Today we have one of our most seasoned Book Country members, Mimi Speike, as our guest. We caught her at an opportune time–as she’s making final revisions to her historical fantasy series and is preparing to launch them into the world.
NG: When did you fall in love with writing?
MS: I wrote in school, of course. I didn’t start writing for my own pleasure until around 1984. An idea got hold of me and wouldn’t let go. I’d always read. I began to examine style, particularly that thing called flow. I started writing Sly! and fell so in love with the somersaults that you can turn with well-chosen words that I’m still at it. This is the greatest game there is.
NG: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned about yourself as a writer? What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve overcome?
MS: I’ve learned to follow my gut. Screw rules. My Intrusive Author style is universally despised, apparently. But, that’s my voice. I’m sticking with it.
Biggest challenge? The one we all face: self-doubt. Once in a while, I manage to subdue debilitating insecurity, only to be seized by its equally evil twin, unabashed arrogance, no improvement in terms of objectivity. I don’t think in terms of overcoming. I try to balance the Jekyll and Hyde of my authorial personality, and let it go at that.
NG: How did you go about cultivating your writing style, and what role humor plays in the SLY series?
MS: I admire nineteenth/early twentieth-century lush description. I try to emulate it. That whole out-of-fashion scene-setting really turns me on. I also adore exceptional grace of phrasing; I think of it as a musicality. I scour the classics for vocabulary, sea terms in particular. I have a pirate episode in Sly! What do I know of the sea? Nada! Two Years Before The Mast, set two hundred years after my period, furnished information on shipboard routine. That has to do, until I lay hands on more timely material.
I started with a cunning (in every sense of the word) personality. Plot came later, as it occurred to me. The humor was mostly sensibility, an off-balance point of view rather than blatantly screwball events, until I realized what a marvelous character I had and began to push it. I have such an accommodating concept, and such an accomplished critter, that I can work in any absurd impulse and make it make sense.
My charming jerk will be formulating his pre-Newton theory of gravity soon. I’m reading up on physics now, sort of. I’ve run across a book, Outsider Physics, full of zany theories that assorted oddballs have come up with. Very inspiring.
NG: In your own words, your character Sly Boots is a “quirky reinvigoration of a nursery favorite, Puss in Boots.” What inspired you to incorporate this character into your story?
MS: Around 1985, in an illustration class, I did a drawing of a rather demonic-looking cat playing a violin. I started writing a short story inspired by the nursery rhyme “Hey, diddle diddle.” Well, the joke got away from me. It’s up to two hundred thousand words and nowhere near done.
NG: I know you’ll be releasing the first SLY! book soon–exciting! Will you let us take a peek at your to-do list in preparation for the publication? What are some of the promotions you have planned?
MS: Not so soon unless I get my butt in gear. I have significant structural problems to solve. And I have research to do on a variety of topics. My most pressing concern at present is the Elizabethan underworld. I try to base my fantasy on a quasi-historical semi-reality that starts out fairly reasonably, then I have a ball twisting it in knots.
Promotions? A website, of course. A blog. And a muscular Sly-Boots-on-the-ground strategy: bumper stickers, posters, and mailers. I may try to plaster publicity in the heavily trafficked walkways beneath Times Square. Can I get away with that? Anybody know? I may set up on a street corner and hand out paper doll promos, a gimmick once used to push all sorts of products. Those gorgeous advertising cards are highly collectible.
NG: Use this as a pulpit to address the Book Country members! As someone who’s been around on the site for a while, what advice do you have for them?
MS: Gather fascinating words, tasty phrases, anything that strikes your fancy. I jot scavenged material continually. A neat remark on NPR? A striking sentence in the newspaper? Bam! Into my note file. Some version of my odds and ends will pepper my work. Or, they’ll jump-start a bit entirely unrelated to the original thought. I always make the appropriated goodie my own. By the third rewrite, it’s been baptized in my odd point of view.
An illustration teacher advised: keep a reference file of images. Tear apart magazines. You like a page, rip it out and add it to your archives: cars, cats, kumquats. I work the same trick with language.
NG: It’s Thanksgiving week. Feel free to use this as an opportunity to give thanks to anybody you want!
MS: Without my husband’s genuine enthusiasm for this project, I wouldn’t be as far along as I am. He’s on my back all the time to make decisions and move forward. One of the reasons I’ve been at this thing for decades is that it was not until Eberhard came along that I was able to quit the second job. I had little time or energy to write.
Eberhard is my first source for obscure historical information. He can come up with the name of a fourteenth-century mathematical tome at the drop of a hat. For my assassination plot he suggested I use a historically accurate cipher and put a key in the back of the book, so children can solve the mystery and, hopefully, be encouraged to investigate the history of secret codes. I’ll fight that battle when I come to it. I’ve more immediate struggles.
NG: Good luck with the revision process, Mimi!
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