E. Archer (also known as Eliot Schrefer) was kind enough to answer some questions about his writing life and his book Geek Fantasy Novel. Not sure what his book is about? check out our review.
1) Hi Eliot (or should I say, E. Archer), thanks for answering some questions for Lytherus. Geek Fantasy Novel was one of the most remarkable and distinct books I have ever had the pleasure of reading. How did the idea for this unusual book come about?
Hi Lytherus, and thanks for having me! Shortly after I graduated college, I wrote a long turgid fantasy novel. It was overambitious and unskilled, and even my best friend didn’t finish. I remember one line from it: “the crowd suppurated a champion.” Hairy stuff. So, years later, I satirized myself (sounds a little dirty, doesn’t it?). I’ve always been fascinated by how strict the conventions of classic sword-and-sorcery fantasy can be, and wanted to (lovingly) play around with expectations.
2) The voice was so different, being from the narrator, who was an actual person writing the story in the book, not just you the author. The asides and emotions that shone through just added to the uniqueness. Why did you decide to tell Ralph’s story in this manner?
When I started the book I decided that all rules were off. That was my one policy. So that set the stage for the meddlesome narrator. But I’ve always been fascinated by self-referential fantasy—novels where the act of storytelling is an essential part of the plot. The Neverending Story with its man on the mountain, Astinus of the Dragonlance books, and in Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories.
3) Did you always intend to have the narrator be one of the pivotal characters, or did that evolve as the story grew?
It evolved. The narrator got really saucy around chapter 3, and instead of being a responsible author and suppressing him, I decided to see where an irresponsible act of an otherwise responsible author could lead.
4) There are three wishes that we follow Ralph our protagonist through. Which was your favorite, and why?
My favorite would have to be Cecil’s quest, the first one. It’s a full-on romp in a way the other two aren’t, and I had a lot of fun writing about imprisoned fairies, fairies used for building material, wasted like sugar packets, and so on. Coming in second (sorry, Daphne!) would be Beatrice’s quest. It was a visit to the Underworld that wound up being more emotionally subtle than any visit to the Underworld has a right to be.
5) I laughed when I saw that your only prerequisite for writing this book was being a geek. What geeky things did you do as a kid growing up that helped shape you into the awesome geeky adult that you are now? What old or new geeky things do you currently partake in?
You know, I wasn’t whole-hog, full-on geeky. I watched Star Trek only when it happened to be on. I wasn’t in band. But then again, it’s a label I’m really comfortable with. My geekdom was concentrated specifically on fantasy novels. I read all of Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, MythAdventures, Piers Anthony, Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, LeGuin, David Eddings. Pretty much nonstop fantasist. That and I played violin and organized Risk (or it’s much better cousin Castle Risk) parties. There’s a great picture of me moving armies out on my balcony, wearing a ripped white T-shirt, heavy-framed glasses, an ankh around my neck, and incense burning. It would have been very hard to cast me in Friday Night Lights.
6) How did you get into writing novels for teens?
David Levithan. He read my first two books, which were for adults, and invited me to lunch. Our friendship came first, but then after a while he said he had a great idea for a book and wondered if I would be up for writing it. That’s how The School for Dangerous Girls was born.
7) Readers are always curious about how authors create their works. Walk us through a typical day of writing for you.
I try to write every day, but it’s more like five out of seven. Not because I’m dragging myself to the computer, but because it really feels good. I’m much better at writing in the morning, before the day’s events have cluttered my head. Like right now—it’s 6:30 am, and it’s just me and the blue jay at the bird feeder, doing this Q&A. I write for three hours or so a day, and then that’s it. Tea is always involved. I write on a PC, which is a bit of a scandal to the other writers I know, who are mostly Apple fiends. But I still sort of wish everything still ran on MS-DOS. See, there’s another geek credential.
8 ) Do you use outlines and character sketches, or do you just write and see where the words take you? Is this how you’ve always worked, or, have you developed your craft with workshops, writing books, etc.?
I’ve been a slow convert to outlines. I used to think that planning ahead would prevent the muses from leading me in exciting directions, but the truth of it is that it’s really hard to steer a story in progress. Things fall to shambles quickly. So now I write a long outline first. And it’s not like there’s no magic to writing the outline part. It’s just a much more agile way to construct story and plot.
9) I noticed that you travel a lot for research. Where is the best place you’ve been? Do you find that the locations end up appearing in your books in unexpected ways? If yes, how so?
I generally take the summers off, pack a big backpack, and wander. I think my favorite location was Fiji, though I was in Congo in June staying at an ape sanctuary and that was amazing. I write while I travel, but never about the place I’m currently in. Because of lag time I write about the places I visit a year later. I guess it’s good, because it means only the most important details remain in my head. Also, I write my travels off on my taxes, so I have to make sure I mention every place I go in a book. I always imagine a conversation with an IRS auditor: “Yes, I had to go to Barcelona. Don’t you remember that one character referencing Almodovar movies on page 182?”
10) What new and interesting things are you planning on tackling next?
Next up is a book about a Congolese girl who, during a time of political instability, escapes an attack and hides away, winding up living in a society of bonobo apes. Should be coming out in fall 2012. Much more on that soon!
Bonus question: why the pen name?
E. for Eliot. Archer because, in role-playing games, if an archer profession is offered, it’s always the one I choose. And I find the idea of a nimble, leather-clad archer putting down his bow and picking up his netbook to write a fantasy novel very amusing.
Thanks for having me! Enjoy your day, everyone.
Learn more about Eliot’s books and what he’s up to at eliotschrefer.com!