Interview with Lisa Mantchev

June 30th, 2010 at 2:30 am (Interviews)

Next up in the Nebula Awards interviews I did earlier this year is Lisa Mantchev. I noticed Lisa’s book a long time before the Nebula shortlists because of its stunning cover, and am really looking forward to reading the next instalment of the series!

Interviewed by Tehani Wessely on April 08 2010 – originally published at the Nebula Awards website.

Lisa Mantchev is nominated for the Andrew Norton Award for her novel Eyes Like Stars.

Congratulations on your shortlisting for the Andre Norton Award! Eyes Like Stars has received a very positive response. As a first-time novelist, that must be extremely gratifying – can you describe what it has been like to see your baby be so well received?

It’s been thrilling… very much like standing on a stage and receiving applause at the end of an Opening Night performance. No actor is ever quite certain how an audience is going to receive a play, and I think it’s the same for writers. No one wants the curtain to come down for their to be only cricket noises… or worse yet, booing!

There’s a big focus on the theatre and Shakespeare in the novel – where does this interest come from? What made you pour so much of this interest into the book (and presumably the books that will follow), but in a fantasy setting? What challenges did this present?

I started doing community theater when I was seven years old, as well as writing scripts for class performances. That continued through high school, when I got a scholarship to study drama at the University of California, Irvine. At the time, I was far more interested in acting than writing, but I switched gears my senior year during an intensive playwriting course.

I’d been writing and publishing short stories for nearly seven years, and I was incredibly intimidated by the idea of writing something that was novel-length. When I decided to tackle something longer than five thousand words, I knew it would help to make it a very familiar world (to me) so I could concentrate more on the process of writing than the research. It’s that old adage of “write what you know”!

I know a lot of writers rarely write shorts after they become novelists, due to both time restrictions and the different requirements of the forms. Are you still finding the time and inclination to write short stories, or has novel writing taken precedence?

I haven’t actually found a lot of time for writing short stories lately, both as a result from the novel-writing and from Real Life getting progressively crazier. I did manage a really fun collaboration of James A. Grant called “As Recorded on Brass Cylinders: Adagio for Two Dancers” which will be appearing in the steampunk-themed issue of Weird Tales and is also slated for reprint in the Vandermeers’ upcoming anthology Steampunk Reloaded.

Speaking of the series, is there anything you can tell desperate readers about the rest of the books?

Perchance To Dream will be out at the end of May, and it picks up where Eyes Like Stars left off *spoiler alert!* with Bertie, her fairy friends, and Ariel on the road, heading out to rescue Nate from the clutches of the Sea Goddess. I got to introduce several new characters in PtD, and I’m very excited to see how the theater readership feels about them.

Have you any more novel ideas percolating when you’re finished with these books? Anything on the drawing board you can tell us about?

In between revisions for Theater Book Three, tentatively titled So Silver Bright, I am revising a long-time-in-the-works steampunk novel (which I jokingly refer to as “retrofuturistic NeoVictorian.”) At the moment, it is in decided need of more grime and grit to balance out all the schmancy costuming and gadgetry.

Eyes Like Stars has a gorgeous cover, but recently there has been quite a lot of controversy over book covers not accurately representing race and culture of the characters contained in the novel. How do you feel about your cover, and what are your thoughts on this issue?

I fell madly in love with Jason’s artwork the moment I saw it, and there isn’t a single thing I would change about the cover for ELS. He perfectly captured Bertie, the fairies, and the feeling of lurking backstage with the lights just out of reach.

The whitewashing issue is an extremely troubling one, and I’ve been exceptionally happy to see that publishers are listening when the blogging community calls them on their mistakes. Given the pervasiveness of the issue, however, I think it would be sensible of the publishers to discuss such things with the authors BEFORE art is commissioned or licensed.

It’s also important to remember that it’s not just an issue of race and culture, but one of body image as well… I see far too many covers of extraordinarily thin girls when the protagonists are dealing with weight issues as well.

It might be said that authors of young adult books have a big responsibility regarding the issues they examine in their writing, because of the nature of their readership. Do you agree with this? What do you think are the most important elements for the success of a young adult novel?

It’s the responsibility of any author to tell the story honestly, however dark and deep and ugly that story might be. Both my short stories and the novels tend to explore some dark areas of the soul, but I didn’t go into writing ELS thinking, “I need to be careful with this, because SOMEONE needs to think of the CHILDREN!” I wasn’t thinking about marketing slots when drafting it, and honestly I think “YA” is more a marketing tool, a place to set the book on the shelf in the store and a label under which to file it in an online store, than it is anything else. Younger readers do not want authors writing down to them, and they will call an author out faster than anyone on the planet for doing so.

As for success, there’s too many ways to define that! There’s the success that comes with busting out on the bestselling lists (which seems to require massive PR campaigns and hype/buzz) and there’s the success that comes with being an award winner, and there’s the success of taking an idea, putting it on paper, and then holding a finished book in your hands, with your name on the cover, two years after the whole crazy notion came into your head.

Lisa Mantchev is the author of Eyes Like Stars and the forthcoming Perchance To Dream, the first two novels in the Théâtre Illuminata series. She has also published numerous short stories in venues including Strange Horizons, Fantasy, Clarkesworld, and Weird Tales. She lives on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington state with her husband, daughter, and hairy miscreant dogs. You can read more about it at http://www.theatre-illuminata.com

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