"I am ready to meet my maker. Whether my maker is prepared to meet me is another matter."
-Winston Churchill

Monday, May 14, 2012

Librarian by Day, Actor by Night, Writer Inbetween! Chatting with Lyle Blake Smythers

Welcome to Immortality and Beyond. May I offer you a beverage? 
Thank you, I  believe I will have some tantalizing tea. Aphrodisiac, if you have it.

Now that we're all settled in my lair, I'm de-bite-fully glad you stopped in.
I’m pleased to be here and wish I could stay longer.
BK:  Please tell us a little bit about your current release...
I look forward to introducing readers to a magical world of one-eyed men, large intelligent cats that understand English, and giant mutant owls. Inspired by some little-known traditional stories found in an old edition of the Arabian Nights,I twisted these tales to suit my own purpose and used them to ensnare my four narrators in a larger pattern of sinister intent.
I wanted to work within the framework of standard heroic fantasy but add fresh elements to give the reader an experience never felt before. Not just sorcerers and a quest (they are there) but a hallucinogenic drug, green snow, a boy turned into a monkey, an outdoor festival where people come to see a magic trick onlyperformed once a year. Also bloody revenge. Please join me.
BK:  What inspired this particular novel/book?
The original kernel that gave life to some of the multiple plotlines came from an old edition of the Arabian Nights I found as a child.  My family was traveling through the mountains of southwest Virginia, on our way to visit relatives near Galax,  and we stopped in a tiny hamlet called Fancy Gap.  We wandered into a used furniture place that had a table of used books for sale. I picked up an old copy of the Andrew Lang retellings, one with terrific illustrations.  Soon I was riveted by the great stories inside.  I was already  familiar with the well-known  ones about Sinbad the Sailor, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, and Aladdin, but soon I got to lesser-known ones that were equally intriguing.  One that really interested me described a porter in Baghdad who carried a package home for a customer and found himself mingling with strange visitors in her house, men who had missing eyes and shaved heads.  Each had his own story to tell, and wondrous stories they were.
Even in elementary  school, I had started to write my own stories.  Adventure stories, science fiction, my own version of Tarzan tales, bizarre people and creatures hidden in darkest Africa.  Somewhere along the way I resolved to find a way to retell some of these stories of one-eyed men and the dangers they had faced and overcome. Fast forward some thirty years.
I was visiting a friend in Baltimore and we went to a Star Trek convention.  At this point I had started to tinker with an outline for the Arabian nights novel but was getting nowhere.  I wanted a unifying thread more significant than just a chance encounter with strangers in a strange house.  At the con they were showing a variety of fantasy/SF movies and I ended up in LADYHAWKE, the medieval fantasy story of two lovers trying to find each other again while under two very different shape-shifting curses.  What caught my attention was the motivation behind the person who put them under their spells:  They had been cursed out of REVENGE.  I had it.  My characters would be subjected to the horrible perils they faced because a powerful magician was wreaking revenge.  On whom?  And why? It didn’t take me long to work that out. And my book was born.
BK:  When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
When I was in the sixth grade I was a big fan of the adventure novels of Edgar RiceBurroughs, his Tarzan books, the John Carter stories set on Mars, and the Pellucidar books that took readers to a strange world at the Earth’s core. I started writing my own story, entitled Expedition Into the Unknown, a highly derivative work that took some men in a giant Devil Drill to the Earth’s core for adventures among strange people and monsters. It was not terribly good but I had fun with it. When I got to junior high school I said, “This is awful” and abandoned it. Since then I have been preoccupied with making my own stories.
BK:  How do you keep your writing different from all the others that write in this particular genre?
I had to trust my instincts and not be afraid to be different, particularly in the area of terminology and character names.  I had a monstrous supernatural creature, a kind of evil genie, who was referred to in the Andrew Lang retelling not as a genie but as a genius.  I really liked this word but hesitated to use it because it is not standard terminology in the fantasy we see.  I was tempted to call him a demon instead.  By the same token, I had started to call one female character Diarfa. I thought about changing that to Deirdre.  In the end I remembered hearing Lloyd Alexander, author of the award-winning children’s fantasy series The Chronicles of Prydain, talk about how his editor wanted him to change his major female character’s name from Eilonwy to something less odd.  He stuck to his guns and I decided to stick to mine and be as odd as I liked.
BK:  What was the hardest thing about writing this story?
Giving each of the four narrators his own distinctive voice, so that their alternating stories sounded as if they were coming from four different people.
BK:  What character was your favorite to write for in this story? Why?
I would not like to think that I played favorites, but certainly the most interesting and the most rewarding was the section told by the first one-eyed boy, because he is talking under the influence of a hallucinogenic drug that causes stream of consciousness speech.  In eight chapters there are what seem like a million commas, but only one period.
BK:  Which was your favorite scene to write?
That would be the climactic revelation scene, in which many of the characters seen throughout the story are brought together in a dramatic confrontation with the person who has been the architect of their destruction.
BK:  Will this become a series? If so, what inspired it to be a series?
This is a stand-alone novel by  the nature of the plot, as will be evident to those who read it, but I could foresee telling other unconnected stories about the same characters or set in the same world.
BK:  Now for a little fun, and into your everyday life. What is a day in your life like?
I have a full-time day job as a librarian and keep active at night and on the weekends as an actor in local stage productions.  Because of my busy schedule, I can go as long as one or two weeks between writing sessions, during which time I am frequently thinking about what’s coming next in my work in progress and making notes to myself. I frequently find myself writing in a leather armchair at the cigar shop where I buy cigars, because they have a smoking area inside that is climate controlled. It’s a nice place to relax, look over my notes, and start trying to make more literary magic.

BK:  What do you like to do when you're not writing?
Besides being a librarian and an actor, I love watching others onstage and I watch a lot of movies. I prefer to go to movies when they first come out, rather than wait,and I sit in the very front row so that the gigantic images on the screen can engulf me.
BK:  What is one thing your readers would be most surprised to learn about you?
Although I have had a love of words and books for as long as I can remember, and for a brief time toyed with the idea of becoming a newspaper reporter, for a long time I had no intention of working with books or being a published writer.  I thought I was going to study to be a doctor.
BK:  What do you like to read? Who is your favorite author?
I read almost all genres and have favorites in all of them: literary (Faulkner, James Joyce); science fiction (Asimov, Heinlein, Philip K. Dick, China Mieville); fantasy (Ursula K. Le Guin, Roger Zelazny), mysteries (John Dickson Carr, Dorothy L.Sayers, Martha Grimes), espionage (John Le Carre, Len Deighton).  I could go on for days.
BK:  Please tell us one piece of advice you were given as an author that you carry with you when you write?
“The 2 best pieces of advice I heard for dealing with negative reviews:
No book can please everybody — it’s statistically impossible.
Those aren’t the readers you’re looking for.(In Obi Wan's voice, of course…)”
BK:  What is one piece of advice you can give to aspiring writers/authors?
Don’t take rejection personally. Your book is being rejected, but you are not. Keep going. Try the next person on your list. (You do have a list, don’t you?) Keep knocking on doors until one opens.
BK:  What are you currently working on?
My work in progress is a blend of dark fantasy, New Weird and urban detective noir. A little China Mieville, a little Jeff Vandermeer, a little Philip K. Dick, a little Raymond Chandler, in a realistic, complex real-world setting combining elements of both science fiction and fantasy. Two supernatural beings from Irish mythology, the hero Finn M’Coul and Viledark, the Hog Who Ate the Sun,are running a private detective agency on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.,when they come across a new sex drug that increases the male orgasm, but also kills, and only works on gay men. Their search for a missing boy leads them to Sin, a psychotic supervillain who claims to be the original model for FuManchu. I have not yet sold this book to a publisher.
BK:  Where can readers connect with you?
Right now Feasting can be pre-ordered from Barnes & Noble at bn.com and from my publisher at http://pinknarc.com/ which is also how they can connect with me if they have comments or questions.  It will be available shortly on Amazon as well.  I can also be found on Facebook.

BIO: Lyle Blake Smythers is an actor, writer and librarian in the Washington, D.C., area. Since 1976 he has performed in over 100 stage productions, including three appearances at the National Theatre. He has published fiction, poetry, satire and literary criticism in Manscape, FirstHand, Playguy, The William and Mary Review, Insights, School Library Journal, and Children’s Literature Review. A fformer children’s librarian, he is currently providing cataloging support for an ongoing project at the Library of Congress.

We found the first one-eyed man at dawn...
So begins the highly original fantasy tale of warrior poet Catalan, when he and his band stumble upon a handsome acolyte near death in a mountain pass. But when the acolyte reveals his mystical vision, the poet finds himself at the center of a War Game between two mysterious sorcerers. To unravel the mystery, Catalan and the agents of the War Game must seek the missing pieces of an enchanted chess set in a quest complicated by deceit and treachery, in which nothing is what it seems.
We are going to be giving away a free copy of my novel, either print edition or e-book, to one of the readers of this blog.  Interested readers should leave a comment here that includes their email address.  I will select the most intriguing poster to be the winner.

Follow Lyle's tour HERE for more chances to win.


Nightly Cafe said...

Thank you so much for stopping in today Lyle. It was a pleasure.


Lyle Blake Smythers said...

Indeed a pleasure to be in your lair. Thanks also for the aphrodisiac tea; I think I can feel it working now.