Author Interview: Alexandra Rowland

AlexRowlandThe amazing Alexandra Rowland of In the End fame met with me last night to discuss writing queer positively, drawer novels, wine-drinking suburban book clubs writing slash fic, a super prestigious writer’s resort in Ireland that does not yet exist, and my favorite color of Hot Wheels.

 

 

 

me 
I just want to say first of all that I really enjoyed the book.
And before we go any further I must know how to pronounce Lalael.

Alexandra Rowland 
Thank you! It’s “LAY-lay-el”

me 
Both of my guesses were wrong.

Alexandra Rowland
Well, that’s how I say it. You can say it however you like.

me 
You’re the author, I think you get to decide

Alexandra Rowland
Nah, I’m all sorts of into Reader Response Criticism. Fuck my preferences.

me 
Haha.
So I read on your blog that In the End is your debut novel, but it’s clear by reading it that you’ve got a lot of writing practice. So, what were you doing before In the End?

Alexandra Rowland
Well, I guess I’ve always sort of been a storyteller. I remember being REALLY young (four or five) and walking around doing house chores and mentally narrating what I was doing. But I hated actually writing for a long, long time, and it never occurred to me that making stuff up (which I liked) was kind of what writing creatively was all about. I started writing my first “real” book when I was 13. This is finished and shall Never Ever Be Seen. Before that, I wrote a lot about princesses and their best friends.

me 
No, come on. There’s technique there. People don’t take up writing one day and come up with technique like that. You didn’t just write a thing for fun when you were 13 and pick it up again now. I don’t believe that for a second.
Do you do short stories or do you have a hard drive full of false starts?
What have you been writing?

Alexandra Rowland 
I’ve never really been one for short stories, but I do have a lot of partial novels and NaNoWriMo drafts and ideas that I would like to potentially reexamine one day. I always tend to think in large-scale. I’ve never figured out how to go about doing a short story — it’s never seemed like there’s enough room to do what I want to do.

me 
You’re either the most talented person ever or you’re hiding an attic full of Never Ever Be Seens
But I’ll go with the latter. I won’t push

Alexandra Rowland 
In the End was one of those at one point. I wrote the first draft for NaNoWriMo 2005, and it was a VERY different novel than what it is today. Of course there was a lot of practice writing — that first novel was one of them. No one needs to see that stuff! It’s my “Drawer Novel” — every writer has one, usually their first novel, which they stick in a drawer when it is done and never show to anyone.

me
I have drawer half novels
So who was your most and least favorite character to write and why?

Alexandra Rowland 
Well, my least favorite characters are, honestly, everyone who isn’t Lucien, Lalael, or Jocelin… which is apparent in the plot, as you pointed out in your review.
I do like all three of what I would call the “Main Characters”, though, and I don’t think I can choose a favorite one of them. I like them all for different reasons.

me 
Okay, that makes sense.

Alexandra Rowland
I like Lucien for who he is. I like Lalael for who he becomes. I like Jocelin because Jocelin is just WICKED fun to write.

me
Jocelin’s a piece of work

Alexandra Rowland 
Don’t I know it.

me 
So let’s talk shop for a bit.

Alexandra Rowland
Fire away!

me
Where do you go for beta reading and criticism? Friends and family or anonymous types? Also: what’s the worst criticism you’ve ever received and how do you deal with it?

Alexandra Rowland
Oh, I always go for friends and family. I would never give my drafts to someone I didn’t know. How am I supposed to know what their credentials are? How do I know if they’re putting real thought into what they say or just talking out of their asses?  For the first round, I generally count on one or two people to be the godparents of my draft, to do really intense criticism on a one-on-one basis as much as possible. These people have to be people I trust to give well-balanced criticism as talented writers themselves. Then for the second round, I cast my net a little wider and see what the “general consensus” is — what sort of problems do two or three people point out? For In the End, I think there were about eight people total for both rounds.

me
Don’t you worry that they’ll pull their punches?

Alexandra Rowland
Well, I’m worrying about them pulling punches a lot more now than I was when I first published, I’ll tell you that!

me 
Didn’t mean to give you something to worry about haha

Alexandra Rowland
No, not because of what you said — I reread In the End recently and saw it with fresh eyes, and a lot more errors and places that needed polishing jumped out at me.

me
My English teachers used to tell me never to edit while I can still remember what I wrote.
It helps.

Alexandra Rowland 
I would agree. As for the worst criticism I’ve ever gotten — I’ve never heard anything worse than the things I tell myself.

me
I hear that.
Okay so
You may have read my recent post about writing (queer/trans/woman) positively and of course I mentioned it in my review of your book, so you know that’s an important topic to me.

Alexandra Rowland 
Yup! I read your blog today to prepare myself. Gear up for any you-specific questions you might throw at me.

me 
I was surprised when you mentioned in your comment that it was important to you, too, and that you went out of your way to write queer positively. What inspired you to make that a priority?

Alexandra Rowland
Well, it wasn’t a conscious priority for this book, mind you. My very best friend, who has been my best friend longer and more consistently than anyone else in the whole world, is gay. I have lesbian friends and bisexual friends and transgender friends — one of whom was VERY influential in helping me wrangle pronouns for Jocelin during the 2005 draft. I could be really long-winded and say a lot of things that a lot of other people have said before me, so hopefully it will suffice to say just that these people and their representation is Very Important To Me.
Like I said before, I didn’t consciously approach the book with the attitude, “This is going to be a queer-positive book.” I didn’t have any agenda or any kind of political statement to make. I just sat down to write a good story and that’s what came out. It felt wrong and irrelevant to be talking about ( sexuality or sexual tension or explicit orientation). There wasn’t a place for it.

me
There was no heteronormativity in the whole book. There was no obvious and lazy sexual tension. Lucien’s feelings are completely mysterious start to finish.
That’s going an extra mile. It’s not just a token nod to some queer friends.

Alexandra Rowland
The world was ending! There were bigger problems than existential crises!

me
I see.  What sort of strategies did you use to avoid the easy tropes? Did you ever catch yourself?

Alexandra Rowland
Well, I’m a huge fan of worldbuilding. I love inventing different worlds and cultures. I think it helped that the two main characters both come from a (in some ways) drastically different cultural background than we do. They as characters don’t really CARE about things like that. It doesn’t register as something controversial or important.

me
okay so when you were writing that, you kept their “culture” in mind, then

Alexandra Rowland 
The one thing I will ‘fess up to is that I did initially start out by referring to Jocelin as “it” — making the argument that Jocelin really ISN’T human, or sane by our standards or angelic standards, and in the case of angels, mental state is directly correspondent to physical form. I was bopped on the nose for that pretty early on. After a hearty argument with my trans friend about whether or not “zhe” was a jarring pronoun to use, I settled on “they”, and I think that was the right and correct decision to this day.

me
Very good call

Alexandra Rowland 
I agree. That would have been embarrassing later on. *wince*

me
I’m not so much fond of it when people refer to my girlfriend as “it”

Alexandra Rowland
Yeahhhh, and in the seven years or so since the first draft, I’ve become a lot more worldly and educated… I was 15 in 2005, you know.

me
sometimes it can be difficult to say “oh yeah but Jocelin is a supernatural creature who was forged in something something”
ohgod I’m old.

Alexandra Rowland
I’m just glad I made that mistake at a point where everyone can now write it off as “idiot teenager” instead of “simply awful human being.”

me 
Even queer and trans people start off as idiot teenagers, you know. If you can remember one, I’m curious if you have an example of some negativity in something you (or one of your friends) has read that affected you.

Alexandra Rowland
Well… Maybe this will be a funny story — I remember being totally bewildered when I was about eleven and first discovered that there were boys who liked to kiss other boys.
I had to stop and wrap my head around that for a while, and then I was kind of indignant that no one had TOLD me about that before.
I had the same kind of reaction when I discovered there was a word for masturbation. And then I was a huge fanfiction addict for a good long while… And got a lot of exposure to both good and painfully bad depictions of a LOT of different kinds of orientations. Fanfiction taught me how not to write about gay people.

me 
ohgod, I remember reading some Harry Potter fanfic. Fanfic is really a whole other ballgame…

Alexandra Rowland
Yeah, this could be a whole ‘nother talk. I am a huge fan of the fanfic as practice for aspiring writers. I think it is a great apprenticeship, and a great way to learn a lot of different skills.

me
definitely.

Alexandra Rowland
But back to the original question — once I met my best friend and found out he was gay… Well, I come from a family of political activists, so I took up arms for him and his cause, and watched films and read books and came to this painful awareness of how horrifically trying (understatement) it can be for LGBT people.

me 
Can you think of a specific example? I’m always curious to hear from allies what sorts of microaggressions they noticed.

Alexandra Rowland
I’m trying to think of one. It still makes me really sad that there aren’t very many happy-ending gay films. Or happy-all-the-way-through. Same for books. I just want to read about cute people being in love with other cute people where gender or orientation or Other People aren’t an issue, no matter who they are, and I want that to be a real life story.

me 
Yeah, that would be pretty great.
Fried Green Tomatoes almost sort of comes close almost.

Alexandra Rowland 
Well, I have two really favorite gay films of all time, which are: To Wong Foo: Thanks For Everything — Julie Newmar and Priscilla: Queen of the Desert.

me
I haven’t actually seen those. I’ll have to do that.

Alexandra Rowland
Both of those are awesome and fabulous and funny the whole way through except for a couple really jarring scenes where “real life” comes stomping back in and reminds you that no, not everyone is okay with this. To be totally honest, I think one of the reasons In the End came out the way it did was that I just stubbornly do not want to deal with those issues. I want to wave a magic wand and have everything be fine with everyone — unless it actually hurts other people, of course.

me
And it’s funny you should mention that actually because fantasy is EXACTLY the place for that.

Alexandra Rowland
Yep. Maybe that’s why I’m so drawn to writing it — I can pretty much just say “These things that bother me are not an issue for these people and here is why, and also dragons.”

me 
I grew up with Heavenly Creatures which is a movie that came out when I first started questioning. This reveals my age. There’s a lot of negativity in that one.
SO
enough about queer stuff and what’s important to me,
I want to know what’s important to you
Every author fantasizes about their book being read by one of those suburban wine-drinking literary clubs. If that happens to In the End, what do you hope the topics of discussion will be?

Alexandra Rowland 
Pfffffffffffffffffhahahahahahaha

(a minute or two pass)

Man, I am sitting here in stunned silence because I cannot wrap my head around the idea of a fancy-ladies’ wine-and-books club reading my book. Don’t they just read Eat, Pray, Love over and over again???

me 
perhaps you’ve underestimated how drunk they can get.

Alexandra Rowland
OHHHHH. Okay, now we’re on the same page.

me 
And actually last I checked there were a good deal of them reading Fifty Shades of Jesus Christ Make it Stop

Alexandra Rowland
So really drunk ladies. Man, I hope they write scandalous slashy fanfiction. Lawd, that would cause me so much glee. Endless glee. Glee upon glee.

me
Slash fic. Gotcha

Alexandra Rowland
Of course, I would put on my serious face and nod thoughtfully and make a pedantic speech about how flattered I am that other people would be so inspired by my work to use some of their creative energy to expand my world. But inside I would be cackling and full of glee.
In all seriousness, that is one of my secret aspirations. I think that’s one of the biggest signs of achievement and approval a writer can get in their career. When people play dolls with my characters, that is when I will know I have MADE IT.

me
I’ve officially changed my fantasy for my book from ladies’ wine and books club to drunken ladies writing slash fic
okay 2 questions remaining.
first, are there any sequels planned?

Alexandra Rowland
RIGHT?! It’s the ultimate goal, man. The smuttier, the better. Go wild, kids.
Everyone has been asking if there’s going to be a sequel! I hadn’t been thinking about it when I published it, but so many people have been asking me about it that I can’t help but think, “Man, if I were going to write one, what sort of stuff could I do with it?”So everyone has been asking if there’s going to be a sequel. I hadn’t been thinking about it when I published it, but so many people have been asking me about it that I can’t help but go, “Man, if I were going to write one, what sort of stuff could I do with it?”
I really like the characters. I think that there’s still a lot of room for them to grow, and more of their world to explore, and more awesome adventures to have. I just don’t have any solid ideas about what those are or where I’d go with it.  If there is a sequel, it won’t be for several years. I’ve got a bunch of other stuff that I am super excited about working on right now, so I’ll let the potential sequel simmer on the back burner for a bit and see if it makes stew.

me
Fair enough.
Final question:
When the rights get sold to Warner Brothers and you make tens of millions of dollars, how will you spend it and what kind of car do I get?

Alexandra Rowland
I am so glad you asked this question. I am going to buy myself a castle in Ireland and invite 30 of my closest friends to live with me in it, and invite the Society for Creative Anachronism to have events on my front lawn, and run the whole thing as a writers’ retreat. With the leftover money, I will at LEAST buy you a Hot Wheels in the color of your choice.

me
That’s all I ask.

Alexandra Rowland
For future reference, what is the color of your choice?

me 
I like acid green

Alexandra Rowland
I’m sure I can manage that for you.

me 
Yay!

Alexandra Rowland
Only if you review my next book, though!

me
Yes ma’am

Alexandra Rowland’s self-published book, In the End can be purchased on Amazon for $6.99.

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