Please welcome author Victoria Strauss to the blog. She is the author of nine novels for adults and young adults, including the STONE duology (THE ARM OF THE STONE and THE GARDEN OF THE STONE), and a historical novel for teens, PASSION BLUE. She has written hundreds of book reviews for magazines and ezines, including SF Site, and her articles on writing have appeared in Writer’s Digest and elsewhere. In 2006, she served as a judge for the World Fantasy Awards.
An active member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), she’s co-founder, with Ann Crispin, of Writer Beware, a publishing industry watchdog group that tracks and warns about literary fraud. She maintains the popular Writer Beware website, Facebook page, and blog, for which she was a 2012 winner of an Independent Book Blogger Award. She was honored with the SFWA Service Award in 2009. She lives in Amherst, Massachusetts.
Victoria's newest book is Color Song.
From the publisher:
Artistically brilliant, Giulia is blessed – or cursed – with a spirit’s gift: she can hear the mysterious singing of the colors she creates in the convent workshop of Maestra Humilità. It’s here that Giulia, forced into the convent against her will, has found unexpected happiness, and rekindled her passion to become a painter – an impossible dream for any woman in 15th century Italy.
But when a dying Humilità bequeaths Giulia her most prized possession – the secret formula for the luminously beautiful paint called Passion blue – Giulia realizes she’s in danger from those who have long coveted the famous color for themselves. Faced with the prospect of lifelong imprisonment in the convent, forever barred from painting as a punishment for keeping Humilita’s secret, Giulia is struck by a desperate idea: What if she disguises herself as a boy? Could she make her way to Venice and find work as an artist’s apprentice?
Along with the truth of who she is, Giulia carries more dangerous secrets: the exquisite voices of her paint colors and the formula for Humilità’s precious blue. And Venice, with its graceful gondolas and twisting canals, its gilded palazzi and masked balls, has secrets of its own. Trapped in her false identity in this dream-like place where reality and reflection are easily confused, where art and ambition, love and deception hover like dense fog, can Giulia find her way?
This compelling novel explores timeless themes of love and illusion, gender and identity as it asks the question: what does it mean to risk everything to follow your true passion?
I thought it would be neat to find out the writing process of a children's author and Victoria was kind enough to answer some questions for us!!
Where do you get your inspiration for your characters and your plot?
From everywhere! I've gotten ideas from my dreams, from my friends' dreams, from news items, from other books, from a ruined house glimpsed for a few seconds from a car window. I have a file on my computer where I jot these down, and when I finish one project I browse through the file to see what sparks my imagination.
My main characters develop as I turn an idea into a plot, and I always spend some time working on character sketches for my protagonists before starting a novel. But often the most fun characters are the ones I didn’t plan, who pop into being as I’m writing. In Color Song, Alvise, the nasty apprentice whose jealousy puts Giulia at risk, is one of those. I didn’t know he’d be in the book until the minute Giulia encounters him.
Do you write outlines before you begin or just start writing and let the story evolve…do you know the ending before it is written?
When I first started writing, I was a pantser—I never did any planning. I’d have a strong idea for the beginning and the ending and some vague notions of the middle, but apart from that it was all a blank canvas. I worked like that for three books, but I wrote myself into so many dead ends, and had to spend so much time finding my way out of blind corners, that I realized something had to change.
These days I write a detailed synopsis, covering the main story arc, themes, plot points, and characters. I try to make it dramatic, imagining myself telling a story to a rapt audience around a campfire at night. This ensures that I can get all the way from start to finish without getting lost in the middle.
Then I put the synopsis away and don’t look at it again, and write from memory. Not slavishly referring to a plan gives me the room for improvisation that I need, for those “aha” moments that are the most exciting thing about writing (my finished books always differ, sometimes significantly, from my initial plans). But because I do have a plan, I don’t go too far off track, and where I do diverge, it’s productive rather than destructive.
Favorite place to write?
I write at the dining room table, where I can look out the window into my garden. I don’t know if it’s a favorite place to write, but it’s less distracting than my office, with its reminders of bills to pay and emails needing to be answered.
How do you choose names for your characters?
It depends on the book and the setting. For historical novels like Color Song, I research names from the appropriate country and time period, and just choose names that I like. I’m not one of those writers who becomes attached to character names—as I work my way from first draft to finished novel, names often change, sometimes for practical reasons (for example, Giulia was originally called Gemma; I made the change when I realized that Gemma is the name of the main character in another YA historical novel) and sometimes because the first name I choose winds up not feeling right (Humilità had at least three different names).
For fantasy novels, I work out naming protocols, to be sure that the names give a sense of cultural consistency. Often I base my naming protocols on real-world ones--for my fantasy novel The Burning Land, for instance, I based the names for one group of characters on ancient Persian names. One of my pet peeves in fantasy is random naming (George R.R. Martin, I’m looking at you).
Do you treat your writing like a 9 to 5 job and keep writing hours or are you moved to write in a less structured way?
Well, both, really. I try to keep structured hours, because waiting for inspiration to strike is not a recipe for productivity. But I’m a terrible procrastinator, so even if it’s my goal to sit down to write by 10:00am, I often don’t manage to hit that mark. Between trying to be structured and trying to avoid structure, I somehow manage to get things done.
How do you research settings to make them believable?
I do research for all my books, whether historical or fantasy (most of my fantasy settings are based on real-world historical periods and places).
The bulk of my research is book-based--I’m lucky to live in a town where there's a large state university with a big research library. I also use the Internet for spot-checking details (what was a typical dowry in late 1400’s Italy?), finding images (the market square in Padua), and so on.
Where I can (and where my budget allows), I do real-world research, including traveling to the locations I use in my books. For Color Song, I spent time in the studio of an artist who uses Renaissance painting techniques. I got to see gesso applied to a walnut panel, pigments being ground and mixed, color glazes applied over underpainting, and much more. Very cool!
You can reach Victoria at her website, Facebook page, Twitter, Google+, and Goodreads.
2 Grand Prizes Winners:
One Kindle Paperwhite with custom Color Song cover with Color Song and Passion Blue ebooks pre-loaded, plus swag (postcards, bookmarks), and signed paperback editions of Strauss's Stone duology (The Arm of the Stone and The Garden of the Stone) (US only)
Signed hardcovers of Color Song and Passion Blue, plus swag (postcards, bookmarks) (US and Canada)
Signed paperbacks of Color Song and Passion Blue, plus swag (postcards, bookmarks) (US and Canada)