just answer the question.

EM: Depends on the circumstance, really.  I really do like the look and feel and even smell of a nicely bound hardback.  If I’m curling up by the fireplace with a mug of hot chocolate, for example, I want a hardbound book.  My favorite authors I would buy in hardback, partly because I was too impulsive to wait until the paperback came out and partly because of that durable comfort.  If I’m going on vacation, I love the way an e-reader uses less of my luggage.  On my last vacation, I read a dozen books in a six day trip.  I brought along another eight or so titles because I have trouble making up my mind which book I’m going to read until I start into it.  Twenty books take up a lot less space on an e-reader.  But I do feel like e-readers are harsher on the eyes and less restful than the same book as a real book.  And I still love that paperbacks, particularly used ones, are generally both cheaper than the other forms and more discrete.  I generally have a slim paperback tucked into a pocket or in my purse where ever I go, so that if I get unexpected down time, I can pull it out and read.  This is true in both lives- my Firsty even uses ‘naked’ as a codeword for “I don’t have a book with me” because we feel naked if we don’t have a book to read.  And if the paperback is a little less compact or flexible than the e-reader, it’s also less t0 risk.  If a paperback gets a little wet at the pool or is left behind at a restaurant, it’s a lot cheaper to replace than an e-reader…

RvK: Which book is your favorite?

EM:  Meaningless question.  I’ve read thousands of books in my life, many of them multiple times.  I actually don’t have enough memory to recall them all and rate them against each other and figure out a winner.  And my moods are really subjective and fickle, so my favorite book, like my favorite song or my favorite movie or my favorite food, varies with time.  What I’ve read recently will score better than what’s fainter in my memory.  My mood will effect whether I’m into dark, brooding works or light, fluffy, humorous works.  Certain authors have more diminishing returns than others.  Many police procedural series feature a weary detective who battles with cynicism, alcoholism, and inner demons because he or she has an idealistic need for truth in a dark, ugly world.  They are generally great stories, filled with power and tight plot and interesting characters.  But after reading a few of those, your own soul feels weary and cynical and you have to change up to something lighter, but probably also with less power and impact.  Where I am in that cycle will affect my favorite.  And because of the superficial interest in a many subjects, I also go occasional bouts of non-fiction reading.

RvK:  Fine, fine.  We’ll accept that your answer comes with a disclaimer that this answer may change frequently and without notice.  Name and justify three ‘favorite books’ right now.

EM: Lords and Ladies by Terry Pratchett.  The disc world series is a perennial favorite of mine, and Lords and Ladies is solidly in the middle of the series… the first few books in the series were before he hit his stride and the last few have felt a little weaker, even as Pratchett is continuing to write such a layered and nuanced series while struggling with early onset Alzheimer’s… I feel a little guilty and judgmental just noticing that Alzheimer’s has affected his writing.  Morningstar by David Gemmell.  I’ve been rereading his Drenai series lately.  Powerful fantasy, great adventure, and his works contain an implied standard of machismo and manly honor that is inspirational rather than sexist or dysfunctional like so many exercises in manly chest beating.  An Ancient Evil by P.C. Doherty.  Paul Doherty is another author I deeply admire.  His historical mysteries are well crafted, and show a great realism.  His style is unique enough that I’ve actually discovered several of his pen names by reading a book that looked interesting, recognizing his writing and then doing a little research to confirm my hypothesis.  An Ancient Evil is one of my favorites because he strays from his usual historical mystery niche into what I can only describe as historical horror, a tale of vampires and hunters that doesn’t just take place in the middle ages but reflects middle ages beliefs (as opposed to modern ones) about what vampires were, and also has ties to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.  Hmm. Looking at this list, I’m really in a fantasy mood right now, fair enough since low fantasy and urban fantasy are the genres I generally want to write within.

RvK: Again with the same ‘this may change’ disclaimer, what is your favorite children’s book right now?

EM: So many choices.  I’ve been reading a lot of teen fiction lately.  The level of writing generally is no different from that of adult books, rather the change is generally in terms of theme and flavor.  Any violence that occurs is usually less graphic.  Love subplots are generally about the emotion and kisses are still magical and powerful and sex doesn’t usually play a factor in the plot.  Teen books, maybe because teens are more concerned with what ‘should be’ than how the world actually is, are more likely to be upbeat and positive and end with a happy ending where everything works out.  I also feel that the world should be the sort of place where endings are happy, where good triumphs over evil, where the girl gets the guy, where love finds a way, etc.  I love that aspect of teen fiction. If teen fiction counts as children’s book, I will go with The Lightning Thief, book one of the first Percy Jackson series.  (I have House of Hades, book four of the second Percy Jackson series, out from the Library and on my current to-read stack.)Snapshot_049

If I have to go for a younger target audience I’ll pick The Adventures of Peter Cottontail by Thornton W. Burgess.  Thornton Burgess was a naturalist who wrote stories about animals for children from 1910 until his death in 1965.  His books are old enough that no one has ever heard of them, but my father learned to read on Thornton Burgess, collected the books as collectibles, and used them to teach me to read when I was four.  I have so many fond memories connected to Thorton Burgess that I feel warm and fuzzy just thinking about him.

RvK: So what is the last book you read?

EM: I generally have multiple books in progress at any one moment.  (Maybe it’s an ADD thing.  I got into the habit as a young girl when it was easier to start another book while I was waiting for the book I had misplaced to turn up.)  I’ve recently finished The Sword in the Storm by David Gemmell, book one of his Rigante series, and The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver, a non-fiction work about statistics and predicting.  (Remember what I said about broad and superficial interests… One of those interests is math nerd-dom.)  In progress right now I’m reading Lucky Stiff by Deborah Cootz, Winter Warriors by David Gemmell, and The Serpent’s Shadow by Mercedes Lackey.

RvK: That’s twice you’ve mentioned David Gemmell.  If I ask you to list your five favorite authors, should I assume he would currently make the list?

EM:  At the moment, yes.  I actually had forgotten about him for a while, but his widow, Stella Gemell, who finished his last book for him when he died, has just published her debut novel and so I’m on a Gemell kick again for a while.  Terry Pratchett and Louis L’amour should both be in the top five as their books are ‘comfort food’ books that I return to again and again.  William Shakespeare.  Techinically he’s a playwright, not an author, but I love his work and it lets me feel all high-brow and elite to share my love of Shakespeare.  I’ll probably round the list out with P.C. Doherty because he is another author I read and reread frequently.

RvK: What are some books that have had a strong impact on your life?  Oh, and before you answer, I’m adding a ground rule four: don’t be a tease and a bitch, and if you answer the Joy of Sex or Masters and Johnson I will find you in violation.

EM: Nah, if I was going to go for titillation value, I would point out how ‘educational’ I found the Kama Sutra or the advice columns in Cosmo.  A couple of months ago there was a suggestion for this one trick you can do with your tongue and … well, if I told you, I’d be violating ground rule four.  I wouldn’t want to be a rule breaker.

RvK: Of course not.  So stay on topic, Emily, don’t follow the metaphorical shiny object… which books had an impact?

EM: It’s a little cliche, but the Bible.  I know I’m probably not a good example of my faith, and that my religious fervor tends to run fairly lukewarm when the lord calls for us be intrepid, not tepid, in our faith.  Nevertheless, faith played a key role in forming the standards and values I live by, so the Bible is important to me.  The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov.  It looks a little funny sitting in the same list as the Bible, but the Caves of Steel was the first science fiction book I ever read, my gateway drug into the science fiction genre, which was my gateway drug to the fantasy genres…  Similarly, The Walking Drum by Louis L’amour.  I don’t think it was the first historical fiction I read, but it is the earliest historical fiction I remember reading.  (For that statement to be true, I’m arbitrarily declaring ‘westerns’ to be a genre of their own rather than the largest sub genre within historical fiction.  I’ve seen it argued both ways, so I’m in my rights to do so.)  My love of historical fiction has bled into a general love of history… History is my main non-fiction reading.  In addition, my favorite science fiction and fantasy readings are generally those that have a strong base in non fictional history.  E.g. David Drake’s R.C.N. series has a setting based on the 19th century British navy or Harry Turtledove’s Ruled Britannia is an alternate history about William Shakespeare in a world where the Spanish Armada conquered England.  I’m not an expert by any means, but I know enough historical overview that I can enjoy such works not only for themselves but for the knowledge that went into them.

RvK: You are already leading into my next question… so tell me about your favorite and least favorite book genres.

EM: The standard “I am fickle, and thus my answers are subject to change without warning or notice” disclaimer still applies… As a reader, I’ll try just about anything.  The ‘Alternate History’ sub-genre of Sci-Fi and the ‘Historical Mystery’ sub-genre of Mystery are probably my favorite genres, genres where I’m most likely to impulsively try a new author.  I’m less impressed by the Romance genre.  Books generally score points with me when they have a strong romance subplot; in the dictionary definition ‘a person with an idealized view of reality’, I am a romantic.  If the protagonist ends up together with the person he/she loves at the end of the book, as well as saving the world, finding him/herself, solving the crime, being a real bad ass, or whatever the main plot involved, that is great, that is terrific, that makes me happy.  If the romance IS the main plot, and there isn’t anything else going on, just a bunch of emoting and posturing and over-dramatizing… that’s too much like the endless high-school drama-fest that I work in.  I read to get away from the banal triviality in life that wears me down, not to experience the same thing, only less real.  As I mentioned earlier, as a writer I’m most interested in urban fantasy and low fantasy.  My definition of ‘low fantasy’, by the way, is a story dealing with ordinary people and day-to-day problems in a fantasy world with all the traps and tropes of standard fantasy. The low refers to scope and range.  The Thieve’s World series is probably the best known example of low fantasy.

RvK: Slightly changing topics, I know you love movies but don’t get out to see them very often.  How do you feel about book-to-movie adaptations in general, and do any stand out as particularly good or bad examples?

EM: In general, the book has the edge on the movie made from it.  A good book has more layers and depth, more ability to run with minor characters.  A movie has a tighter time constraint and less freedom in story-telling techniques, so it almost always has to omit stuff from the book.  It’s even tougher when making a movie from a series book… there are events and details in a series book that are there to build arcs from book to book, and the screenwriter has to focus on making the best stand-alone movie because the sequel won’t be made unless the first movie meets a certain threshold of profit.  Of course, movie-to-book adaptations, where a novelist is hired to write a book from a movie, rarely impress me, because the author has to be willing and able to add to the movie.  Books and movies are both artistic ways to tell a story, with different strengths and styles and rules.  Adapting one to the other is almost always a weakening of the story unless the adapter, director or novelist, understands the different techniques enough to change the story to suit the techniques.

My favorite book to movie adaptation of all time is one that most people don’t know is a book adaptation.  In 1979, Roderick Thorp published the thriller, “Nothing Lasts Forever.”   It’s about a retired NYPD detective trying to visit his estranged daughter at a corporate office party on Christmas Eve, and getting caught up in the events as a brutal gang of criminals seals up the skyscraper as part of a huge heist.  Through a set of coincidences I read Nothing Lasts Forever, loaned to me by my older brother, about a week and half before the first time I saw the movie.  Going from book to movie, there were a lot of minor changes… the detective becomes younger and is renamed in the movie.  The novel has a ham radio operator and a local beat cop as the detective’s links to the outside world, the movie keeps the beat cop but makes him older, and replaces the ham radio operator with a slightly comical limo driver.  In the movie, the detective is trying to patch things up with an estranged wife instead of an estranged daughter.  The company changes from an American Oil company to a Japanese company.  So I was probably thirty to forty percent of the way into the movie before the sense of Deja Vu made me realize that when they made Nothing Lasts Forever into a movie, they also renamed it Diehard…

Least favorite book to movie adaptation… I’ll have to say the Hobbit, even though it is very unfair.  The Hobbit is one of my favorite books, one that possibly should have been in my top five list earlier and maybe I should invoke the ‘can be revised at anytime’ clause from the disclaimer…

RvK: Stay on topic, Emily.  You can do it.

EM:  Right.  So Hobbit.  One of my favorite books of all time.  I like Lord of the Rings, even like it a lot, but I love the Hobbit, in part because it has a lighter, more cheery, dare I say ‘fluffier’ tone to the story.  It just fits my idealized, ‘romantic’ view of what makes a good story better then the LotR trilogy does, links closer to my inner child, which my dad grumbles is never very far beneath the surface.  Because I liked LotR so much, I was moderately excited when the Fellowship of the Ring movie was announced, but I ‘knew’ I would see it, and then spend years in agonized impatience waiting for the other two movies to come out.  So I resolved I would wait until the third movie was released, watch the other two in marathon, and then go see the last one in theatre.  Instead, by the time Return of the King was released, I was over it.  I’ve stumbled across the movies on TV and been unable to summon the interest to watch them.  I should be interested, I don’t understand why I’m not, but I’m not.  If they had done the Hobbit as a single movie, I probably would have gone to see it.  As a two parter, (excuse me, I just looked online and learned that part II didn’t even end it, there is a part three still forth-coming), with commercials playing up the epic nature of the battle with the dragon and not the child-like innocence of the core story, I’m incredibly not interested.  My dislike is unfair, I’ve not seen the movies to make it fair and official, but I cannot stand how a light, enjoyable read of a two or three hours is being turned into over six hours of epic slog marathon.  Curse you, Peter Jackson!

RvK: Wow.  It’s kind of exciting to see you angry at someone else.  You get really passionate about books, don’t you?

EM: I’m passionate about stories.  Books are my preferred medium for stories, because my thought process is very verbal and therefore books slot more directly into my brain than something I watch.Snapshot_050

RvK: So how do you pick which books to read?  Strawberry’s question was if you ever pick a book just based on the cover?

EM: I have picked up books based on their cover, but more likely because the title caught my eye (‘words’) than the artwork (‘image’).  For example, when I was at the library last, they had a shelf of basketball books as their ‘current events’ display.  Basketball is my least favorite sport, even if I’ve been excited by how the Flyers, a barely in bubble team, made it to the Elite Eight before losing to Florida, the team picked by many as the overall top seed of tournament.  I glanced and glanced past with hardly a look, but one title caught my eye.  Don’t Put Me In, Coach: My Incredible NCAA Journey from the End of the Bench to the End of the Bench, by Mark Titus.  The cover picture, the author wearing his OSU jersey on a black lazy boy in a red locker room, isn’t what caught my eye- I didn’t even remember what the cover art was and had to go look.  The title however… Don’t Put Me In, Coach is an unusual request; it also reminds me of the great song Centerfield by John Fogarty; the irony of a ‘journey’ that starts and ends at the same place being described as ‘incredible’… I was intrigued.  I looked closer at the blurbs, and saw that the book was ‘irreverent’ and about being a non-star sharing the locker room with several players who have gone on to be NBA successes.  I haven’t read the book, yet, so I don’t know if I’ll like it or not, but it was the cover and title that are making me give it a chance. More generally, I pick new books generally because I’ve read other books by the same author, or someone has recommended them, or my intuition just tingled and said ‘try this one’.  Over the past two years, as my time has become tighter, I’ve become more willing to give up on a book and say, this just isn’t working, when it isn’t quick enough to catch my interest, and I’ve become harder to convince when a book catches my eye, looking over the blurbs and summary and dipping into the book quickly looking for an excuse not to be interested.  Which in turn, means I tend to stay in genre fiction more since that is what has the greatest probability of being a book I judge as worth the time to read.

RvK:  I’ll combine two Strawberry Questions here.  Where do you get your books, from a shop or from the library?

EM: Anymore, mostly the library.  I have too many books… not only is every fillable shelf filled, but there is no room for a car in my garage because of the boxes of books that I don’t have shelf room for.  And the same ADD poor impulse control that helped me buy books I shouldn’t have gives me hoarder tendencies because I second guess and doubt any attempt to dispose of excess books since I may want those books again at sometime in the future.  When I do purchase books, they are generally from used bookstores, but wherever possible, I make the library do the spending of money and storing of books anymore.

RvK:  How many is too many books?

EM: Definitely hundreds of books.  I don’t think I have enough books to claim I have thousands of books, but I’m sure I have enough hundreds that I have over a thousand.  And like I said, I’ve got hoarder tendencies, particularly where books are concerned, and I’ve been acquiring for years.

RvK:  Well, Strawberry’s last question is a nice segue way to start talking to you about what sort of writing you like and would like to do.  If you were to write a book about Second Life, what topic would you focus on?

EM: I probably wouldn’t write a book on Second Life… My book obsession and my writing obsession are facets of my love for and obsession with a good story, and off the top of my head, I don’t see a full story out of Second Life.  Collecting together a series of interviews or Monday Meme responses in one place might make interesting and read-worthy fodder, but wouldn’t be the sort of story I want to write.  I want to write a adventure story, one where….

(The rest of this interview was submitted by Roderick van Kirkenov to Writer’s Digest Magazine, and can probably be located at the bottom of their slush pile….)

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