Saturday, February 12, 2011

Author Interview: Matthew and Stefanie Verish

This week, I had the good fortune to nab an interview with busy co-authors Matthew and Stefanie Verish. Their first novel, Raven's Heart, was one of the best fantasy novels I've come across in years, and I am thrilled to have had this opportunity.

Publications:
Raven's Heart
The Hawk's Shadow

Other Links:
Book Review: Raven's Heart
The World of Secramore by Matthew & Stefanie Verish
Facebook: Matthew & Stefanie Verish
Twitter: @secramore
Hi guys! Let's start this off with a nice, basic question: how did you get started writing?

Almost everyone can probably remember a school writing assignment or two where the teacher wanted you to create some sort of story. That is NOT how we started writing, though we like to think those sorts of assignments helped spark the desire to write. Our adventure really began when we started writing together, collaborating loose thoughts and ideas in a hodge-podge round-robin tale.

I'm sure your old teachers would love to hear that. So how did the two of you start writing together? What does that process look like?

Ah, love in a modern world. How does a young man keep in contact with his girlfriend while she is away at college? One might choose lengthy phone conversations or cutesy e-mails (which we did), but being the odd creative sort of couple, we thought we would try the aforementioned hodge-podge round-robin tale.

With a non-existent plot and little or no collaboration, we created a monstrosity. When characters had an impromptu name-change, or one of the writers slacked off in a massive way (Matt), we admitted defeat. Obviously we did make another attempt, and we wrote enough coherent ideas that we decided to shape the story into what eventually became Raven’s Heart, our first novel.

The process of married couple co-authorship is ever-changing, but the main ingredient is taking long walks. During these walks, we discuss characters, plot development, and important themes. Once we generate some ideas, whoever’s turn it is to write sits down and constructs the current scene. We read it aloud, read it silently, edit it, re-edit it, and then move on. No wonder it took four years to publish! (We do write a bit faster now.)

Wow. That's definitely a labor of love! Speaking of generating ideas, from where do you draw your inspiration?

We each bring a history of books, movies, art, and music to our novels, and media is a great source of inspiration. The truth, however, is that we feed mainly off of each other’s ideas and creative energy. When one of us gets excited, the feeling is contagious; when one of us feels uninspired, the other assumes the task of re-inspiring.

Sounds like a wonderful balance you have going. Now I read
Raven's Heart and found that it relies heavily on character development and interpersonal relationships. Do any of these reflect real life?

Without dipping into psychology, each character embodies a piece of us. We project our personalities, strengths, and flaws upon these fictional individuals, and so they do come to reflect issues in our lives. The world we have created is fantastical, but the hearts of our characters are not any different from real people. Aside from the occasional magical transformation, we try to bring real life situations into the world of fantasy to strengthen the link between our readers and the characters. Current events are insightful to human behavior, and we often borrow heavily from those and from universal concepts such as prejudice, betrayal, and terminal illness. There is definitely a slice of reality in our fantasy, and certainly there are some relationships that are based upon personal experiences and our acquaintances.

Well you definitely succeeded in bringing your characters to life. On that note, are there any other talents you would like to share?

We both share an artistic background. Stef is a freelance artist who creates anything from wall murals to pet portraits. One of her job titles is “Naturalist/Artist,” as wildlife art is her specialty. Matt doodles as inspiration strikes him, though he is also able to knock out Mike Tyson in the second round of Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!! (a Nintendo Entertainment System game for those of us who are not nostalgic videogame players).

I actually remember playing that game! I suppose there is some nostalgia involved...Goodness knows the weather's been conducive to gaming. Putting a positive spin on things, what is your favorite wintertime activity, and why?

We are avid squirrel feeders in the winter. Birds are nice, but they are not nearly as entertaining as the crafty tree-climbing rodents that leap on and hang suspended from our feeder. They certainly earn their meal! Admittedly, we sympathize with squirrels and other rodents, as we have a large family of fifteen cavies (guinea pigs for non-rodent enthusiasts). Oh, and we write a lot too, because we’re authors who like to stay toasty warm.

Understandable. As authors (who like to stay toasty warm), what sort of advice do you have for aspiring writers?

The best advice we can give aspiring writers is to play the “What if” game. For us, the “What if” game usually happens when Stef is in the midst of chores, and Matt approaches her with a question like, “What if we kill the main character before the scene with the snowball fight?” Stef ceases her chores, and the lengthy conversation begins.

The “What if” game helps to keep your mind open to new possibilities. We often narrow our choices to an inflexible “this way or that way,” and even though a new idea could mean more work (like rewriting an entire scene, chapter, or book), this could be for the better. The “What if” game can be challenging in a good, creative way, and it can keep your ideas fresh as well as generate new ones. Always look for alternatives, and you find yourself immersed in making beneficial choices for your writing. And sometimes it’s just fun to wonder…

Yes, it certainly is. Okay, I'm down to my last question: if you could be any character from any book for a day, who would it be and why?

Stef cannot pinpoint a particular character she would like to be. In fact, one reason she created the characters she did was an underlying selfish desire to relate to a main character. The White Demon in Raven’s Heart was created because he is physically adept at many things, is mysterious, and has an attitude he is not afraid to express—all things Stef cannot attribute to herself.

Matt would be Kvothe from Patrick Rothfuss’s
The Name of the Wind. His reasons are much the same as Stef’s: the character has many traits he does not. Kvothe has a quick tongue and a remarkable aptitude for anything he tries.

We have neglected to mention the flaws in these characters, but even those less desirable qualities define an interesting personality. If fantasy is all about make-believe, who would not want to be someone other than themselves—a little bolder, a little more suave, a little less ordinary? And to immerse oneself in that character’s fantastical world, would that not be worth a year of daydreams?

"We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep."
The Tempest (Sorry, I couldn't resist.) Thanks a lot for doing this interview!

Thank you so much for allowing us the opportunity to do this. Best of luck to you and your endeavors!

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