THE FOLLOWING POST IS A GUEST INTERVIEW featuring Sally McBride and her debut novel, Indigo Time. I first learned of Sally's work when On Spec published her short story Softlinks in the 1991 Spring issue (coincidentally, the year I started as an editor with On Spec) and again, in On Spec's anthology, The First Five Years. I had the pleasure of meeting Sally for the first time in Toronto at the World Fantasy Convention in 2012. I'm very happy to feature her here.
1). To start off, Sally, please give us a short description of Indigo Time. How would you describe the book in terms of genre? Is it a sub-genre? A blended genre? A hybrid? Indigo Time is a hard book to describe, which made it a hard book to pitch. It doesn’t have a tag-line, like “Buffy meets Tarzan” or anything sound-bite-y that allows people to immediately understand what sort of read they’re getting into. Technically, I suppose it’s science fiction (lost colony world of a galactic empire, genetic engineering) but it reads more like a fantasy (primitive society ruled by a mad queen, psychic powers in evidence). It’s a story about a world dominated by a woman so immersed in her past and her quest for revenge that she is willing to sacrifice her own children to satisfy that lust. And about a genetically engineered horse which carries in his blood the means for her to do so. So, yeah, I’d call it a hybrid.
2). What was your inspiration (or inspirations) for writing Indigo Time? The book started as a short story that went nowhere, written when I was still learning that it takes more than a few pretty scenes to make a story. Some critique group friends read it, and one in particular liked it a lot and remembered it years later, giving me an injection of enthusiasm to revisit the tale. The original story was about a woman married against her will to the wrong man, and how she took her revenge. It was sentimental but I thought it had promise. I wanted to expand the lives of the characters I invented in the original short version, place them in a more wide open setting (a new world in an ancient and corrupt empire of worlds), and let them run free. Novel length seemed right, since I wanted to stick with my characters for several years of their lives, and take them into the heart of my evil queen’s long-term plan.
3). When did you start to write the book, and how long did it take you to finish it? I took an extraordinarily long time to finish it… I worked on Indigo Time, in its various incarnations, for 15 years, off and on. Mostly off. During that time I moved several times (in Canada and the US), my parents died, I got divorced, I got remarried… life tended to get in the way. Not that “life” is an excuse not to write, but it does tend to take up a lot of bandwidth. I’ve always worked slowly, but pretty steadily, and if I don’t write at least a couple of hundred words every few days I get a little antsy. When I get an idea, I start out “pantsing” (seat-of-the-pants writing), then when things get complicated I turn into a plotter. Using brief scenes, I generate an outline. I know what should happen, and the order of events leading to a climax and resolution, but along the way ideas, plot twists, characters, and embellishments pop into my mind. I work on several projects at once, switching from book to book as my enthusiasm and inventiveness wax and wane. I’m very glad to see Indigo Time in print at last.
4). How long did it take you to find a publisher? I actually found a publisher for an earlier draft of the novel over 10 years ago. It languished there, unattended, and I got interested in several other projects. I’d think about it now and then, but it kind of dropped below my radar until a friend said, “Why not talk to Robert Runté at Five Rivers? He’s looking for manuscripts.” Since Robert and I were both attending the 2012 World Fantasy Conference in Toronto, it seemed like a great chance to talk about the book. Robert expressed an interest in seeing it and I was thrilled. Not only is he an experienced freelance editor of science fiction and fantasy, he also serves as Five Rivers’ Editor-in-Chief. He acquired the manuscript and put it on the fast track.
5). What were your most difficult moments when writing the book? What were your best? Overall, the fact that this story sat around for years in an unfinished form, nagging at my subconscious, was the worst. I went through periods of just wanting to forget it, call it a practice novel, and move on. The realization that other people—whose opinions I respect—might find merit in it was the best. As far as the manuscript itself—it was that darn opening few pages that brought me to my knees. Not without a fight, mind you. Robert Runté showed endless patience coupled with an iron will (and the sharp eyes and ears of a born editor), and finally a new opening scene grew out of his insistence that 'no, someone sitting on a horse thinking' does not constitute an action scene.
6). I found many wonderful things about Indigo Time, in particular, the complexity of your characters and their relationships, ie., the difficult marriage and frustrated tensions between Grae Tarlannat and his wife, Kael, the conflicted feelings between mother and daughter, Kael and Nikkolue, as well as others. Your portrayal of these relationships is potent and honest. Why explore difficult emotional situations? Do you feel they draw the reader? What is your process for building such characters and relationships? Stories are about people. Interesting stories are about complex, troubled people doing things that complicate their lives. Resentment, jealousy, and unrequited love drive the stormy relationship between Grae and Kael. A twisted obsession with her stunted (literally) past makes my villain, Marrula, do what she does. Without conflict, a book is just a recitation of who does what to whom. As soon as you ask why they are doing it, things start to liven up. Why does my protagonist hate her husband? Why does one of my main male characters feel like a useless coward? Remember the TV show Ugly Betty? About a plain but feisty Latina girl trying to make it in the fashion world? Betty gave me a quote: “Find your way in, by making it personal.” It’s a good rule for starting an opening scene, and it’s good to remember to keep it personal all through the story. Readers are interested, generally, more in what believable people are doing and thinking than in descriptions of scenery, lumps of back story, and narrative explanations of politics or whatever. If I have a scene that’s dragging, I try to find a way to tell it in dialogue, or in a different point of view, while watching out for the dreaded, “As you know, Bob” trap. If I can get a view of my world through someone’s eyes and heart, rather than just describing it, then I know I’m succeeding.
7). Your antagonist, Marrula Tamara, immortal, ruler of Strand, and great-grandmother to Nikkolue is one of the most evil and psychopathic antagonists I’ve ever encountered. I suspect this is because you play on our sensitivities—grandmothers are not supposed to take advantage of their grandchildren. When you create an antagonist, what are your building blocks? How do you make them so memorable? I love to hate my antagonists, but they are my literary children too, just as much as my stalwart hero or my pure-of-heart heroine are. If I have any tip at all on how to create a truly nasty character, it’s, don’t hold back. I tend often to be too nice (the Canadian in me perhaps); I have to remember that the villain usually thinks they are right—that is, their chosen course of action makes perfect sense to them. They aren’t trying to be evil, per se, they are trying to win, or at least survive. When driven into a corner, the meekest rat will fight, so a clever, driven villain must fight as hard as possible to gain what they want. If they trample others in the process—well, that’s part of doing business. I do think that Marrula Tamara gets a bit carried away with enjoying being bad… but she is half-crazy. She has a cherished goal in mind, and it has taken over her thoughts too much. I’d really like to give her a chance to redeem herself.
8). Your use of a character’s interior dialogue is very well done, reflective of how most people think. As writers, we’re encouraged to write prose that is lean, vivid, and strong. In Indigo Time, you do this remarkably well, even when your characters’ thoughts skip from topic to topic as your immortal wizard/veterinarian Olren Warrek’s do, in particular. What tips do you have for writing great interior dialogue? It helps if you spend a lot of time inside your own head, rummaging around. I often find myself having lively conversations with imaginary, or remembered, people. It’s good practice for dialogue both interior and exterior. People’s heads are full of misinformation. Resentments fester, lies take hold, imaginary slights grow large. There is also truth in there, things people know but would never admit. In a character who is virtually immortal, things get forgotten, twisted, mashed up, or misfiled. Interior dialogue is a good way to reveal character, for you can show hidden facets that wouldn’t come out in narrative, or regular dialogue. The thoughts of a young, innocent girl are very different from those of a jaded, immortal scientist, or a brooding, self-pitying mother.
9). What themes were you personally exploring in Indigo Time? Why? Learning or finding personal courage. Forgiveness. The dynamics of a family in stress. How people can hang on to hate, however irrationally, because somehow, it's a comfort. Hate can be a stalwart friend who tells you that you’re right, even when in your heart you suspect you are wrong. The pitfalls of immortality, which sounds great until you have to live it.
10). Indigo Time works well as a stand-alone novel, but you’ve left the way clear for more of the story to come. I would love to read a sequel. Any plans for one? Yes, I have a sequel plotted out, very loosely. It follows many of the main characters of Indigo Time and starts about 16 years later. It involves contact—at last—with the Empire that stranded them on their beautiful, lonely world so long ago, and introduces several new characters. One of the main characters from Indigo Time undergoes a complete change. Its themes are revenge, love, and lust, and how they can be mistaken for obsessive hatred, and the healing power of forgiveness. Quite similar in theme to Indigo Time, but with more spaceships.
11). Where can readers find Indigo Time, and what other books of yours are available? Indigo Time is available directly from the publisher, Five Rivers Publishing, as a print or an e-book. It can also be found at the usual online venues where readers can take a peek inside (see below). I had an exciting summer - another novel, Water, Circle, Moon, came out from Masque Books, a new e-book only imprint of Prime Books. Water, Circle, Moon is an expansion of a short story published by On Spec Magazine - it's a romantic fantasy set in modern day England, and features shape-shifters. Horse shape-shifters. Do I detect an equine theme? People are welcome to check out my (rather lame, I'm techno-challenged) website at sallymcbridesf.ca. I'm currently working on The Nightingale's Tooth, a fantasy set in an alternate medieval France, and Unconfigured Stars, a science fiction novel about shape-shifters, but without any hint of horses. As usual I have lots of other projects at various states of completion.
Thank you, Sally! If you'd like to read Indigo Time, you can find it in print or for e-books, here: