Monday, April 27, 2009

Author Interview: Natasha Mostert, author of Keeper of Light and Dust

I just had the opportunity to review Keeper of Light and Dust by Natasha Mostert, which I throughly enjoyed! I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to ask Natasha a few interview questions so I could share them here with you at Jo-Jo Loves to Read!!!

So here is what Natasha wanted to share with all of us:

1. What was your inspiration for writing Keeper of Light and Dust?
I've always been fascinated by legends and myths that feature battle-scarred warriors who are protected - or cursed - by beautiful powerful women. It is a sexy concept! I therefore decided that it would be fun to create my own “legend” and I came up with the concept of the Keeper: a modern-day heroine who protects men who are engaged in hand-to-hand combat.

2. Since the main character of this novel is a tattoo artist I am wondering if you have any tattoos yourself? If not, have you thought about getting any tattoos?
I am so tempted! I don't have any tattoos yet, but I certainly haven't ruled anything out. I was thinking it might be cool to have a tattoo for each one of my books tattooed on my spine like a row of charms. Midnight Side would be represented by a snake, Other Side of Silence by the pi symbol, Windwalker by a wolf, Season of the Witch by the Monas Hieroglyphica (an alchemical symbol of a unified universe) and Keeper of Light and Dust by the Kanji symbol for chi! People keep telling me that one day when I'm seventy I will regret it but I think by the time I hit seventy I'll be regretting quite a number of things and tattoos may be the least of them!

3. What kind of research was required of you to write Keeper of Light and Dust?
I had to do research on body art and quantum physics. The one required a lot of reading, the other required hanging out in tattoo parlours. I had fun both ways.

My villain is a brilliant scientist : a chonobiologist and quantum physicist who had cracked the secret of how to gain eternal life. I had to read quite a bit about organ regeneration, Zero Point Field and other related topics so that I could understand the world in which he lives. In the end, of course, I used very little of this information in my novel - after all, my goal is not to educate but to entertain - but I still needed a good grounding before I could start writing.

My other big research effort was in the area of tattoos. Before I wrote Keeper of Light and Dust I knew very little about body art. But I wanted my heroine to be a body artist (it is necessary for the plot) and I therefore talked to tattooists and watched them at work. It is a very textured and colourful environment and I enjoyed learning abut magnum shaders and tattoo lore.

4. Could you explain your writing process to us, including whether you know the ending of your books when you begin?
The idea always comes first for me. My books are research intensive and I will spend months studying and reading. Once I have the topic well in hand, my focus will move to the characters and from that point on they become all important. Even if you write a book with the most interesting themes imaginable, if the reader does not empathize with the characters, the book will fail.

I fall in love with my heroes! I dream about them obsessively (my husband knows all about this and has long since made peace with this state of affairs) and for the eighteen months I write, my characters take over my thoughts. Sometimes I walk down the streets and I look like a crazy woman. My lips are moving because I'm talking to fictitious people who inhabit the pages of my story.

I am not a serendipitous writer. I plan very, very carefully and I always know what the ending will be. My plots are intricate and if I do not plan, I will write myself into a corner. As I write, things do change, however. My characters can be temperamental and will insist on taking off in strange directions! But this is the fun part of writing - when the book starts to buzz and hum and take on a life of its own.

5. Do you attend any workshops or belong to any writing groups that have helped improve your writing skills?
I do not attend workshops and I have never belonged to a writing group. It is not that I have anything against them, it just simply never happened for me.

6. I have heard from several author interviews that the publishing/editing process can be a very humbling experience. What was this experience like for you and do you have any suggestions for aspiring authors to help them deal with this process? Yes, I'm afraid the journey to publication and beyond is a painful process. All aspiring writers know how difficult it is to get that first contract but once your book is accepted the real challenge starts. There are many books that are prepared for publication in-house and they are not all given equal treatment: publishing houses usually place their money and muscle behind their star authors and the rest of the pack has to pretty much find its own way. A common misconception is that once you have a book published, you will always get published. This is not the case: the writing life is deeply precarious. If your books don't sell, you simply won't get your contract renewed. This hard fact keeps you humble, believe me!

The editing process itself can be traumatic. No writer really likes to be edited. You hand in your manuscript after you have slaved over it for two years and you get it back covered in blue pencil with remarks such as “overwrought”, “rambling” and “need rethink”. Show me a writer who likes to hear her baby has a squint or a limp! But the fact of the matter is that all writers benefit from having a good editor. By the time you hand in your manuscript, you are so close to the story that you are blind to its faults. If you have a good editor, it is worth swallowing your wounded pride and paying attention to her. Even though her advice that you should slash Chapter 6 or even remove a character from the plot may at first sound like insanity, there is probably method to her madness.

My advice to aspiring authors: Don't give up and grow a thick skin. And keep your sense of humour. Remember what GK Chesterton said: “Angels fly because they take themselves lightly!”

7. Did you have moments when writing Keeper of Light and Dust that were plagued by writer's block? If so, how did you stay inspired to continue writing?
Block is probably too strong a word - and I am so superstitious I don't even want to say the word out loud. The very idea of being completely blocked terrifies me. I've been lucky so far in that this has never happened to me in the nine years I've been a published author. But yes, I've had periods - quite a few -- where the creative impulse was not as strong and where it felt to me as though everything I write is derivative or sounds downright feeble. One of the way in which I try to get back on track is to reread a favourite book such as Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea or one of Jorge Louis Borge's short stories. They both have angel ears for language and always inspire me. Or else I'll call up my kickboxing instructor and we'll have a good old punch-up in the dojo!

8. From reading some information in the back of your book, I found that you practice some martial arts yourself. How have you integrated your knowledge and discipline from martial arts into your personal life?
Martial arts is all about raising your chi sensitivity - in other words, making sure that the vital energy within you flows cleanly and strongly. I believe in chi and I always feel greatly energized after a session in the dojo. I do full-contact sparring, which means I am trading actual blows and kicks with a partner. Sparring requires absolute focus and attention: there is no room in your mind for anything else. I find that it is only when I'm inside the dojo that I manage to stop the internal chatter inside my head - the white noise that represents everyday stresses and anxieties. After an hour in the dojo and being I completely in the moment, my mind feels spring-cleaned and I'm ready to face anything that may come my way.

9. What are some hobbies that you enjoy during your down time (if you have down time, that is)?
I don't have much down time, sadly. After writing, kickboxing is my one great passion. Music is another great love but I don't see it as a hobby, rather as oxygen.

10. Are you currently working on another book? If so, could you tell us about it?
I am currently doing research on four different ideas. They all have potential for a book but I know that the research will eventually tell me, which one will be my next story. I'll probably start writing in earnest at the end of June when my commitments to promote Keeper of Light and Dust will have died down.

11. What would an ideal "night on the town" in London consist of for you?
I would start off with a walk down the Chelsea Embankment just as dusk is falling. In the summer the sky is this incredibly lavender colour and it becomes magical: in front of you the dark water of the Thames and on the other side of the river the lights starting to glow. I may even want to take a “flight” on the London Eye - the big wheel that sits on the South Bank and gives you the most incredible view of the city and the Houses of Parliament . I would follow this with a meal at my favourite brasserie where they have an open wood oven that makes everything that is prepared in it taste divine. I might then see if I can catch my friend Cengiz at one of his gigs - he has a rock band and is, incidentally, also a great a martial artist. To end the evening I'd go to My Old Dutch on the King's Road and have one of their fantastic late night pancakes!
Hmmm...this makes me think of my personal love for IHOP!

I would like to thank you, Natasha for taking the time to complete this interview and I wish you the best of luck with this book and all future novels that you write!

Don't forget to check out her website and you can also play the Keeper Game while you are there, this will tell you if you are a Keeper, Warrior or a Thief, and even give you an opportunity to win some cool prizes like a Kindle or an Ipod. I completed it and I am categorized as a please let me know what you are if you play the game! You can play the game yourself here. To find out more about Natasha Mostert and view a complete list of her books you can go to her website.

I believe that I am the last stop on this blog tour, but you can view other reviews of Keeper of Light and Dust at the following blogs. The date indicates what day the review was actually posted.
A Novel Menagerie - April 2nd
Literary Escapism – April 7th
The Literate Housewife Review – April 10th
Wrighty’s Reads – April 14th
Peeking Between The Pages – April 17th
Saavy Verse & Wit – April 21st

Thanks for stopping by everyone! You also have an opportunity to win a copy of Keeper of Light and Dust from Serena over at Savvy Verse and Wit--but hurry, because today is the last day to enter!


Serena said...

Jo-Jo: This is a great interview. I loved it. Thanks for also reminding your readers about my giveaway!

I really loved this book, and if I ever get to London...I'm going to take up those suggestions from Natasha!

Serena said...

Psst. Natasha should go for the tattoos...I think they sound wonderful. I have two of my own and love them!

Jo-Jo said...

I enjoyed this one also Serena...I must admit that I am way too wimpy to get a tattoo myself! But some of them sure do look cool.

jlshall said...

What a great interview! I'm very intrigued about the book now. And I agree Natasha should go ahead and get that tattoo. I've always regretted that I didn't take the plunge when I was younger - think I'm a little past my peak tattooing years by now!

Angela said...

Great interview. Thanks for sharing.

Darlene said...

Great interview Jo-Jo and Natasha! She seems like such a fascinating person.