Bio: Elegant, disturbing prose is Northern Irish author T.A. Moore's stock-in-trade. From the decadent, eternally decaying Even City to the worrying charm of Sol in 'A Different Breed' she weaves horror and beauty together to create worlds of dizzying variation and charm.
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Work: “The Even” – [REVIEW]
In the Even — a city built in the intersection between the real and the not —ruled by the iron whim of the demon Yekum where treachery brewed amidst the ever-changing streets. Ancients dwell in the city who have out-lived their purpose and grown jaded with their immortality. They want only to die and they will take the whole world with them if they have to: suicide by Apocalypse.
Only Faceless Lenith, goddess, cynic and gambler, stands in their way. The fate of the world rests on her shoulders and mankind did not conceive her to be wise.
Harry Markov: Can you recall the earliest memory, when you picked up the pen and wrote fiction? How did this first brush with this art form feel?
T.A. Moore: The first piece of fiction I remember writing was a children’s book about a foundling that the imposing Russian headmistress of a ballet school found abandoned on the steps of her academy and decided to raise as a prima ballerina! A plan somewhat complicated by the fact that she was very short-sighted and the foundling was a piglet.
I was about eight at the time.
The thing I remember most about how I felt back then was excitement at the idea – new to me – that I could make new stories! I had done it my head, of course. Any childhood games I came up with to play with my friends were complex, multi-layered things that turned tag into a disaster movie involving sharks and dismemberment and hide and seek into a fairy-tale mash-up with the generic princess fleeing from the evil witch and seeking out other characters to help her.
Stories in books were different though. I knew that someone wrote them, but I suppose that I thought it was like plumbing or something; you had to have a special qualification to be allowed to do it. Instead, here I was – writing a book and the only qualification to my name was ‘Best Reader’ in my class.
Daft thought it sounds, that excitement has stuck with me over the years. I love writing, I love other people venturing into the worlds I’ve created and enjoying them. Making stories – what better thing in the world is there?
Markov: I can’t imagine anything better than to be an explorer in a private world created via imagination and passion for the written word and your world in “The Even” is quite the mythological landscape. How did it come to developing a passion for mythology?
Moore: I should probably have a better story about this, but I’ve always just loved mythology.
Celtic Mythology was my first great love– and I draw more deeply on it in Shadows Bloom, my second book in The Even world – and anything to do with Arthurian myth and legend will still have me reaching for my wallet. I love the Norse myths too and a lot of the more obscure pantheons – such as the Etruscan gods from whose legends Lenith sprung.
Maybe because they were providing support for my desire to believe that there was more to the world than what we see on the surface? Mythology is were history and story meet – and I am passionate about both those things. History was always my favourite subject. English was good, I enjoyed analyzing Shakespeare and Dickens, but History was just a succession of really good, frequently violent stories and who wouldn’t love that? (Plus my English teacher called my writing ‘sordid and disgusting’ which took the bloom off her class for me a little.)
Markov: I have been pondering about this one for quite some time after I discovered that you are both active as an author employed by Morrigan books and behind the scenes. Doesn’t that count as self-publishing to a degree? I have heard of authors, who have founded their own houses so that they could publish their own works. I am also not speaking about quality here, since as far as Morrigan Books go you have set a high standard for small houses, but on the book selling angle. Publishing is experiencing some dynamic times. Rules are rewritten and traditions altered, etc. etc.
Moore: Ack! I’m always a bit shy about admitting the dual involvement for that very reason – the stain of self-publishing.
I actually didn’t know Mark Deniz – my publisher – at all when I submitted The Even to him. In fact, I actually submitted it to him as the editor of Eneit Press. Mark was actually in the process of establishing Morrigan Books at that time and was impressed enough with The Even to ask me to come with him as Morrigan’s first publication. I agreed – the Morrigan has always been one my favourite goddesses – and it was months later that Mark asked if I’d be interested in becoming more involved with Morrigan itself. He needed some help with the submissions at that time and I had been editing a local literary magazine so it seemed reasonable.
Personally, I’m not a huge fan of self-publishing. I know a lot of people who are and they are armed with lots of research and success stories and I’ve never say they were WRONG. It’s just that...publishing a book is HARD! You have to edit and proof it, get it set right, get it printed and shipped and sold to bookshops (many of whom are suspicious of self-publishing) and without the help of a publisher all of that is down to the author.
It isn’t easy, it can be heart-breaking, and it means you can’t move on to the next book in your head.
I think it’s better to have a publisher – even though it is more and more important for the author to take an active role in the publishing process.
Markov: That stain seems to be a persistent occurrence right about now, when publishing is in a shifting process as far as the business models are concerned. I think it becomes complicated to avoid the pointing finger, since many creative types would like to dabble in a little bit of everything: writing fiction and articles, reviewing, edit and promote. Sometimes one project can have us overlap several activities as with your situation. I think that such an overlap might cause a misleading image to unfamiliar with one’s work people and in that regard do you think a person should restrain himself from sticking his finger in too many places at one time and is there an ethical, possibly unwritten, codex on the matter?
Moore: If there is, no one told me about it. I’m always looking elsewhere when the secret handshake is being demonstrated!
More seriously, I suppose it could be misleading. But Morrigan Book’s literary output stands for itself, I think. I’m a minor cog in the company and more major cogs than me - who are also writers – have not had their work published. (Mark Deniz also rejected some of my stories for anthologies because he didn’t like them or didn’t think they worked for the theme.)
I also think it’s actually...useful to dip your fingers in as many sections of the literary pie as possible. For me, at least. Reviewing books requires you to read analytically, to pinpoint the why of whether or not you enjoy a book. After a while you start to see what works and what doesn’t and how you can apply that to your own writing. The same goes for reading submissions – you identify what catches your interest as an editor and then you use that to polish your own cover letter and chapters.
Markov: I am extremely curious about the dynamics inside a publishing house and since you are an insider person and handle queries, can you reveal the basic model of how you handle the queries? Do you receive un-agented work and how has been the submission flow for a small publishing house so far?
Moore: Queries at Morrigan Books are closed at the moment. Mostly due to the fact that we have books and anthologies scheduled up until the end of 2010 and wanted to focus on them for the moment. While we were accepting submissions it was quite busy. We would get between ten to fifteen submissions a week. If the cover letter interested us we’d ask for three chapters and then, if we were still hooked, the full novel or collection. The things I looked for in a submission were an interesting idea, good writing and a good fit to the ‘house’ style.
Markov: You are also involved with the publisher’s online magazine “Three Cow Press”. Since both are professionally linked together, how does the magazine reflect the publisher? Or is it more of a side project?
Moore: The magazine is linked to the publisher but functions independently of it. It’s primarily the baby of editor Reece Notley, Morrigan’s graphic design guru, and although it does feature articles on the State of the Crow it isn’t ever going to give Morrigan’s authors preference or function solely as a publicity venue for Morrigan. Mark and Reece did work to put some clear blue water between the ventures to make sure of that. Otherwise the ezine would have no integrity as a literary endeavour and I think it does at this point. We’ve published some very good stories and featured interesting articles.
I’m quite proud of it.
Markov: As a short story writer to a magazine co-editor, do drop some inside information on the mind of an editor. I have had this age long question as to what a short story editor wants and I guess I need an editor to answer that. Do you guys subconsciously choose a loose theme to base an issue like after finding a brilliant story “X” you try to find other submissions that echo and compliment theme, voice and prose or do you go random gold sifting through the submitted work?
Moore: It’s actually quite random. If we have a theme in mind – such as our Feb 09 erotica edition – we’ll open a special submissions window for those stories. Otherwise we just look for good stories that catch our attention, keep us reading and are finished articles. When we are actually putting the issues together we might try and find a unifying threat to link the stories, but that would be after they are accepted.
The quality is the most important thing.
Markov: As a writer and involved with a publisher have you pondered about the shift from genre to story archetype. To me it would seem that there is no well segregated subgenre system, when it comes to speculative fiction and books are recognized by the story archetypes. My example would be “Twilight” spawning impossible love with different monster, the latest being a love story involving the undead and although the novel itself has zombies presented it can’t be called horror. In today’s context do you think that we might face a future that is post genre?
Moore: You do not ask easy questions. I think we’ll always have genre, if only because it makes it easier for the book-sellers to lay out their shops, and that the current tightly-linked sub-genres may or may not continue to proliferate. I think that they have always been about – what is it people say, there are only seven stories in the world and the rest is all in the details - but that we are noticing them more at the moment because publishers are feeling the credit crunch as much as the rest of us, so they tend to stick with a template they find that works.
Joseph Campbell, though, pointed out the existence of the monomyth years ago and Vladimir Propp studied the narrative building blocks of stories in Morphology of a Folk Tale. The ‘love with a monster against impossible odds’ story is just the one that’s caught up the public imagination the most at the moment.
Markov: And yet I can’t stop thinking that the line between genres is blurring as more and more authors couple different genres and produce hybrids, which become harder and harder to market as genre books, but instead publishers rely on clever covers to get across multiple readers and perhaps jump above the genre restriction. I am not sure whether I am correct in my assumption or not, but I would like to hear your take on my theory.
Moore: I think that the genre line will always be there. It isn’t in the publishers best interests to do away with them. A fantasy reader isn’t going to want to hunt through the general fiction shelves to try and find a new fantasy hidden amongst the romance, crime and misery memoirs. They want to go to the fantasy section and browse amongst familiar names.
Some books will get away with blurring the lines. Stuart Neville’s debut novel ‘The Twelve’ or ‘Ghosts of Belfast’ blends thriller with horror and gets away with it. The Charlie Parker novels by John Connolly started as pure crime but elements of the supernatural emerged as the series progressed. Fantasy novels frequently draw on elements of crime fiction, political thriller or historical novels (C.E Murphy’s quite brilliant The Inheritor’s Cycle is based in an alternate Europe that is supported by a careful blend of historical accuracy and fantasy detours.)
In the long run, I think the genres will remain. Authors will maybe feel more free to cross-over, to play with genre limitations, and more subgenres will be born – but there will always be the Fantasy section.
Markov: As a writer, which was the most challenging aspect to tackle in the craft to become at a publishable level in your opinion?
Moore: Once I would have said finishing something. I used to have stacks of half-finished stories and abandoned first chapters floated around. At the moment, though, I think the hardest part of the craft to master is editing. Perhaps it is because finishing something is so hard, but taking a sharpened pen to your baby is a painful process. ‘Kill your darlings’ is easier said than done but it’s an essential part of the writing process. The first draft is never as good, or as bad, as you think it is.
Markov: Editing is my bane as well, but on first draft basis the middle gives me trouble the most. I am curious towards what writing risks you are interesting to undertaking. Is there something genre wise or story wise that is outside your comfort zone, but you would like to experiment with?
Moore: I’m actually writing a detective novel at the moment. It’s been interesting. Most of the problems, actually, stemmed from my preconceptions that there WOULD be problems. I got so tangled up in trying to write like a ‘crime novelist’ that I lost sight of the fact that the writing wasn’t that different. I needed to set the world up – even if it was OUR world – and I didn’t need to hide everything from the reader in order to keep them in the dark. Once I got that out of my system and just focused on writing, it hasn’t been too bad. I miss magic sometimes and the more baroque elements of world-building that I’m able to indulge with The Even. It’s a good novel, though. I think.
Markov: I have been impatiently checking the Morrigan Books site for any updates on new releases, hoping to see the sequel to “The Even.” When exactly is your publishing date set and how many stories set in this particular world do you see yourself writing?
Moore: ‘Shadows Bloom’ is currently with the editor and I am anxiously awaiting his report back. The publication date isn’t set in stone at the moment but it will be out in 2010. I have no limit set on the stories I could tell in The Even world. The City has so much scope, with its population and streets always in flux, that I could write there for years and always find some new element to explore.
Markov: I am quite intrigued into hearing the origin behind “The Even”. Would mind sharing how the idea formed inside your head?
Moore: It started as a children’s fairy story. I know, I don’t think I’m made to write for children either. I knew that the ruling family were cursed to never set foot to the ground and I had the scene with Aphar being thrown off the palace in my mind. Everything was quite vague at that point, it wasn’t until I realised that Faceless Lenith was my main character that the rest of the world slotted into place around her. She was just there, this vivid image of a thin woman with salt-white dreads, black clothes and a smooth mask where her face would be. (When discussing illustrating the novel with Stephanie Law we did have a conversation debating whether or not she had ears. We decided she did.)
By this time, it was pretty clear it wasn’t going to be a children’s book.
Markov: You also worked with artists Stephanie Law to provide amazing illustrations for your novel. How did you decide that you would feature illustrations and how did the whole process undergo with Law? Was it easy to collaborate and agree on how the sketches would work or did you give her creative freedom?
Moore: At the time I was working at the Creative Writers Network and we’d done a lot of work with murals and digital story telling. I applied for a grant to the Arts Council and it was....turned down. I re-jigged the application and tried again, successfully this time.
I collaborated quite closely with Stephanie Law. I gave her a list of scenes that I thought would be beautiful images and she turned them into something quite exquisite. I mentioned above that we discussed whether Lenith had ears or not and we chatted about other details too, so that our ideas of what the world looked like meshed. Successfully, I think. She’s an amazing artist. Her work is simply stunning.