What an honour to be a stop on a thrilling blog tour for Pantomime, one of my Top 10 books of 2012 and really a fabulous read. The book is out in a couple of days and published by Strange Chemistry. Hope you all enjoy my interview with Laura on her journey to the publication, the wonderful world of Ellada and more!
Release: 7 February 2013
Publisher: Strange Chemistry
R.H. Ragona’s Circus of Magic is the greatest circus of Ellada. Nestled among the glowing blue Penglass – remnants of a mysterious civilisation long gone – are wonders beyond the wildest imagination. It’s a place where anything seems possible, where if you close your eyes you can believe that the magic and knowledge of the vanished Chimeras is still there. It’s a place where anyone can hide.
Iphigenia Laurus, or Gene, the daughter of a noble family, is uncomfortable in corsets and crinoline, and prefers climbing trees to debutante balls. Micah Grey, a runaway living on the streets, joins the circus as an aerialist’s apprentice and soon becomes the circus’s rising star. But Gene and Micah have balancing acts of their own to perform, and a secret in their blood that could unlock the mysteries of Ellada.
Interview with LAURA
Hi Laura! Thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview. I read your book and loved it so I’m thrilled to be able to
grill you ask you questions!
Firstly, can you tell me a bit about your journey to publication? How did you end up at Strange Chemistry?
In some ways, I cringe to tell my publication story, as I was in many ways a study of what NOT to do. So learn from my errors!
I had never subbed Pantomime anywhere else before I sent it to Angry Robot’s Open Door month in March 2011. I was 22 and had finished a book and started researching the publishing industry, but I didn’t know that much yet.
I subbed what was close to a first draft. I’d read through it and fixed some typos and smoothed over some awkward sentences, and I thought that meant it was edited. Sigh. Oh, past self.
I had very little confidence in my writing and was pretty much certain I was going to get rejected. And then I got a full request in June. And then I found out I was going to editorial in July. I was over the moon–so excited and scared and hopeful.
And every day I feel sooo lucky in that Amanda, who was my reader at the time, saw the promise in my novel. I had a central premise that appealed to her and strong writing, but the overall story had some lingering issues. It needed more–more magic, more excitement, higher stakes, and restructuring. As I learned more about publishing, I had a feeling that the best I could hope for was a revise and resubmit.
Because it was an Open Door for unagented manuscripts, it took awhile to finally hear. I queried some agents while I waited, but I didn’t have that much luck. My query letter wasn’t the best, mainly because the book needed more work.
In late November I had a rewrite request. Over the next 3 months I worked so, so hard on my manuscript. I then finished and started subbing agents because I knew I wanted one for my long-term writing career. I had much better luck querying–over a 50% request rate! I sent the MS back to Amanda as well, because now she was no longer a reader–she was the editor of Strange Chemistry!
It was a crazy three weeks of highs and lows, but I ended up having an offer from my agent on a Tuesday and the publication offer on the Thursday. That day was wonderful. I knew it was the acquisitions meeting so I took a day off from work. I had asked Amanda that if it was a yes if she could phone me because I’ve always dreamed of “The Call.” The phone rang at around 4 pm that day. Amanda told me I had a deal, and I could basically only squeak and cry.
The contract was signed almost a year after I originally submitted Pantomime, and it’ll be on the shelves 23 months after I sent it off with a wish and some crossed fingers.
It was literally a dream come true.
Wow that’s an amazing story! And congratulations!
I don’t know if we’re allowed to talk about the Secret, but I was wondering what inspired you to write Pantomime? It’s got such a unique premise. Was it based on anything?
This is going to be difficult. A reviewer tweeted me yesterday that reviewing Pantomime without giving away the secret was like “tapdancing on a tightrope” and I totally know how she feels.
So, staying annoyingly vague: the central premise is something that I’ve been interested and passionate about for a long time. I came up with the idea in 2007 but did not do anything with it for a few years. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to do it justice. So I did some research, watched documentaries, and just sat on the idea. Eventually, I decided to try my best and hope I wrote about it with respect and dignity, while at the same time not making it overwhelmingly an “issue” book.
Less vague: I originally wrote a book with an adult Micah Grey but kept stalling on the adult voice. So I decided to write a “short story” about Micah joining the circus, as I thought that would be good training for his eventual later career. As you might have guessed, this did not turn out to be a short story but instead became Pantomime. I loved Micah’s younger, less certain voice and researching the circus and exploring the pseudo-Victorian world of Ellada and the Archipelago.
I think you handled it well and at the end of the day, Pantomime was just a great story! It’s also interesting to know that you originally thought about Micah as an adult! Does that mean we may see the characters age as the series progresses?
Ideally, I’d like to write a trilogy with an adult Micah Grey down the line, but obviously it depends on interest and how the YA series does. The adult book I wrote first will need a significant edit now, but I do think people who liked younger Micah Grey will like him ten years older, as well.
As I had that first book nearly written, there are some very small Easter eggs in Pantomime, so if the adult book sees the light of day, it’ll be fun for readers to go back and see the tiny hints I put in there.
Fun! I love finding little goodies in books it always makes me smile. Your writing is amazing so fingers crossed it does make it to publication. I’ll work on hinting at Amanda!
Now I wanted to ask about your vision of Ellada. I know I bugged you on Twitter about a map for it, so can you describe the world as you see it and why you chose to include things like Vestige and Penglass?
Ok, here is an imaginary history and geography lesson!
The Archipelago has various islands scattered throughout it. Ellada was once the superpower and had all the other islands under their control as colonies. The reason they were able to do this was because they had the highest collection of workable Vestige, especially weapons. Vestige is advanced, possibly magical, technology left behind by a previous civilisation, the Alder. They often didn’t need to actually use the weapons, because the threat of it was enough. I liked the idea of including this because once the Vestige breaks, they don’t have the knowledge to fix it. It’s a finite resource, and now a lot of their weapons are running out of power so Ellada’s position in the world is more tenuous. The Alder also left behind Penglass, an unbreakable substance that grows into large, cobalt domes that twine through the larger cities. No one knows what’s inside them, but there have been many theories.
Every now and again colonies would revolt and try to secede. When all of them worked together, they could be a threat. Eventually, Ellada decided it would be better to let them secede and try to work on improving foreign relations. At the time of Pantomime, there hasn’t been a war for about fifty years. And so now you’re starting to see people immigrating and co-mingling more than you once did.
So, aside from Ellada, we have the former colonies, which are clustered closer to the equator than Ellada. Kymri, which is a desert island. Linde is a jungle island, with large wild cats and a lot of coastal towns. Temne was bisected by an unbreakable ridge of Penglass that extended far into the ocean on either side, so it’s only fairly recently, history-wise, that they’ve been able to interact. So their cultures are quite different. Then we have Byssia, closest to the equator, which is another jungle island but with a different culture. Each island has their own distinct culture and history, but now they’re flourishing by being able to sell their wares to Ellada rather than being forced to supply them.
There are also some other smaller islands scattered about, but most of them are uninhabitable.
Hopefully that wasn’t too boring. I’ve spent a lot of time world-building and thinking about fictitious trade treaties and things like that.
It’s never too boring! I find world-building one of my favourite things about fantasy, so the more imaginary detail the better.
So moving on a bit from the book and more about you. Can you describe yourself in one sentence?
I’m a 24-year-old writer and bookworm from California who lives in Scotland with my husband and two cats.
Quite a big relocation! Care to share how you met and more importantly, how he convinced you to give up sunny California for the lush grey skies of Scotland?
It’s a nerdy love story. I met my husband on the internet when I was 15 and he was 16. He’d found my blog and was incensed that I’d put Terry Goodkind’s name above Robin Hobb’s, so he downloaded AIM to accuse me of bad taste in books. I nearly blocked him, but was excited we had read the same books. So I spoke some more to him and he actually turned out to be quite a nice guy. I promptly fell in love with him, but thought it would never work out because he was in Scotland and I was in California. A year later, I finally told him how I felt, and he felt the same. We then flew back and forth and spent far too much money on airfare for five years. We were married just after I finished university and I moved to the UK on a spousal visa. I’m still here 3 years later. Pantomime is dedicated to him.
That’ s an incredibly sweet story, thank you for sharing!
What’s the one thing you miss most about California? On the flip side, what’s the one thing you love most about Scotland?
Aside from my friends and family, of course, I do really miss the weather, especially here in winter when the sun sets at 3.30. To think, I used to walk around outside in short sleeves! In January! Proof.
I do really love the scenery and history of Scotland. It’s gorgeous and rugged and inspiring.
I think I would definitely miss the weather the most too.
Can you tell us a bit more about your writing process? Do you outline, set yourself schedules, etc?
I’m still figuring out my writing process, but overall I do know that I’m a tortoise rather than a hare, at least with the Micah Grey books.
In that I mean that I write slowly and steadily, and ponder things as I go, and so at the end of it I have a fairly strong draft. Pantomime took about 15 months to write the first draft, but that was when it was more of a hobby and I was learning, and I was working on a book with an adult Micah Grey, plus short stories and poems. Pantomime’s first draft was very different than the finished book. It was 25k shorter and it was in chronological order, which threw off the pacing as the circus didn’t even appear until nearly 1/3 through the story. When I had my revision request, I did such a hefty edit, but during the course of that I learned a lot about writing and, more importantly, rewriting. There are still a few scenes in Pantomime that are almost unchanged from the first draft. Not many, but some.
I have a much better idea of how I write now after writing Pantomime2. I blogged about the process in a fair amount of detail here. The TLDR of that post is that I like to outline a LOT, and then I draft and around every 20,000 words I stop and edit as needed. It means it might take me around 6 months for a draft, but then I end up with a draft I’m happy with. As of this interview I’m still waiting on agent revisions, though, so maybe I’ll still have to restructure it drastically! But I am happy with the draft and am excited to dive back in and make Micah’s story even better.
I honestly can’t wait to read my next book. It’s my one qualm about reading the first one so early! Now my last big question: what have you enjoyed most about this process? The whole writing, getting published, promotional shebang? 🙂
Connecting with readers. To read a wonderful, beautiful review where people really got everything I’ve tried to do. I’ve had a few people say they know someone going through something similar to Gene or Micah and it helped them understand. Others have said my book has stayed with them. A few people have said I might be their favourite book of the year (and I’m writing this in December!) That’s fantastic. There’s no better feeling, and that’s why I do it.
But I have loved all the little milestones of having my first book published. The announcement. Seeing Pantomime on GR and Amazon the first time. Seeing the cover rough, then seeing the final cover. Holding the ARC in my hands for the first time–that was a big one. I cried and then I ran around my office and showed everyone my book. Edits, copy edits, proofing. It’ll never be as new as this again. I only have a few milestones left now – holding the finished product, seeing it on a bookshelf in a book store, doing a book launch. It’s great.
And I’m so excited for you and to have everyone get their hands on your amazing book!
Now a few quickfire questions to end:
Tea or coffee?
Both! Usually coffee in the mornings and tea in the evenings.
Drama or comedy?
Er, again, both! Depends on my mood. I have a specific sense of humour, though, so a lot of comedies don’t work for me, so I’m probably more partial to drama.
e-Books or physical books?
I’ve actually only been reading e-books for the past two months. I find it more comfortable to read on the Kindle as I can read one-handed, and I read faster. I’ll still never give up physical books for good, though. I go through phases.
Indoors or outdoors?
Indoors, as my near-albino skin will attest. That said, I do really miss camping in California. My family and I used to go to Yosemite every year, But it’s too cold for me to camp in Scotland, even though there’s some of the most beautiful landscapes just on my doorstep. I blame the fact I don’t drive.
Artist: James Jean or Yoshitaka Amano. Musician: the band Metric
The Fifth Element. I have it memorised in all its cheesy glory.
Favourite ice cream?
Thanks so much for doing this interview Laura, it’s been such a blast!
About LAURA LAM:
Find Laura on:
Laura Lam was raised near San Francisco, California by two former Haight-Ashbury hippies. She relocated to Scotland in 2009 to be with her husband, whom she met on the internet when he instant messaged her and insulted her taste in books. She almost blocked him but is glad she didn’t. At times she misses the sunshine.
I hope you’ve all enjoyed the interview with Laura and it’s got you interested in picking up her book! Pantomime really is incredibly unique and extremely well-written, so come support its launch at Forbidden Planet in London on 7 February and pre-order your copy today!