I’m beyond thrilled to be included in the blog tour for Sea Change! This was such a special and unusual book (you can read my review here), and I’m very happy to have S. M. Wheeler join me today with an interview. Keep reading, because Tor is giving away THREE finished copies of Sea Change along with a special pin!
Sea Change by S. M. Wheeler
A Tor Hard Cover
On Sale: June 18, 2013
The unhappy child of two powerful parents who despise each other, young Lilly turns to the ocean to find solace, which she finds in the form of the eloquent and intelligent sea monster Octavius, a kraken. In Octavius’s many arms, Lilly learns of friendship, loyalty, and family. When Octavius, forbidden by Lilly to harm humans, is captured by seafaring traders and sold to a circus, Lilly becomes his only hope for salvation. Desperate to find him, she strikes a bargain with a witch that carries a shocking price.
Her journey to win Octavius’s freedom is difficult. The circus master wants a Coat of Illusions; the Coat tailor wants her undead husband back from a witch; the witch wants her skin back from two bandits; the bandits just want some company, but they might kill her first. Lilly’s quest tests her resolve, tries her patience, and leaves her transformed in every way.
A powerfully written debut from a young fantasy author, Sea Change is an exhilarating tale of adventure, resilience, and selflessness in the name of friendship.
Welcome, S. M. Wheeler, to Books, Bones & Buffy! Your writing style is a bit unusual and has a formal tone that reminds me of several classic writers. Are you naturally drawn to classic literature, and do you think your style emerged from reading certain classic authors?
Thank you for hosting me!
I would begin by admitting that a certain amount of my style is a reflection of how I speak, which can be a bit unusual and formal. At least when not flustered, where it all breaks down into quasi-sentences and the inability to scrounge up words (there are times when writing goes like this, too). That’s the influence of more reading that talking with others as a younger person—and, yes, what I read tended towards the classics. I recall particularly an insomniac month spent with Anna Karenina, which had me craving beefsteaks and throwing around French words during the day. It was silly.
Really, during my teen years I really should have carved “S. + Russian Lit” on a tree. Paging through the list of books read around that time, there’s also some very Classical literature (The Golden Ass stands out) and Shakespeare. I can’t leave out the “antique-y” language of some fantasy authors, too. I’m not the only one who has been tempted to mimic my literary forebears. Fairytales are likewise given to that style.
And on that note, who are your favorite authors today? Did anyone in particular influence you to start writing?
Peter S. Beagle, Jeanette Winterson, Ursula K. Le Guin, Italo Calvino, and Philip K. Dick are my current favorites. Less “favorite authors” and more “authors who have written my favorite books” are Dostoevsky and Mikhail Bulgakov with their The Brothers Karamazov and The Master and Margarita respectively.
I don’t know that someone started me writing. There’s a certain inherent urge to, at least where storytelling goes. I was a terrible liar as a kid both in the sense of “I did it a lot” and “I didn’t do it very well”; one time I swore that Edgar Rice Burroughs had committed the sin of portraying unreasonable animal behavior when the lionesses in a Tarzan book failed to gnaw down the tree the protagonist had found sanctuary in à la beavers. The funny thing is, I don’t even know how I knew about this scene—I haven’t read any of Burroughs’ work. Besides getting much better at sounding authoritative and reasonable where off-the-cuff fibs are concerned (my sister calls this “bullshitting”, which is polite compared to the alternative of “lying like an ass”), I’ve gotten to channeling the habit towards things explicitly fictional.
I will say that my father writes, as well. That might have sparked the realization that I could put those lies-slash-stories to paper. Related to the above, he has the attitude that his first obligation as a writer is to himself, which keeps me writing what I want to read—and that can be oblique and opaque and formal.
Do you write full-time? And if not, how do you fit writing into your day, and how do you reward yourself after a successful writing session?
I do not, and I do not think I ever wish to! Firstly, I’m a student at the moment, but this goes for the future as well. Without obligations to leave the house I don’t, even though I know that it’s important to observe other human beings in action. I’m working in food services at the moment, and it is providing fantastic research for the behavior of children. People probably think I am showing interest in the kids when I ask what age they are and such, but, no. I’m learning life stages.
I write whenever I have a free moment and sufficient energy. I have chronic fatigue issues, which proves very frustrating, and the writing that goes into schoolwork as an English undergrad makes things somewhat difficult, too. So, it’s after I have fulfilled my other obligations that I settle down to put words to paper—it is its own reward.
I love that there are so many parts to Lilly’s quest to find Octavius. Each step on her journey leads her to complete another task before she can continue. Did you plan this out ahead of time, or did Lilly’s circuitous path emerge while you were writing?
It is very much deliberate, though I would never again write a plot with goals nested one in the other. “Pain in the ass” does not even begin to describe how difficult it was to sort the elements of those quests into an order that did not involve too much backtracking. I’m proud, though, of how it turned out. Also, while I knew I would be writing a circular plot, through the process of drafting I wasn’t sure which goals went where and which character wanted what. That accounted for quite a lot of the rewriting required to finish the novel.
Many fantasy writers spend lots of time world-building, but not all of the elements necessarily make it into the final book. Is there anything that you imagined for Sea Change that didn’t make it into the final version?
No, really! It was so cool, with a reasoning behind the magic that I am still quite pleased with. You should feel disappointed that it didn’t make it, but even with the tone of the book it was a touch too gruesome. I had to dial it back to the bit with the tooth. There was also a bit more about the lay of the land that never made it into the book, as Lilly keeps primarily to rural locations. I would also have liked to incorporate more about the Christian God’s role in the universe, too, and there’s a version where the Devil makes a showing, as is appropriate for something based off the Grimms’ work. Likewise the Virgin Mary, though now that there’s a character named Mary I probably won’t end up working that in, either.
Ultimately I did wish to respect the vagueness and archetypal setting of fairytales, however. Named locations, kingdoms, that sort of thing, I was chary of. This isn’t a secondary world fantasy per se. That means that most of what is missing from the book is stories that I couldn’t logically have Lilly learn about, not world-building as such. The pair of bandits and their witch have a back story of some intricacy, but none of them would tell her about it. Not even drunk.
Tell us three things about yourself that can’t be found on your website.
That’s a long list, given my website is essentially a writing journal. On the other hand, were I feeling artsy-fartsy, I could say that it’s all there, right in my writing. Imagine me wiggling my fingers to indicate the mystical truth of this sentiment.
I feel like that’s a rude answer, though.
The first: I am a big fan of reptiles, keep one (a rosy boa) as a pet, and intend to have more in the future. Though I don’t approve of the exotics trade where it involves wild-caught individuals and I find certain aspects of the captive breeding trade disturbing, I find it difficult to say no to pretty snakes and monitor lizards.
Second: I find video games that involve level grinding infinitely soothing. I blame a childhood of Pokémon. The exception is the Silent Hill games: the mechanics might not be my cup of tea but being afraid to open doors and advance the story because I am that afraid of pixel monsters? Oh, it’s wonderful.
Third: While gender and sexuality are evident as matters of philosophical and ideological concern in my writing, I am also deeply interested in the portrayal of disabled characters in fiction as well as the lives of disabled folks out here in the real world, particularly where mental illness is concerned.
Thank you so much for your insightful and intelligent answers!
Watch the creepy book trailer for Sea Change. The trailer does a fantastic job of summing up what the book is really about:
About the author:
I spent the first thirteen years of my life on a slow-motion tour of the United States, following my father’s work in the telecommunication business, with a brief side trip to Jamaica. Settling down at last in Upstate New York when my parents purchased an inn, I spent a difficult year attempting to adapt to the small local school and the company of my agemates. Ultimately, my family made the decision to educate me at home. Some of my time came to revolve around the business, which grew to include a bookstore and restaurant; some of my attention went to the school textbooks from which I learned. Mostly, I read and wrote.
Fantasy, science fiction, myth, folklore—I favored the unreal in reading and told the same sort of stories as soon as I could articulate those ideas in words. This became an important tool when I developed several chronic health problems in my adolescence. Rather than using the world of fantasy to escape from these, I normalized them by creating disabled characters within the familiar landscapes of the fantastic. One o’ clock in the morning with an unruly mind and aching joints was best faced with characters whose hallucinations and missing limbs were oversized projections of my own difficulties.
I flew out of Upstate to California for college with one suitcase of clothes and ten boxes of books. I am now living with family while attending the University of San Diego, where I am pursuing an English degree, a Classics minor, and all excuses to write fiction.
Now for a special giveaway! THREE winners (U.S./Canada only) will win a finished copy of Sea Change and a special edition pin! To enter, please fill out the form. You can get extra entries by leaving a comment, tweeting, and other tasks. Three winners will be selected by Random.org on July 10. Good luck!
This giveaway is over, and I will be posting the winners names soon! Thanks to everyone who entered.