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Interview with Charlotte Blackwood

December 22, 2012

Happy apocalypse survival everyone! I spent my potentially last day of existence doing a research paper on Renaissance lesbians, specifically Britomart and Malecasta in Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queen. If anyone is interested, I can post that essay here as well: I think it’s pretty understandable to people unfamiliar with The Faerie Queen. But now for some so exciting, so epically awesome, so totally brilliant that you will cry: cry tears of happiness and insight and joy. That’s right, it’s a personal interview with the one and only Charlotte Blackwood!

Natalie Cannon: Right-o! Here we go! You’re present on a couple different media platforms, but which is the best way to contact/learn more about you?

Charlotte Blackwood: I would say that my blog here on WordPress is the best way to keep up with/learn about me. I also really would say that my fan fiction account is a great way to get to know me and whatnot. I always respond on there.

NC: For those who don’t know, you can actually send Charlotte a personal message via fan fiction.net. Right under her name on her profile is a tiny PM link with an envelope icon. See link above! Next question. You write so much! What’s the status of all your current projects?

CB: OH, gosh, great question. To the Death (first in my trilogy), is in the second round of edits with you right now, I believe. I’m nearly done writing the sequel, just three chapters. I’ve decided to rewrite Morrison Girls entirely, so I’m doing that next and doing The Pen is Mightier when I’ve finished that. As far as novellas, I’m a little bit into both Not All that Glimmers and Retraining. I’ve got a short story entitled “Soon” submitted to Gemini Magazine, still waiting to hear back, and Make-Believe is still being reworked. Hunting Plums is ready for submission, but I’m waiting until you give me the go-ahead to submit to the SCJ.

As far as fan fiction, I’ve got SO MANY PROJECTS. I’ve got more Harry Potter stories going than I know what to do with, including my Remus Smutshots, which I’ve finally gotten into the second half of the alphabet for. Among my Harry Potter projects include co-authored works with you, Little, E. M. McBride (whom I’m also in planning stages of a novel with) and my wonderful reader, Liza. I’ve got two A Song of Ice and Fire fics that need desperate attention. I’ve got my Hunger Games fics chugging along happily. My Sherlock fic is lacking only the epilogue, which is in the works, and I’ve recently started a (GASP) Glee fan fic… It’s gotten great reviews from friends who are fans of the show so far, so I’m hoping that continues.

I think that’s about it on my current projects.

NC: That’s so many! How do you keep you keep track of everything? Have you always had multiple projects going at any given time or is it a fairly recent phenomenon in your writing career?

CB: I keep lists. That helps. I also leave myself reminders EVERYWHERE to work on things, and each time I come across one I sit down and do a bit of work. Lists and notes are essential to organization. I’ve also decided that outlines are my best friend because they’re a great reminder of where you’re at and where you were headed without reading pages and pages of notes and previously-written manuscript.

I would call it fairly recent. I never really finished anything until about two years ago. It was around the time I started actually finishing my various project ideas that I realized I could do anything if I just kept myself determined enough, and I can’t turn my brain off, so that translates into many ever-going projects. As soon as I’ve finished one I have another six going, but there’s no other way I’d want it.
NC: That sounds like a hydra! Speaking of sitting down and writing though, what’s your writing process?
CB: Hmm… a bit. I sort of like hydras. HYDRA, on the other hand, not so much. But I digress nerdily.
Writing process. Ha. I’m weird. So I decide what my character’s names or physical/emotional descriptions are first, then I decide how they relate to each other, then I decide how they interact with each other, then I think up a basic plot, it festers in my brain for a while, and if I’m really doing well I write out a chapter-by-chapter outline of events and follow it as much as possible as i write and then flesh it out. Then i send it to you for edits and we work from there. 😀 As for the universes I create, I usual have a general idea of physical orientations for things, little more than that, but I’ve actually done up a floor plan for the house of some characters in a story I still have festering in my head that I haven’t decided much about yet and will probably shelve for quite a while (think Revenge on ABC, but less episodic because it’s not a TV show).

NC: Coolio! Writers are weird and such is their weirdness. What started you writing? Did you have certain influences or outside encouragement?
CB: Well, officially speaking, my writing started with a diary my mom got me in second grade when I was getting ready to start a new school and my grandfather had died. I had always been coming up with stories, so it quickly turned from a journal to a collection of my creativeness. I hope I dumped it somewhere I’ll never find it again… it was terrible. Truly.

My first REAL writing experience, though, was when my friends and I would collaborate (aka we would think of and I would write) these crazy sci-fi stories about us and people we knew that had to do with saving the universe. We almost always included Neopets… we had a planet called Xerox. And Bill Nye the Science Guy was taken over by our bad guy and his show was used to  hypnotize a child army. Until we foiled his plans. It was great.
I was still a Mistress of Dark Emotion, even then, though. I killed off at least one character in each story. Whoever we weren’t talking to anymore that week. You know grade schoolers. But they could always come back to life, like bad comic books, and we weren’t clever enough to really explain why dead characters were suddenly alive again. The only way they stayed dead was if they moved away. That happened a bit after a few years of it.
Ironically, they were actually really good. I went back and reread one a while ago and was like, “Wow, this is actually really good. Like, not even not bad. Really good.”
That was when I realized I had to be a writer. It was always right there smacking me in the face like that.
NC: How did you start writing fanfiction? You’re very good at it and are pretty popular with ff.net Potter fans.
CB: When I was twelve years old I had gotten up to book… four? Might have been book five by then. Hard to remember. Anyway, I had this very clear vision in my brain of a very pretty girl with short, black hair and bright blue eyes (her name was Elayne at the time) and she was sitting on the Hogwarts Express and she met Sirius on the train (which I had to change later to stick with canon) and she fell in love with him. I knew nothing else about her in that moment, but over the next seven years, the story changed and expanded from that character (who is now named Eva) and she became a secondary character in what will become my six-generation Potter story, the story I call my baby. She’s in It’s For You. I just sort of realized that it was time to let other people see this story that had been taking over my view of the books for so many years, and I started posting it.

Nobody read anything at first, but I was writing a paper on child abuse in Harry Potter fan fiction and I sort of had an epiphany as I was thinking about the stories I loved so much and what was different from those stories and my story. I don’t really know how to put it into words, so you’ll just have to read the differences for yourself. But I decided to write a story more like what I liked to read, instead of this masterpiece I had been envisioning in my head… and that’s how Two Can Play This Game, for a long time my most popular work, came to be. It sort of spiraled from there. I’m still working on my baby, probably will be for many years to come and it’s actually up for an award on the ff.net forums thanks to my most avid reader, but it’s been eleven years now since my first vision of fan fiction occurred in my brain, more than half my life ago. It’s a bit surreal to think of it that way. Wow.
NC: So besides fanfiction, what genre(s) do you like to write? Or is it whatever you feel like reading at that particular moment? I remember you saying that you thought of a Victorian novel while watching a Victorian movie…Did you see some aspect of the film that you wanted to read about or explore or see?
CB: Tragedy…? Of all sorts, of course. My novellas are usually some sort of psychological thriller. I’ve got a dystopian lust in me that loves to play with that particular sandbox, so I’ve got my share of dystopian. But there’s definitely an influence of whatever I feel like reading or exploring. I’m going to write that Victorian novel, btw, it’s on my list (although Vanity Fair is technically pre-Victorian, i believe, but it’s very stylistically similar to Dickens and Tolstoy, SO).

I really am drawn to the Victorian, actually. The stories are usually varying degrees of tragic, complicated, and very much character driven. If I could somehow bring Dickens and Tolstoy back to life and learn everything they can possibly teach me in the rest of my lifetime, it will never be enough. I think I’m more a Tolstoy in my soul, although I’m not nearly talented enough to pull it off so I feel more Dostoevsky. BUT I WANT TO BE TOLSTOY SO BADLY. But that was a bit of a digression.
Basically, I like the idea of love and loss and losing love and death and destruction and… well, you get the idea. Those themes are universal, more universal than anything else. They can be transplanted into any time or place or personality and work, and yet unlike happy themes that are transferable they are always different, in every manifestation, and I find that delicious. It’s as Tolstoy said, happiness is all alike, but unhappiness is all done in its own way, and yet we can relate to it so well anyway and that’s what’s so utterly delicious and fabulous about tragedy. I can’t even express it properly.
NC: I don’t call you the Mistress of Dark Emotion for nothing. Is your favorite kind of tragedy loss of love? Do you have a a favorite tragedy or trauma to inflict on characters?
CB: Oh my goodness, that’s as great question. I think loss of love is very poignant, but I don’t always do it in the same way. Morrison Girls, for example. There’s no real romantic love lost, but there’s a lot of tragedy going on. It’s definitely one of my favorites, though, because it’s something everyone can imagine or relate with.

Favorite tragedy or trauma… You know, death is always good. I’m also one to play with rape and abuse. And various forms of torture are becoming enjoyable things. I’ve got this great set of scenes in To the End of the Earth where Madison tortures and kills a few people and you can see how hardened she’s become since the first book. I had almost as much fun writing it as she had doing it.
NCSPOILERS, KATNISS. Haha, oh dear….That’s…That’s very worrisome. The Madison bit, not the other bits. Are there any particular kinds of reader reactions you love or are looking for with all this tragedy/death/rape/abuse/torture? You’ve told us you want to be Tolstoy, but here I feel like you’re the lovechild of Steven Moffat. Maybe Steven Moffat and Tolstoy?
CB: YES. Tolstoy and Moffat. Well, I feel as though if I don’t make you cry at the very least then I’ve pretty much failed. I just want people to see, to realize, the deepest sorts of pain and suffering that humans can inflict on each other. And for what? Lust? Power? I don’t even know half the time. I just saw an episode of Torchwood that touched on this and let me tell you, I nearly cried. Not quite, but nearly. It’s just beastly, what humans do to each other.
NC: So you want to bring awareness?
CB:  Yes. Absolutely. Especially my dealings with rape, abuse, and emotional breakdowns like the one in Those We Trust. If I ever had enough money and notoriety to found a charity, it would have something to do with rape, abuse, or self-harming.
NC: Switching tracks, what do you think makes a good character? A bad character?
CB: Wow, I feel like that really depends on the type of story or intent for the character. I really feel like any character can be good or bad… It just depends on how they’re written. Consistency is important, but if there’s inconsistencies that are on purpose that’s okay. As long as it’s clear that it wasn’t just bad writing. I would say that the very best characters are ones the reader cares about strongly, one way or another.
NC: Haha indeed. Let me clarify: if I was an alchemist writer person, what would ingredients or things do I need to do to write a character well? What makes a well-written character? What does a poorly written character consist of? Sorry for the confusion.
CB: I really don’t know if I have an answer for that. I think the key ingredient to a well-written character is consistency. If you want to generate sympathy you need them to be relate-able  but if you don’t want that you can go full-out Voldemort and really make them despicable. Naive characters are great for major characters, naive or out-of-the-loop, because then you can still have surprises in the narrative. GAH. It really just depends so much. But consistency is CRUCIAL.
NC: Note taken. Going from writing to publishing, you’ve got your novella Those We Trust out and you’ve done a lot of research on the publishing process. For readers looking to publishing, what kind of stories or works are best self-published and what kinds of stories are best traditionally published?
CB: If you’re unknown (like me!) it is virtually IMPOSSIBLE to traditionally publish novellas, short story collections, children’s books, poetry collections, cookbooks…. If you do short stories or poems exclusively you ought to get them all published individually in various magazines first and then work on traditional publication with that resume to back you up. If you do go the traditional publishing route with your novel, which I recommend at least at first, there’s a great, ever-changing listing of agents on AgentQuery.com who are accepting unsolicited queries from people like you and me who haven’t really established themselves or are on the market for a new agent or something. If traditional publishing fails you (never get an agent, scammed by agent, publisher never picks it up), then you can turn to self-publishing for your book, but this process takes a lot of time so be sure you don’t jump to it too quickly. ALSO if you’re going to self-publish, I recommend just going with e-publishing, which requires a lot less work on the author’s part than hard-copy self-publishing, unless you find a really great, cheap distributor to work with.
NC: What was the most difficult thing about e-publishing Those We Trust? The easiest?
CB: Wow, most difficult was doing my own cover because I don’t have the money to pay people. Hillary [The Invisible Ninja Cat] really helped with that. Easiest was everything else! Smashwords honestly makes it super-easy to publish and distribute, and it’s 100% except if you want to pay someone to format your manuscript or make your cover image. The formatting is easy enough if you follow instructions, but it is time-consuming, and if you’re like me w/o any artistic talent you might want to have someone help with your cover, but otherwise it’s a completely free service. WHICH is great for college students like us.
NC: So you recommend Smashwords as a publisher as opposed to other platforms you’ve researched?
CB: Absolutely. I feel like I walking commercial for them, but they’re so good that I don’t even mind.
NC: Haha, that’s good. Thank you for doing this with me and it was lovely to chat!
CB: It’s been great, as always!
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