Thursdays of Sword & Sorceress 26 – the Pauline J. Alama interview

This week’s interview is with Pauline J. Alama.

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1.) Tell us about yourself.

My first novel, The Eye of Night (Bantam 2002), was an epic quest of three misfits in a world that seems to be coming apart. Being rather a Chicken Little type by nature, I often feel the world is coming apart, so this sort of setting comes naturally to me. I know that I have a story to write when I can imagine a way out of disaster — because, you know, it isn’t much of a story if people expect they’re all going to die miserably ever after, and then they do: THE END. But if you lead your characters into Hell and then OUT AGAIN, that’s a story.

Mundanely, I am a freelance writer of grant proposals and other promotional materials for nonprofit organizations. I like freelancing because it gives me more variety in my work than writing for just one organization. Freelancing also gives me more time to raise my son and attend to the whims of my two cats, the one who thinks rubber bands are edible and the really crazy one.

2.) How did you get started writing?

I started writing stories in second grade at Yantacaw Elementary School. I had wonderful teachers who encouraged me. It’s a powerful thing to encourage children to be creative, to make things for themselves rather than accepting the prefabricated world of mass-produced toys, TV-derived stories, pre-programmed games, ready-made cookie dough — and then, when you get older, mass-produced, prefabricated thoughts and opinions, all cut out for you by pundits and ready for you to swallow whole.

3.) Why write fantasy fiction?

Why write realistic fiction? Why write fiction at all? When I want a dose of reality, I read the news, not fiction. But what the news doesn’t often give me is hope. People need hope, and sometimes the only place you can find it is a place beyond logic. You can pin your hopes on a hero, but ten to one, the hero will let you down. But fantasy helps you imagine being the hero that you wished for, and becoming the person you need to be to save everything you care about and everyone you love. And if you can imagine it, then maybe, just maybe, you can work up the courage to do it.

4.) There’s been considerable upheaval about ebooks within the publishing world. Do you think ebooks are good or bad for readers?

For people with limited bookshelf space, I understand that it’s great to be able to have a thousand books on an e-reader, taking up the space of one book. But the codex, or book with bound pages, was a great invention, and even after 2000 years I don’t think it’s at all out of date. It’s user-friendly, it never runs out of power, it can survive being dropped off the bed, and you don’t have to worry about planned obsolescence or incompatible software. I’m hanging onto my collection of codices as long as I can. Reading on screen is fine for work, but that’s not what I want for my recreational reading. And my cats, of course, would hate it if I no longer had books with nice pointy corners for them to rub their chins on. On a more sinister note, I think if e-books became the only form available, it would be a great day for censorship and disinformation. Simply issue one of those mysterious software updates that we all download without thinking, but this one is programmed to seek out certain documents and remove passages that have become politically unwelcome (or unwelcome to the software company), noiselessly editing history, erasing memory, circumscribing thought. Did I mention my penchant for imagining the worst-case scenario?

5.) Do you think ebooks are good or bad for writers?

Both, I suppose. Electronic publishing means there are now more outlets to publish stories than there were just a few years ago. But it’s tremendously easy to ignore a book that doesn’t take up any space on the shelf, doesn’t weigh anything in your backpack. So in a sense, it’s become easier than ever to have something published but not read.

6.) Tell us about your S&S 26 story.

We’ve been having a lot of weird weather in New Jersey for the past few years, especially freaky high winds. A couple of huge, century-old beech trees behind my mother’s house were blown down; that felt like the end of the world to me. I guess that was on my mind when I hit the second catalyst for the story: a CAT scan. I had to lie in a closed cylinder for what seemed forever, not moving, while a machine made strange growling sounds. I’m a bit claustrophobic, so to keep myself from screaming, “Let me out! Let me out!” I told myself stories about what was making those sounds. Alien monsters? Dragons in a cave? I came out of the experience with the germ of a story about going to the dragons to learn the secrets of wind.

When I write for Sword and Sorceress, I sometimes like to explore stories where women play a full spectrum of roles, not only heroes but villains and everything in between. In “Wisdom of Winds,” I have made all the significant characters female: the hero and her companion, the leader they rebel against, the ancient hero whose myth inspires them, even the dragon. Men are offstage, like the ladies in many an old-style heroic adventure; the heroes love them and want to protect them, but they aren’t active in the story.

7.) Can you share a brief excerpt from your S&S Story?

“Fewmets!. . . [T]he scent went to her head like the strongest wine.  Dared she move? Dared she stay, where the broken fewmet would keep sending its intoxicating odor toward her? She kicked the fewmets off the cliff edge, clung to the wall of stone, and managed a few slow steps before dreams took her.  She was flying out over the sea to an island at the far edge of the world.  There golden trees bore golden apples; fanged beasts guarded them, but she passed over them, snatched the topmost fruits, and soared over the clouds, while the great beasts roared in fury.”

8.) Recommend one other science fiction/fantasy book (other than your own).

E. Nesbit’s classic Book of Dragons was written for children (Edwardian children, so it needs a fair amount of explanation for today’s kids) but if you love fantasy and wit, don’t let that stop you. Where else would you find a dragon that prefers to eat Prime Ministers, or one that gets tricked into babysitting a colicky infant?

9.) Recommend one non-fantasy book.

I’d like to recommend a nonfiction book: A Force More Powerful: A Century of Non-Violent Conflict by Peter Ackerman and Jack DuVall. Do you think it’s impossible to tell a gripping story about nonviolence?  Here’s a whole book of dramatic, action-packed stories about nonviolent movements that changed the world — and all of them are true. The book contains both an in-depth account of familiar stories like the American Civil Rights Movement — showing how the most effective nonviolent actions were as strategically planned as any battle — and neglected historical incidents that deserve to be better known. Did you know that a group of unarmed Berlin housewives stood up to the Third Reich to demand their husbands’ release–and won? I defy a whole coffee-shop full of authors to make up anything better. This book is astonishing.

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Thanks, Pauline, for the interview. Be sure to visit Pauline’s website here.

Check out our interviews with past S&S contributors – Sword & Sorceress 22, Sword & Sorceress 23, Sword & Sorceress 24, and Sword & Sorceress 25.

And my novels featuring my S&S character, spy and assassin Caina Amalas, are now available in all ebook formats: Child of the Ghosts and Ghost in the Flames. The third book, Ghost in the Blood, will come out in the first week of October.

-JM

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