Interview with Ilana C. Myer
This week I’m asking five different questions to five different authors. Yesterday I spoke to Adrian Tchaikovsky, and next to look to the heavens for inspiration is Ilana C. Myer, author of Last Song Before Night.
Hi Ilana, and thanks for dropping by.
1. I always like to start with an easy question. In your recent AMA at Reddit you said that you liked wine. So, red, white or rose? (Hint: the correct answer is red.)
It looks like we are going to be in agreement right out the gate! I do prefer red wine.
I can see we’re going to get along just fine.
2. Music forms an important part of the subject matter of Last Song Before Night, but did it also play a part in the writing process? Do you play music while you write, and if so, do you pick a piece or song that matches the mood of a scene?
There are a number of ways that music plays a part in my process. One is simple bribery: since most writers would rather do anything than sit down to write, I use music as a bait-and-switch on the reptile brain. I tell it, “Look, we’re not working, just listening to music.” Sometimes it even works.
Another purpose I’ve found music can serve, for me, is an effect similar to wine: it lowers the barriers between the rational mind and the imagination, which can be useful for creative work. It’s a very first-draft process, getting the work out from one’s depths before the logical brain has a chance to sneer; in contrast, editing and revising call upon an entirely different set of tools.
3. In your book, women are not allowed to be poets or musicians. To what degree did gender roles in our own society influence your writing? *Opens can of worms*
So this is interesting because I am asked about it a lot, or it’s commented upon in a derogatory way—“Why is she perpetuating the usual sexism.” When I was in my early twenties and began this book, nothing felt more natural to me than creating a society in which women were not treated as equals. I came from a strict religious upbringing with which I was grappling quite intensely at that point in my life; at the same time, I was working in Midtown Manhattan as an administrative assistant, during which time a highly-placed executive thought it appropriate to rest his hand on my hip in a meeting in his private office.
Inequality was the air I breathed. While I don’t always agree with the cliché “Write what you know,” art was my way of contending with life as I experienced it. Of understanding reality, as I experienced it. I don’t come to the page with a message to impart—I come to it with questions.
I think that’s a useful attitude to have. If someone comes to the page with answers, they’re probably the wrong ones.
4. I understand that Last Song Before Night took you years to write. How have you found the process of having to write a sequel in a much shorter time frame, and what can you tell us about that book?
The next book, which is a sequel to Last Song Before Night, was largely inspired by a trip to southern Spain. I’d had no plans for that to happen, and in fact assumed that the next book would be unrelated to Last Song Before Night, since it is a standalone novel. But Seville and Cordoba awakened a fascination. Soon it came to me how rich were the opportunities if I used the world and characters already at my fingertips. My contract with Tor was for three books, so the second and third book will tell one sweeping story, of larger scope than the first book.
Writing while under contract is very different psychologically. I used to agonize that all my work would be for nothing, since publication seemed an impossible dream; now I have different worries about “middle book syndrome” and the rest. I don’t want to hit the marks I hit before. I want to surpass what I’ve done and grow as a writer.
5. On your website, you mention that you come from a family with a long history of writing. Which family members were writers, and what did they write?
My German family, who mostly perished in the 1940s, claim two famous writers—Heinrich Heine and Leon Feuchtwanger. But I also cherish the story of my mother’s father, who I never met as he died too young. He worked for the US Postal Service and wrote fiction whenever he could, including the complete manuscript of a novel. While writing my first book I often thought of him—of his determination to write despite the demands of work and life, knowing his book would most likely never see publication.
Thanks again for your time!