L. Jagi Lamplighter, is the author of the Prospero’s Daughter series from Tor Books. She lives with her husband, fellow author John Wright, and sons on the East Coast. Her short fiction has appeared in anthologies including Bad Ass Faeries, No Longer Dreams, Don’t Open This Book and Best Dreams of Decadence. She is coeditor of the Bad Ass Faeries anthology series and can be found on Facebook or at her website ljagilamplighter.com.
SFFWRTCHT: First things first, where’d your interest in speculative fiction come from?
L. Jagi Lamplighter: I have always been interested in speculative fiction as long as I can remember. As a child, my mom entertained us on the long walks my family took by telling us stories. She told wondrous stories–stuff like people riding through space on a soda bottle propelled by fizz shooting out the back. From this, I developed a love of fantasy and wonder. My goal as a writer is to share this wonder with others.
LJL: C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, Tolstoy, Roger Zelazny, Lloyd Alexander, Anne McCaffrey, Ursula LeGuin, Margaret Mitchell. I also rather like the King James Version of the Bible…really dramatic language. You can tell my favorite authors from my writing style. Someone once described the Prospero series as “Neil Gaiman meets C.S. Lewis or, for an American equivalent, Roger Zelazny meets Lloyd Alexander.”
SFFWRTCHT: When did you decide to become a storyteller and how did you get your start?
LJL: My brother and I used to play what would now be called roleplaying games all the time. But my first experience with real storytelling–I accidentally convinced two friends there was an invisible door in the woods. The awe I felt when they believed me stuck with me. I started my first novel at the age of twelve, but was not to finish a novel for many, many years.
SFFWRTCHT: How did you get into Shakespeare as it is such a basis for the Prospero’s Daughter Trilogy?
LJL: My cousin was named Ariel…before the mermaid…so it ran in the family.
SFFWRTCHT: How’d you learn craft? Trial and error? Formal study? Workshops?
LJL: After college, I worked part time for my father and studied grammar and writing technique on my own. Then I wrote. A lot. I threw away over 1000 pages of stuff…on one book alone. That 1000 was twelve tries on the same book. The thirteenth try worked and will probably be published someday. More recently, I have taken a few classes to try to shore up areas I knew were weak-like conveying emotion.
SFFWRTCHT: Did you start with shorts stories, novels? When was your first pro-sale?
LJL: I started with short stories, but I was not very good at them. I think long. I sold one in the early 90s. Then, I sold my novel in 2007. Very little in between.
LJL: Amber Diceless Roleplaying Game Write-Up. I wanted to play Miranda of Amber. When the game ended, I turned it into a novel. It wasn’t an urban fantasy when I started…because the category didn’t exist. You can still see the Zelazny influence on the finished series.
SFFWRTCHT: How long did the novels take to write?
LJL: I started the first Prospero book in 1992. It got published in 2009. That’s 17 years.
SFFWRTCHT: Prospero Lost is the story of Miranda, Prospero’s daughter, 400 years after Shakespeare’s Tempest who searches for her missing dad. Miranda heads her family’s business, Prospero Inc. which uses its magic secretly for good around the world. She must reunite with her estranged siblings and face secrets about her past to find her father. Which came first: world, plot, character? Sounds like Miranda.
LJL: In this case, the character came first.
SFFWRTCHT: Tell us a bit about Miranda and her world and family.
LJL: The title was a play on Paradise Lost by Milton. The story deals with similar themes…and Prospero is lost. When I set out to write the story, I thought Prospero must have had other children. So Miranda needed siblings. My husband had made up an amusing group of characters called the Family Prospero for a roleplaying game. With his permission, I turned them into Miranda’s family. The early versions were much more like Zelazny. With time, over the 17 years, it became its own story. I think of her as living in `the real world. Our world has many traditions, not just Greek Gods or Russian gods. Miranda’s world is like that. All the myths and fairy tales we have access to are around…only true.
SFFWRTCHT: But of course, her family is kind of in the business of magic for good…Tell us a bit about how magic works in their world.
LJL: Very much magic for good. One member doesn’t think so. But the rest are pretty sure they work for the Powers of Good. Much as tribal peoples once thought it did: sympathy and contagion. Also, each family member has a staff that does a special thing. The villains are trying to steal them. I love ‘real’ magic items. Objects that appear in earlier sagas and traditions. I put some of those into her father’s Vault. I have a rule: If something can be done with magic in the story, the characters will use magic. The Vault is part of my theory that books about magic should have lots of magic in them.
LJL: I really hate the world pantser…sorry. I would break writing into three categories: outliners, people who write off the cuff, and people who listen to the muse. Listening is hard…but worthwhile. I’m in that category.
SFFWRTCHT: How did you wind up with Tor Books? Tell us about your path to publication please. It’s an interesting story.
LJL: The long story takes pages. You can read it here. The short version is that I used to work for my editor at Bluejay Books.
SFFWRTCHT: He agreed to read your novel but didn’t get back to you so long you were prepared for him to say he didn’t like it, right?
LJL: Yes. I flew to Madison to ask him to give it back to me…and found out he loved it.
SFFWRTCHT: And then there were release delays…but they made it happen in time for World Fantasy 2009 after hearing your disappointment. Those are the highlights.
LJL: It got bumped a few times. Luckily, I had a knight in shining armor in the form of my agent, Richard Curtis, who came to my rescue and convinced Tor to move ahead. Terry Pratchett has a wonderful line about writing being like walking through the mist between peaks you can see.
SFFWRTCHT: Who would play your hero in a movie?
LJL: My choice for Mephisto would be Chinese actor/pop star Hu Ge. Not Italian, true. But really terrific. For Miranda? I wish Helen Mirren were younger.
LJL: Yes. Really it is one book that is broken into three parts because it was too long to publish as one volume. I wish they could have been all one book. I am sad that one is a cliffhanger…but, too long.
SFFWRTCHT: Tell us about the plot of those two…or perhaps the overall arc. Miranda searches for her father?
LJL: Miranda, having found out where her lost father is, has to gather her wayward siblings and rescue him. He’s been dragged alive into Hell. Once in Hell, the family gets separated. Now Miranda has many people to rescue and very little time to do it.
SFFWRTCHT: Who’s the antagonist that’s kidnapped him? Who wants their staves?
LJL: The initial villains are the Three Shadowed Ones. Three demons who work together and chase the Prosperos. But they turn out to work for the demoness Lilith…the enemy of Miranda’s patron, Eurynome the Unicorn. She turns out to have been behind a great many of the Family Prospero’s woes. There also appears to be a traitor in the family, which turns out to be both true and untrue, depending on how you see it. The story is really about Miranda and her siblings becoming a family. The original title was Prospero’s Children which emphasized this. I should add, her estranged siblings, who don’t get along when the story starts. Echoes of Zelazny there. Because most of the characters had lived 400 years plus, I let them speak like modern people…except for Ariel.
SFFWRTCHT: How hard was it to adapt Shakespearean characters into modern language and sensibilities?
LJL: Writing Ariel’s more old fashion speech was tough. Sometimes, I took his lines right from Shakespeare. Miranda and her sidekick Mab had updated about as far as the 40s. So they are a bit old fashion. Miranda misses certain modern cultural references that some of her more hip siblings catch. Like why Mephisto accuses the brother who speaks to a snake of being from someplace called Slytherin.
LJL: I am a stay-at-home mom with kids. So, I write when the kids are at school. If I am on a real roll, I write after they go to bed, too. If I’m really, really on a roll, I ask my daughter, the Princess, to make dinner. But my sons don’t eat her cooking. They eat bland American stuff. She cooks hot Chinese food.
SFFWRTCHT: Why did you write it?
LJL: I wrote it for the wonder of it. For the joy of sharing the sense of wonder that comes from the world beyond what we see.
SFFWRTCHT: Do you have any writing rituals or tools? Scrivener? Word? Something else? Do you write to music or silence?
LJL: No tools. Sometimes, I play music. Usually, a particular song over and over and over. Sometimes classical. Sometimes Christian rock. Mostly stuff in French or Japanese…so I can listen but not be distracted.
SFFWRTCHT: What’s the best and worst writing advice you’ve ever gotten?
LJL: Best advice: Pascal “Nothing is written until I write it.” Worst advice: Make an outline. When I make outlines, I stop writing. I love outlining…but the creative process just stops. It’s like I have already seen what is in that misty valley, so I don’t need to explore.
SFFWRTCHT: Do you have any tips for dealing with writer’s block?
LJL: My advice for writing block is: Set the same scene in a different location. Oddly, that almost always works for me. If I set the scene elsewhere, I have to rethink it. Usually, strangely, that’s enough.
SFFWRTCHT: Do you rewrite the scene back into the planned setting once it’s done?
LJL: No. I leave it in the new setting. I figure the old one was wrong. Sometimes, I just change the decor in the room.
SFFWRTCHT: What future projects are you working on that we can look forward to? I know you’ve got a YA novel in the works…
LJL: The Unexpected Enlightenment Of Rachel Griffin. It is “Harry Potter for girls with angsty romance.” Or: Harry Potter meets Fringe meets Narnia with a touch of Lovecraft. Rachel Griffin attends Roanoke School for the Sorcerous Arts–on an island in the Hudson River in NY.
SFFWRTCHT: Nice. Is it a standalone or part of a series?
LJL: A series. Probably over a dozen books. I have material for ten so far…based on a friend’s roleplaying game. Book one is done. I am half way through Book Two. Book One should be out in not too long…from Dark Quest Books. Originally, it was going to be an ebook series…but Dark Quest expressed excitement, so now they’re on board, too.
SFFWRTCHT: Are you working on anything else?
LJL: I have another series called The Creation Campaign that is hard to describe. It is both about books coming true. And fighting Ragnorok. Or it’s about a young woman who ‘sees with eyes unclouded by hate’ to use Gaiman’s Miyazaki line. Roanoke is exactly where Bannerman Island is…across from Storm King Mountain. The island with the castle ruins.
LJL: Mainly fantasy. I have some science fictional ideas…but they have not come together. I have a kids book, too, based on the Boy Scout Law. One is done…but I’m busy learning more about Boy Scouts. The Scouting book was a fantasy set in Virtutopia, a country with twelve cities, one for each Law. I wrote the first one. It’s called The Lost Brothers And The Trustworty Griffin. The main characters are Jacob and Nicky Lost. My first version was only vaguely about Scouting. I want to redo it at some point. Add more Scouting.
SFFWRTCHT: Does John beta read for you? Have you two ever thought of collaborating?
LJL: John and I beta read everything for each other. He’s brilliant. We use each other’s ideas and characters. John doesn’t believe collaboration is possible. So, I just borrow his characters and get his help. I’m really blessed to have John’s help and support. My books would be rather lame without him. Family support is so valuable for a writer. It is hard enough to wrestle with the muse. I can’t imagine having to wrestle family. I have the most supportive family in the world. My husband is a writer, too and my mom watched my kids while I wrote the book.