Today we get to visit with the wonderful A.R. Silverberry, who writes fiction for adults and children. His first novel, Wyndano’s Cloak, won multiple awards, including the Benjamin Franklin Award gold medal for Juvenile/Young Adult Fiction. His newest release, The Stream, has folks waxing poetic. It’s intensely captivating, thought provoking, an exhilarating adventure, wonderfully compelling…
So, A.R., how do you do that? How do you come up with such good stuff? Are you a story architect (plotter) or a discovery writer (pantser)?
AR: Writing requires strong hoodoo. See, it’s risky business. You never know until you’re finished if you have anything worthwhile. So I start off hanging lucky rabbit’s paws from my desk. Then I light candles and pray to various saints and a few sinners, not because they sinned but because they happened to be damn good writers, God rest their pickled livers. You know who they are. No need to mention names. After that, I light incense and begin chanting. The eastern Gods assuaged, I go down to the beach, build a fire, and with the constellations nodding in approval, sacrifice a ram and roast it as an offering to the Muses. The novel’s pretty ripe in my mind by now, but just in case, I strip off all my clothes and take a mad dash through the parking of the my local IRS, yelling, “Now you have it all!”
Gods appeased, I begin to write.
Anyone dying to know more, see the asterisked answer below. *
Ah, I see, I’ve been going about it all wrong. Gotta let the crazy person out of the box first. Extravagance is key! If nothing else, it’ll give the neighbors something to talk about, right? Speaking of neighbors, where are you from and what do you love most about your hometown?
AR: I grew up in Northern California. Sometime in the late sixties, the Ballantine edition of the Tolkien trilogy came out. There I was, a teenager lost in fantasy, living in a place that looked like the Shire, with green hills where hobbit holes could be built and forests where Tom Bombadil and Goldberry sang (yes, she inspired my pseudonym). Add to that, the first Renaissance Fairs were being held. So we jumped into costumes and strode into villages where we could buy amulets and wizard staffs, and where sword fights and quarterstaff battles were played out. You can guess what all that did for my imagination!
Sounds like the perfect setting for nurturing the imagination. I love Tolkien (are you surprised?) and Renaissance Fairs are incredibly fun and full of inspiration. You practically had to write! When did you get started—and why? (Besides the obvious afore-mentioned influences!)
AR: I’ve always had some creative outlet. When I was younger, I played in several jazz and rock bands. My peak as a musician came when I composed and conducted a choral cantata about Paul Robeson. Few things stir the soul like twenty-five voices singing their hearts out, accompanied by Andean instruments, bombo, zampoña, charango, and quena. I was pretty passionate about watercolors for a while, but I had to let it go when writing bit me in 1998, and I started the prequel to Wyndano’s Cloak.
Oh, wow, the cantata must have been amazing… I know you play the piano—and you’re a watercolor artist, too? That’s quite the diverse collection of artistic outlets. Impressive! And with that kind of artistic build-up, tell us what your novel, The Stream, is about and who would enjoy it?
AR: Redemption and renewal. Anyone who liked The Alchemist would enjoy The Stream.
Can you tell us a little bit about where The Stream began for you? An image, a story fragment, or something else?
AR: The idea came from a conversation I was having where I was using the metaphor of a stream. Afterward, I kept thinking about that metaphor. In a few hours, Wend, a small boy, alone, defenseless, trying to understand the ways of the world, popped into my mind. I saw images of him confronting the challenges we all face in life: love, loss, pain, losing your way. The next morning, I put aside the novel I was working on (it wasn’t working anyway), and started writing. It pretty much tumbled out of me and didn’t let go until it was done.
That is the best and most awesome thing for a writer, just having the story practically write itself. It’s a period that you just want to grab onto and never let go. I find that music frequently helps me to block out “the real world” and focus on my story. Do you listen to music while you write?
AR: I’m a musician, so I find music too distracting. I need complete quiet so I can hear the characters in my head or play things out in my imagination. Strangely, I can write nonfiction in a noisy coffee shop. This is being written in one!
I couldn’t possibly write in a coffee shop—too many interesting people to watch and distracting things going on! I can’t even write when my husband is watching a football game. Like… right now. Where was I?
Oh! Writing! What is your favorite moment/scene in The Stream?
AR: The last sentence.
You are so devious. We can’t even delve further into that without running into spoilers! All right, all right—Tell me then, what character most surprised you in your work and why?
AR: Dory, a boat builder in The Stream. Originally, I conceptualized him one way, but when he started talking I realized I needed to get out of his way and let him do his thing. I had no idea a truculent rooster came along with him.
A rooster, I love it. I had a cat show up in As the Crow Flies, and it was really fun to see how he inserted himself into the story, what he did, and the contention he stirred.
So, what would you consider the three best works you have ever read and why?
AR: Books that get me to cry or become completely unraveled with emotion top my list. To Kill a Mockingbird has to be first for the sheer power of the theme and subject matter and the perfect way it’s told through the eyes of an innocent child. The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver, is probably the best book I’ve read in the last ten years. I mean, to start with, we’ve got characters like Diego Rivera, Frieda Kahlo, and Leon Trotsky walking around in it. Then we’ve got the backdrop of the first half of the twentieth century with the rise of communism, culminating in the McCarthy hearings of the fifties. But that ending had me shouting, “Oh my God,” five times as all the pieces of the novel fell together. My third choice is tough. The Tolkien trilogy has been the biggest influence on me as a writer, maybe as a person. But for pure power, A Tale of Two Cities gets my vote. The ending got the tears rolling, as did the message of redemption.
I remember being brutally forced to read A Tale of Two Cities when I was in high school. My classmates moaned and groaned through the whole thing, and I discovered it was an incredibly amazing story, beautifully written and, yes, tear-inducing. It was one of those books that made me want to pry into the author’s mind, peek into all the nooks and crannies that inspired such a work, but I think sitting down to chat with Mr. Dickens would bring out every awkward, gauche habit I own (and there are a lot!). If you could invite any author—living or dead—to have lunch with you, who would you pick and why? Where would you dine?
AR: Sorry Hemingway, you’re too depressed and your drinking would spoil my meal. Harper Lee, I’d be too intimidated to sit at the same table with you. I’d probably end up stumbling over my words and looking like a complete idiot. EA Poe, I’d be looking at you from beneath my psychologist’s hat, which wouldn’t help me one bit as a writer. For a really good time, I might go with Mark Twain. I know I’d laugh more than eat. But for practicalities sake, Dean Koontz, let me know when you’re free. I have a million questions for you. How does seafood overlooking a wharf sound to you?
Hey, if he doesn’t like seafood, I’ve got a hankerin’ for it, and lunch on the wharf would be a blast. Mark Twain, though, is an awfully tempting choice. (Not to eat, no, what are you thinking?!)
It’d be great to just sit down and shoot the literary breeze. In lieu of connecting with Famous Authors, what do you most enjoy about connecting with readers?
AR: I’ve connected with a lot of readers at live book signings. The most fun of these are the Meet and Greets, because I’m not giving a formal presentation, I’m just standing in the bookstore, talking to people who come up to my table. A number of them emailed me after reading my fantasy novel, Wyndano’s Cloak. It’s the most wonderful thing to know I’ve touched someone’s heart.
Even when a story flows easily, it’s a lot of work turning it into a book! What do you do to relax?
AR: I’ve played piano for forever. When I want to unwind or deal with some emotions, I go to Bach and Mozart. The other big relaxer is walking. Plus, I get my best ideas there!
Enough of the serious stuff! I’ve got a bunch of Fast Facts for you. Answer quick!
Paper or e-book?
Both. It’s like saying pianos or synthesizers. They both have their place. Traditional bookmaking is an art. People still listen to harpsichords. Some will want paper.
AR: Spring, sans allergies!
Batman or Superman?
Favorite “polite” cuss? (Mind the children, dear!)
AR: Shucks, do I have to choose?
Mountains or beaches?
Chocolate or vanilla?
|image courtesy of cubhousetecaher|
AR: Chocolate, dark and bittersweet.
I knew there was a reason I liked you. Dark and/or bittersweet is the only way to enjoy chocolate! “Milk chocolate is a color, not a flavor.”
*For those who are interested, here’s Silverberry’s approach to writing:
AR: I describe my process in detail in a blog post called Anatomy of a Novel. The plotter-pantser dichotomy seems overplayed. Who cares what you do in the first draft? It’s what happens afterward that matters. Writers need to toss what doesn’t fit; rewrite; and unify plot, theme, and characters. Case in point is my work in progress, a YA, dystopian, sci-fi, fantasy. I started writing the beginning. Didn’t like the way it was coming out so I moved into the middle. That went well for a while until I got stuck and wasn’t sure how to proceed. So I skipped to the end. Got a nice draft of that and went back to the beginning, which finally clicked. Since then, I’ve been circling round and round the novel, testing, poking, probing for weaknesses and ways to make it better. It’s off to a beta reader now. Depending on the response, I may tear apart that middle, which got the whole thing moving. What do you call that process? A zigzag?!
I agree that the “plotter-pantser dichotomy” gets more than its fair share of attention. I know, “to each his own,” but after being down in the writing trenches, it seems to me that a little bit of both is required. It’s just silly to insist a writer must be one or the other. What do we call the combination writer? A plotser? A panter? Nah… Oh, wait, AR! Is this where stripping off your clothes and running through the parking lot comes in? (Every time I see the word “pantser” I am transported back to junior high school…)
ANYwaaaaay! Here we are at the end of our time together. Already! It’s been fun chatting with you.
And readers, I urge you to stalk follow AR Silverberry on social media sites to learn about what he’s up to—and check out his terrific books!
Synopsis of The Stream:
What if your world was six miles wide and endlessly long?
After a devastating storm kills his parents, five-year-old Wend awakens to the strange world of the Stream. He discovers he can only travel downstream, and dangers lurk at every turn: deadly rapids, ruthless pirates, a mysterious pavilion that lures him into intoxicating fantasies, and rumor of a giant waterfall at the edge of the world. Defenseless, alone, with only courage and his will to survive, Wend begins his quest to become a man. Will tragic loss trap him in a shadow world, or will he enter the Stream, with all its passion and peril?
Part coming-of-age tale, part adventure, part spiritual journey, The Stream is a fable about life, impermanence, and the gifts found in each moment.