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An Interview with A.M. Dellamonica

Wednesday, Oct 21, 2009 at 5:36pm

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Vancouver author A.M. Dellamonica has penned numerous short stories. On Tuesday October 27th her debut fantasy novel, Indigo Springs, will be released. She was kind enough to answer some of my questions in an email interview.

CG: What made you decide to start writing?

AMD: I started writing as soon as I had learned to read; I can remember Doctor Seuss-inspired doggerel from my kindergarten days--One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish Blue Fish was a particularly strong influence. I was in the fourth grade the first time I attempted a novel. By my teens, the habit was already well-entrenched and I was submitting stories to genre magazines. I've always seen it as a benevolent compulsion--I cannot not write.

CG: You alternate Indigo Springs between two times; Astrid in custody after the return of magic to the world, and the events leading up to her discovering her own magical potential. Why the decision to tell your story in two different times?

AMD: A few years ago I fell in love with a number of books whose structure is, essentially: "Here's what happened, and now I'm going to tell you how it came about." (Katherine Dunn's Geek Love comes to mind.) I wanted to see if I could figure out how that's done, because there's a particular type of authorial sleight-of-hand involved in novels that begin with their own aftermath. On the one hand, you're pretending to have revealed the ending up front--"nothing up my sleeve, folks!" In reality, you still want to surprise and amaze your audience, so you're holding things back. And yet you cannot cheat--you can't withhold or conceal something if it isn't reasonable that the reader would know it.

Another reason for the two storylines in Indigo Springs is that it's kinder to readers. Astrid's story takes a bit of setting up. First she inherits a house she's never seen before, then she finds some magical items within it, and then she starts to learn where they came from. It's a slow process, and I didn't want people feeling like they had to wade through fifty or a hundred pages of mystery before some kind of point began to emerge.

CG: You evoke a very believable small town community. What locales inspired the creation of the town of Indigo Springs?

AMD: My family moved a number of times when I was young, generally to small communities in Utah and Alberta. They weren't great places to be a teenager, especially a queer one, and I didn't form a deep attachment to any of those shorter-term homes. The towns I did fall in love with were the ones where my grandparents lived: Yerington, Nevada and the summer village of Alberta Beach. There's a lot of Yerington--with Pacific Northwest scenery painted overtop--in the town of Indigo Springs. When I see the courthouse, it's the Yerington Courthouse. When I imagine Olive Glade's bookstore, it's the long-gone Gold Mine on Yerington's main drag, the store where I got my first copy of Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time.

CG: Many of the conflicts in your novel could have been avoided if the characters hadn't succumbed to their baser instincts. Do you feel there's an analogue between the magical apocalypse of your book and the more mundane terrors humanity is facing?

AMD: Absolutely. I hope there are some interesting parallels to be drawn between the magical disaster unfolding in the book and the current state of the world. I am a strong proponent of the idea that fiction should entertain, first and foremost, and I'm always turned off if I feel a writer is preaching at me. But I think we should aspire to write novels that are both engaging and thought-provoking.

Catastrophe fascinates me. Whether it's a relationship blowing up in someone's face or a large-scale man-made disaster, I love to poke at the why of it, to see if there's a reason things fell apart so badly. Often--usually--there isn't one clearly identifiable reason. Bad things occur randomly all the time. That said, we create many of our own problems, individually and as a species. Sometimes it happens because we make a choice that's easier or cheaper or more gratifying in the moment. We surrender to those base impulses we all have, and the results can be devastating.

CG: Your handling of Astrid's bisexuality is richly layered and beautifully rendered. Do you feel there is a dearth of LGBT characters in the fantasy field?

AMD: Thank you! I wouldn't say gay and lesbian characters are in terribly short supply in SF these days. Elizabeth Bear's novels almost always have a queer character or two--I especially love the gay couple in Carnival. And she's far from the only writer working with these characters and themes: Candas Jane Dorsey, Laurie Marks, and Ellen Kushner all come to mind immediately.

Transgendered characters do still seem rarer. In Indigo Springs, Astrid's mother is in the process of transitioning to being physically male after a lifetime spent living as a woman, and that change?and the fact that it's affected by the mystical outbreak?throws them both for a loop.

CG: What's more important to you as a writer, style or story?

AMD: Ten years ago, I would have said story without hesitating. But as I become an ever-more-experienced reader, I find myself wanting more. . . especially because I can see how a shocking number of stories will play out long before I get to their endings. As a result, style has become more and more important to me. I tend to favor crystal-clear prose that nevertheless has some richness. I want the literary equivalent of looking down into a thriving pool of water and being able to see everything--the fish, weeds, the stones--everything between the bottom. Think Peter Straub or Nicola Griffiths. . . or my latest discovery as a reader, the delightful Tana French.

That doesn't mean everything I read has to be stately and gorgeous--I love Neal Stephenson for his drive and humor, and Ray Vukcevich for his quirky take on human love--but I don't have much patience for murk and I work hard to keep my writing free of it.

CG: In the concept of chantments, you create a great deal of magic in the mundane; from watches that always get their bearer where they need to be to a pendant that makes the bearer's words irresistable. Which of your chantments would you most like to have?

AMD: In terms of the abilities captured within the chantments, my wish list has always started with invisibility. That's a writer thing, I think--I'm a born eavesdropper. I also love the idea of duplication, of being in several places at once. With respect to the actual objects the powers are housed in, I own or owned several of the items I've written about: the kaleidoscope Astrid finds early on in Indigo Springs was a toy of mine, and the magical stuffed dog in my chantment story Nevada is a still-surviving relic from my mother's childhood.

I might be best off with something like Jack's watch, though--it's powerful, but in a way that's hard to abuse. It's a sort of guardian angel--it keeps him out of trouble, gives him a chance to do good deeds, and just sends positive things his way.

CG: Your novel The Wintergirls won you an Canada Arts Council Emerging Writer grant. Will readers be seeing that book on the shelves any time soon?

AMD: The Wintergirls got its very last polish in mid-September, and it should just be hitting the desks of prospective editors as I type these words.

CG: You've created a fascinating system of magic for Indigo Springs. Blue Magic, the follow up is listed as a concluding sequel. Is there any chance you would ever return to this series and its characters?

AMD: It's very likely that I'd write more chantment stories. I did a few before writing Indigo Springs, and there's a lot more material I could explore now. I'm already doing some little bits of flash fiction on the Indigo Springs blog --posting news snippets that cover events within the unfolding mystical disaster. As for another novel, it's hard to imagine right now. By the end of Blue Magic, I've told Astrid Lethewood's story thoroughly. A new book in the same universe would almost certainly have to be about someone else. Will Forest's daughter, Ellie, is the first person who comes to mind whenever I let my thoughts turn in that direction.

CG: In addition to actively writing, you also teach the craft for the UCLA Online Extension Program. What advice would you offer to an aspiring writer?

AMD: Persistence, persistence, persistence! It's not original advice, and nothing's universally true, but the people who become great writers and the people who become successful writers are often the ones who simply keep showing up.

Taking a course like the ones at UCLA can be useful if you need an external reason to get to writing: a deadline, a bit of feedback, the desire for a good grade. I'll also do everything I can to help someone improve their skills--and it's great to see people growing as writers!--but I often have students who take my workshop classes multiple times, just to ensure that they're writing a certain amount as well as moving forward artistically.

See Also:

A.M. Dellamonica's Official Website and Blog

The Indigo Springs Blog

Categories: Interview, SciFi & Fantasy, Mystery & Crime

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Indigo Springs

- by A M Dellamonica - Blue Magic (series)

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Indigo Springs is a sleepy town where things seem pretty normal . . . until Astrid's father dies and she moves into his house. She discovers that for many years her father had been accessing the magic that flowed, literally, in a blue stream beneath the earth, leaking into his house. When she starts to use the liquid "vitagua" to enchant everyday items, the results seem innocent enough: a "'chanted" watch becomes a charm that means you're always in the right place at the right time; a "'chanted" pendant enables the wearer to convince anyone of anything . . .

But as events in Indigo Springs unfold and the true potential of vitagua is revealed, Astrid and her friends unwittingly embark on a journey fraught with power, change, and a future too devastating to contemplate. Friends become enemies and enemies become friends as Astrid discovers secrets from her shrouded childhood that will lead her to a destiny stranger than she could have imagined . . .