This week’s interview is with author Heidi C. Vlach. Welcome Heidi!
This Blog Blank: I like to start each interview by giving the author a chance to discuss their latest work. What can you share with us about it? (Feel free to discuss whichever work you want to promote)
Heidi C. Vlach: My most recent book is also my first self-published one! Remedy is a medical drama that explores what it means to be family. The story follows Peregrine, an aging miner with impaired hearing, and his daughter/assistant Tillian. Peregrine’s race has a far longer life expectancy than Tillian’s, and Peregrine is wracked with doubt that their living arrangement is the best use of Tillian’s time. The two of them are swept into the relief efforts for a legendary plague and while they’re separated, they’re forced to reexamine their relationship. Doing the right thing isn’t always straightforward.
TBB: You’ve spent quite a bit of time in world building. Tell us about the Aligare world. How did you come up with the various races?
HV: The Aligare world is a planet with a habitable area the size of a small country. That area is enclosed with a magical barrier and nurtured by the gods. The mortal people are three non-human species who live and work together, using each other’s strengths to everyone’s advantage.
I basically backwards engineered these races. As a teenager, I designed some individual characters that looked cool, then I decided to build a world that would produce those people. I also looked to Earth creatures of the past and present for inspiration. In particular, Aligare dragons are inspired by the archaeopteryx, the most well-known evolutionary step between dinosaurs and birds. Peregrine describes his korvi race as “a drop of bird in a cup of lizard”.
TBB: I hear a lot of writers talking about their literary influences. For instance, in writing my first SciFi novel, I keep seeing Isaac Asimov’s philosophy, and Jack Vance’s characterizations in my head. When you are writing, what influences can you see in your work?
HV: Hmm, good question. I don’t really see a large amount of any one influence in my work. I’m inspired by general genre attitudes. Like the differences between sci-fi and fantasy, and the places you can blur the two genres together. Even video game tropes end up in the mix. Although I do notice that after reading a Margaret Atwood book, my prose style shifts a bit, so I guess I’m influenced by the way she puts words together.
TBB: If you were certain no one – zero people – would ever read your book, would you still write? Why, or why not?
HV: I’d write something or other for myself. Maybe not coherent novels, maybe just collections of scenes for my own enjoyment. But to be honest, I don’t think I’d ever believe that zero people would read my book. Absolutely no one on this planet has any interest? Zero out of seven billion? Not likely! Self-publishing has found readers for plenty of “unmarketable” stories. Everything has a niche, it’s just a matter of finding your audience and finding what works.
TBB: I love to ask writers this one. What book(s) do you wish you’d written? Why?
HV: Envying books that way seems nonsensical to me. If I wrote someone else’s book, it wouldn’t be the same book at all. And the reading experience would be changed, too. That book would be a thing I worked to build, not a thing for me to consume and enjoy! It’s the difference between working in a bakery and receiving a gift of birthday cake. No, I’m happy writing what I write and letting other writers produce shiny things to call their own.
But if we’re talking about book ideas I just think are really cool, and would enjoy writing myself? I love what Naomi Novik has done with dragons in her Temeraire series. Human society hasn’t had any other sentient species around to question the things we do, so when you add intelligent dragons to real Earth history, the result is a lot of food for thought. I’m not much of a history buff, though, so I’d take real Earth dragons in a much different direction if I ever used the idea.
TBB: Yeti Crab – future Aligarian race? (If you don’t use them, I will.)
HV: Hee! I don’t think I could fit them into the Aligare world and still do them justice, but I do love the idea of a yeti crab race. Let’s both write about fantasy crab people, Bill. I think the market can support the two of us.
TBB: What authors influenced your writing the most?
HV: My strongest visceral responses to authors are when I don’t want to do what they’ve done. I look at some authors who define trends and I think, gosh, I just don’t like that take on fantasy. It’s great that they’ve found success, but I want to do something markedly different from that.
A good example of this is Brian Jacques’s Redwall series. It’s always bothered me that Jacques is held up as a figurehead of non-human fantasy novels, when he used such simplistic scenarios and intended his work as black-and-white allegories for children. Plenty of people have told me that if I want to be marketable, I should “write something like Redwall”. Or just lie about Remedy’s story content and market it as a talking animal book for kids. My response, as a writer, is to push harder in the opposite direction and try to add more of my personal flavour to what I do. If people like your work because it’s exactly like Famous Author’s popular story, I don’t think people actually like your work.
TBB: What do you like most about your writing? What do you want people to take from it?
HV: I love using sensory description. Especially when I get to invent a new sense to use — such as my aemet people’s ability to airsense. Aemets have specially developed antennae that let them perceive air as a three-dimensional presence. They can detect movement and textures all around them because of the way the air fills in the space around objects, or the parting motion of air currents around an approaching person. Readers have commented that they like my sensory descriptions because it makes the story immersive. They feel like they can imagine exactly what the Aligare world is like, and how a non-human being would see that world. That’s exactly what I’m trying to do, so I’m happy to hear it! I want to craft that sensation of understanding something foreign and making it a part of your own experience.
TBB: When I write, I tend to see it in my head, often beforehand, as a movie. It’s either that I’m a visual thinker, or I have a brain tumor. When you write, how does the story unfold for you?
HV: Gosh, maybe you should get that checked out. Kidding, kidding! The human brain devotes a lot of its processing power to eyesight and visual information, so it’s natural to use visuals as a go-to way of imagining things.
I used to imagine my stories as a movie in my head, but I found that I was writing too many movie-like scenes. Stuff like describing the scenery before getting to a visual description of the character — it was more like stage directions than like deeply involved prose. Easy to imagine, but not very immersive. Is the reader some kind of cameraperson swooping above the story, or what? Now when I write, I usually put myself in the character’s place and make some guidelines about how they’re going to see everything. Details they tend to notice, and any particular sensory priority their race has. I sort of imagine the character as a point in space, then build the world outward based on the feedback that character would give me.
TBB: I imagine, that like a lot of writers, you’ve been reading most of your life. What changes have you seen in fiction that move you, or anger you?
HV: The recent trend toward grim, dark fantasy is dismaying to me. I do think it’s good to look at more realistic scenarios than the destiny-based models. The good guys shouldn’t always win just because they’re the good guys. But I don’t think that wallowing in negative outcomes, selfish characters and brutal violence is necessarily realistic. Real life has joy and good fortune in it, too! Even when times are tough and events are trying, people find positives to help them carry on.
TBB: What part of writing do you like the most? The least?
HV: I love throwing ideas around and worldbuilding. Especially when I find some tidbit of trivia that clicks with a character or a scenario. I learned the other day that litmus paper uses a dye extracted from lichen. And I got absolutely excited about that! Ohmygod, the Aligare world has lichen AND people who are fluent in the uses of plants! Could I seriously have pH testing in my low-tech world? I never would have guessed!
My least favourite part of writing is that it takes so much daily effort to make the story come out the way I want it to. When I’m enthralled with an idea, I guess how long it’ll take me to write and that time estimate is usually … optimistic. But it’s worthwhile to spend that time making sure all the story elements line up, so I can’t begrudge it too much. Quality over quantity, you know.
TBB: What gives you the most energy as a writer? What drains you the most?
HV: New ideas and experiences energize me. After a road trip to a new place or a great philosophical conversation, I always feel jazzed to write something. But I’m an introvert. So while talking to people gives me great ideas and makes me want to write, I also feel like I need some peace and solitude before I have the mental energy for prose. My day job is waitressing, so on weeks where I work a lot of shifts and talk to hundreds of people, I find it hard to get much writing done.
TBB: If you could define the perfect reader for your book, that group you are certain would love it if only they gave it a chance, who would those people be? Here, I’m less thinking about marketing and demographics, than I am personality or lifestyle traits.
HV: That’s a relief, because I’ve never been able to figure out what Remedy’s marketing demographic is. I have no idea how people look at a nuanced work and decide that, say, women between the ages of 25 and 39 will enjoy it. What, do people in their early 40s suddenly stop liking things?
I intended Remedy for people like me, who just haven’t been able to find that “weird” story they’d love to read. People who like fantasy elements, but don’t like the typical formulas of quests and wars. People who think that the little everyday characters are more interesting than privileged heroes saving the world. And Remedy is particularly meant for people who want to see beyond the human perspective. If you like the way atypical viewpoints can show us universal truths, then you might just enjoy what I do.
TBB: How can they find your work?
HV:My website, HeidiCVlach.com, has a list of all the places you can buy Remedy! Just look at this cover, don’t you want this in your personal library?
I feel like I picked a cover artist and won the lottery. Erm, anyway. My website also has bonus Aligare world lore, for those of you who like backstory and reference articles. I discuss writing and worldbuilding on my blog, Climb The Sky, and I share news, thoughts and entertaining links through Google+, Facebook and Twitter. Stay tuned for news about Ravel, an interspecies romance novelette from the world of Aligare!
Heidi C. Vlach is a resident of Ontario, Canada. After graduating chef training and working as a bistro cook, Heidi found that being an overqualified waitress was really more her style. In her free time, she enjoys video games, online fandom, paper mache sculpture and conversations with her cat.