June 11, 2015

Interview: Rebecca Laffar-Smith, Author of THE FLIGHT OF TORQUE {Excerpt}

*What would you be doing right now if you were not an author?
Well, technically, I'm a homeschooling single Mum so if I weren't an author/publisher I'd still be that first and foremost. My days are spent juggling family with business and that makes for a very full life.

Beyond that, well, I don't know. I do still get called a lot for Web design and technology work so I guess I'd probably still be doing that as a freelancer (instead of having given it up in 2010). But I can't really imagine doing anything else. I'd dreamed of growing up to be an author since I was six years old. All my life there never was any other career for me. I love being in this industry and I love all that's involved in my day to day life. Now that our publishing house is getting off its feet and readers are asking for more of my science fiction and fantasy novels I feel like I'm finally on my way and I'm so excited about the future. 

*5 years ago: what were you doing?
2010? I had just given up a successful career as a freelance writer, editor, and Web designer and started uni. In 2010 I was studying a Bachelor of Arts with Griffith University but later switched to a Bachelor of Education with Curtain. I was sick of not ever having the energy to work on my fiction because I'd spent all my daily words writing for other people. Giving up the freelance work in favour of fiction was a ballsy but fantastic decision and I've never regretted it for a moment. I also never regretted starting Uni although I do wish I'd been able to finish my degrees, I'm hoping to have time to return to them soon.

*Do you have a certain writing ritual?
Well, I don't know that I'd call it a ritual. First, I do every possible thing to avoid writing until the weight in my soul is crushing me so badly that I have to face the page. Then I agonise about it. I make myself a hot drink, organise my desk, neaten my Scrivener files, check Facebook and Email again then tell myself to knock it off. I put the date and time into my Word Count file along with the title of the scene I'm working on and its current word count. I flick over to iTunes and get the playlist shuffling for the book I'm working on, plug headphones into ears and then write, usually badly, for as long as I can force myself to be there or until the torture has me pulling my hair out. Sometimes I find magic and love every minute, but mostly I find the first draft stage agony. The true joy comes in the editing and formatting stages when I'm shaping and crafting the raw clay of the terrible first draft into something beautiful. That part of the writing cycle has a lot less of the preamble before getting stuck into the work.
*What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author?
Wow, this is a hard one. I can't really think of a criticism in the sense of a bad review or anything like that. Those have all been very positive which is great. But two things come to mind when I think about how other's have influenced me in a critical way.

One is when I sold my first article years and years ago. I got paid per view for that article so my first sale was just 10c but I was over the moon. I was officially a PAID author and it was the start of something magical to me. That's why, my now ex-husband's flippantly degrading response to my enthusiasm about selling my first article hurt so much. I cared what he thought and expected him to be supportive and encouraging. Sometimes the opinion of the people we love can be the most damaging to our self-esteem.

The other was an experience I had in high school. Now, I proudly wear how far I've come because I'm occasionally called to talk to teenagers about pursuing a creative career and I honestly tell them that I failed ninth grade English and dropped out of high school. I never graduated, but I did go on to become a professional writer, editor, and now publisher. I even went on to attend university, without a high school certificate. I think a big part of my issues with school came from the lack of support from my English teacher in grade nine. I loved English and while I was already off the rails a little with my Bipolar just beginning to manifest and so experiencing severe bouts of depression and cycles of mania that lead me to skipping a lot of school, I always made an effort to rock up for English and to do my best in that class. After class one time I got up the courage to ask my English teacher to read a story I'd written. She took the story but never got back to me about it, and then of course she failed me in that class so I was pretty clear about her opinion of my abilities.

Both of those experiences were crushing at the time but when I look back now they really empower me. There are a few things I've learned about criticism over the years. The first is that criticism is ALWAYS about them, not you. When you write a story, you write 'your' story but the second you hand it to a reader it becomes 'theirs'. They read it through the filter of their own experiences and beliefs. Their opinion of it is based on how it read through that filter, they're not reading your story, they're reading theirs. Sure, sometimes their criticism brings up some valid points but it's always important to remove yourself from the work and be objective and assess what they've said objectively while remaining aware that their feedback is about them, not you.

The other is that you can use criticism to drive you to be better. I'm a perfectionist so I always want things to be perfect. Whenever someone points out a flaw or error I cringe, but I fix it and I strive to do better and better every day. I want my next thing to be better than my last thing. The feedback you get from critique is fantastic for helping you develop and grow as a writer. And when you get the nasty ones that really hurt, use it to drive you forward because it's so awesome to be able to prove them wrong. I'll probably never really get a chance to rub that English teacher's, or even my ex-husband's, noses in my present day success, but I know I've come a long way and it feels fantastic.
*Ever fangirled over another author? Who was it?
Well, I stood for a few hours one cold winter morning to get the last book in the Harry Potter series the moment it was released, but that's about as fangirl as I've gotten. I'm probably a bad fan, I don't tend to get all ditzy and breathless. Authors are people. My favourites are talented, exceptional people but I try to think of them as the kind of people I could be mates with. We obviously have things in common, and we love to write, so why wouldn't we get along as friends?

*Is there an author you'd like to meet?
There are hundreds! I love meeting authors. It's why I got involved as the project coordinator for Write Along The Highway (our local National Novel Writing Month initiative). We organise author talks and workshops across the months of October, November, and December each year. It's great to hear from and get to know local authors but I'd also love to get some national and international authors involved too. If I could pick from the top of my list it would be Steven King, Traci Harding, Hugh Howey, and Cassandra Clare.
*Biggest writing pet peeve?
I'll tell you what it used to be because I've recently changed my tune about it and can't think of anything that's replaced it yet. My biggest writing pet peeve used to be the abysmal percentages traditional authors received in royalty for their books. It blew my mind that authors would only get a couple of dollars per book when so many hours of creative effort had gone into crafting a product of intellectual property. I thought, authors should get way more than just 15% of list price, they'd done so much more of the work than anyone else. I guess I still feel that traditional authors have a bad deal, but now that I'm a publisher myself I have a much better understanding of how the money from book sales is distributed and so I've turned around on my opinion that 15% is hard knocks.

Think of it this way, a picture book retails at say, $20.00 for round figures and easier math. The first thing you do is take away the trade discount you have to give the bookshop. Trade discount can be anything from 25-70% with 40% probably being the most common. So lets assume we're using a bookshop that will work with us at 40% trade discount. That means the publisher earns $12 for that book. They give the author 15% of list price (RRP) which is $3 (15% of that then goes to their agent so they really only take home $2.55) and the illustrator also gets 15% so $3 to them too. That leaves the publisher with $6. The cost of printing per book was say, $3. So the publisher now has just $3 left to pay the editor, marketing, typesetter, layouts, pr department, warehousing, distribution, and the business overheads. Not to mention cover the cost of any books sent out as ARCs or giveaways and the cost of returns or damaged stock.

You can see why I no longer find that 15% a pet peeve. Yes, it's not fair on authors, but it's also not the publishers who are at fault here. The retailers are pocketing the best percentage. I think a tip for publishers, and for authors too, is to be the retailer. Sell your own books! You make a better margin and with a better margin you can afford to produce more books. That, and get into ebooks where there is significantly less overheads and cost of production and lower trade discount margins from eBook distributors.

* Do you read other's reviews of your books?
Always. As I said before, there is so much you can learn from the feedback you get in reviews and critiques. I don't usually reply to reviews but I read any I come across. I want to learn and grow so delve into them for tips about what I could improve upon, but I also want to know when readers have enjoyed my stories and my characters. I want to share the experience with my readers because I think books are something we experience very personally, but also as a community.

* Fav Color
Oh, yay! An easy one. My favourite colour is purple. I have so many purple things people think I'm a bit obsessed with the colour. Strangely, there is no purple on the cover of any of my books. *ponders* I'll have to find a reason to get some purple on one soon.

* Fictional Character you'd like to spend the day with?
The Tenth Doctor, well The Doctor, any of them would be interesting to spend a day with but I especially loved the tenth.

* Fav food
Can't say that I really have a favourite. I love fresh food, salads and fruit, etc. And I love a good Sunday roast with potatos and pumpkin, etc. I like my food to be simple and homey.

* Fav song and/or singer
I have a few favourites. When it comes to singer I'd have to say Josh Groban is my favourite, but my favourite group is Evanescence and my favourite music artist is actually dancing violinist Lindsey Stirling.

* Guilty pleasure
Chocolate. It's a guilty pleasure because I'm not supposed to have it. Chocolate is a depressant that significantly affects my Bipolar in a very negative way. I feel so much better when I'm completely off chocolate but I'm a chocoholic so it's hard to stay on the wagon and avoid it completely. As much as I love it in the moment I regret it afterward because after giving in once it's hard to give it up again and I have the repercussion on my mental health for about a week after my last piece.

When investigative reporter, Tori, chases the story of an underground smuggling network, she stumbles into something significantly more sinister. Instead of the illegal trade of exotic reptiles, she finds a temple of devout snake worshipers. Taken by the cultists, Tori is subjected to a savage ritual and irrevocably transformed. Now something dark and primal slithers within her. 

Lucas, charged with Tori’s protection, struggles against an overwhelming sense of helplessness. He should be stronger, faster, and more powerful than any human, but in the past twenty years all of his charges have been murdered. Their deaths and his failures linger in his nightmares. They writhe in his mind like the chilling sense of brooding hunger that floods Tori’s thoughts. 

Filled with violent rage and dark jealousy, the cult’s High Priestess rears up between Tori and the truth. The only thing protecting Tori from the long, cold embrace of death is the darkness within and the tingling warmth and light of her guardian angel.

And here's an excerpt from Chapter Five:

The squealing protest of the outer door lifted gooseflesh on Tori's skin. The hinges of the old wood splintered and the doors crashed with a resounding shudder against the inner walls. Tori spun, her hair fluttered against her shoulders and her breath froze in her lungs. The voice recorder tumbled from her fingers and clattered against the stone floor. Her eyes widened as she gazed down the length of the church.

The detective strode toward her with his hand lifted. Tori blinked in surprise. He emitted a rippling aura of confidence and strength from his broad shoulders. Honeyed strands of hair framed a softened face.

“Tori,” Lucas called out. Spears of blue cut across the room and held Tori’s darker gaze. His eyes seemed to glow with the reflected sparkle of sunlight and then darkened as they drifted away from her. She could see his throat convulse, a sharp swallow, an indrawn breath, before strangling out a cry, “Tori!”

Thick hands grabbed her shoulders and Tori tensed. A shudder of revulsion coursed through her. Instinctively, she jerked away from the black-gloved fingers but could not free herself from their steel grip.

Her eyes caught on Lucas in the distance. He looked like he had been coming toward her, but his step faltered. She could see his hesitation as his gaze swept the room before coming back to her face.

She caught and held the darkening azure depths. He was closer now, but still several feet from reach. Tori registered the emotions flickering across his features; helplessness and failure disappeared as swiftly as they had shown themselves. Her own gaze pleaded with his. An instant later self-preservation rippled through the churning fear in her belly. She clawed at the gloved fist that had threaded across her shoulders and bit the thick, course fibre covering her assailant's arm. His yelp of pain encouraged her, but his grip tightened.

Tori lifted her foot, kicking her insole backwards and connecting with the solid leg of the man behind her. He grunted, accepting the pain, and then yanked her backwards off her feet. Off balance, Tori felt herself falling and flailed to catch herself. The arm around her pulled her against a thick body.

Tori’s gaze whipped around to see dark eyes, and the shaved head above them. “Let me go!” she demanded finding her voice. She strained her neck, ignoring the ache in her muscles, as she fixed a glare on the stranger who held her.

His voice was a course rumble, hissed between callused lips, “No can do, Missy. You’re intended for the Sacred Mother.” He did not meet her gaze. His focus across the room drew Tori's attention to another presence: the woman.

Tori glared at her. She was clad in dark leather again; this time a skirt slit up both sides flowed around her long legs. The flickering tongue of a small black-, red-, and gold-banded snake touched her cheek. The woman watched it a moment with a smile through lips painted crimson. The snake curled around her wrist. As one, they turned to gaze across the room.

The woman was not watching her, Tori realised. She was watching the detective. Lucas seemed frozen just within the doors of the church. His gaze remained transfixed on Tori. “Look out!” he cried. She winced as a sharp blade nicked the skin at her neck. An arm wrapped around her waist. She turned her head to lighten the pressure and felt the man behind her tighten his grip again.

“Silence!” he hissed, but the warning had been enough to spur the detective to action. Lucas turned, backing away. Tori held her breath, watching him. Her mind raced. He can't leave me here.

Instead of backing toward the door, Lucas turned. He circled around the room slightly to bring all three people into view. Tori gasped as his new position revealed a pair of magnificent feathered wings. Tori's mind conjured the soft white contours of the wings she had seen in the stained glass window behind her. Her gaze wandered over Lucas, seeing him again as if for the first time.

Somehow, she recognised him. Beyond the features of the detective she had met earlier in the day, there was a sense of knowing him. "I've known him my whole life," she whispered, suddenly realising why she recognised the curve of his chin and the strong caress of his hands.

1 comment:

  1. Stephanie Hewitt12 June, 2015

    Who is my favorite author? Rebecca Laffar-Smith.