We’re pleased as rum punch to have Carole Cummings as our guest today at The Novel Approach! She’s here to talk a little bit about her newest novel The Queen’s Librarian, as well as offer the chance for one lucky reader to win an E-copy of the book. Make sure to check out the contest details after the excerpt!
Carole, tell us a little bit about yourself: when did you begin writing creatively? Was there any one person who influenced and encouraged you?
I started writing stories as soon as I could pick up a pencil and make it make the shapes I wanted. I don’t recall a time in my life when I wasn’t writing.
I wasn’t very good at sharing my writing with others unless I absolutely had to, and since I absolutely had to in some of my classes in school, I did eventually end up with a particular teacher who said, “You realize you’re pretty good at this, right?” and I kind of blinked and said, “Uh.” At which he snorted and told me to take his word for it. I didn’t (because writers never really do) but I kept writing (because that, writers always do). He eventually got me into some advanced coursework and wrote one of my recommendation letters for college, where the same professor who told me what my name is in Elvish also told me I should be submitting some of my papers to a couple of small publications that accepted short stories. I didn’t (because I still wasn’t good at sharing my writing unless I absolutely had to), but I did eventually end up submitting to a couple private literary organizations that didn’t threaten publication as a “reward” because he just would—not—let—up. As a result, I won a few amateur awards and an extended scholarship, so I had to put up with my professor being smug for-freaking-ever. Anyway, that’s how I learned to appreciate editing and critique, and though it took me a while longer to learn to deal with sharing in general, I respected both of those men very much and I make myself remember their words any time I find myself questioning the sharing part now.
What do you love most about writing stories in the Alt U/Fantasy sub-genre? Is there something more personally satisfying for you, as a storyteller, to write beyond and outside of the world as we know it?
I think, in a lot of cases, it’s an opportunity to point out some of our less attractive societal behaviors in a way that applies and yet doesn’t apply to a different society that doesn’t have our history. In most of my m/m stories, for example, you’ll find societies that don’t have the same prejudices against what we in our world call homosexuality. In those worlds, where there were no “prophets” telling early inhabitants that they must propagate the species at all costs and thus creating a “wrongness” in natural sexualities, the prejudices never surfaced against natural biological and physiological preferences. There are, certainly, other prejudices that are analogous, but the worlds in my stories don’t generally have that particular prejudice because it didn’t evolve in those cultures. They don’t react in the same ways because they’re not us. It’s very interesting to hypothesize different evolutionary, psychological and societal processes and figure out how they apply to the world I’m writing and the characters that exist there.
A lot of the stories I see labeled “fantasy” are really just stories about humans on a human world reacting in human ways. For me, that kind of defeats the purpose. I like to be presented with a world and its various histories and cultural reactions and then extrapolate how those histories and reactions would factor in with my characters’ own personal histories and reactions. It’s like my own little psychological and societal petri dish.
Tell us about your writing process: Are you a plotter? When writing a series as detail oriented and as epic as Aisling and Wolf’s-own, do you plot book-by-book, or plot the entire series beginning to end before you begin writing?
I really can’t plan too far ahead, because my characters are the ones who determine where the story will go next and they rarely consult me. I know people say “You’re the author, you have the power!” but that’s just not how it works for me. At least, not if I want to allow my characters to become real people on the page. Their motivations and experiences and wants and needs, not mine, are what matter in the world of that story, and since they have all of those motivations and experiences and wants and needs, I can’t control them any more than I can control the guy sitting next to me on the bus. I think of myself as a channel more than an author.
My stories always start with a character who pops into my head for whatever reason and then proceeds to tell me all about himself and his world and what his major gripe is. When he’s spent enough time beating the crap out of my backbrain and filling in details about where he’s been and where he is right now, then I can start writing where he’s going and hope I make it through to wherever he needs to end up. But even when I start a story thinking I know how it will end, the characters always change it along the way and it never ends up where I thought it would.
The Queen’s Librarian is, in comparison to the Aisling and Wolf’s-own series, much more lighthearted. Why the break from drama and intensity?
Though it’s definitely very different than what I’ve thus far published, TQL is not actually different than probably at least half of what I write. It’s actually closer to what the inside of my head looks like than the more dramatic stuff I’ve published over the past few years.
I need things like TQL to keep me on an even keel when I’m writing the darker stuff. I wrote chapters of TQL in between chapters of Wolf because I needed to hide from the Fen-angst every now and then or my head would go ’splody. Probably close to half of the stuff I have on my hard drive is just as absurd and fluffy as TQL. I just haven’t inflicted it on other people as much. ;)
Did you perhaps channel a little bit of Jane Austen while writing this book?
Ha! Maybe in the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies vein. I’ve been saying TQL is kind of Wooster and Jeeves meet Monty Python and Doctor Who. Because, again, that’s just what the inside of my head looks like.
Are you planning to bring Lucas and Alex back in a series of sequels? Because I don’t mind telling you, you really, really should. I’m very much interested in Lucas’ new line of work!
Hee. Thanks. It’s certainly possible. I hardly ever end a story at an END, it’s almost always a beginning, because unless the world blows up and everybody dies, the stories go on, whether I’m there to tell them or not. Unless a character is dead, he hasn’t reached an end, he’s only started a new chapter.
I’d kind of like to see how Lucas’s next chapter goes and how he handles his new job, too, and he and Alex and Laurie were all kinds of fun, so I hope to get back there eventually.
Can you tell us what Fen and Malick are up to these days?
Fen, I think, is training the ever-loving crap out of Morin, because he’ll want to make sure Morin is the best and deadliest general to ever stage a coup, and Fen will want to make sure he doesn’t lose anyone else. Malick is probably watching and drooling and trying to talk Fen out of his trousers every time Fen does an especially acrobatic move or a particularly impressive twirl with a knife.
I also picture Fen, post-Incendiary, spending a lot of time with the governor of Tambalon, learning about politics and trying to get all his ducks in a row before deciding how he wants to help Morin when they go back to Ada. Malick, for all his cavalier “everybody wants me and I have the hottest boyfriend ever,” is actually probably very busy forming alliances, calling in favors and plotting how he’s going to help Fen get exactly what he wants. Because anyone who doesn’t think Fen was the boss in that relationship wasn’t paying attention, and Malick is all about getting Fen exactly what he wants.
How about Wil and Dallin?
I actually wrote a goofy little thing (I’ll have to see if I can find it) where the Old Ones are training Wil in how to use his magic, and he’s not taking instruction very well. They had him practice turning a small pond into a fountain. He got bored and froze the fountain in mid-splash. According to Thorne, “The fish looked… surprised.” Dallin, when Thorne is telling him this, is trying to be very sober and concerned, but on the inside, he’s rolling on the floor. That’s kind of how I picture them: Wil being very much Wil, and Dallin making sure he’s at Wil’s back in case anyone tries to make Wil not be Wil. I picture them traveling around their world and righting wrongs, with Dallin being careful to make sure Wil doesn’t get shot in the back while he’s stretching his wings.
Of all the characters you’ve created, is there one who’s nearest and dearest to your heart?
Ooh, tough question! Generally, it’s whatever characters I’m writing at the moment, but if I had to pick one… Actually, I’m not sure I can. I have a soft spot for Umeia because I think most readers misunderstood her because they humanized her and she wasn’t human, she was an immortal demigod. What she did, she did for the love of her brother and she wasn’t actually wrong, in the grand scheme of bigger events. A lot of readers despised her because of what Malick called a betrayal, but when looked at from the amoral viewpoints of the gods of that world—which was how Malick and Umeia both were supposed to have been looking at things—Malick was actually the one who was being too “human” about the situation. If looked at from Umeia’s POV, Malick was being a sentimental idiot and putting himself in a hugely dangerous position; Umeia was really only trying to save him.
There’s also Ailin and Garreth from Impromptu because their story has stayed with me for so long. I wrote their novel—of which Impromptu is a part—a long time ago and then lost it in a computer crash. I work on rewriting it off and on between other projects. I’m almost done, but other things keep horning in.
Do you have a favorite fictional character (outside of those you’ve created)? If so, who is it, and why?
Everything always comes back to Frodo, and I think there are bits of him in at least one of the protagonists of all of my stories. (I’m talking Frodo of the books, not the movies; there’s a huge difference.) I’ve admired that character since I was ten, and first loves tend to have staying power.
Tolkien, for all his truly amazing work, was better at giving his world depth than he was his characters, but it’s there nonetheless; it shines through despite the obfuscation of superficial exposition. Frodo was a gentle soul with a core of adamant. He took on the most horrible, evil and debilitating thing that existed in his world and gave up his Self to defeat it. (And don’t talk to me about how Gollum saved Middle-earth; I could write dissertations on why that’s a depthless load of bull, and Tolkien himself said it had been horribly misunderstood, so neener.)
If you could sit down to dinner with anyone, either real or fictitious, who would it be, and what would be the one question you’d be dying to ask?
Yikes. Another tough one. It’s really hard to narrow it down to just one. John of Patmos would be one, because he was a crazy bastard and a conversation with him would be enormously interesting, if probably somewhat boggling. Carl Sagan would be a must, and Neil deGrasse Tyson is one of those brilliant minds who can put enormous concepts into understandable shapes, and I’d love to just sit and listen to them talk about the universe. Geoffrey of Monmouth, because he was a fount of history and the first authority on King Arthur, and I would love to know how much of that history was based in fact. In that same vein, I’d love to meet Merlin, though I think he’d be a scary BAMF. Socrates and Plato, for obvious reasons. Some literary heroes like Alexandre Dumas, along with several of his characters. Virginia Woolf, Edgar Allen Poe (though I might need a Zoloft afterwards), Lord Byron (OMG, how fascinatingly fun would that be!), Chaucer (hilarious!). Neil Gaiman would probably be fun and Terry Pratchett… well, that would be like sitting down with a minor god. Can you imagine going out for drinks with him and Death? *falls down*
Yeah, I’m apparently greedy and incapable of picking just one.
How would you describe your sense of humor? What makes you laugh?
Ha. Probably “inappropriate” works best. Maybe “absurdist”. I see humor where it sometimes doesn’t belong, and subtle non sequiturs will generally have me on the floor with everyone else looking at me like Uh, yeah, it wasn’t that funny. There are tons of one-liners in TQL, but the stuff that was going on inside Lucas’s head was what really entertained me.
Do you have any works-in-progress you’d like to tell us about?
There are a few. I’m working on one that’s leaning toward steampunk but isn’t really; it’s more fantasy, but it involves a train and mechanical technology, so it’s on the line. It will be called Blue on Black mostly because it enables me to refer to it as BoB. (As in BoB is being a recalcitrant bastard today.) Kimo is a mechanical and technical genius who disappeared a few years ago, and Bas is the guy sent to find him. It’s gone in directions I really didn’t want it to, but as I said, BoB is a recalcitrant bastard and a bossy jerk and won’t let me walk away from it with a little bit of dignity, so I imagine it’ll be done soonish. (Whether or not I work up the chops to let anyone else see it will be another question entirely.) In between chapters of that, I’ve been playing with a contemporary fantasy in which Emory fancies himself the real Harry Potter (only not nearly as cool) and who was supposed to have died when he walked out in front of a bus. He kind of did die but really didn’t and now the Reaper whose job it was to cross him over is very confused. Shenanigans and lurve ensue. And, like I said, I’m actively working on Ailin and Garreth’s story, and I hope to get the rewrites on it finished after I’m done with BoB.
Where can we find you on the internet?
My site is http://www.carolecummings.com. You can find all the other places I haunt through the links page there.
Would you like to share an excerpt from The Queen’s Librarian with us?
Sure! I’ve got the whole of chapter 1 up on my site, if you’d like to see what comes before this. This is from chapter 3. I wish I could include the entire scene, because it’s one of my favorites just for its sheer silliness, but here’s a taste:
“Lucas! Lucas Tripp!”
“Yes, Lucas, come in here,” Laurie called. “Stop hiding out in the hallway and come let your mother take care of you.”
Lucas was rather surprised the Glare of Death wasn’t melting the lenses of his spectacles and burning a hole through the wall and right between Laurie’s eyes. He squared his shoulders and put on a smile as he stepped into the room, only barely keeping his feet when his mother sailed out of her chair and came at him like a very elegant, silk- and lace-draped battleship.
“What have you done to your lovely face?” she wailed as she took Lucas by the shoulders and shoved his face into her bosom. “Oh, I knew you shouldn’t be down in that dangerous little house all by yourself with that treacherous loft and all that splintery wood, and that dreadful cat! Was it the cat? It was the cat, wasn’t it, oh my poor baby, let me look at you.”
She shoved Lucas back again with enough force that his spectacles slipped down to totter at the end of his nose. “It’s a scratch,” he told her, probably a little bit desperately, though he’d never admit it, because then Laurie would think he’d won, and that was just unacceptable. “And I didn’t even get it at home, my house is not dangerous, for pity’s sake, Mother. I was just being clumsy, that’s all, and you know, you’re really kind of hurting my arms a little, and really, how are you so strong?”
Mother didn’t appear to have heard any of it—she gripped harder. “You’re moving back in here straight away, and you’re putting that awful creature right back out in the barns where it belongs. Alex Booker,” she intoned, turning an imperious glare across the room, “what in the world were you doing while that horrible monster was attacking my son?”
Alex gulped. Lucas didn’t blame him—anyone would. “It wasn’t—”
“Yes, Alex,” Laurie said with a tilt of his head and really quite a believable indignant glare, considering he was an evil Goblin King, “what were you doing while Lucas was being attacked by that horrible, awful fiend and almost losing an eye?”
Mother’s glance snapped back to the plaster on Lucas’s cheek, then widened, even as her grip tightened another notch. She was cutting off circulation now; forget the eye, Lucas was going to lose an arm, he just knew it.
“Your eye!” Mother shrieked. “It’s what they do, you know, they go for the eyes, oh, Lucas, my poor b—”
“It wasn’t Cat!” It had come to this—Lucas was defending a cushion with legs who had basically come with the carriage house because she wouldn’t leave when he’d moved in and only “allowed” him to share “her” space because he was sometimes useful to her. “It was a bush, Mother, a simple thorny bush, and it wasn’t at home, it was at the Duck, and I got a scratch—on my cheek, not my eye—because I was being clumsy and couldn’t get my sleeve unstuck from some prickers when I was—”
He stopped himself short. Because he wasn’t about to tell his mother that he’d been weeing outdoors “like a peasant” or that he’d been weeing at all. There were some things, though Mother was no doubt aware of their existence and necessity, Lucas had no intention of acknowledging in her presence, and what he had in his trousers was one of those things. He’d never be able to use it again—for anything—if he had to admit that she knew he had it. And that would probably disappoint Alex. Well, and Lucas too.
“Really, Mother,” Lucas said, trying to gently twist out of her clutches without looking like he was having some kind of spasm. “I mean, you know, ow.”
“The Duck?” said Laurie. “Do you mean the Drunken Duck?” His eyes were wide and his smile was pure evil. “So you were out rowing with cutthroats and ruffians. At a tavern!” He looked at Alex. “Which still doesn’t explain why you haven’t a mark on you, Alex.”
And why did everyone seem to think that, if Lucas had been fighting, it would have been Alex’s “duty” to step in and save him? There were dozens of insults in that assumption; Lucas couldn’t decide which one to start with.
“Yes, funny that,” Alex retorted, relaxing back into his chair with a small smile that had to mean some kind of trouble. He set to casually straightening his cuffs. “Because, since you brought up marks and all, I was just noticing that strange little bruise below your left ear.” He smirked a little when Laurie too obviously stopped his hand from reflexively reaching up to cover the mark. “Sort of looks like a love bite, but since I’m certain the Prince of the Realm wouldn’t dream of going about corrupting the innocent daughters of his mother’s subjects, that can’t be right, can it? I mean—ha!—whatever would the Queen say if she got it into her royal head that her only son was the randiest horndog to have ever, say, blown up a baking hall?” Alex took a prim sip of his tea. “I saw Miss Maida the other day when I had business in Applethrow. She sends her, um….” He cleared his throat. “… regards.”
And now Lucas couldn’t decide between boggling and smirking. How did Alex know all this stuff?
It had the desired effect on Laurie—he shut his mouth and glared then shot a quick cowed glance at Lucas’s mother. She didn’t notice. She was busy looking at Lucas with… drat. She was going to pull out the tears.
“You went to a tavern?”
She said it like she was talking about the third portal of the Netherworld—the one where all the debauchers and lusters went to cool their heels for eons until the Sentinel Wardens decided they were sexually frustrated enough and sent them off to the second portal to spend another few eons with the proselytizers and the radicals.
Lucas didn’t want to spend eons with the proselytizers and the radicals.
“Laurie’s got a love bite,” he said weakly.
“The Drunken Duck?” Mother sniffed. “The Drunken Duck?”
“It’s an inn!” Lucas defended. “And maybe it has a, um, you know, a sort of hall-type room, which might almost resemble a tavern, but there are more rooms in the place that don’t resemble a tavern, so it’s really just an inn with what some might consider one tavern-ish room among lots of other untavern-ish rooms, which by its definition doesn’t necessarily make it—”
“Isn’t that where Mister Singer met his unfortunate end?” asked Laurie.
Lucas couldn’t tell if it was a deliberate prod or if it was simply one of those occasions where Laurie’s mouth hadn’t bothered to check with his brain before engaging. Either way, it made Lucas clench his teeth, and the headache that Miss Emma’s tea had almost killed came roaring back to life to pulse red and hot behind his eyes.
“Laurie,” Lucas said slowly, “I swear, if you don’t shut your mouth, I will kick your arse so hard you’ll have to reach—bottom!” Lucas snapped wide eyes back to his mother. “I didn’t say arse, I said bottom!”
Oh my god. He’d just said “arse” in front of his mother. To his mother. Twice. He’d gone a little light-headed, so he almost didn’t notice the squeals and shrieks coming from the south garden, or the bobbing heads that a moment later passed by the sunroom’s large eastern window on the way to the front door. He was too caught up in trying to turn back time so the past eternity had never happened at all.
“Oh look, Nan’s here,” he said, and he didn’t even care that it was so obviously wretched. Bugger not letting Laurie win—this one had been over before Lucas had even stepped into the room.
This Contest Is Now Closed.