Friday, January 11, 2008

An Interview With Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet had a respite in his writing schedule and agreed to answer a few questions. While preparing this post, I made the shocking discovery that I never did a proper announcement on AURALIA'S COLORS! Therefore, I'll include a few links at the end of this post. First, the interview!

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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.

FD: Can you give us a teaser about the next novel in The Auralia Thread, Cyndere's Midnight?

JO: Well, the series is called The Auralia Thread, and in the second, third, and fourth book we will get glimpses of life within the other cultures of the Expanse. And we'll see how Auralia's imaginative art continues to influence those who discover it.

The second book, Cyndere's Midnight, is about a creature called a "beastman" who discovers Auralia's colors. When he finds himself "stuck," so to speak, in the company of a grieving widow named Cyndere, a very unstable friendship develops. Meanwhile, the people of House Abascar are in trouble once again, and their survival depends on what happens between Cyndere and the beastman.

Oh, and in case anybody asks, "Cyndere" is pronounced like the word "cinder." And "Auralia" is pronounced "o-RAY-lee-uh."

FD: As I read AURALIA'S COLORS, I could not help but notice that all color is vividly described and emphasized. Are you an artist as well as a writer?

JO:I wish! No, alas, I am not a visual artist. But there are few things I enjoy more than great visual art. I'm a huge fan of Georgia O'Keeffe, and my wife and I spend a lot of each year visiting Santa Fe, New Mexico, and soaking up the natural beauty of the places where O'Keeffe worked. I love filmmakers who create poetic imagery, like Terrence Malick and Krzysztof Kieslowski. I try to paint "word pictures" that are vivid, and that put readers' imaginations to work. But God is the greatest visual artist. All artists are trying to capture some measure of the beauty and design he's made, whether they know it or not.

FD: Did you have any historical sources for AURALIA'S COLORS, or did you invent it all?

JO: Oh, I'm sure there are chapters of history that influenced me. But I didn't do any historical research to give detail to House Abascar.

But the questions explored in Auralia's Colors come from my own personal history. They come from my own struggles in various cultural conflicts. In all kinds of contexts, imagination and beauty are fractured by fear, oppression, ignorance, and greed. I see it happening in the context of world events, in relationships between governments and their people, the relationship between artists and their audiences, in the way schools and churches and families respond to beauty and truth.

Those are the conflicts that gave me a passion to explore them through storytelling.

FD: What is your favorite scene in AURALIA'S COLORS?

JO: That's almost impossible to answer. If I didn't love a scene, it didn't make it into the final draft of Auralia's Colors. There is a scene in the chapter called "Promontory" in which Auralia has to make a crucial decision. She climbs out onto a rocky outcropping and looks out at House Abascar. It's the moment that I first imagined, and it's the moment that the artist, Kristopher Orr, chose for the cover of the book (much to my surprise and delight). I'm rather fond of that moment.

But I loved sharing the experience of the two old thieves who found Auralia lying in a monster's footprint. I loved the experience of floating across Deep Lake on a raft with the ale boy, knowing something mysterious was swimming beneath the surface of the water. And I especially love what Auralia does when she is imprisoned, while that grotesque jailer called Maugam is punishing another prisoner. I become passionate about a scene when I see a glimmer of light in the darkness.

FD: What scene gave you the most trouble?

JO: Finding the right place to end the book -- that was a challenge. After the climactic moments, there's much more to tell people about Prince Cal-raven and the people of Abascar, and about Auralia's unfinished work. What was a very long epilogue was trimmed down quite a bit, and some of that material will appear in the sequel, Cyndere's Midnight.
It's always hard to lose a character too... even the villains. And people die in this story. Maybe not who you'd expect.

FD: Please share the story of how AURALIA'S COLORS came to be published.

JO: Well that's a long story, and it's more bizarre than any story I could invent.
Here's the short version: I'd written Auralia's Colors, and I was discouraged by everything I'd read about the process of finding an agent and getting published. Anne and I prayed together one day, and I remember saying, "Lord, if you want this story to be published, you may have to drop somebody out of the sky with a golden ticket."

A few days later, I received an email from a flight attendant in Atlanta. She had liked one of my movie reviews, and noticed that my bio mentioned some novels-in-progress. She was coming to Seattle for, of all things, a dentist's appointment, and wondered if we could meet for lunch, because she was curious about my novels. I thought this was highly unusual, but I was curious. We met for lunch, and she read a few pages of Auralia's Colors and another novel, one I've written for younger readers. She made a couple of phone calls to people she knew, and then told me that I would receive an important phone call the next day. I wasn't sure what to believe.
The next morning, I got a phone call from the head of Random House's WaterBrook Press. We had a great conversation. One thing led --or rather, leapt -- to another, and Auralia's Colors was published by WaterBrook.

In short: Somebody dropped out of the sky and gave me a golden ticket. And I live in a state of gratitude and near-disbelief. Now, ask me... do I believe in prayer?

FD: Have you finished any other novels previous to AURALIA'S COLORS? If so, can we expect to see them in print?

JO: I have a complete novel for young readers, a story I can't wait to share. I suppose if I were pitching it, I'd say, "It's Finding Nemo meets The Rescuers meets Raiders of the Lost Ark ." But it's also something new, I think. I wrote it because I hadn't read a story quite like it. I wrote it with a wild hope that it might someday become a Pixar animated film. Friends in my writers' group thought it was more likely to be published than Auralia's Colors, so we've been surprised by what's happened. Now I'm so busy with The Auralia Thread that I haven't had any time to pass it around. The main character, Max, is my favorite of all of my characters, so I'll find him a home someday. Or a nest. He's a bird, you see.

FD: It's rather daunting to be interviewing a movie reviewer who has interviewed movie producers, directors and stars such as Liv Tyler and Orlando Bloom. Do you have any interviewing tips for my fellow bloggers out there (and me)?

JO: I'm still learning about how to host a good interview. But I've learned a few things. I've learned to figure out what your subject wants to talk about, rather than what I want to talk about. Get them talking about something they're passionate about. I loved interviewing actor Michael Caine and director Danny Boyle because they're so passionate. I always have great conversations with the singers and songwriters from Over the Rhine -- Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist -- because they're such passionate and thoughtful artists. Also, be informed. Study up on the person before you ask questions. Read other interviews and learn what questions they've already answered a hundred times, and find the thing that will make your interview something that nobody can find anyplace else.

FD: I was surprised to find that you have a day job as an editor. After all, you write novels and movie reviews, and you keep several very active blogs. Have you mastered the secrets of time travel? Please tell us about your typical working day.

JO: For years, I wrote on the bus ride to work, and then again on the bus ride home. Now, I have to drive because the bus routes are too long. So I write on my lunch break. I write on 15-minute coffee breaks. When I get home from work at 7pm, I eat dinner, and then my wife and I go to a coffee shop that's open late. And we write. On the weekends, we write. I get some of my best ideas while I'm listening to my pastor, Michael Kelly at Seattle's Crosspoint Presbyterian Church, preach. He's very inspiring. And then, when I go on vacation... I write some more! When Anne and I were dating, our typical outing was a trip on one of Seattle's ferry boats, and we would write, read each other's work, and offer critiques. Not your typical love story, really. But we're grateful. Most of the stories I share about my life begin with, "You're not going to believe this, but...."

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Thank you so much, Jeff! Jeff is all over the place online. He has a blog plus his movie review site, He also does movie reviews for Christianity Today. My posts on Auralia's colors are here, plus you can check out reviews by Fantasy Book Critic and Front Street Reviews. The Amazon links are USA, UK, Canada.


Kimberly Swan said...

Great interview! I love the story of how he got published, that's pretty amazing. :)

Tia Nevitt said...

Yes, I've never heard anything like that before!

Carole McDonnell said...

Oh I just loved that interview. I love busy folks who are always working but I especialy love it when someone unabashedly talks about their faith in God.

And yes, I DO belive in answered prayers. A golden ticket is pretty much the same as a great conversation with a flight attendant if you ask me.

That's a book I'll have to get...after I've caught up on all my reviewing. I'm soooo behind.


Tia Nevitt said...

You ought to check out his blog. He's a very active blogger!

SQT said...

That is a great story. This book must be meant to be read. I don't normally cruise the religious fiction aisle, but after reading Robert's review I went and bought it.

Tia Nevitt said...

Did you actually find it in the religious fiction aisle? I would expect to find it in the Fantasy section.

Robert said...

Great interview Tia! I'm really looking forward to the next thread in the sequence...

SQT said...

Tia, it really was in the religious fiction aisle which baffles me. I don't think it fits that category at all.

Tia Nevitt said...

I would NEVER have expected it to be there! Maybe it's because the author is known to be a reviewer at Christianity Today? I'll have to ask him. (Or maybe he'll see this question.)

Tia Nevitt said...

Jeff got with me about the reason why his novel is sometimes found in the Christian section. He says that WaterBrook Press usually publishes Christian books, and bookstores often stock WaterBrook books in the Christian Fiction section, regardless of whether it qualifies as "Christian fiction" or not.

Some bookstores are stocking it in their Young Adult section! So you never know where it might be. If you cannot find it, ask someone.

Roheryn said...

That's amazing That's a pretty literal way of dropping someone out of the sky...

The book sounds so amazing. And the writer behind it even more so