I often blog about my friend Robin Lythgoe. I do that because I believe in her talent and I want to spread the word about her stories. Her latest adventure is a Blog Tour. June 3-9, Robin will be virtually visiting some blogs around the web to promote her book, "As the Crow Flies." It is my privilege to have tour to begin here and my honor to have Robin as my guest at directions for the journey.
“One more job” means that Crow, a notorious thief, can retire with Tarsha, the woman of his dreams, but “one more job” may just mean his life.
When Crow sets out to steal that last brilliant treasure and seek a life of ease and pleasure with the jewel of his heart, he seriously underestimates his mark, the Baron Duzayan. For a thief, getting caught is never a good thing. Getting caught by a wizard is even worse. Under threat of death by poison, Crow is coerced into stealing an improbable, mythical prize. To satisfy the wizard's greed and save the life of his lady love, he must join forces with Tanris, the one man Crow has spent his entire career avoiding.
But what's a man to do when stealing that fabled prize could level an empire and seal his fate?
From a dungeon black as night, to the top of a mountain peak shrouded in legend, a man’s got to do what he must. Unless, of course, he can think of a better plan…
Welcome Robin! It's terrific to have you here today. I've been a fan of your writing for some years, as you know. During that time, you have surprised me with ideas that simply blow my mind and characters I love. How do you think up your characters? Do they just come to you, out of the blue?
Sometimes ideas DO come to me out of the blue! I can remember working out in the yard one summer, and I had this very clear image of a curiously tattooed man in buckskins come to me. He was lost, and the magic (connected to his tattoos) didn't function properly in the place he found himself. He was very formal, very noble in bearing and attitude.
He sounds intriguing! Who is he? What's his name?
Sorry, nope, not revealing that just now!
Not fair! So, is it all inspiration or do you draw on other sources?
I might be reading or watching a show, and some aspect of one of the characters will catch my attention. I ask myself, “What would this kind of person do in such-and-such situation?” or even “What would *I* do if that happened to me?” And, being a fantasy writer, it's usually followed by “How can I apply this to a fantasy situation?”
There are some intense situations in your book. How do you gear yourself up to write emotionally difficult scenes?
I put myself in the character's shoes. “If this were me, what would I be thinking/feeling/sensing?” I tend to do this whether I'm writing, reading, watching a show, or just playing a scene out in my mind. I can feel the emotion so well that I react physically. I cry, tense up, laugh, squeak (modified screaming)... My family thinks it's funny.
I would have to say (carefully, in order to avoid spoilers!) that the scene where Tanris tells Crow how he laid the trap to catch him was the most emotionally draining. I totally empathized (see answer to previous question!) with Crow's dawning shock, felt the dizziness of disbelief, wanted to punch Tanris right in the nose!
Once you've got your characters, do you outline, use note cards or write by the seat of your pants?
All three? I would have to say that I am primarily a “discovery” writer (the seat-of-the-pants method), and I'll start out with a loose outline in my head. I have been working on note-carding, but my success has been kind of spotty. I get caught up in the discovery part and the notes fall by the wayside. Still, they're good for getting me back on track!
Though Crow is the main character of "As the Crow Flies," I had a hard time liking him until he learned a few important life lessons. He takes other people's stuff. Not the hero sort. Why Crow? What makes him different from other thieves?
Well... he comes out of my head, and there's no one quite like me! I'd also have to say that while the story is about stealing something, the item is a little unusual, and the process serves as a catalyst for Crow to make some discoveries about himself as well as others.
My husband says Crow inherited my sense of wit and humor, so what's not to love? I also like his dogged certainty that the gods particularly love him, and that when things go wrong something will always work out. He's not a quitter. And hey, he loves books, too!
I know your family means alot to you and that you're a person of faith. Many readers are too. How does your faith impact your writing?
In an uncertain world, my faith gives me a place to stand, it gives me something to strive for, it sets standards for me to achieve. The knowledge I have gained through my faith gives me the self-confidence I need to develop and employ my talent. My faith is such a part of my life that I would be surprised if it were not reflected in my writing.
Crow has a beautiful girlfriend, gets tossed into prison, faces painful injuries and dangerous obstacles. Yet, you don't assault your readers with graphic sex, gore or the over-abundance of potentially objectionable language that's found in many a fantasy novel these days. Is that because of your faith as well?
My faith did play an important role in my choices, as did the environment I grew up in, where the media suggested violence, sex, and gore without delving into the nitty-gritty details. I think our society has become unfortunately desensitized and that, in turn, has diminished our ability to exercise our imaginations. So many of today's readers want/need to be given explicit details rather than letting a concept or description bloom in their own minds in the framework of suggestion. “You didn't describe the demon very well,” was the recent complaint of a younger reader. I asked what descriptors had been given. “Demon,” was the first and most obvious. “Together with wings, sharp talons, size, and shrieking, what does that conjure in your mind?” I asked. “Oooh...”
We do not need to fill in every single gap. We do not need those graphic “conventions” in order to tell—or enjoy—a good story. As you pointed out, Crow experienced those things, but the focus was on him rather than on them. Although I wrote the story with adults in mind, I've had people comment that it is suitable for older YA readers and that, in addition to the “approved for general audiences” rating, it happily lacks the “obtuse and immature main character who has some sudden, life-changing epiphany within the last 20 pages.” My husband calls the lack of gratuitous graphic explicitness in my writing “wit instead of grit.” I consider those wonderful compliments, and I am pleased that I can present this book with no excuses, no regrets.
It is certainly a book I am happy to share with everyone. With the many challenges you faced writing about Crow, many writers would face yet another: writer's block. How do you deal with it?
There's a scene in the TV show “Castle” where Rick says:
“I don't believe in writer’s block. I believe in writer’s embarrassment. That’s when you're so embarrassed by the horrendous drivel you’re writing that you can't bear to see it on the page. After all, you can always write something. I’ve discovered that giving yourself permission to write poorly is the gateway to writing well. It may not be good, it may not make sense, but that’s okay. After enough pages of meaningless drivel, your brain will uncover something interesting, and before you know it, you're off and writing again.”
I like that. A person can always write something—Call it warm-up exercises if you want, but the motion helps to get words and ideas going. Another thing I find really helpful is engaging in some other avenue of creativity. Designing graphics or photo montages in Photoshop is one of my favorites.
Your cover design is proof that you enjoy more than one artistic outlet for ideas. Reading is another good way to get the juices flowing. Writers start out as readers. What works motivate you?
I have a few books I go back to (in no particular order):
The Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series by Tad Williams for the amazing world-building, the broad spectrum of characters, the fantastic character development, and the historical depth.
Lady of the Forest, by Jennifer Roberson, for the unique and beautifully romantic retelling of Robin Hood—a favorite character since I was young and my grandmother used to call me “Robin the Hood.”
The Legend of Nightfall, by Mickey Zucker Reichert for the rollicking, often humorous adventure.
Exile's Gate and the Fortress series by C.J. Cherryh not only for the rich and complex tales, but for the language she uses and the images her words paint.
I love that there are so many authors to discover and so many styles, stories, and characters to explore. Books are magic.
They are indeed! What magic do you want readers to take with them when they reach the end of "As the Crow Flies?"
“Wow, that was a fun book! I love to read!” And... that the people around us are important. You never can tell where you will find a friend and what that person will add to your life.
Thanks so much for joining me here today, Robin. I've had a great time! Last question: Next project (as if I didn't know...)?
I am working on a series—also fantasy—about a man who is abducted by a mage when he is young and magically recreated to fashion a living, breathing weapon. The story deals with his anger, denial and loss; his eventual acceptance of his “condition”; and finally the active pursuit of his destiny. It is a world-spanning, lifelong tale. Magic and dragons feature again, though in an entirely different way than they did in Crow's story. I'm also getting requests to continue Crow's story, which makes me blush with pleasure.
After many years spent tending to a prince, three princesses and a king, Scribe Robin is now free to take to her tower to write tales about wizards and magic, fantastical places and extraordinary journeys. From time to time, when she is not writing, she invokes the magic of Photoshop to create maps, scenery, insignias, book covers, and various bits and pieces of artwork suitable for use in the mysterious ether plane. She has regularly been victorious at the NaNoWriMo tourneys, and has several books in various stages of progress in addition to a published work of fiction about a thief and his trusty sidekick. Now if only she could find that spell for manipulating time so that she could turn all of her ideas into stories...