Book Nerd Interview
Rhiannon Held was born in Minnesota but moved to the Pacific Northwest young enough that she imprinted there instead. She got her MA in archaeology from Washington State University, and her current day job is as a professional archaeologist. Unfortunately, given that it’s real rather than fictional archaeology, fedoras, bullwhips, aliens, and dinosaurs are in short supply. Most of her work is done on the computer, using databases to organize data, and graphics programs to illustrate it. Her novel Silver, the first in an urban fantasy series from Tor, comes out June 5, 2012.
Was there a defining moment during your youth when you realized you wanted to be a writer?
There are two moments that fit that description. The first was when I realized I wanted to write. I’d always had stories in my head, but in my freshman year in college, I segued from tabletop role-playing into doing some RP over email. That got me used to the idea of developing a character and writing about them. Then someone linked me to National Novel Writing Month. I went and read the description, and there was a little bit of humor about how you could do absolutely anything to make wordcount. I don’t remember precisely, but it was something along the lines of “You can have your characters discuss politics for hours, or even describe every episode as they watch a marathon of their favorite sitcom.” I thought, aha! If I’m allowed to stoop to TV episodes, I can manage that. I only made something like 15,000 words in the month, but I managed to reach an ending at 60,000 after about 6 months. The plot was a fantasy mish-mash of several different role-playing characters, and never did need to involve any TV episodes. It made realize that I could write for that long, and see a project through.
The second moment was when I realized I wanted to be a writer. Junior year of undergrad, I started planning which grad schools I wanted to apply to. I talked to my professors about the kind of things admissions would be looking for, and several emphasized the (I now believe false) idea that no grad school would have you if you weren’t willing to sacrifice everything in your life on the altar of your passion for your research topic. I had interest, but not that kind of all-consuming passion. I confessed to my father that I was quite worried about not knowing what direction to take in my life if not grad school. He asked me if I could be absolutely anything in the world, what would I be? I told him a speculative fiction author, half-joking, because I was too pragmatic to accept that as a career option that could actually support me. He looked me, and said “Okay. Do that. And go to grad school to get your day job.” As obvious as it seems to me now, I needed that prompting to realize that this was something I could allow myself to work toward.
What’s one thing that readers would be surprised to find out about you?
I used to be a synchronized swimmer in high school. It was a lot of fun! To this day, if anyone disses synchro on the Olympics, I invite them to visit a pool and try a leg-raise or two without ending up far below the waterline where no one can see them or giving up early, gasping for oxygen.
What was the greatest thing you learned at school?
It’s so hard to pick one! How to keep a sense of curiosity and continue to learn about the world, perhaps. Beyond whatever individual thing that I did or didn’t use in that specific format later in life, at school I got a framework for looking at the world, so when I encountered new information, I could incorporate it or find out more about it. That’s what you need to keep learning through life. And once you have study and research skills, you can always bust them out later, like when you need to research a novel.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author?
The one that jumps to mind is “Submit your novel already!” because it broke me out of the endless stalling revision I was using as an excuse to not take the next step and put my novel out there. Revision’s important, but so is learning to recognize that tiny sentence tweaks can continue to the end of time, so you need to cut yourself off and send it out.
Can you tell us when you started Silver, how that came about?
I had some turmoil in my life at that time, and I realized that it might help to have a project to pour my energy into and distract me from everything else. I had a short story with the characters from Silver that I’d written but never submitted anywhere. It was more an exercise in seeing if they were characters I enjoyed writing on a small scale, before I put the effort into developing them for something novel-length. I did enjoy them quite a lot, and so when I decided I wanted to write a novel, they were there waiting for me. The plot took some false starts and wandering through the weeds to hone in on, but the characters carried me through. By the time, three or four months later, I finished my first draft, I’d grown so used to incorporating novel writing time into my daily routine, I immediately started right back at the beginning on a revision based on critiques from my writers group. Except for when I pause and write a short story, I haven’t stopped that routine since!
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating Andrew?
Silver came to me first, Andrew second. It was much easier for me to get into Silver’s head immediately, because her situation made her perspective so usual and easy to write. Andrew was much harder. I didn’t want him to be Everyday Joe Werewolf punching the clock at his job as enforcer until Silver showed up. He needed to have goals and a direction of his own to be an interesting, well-rounded character. I really found his character when I gave him the late wife and past he was trying to atone for. The surprising part was probably how, once I created that aspect of him, it snapped everything else about him and his relationships with other characters into place.
If you could introduce Silver to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
I’d probably introduce her to Mercy Thompson, from Patricia Briggs’ series. I think they’d have a lot to talk about, both being women who have to use other sources of strength in the werewolf world, since Silver can’t shift, and Mercy is a much smaller coyote.
You have the chance to give one piece of advice to your teen readers. What would it be?
First, I’d be delighted that they were reading my book, even though it’s technically adult. Personally, I started prowling the adult section of the library early in my teen years, which exposed me to a lot of really great books.
As for advice, I’d probably share what I’ve learned through experience, which is that—provided you define it right—you can never, ever fail at a goal until you’re dead. I think the definition part is an important one, though. If you define your goal as “I want to win American Idol before I’m 30”, you have very limited chances, and you can “fail”. If you define your goal as “I’d like to make music, and be successful enough at it that I can share it with strangers”, then you have endless opportunities. Don’t get into music school? Teach yourself. Don’t get a gig at one bar? Try another. Don’t win one reality TV contest? Make friends with experienced musicians and see what other opportunities come up. You keep working at improving your skills, keep watching for opportunities, and then work hard at those too when you find them. You’ll reach your goal whether it’s soon, or eventually, with an interesting journey along the way.
What’s your most missed memory?
One of the many sets of memories that makes me nostalgic is that of the first play I ever performed in with my high school drama club. We were a tiny group at a tiny high school, and the club was active entirely through student efforts. We were tight-knit, and we had a lot of fun. I remember choosing costumes—the play was Arsenic and Old Lace, so we had to find 1940s styles—and hanging out backstage, and the high of performing, and then the all-night cast party, watching movies and playing cards until the morning when our parents came to pick us up.
What's the worst summer job you've ever had?
I got heat exhaustion on a summer job once. That wasn’t really the fault of the job, though, it was my fault for not knowing my limits yet. Field jobs in archaeology can be quite physically demanding, and on that one I was excavating in the direct sun. It was my first real archaeology job, so I was skimping on breaks to match the speed of the experienced archaeologists around me who were of course much more acclimatized to the heat and the pace. I didn’t make that mistake twice!
When was the last time you cried?
The weekend I’m answering these questions, the community choir I’m a member of is having their spring concert. Our theme this season is “Music with a message”, and several of the pieces are quite moving. It presents an interesting quandary. Feeling and showing the emotions of a song yourself can draw the audience into the emotion of a piece too. But tearing up makes your voice breathy and choked, so you can’t sing any longer. So for sad pieces it’s a balance between setting your emotion aside so you can sing, but still giving the audience an emotional experience.
Most horrifying dream you have ever had?
I’ve never actually had nightmares, defined as dreams that are horrifying or terrifying. I have dreams where I’m anxious, but those are never very mysterious. My unconscious has the sublety of a brick to the head, so I’ve had the odd dream lately where my book was printed upside down, or the publisher lost all their copies, or such things. I did have a post-apocalyptic dream at one point, where everyone was infected with a mysterious virus that made them attack each other, though there was still a fair amount of food and shelter available in the wreckage. I found it interesting that my unconscious was apparently more worried about the fact that I couldn’t find allies than whether I could survive pitted against nature. I guess I do have a basic faith in the way people can pull together and accomplish things in the face of adversity.
Where can readers stalk you?
I post most on my blog at rhiannonheld.com, and my Twitter, @RhiannonHeld.
Andrew Dare is a werewolf. He’s the enforcer for the Roanoke pack, and responsible for capturing or killing any Were intruders in Roanoke’s territory. But the lone Were he’s tracking doesn’t smell or act like anyone he’s ever encountered. And when he catches her, it doesn’t get any better. She’s beautiful, she’s crazy, and someone has tortured her by injecting silver into her veins. She says her name is Silver, and that she’s lost her wild self and can’t shift any more.
The packs in North America have a live-and-let-live attitude, and try not to overlap with each other. But Silver represents a terrible threat to every Were on the continent.
Andrew and Silver will join forces to track down this menace while discovering their own power and their passion for each other.
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