I’ve appreciated debut author Jeffrey Overstreet‘s openness to doing interviews. He blogs at Auralia’s Journal, just providing information on where on the web you catch a glimpse of Auralia, and he welcomed the chance to answer a few questions from me this past week.
Here’s my new favorite quote:
Outlines are helpful,
but I am quick to remind them that they can’t boss me around.
VRC: Are you any relation to country singer/ songwriter Paul Overstreet? (That question is from my husband!)
JO: No relation to Paul Overstreet… at least, not to my knowledge.
But hey, thanks for giving me an opportunity to give a shout-out to a family member! My younger brother Jason is a singer in a popular gospel group called Rescue. He’s also their director, composer, and arranger. You can hear their stuff here. The guy’s a superstar.
VRC: I’ve been listening to Jeffrey’s brother’s site for half an hour now and I’m loving the music. Unabashedly Christian music, and oh-so-tight. The music is arranged so that the voices are the premier instruments. Very cool! And they’re looking for a high tenor vocalist/ lead singer so if you (or someone you know) fits their profile, that’d be a neat opportunity. They’re based out of Gresham, Oregon.
This next question and answer are *borrowed* from this interview with Fantasy Debut blog (I didn’t see the point of asking a question that I’d already seen the answer to several times, but you may not be as familiar with it so I post it here!):
FD: Please tell us about your inspiration for Auralia’s Colors.
JO: Beauty can be dangerous. I was on a hike at Flathead Lake in Montana, exploring that glorious scenery with a woman named Anne. We were talking about fairy tales and imagination, and she said, “Isn’t it strange how most people reach a certain age where they fold up their imaginations and put them in a closet?”
That question landed like a fish hook in my head. A story took hold and started reeling me in. I began to imagine a society in which people were burying all of their creative expression, all of the mysteries that inspired them to imagine, all of the colorful parts of their experience. Naturally, they became a culture starved for beauty. And while I imagined this, walking through that beautiful Montana landscape, I realized that I was looking over the shoulder of a character who was an artist. This character’s heart was broken because of what she saw happening in that society (which is called House Abascar). So she gathered up all of the colors in the world, and even more than that, and carried them into that society to remind the people of all they were losing.
That was the beginning of ten years of work. I blame Anne, who I eventually married. I blame Montana. And I blame God, who created both Anne and Montana.
VRC: I’m in south-eastern BC not far from the Flathead. We’ve camped several times in the BC Flathead region and so I can almost visualize your discovery of Auralia there. Do you find that you get a lot of inspiration from nature for your writing in general? I see you’ve mentioned on several interviews that you feel closest to God when you’re immersed in nature. This is something I strongly identify with.
JO: Growing up in Northeast Portland, where the landscape is bland, bland, bland, I was inspired by reading about nature. Many of my favorite childhood memories come from occasional family vacations to the Oregon coast. Those trips felt like emerging from a cardboard box to spend a few moments at the Grand Canyon, and then go back into the box. But on any evening, I could open J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and step into a wonderland of forests and mountains and rivers. And Richard Adams’ Watership Down made me dream of a life in the country.
When I moved to Seattle, I started embracing all kinds of outdoor activity. I took an English literature course taught by Dr. Luke Reinsma at Seattle Pacific. We would get up at 4:30 a.m., drive to the mountains, start hiking before sunrise, stand on the mountaintop by 10 a.m., and study the classics there. I spent the most life-changing summer working as a housecleaner at a camp on the wooded coast of Whidbey Island. When I married Anne in ’96, I started spending a lot of time in her natural habitat — the deserts between Roswell and Santa Fe, New Mexico. I take the Psalms very literally now — the heavens do “declare the glory of God,” and the days do “pour forth speech.” Sometimes I feel like I’m taking dictation from creation.
I supposed that is why Annie Dillard is one of my favorite writers now. Her sharp-eyed apprehension of nature is always inspiring.
VRC: Why is Auralia’s Colors called The Red Strand–and why is the cover blue? And what makes Cyndere’s Midnight The Blue Strand?
JO: The series is called The Auralia Thread for obvious reasons — Auralia is a weaver of extraordinary colors. But the story of her artistic work in the complex and troubled world of the Expanse brings together many different characters and cultures. So it made sense to call the series “The Auralia Thread” instead of “The Auralia Chronicles” or “The Auralia Saga.”
My editor at WaterBrook Press, Shannon Hill, suggested calling each book a “Strand,” and I loved that idea. Auralia’s Colors is the “Red Strand” for various reasons. I suppose the most obvious is that there is one particular strand of red thread that becomes important in the story. I believe that the secret to beauty in art is particularity, and Auralia’s work is extraordinary in part because of her attention to subtleties and specific “ingredients.”
The upcoming sequel, Cyndere’s Midnight is the “Blue Strand” for several reasons as well. One would be that there is a particular hue of blue that enchants a beastly character, awakening something within him that changes a lot of lives.
VRC: Do you write from an outline? Was the process with Auralia’s Colors significantly different than Cyndere’s Midnight? How did you manage to spend ten years on one book? (I guess I get bored more easily than you do!) Did you have plans for the other three books from the beginning of your journey with Auralia?
JO: Outlines are helpful, but I am quick to remind them that they can’t boss me around. I have a very basic idea of how a story will end, which characters are involved, and what two or three major scenes may involve. But when I start writing, I often discover new ideas that often send the story in an entirely different direction. Nevertheless, I usually end up at the place I mean to go… by some meandering route. The fun of writing, for me, is in discovering unexpected events, characters, and mysteries along the way.
It’s true that I wrote my first draft of Auralia’s Colors in 1996, and I’ve been revising it ever since. If I recall correctly, I had the whole series sketched out by 2000. I wrote 150-300-page versions of each book, and then I started rewriting them in more detailed, improved versions. Each new draft of Auralia’s Colors was much different from the one before. And I’ve worked on many other stories as well during that time.
But yes, I spent much, much more time revising Auralia’s Colors. I needed to make sure it was a firm enough foundation that it would support subsequent stories.
VRC: I too find that no matter how well I feel I know my story ahead of time (I’ve written seven novels so far), and how detailed my outline is, the story strays. I’ve sometimes said that the outline is useful to me chiefly in knowing one way I won’t write the novel. Are you willing to share a summary of how the first version of Auralia’s Colors was written? How did you choose which direction to take it from there with subsequent revisions? When did you find the core to the story and know you were on the right path?
JO: I knew the core of the story from the beginning. The core was the question that Anne asked: “Why is it that people tend to reach an age where they fold up their imaginations and put them in a closet?” I was inspired by the fairy-tale imagery that sprang into my head. The story began to circle that question.
It was a fairy tale at first, just a short story about a compassionate artist who carried colors into a city that did not allow them. But I became more and more curious about why a society might outlaw color. And I started investigating minor characters.
Readers kept asking good questions, so the story kept growing. They’d ask, “Why is it that way, and who made it so?” And I’d say, “I have no idea. It just is.” And then I’d have to write some more, to figure out why things were that way. Wouldn’t you know it, eventually Auralia herself started asking the same question to characters around her: “Why is it that way, and who made it so?”
Eventually, a 90-page novella became a 400-page monster with three sequels. Eventually I had to silence my curiosity, and make sure that I gave each of my existing characters the attention they deserved.
In the final drafts, there were some significant discoveries. I began to realize that I had been rather judgmental toward a certain character. I had taken a little too much pleasure in seeing her stumble into harsh consequences. I rewrote those passages. While the events did not change, the perspective through which we see those events changed. I want to write in such a way that we can find notes of grace in even the most horrible calamities. Because that is what I believe — that grace is whispering in the dark, with a still small voice. If I write about darkness without acknowledging the possibility of grace, I’m being dishonest.
When I was finished, I was satisfied, because the characters seemed real to me at last. They were all broken, all capable of making mistakes, and all of them redeemable in some way. I came to care about all of them. I hope readers do too. I think I’ll become a better person if I learn to love even the worst of my characters. I think if I love all of them, then readers just might love them too. And that might actually help make the world a better place, don’t you think?
VRC: Loving my antagonists will make the world a better place? I’ll have to think about that! (Though I see what you mean…I think…) Thanks much for your time, Jeffrey! I’m looking forward to Cyndere’s Midnight coming out later this year.