Thursday, November 29, 2007
Auralia's Colors by Jeffrey Overstreet
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Thomas Nelson (October 2, 2007)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jeffrey Overstreet lives in two worlds. By day, he writes
about movies at
LookingCloser.org and in notable
Paste, and Image.
His adventures in
are chronicled in his
book Through a Screen Darkly. By night, he composes new stories found in fictional worlds of his own. Living in
Shoreline, Washington, with his wife, Anne, a poet, he is a senior staff writer for Response Magazine at Seattle Pacific University.
Auralia’s Colors is his first novel. He is now hard at work on many new stories, including three more strands of The Auralia Thread.
Why did you become a writer? Was it a dream of yours since you were younger or did the desire to write happen later in your life?
My parents built me a house made of books when I was a kid. And my uncle liked to draw cartoons. So I grew up with a head full of stories and a love of drawing characters.
I have photographs that my mother took when I was only two. I’m pounding away at a typewriter with two fingers, determined to make a book. I learned to write by meticulously copying the text out of my favorite fairy tale storybooks, and then drawing my own illustrations with crayons. (We were on a tight budget, so I dreamed about getting the big box of 64 with the sharpener.)
By the time I was seven, I was typing out twenty page fantasy adventure stories. I read The Lord of the Rings for the first time when I was eight, and from then on all of my stories turned into trilogies. I’m a pack rat, so I still have every single three-hole-punched book, each page single-spaced (to save paper).
So I was fairly committed to following in the footsteps of JRR Tolkien and C.S. Lewis from an early age. Whether my work will deserve to sit on the same shelf as theirs… well, that’s for readers to decide. I’m just grateful that they opened up such a wide, wide world of imagination, and taught me that what I discover in fairy tales is actually relevant to my life.
What do you love about being an author? Is there anything you dislike?
It’s not an expensive habit, being an author. I can escape into an exciting story anytime, anywhere. And I’m always working. There is no “time off.” I’m taking notes during sermons, during staff meetings at my day job, during movies, while I’m driving. The stories write themselves before my eyes. It’s like being at the movies all day long. Somebody will make a comment, and a whole scene will suddenly start playing in my head.
The Auralia Thread, which will be a four-book series starting with Auralia’s Colors, came about because of something my girlfriend Anne said while we were on a hike near Flathead Lake in Montana. She said, “Isn’t it strange how most people, when they reach a certain age, just fold up their imaginations and put them in a closet?” That got me thinking about how much we need creativity and color and imagination. Then I started imagining a world in which color was illegal. And I was off and running into a new possibility that ended up consuming more than a decade of my life. That little question “What if?” … it’s a dangerous question. (And oh, by the way, I married Anne soon after she asked that question. That’s even more evidence that “What if?” is a dangerous question.)
There is very little I dislike about writing. I dislike finishing stories, because the more I think about them, the more interesting possibilities present themselves to me. If I hadn’t been given a deadline, I’d still be working on Auralia’s Colors.
How do you balance your personal and writing time?
I don’t . When I relax, my imagination kicks into high gear. Vacations are my most productive writing times. It’s my day job, and chores, and errand-running, and the practical demands of life that interrupt writing and tax my creative energy.
When I leave the office at Seattle Pacific University, I feel that I am going to my second job. And the second job is more challenging. I write all evening, and I write all weekend.
How do you write? Do your characters come to you first or the plot or the world of the story?
It starts with a question. During a sermon, I’ll hear my pastor use a metaphor, and I’ll think, “That would be an interesting metaphor to explore in a story.” Or I’ll think about a dilemma, and in order to understand it, I’ll put some characters in the middle of that dilemma.
Auralia’s Colors started because I was interested in the role of art, imagination, and creativity in society. So I imagined a world that was starving for art. I imagined why color and beauty had been taken away from them. And then I discovered a character whose art was so transcendent and otherworldly that she could bring those poor, suffocating people a deep breath of fresh air, a vision of beauty.
What genre(s) do you write? Why do you write the stories that you write?
A lot of writers write to “deliver a message” or to achieve some practical purpose. John Milton wrote Paradise Lost to “justify the ways of God to man.” Philip Pullman said that he wrote The Golden Compass and its sequels to “undermine Christian belief.”
I write to discover things. I’m interested in a question or a problem, and I trust that a story will show me the truth in a way that a more direct, didactic form of study will not. I learned a lot about art by following the character of Auralia into that colorless world. I learned a lot about fear and my own desire to control things. It was humbling and exhilarating at the same time.
But I also write to try and create the kind of story that I have a hard time finding in bookstores anymore. When I grew up, there were so many wonderful storybooks full of imagination and musical language, stories that felt like an opportunity to imagine, instead of an opportunity to preach some obvious message. So I write to try and craft some of that music, some of those visions. I’m still a beginner, really, but when I write a good line, it’s all worth it.
I write fantasy because it draws me into an elemental world of nature—forests, mountains, rivers, fire, secret tunnels, and amazing creatures. I’ve grown up in the big city, and I longed for those rare vacations to the Oregon Coast where I could see nature with all of its raw power and awe-inspiring beauty. I believe that creation “declares the glory of God,” and that the natural world “pours forth speech” (to borrow some words from the Psalmist). I feel closest to God, and open to learning about him, when I’m close to nature. Fantasy takes me there.
What is the biggest misconception about being an author?
I think it’s a misconception that you can just sit down and suddenly become an author. So many people I know keep saying, “I’m going to write a book” or “I just need to get started.” If you’re going to be an author, I think you have to love writing so much that the hard part is making yourself stop writing to do other things. The authors I know who really write and get things done are people who write and write and write, and when they miss a day or two of writing they don’t feel like themselves anymore.
Another misconception: When your book is published, you’ve “arrived” and the money starts rolling in! Nope, that’s not how it works. I’m learning that being a published author is expensive. And that you just get busier and busier and busier. Once in a while, I suddenly feel a flash of joy, a sense of “Hey, the dream is coming true!” But most of the time, I’m so busy, and it’s the people around me who are excited. Still, it’s such a privilege to share a story with the world, that I’m not complaining!
Finally… you have to love what you’re writing about. Because, before it’s published, you’ll probably have to re-write it, throw half of that away, and then re-write it again. Love hurts.
Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?
It’s mix of things. Most of them just emerge from the fog, and I’m startled by them. But occasionally someone makes an impression on me, usually by their passion for something good or bad, and I eventually discover that one of my characters is behaving in a similar fashion. It’s never deliberate. It’s something I realize after the fact.
I happened upon a songwriter and her, um, “supervisor” in Auralia’s Colors. And as I was writing about them, I had to laugh because I realized that both of them were behaving like people I’ve encountered in the real world. But don’t get me wrong—they are characters in their own right. I hope that readers don’t go snooping around asking, “So who might this character represent?” Because they’ll most likely come to the wrong conclusions.
Out of all the characters that you've written, who is your favorite and why?
My favorite? Oh, he’s in a story that hasn’t been published yet. He’s a bird, in a story for children. And I look forward to the day when I can share that story with you.
But I’m very fond of some of the characters who stand on the edges of things. There’s a crankly old soldier in the sequel to Auralia’s Colors who makes me laugh every time I visit him. His name is Wilus Caroon. Maugam, the jailer in Auralia’s Colors, is so creepy and broken that he fascinates me.
The ale boy in Auralia’s Colors reminds me, strangely enough, of R2D2 in Star Wars — he’s this little fellow who just stumbles into these huge, sweeping dramas, plays a pivotal role while hardly anybody notices, and then he slips out the back door.
And of course I love Auralia, who reminds me of so many of the most creative people I’ve ever met, and who suffers the way so many artists suffer—from loneliness, from being misunderstood, from being accused of things she hasn’t done.
But above all, I’m in love with the character of the Expanse: the world in which Auralia lives. It’s all of the wildest, most beautiful, most frightening places I’ve ever been. And when the wind moves through the trees there, it means something.
If you were writing a script for the big screen, who would you want to act in your movie?
Writing Auralia’s Colors, I imagined David Bowie in the role of King Cal-marcus. He’s tall, haunted, authoritative but troubled, and his eyes are two different colors.
Auralia and the ale boy are so young, I don’t know who would play them. Anna Paquin, at a very young age, would have made an interesting Auralia, but it’s far too late for that now. Ivana Baquero from Pan’s Labyrinth would make a good Auralia, I think… if we could cast her soon. Auralia is definitely not Dakota Fanning or Dakota Blue Richards… or any of the Dakotas, north or south.
Paul Dano would make a fine Cal-raven—he’s good at conveying longing, frustration, and deep thought. Or, if I could rewind Johnny Depp to the age he was when he starred in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?, that would be perfect. Danny Huston and Sean Bean would both be good candidates for Ark-robin, who is a brusque soldier in Auralia’s Colors, and so would Russell Crowe (if he’d be willing to play a supporting role like that).
What would you want readers to take away from your books?
A desire to go back and read it a second time, to look for things they missed.
Seriously, though, I always go back and read my favorite books more than once. It’s one of my goals… to write something that people will want to read again. That involves more than just the plot. It involves creating an environment they want to live in, composing tasty language they’ll want to savor like fudge, and cultivating mysteries they enjoy pondering.
But I also hope it will encourage people to enjoy the beauty of the world around them even more than they do. Writing Auralia’s Colors certainly did that for me. It made me look closer.
Do you have any advice for beginning writers in regards to writing a book?
When you’ve written your story, share it with people who are brave enough to offer bold criticism, but who are kind enough to criticize compassionately. Auralia’s Colors has been through a lot of drafts. I accepted criticism that showed me how my writing wasn’t working, and I politely dismissed criticism that had to do with a difference in taste or style. Some people don’t like lavish descriptions, but I do. So I kept a lot of description. But I trimmed those pages where my own interest in description started boring most of my readers.
And it was because of my desire to show it to anybody who cared to ask that the book eventually found its way to a publisher. I didn’t pursue publication. I just wrote the story to the best of my ability. Somebody discovered it, got excited about it, and passed it to somebody else… and the rest is history. God works in mysterious ways, and the way Auralia’s Colors found its way to bookstores is a mystery that still thrills me.
Who are your favorite authors?
On my nightstand, you’ll usually find books by Thomas Merton, Annie Dillard, Scott Cairns, Madeleine L’Engle, Mark Helprin, Patricia McKillip, J.R.R. Tolkien, Mervyn Peake, Cormac McCarthy, A.A. Milne, and Philip Yancey. And Watership Down by Richard Adams, is my favorite novel.
What are you reading right now?
I’m reading Annie Dillard’s novel The Maytrees, Scott Cairns’ memoir Short Trip to the Edge, re-reading Mark Helprin’s mind-blowing New York fantasy called Winter’s Tale, and re-reading Sara Zarr’s Story of a Girl (a fantastic book for young adults, by a talented young Christian author, and it was a National Book Award finalist this year).
ABOUT THE BOOK:
As a baby, she was found in a footprint.
As a girl, she was raised by thieves in a wilderness where savages lurk.
As a young woman, she will risk her life to save the world with the only secret she knows.
When thieves find an abandoned child lying in a monster’s footprint, they have no idea that their wilderness discovery will change the course of history.
Cloaked in mystery, Auralia grows up among criminals outside the walls of House Abascar, where vicious beastmen lurk in shadow. There, she discovers an unsettling–and forbidden–talent for crafting colors that enchant all who behold them, including Abascar’s hard-hearted king, an exiled wizard, and a prince who keeps dangerous secrets.
Auralia’s gift opens doors from the palace to the dungeons, setting the stage for violent and miraculous change in the great houses of the Expanse.
Auralia’s Colors weaves literary fantasy together with poetic prose, a suspenseful plot, adrenaline-rush action, and unpredictable characters sure to enthrall ambitious imaginations.
Visit the Website especially created for the book, Auralia's Colors. On the site, you can read the first chapter and listen to Jeffrey's introduction of the book, plus a lot more!
"Film critic and author Overstreet (Through a Screen Darkly) offers a powerful myth for his first foray into fiction. Overstreet’s writing is precise and beautiful, and the story is masterfully told. Readers will be hungry for the next installment."
-- Publishers Weekly
“Through word, image, and color Jeffrey Overstreet has crafted a work of art. From first to final page this original fantasy is sure to draw readers in. Auralia's Colors sparkles.”
-– Janet Lee Carey, award-winning author of The Beast of Noor and Dragon's Keep
“Jeffrey Overstreet’s first fantasy, Auralia’s Colors, and its heroine’s cloak of wonders take their power from a vision of art that is auroral, looking to the return of beauty, and that intends to restore spirit and and mystery to the world. The book achieves its ends by the creation of a rich, complex universe and a series of dramatic, explosive events.”
-– Marly Youmans, author of Ingledove and The Curse of the Raven Mocker
Purchase Auralia's Colors by Jeffrey Overstreet HERE!!!