Read a review of and Falling Fly
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PVN How do your two novels and Falling Fly (2010) and In Dreams Begin (2010) connect?
Skyler: Well, “Dreams” is actually a prequel of sorts to “Falling,” and they live in the same story world. Olivia (from “Falling”) and Laura (from “Dreams”) sit beside each other on the plane to Ireland, so the same scene is in both books from each character’s POV, but the character of primary overlap is really only hinted at, and it’d be too much of a spoiler to say who it is.
PVN What attracts you to the poet W. B. Yeats?
Skyler: He’s just so romantic. He represents this wild, passionate Irish emotionality and idealism that’s deeply at odds with my modern goals of balance and reason. I like my life, but there’s part of me that longs for the Irish poet down on one knee in the middle of a moonlit lake. The danger and the romance appeal to me. I want to take risks. Just not really risky risks. At least not with my life. So I take them with my writing. After the modern intellectualism of Dominic in and Falling Fly, I wanted to take on good, old-fashioned romance. I wanted to create a hero who was romantic in all the classic ways: good-looking, brave, and devoted. And as I started trying to write that, I found myself struggling with what it would look like today. Can a modern man still profess his undying love and propose marriage to a woman he’s only seen once or twice? I couldn’t make it work. It either felt like parody or innocence, and I didn’t want to write YA.
So I started reading the Romantics, but they, of course, didn’t feel modern enough. Yeats was closer to me in time than Byron, but still had the optimism and total lack of irony I was looking for. You can see, particularly in his work before the First World War, a sort of self-confidence in humanity and a belief that the world was perfectible, the idea that science could prove the existence of the soul and that all the mysteries of god and man could yield their secrets and respond to our improvements. I found that very attractive, and I was excited about putting a modern woman against that kind of man. And at first that was all I was looking for in research, “that kind of man.” I had no intention, initially, of writing real people into the story. I’m not crazy, really. And research is hard. I was planning to write a turn-of-the-century Irish poet based loosely on Yeats who could fall in love with a modern woman moving backward in time through some time-travel device or portal.
PVN Do you have a favorite poem or quote of his?
Skyler: Too many! I love his poem “The Second Coming,” and the quote I end my Acknowledgments with: “Think where man’s glory most begins and ends, and say my glory was I had such friends.” I love that. And here’s a snippet I loved, but couldn’t fit into the book: “Then in 1900 everybody got down off his stilts, henceforth nobody drank absinthe with his black coffee; nobody went mad; nobody committed suicide; nobody joined the Catholic church; or if they did I have forgotten.”
PVN Victorian occult practices have always fascinated me, and they play an important role in your most recent novel. How did you go about researching this topic?
Skyler: I actually took six months off writing and just did research for “Dreams.” Luckily for me, Yeats was both a very prolific writer, and completely unabashed about his interest and involvement in the occult. I read his essays on magic and his autobiographies. I read Crowley (for whom Yeats held a deep and public dislike) and Dion Fortune and Madame Blavatsky. The mesmeric technique that Ida uses to channel Laura into Maud is taken directly from a treatise that was published a few years before my story is set.
PVN Did you experiment with any of your findings?
Skyler: What a cool question! No really. Although some of the sex magic could be kinda fun….. No, I didn’t try any of the rituals Yeats describes. Although I did experiment with his experiences. I visited his house – rather, his converted Norman castle – in Galway. He wrote several poems about being visited by ghosts, both personal and ancient, there. And I did spend quite some time alone in the room where he wrote, just sitting quietly and listening. Trying to feel him there.
PVN Tell us a bit about the historical figure of Maud Gonne and how she plays a role in your novel.
Skyler: She was a remarkable woman. She worked for Irish independence but not women’s suffrage, bore two children to a married French revolutionary, and married a man who was subsequently shot by firing squad for his part in the 1916 Easter Rising. She was six feet tall, famed for her beauty, pro-violence, and psychic. She also believed that she had sold her soul to the devil in her teens and believed herself to be part faerie, one of the Irish Sidhe, a particular breed of creature with a propensity for stealing souls. She attended séances and writes in her autobiography about spirit visions and ghosts from her childhood on. Both she and WB Yeats were involved in the Golden Dawn (an occult society), she intermittently and he throughout his life, and they both acknowledge a marriage to one another “on the spiritual plane.” That’s where the idea of the modern woman being channeled into Maud’s body began.
That idea opened up a lot of others. What would it be like to inhabit a different body? Would time move differently in the past and present? What would be in the modern woman’s present? And how much of it would she remember in the past? And those questions got me even more excited. That Yeats’s first love’s name was Laura, which is my given name, and that his first lover was named Olivia, which is the female lead from my first book, was initially just interesting. But Maud and I were both born on the winter solstice exactly a hundred years apart. Maud believed she was part Sidhe, possibly a faery changeling. I’m adopted.
All the pieces just lined up. Yeats was too wonderful not to write as himself. Maud’s life was full of actual events that were too bizarre not to include. The fiction made sense of the facts. Their mutual engagement with the occult provided a means to move spirits through time, as did Maud’s belief in her faery heritage, and the more of Yeats’s poetry I read, the more he seemed to be hinting at a secret very much like this one. Also, importantly, it gave me space to ask some questions that were becoming relevant from my own, personal, modern life about the nature of love and fidelity. And I was half in the book already.
PVN Has your theatrical background made you think about how your novels would be as movies, a TV series, or a play?
Skyler: It’s funny, I think of and Falling, Fly as a very visual book, and I could totally imagine it as a movie while I was writing it, much less so with Dreams. But then my best friend, who’s a graphic artist, is very excited about Dreams as a graphic novel, so I guess there’s something interesting going on there. I think my theater training allows me to visualize bodies in space easily. I can “see” a scene while I’m writing, and stage it in my mind.
PVN What are you working on now?
Skyler: I’m working on an all-American, no travel east of the Mississippi, completely contemporary trilogy. It nestles into the world of Falling and Dreams, but I’m thinking of it as a stand-alone series. There will be some character overlap between them and previous characters, as there is with Dreams and Falling, both of the brief cameo type that Laura gets in Falling, and the larger backstory building in Dreams.
PVN Which authors or books inspired you as you were growing up?
Skyler: The single most seminal book for me growing up was the Daulaire’s Book of Greek Myths. After that probably Mary Stewart’s Arthur books and Rosemary Sutcliff. But it wasn’t until I was in my forties that I started thinking about being a writer, so writerly inspiration…. Gaiman, DeLindt, Bull.
PVN Anything else you would like to add?
Skyler: Just that I’ll be around today and would love to take any questions your readers have. Getting a chance to talk with readers and book bloggers in one of my favorite things about being a writer.
PVN Thanks so much Skyler for this very engrossing and thoroughly entertaining interview!
Skyler White is the nationally bestselling author of dark fantasy novels ‘and Falling Fly’ (Berkley, March 2010) and ‘In Dreams Begin’ (Berkley, November 2010). She lives in Austin, TX. Visit her on the web at http://www.skylerwhite.com
or write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Contest ends November 23, 2010