HEIDI'S PICK SIX
1. Which of your characters is your favorite?
2. Tell me about your travels.
That really WOULD take too long... [grin]
3. Coffee, tea, or milk?
Oh, coffee. Ask anyone, I'm addicted to the stuff. You get between me and my coffee (especially first thing in the morning), you may not live to tell the tale. Or at least not in one piece. What runs in my veins is apparently a potent mixture of ink and coffee, with just enough red blood cells to keep the actual wetware functioning at a nominally normal rate.
(You think I'm kidding. At the Glasgow World Con a few years ago, when the busy hotel carpet started going "3-D" on me, with its bright triangles assuming physical form and poking me in the eye while I was in the throes of a blistering headache... you know what cured me? Three cups of coffee. In quick succession. Caffeine rocks...)
4. What else can you do besides write?
Sing. Crochet. Embroider. Talk to people. Be able to observe minutiae of both people and places, meaning that I am able to render a scene of some place I've been complete with atmosphere and cast of characters and snatches of actual dialogue and what people were wearing and how many earrings they had in their ear - actually, I think I might have made a passable Mata Hari, but I don't think it's espionage that particularly draws me, it's a fascination with people, and that leads straight to writing. I'm good with detail.
5. Who are you reading right now?
6. Pop culture or academia?
7. What is the toughest scene you ever wrote?
I have readers who yell at me for being far too efficient at killing characters. And I guess I do, at that. But those scenes are hard to write; the Qiaan-and-Xaforn scene from the tail end of The Secrets of Jin Shei was a heart-breaker.
8. Where do you find your inspirations to write?
9. Food you could eat everyday.
10. Are you into sports or other physical activities?
11. What kind of music speaks to you?
The dramatic. In terms of non-vocal music I go for soundtracks with a little bit of drama to them (Dragonheart, The Mission, Ghost in the Darkness , Crimson Tide, Pan's Labyrinth). Sometimes I can dislike the movie and still like the music (1492 - The Conquest of Paradise). I can write to that kind of music. Also, I like musicals - and given what I just said above it probably wouldn't surprise you to hear that my favourite musical is Les Miserables which I have now seen SIX TIMES on the London stage (and fully intend to go and see again the first chance I get). I also have a secret crush on a lot of Andrew Lloyd Weber stuff - the man could WRITE a TUNE, dammit. As for the rest, I have eclectic musical tastes. A person perusing my CD rack will find anything from Verdi to Meatloaf, from Abba to Mozart, from Christ de Burgh to Gershwin, from Riverdance to Dvorak's New World Symphony. I listen to them all, in different moods, at different times. Music is definitely part of the fabric of my life.
12. Do you outline your stories or do they just take you along for the ride?
You really should ask my editors about me and synopses sometime. And then watch them cover their faces with their hands and whimper. The truth is, I cannot outline - and if I am forced to then I basically write down whatever comes to mind, and then put the outline to one side, and go away and write something entirely different.
It's like, back when I was still hitting the bottle (chemically dyeing my hair, what did you THINK I meant?), I complained once that I hated the smell of it, and every time my hair got wet that chemical smell got stronger. And my father asked, what kind of a smell is it, then? And I made a few stabs at the answer, and backed off each of them as inadequate, and then finally said, "Well, do you know what a wet dog smells like?" And he said, "Yes...?" And I said, "Well, it's completely different from that."
In the same wise, my "outlines", or the synopses I am corralled into writing for sales purposes and suchlike, generally wind up bearing little resemblance to the finished product. More often than not I find myself snatching my hands from the keyboard and staring wildly at my screen and going, "You did WHAT?! You said WHAT?!?! How do you expect to get out of that one?" when my character pulls a fast one on me and goes off into a completely unexpected direction. I've actually had characters "tap" me on the shoulder while I was writing dialogue and say, "I didn't SAY that." I don't write my books, really - I just sit down and open a channel, and then I take dictation from characters who ALWAYS know better...
13. Celebrity crush.
Alan Rickman. Ye gods, I could sit and listen to that man read the telephone directory and not get bored. Oh, and Sean Connery - likewise.
14. Who are the biggest influences on your work?
I have read so much by so many that this is an impossible question to answer. The ball started rolling with the mythologies of the world, from the Greek and Roman to the Nordic, Celtic and Slavic, to the Hindu and the Chinese. I devoured them all when I was a kid. Then I kind of skipped the "YA" pupa and morphed directly from kidlit to adult books, at approximately the same time I began to function exclusively in English, which I learned to fluency at ten - and by thirteen I was reading John Galsworthy and Howard Spring, and Pearl Buck.
Then I discovered spec fic, and began with Asimov, and roamed in the field until I got to Zelazny, and then went back and got myself pleasurably lost in fantasyland again. Tolkien, of course - that's a biggie. Narnia. Pern. Ursula Le Guin (I want to BE Ursula Le Guin when I grow up...) and Guy Gavriel Kay. I still read, lots, and I continue to learn every day. Writers like China Mieville teach me how to use language like a diamond scalpel. Matt Ruff teaches me just how far you can go with sheer inventiveness. Louise Marley teaches me the power of the dramatic. Terry Pratchett teaches me the power of laughter. Neil Gaiman teaches me how to turn a familiar story on its head and make it suddenly look like nothing you've ever done before.
There are others - lots of others. I am enrolled in a lifelong school from which, if you're lucky, you never graduate - you just reach a point, maybe, in the fullness fo time, when your work starts informing others. But the writing family is a wonderful thing, and we all learn from one another, constantly. Which is not, strictly speaking, an answer to your question - but there you are...
15. Do you still watch cartoons?
Heck, yes. [grin]. I remember catching an episode or two of old Tom and Jerry cartoons on early-morning TV while on my book tour for The Secrets of Jin Shei and flitting from hotel to hotel - and I had forgotten just how much FUN they were. Not quite cartoons but animation - I love early Disney, and am the proud owner of at least three or four of his full-length animated features, things like Bambi and Lady and the Tramp, and Fantasia - I recently watched, with great pleasure, a TV re-run of the animated animal-populated Disney Robin Hood - how those guys could match a voice to a character! And nobody could quite draw innocence the way those early Disney movies could. Look into those big wide innocent eyes of Thumper the Rabbit, and don't smile. I double dare you. I'm less into the anime-type cartoons, but that might be lack of exposure more than anything else. I've seen one or two that I really do like quite a lot - although that isn't really a representative sample. It probably won't surprise you to hear that I fell in love with the Watership Down movie when it came out. What can I say - somewhere inside, I'm still a child.
Alma A. Hromic (who now writes as Alma Alexander) was born in 1963 in Novi Sad, Yugoslavia, on the shores of the river Danube. Her father's employment with international aid agencies meant that the family spent twenty years living in various countries in Africa, including Zambia, Swaziland, and South Africa.
Educated in the United Kingdom and South Africa, Alma graduated from the University of Cape Town with an MSc in Microbiology in 1987. She quickly left the lab in order to write about it instead, and spent several years running a scientific journal for the Allergy Society of South Africa before she moved to New Zealand in 1994. She also worked as a literary critic for several publications in South Africa and England.
In New Zealand, she obtained an editorial position with an international educational publisher, where she worked for several years. In 1995 she wrote Houses in Africa (David Ling Publishing Limited, New Zealand; ISBN 0-908990-30-8), a revealing and often-amusing memoir of her two decades in Africa. The same year, she published The Dolphin's Daughter and Other Stories (Longman UK), a bestselling book of three fables. She has had numerous pieces of short fiction and nonfiction published internationally in South Africa, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
In 1999, when NATO launched a war against her native country, Alma started an often-tumultious e-mail correspondence with R. A. "Deck" Deckert, a freelance writer and former copy editor, wire editor and news editor for metropolitan newspapers including the Miami Herald and the Miami News. Their correspondence became the basis of an epistolary novel about these dramatic events, Letters from the Fire (HarperCollins New Zealand; ISBN 1-86950-336-8). This book went from concept to publication in fewer than five months. Alma and Deck were married in June, 2000, and she now lives in the northwestern United States.
Her fantasy duology The Hidden Queen and Changer of Days (originally published as Changer of Days vol. 1 and 2 in New Zealand in 2001 and 2002), was released in the United States in 2005. The Secrets of Jin-Shei was published in the U.S. in 2004 in hardcover and 2005 in paperback and is currently available in eleven languages worldwide (including Turkish, Lituanian, and Hebrew) and is a bestseller is Spain. The follow-up, The Embers of Heaven published in the UK in September 2006, is available in five languages. Alma's latest project is the Worldweavers young adult trilogy, which debuted with Gift of the Unmage in 2007 and will be followed by Spellspam in 2008 and Cybermage in 2009.