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Thursday, August 13, 2020

SPFBO Semifinalist Interview with Deborah Makarios (Interviewed by Adam Weller)


Order The Wound of Words over here



Hi Deborah! I appreciate you spending some time with us and answering a few questions. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I’m delighted to be here! For a given value of ‘here’, since I’m technically at my desk in Lower Hutt, the same as always. Potted biography: born in New Zealand, grew up in Papua New Guinea, returned to New Zealand for university, wound up with an MA in Scriptwriting, so, naturally, became a novelist after escaping the clutches of the Dreaded Day Job. Aside from being a writer, I am a borderline-addicted reader, amateur gardener, irregular housekeeper, enthusiastic needlewoman, and elder of my local church. Plus occasional heating element for two cats (though they prefer my husband).



What led you to set The Wound of Words in its wintry environment led by czarist royalty? Are there any historical figures or folktales that directly influenced these decisions?

The first spark or seed or what have you of The Wound of Words was actually a dream (same as my first novel, Restoration Day). In fact, two of the scenes from the novel are taken more or less directly from the dream. (Anyone want to guess which?) Historical clothing guides suggested the clothing style I’d seen was mid eighteenth centuryish, and the icy chill suggested a Russianesque setting. But the only bit I pinched directly from Actual Russia was Catherine I’s career progression from laundry-maid to Tsarina (though unlike Svetlana, she subsequently became Empress in her own right). And while I have a long-standing fondness for Vladimir Propp’s narratemes, the story is not based on any folktales that I know of. Not consciously, anyway.

That said, during my research I discovered that the role of the coachman is a common one in Hungarian folklore. According to Wikipedia, “he turns up unexpectedly in the hero's life, either knowing his name or naming him by his true name. After the hero enters the coach, the coachman becomes a kind of guide. He may not take the hero to where he wants to go, but he always takes him to where he needs to be." Isn’t that evocative? Unfortunately since my coachman was also my hero it didn’t quite flow, but maybe one day...

I’ve been looking through your website’s blog entries and ‘About’ page, and it’s apparent that reading and writing have been an essential part of your life since early childhood. So far you have published two novels: Restoration Day (2018), a finalist for the Julius Vogel Award for excellence in New Zealand SFF/horror, and the recently published The Wound of Words (2020). Have these been your first attempts at writing published works, or are you also sitting on a stack of completed stories that haven’t yet seen the light of day?



Gosh, how far back do we go? I had the usual childhood dabbles with publishing poems and what have you in school magazines, did a minor bit of scriptwriting, got some memoirish articles published in my teens, and drafted a novella which exists in only one copy which, God willing, will never see the light of day or be exposed to human eyes. (Note to self: specify in will that it be burned unread.) I’ve also had a short play produced in my intermittent other life as a playwright – a comedy in which a ghost tries to figure out which of his nearest and dearest just shot him. Admittedly, I do have a few hibernating works which are in various stages of progress (mostly just notes), with occasional drafts here and there. But stacks of unpublished novels, no. I just wrote Restoration Day over and over again until it was publishable.

After so many re-writes of Restoration Day, do you think that helped you complete The Wound of Words at a faster pace, or were there other factors involved?

I think it certainly helped to have had that experience. You don’t really know how you work best as a writer – and re-writer! - until you’ve actually gone through the process. So I was able to avoid a lot of dead ends and slow lanes with The Wound of Words. For example, I wrote the first draft of Restoration Day by hand – all 158,000-odd words of it! But with WoW I switched to scribbling an impromptu outline for each scene, and then drafting directly on to the computer. Much faster, without losing the brain-stirring effects of fountain pen in hand.

You’ve decided to license your work under the Creative Commons license. This has limited your ability to sell your ebooks through some of the larger online retailers such as Amazon, making it harder for your stories to reach a worldwide audience. Can you talk about this decision?

The thing I don’t like about All Rights Reserved is that it basically says to the reader that their role is passive consumption, maybe review, but anything more than that and There Will Be Lawyers. That isn’t the kind of relationship I want to have with readers. Creative Commons takes a “some rights reserved” approach, so the author can decide up front which rights they’re happy to share with the readers and which they aren’t. My choice of the Attribution-ShareAlike license, for example, means that readers are free to translate The Wound of Words, make comic books or audiobooks out of it, adapt it, write new stories with the same characters – anything they like, even commercially, as long as they attribute the source text & author, and share the new work on the same basis.

The hitch is that an awful lot of people seem to think that Creative Commons is like a free version of Private Label Rights (PLR) where the creator of the work sells the right to be identified as the creator of the work. Nothing could be further from the truth. But some retailers won’t accept Creative Commons ebooks because they don’t want their customers getting grumpy about paying for something they supposedly “could have downloaded for free”. As far as I’m aware there’s nowhere on the internet where readers can download either of my books for free, but Amazon won’t sell them. (Except in paperback.) Nor will Draft2Digital, which is part of why I chose Smashwords’ distribution network. (And for those of you who have Kindles, yes, Smashwords has mobi versions available, among other formats.)

Still, while going for a Creative Commons license has thrown some obstacles in the road to readers, I’m contrary and bloody-minded enough to stick to my guns. (Or maybe I just don’t like other entities making decisions for me...) It may be a slower road to recognition, but it’ll hopefully create a better place for readers when/if I get there.

So if a production company wished to make a film based on one of your books, you wouldn’t be able to earn any money from it, as long as they credited you as the creator?

I wouldn’t earn any money directly from it, unless of course the production company wanted to enlist my involvement with publicity, for example, or get a Creator Endorsed mark. But yes, they would have to say “based on the book XYZ by Deborah Makarios” and they would have to share the film on the same footing. So people could incorporate footage from the film in something else, or print stills on t-shirts or what have you, but they’d need to include attribution too – and it all ends up pointing back to the original work, which does benefit me directly.

How did you hear about SPFBO? What goals did you have when you entered the contest?

I saw a mention of SPFBO in a blog I follow (though sadly I can’t remember which, now) and thought it sounded like a great idea. So many competitions are limited to traditionally published books only, or assume that writers have piles of spare cash lying around waiting to be spent on entry fees (if only!). So I found Mark’s blog, subscribed to it, and then high-tailed it over to the application form as soon as I saw the announcement that SPFBO6 was open for business.

My aim was simply to raise awareness of The Wound of Words’ existence, hopefully even get a review maybe (thank you!), but hey, who wouldn’t like to have such an elegant trophy adorning their mantelpiece?

Can you tell us anything about the next story you’re hoping to publish?

Um… I could if I knew which one it was going to be! I’ve got the best of blog compilation in the editing phase, and there’s the aforementioned comedy/mystery play Dead Man Talking needing a rewrite in its longer version, and then there are two more fantasy novels jostling each other in the doorway. (They’re going to get wedged in there if they both refuse to give way. I don’t write that fast.) One involves a team of operatives tracking down a missing princess in a world where magic is as good a weapon as any; the other involves spiders, royal changelings, and the dislocation caused by growing up in a world you don’t belong to.

Those three stories sound wonderful, but the best-of-blog compilation sounds especially interesting. Will it be something along the lines of a David Sedaris-styled, essays and observation collection?

Confession time: I don’t think I’ve read any of David Sedaris’ work. Dave Barry, maybe? To give you some idea of the book’s flavour range, it includes: instructions on how to make a severed Jabberwocky head, my brief stint as a Disney princess (did not end well), the insanity of crochet hook numbers, and fascinating things I discovered about such weird and wonderful creatures as cuttlefish, stick insects, and the 18th century Romanovs. Plus some more practical bits on lies told about love, how to tell if an egg is bad, and how to live in your favourite book. Also the reason why I have a combination lock on a chain around my neck.

Yes. Yes to all of that! If this interview goes on too long and you want to get back to work on this, just give me the ole’ side-eye.

What have you been reading or listening to over the past few months? Can you recommend any books that our readers might enjoy?

You know, I don’t think I’d realized until I started watching SPFBO swing into action just how popular listening to books is these days. I don’t often go in for audiobooks myself, being a very visual person (they go in one ear and out the other) but my husband, who has the most delicious reading voice of anyone I know, regularly reads aloud to me. Currently he’s reading me the Second Book of Chronicles (Athaliah: worst grandmother EVER) and also Restoration Day (his choice). It’s a bit of a weird experience. On the one hand, it’s been long enough that I can’t necessarily remember what scene comes next, but on the other hand, I still occasionally catch him in a mis-read word, because something deep in the recesses of my brain goes “that’s not the word that goes there!” I was afraid I’d find it cringey looking back, but I’m enjoying it more than I expected. Mind you, writers being as writers are, it’s always the next book that seems the most interesting.

On the sequestered-carbon side of things, I’ve been reading a lot of non-fiction lately. Jewel robbers (Diamond Doris, Harry the Valet and the crew behind the Great Pearl Heist); Mercenary Mum, about Neryl Joyce’s time as a security contractor in Iraq, which is eye-opening, though not a very comfortable read; and The Feather Thief, which is about a professional flautist who steals hundreds of stuffed birds from a museum in order to obsessively recreate Victorian salmon-fishing flies. Sounds fictional but isn’t. I’ve also been devouring heaps of books on gardens and chicken-keeping, for what are (at least at present) non-writing-related reasons.

From the fiction shelves, I’ve recently read Elizabeth Lim’s Spin the Dawn, which I found hard to put down. I just love her descriptions of the tailoring competition – it’s like a highly political Royal Project Runway, with much more dangerous competition, and such beautifully imagined creations. I’ve also just devoured Zen Cho’s Sorcerer to the Crown in about a day – well-deserving all the buzz I’ve been hearing about it. I love a story which brings magic to historical settings without mangling the culture.

I’ve also been indulging in a re-read of some old favourites, such as Diana Wynne Jones’ Howl’s Moving Castle and Castle in the Air, and I’m slowly re-reading The Lord of the Rings, soaking in the grounded geographicalness of it all, the insistent environmental through-line of earth and water and weather and plants wrapping around the story (and sometimes the characters!). 

Plus plenty of the Queens of Crime, because what could be more restorative in stressful times than a nicely-thought-out murder?

Thanks for inviting me to FBC! It’s been a pleasure to virtually cross the great Tasman/Pacific moat and say hello to the extended fantasy-reading world outside: Hello! May plague and pestilence soon be in your past.

The pleasure was ours! And I wish we could have modeled our health crisis response as well as New Zealand did. Perhaps we’ll get luckier during the next plague. Best of luck in the next round of SPFBO, Deborah!

Thanks!

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