Alyx Dellamonica

Journey – Interview with Louise Marley

Posted on June 29, 2010 by

Louise Marley’s first novel, Sing the Light, was published in 1995, and was followed by two sequels, Sing the Warmth and Receive the Gift. She blogs at The Red Room.

I had the good fortune to discover her writing just after that, when I reviewed her astounding feminist SF novel The Terrorists of Irustan, which came out in 1999, for Scifi.com. After that, I jumped at the chance to read her other books. I said this about The Glass Harmonica in 2001:

The Glass Harmonica is a novel that will haunt readers long after they have moved on to less complex fare. . . it leaves me torn between the desire to reread immediately and the hunger for Marley’s next outing.

My feelings on that subject haven’t changed: Marley’s work is lyrical, deep and interesting and I can’t get enough of her.

At one time a singer with the Seattle Opera, she had a foot in two worlds for a number of years before retiring from music to write fulltime. I started our interview by asking about the shape of her life now, and got this response:

Like you, I live in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, and a lot of the time it feels like the rainforest. I don’t sing professionally anymore, but I still love to do that, as well as practice yoga, play golf, and spend time with my Scottie. I teach for the Long Ridge Writers Group, and I write. It doesn’t seem like too much activity, but I’m always busy!

As I write this, I’m celebrating the publication of Mozart’s Blood (, which is officially out tomorrow, June 29th. This is a book that was perhaps the most fun to write of all my dozen novels. It covers four hundred years of history and music, and features a reluctant vampire who just happens to be an opera singer. I did research in Milan and in New York (touring the opera houses in those cities, and had a wonderful time with all of it. Now I’m at work on a similar book which features Brahms. Not vampire, but certainly paranormal. There will be three of these–the third will be either Puccini or Verdi. Detect a theme?

Marley-Mozart's Blood
We use to say, in the world of singing, that if you could do something else you should go do it. I’ve had the experience twice now of a real compulsion to do something. I knew I wanted to sing at the age of five, and I never wavered. When the urge to write overtook me, I didn’t try to resist at all, although I didn’t expect to make a career out of it. I thought I needed a hobby! (I can hear you laughing, Alyx. Stop it.) It was when I was reading my first book aloud to my first writing class, and getting a positive response, that I realized writing was a great deal like singing: it’s a performance. I was hooked, and I’ve stayed that way.

I was always an science fiction and fantasy reader. I cut my teeth, as it were, on the Oz books–all eight of them, or whatever there were–and then graduated to Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover novels. I read everything I could get my hands on, like so many folks in our genre. I love fantasy and science fiction and all its little offshoots. The genre is drama at its most dramatic–a bit like opera, don’t you think?

I attended Clarion West in 1993, and it’s not putting too fine a point on it to say that in terms of my writing career, it was life changing. I had been studying writing, taking courses, meeting with a writer’s group, but the six weeks of Clarion crystallized everything for me. My class was a bit of a difficult one, I think, and a number of the attendees aren’t writing now. I can assure you no one that year thought that I would be the one to sell a bunch of novels. But everything I heard there, and the input from my classmates, made all the difference in my work. They were so talented! It’s a shame that some of them haven’t kept writing.

Sing the Light was in revision with my agent when I went to Clarion. I had just found him–as in just before the workshop began–but he made me rewrite three times before he thought the novel was ready to sell. Then he placed it in two weeks. Won my undying admiration!

For a while, after I retired from my musical endeavors, I just wrote. Now I teach as well, but I worry that some of my writing energy gets spent teaching. I’m sure that’s a concern for all writers. I’ve been able to keep up my output, so far, and I love teaching, so I suppose I’ll continue. The dream of an uninterrupted writing day is still that–a dream. I tend to have complicated days in which I do housework, walk the dog, take a yoga class or play golf, cook, teach–and somewhere in there I write. The one consistency is that I write every day, whether it’s half an hour or four hours. Every day.

I’ve had the same struggle in publishing that I did in my singing career: It’s hard for me to be businesslike about it. I loved singing so much! There was nothing more fun than putting on a long dress and my big earrings and going to stand in front of an orchestra. I adored the opera, the staging rehearsals, the collegiality, the costumes–all of it. It was hard to care whether the fee was a thousand dollars or a hundred dollars. I just loved doing it. Now, as a writer, I’m tempted down the same path. I love writing. I love creating a world, whether it’s a fantastical one or a science fictional one or a historical one. I adore learning what make characters tick (resonates with all those opera roles) and I invariably fall in love with the best ones. I’m incredibly fortunate to get paid for doing something so satisfying.

Naturally, human beings always want more. I’d like more success, and the money and security that come along with it. But I’m delighted to be a working writer, to be active in the business, to have editors recognize my name, and most of all–above everything else–to have acquired a readership. An audience. Bless their hearts, every single one of them!

Readers curious about Mozart’s Blood can find out more at Louise’s web site–the section about the novel features not only a Virtual Book Tour, musical suggestions, a list of ten discussion questions for book clubs. It also has a Book Club Party Kit, with suggestions for menus, costumes, music, and decorations! You can find her Facebook Fan page by searching for Louise Marley.

Beginning of a Journey…

Posted on June 28, 2010 by

Some of you probably remember that I used to do a lot of book reviewing, for LOCUS, the site formerly known as SCIFI.COM, for the Internet Review of SF and Strange Horizons too. I have been doing quite a bit less of that lately. The reasons why aren’t that compelling, and I won’t go into them; they’re about time, and teaching, and a dozen other random things. At the same time, you’ve maybe noticed the range of books I’m talking about in my blog has expanded, to include the history books I hoover up like popcorn, the pop science and the mystery novels.

I have been wanting to get back into reviewing in a more structured way, while giving myself the freedom to pick books I want to read, about things I’m passionate about.

As I’ve been mulling over exactly how I want to do that, I’ve noticed a real hunger in the newer writers I teach, to understand the process by which unpublished writers develop into people with careers in publishing. I want to develop at least a partial answer to that question, for them and also to satisfy my own curiosity. Eventually I decided to marry these two goals–reviewing the books and finding out about the people who produce them–by doing a series of interviews called Journeys.

In Journeys, I am asking writers what got them started, and how long it took. I’m asking about the great revelatory moments in their development–not to mention the stumbling blocks. I’m asking about their upcoming books (which I will read and review, you see), their lives, their adventures in publishing, and anything else they might want to share about the road from newbie to seasoned pro.

I haven’t done much interviewing in years, not since my college newspaperman days, and I expect to stumble a few times before really getting this down. I’m glad to report that this hasn’t kept a number of writers from agreeing to be my test subjects. As a result, you can look forward to the first Journeys interview, with Louise Marley, in (at most!) a few days’ time. Louise has a historical novel about opera and vampires, Mozart’s Blood, coming out from Kensington Books tomorrow. She’s a great writer, I’ve been following her work avidly for over ten years and I’m really excited about talking to her here.

False Creek shots (Locus Awards write-up to come…)

Posted on June 28, 2010 by

I want to write a witty, erudite and thoroughly name-droppy post about my trip to the LOCUS Awards in Seattle yesterday, but I’m too travel-zoned to manage it right now. It was a lovely occasion and I do look forward to telling you all about it. In the meantime, here are two shots from the walk home today–K and I dropped off the rental car, had lunch, and then she went in to work and I had a much-needed stride along the Seawall.

Harbor seal

With the naked eye, I couldn’t make out whether this was a seal or an otter, but as you can see it’s the former.

This, meanwhile, may be my best heron shot ever:
Great Blue Heron

Though this birds-eye-view angle of him is pretty cool too, if I do say so:
Great Blue Heron

Importing, exporting

Posted on June 26, 2010 by

This afternoon went to pre-trip correspondence: lots of e-mails saying, “I’ll get to that on Monday, okay?” and a few more asking “Could you possibly get this back to me by Monday?” I did substantial and quite satisfying work on a short article; I know I’ve been a tease lately, but I do hope to have details on that for you soon.

I managed to get JoCo looks Back back onto the pod, a pre-Road Trip necessity. I picked up a little U.S. cash, and said a final goodbye to the folks at my Friday mentoring gig. One of them got me a begonia, which I’ve planted out in my deck garden. I got to hug her and my other favorite person there. I’ll miss some of the people, but I won’t regret having to go to Burnaby every Friday; it was fun for a good long while, but except for cheap cereal, the Metrotown area has nothing I want.

Sixty pages into the Nelson/Trafalgar book, I can report that it’s well-written and interesting, and I plan to haul myself off to the couch to read it very soon indeed.

I’m also continuing to experiment with WordPress; this post was written Friday night, but is supposed to go live Saturday morning. (Edited to Add: did not work–their clock and mine disagree.) As I’ve continued to play, I’ve found a fair number of superbly handy widgets, but so far I haven’t been happy with any of the Flickr apps. There’s none of them, so far, that beats what Flickr will do itself. For example, here’s a slideshow, all handily packaged, which includes the white-crowned sparrow I shot last Wednesday.

Cruisin’ to the rhythm

Posted on June 25, 2010 by

kelly-yoyoKelly and I made a little change to our pre-work walk this morning, taking 8th Avenue past the new community garden where some friends of ours have a plot. I’ve been able to see the installation happening as I’ve gone to and fro–between one thing and another, I pass the Broadway/Commercial intersection four to six times a day–but hadn’t gotten a good look. What’s there is attractive and thoughtfully laid out. The central area holds raised garden beds made of cedar, already pre-planted with veggies and herbs. Ground-level flower and berry gardens encircle these beds, and the backdrop is the Grandview Cut. The plants were donated by a local nursery, all the cedar chips are new and fragrant, and the whole thing radiates a newness and warmth that’s very pleasing. We are thinking we’ll do the walk past a lot in the next little while.

Community Garden on 8th and Commercial

Afterward, I made my way to Cafe Calabria and had a bash at the current fiction project, that slice of a novel I mentioned before, for the grant application. I was searching for one more scene to add into it, looking for something that had a bit of literary grit and referred back to the stuff I’ve put in the proposal, which is about shifting landscapes of privilege and the labeling, within large families, of different individuals as insiders and outsiders. On Wednesday I was sitting in the cafe scraping after that scene, whatever it was. I didn’t really expect to find the right answer, because I hadn’t slept the night before. But the idea came, to my surprise, and I scribbled some notes on it without getting started–trying to write on no sleep is never a good idea for me. Yesterday I drafted the first half, and today I wrapped it up. I have a piece I’m happy with now, and I have until fall to polish it until it shines.

I am delighted to have reached this point. If I’m not swamped by other commitments (some of which I’m chasing very actively), I will write a draft of the whole book in November, just as I did WINTERGIRLS and DAUGHTERS OF ZEUS.

Here’s a snippet from earlier the draft:

Sarah Varney’s address was a residential hotel, one that, from the look of it, was home to a good chunk of the city’s addict population. Its windows were black with grime, its awning greasy and tattered, with loose aluminium ribs inhabited by motheaten, feebly peeping pigeons. The sidewalk leading to the reinforced revolving door was glazed in bird droppings; it was impossible not to track them in.

The door spun them out into a lobby that smelled of Lysol and urine. A diminutive Asian crone eyeballed them through a cage of greasy bulletproof glass.

This feels very much as if it’s at a finished-for-now point, and given that we’re headed to Seattle for the LOCUS Awards tomorrow, I will probably skip actual fiction-writing for the whole of the weekend. By Monday, I’ll need to have decided what to work on next. I have another proposal I’d be delighted to work on, but I’m waiting on some notes; I have a drafted squid story that could use some attention, and a horror novel, SEE HOW THEY RUN, that I want to revise at some point in the near. I have a pile of books I need to read for various research stuff, and one I want to review.

Non-fic stuff on the go includes three last lectures for Novel Writing II and assorted admin stuff, two guest blog posts to write, a review, some things I want to talk and post about in this space, critiques for a couple of my one on one students, fine-tuning of a website I’m developing for my choir, and more work on the alyxdellamonica.com page.

On a more recreational note, I need to review everything I learned in last year’s Italian class before my next one begins in about ten days time and one of my Jonathan Coulton albums has vanished from my iPod.