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Saturday, August 27, 2011
Author Interview: Annabel Aidan
The Long and the Short of It is pleased to welcome Annabel Aidan, whose latest release Assumption of Right was released in June. I asked her to tell us a little bit about the book.
"In Assumption of Right, witch and theatre professional Morag D’Anneville is annoyed when she’s assigned to dress the conservative Vice President as he makes a surprise appearance in his favorite Broadway show. Even more irritating, she has to teach Agent Simon Keane, part of the security detail, the backstage ropes in preparation. A strong attraction flares between them which they both recognize is doomed, and Simon must also fight his superior’s prejudice that Morag’s beliefs make her a threat to the Vice President. When Morag is attacked, Simon’s loyalties are torn between protecting the man he’s sworn to protect, and protecting the woman he loves."
Annabel wanted to stretch her writing into a new genre, and Assumption of Right is her foray into romantic suspense. Before she started, there were certain things she wanted in the book: she wanted her heroine to be strong, vivid, and independent and her hero to be a good match for her, not just a knight in shining armor. She also wanted to include some of the messy dailiness from life to be a part of this book and to be integrated into the story. And, because of the suspense angle, the timeline had to be finite with a fairly closed location.
"I spent many years working backstage," Annabel shared with me. "Especially on Broadway, the stakes are always high, and it’s quite its own world back there. Backstage is hardly ever portrayed accurately or interestingly -- it’s usually reworked cliches from television shows in the 1960’s or 1970’s. I wanted to portray some of the daily heartbeat of working on a long-running show. I had terrific experiences dealing with the Secret Service the times they’ve been backstage because of VIPs in the audience, and wanted to honor their intelligence, commitment, and abilities. I stretched credibility a few times -- I seriously doubt the Secret Service would allow a Vice President to actually perform during his tenure, and most of the time, the family of the Vice President is not under protection. But the possibilities interested me -- everyone in this is a dedicated professional with a very strong point of view and belief system, and some of these systems are in conflict. Yet, to pull off the performance, they have to find a way to co-exist, while someone is trying to sabotage the whole experience. I started from character, stuffed them into this situation, and let it rip. As the drafts progressed, I layered in more and more research about the Secret Service elements to make it more realistic, while still retaining my artistic license."
The hardest part of writing Assumption of Right was, for Annabel, the revisions, because she wrote the first during her second year of Nano in a frenzy. She then spent five years tearing it apart and making it coherent so she had a solid, submission-ready manuscript.
She enjoyed the four years she did Nano, but she has discovered that anything written during Nano takes years rather than months of revisions, making participation in it counterproductive. For example, with Assumption of Right, she wrote 82,000 words in a month, so she had to layer in research and do fact-checking during subsequent drafts. She also cut a subplot that took the focus away from her romantic pair and tightened the writing, by getting rid of the sloppy, the passive, and the bad habits it's easy to fall into when writing quickly.
"And I was lucky, once I landed at Champagne, to get a really good editor," she added. "I’d submitted the best book I could at the time, and it was considered good enough for publication. In the interim, I learned a lot from the other books I wrote, which I applied in edits, and worked with an editor who understood the work, and could also push me into making it even better."
Since writing is a full-time occupation for Annabel, she is ruthless about her writing time and told me that writer's block is "the luxury of the unpublished, or the under-published.
"Once you’re on a regular contract cycle, you have to step up," she clarified. "This is how I make my living. Whether I feel like it that day or not, I show up at the page and do my work, the same as anyone with a job must. I’m lucky in that I LOVE my job, and I shouldn’t be punished for loving it. I deserve to make a living at it. That means I need to show up and do my best every day. We all have days where we get stuck. You figure out if the problem is the piece -- do you need to look at it from a different angle? Rip it apart and start over? View it through a different character’s eyes? Or is something in your life getting in the way? Find the cause of the block and then solve it. Don’t just sit there, staring at the page, expecting it to go away on its own. Be active. Write a scene from a different character’s POV. Take a walk in unfamiliar surroundings or look at paintings and see if that helps your perspective. If it’s a life issue, face it head on and resolve it, rather than hiding for it. And then get back to the page and write."
She advocates writing every day, even if it's only fifteen minutes.
"The longer a span you have between writing sessions, the harder it is to get back to writing," she explained. "Even if you only write fifteen minutes every day, if you keep at it, you find it easier and easier to slide into the world of your writing during those fifteen minutes, and you find you’re more productive."
"What, in your opinion," I asked, "are the most important elements of good writing?"
"Engaging, intriguing characters; antagonists who are just as strong, interesting, and committed to their goals as the protagonists; character, action, and setting that are integrated; respect for the internal logic of the world of the story; structure that supports the best way to tell the story. That means the writer must know structure inside out, so that the choices to deviate from traditional structure are informed and work. Simply saying, 'I don’t like structure' and doing whatever one wants will fail. Informed choices succeed."
In the fall of 2010, Annabel relocated from New York to Cape Cod, because living on the Cape had always been her dream.
"I have a bright, sunny writing room filled with bookcases and a comfortable reading chair, filing cabinets, plants, my big calendar with all my deadlines looming, my desk with the laptop, printer, etc. I have a gargoyle on my desk, and a sign over it saying, 'Do not middle in the affairs of dragons, for you are crunchy and good with ketchup.' I have crystals and wind chimes and candles and books. The cats keep me company while I write. I get beautiful light all day, lots of morning sun, and I look out over the front lawn, which I’m starting to decorate and landscape. I’m on a small road with only seven houses, so it’s quiet. Across the street is a screen of trees to eh neighbor’s place, so I look at trees-- which I love, and I can watch the neighbor’s four enormous Maine Coon cats wandering around. There are seven crows who visit every morning, with all the news, and most of the neighbors have big dogs, so I’m constantly watching dogs walk by. It’s lovely and inspirational, and I’m close to the ocean, the bay, a lake, and several wildlife sanctuaries, when I need a break."
You can keep up with Annabel on her website, http://www.devonellingtonwork.com/index.html