This week I sit down with SL Vail, author of Act Locally, "a twisted little jaunt through a small southern town that plays kick-the-can with all things sacred". Hmm, sounds interesting. Let's get to the interview.
1. Please tell us about yourself.
I’m not really comfortable talking about myself. I don’t think that’s an unusual trait among writers, and it may well be one of the drivers behind the creative impulse. Truth feels safer when it’s filtered through your characters.
2. What's the name of your newest or latest book and what's it about?
My most recent (and first) book is Act Locally, a dark comedy about good intentions gone bad. It’s an ensemble story told in alternating scenes featuring
- Sera, who wants to change the world so she starts a chapter of Save the Earth’s Natural Resources (SENR) in her small hometown of Limax Trace;
- Pet, who wants to change her life so she joins SENR against her evangelist father’s wishes;
- Johnny and Darcy, who want to change the fact that there's nothing to do in this backwater town, so they start playing eco-ninja;
- Walker, a one-armed blues guitarist;
- Cesar, his autocratic Manx cat; and
- Walker’s brother Jackson, a right-wing judge.
Act Locally examines how species interrelate and react to change in their environment. Humans often respond to uncertainty with fear (and its malignant offspring, aggression). Whether it’s good luck or bad, we want to find the reason it happened. Act Locally is about the randomness that surrounds and terrifies us.
3. Is this book part of a series or standalone?
Standalone … although I am planning another book set in the town of Limax Trace.
4. How long have you been writing?
About 25 years, but not steadily. I’ve taken several lengthy breaks, including one break of almost a decade when my children were younger.
5. From where or whom do you draw inspiration?
That’s a hard question! I have catholic interests, so who can say where the germ of an idea forms? Certainly I read a variety of fiction and nonfiction, and I listen to podcasts on a wide range of subjects (science, philosophy, economics, politics, comedy…). I think cross-pollination is key to creativity. The more open you are, the more broad your experience, the more likely you are to make an unexpected connection.
On the other hand, it may just be that my shower has mystical powers -- I do a lot of my best thinking in there. The person who invents the waterproof laptop will make a fortune.
6. What advice would you give new or aspiring writers?
Recognize that writing is yeoman’s work, more trade than art. No muse can overcome shoddy workmanship, so invest energy in mastering the fundamentals.
7. Who do you see as your ideal reader?
Readers who enjoy dark comedy: people who are smart and funny, who consider everything and nothing sacred. It also helps if they have a large amount of disposable income, poor impulse control and my website’s “Buy Now!” page set as the homepage on their browser.
8. Tell us about your writing process. Are you a planner or outliner?
I’m more of a ruminant, actually. I get an idea and chew on it for a while … sometimes a long, long while. I make notes, go off on tangents, and essentially generate the entire story in my head. Once I feel it has a bit of shape about it, I create a basic outline, plugging in key notes about the scenes. I don’t document every last detail … I just want to get the skeleton in place.
I understand the value of this advance work, and more careful scheduling would probably make me more productive on a daily basis. But I’m wary of overly meticulous planning … it can be a way to avoid writing. I also think rigid adherence to an outline that maps out the most minute details can result in stilted, predictable work.
9. Any pets? If so, tell us what role they play in your writing, if any.
Many pets. Far too many pets, some would say.
Animals play a huge role in my life so they do have a role in my fiction. In Act Locally, a Manx cat is a key character. A significant portion of the book is told from his point of view. The book I’m currently writing, Death Blows, involves a person caught in a dimension that is neither life nor death. Cats, with their nine lives, are frequent visitors.
I’m not entirely sure why cats feature so prominently in my work. They’re vexing, unpredictable creatures, but I suppose that’s what makes them interesting.
(And with that, we come full circle :)
10. Where can readers find your work?
- My website, Slvail.com
- Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all major e-book vendors
11. Where can readers find out more about you?
SL Vail writes dark comedy and absurdist fiction for teens and adults. Born in North Carolina, she now lives in northern New Mexico with her family and far more animals than strictly necessary.
Although cats insinuate themselves into her writing, she's actually more of a dog person.