Ilana C. Myer has written for the Globe and Mail, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Salon, and the Huffington Post. Previously she was a freelance journalist in Jerusalem for the Jerusalem Post, the Jewish Daily Forward, Time Out Israel and other publications. She lives in New York City.
Ilana was born in New York but grew up in Jerusalem, Israel, where she spent her teen years haunting secondhand bookstores in search of books written in English—especially fantasy. It was in one of these shops that she discovered David Eddings and realized that epic fantasy continued after Tolkien, and from there went on to make such marvelous discoveries as Tad Williams, Robin Hobb, and Guy Gavriel Kay.
Since learning to read, Ilana had decided she would write books, but during college in New York City was confronted with the reality of making rent, and worked as a receptionist, administrative assistant, and executive assistant where she on occasion picked up dry cleaning. She afterwards found more fulfillment as a journalist in Jerusalem where she covered social issues, the arts, and innovations in technology, and co-founded the Middle East environment blog, Green Prophet. It was during these years in Jerusalem, on stolen time, that Last Song Before Night took shape.
She writes as Ilana Teitelbaum for various outlets, but decided early on—since the days of haunting bookstores, in fact—that “Teitelbaum” was too long for a book cover. “Myer” is a variation on the maiden name of her grandmother, whose family was exterminated in Germany. It is a family with a long history of writers, so it seems appropriate to give credit—or blame—where it’s due.
Last Song Before Night marks Ilana’s debut as a fantasy novelist, and she was kind enough to answer some of my questions about her, and her work.
Paul Weimer: “You’re a debut novelist that many of our readers may not be familiar with. So, who are you and what do you do?”
Ilana C. Meyer: Writing this novel was a very long process and of course, the bills had to be paid in the meantime. For nearly a decade I’ve worked as a freelance writer, first in Jerusalem and later on in New York City. My most recent work tends to be about books and can be found at the Huffington Post, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Salon, and the Globe and Mail. In Israel I had the opportunity to explore some aspects of the country which make it so agonizingly complex, writing for the Jerusalem Post and other places.
PW: So let’s unpack that for a bit. You’ve done a fair amount of non fiction freelance writing, about books as well as other subjects. What drew you to write a novel of your own? And why a secondary world fantasy novel?
ICM: I wrote my first epic fantasy novel as a teenager. It’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do and has driven every life decision. It was never a matter of whether to write books, only how to fit it in while supporting myself financially.
What I love about writing fantasy, specifically, is how deep it allows us to go. I believe it’s a medium of exploration unlike any other, stretching all the way back to the earliest epics and myths.
PW: You’ve been writing fantasy since a teenager. When and with whom did you start reading fantasy? Who do you read today?
ICM: While Beatrice Gormley probably wrote the first fantasy I ever read (Fifth Grade Magic–a wonderful book, and probably out of print) and I cut my teeth on fairy tales, the official beginning was probably with Narnia, Lloyd Alexander’s magnificent Prydain Chronicles, and of course Tolkien. E. Nesbit’s books were an obsession for a while, especially The Enchanted Castle. But it was only as a teenager with the discovery of David Eddings and Terry Brooks that I realized fantasy was continuing as a contemporary genre. I didn’t have a lot of exposure to books by then, since I was in Israel–so it came down to what was available in the secondhand bookstores. I tended to read series out of order, depending on which volumes I found.
Authors I currently read include Guy Gavriel Kay, Robin Hobb, and Susanna Clarke. I’m looking forward to Tad Williams’ continuation of Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, which I much admire. And I’ve been keeping up with George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire–was intrigued by the sample chapter recently leaked (Sansa!).
PW: So what’s the elevator pitch for LAST SONG BEFORE NIGHT?
ICM: Last Song Before Night is set in a world where art and magic are intertwined, and the protagonists are poets.
PW: Depicting art: music, painting, writing and photography, is not as common in F and SF as one might think. So, why depict your fellow artists?
ICM: I approached Last Song Before Night with questions about the intersections of art and power. I also wanted to explore what art means to me.
PW: For me, LAST SONG BEFORE NIGHT also had interesting things to say about censorship, and gender roles in society. The book is rich in themes and ideas. But what was the
original genesis of the story?
ICM: The initial inspiration was Celtic myth and literature–I became fascinated by the idea of poets occupying a central role in society, wielding real power. At the same time, I was equally fascinated by the troubadours of medieval France, and in the course of research, it didn’t even seem that outlandish to combine the two. These were not the only inspirations that went into the shaping of Tamryllin and the land surrounding, but they were the start.
PW: What other inspirations helped form the backdrop to Lin and the rest of the characters? Where did the etymology of the names of characters and places come from?
ICM: Of all the processes in fiction, creating characters might be the most mysterious to me. I tend to get to know them as I write, and then go back and revise to reflect what I’ve learned about them. Naming is important to this process, and for me it’s intuitive. I believe language is important in fantasy, and names are a part of that. A name has to sound just right for the character or place.
PW: If creating characters for you is the most mysterious, what aspect of the craft do you think comes most easily (which cards have you been dealt, writing wise)?
ICM: Oh, don’t get me wrong–I enjoy mysterious processes! I don’t believe anything about writing a novel is easy, especially if you’re committed to doing it well.
If I’ve been dealt a hand when it comes to writing, I’d say it’s determination. There were so many occasions when I could have given up, and didn’t. Though I owe that at least in part to an irrationally supportive spouse.
PW: Determination is important! What did finishing and seeing Last Song Before Night to the brink of publication teach you about writing that you didn’t know?
ICM: I think I didn’t realize, until I reached the end of the book, how important it is to do that–to finish. There were several times over the years when I nearly gave up on the book, because I’d started it so young and thought perhaps I’d been too young. And what I would do is re-read it from the beginning and have the realization, “Yes, this has value, I should finish it.” But it was only when I made it to the end, bleeding and grieving with my characters, that I understood the value in seeing a book through to the end. I changed in the writing of the book, and that could only happen by sticking with it all the way.
PW: Speaking of endings, and finishing, now that LAST SONG BEFORE NIGHT is finished, and soon to be in the hands of the public, what are you starting (or finishing?) next?
ICM: I’m now at work on a sequel. Even though Last Song Before Night wraps up fairly definitively, there is more to come!
PW: Is there anything else you’d like to tell our readers? Where can readers meet you at cons this year, or in the Virtual world?
ICM: Last Song Before Night comes out on September 29th from Tor. This year readers can meet me at Worldcon in Spokane, New York Comic Con, and World Fantasy. In the virtual world you can find me on Twitter at @IlanaCT, or my website www.ilanacmyer.com.
PW: Thank you Ilana!