Blogs by L.T. Suzuki
Edward Lazellari Interview
2/18/2012 9:55:47 PM
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Edward Lazellari discusses his debut novel Awakenings and the writing life!
LTS: For today’s guest blog, I’d like to introduce you to Edward Lazellari, author of the urban fantasy novel Awakenings from TOR Books. I’d like to begin by having you share a little information about yourself with our readers, Edward.
Has writing stories always been a part of your life and becoming a published author a life long dream?
EL: Yes, it’s been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. We all tell stories when we’re little; whether playing with dinosaurs or dollies, kids come up with short scenarios during playtime and put toys through little dramas. These are our stories. At five or six, we become the actors in our own little plays.
When my sister was about three, I would create elaborate puppet shows with her menagerie of stuffed animals. I created distinct personalities for each animal. At an early age I discovered drawing and it was a natural transition for this “play” energy to become drawn scenes. I loved Richie Rich and Archie comics, so naturally my earliest drawings were sequential narratives. The earliest comic books I drew were on construction paper and starred the stuffed animals as superheroes: The Animal League of America.
LTS: Your debut novel, Awakenings has been receiving great praise. What was the inspiration behind this story and can you tell us a little bit about your protagonist, Cal McDonnell and his relationship to Seth Raincrest?
EL: My inspiration comes from a several sources including real life. My friends and I were role playing in the 80s, and one day, I thought it would be great if we all really came from another reality where we had far more interesting lives. In addition to that, books by Roger Zelazny, Tolkien, George Martin, also inspired me to write. I came up with the original concept for Awakenings over twenty years ago when I was still an illustrator working at Marvel. I thought they were going to be graphic novels and wanted to call the series Crusades. When I turned to prose writing in the 90s, I examined several of the projects I had conceived and realized this was tailor made to be a written novel. There was a lot of great stuff to mine from this world. I even went back to school to study literature and writing because I wanted to take this new phase of my life seriously.
Cal MacDonnell is a good man stuck in a bad situation. He’s essentially a paladin, though the word is never used in the story. A paladin, for those of you unfamiliar with fantasy jargon, is a good knight: moral, ethical, trustworthy, and noble. In our reality, Cal is a New York City cop with a wife and daughter. He has amnesia and can’t remember his early years of existence. He’d given up on finding the truth about his hidden past. He’s a normal guy who loves his family and hopes to get promoted within the department. Seth also has a similar form of amnesia. He’s a photographer of tawdry pictures, a bitter and snarky individual who has alienated his friends at a time when he needs them most. These two have nothing in common except that they’re beset upon by mysterious paranormal agents, intent on killing them. As the mystery unfolds, the ties that bind these two together become clear. It’s soon clear Cal and Seth once knew each other in that period neither can remember. Cal takes an almost immediate disliking to Seth, even though he can’t recall why he should. Is it justified? Read the book and find out.
LTS: Without giving away too much, can you reveal what’s in store for the readers when they crack open Awakenings?
EL: It takes place in our world; it’s an urban tale with elements of quest and mystery. It’s not industrial strength fantasy; the fantastic/paranormal elements are subtle. (One character’s story line has almost no magical elements, yet he’s pivotal to the tale.) If you like heavy-handed fantasy/magical elements and characters that look like they walked out of an Abercrombie & Fitch catalog and speak in passive voice, this may not be your cup of tea.
It has an ensemble cast that takes several chapters to introduce. The story starts cautiously, like a roller coaster moving up that first rise, and zips through the rest of the way. (I’ve been told the coaster crest is around page 92 (out of 348) and people read the rest of the book twice as fast.) If you are someone who likes mainstream and literary fiction as well as genre, and have enjoyed books by Steven King, Anne Rice, Neil Gaiman, or Roger Zelazny, then you will likely find this book enjoyable.
LTS: The road to publication is difficult at the best of times. Was it difficult for you to land an agent? Do you have any advice you’d like to share with the author struggling to find representation?
EL: I’ve been the beneficiary of many kind acts. No man/woman is an island, and it takes the help of decent people to achieve any success. I sold Awakenings quite by accident. It’s not that I didn’t go through the toil and efforts like many authors do—I tired for several years to sell it through traditional channels. Finally I just gave it a rest. My agent at the time confirmed her confidence in the story and told me to try again a few years later. There’s a high turnover of readers and assistant editors in the industry, and my first bit of advice is don’t get discouraged if you feel you’ve run through the gamut and there’s no one left. These things are a matter of taste. For example, there was an assistant editor at another large publishing imprint that liked Awakenings earlier on, but his editor didn’t care for it.
J.K. Rowling was turned down by over 20 editors before someone decided to buy Harry Potter. So there is definitely an element of stars aligning.
What you as a writer can do is get your manuscript done. Have a finished work ready for when that opportunity arises. I learned this riding the subway years ago; I struck up a conversation with a woman reading a short story in the New Yorker. I had read that story and made a comment about it. We had a pleasant talk for the 15 minutes that we rode together, in which I revealed I had a short story published in Playboy. She gave me her card when we arrived at her stop. It turns out, she was Miramax producer Harvey Weinstein’s assistant. I did not have any film scripts done at that time. If I had, I could have contacted her and sent her a screenplay that week. I would have been fresh on her mind. As artists, our primary role is to create product. All the business sense in the world is irrelevant if you don’t have something to present to the people looking for content. Opportunities arise all the time, you just have to be ready.
LTS: That is excellent advice! Now, becoming a published author is truly a difficult road to travel, so I’m always pleased when a fellow writer lands a book deal with a prominent publishing house. Can you share that moment when you sold your story to TOR Books?
EL: Awakenings spent about four years on the shelf after trying to sell it before I brushed it off in 2009 and did another round of revisions. It’s arrogant for any writer to think a work can’t be improved upon, so always look to take your work to that next level if possible. This draft was much tighter. As it happens, I was at a party upstate and was introduced to a friend of a friend who worked at Tor books. The stars aligned, and through this contact, I ended up with the series deal. We circumvented the usual path toward publishing because this friend knew the publisher and handed it directly to him. Mr. Doherty liked the book and asked my editor if he’d be interested in working with me. This is not at all how most books get bought.
Afterwards, realizing I knew nothing about negotiating contracts another friend put me in contact with his agent who agreed to negotiate the deal for me. These might seem like lucky breaks to writers struggling to be found, and I won’t deny there are elements of luck involved, but it also came out of genuine relationships I’ve made with people over the past 20 years. The friend who introduced me to my agent is someone dear to me. When he had his off-off Broadway anthology produced years ago, I used a contact of mine to get the show reviewed in the Wall Street Journal’s art section. I helped him because I wanted to see his production succeed.
LTS: What is the most important lesson you’ve learned on the road to publication?
EL: A goal for every writer beyond the quality of his work is to foster a smooth and communicative relationship with all the people involved in getting his book out. You need to be open to constructive criticism, you have to give to receive, you have to be sincere in your relationships, and you have to have faith. You have to forgive yourself for mistakes too. This is the first time I’ve done this, and I’ve had a few missteps. I’m sometimes too hard on myself for what are really minor things in the long run. Hopefully, I’ve learned from those experiences, and will not make the same mistakes going forward.
LTS: I’m curious about your writing style. Are you one of those disciplined writers who must dedicate a certain time each day to producing so many words, or are you more relaxed and tend to write when it strikes your fancy?
EL: I used to be a “strikes your fancy” writer before I signed a contract. Now I try to write a certain number of hours per week. I have a full-time day job too. Sometimes, when I force it, it’s not the best I can do and I end up having to rewrite before I can push forward with the book. I’m pretty good at saying no to a lot of things to make time for writing. Most of my writing is done on weekends. I usually have one day for friends or family and reserve the other for writing. It’s not unusual for me to start at 8:00 a.m. on a Sunday and write until 9:00 p.m. with only a two-hour lunch break in the middle. I also utilize my vacation days from work to write so I can have long blocks of days to get momentum going. But then again, I love doing this. This for me is the same as those people who devote hours to fantasy football or role-playing games. I’m in the fortunate position of not having a wife or kids at the moment (or is it unfortunate?) so I have more time than a lot of men my age. Though it is “work,” it’s also not in many ways – writing a novel is like working on a 5,000-piece puzzle of your favorite painting.
LTS: I like this puzzle description! And still on the subject of writing styles, are you a plotter or pantser? The readers would like to know if you tend to plot out your story line in great detail or if your writing is more organic with the characters and events unfolding as you write.
EL: I’m a pantser with plotter tendencies. I know where I’m going in the book. I know what needs to happen in each chapter. I can’t sit there and plot it out in detail ahead of time because I get too caught up in the details and just end up focusing on that one part and never finish the outline. In the past when I’ve plotted, I’ve always felt hemmed in and ended up changing it anyway. I feel you lose some of the organic creativity that makes a story unique. Plotting is better for movie and TV scripts. I don’t see my novels as a product so much as I do a passion.
LTS: Some authors meditate, others need to fuel up on coffee or listen to music. Do you have any rituals, ones that can be shared with the readers, that you must do before you hunker down for a writing session?
EL: Well… there is that rain dance I do in the nude out in the woods. (kidding). It’s important to clear my mind of work and other real world responsibilities. Two worlds can’t occupy the same space in my tiny brain. I was more readily creative in my youth when art was an everyday thing for me and I had far less responsibilities. I usually have a bagel and some reduced caffeine coffee right after I get up, and read during breakfast. (I wrote Awakenings totally caffeinated, but have since quit it. But I realize it helps with focus and stamina, so I drink small doses on the weekends.) I need to read a few pages of beautifully written non-genre fiction. Something about good prose sets my mind to writing. It’s almost like loading up a writing app in my brain.
LTS: It’s okay if you do the rain dance in the nude! If it gets you writing, then sure! Why not? But at one time or another, most writers hit the wall and their work stalls because of the dreaded writer’s block. What do you do to get around or over this mental wall to resume writing?
EL: I take a nap. If that doesn’t work, I write stream of conscious style blithering to push through the block. If that doesn’t work, I do promotional activities like writing a Suvudu cage match piece or answering questions for someone’s blog interview. J
LTS: Who is your favourite author and how has he/she inspired you to write or influenced your writing style or choice of genre?
EL: This is a difficult question because there are so many authors I love and admire, and all of them have had something to do with my desire and capabilities. For the sake for the question I’ll list Stephen King, George R.R. Martin, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and J.K. Rowling.
There’s also something odd about me in that I can also be inspired by really bad writing. Reading a published book where you just say “bleouch!” does two things: It shows you what not to do, and it tells you that if this person can find a publisher, then I certainly can too. Now here’s the thing about that… look up the reviews of your favorite writers and favorite books and you will find a cluster of people who absolutely hated it. Appreciation of art is subjective; we all like different things. So the book I hate and think I can do better than might be one you adore and inspires you because you want to write just like that person.
LTS: What is the most profound discovery you’ve made in terms of your writing and how it has touched the lives of others?
EL: That the same set of words on paper (or Kindle) can lead to a wide array of reactions – everything from gushing appreciative fans to harsh-tongued detractors. I mean, I’ve known it intellectually for years, but now it’s my baby being judged. Like any good parent, you want to throw your body in front of harm’s way to protect it.
The praise has been stupendous and the criticism sometimes unfairly mean. I’m aware that peoples’ response to art is subjective. I’ve been to many a gallery or museum and heard people fawning over stuff I thought was sheer rubbish. I’ve read Pulitzer Prize-winning books and came away thinking, “Meh.” But I have wondered at times why some detractors (though in the minority) have bothered to even leave a review.
I only write reviews about books I enjoy. I guess it’s the difference between being an author/reviewer and being solely a reviewer. I feel that as an author of books, it’s not my place to trash another novelist’s work (even if I think it’s trash) and take a potential sale away. Mine is a subjective viewpoint and there may be many people who would actually enjoy that writing.
Even on Goodreads.com, I think it’s the height of arrogance for anyone to ever leave one star. It illustrates what a “me-centric” society we’ve become, except that we’ve let our social graces deteriorate, and even in the literary world, we’re in danger of devolving into the sort of trash-talking drama-on-steroid debacles we see on Housewives of Whatever and The Jersey Shore. That’s just my opinion. I try to stay positive and steer readers toward work that I like, to help those artists succeed. I’ve decided to leave the negative reviews to others.
LTS: What are you reading now, and how did this particular book make it onto your to-read list?
EL: I am reading Diana Gabaldon’s “Dragonfly in Amber.” I read the first book in this series, “Outlander,” because it was recommended by a friend whose opinion I trust impeccably, and I very much wanted to read more. Gabaldon is an amazing storyteller with artful prose and a brilliant vocabulary -- and she’s not afraid to use it.
LTS: I’ve attended a number of writing workshops by Diana Gabaldon and she’s an excellent teacher, too! So, what do you foresee in your future over the next five years and do you hope to branch out from urban fantasy into other genres? Can your fans expect a sequel to Awakenings in the near future?
EL: Yes, fans can expect book two, “The Lost Prince,” in 2013. That is the only book I am working on at the moment. I have ideas for three other genre series: one sci-fi, one YA adventure, and one paranormal, and two mainstream/literary books. It would be amazing to write all these stories and see them published. I hope I’m successful in that.
LTS: Thank you so much for taking the time to discuss your debut novel and sharing in your writing experiences, Edward! Wishing you all the best and much success in the future.
For more information about Edward Lazellari and his debut novel Awakings, check out:
Follow Edward on Twitter: .EdwardLazellari
Where to buy the book: Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com, and select independent book sellers.
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