Interview with Rebecca Laffar-Smith
Why don’t you begin by sharing a little about yourself?
Thank you, A.F. I still feel self-conscious when people ask me that. I guess I’ll start with the basics; I’m Rebecca Laffar-Smith, a science fiction and fantasy novelist. For twelve years I was a freelance writer, editor, and Web technician, but I gave that up in 2010 to focus on family, community, and fiction. Now I homeschool my son and raise my amazing writing-obsessed teenage daughter. I also volunteer as a liaison in the writing industry in Western Australia where I support local writers and bring industry events and awareness into the community. And somehow, among all that, find time to write fiction.
Can you tell us a bit about your debut novel, The Flight of the Torque?
The Flight of Torque is a paranormal suspense that delves into the turmoil of our inner nature being at war with the self we identify with as individuals. That sounds pretty deep, on the surface it’s a cool story about a young woman who gets kidnapped by a snake of cult worshippers and is subjected to a ritual sacrifice. She survives but the experience transforms her and she finds herself taken over by the dark animal instinct of the creature within. Together with her guardian angel, she needs to discover a cure, but the further they delve the more secrets they reveal about who she is and how her family is tied to the Nagaran cult.
I really connected with the concept of having to fight against an inner darkness that can control the way you think and feel. I have Bipolar disorder and have found fighting the depression and mania related to Bipolar is a lot like having a serpent within, so beneath the surface of a paranormal suspense, I feel like The Flight of Torque looks at mental health and our struggle to accept who we are and embrace that to find our own inner core of strength and power.
The Flight of the Torque is the first of a series. How do you see that series developing?
The world in which the Blood of the Nagaran series exists seems to have a range of stories to tell. I’m currently working on the first draft of book two, Birth of the Sacred Mother, where we step backward a generation to discover the truth about Tori's family and the origin of the Nagaran Cult. In book three, I’ll be returning to the characters of Tori and Lucas to continue on from where The Flight of Torque leaves off, and in book four I’ll be stepping to the side to explore Zara and Crey's stories more fully. I’m also working on a novella in the same world, which will be exclusively available to the fans that are subscribed to my list. I’m very passionate about the novella too, although it’s taking a lot of courage to write, because it delves into some very powerful and provoking themes.
Do you have a favourite character from The Flight of the Torque, and why (or why not)?
Actually, people are often surprised when I declare Carny as my favourite character from The Flight of Torque. He’s not someone you might suspect, and because he’s actually a ‘bad guy’ a lot of people probably don’t like him. He comes into the book almost as a bit of comic relief, an archetypal trickster, who is strangely ridiculous and flawed while at the same time being someone I could really resonate with. I appreciated how real he felt to me as I was writing.
His dialogue was very entertaining to write, because one of his specific quirks is that he always uses double negatives. It was fun to give myself permission to blatantly disregard what is normally a strict rule of grammar. He’s also such a lively and emotive person. He came through very clearly and I never had difficulty getting into his character. I do tend to have difficulty ‘feeling’ my characters sometimes so having one that was so richly real to me was a wonderful experience.
Why did you decide to write a paranormal novel? Are you a fan of the genre?
I wouldn't have said yes until very recently actually, but as I think about this question I glance over at my bookshelves and it’s kind of obvious that I must very much be a fan of the genre. A few months ago I just thought I liked science fiction and fantasy with no specific preference for a smaller subset of genre. I thought I was writing a fantasy novel.
Originally, The Flight of Torque was a story about the epic battle of a city to survive the devastating attacks of a dying breed of dragons who were enraged because the cultists were stealing dragon eggs for research into creating hybrid humans. The citizens used powerful sonic weapons to fend off attacks and roamed around in a post-apocalyptic city that they were desperately trying to restore. Strangely, none of that makes it into the final version of the book and I’m still frustrated at not having a chance to tell my dragon stories yet. Thankfully, I have other books already waiting in the wings, some about dragons, some about artificial intelligence, some about a teen psychic medium, so I’ll have the opportunity to delve more widely into the science fiction and fantasy genre.
But coming back to your original question, as I look at my bookshelf I do see a definite proclivity toward paranormal novels. The shelves are full of angels, vampires, witches, and gifted individuals. I've always had this kind of desire, I suppose, to bring the extraordinary into the world. I want my readers to believe, even if only for a time, in the sheer wonder and possibility of the world. The paranormal is definitely a way to embrace that kind of idea.
Do have any interesting facts or stories to tell about the book, or an anecdote about writing it?
There always seem to be a lot of anecdotes that gather around the writing process and The Flight of Torque is no exception. It is actually more difficult to choose just one to talk about in more depth. So I’ll choose two.
First, the writing of the book was much more difficult than I ever imagined. The book actually began in 2006 when I collaborated with a friend and we dreamed and imagined and outlined the version I mentioned earlier with the dragons and the post-apocalyptic city. Life got in the way and the project got put on the backburner for both of us but it kept calling to me and keeping me awake at nights so several months after we had more or less abandoned it, I got in touch with my friend and asked if he’d mind my continuing it solo. Of course he was thrilled with the idea that it would eventually be finished even if he was no longer part of the process. The trouble was, without a partner to help keep me on target and producing, I tended to approach the project sporadically and life kept getting in the way.
Over the six years between 2006 and 2012 I managed about 20,000 words and had completely transformed the original concept. I had a sense of where it was going but finding the time to sit and write just wasn't happening. Then in November 2012 I made the book my National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge. I knew the final book would need about 100,000 words so I felt no guilt at all aiming to write 50,000 words of the middle of it for NaNoWriMo rather than then as the rules stated at the time, ‘writing a 50,000 word book from start to finish’. That month I wrote 70,000 words thanks in big part to the wonderful community of writers that grew up around NaNoWriMo in my local area and the support and encouragement of my local library staff. And it was NaNoWriMo that drove me on to get it finished and published earlier this year so that it would be ready to share with my fellow NaNo writers this November.
Secondly, there is one aspect that always draws interest in self-publishing circles and that is the drama I had with the covers. Astute observers might discover that the book was originally published with a different cover. After I released the book with that cover I heard from some kind, but brutally honest, friends that they couldn't bring themselves to read what they believed must be a romance book. The cover had a very distinct “romance” sense about it at the time and it hadn't occurred to me that I’d typecast the book into a category that didn't fit the actual content. Romance lovers would be deeply disappointed at the raw hint of romance the book provided and my true audience; lovers of paranormal suspense and dark fantasy would run a mile. So, despite having already having distributed hundreds of copies and having paid for a small print run, I went back to basics and commissioned a new cover. That means there is now a limited first edition cover copy of the book. It was an interesting experience in the world of publishing and one of the mistakes I know I've learned a great deal from.
As a debut novelist, how have you found wading into the world of publishing?
It’s both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. I often feel like I’m leaping without a net, but that’s the way I tend to approach life. Even as a freelancer I believed in learning through trial and error. With self-publishing, I threw myself into it and because it was something I was passionate about and dedicated to doing I loved every aspect of discovering the course along the way. I actually find the writing part of the job the most difficult. Once I've got the draft written I feel like I’m truly in my element. I love the editing and shaping process, and because of my experience in Web technologies I found formatting a natural extension of my interests. I already had a lot of foundation for successfully building my platform. I knew how to develop a website and had a strong brand on social media. So I was well positioned to dive into the world of publishing.
The trouble is, I've still got a lot more to learn about everything. Because I dove in, rather than wading, I've made lots of mistakes. They've been powerful learning tools, but they've also made the journey that much harder. Thankfully, I believe self-publishing is a long-tail game. Very few writers make it big with a first book and in self-publishing it is more important than ever to develop a strong catalogue of product and have everything you release further building your brand as a writer.
This week, I have my very first in-person book launch, which has been pretty scary. Part of what I've had to learn in the build up to that is about approaching media and building momentum behind an event. I was thrilled when a friend from my local writers group sent me a message on Facebook with photographs of the state newspaper and there, in two separate articles, is my name and the details about my book launch. It was an amazing feeling because for the last couple of weeks I’d been fretting about the press releases I’d created and wondering if I’d done them right.
When you get into publishing, it’s easy to forget all the aspects involved. Traditional publishing houses have a host of staff in multiple departments and when you’re self-publishing you’re effectively taking on most of those roles yourself. Yes, it’s important to commission aspects such as a cover artist and editor, but handling, distribution, and public relations are all things you tend to deal with yourself so it’s forces you to really think about the way you approach your work. You have to treat yourself and your creations in a business capacity and think strategically when you make decisions, and no matter how much you read about it and try to learn from the advice and experience of others, you’ll face your own challenges and have to learn how to shift and move to get around the difficulties you face along the way.
Who has inspired you as an author?
One of my earliest inspirations was Australian author, Traci Harding. I was a teenager when I read her Ancient Future trilogy and began to see how novels could be a gateway for giving people insights into the world that they might not be open to in other mediums. I realised fiction had a compelling capacity to alter the way people think about the world and themselves. The idea of reaching people in that way really appealed to me. But even before that I’d been passionate about writing.
I still remember the first poem I ever wrote. I was six at the time and even now the words of that poem still resonate with the person I am and the person I’m trying to be. I was first published at the age of twelve with another poem, which received an editor’s choice award, and that encouragement drove me on.
In more recent years, I've been inspired by other self-published writers having the courage to make their way in the world and by the amateur writers who have looked to me as that guiding beacon. When I became the municipal liaison for my NaNoWriMo region I realised that having a ‘real’ author in their ranks was hugely motivating to them and that pushed me to work harder than ever to bring this book to fruition.
What’s next for you?
Well, right now I’m powering through National Novel Writing Month myself and hope to have a solid first draft of Birth of the Sacred Mother written by the end of the month. Given that these books are closer to 100,000 words, it means working twice as hard as most during November, but I’m confident and am already more than 10,000 words on my way. I’m hoping to have Birth of the Sacred Mother out in the first few months of 2015 and will simultaneously release the subscriber-exclusive novella to my list at the same time.
Then I’ll be deviating from the Blood of the Nagaran series temporarily to begin a serial fiction following a teenage psychic medium whose ‘gift’ helps her solve crime and bring peace to grieving families. I began to discover the concept for this series during NaNoWriMo last year and am very excited to explore it further but I have no idea how evolved the serial will become at this stage.
I've also got at least a dozen other books waiting in the wings. Like I mentioned, I definitely want to visit dragons and artificial intelligence. I've got a secret surprise non-fiction book that I’m putting together with the children of a local primary school and my son keeps asking me to write some children’s stories. Not to mention the other Blood of the Nagaran books.
So I guess, next for me is trying to keep my fingers to the keys churning out all these stories. Speaking of which, that’s probably where I should be at this hour.
Thank you so very much for inviting me to share this with you and your readers, A.F. It’s been such a delight and I hope you've all enjoyed hearing me ramble on. I’m happy to answer any specific questions others may have so please leave a comment and if you’d like to be kept up to date with what I’m releasing and get exclusive access to the Blood of the Nagaran novella I mentioned you can subscribe on my website.
In 1998, Rebecca began offering freelance writing, editing, and Web technology services. She published non-fiction articles in online magazines and then later in print. She worked for a number of clients from university students and school teachers, to CEOs and entrepreneurs. The business was moderately steady, but Rebecca found the work increasingly mundane and, in her words “soul-destroying”. She wanted to embrace her childhood dream of becoming a novelist. In 2010 she stopped accepting freelance commissions and focused on her three loves; family, community, and fiction.
Now, Rebecca volunteers as a liaison for the writing industry in her community. As part of the Write Along The Highwaycommittee and OzNoWriMo Young Writer’s Program, Rebecca supports local writers and brings industry events and awareness into the local community. Somehow, she finds time around all that, as well as homeschooling her son and raising her teenage daughter, to work on her true writing passion. Her debut novel, The Flight of Torque, was published June, 2014.
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