Today I have the pleasure of Jack’ing sci-fi/fantasy author C. M. Barrett. Her views and ideas are incredible. Read on!
JW: One of the most popular phrases you hear among writers is to write about your passions. It makes perfect sense. I’m passionate about horror – why would I write romance (although the temptation of huge sales is a siren song that is a challenge to ignore)? So, if I didn’t read a single word of your books, and only read the description, I could easily guess you are passionate about animals. That’s a good thing, in my book, as I hold that same passion. But you take it one step further and write about not only animals but nature, earth, dragons, and kittens. What a fascinating mixture. And, to make matters even more wondrous, you’ve crafted a new race of beings – the Oasans.
I know what drew me to horror – what drew you to your genre, your sub-genre, the Oasans? Was it the idea that sci-fi fantasty sells or was it simply a desire to write something from the heart within your imagination?
CB: Jack, I don’t claim to be a practical person about my writing choices. I didn’t even think, “I’d like to write fantasy fiction.” Years ago, I visited the Florida Everglades, and I was entranced by the atmosphere and geographical features—alligators and all. When the idea of writing fiction occurred, I thought, “I’d like to write about a swamp,” and I immediately saw a dragon there.
Once the basis was established, I saw how other passions could come into play. I have a great fascination with metaphysics and the power of the mind and the emotions. This naturally evolved into imagining what might happen in a society—not so unlike our own—where emotional intelligence and intuition were sacrificed at the altar of reason and logic. What would happen to strongly intuitive people? What would the attitude be towards animals? And what might result if beneath all that cool logic and reason there lurked a consuming fear of a dragon who lived not far from civilization, a dragon that no one actually knew anything about?
Once I’d asked all those questions, I knew that fantasy was loosely the genre for my story, but I broke a lot of rules in writing it. Breaking rules, though, is one of my hobbies. That’s why the book (and the series) is inhabited by wise cats, depressed dragons, and other characters who break lots of rules.
JW: I find that rules, in general, are best broken. Why? Because following all of the rules does one thing – makes you just like everyone body else. And what with the insane amount of indie authors out there the only way to be seen is to stand out … hence, breaking the rules.
That is great that you take those fictional (and non-fictional) characters and play up attributes they have (or would have) in real life. The wise cat (what cat isn’t?) and the depressed dragon. Both of those conjure up such wonderful images. I had a very similar goal with A Blade Away (and the entire Fringe Killer series) by having a gay supportive character that everyone would love and cheer for. I don’t care who you are or where you come from – if you can’t enjoy Skip Abrahm, there is something wrong with you.
But I wonder – what would happen to strongly intuitive people? A part of me thinks we are starting to witness that first hand now. Society is being inundated with such meaningless drivel that the important issues and intelligent choices are cast aside for guilty pleasure and blather. Reality TV. Celebrities who are famous just for being famous.
When is someone going to shatter the mirror of that reality?
CB: Jack, I don’t know if you were looking for an answer to that question, but I never met a question I didn’t like. The answer is us, and I especially mean indie writers. In the absence of the traditional gatekeepers, we’re free to experiment and mess with our minds.
John Gardner said that the writer’s first responsibility is to entertain the reader, and I keep that in the forefront of my awareness. That doesn’t mean we can’t express our values. The beauty of fantasy is that it can remove us one step from all that we hold to be true and inevitable and make us question the assumptions we take for granted.
A trip to another country where you experience a different culture can have the same effect, but a book costs less.
JW: That brings up an interesting point. Expression. It has always been of most importance to me to be true to myself and not not hide behind the veil of either normalcy or blend into the masses. I am who I am and my writing, in one form or another, represents me, my mind, my heart, my soul, and my passion. Yes, there are values of mine that will never find their way into my books – at least not in direct shape or form. But any clever reader can look between the lines of my works and discover who I am. It’s one of the things I love about writing – taking readers on a journey and allowing them to make that journey feeling like they’ve learned something about themselves, about me, and about the world around them.
And you are correct – indie authors are the new gatekeepers. We hold keys to worlds traditional publishers would never touch, genre mashups heretofore unheard of (thanks to the narrow scope of the Big 6 publishers), characters shunned by agents. It is our job to take the reader on journeys they would never had.
CB: The concept of a journey is very compelling to me. When I was approaching completion of Big Dragons Don’t Cry, I realized I wanted to continue the characters’ journey. Dance with Clouds, Book II, was recently published, and I have two more in the works.
One of the characters, the Guardian (ruler) of Oasis, raised in an environment of psychological brutality to deny emotions, goes through a torturous journey as he realizes that the values that were beaten into him work neither for his country or for himself. He lurches towards wholeness in a pattern of faltering, pulling back, and pushing forward, that I think any of us who have ever had to question values that, for all their uselessness, tug at us with the lure of familiarity and safety, will recognize.
He’s a hero, and I think in this era of doublespeak and outright lies, we need heroes (or in your case, Sheros), who may not always make the right decision but who are guided by honesty and integrity. The Hero’s Journey is one of the enduring myths, and I confess to having been since childhood drawn to the messages of mythology—and satire. In retrospect, I think I drew great inspiration from both Aesop’s Fables and Jonathan Swift’s brilliant satire in writing Big Dragons Don’t Cry and the rest of A Dragon’s Guide to Destiny.
JW: Wow, that was brilliantly said. My honest fear is that someday (maybe not in the too distant future) heroes will be relegated to fiction. We are already in a state where we really need a little V For Vendetta action. Honesty and integrity seem to be something that has been tossed to the curb. Even within the realm of indie authors! I see this every day – it’s all about “me me me!” The problem with that mind set is that it doesn’t grow the whole in the slightest. If the complete organism isn’t allowed to grow as a whole, the individual pieces will suffer a withering fate. To that end, I prefer to do more promoting for others. That karma will come back around.
And speaking of journeys … for you, what is the most wonderful part of this journey? Is it the plotting of a story? The fleshing out of a character? Pulling the trigger on the publish gun? Knowing readers are enjoying your stories? Which part of being a reader fulfills you the most?
CB: For me it’s all about the characters. I never had imaginary friends as a child, but I have plenty now, and they represent a number of species. I get to imagine how it feels to be a cat or a dragon, and switching off among the various characters keeps my imagination in good order.
The best part of the character journey is being out of control, in the sense that the voice of intuition speaks through the characters, as they tell me what they want to do or say. I find that if I let them have their way, the plot unfolds naturally.
As a reader, I find that the gift of imagination is again the greatest reward, whether it’s me visualizing a setting or guessing what someone’s going to do next or the appreciation of how another writer works with his or her creative gifts.As a reader who’s also a writer, I’m always looking to see what I can learn.
I want to end by saying that I fully share your idea of indie authors as a mutual aid society. I’ve made a pledge to be as helpful as possible to other authors. It’s definitely good karma.
On that note, I’d like to thank you for an extremely enjoyable experience. I’ve had great fun and learned a lot.
About C.M. Barrett
On my mother’s side of the family, I come from a line of storytellers. My grandmother’s stories ranged from my grandfather’s arrest for draft resistance in England during World War I, the uncertainty of life during the Troubles in Ireland, to the day she decided to leave her marriage (but didn’t). My mother’s stories described a rural childhood that to a child of a suburb of little boxes seemed idyllic.
Both of them encouraged me to read and provided me with books to feed a growing habit. When I was seven or eight, I discovered mythology, and the gods and goddesses in those tales were as real to me as the dragons and cats in my own stories are now. Thanks to my early training in fantasy, I like to hang out with dragons. Accepting the bizarre directions my imagination takes has allowed me to conjure up Zen cats, cougars, gossip-vending hawks, and other critters.
Currently I live in upstate New York on a wooded piece of land not unlike some of the terrain in Big Dragons Don’t Cry.
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