I have another guest with me today. Welcome Alyson Miers! She is the self-published author of a new novel entitled, Charlinder's Walk. She's here with me today to talk about her book, the writing process, and her future plans! Let's jump right in!
Alyson, before we get into your debut novel, can we get to know you a little bit first? You describe yourself as a “smartass of the liberal feminist American persuasion.” That title resonates with me, personally, as I also tend to be a bit of a smartass when it comes to feminist issues. Tell us a bit about where that smartass streak comes from and why you identify as a feminist.
To explain where the smartassery comes from would probably require thousands of dollars' worth of therapy, but by now it's pretty much my native language. Sarcasm is my armor and smartass is just what I do with the absurdities that surround us in our crazy world. How that applies to feminism, I guess is that I see feminism as a set of common-sense issues. Women are people, we should be able to make decisions on our own terms, and a society does itself a disservice if it keeps half its adult population effectively under house arrest through violence, economic disenfranchisement or reproductive coercion. The dishonesty that surrounds much of the discourse on gender issues, I suppose is what brings out the smartass. I see people using doublespeak and euphemism to perpetuate cultural attitudes that treat women like thoughtless chattel and men like uncontrollable animals (who should, somehow, be in charge of running the public sphere), and I tend to forget my good manners.
Your new book is titled Charlinder’s Walk. Give us a little blurb. Who is the story about? What themes are you exploring in this work?
How about I give you the full blurb, and that'll help to answer the second question?
In 2012, the Plague ended the world as we know it. In 2130, Charlinder wants to know why.
The origin of the disease remains a mystery. Their ignorance of its provenance fuels a growing schism that threatens to destroy the peace that the survivors’ descendants have built. Unwilling to wait for matters to get any worse, he decides to travel to where the Plague first appeared and find out the truth—which means walking across three continents before returning home.
Charlinder has never been more than ten miles from home, has never heard anyone speak a foreign language, and he's going it alone.
He survives thousands of miles of everything from near-starvation to near-madness before he meets Gentiola. By then he’s so exhausted that the story she offers to tell seems like little more than a diversion...until he hears it.
Nothing could have prepared him for what he learns from her, and no one ever told him: be careful what you wish for. The world is a much bigger place than Charlinder knew, and his place in it is a question he never asked before.
Charlinder is the 20-year-old schoolteacher of his village, and he views his journey as his responsibility as an educator. The story is his coming-of-age.
The themes contained in Charlinder's Walk may include, but are not limited to, the limitations of gender (Charlinder is the honey badger of interpreting masculinity), skepticism, education, environmentalism, travel, moral ambiguity, growing up, and the many different permutations of family.
Many women writers tell me that it is somewhat difficult crafting female characters. Did you find this to be true writing your female character, Gentiola? Why or why not
Gentiola was a shockingly difficult character to write, but she has very serious issues that go well beyond her gender, so she's probably not a good example for this question. Someone who is not mentioned in the blurb, but who is even more important to Charlinder, is Eileen Woodlawn, who was among the original survivors of the Plague in 2012. She was the village's first schoolteacher, and her diaries are the only writing left for posterity. Another important female character is Miriam, who is basically the post-Plague world's equivalent to Molly Weasley from Harry Potter, in that she's like everyone's mom. However, something I learned from being in Harry Potter fandom is that when you have a character who is defined primarily as a mother, she will be controversial no matter what she does. (The way to escape this syndrome is to be like Lily Potter, and be dead before the story begins. A mother who sacrifices herself for her child can only be sympathetic.) After seeing how Molly was treated in fandom, I decided that Miriam would have no truck with trying to be a likeable character; she would let her Bitch Flag fly. Charlinder's mother, Lydia, like Lily, does not live to see her son's journey, but her death is a result of the post-Plague world's lack of modern medicine, rather than stemming from her identity as a mother. She lives long enough that Charlinder's life is not defined by orphanhood.
Something that Eileen and Miriam have in common is that they don't put much energy into being "nice." Eileen is a very "I don't want you to like me" sort of person; she made good things happen in her survivor community, but she did not mind her manners while she did so. Miriam simply has much bigger things on her mind than staying on anyone's good side. I don't recall that they were any more difficult to write than Charlinder or his uncle, possibly because it was not a priority to make them likeable.
What have you learned about yourself as a writer throughout this writing and publishing process?
I've learned that I tend to be most productive when I remove distractions from my environment. For example, I unplugged my TV and locked it in a closet when my editor sent me her feedback, so that I wouldn't be able to watch TV while I was supposed to be revising. I've learned that I use far too many commas, and that's going to be an ongoing battle for the foreseeable future. Also, I genuinely love adverbs, and I am utterly uninterested in apologizing for that.
What books have most influenced your writing and why?
I've mentioned Harry Potter, and in the Author's Notes of Charlinder's Walk, I have a lot to say about Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke. A couple more books that I took with me to my Peace Corps assignment (where I wrote Charlinder's Walk) and which probably had an effect on my storytelling, were Second Nature by Alice Hoffman and Blessings by Anna Quindlen.
What books are you currently reading?
I've just opened up the copy of Dracula which Amazon gave away for free. My latest novel in progress involves vampires, so I think this will be helpful.
If you had to choose, which author would you consider a mentor?
Oh, dear, it's like trying to choose your favorite teacher of all the ones who believed in you. I haven't yet read a novel of hers---only non-fiction---but I really admire Sikivu Hutchinson for her willingness to piss everybody off by speaking the truth. I aspire to be brave like her, though it doesn't come easily.
What projects are you currently working on?
I currently have three---yes, I am that crazy---works in progress. One is a women's fiction that I wrote just after coming home from Albania, which is complete as a rough draft but desperately in need of revising. One is an LGBT dystopian that I started writing a couple years ago but put on the back burner to revise Charlinder's Walk. And I have the beginning of an urban fantasy with secular ghost story, which involves sympathetic vampires, though mine don't come out in daylight.
Finally, what would you say to aspiring novelists?
In order to tell a good story, there is no substitute for living. They like to say, "Write what you know," and that's good advice, but with that in mind, it helps to know more. Travel, meet new people, learn new things, do stuff outside of your comfort zone. This is where inspiration happens.
Also, for the love of language, learn your homophones and don't ever use an apostrophe for a plural.
Alyson has kindly put together a great promotional video for her new book! Check it!!
Also, Alyson has a special challenge for her readers and yourselves! Release your inner pedant and and viisit THIS link and check it out!