Alex Bledsoe grew up in west Tennessee an hour north of Graceland (home of Elvis) and twenty minutes from Nutbush (birthplace of Tina Turner). He’s been a reporter, editor, photographer and door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman. He now lives in a Wisconsin town famous for trolls, writes before six in the morning and tries to teach his three kids to act like they’ve been to town before. Alex’s Tufa series includes: The Hum and the Shiver, Wisp of a Thing, and Long, Black Curl. Visit his website AlexBledsoe.com for more information or follow him on Twitter as @AlexBledsoe.
T. Frohock: has turned a love of dark fantasy and horror into tales of deliciously creepy fiction. T is the author of Miserere: An Autumn Tale and has a short story, “Naked the Night Sings,” in the urban fantasy anthology Manifesto: UF. Another story, “Love, Crystal and Stone” appears in The Neverland’s Library Fantasy Anthology. Her novella, The Broken Road, is available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Her most recent work is a novelette written with author Alex Bledsoe entitled Hisses and Wings. T lives in North Carolina where she has long been accused of telling stories, which is a southern colloquialism for lying. You can find more information at her website, TFrohock.com. She is also known to hang out mostly on Twiiter (as @T_Frohock) where she blarks out random thoughts throughout the day.
There has been some online speculation and questions about our collaboration on the novelette Hisses and Wings, and Alex and I thought we might talk about the story and our writing styles just a bit. We discussed the best way to handle a joint blog post on the subject and decided to turn it into a conversational post since this format has worked for us in the past.
What follows is a discussion of what we learned and a little about our writing processes. If you want to join in, drop us a comment, and we’ll try to answer your questions. Here we go:
Alex Bledsoe: I’ve written a lot in my Tufa world (three novels, assorted short stories), so I was very comfortable with it. Your Los Nefilim world was, comparatively, a work in progress. How did that affect your writing process?
Teresa Frohock: Actually, the Los Nefilim have been around since I wrote my novel The Garden. Guillermo, Diago, and Miquel were all major characters in that novel, so I am very comfortable with who they are and their relationships with one another. When that particular work got sidelined for other projects, the characters themselves remained with me. I figured that I would resurrect them in a novella, In Midnight’s Silence, and modernize them somewhat. I was in the middle of In Midnight’s Silence when we started Hisses and Wings, and as you could see from some of the early drafts, I was feeling my way through how to introduce them in such a short work.
I usually begin by writing exposition in order to clarify my thoughts as to which attributes of character that I want to focus on. Then I translate that exposition into dialogue between the characters. All of my writing begins as an info dump, followed by constant refining.
You, on the other hand, seemed to just reel off excellent first drafts, and you also work exceptionally well with female protagonists. You didn’t even seem to think about it when I asked you about the Tufa who would meet up with Diago, you quickly returned with a female protagonist. This is something that I didn’t think of until just now, but did you even consider using a guy and why Janet?
AB: I knew from our preliminary conversations that you would be using Guillermo and Diago, and I knew that if I used a male Tufa character, it might sidetrack into a musical pissing contest, which I (and I suspect you) had no interest in telling. So with such strong, ancient male characters on your side, it made sense to come back with a young, female character on mine. And I made her so young (a teenager) to avoid any unwanted sexual tension among the characters, because this wasn’t that kind of story.
She’s named Janet after the character in “Tam Lin,” one of the most stubborn and determined heroines in folklore.
As Martin Mull said, “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” How hard is it for you to convey in words what music is like for your characters?
TF: I love Martin Mull, but I have to disagree here. As writers, we’re not really writing about music, but more about the effect of music on people (even magical people). One thing that never fails to translate from music to text is the emotive value that music gives us. It is a common language by which we can express our deepest desires with eloquence.
Part of writing this experience requires the cadence of words to mimic song, using poetical expressions without coming off as pompous and overbearing. One of the best examples I can give of how to do this right is from Wisp of a Thing during Bliss’ performance. The combination of description and lyrics made the song as real as if I was sitting in the Pair-a-Dice and listening. I evoked a similar, albeit darker scene, in Garden with Miquel and his vocalizations at that novel’s climax. The trick, I think, is for the author to center themselves in the moment the same way the singer would do in a performance. The difference is that the singer has the immediacy of the audience right in front of them, whereas as authors, we’re working from a somewhat blinder angle insofar as audience interaction is involved. Yet we know when we get it right, because we can read it out loud and feel the words flow, hear it in our minds as if it’s being sung, and music makes us feel.
I think that is why it was so easy to blend the Tufa and Los Nefilim. They use magic differently, but they shared the most common language of all–that of poetry and emotion.
With that unity in mind, one of the things a couple of reviewers have commented on is how Hisses and Wings sounds unified as if it was written by one person rather than two. [For the record, Alex began the story with Janet, then I wrote a piece with Diago, then we took turns adding to the story and refining it until it all sort of came together like a song. First two distinct characters, then we slowly merged them and their respective sounds together.]
So for Alex: I found your work to be very easy to riff off of, and one reason was because of your sense of humor. I would take the scene down this dark path, then you’d send it back to me with a spark of humor thrown in at the end. You just shift into a joke very easily and know just when to pull out and become serious again. Is that something that you have to work at, or does adding humor to the story just come naturally to you?
AB: What humor?
AB: It’s definitely an integral part of the way I write. Especially in fantasy, anything that bridges the gap between the human reader and the nonhuman character is good, and one of the great tactics is humor. An example: in “Escape from the Planet of the Apes,” our hero chimps Cornelius and Zira appear before a senate committee that clearly thinks they’re just trained animals. After Zira gives an impassioned monologue, one of the human senators indicates Cornelius and asks, “And does he speak, too?” Cornelius replies, “When she lets me.”
Now the brilliance of that is multi-leveled. First, it’s just plain funny. Second, it’s our heroes standing up to staid authority and asserting their dignity, so that we immediately side with them. Third, it tells us a LOT about the relationship between Cornelius and Zira. To accomplish all that with one simple comeback is something only humor can do.
Now let me ask you something. In your novels Miserere and The Garden, and certainly in Hisses and Wings, you do a great job building a sense of history into your characters. It’s never done with anything as dull as an info dump, but you imply a great shared history between and among your people. How important is that to you, and how hard is it to do?
TF: First of all, thank you, because it’s not easy to do. A lot of the reasoning has to do with my own reading quirks. I dislike reading stories about supernatural beings that have lived for centuries but still act with the emotional maturity of a teenager. I love working with emotionally complex characters, putting them together, and watching them bounce off one another. Age often adds more nuance to a person and their way of thinking rather than less. When problems acquire shades of gray, the solutions are less black and white, and all of this, in turn, allows me to explore issues through a more philosophical lens.
So now comes the burning question: would you like to collaborate again sometime?
AB: Oh, definitely.
TF: Me too. I had a blast working with you on Hisses and Wings, in addition to learning a lot.
And that is about all we have for you. If you have a question about the story, or a question about collaborations, drop us a comment and we’ll give you answer.