I recently had the great privilege of interviewing sci-fi/fantasy author Louise Marley. Louise is the author of numerous novels and short stories including The Singers of Nevya trilogy, The Terrorists of Irustan, and Mozart’s Blood. She also penned The Horsemistress Saga under the pseudonym Toby Bishop and the historical dramas of Cate Campbell, Benedict Hall and Hall of Secrets. Readers of work are well aware of the strong musical influences she brings to her fiction. Aside from her enormous writing talent, Louise is also a gifted singer. She forms one-third of the folk trio, Earthwood. I hope you enjoy learning more about this amazing woman.
RLM: Tell me a little about yourself and your background?
LM: I was a classical concert and opera singer in my first career. I joke that if you want to write novels, you should be an opera singer first! I learned so much about pacing, and character development, about scene-building and plotting – it was a great help.
RLM: What were you like in school?
LM: I was a good girl, and a bookworm. Fortunately, I had friends who were also the “good kids” who didn’t smoke or drink or any of that, and we competed scholastically. Of course, I was convinced I was a complete loser because I wasn’t popular, but looking back, my school experiences were mostly good ones.
RLM: How old were you when you knew you wanted to be a writer?
LM: I don’t think I ever actually decided to be a writer instead of – or in addition to – being a singer. I had an idea for a story, which was my first novel, SING THE LIGHT, and started writing it. I realized I didn’t know how to go forward, so I took a class, and then another, and I was off! It was pretty cool discovering I had this talent I hadn’t really explored before, and it was exciting. I felt the way I felt when my musical career began, as if anything was possible.
RLM: How do you think your writing has evolved since your first book was published?
LM: Yes, I’ve been busy since then, and not a little lucky. I learned a lot with that novel in particular, and I go on studying and
taking workshops and working with a critique group in order to write better and more persuasively. First, there were mechanics to master. I had a bad adverb habit, for example. Then there was a period when I needed to stand firm on my artistic vision, which – although it was painful – I actually did. My opera singer/vampire novel, Mozart’s Blood, came out of that period, and was quite successful. I think in general my stories are tighter, and my prose is smoother as I go on. Eighteen novels now, and I’m still learning! I hope I’m always working on improving my storytelling.
RLM: Your novels and stories tend to blend/cross genres. How would you describe them to someone who is new to your work?
LM: Since readers do like labels (it helps people know which books to pick) I divide my work into genres as best I can. My first novels were science fantasy, and music-themed. I wrote four novels of science fiction after that, and then three YA fantasies. Now I’m writing historicals, which is a nice clear genre designation. It’s my little secret that my historicals reflect my fantasy roots!
RLM: You use two pseudonyms, Toby Bishop and Cate Campbell. Why did you decide to start writing under a different name? How, if at all, did that effect the writing you did under those names?
LM: Toby Bishop was the name we chose just because I was doing a YA trilogy, and wanted to be clear it was something different. Cate Campbell came about much the same way. As I’ve already mentioned, readers like to know what genre they’re buying, and it also makes it easier on the sales force to promote the books. The different names don’t affect the writing, however. I think a writer’s voice is consistent and characteristic, no matter the type of story she’s telling.
RLM: How long on average does it take you to write a book, from first conception to polished manuscript?
LM: This depends very much on whether it’s a contracted work or one written on spec. Contracts are great, because they organize the writer – you have a deadline, and you don’t want to miss your slot in the publishing schedule. The freedom of writing on spec is also great, though, and at times, with certain projects (like Mozart) I prefer that. I used to write one book a year. Last year I wrote two in fourteen months, but I doubt I’ll do that again. It was difficult, and since I don’t write formula novels, I need time to fully develop my characters and world and plot. Ideally, if I were in such great demand I could do anything I like, I would probably write a book every eighteen months or so.
RLM: Is there a message in your stories that you want readers to grasp?
LM: No, not at all. I know Terrorists of Irustan feels like that, and it was inspired by real-world events, but I write stories about people, characters who come alive for me as I work. I’m not into preaching, and I don’t want to lecture, either. I do, however, want readers to love my characters as much as I do!
RLM: How much research do you do when writing a novel?
LM: Endless amounts! I love doing research, and I’m as meticulous as I know how to be in getting details right. Science details, historical details, all the little bits that make up a believable story – they matter to me, even if the reader may not know how hard I work on getting them right. I use the internet, of course, but I also use the public library, museums, my private collection of historical works, and many questions asked of real experts, from doctors to – most recently – the director of the Northwest Railway Museum!
RLM: How much of your writing comes from real situations and people?
LM: When I write anything historical, I often use historical figures and facts. I don’t care for the genre called “alternate history.” Instead, I like to weave stories around the facts as we know and understand them. Other than that, I did use Benjamin Franklin in The Glass Harmonica, and in Mozart’s Blood there are some historical figures, including the Master himself. My protagonists, however, are invariably fictitious. The exception might be in Mozart, where the principal character is based on a real singer from the seventeenth century. We know very little about her, and I had a lovely time creating her life story. It’s a much longer story than history thinks!
RLM: What do you think is the hardest thing about writing?
LM: Discipline (my favorite word)! It’s turning off all the distractions and letting yourself get lost in the work.
RLM: And what is the best?
LM: I don’t mean to be arch, but the answer is the same. There are so many demands on our attention in the twenty-first century world – internet, tv, radio, telephones. Discipline means getting away from those so we can get into the zone of creativity. It’s not always easy, but when we succeed, we feel triumphant!
RLM: What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author?
LM: If a reader is bored, I take that personally.
RLM: What has been the best compliment?
LM: Of course I love hearing that someone stayed up too late because they couldn’t put my book down. I also love hearing from a reader that they’ve read one of my novels more than once – that means they enjoyed being in the story, which is something I love about reading a good book myself.
RLM: What book/story do you wish YOU had written?
LM: I rarely get that feeling, but I had it when I read The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton. I felt that novel was a gem of plot and character, with an ending that justified the length and complexity of the book.
RLM: What are you working on at the moment?
LM: Thank you for asking! 🙂 I’m at work on a Louise Marley book called Witches in Love, which will be three linked novellas. It’s early days yet, but I think it will be published by Kensington as three e-books, then one paper version containing all three stories. After that, Mozart’s Bones. Yes, a sequel! Much fun to do.