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Marley & Me (an interview)

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Marley Alford

Marley Alford

Me: Aloha! I’m here with Alan Brooks, first-time author of Indigo: Ink to Blood. This novel tells the story of a girl who wakes up with no memory of her past. Her only clues are a mysterious hand-written note and the intricate tattoos covering her entire body. How are you doing, Alan?

Alan Brooks: I’m good, thank you.

M: For those people unfamiliar with the book, could you give a more in depth summary?

AB: Sure. It’s a book about transformation, becoming, and finding yourself. It’s also about abuses of power. The Chishima, a cult of magical warriors, once had a beautiful power derived from tattooing and Shinto, which has become corrupt over the centuries. The heroine, Indigo, has escaped the Chishima with their main weapon, their transformational ink, tattooed all over her body. Now she must figure out who she is and figure out what it is she’s supposed to be doing with her life, while running away from these trained killers!

M: What a great premise. I have to tell you, I started the book yesterday and I can’t put it down! So how did you come up with the idea for this story?

AB: It was several things coming together. I think the big one was that tattoos have become so popular. A lot of the fascination with tattoos is people want the characteristics of the things they have on their body. So they put strong animals, or things that are really beautiful because they want to take part in that beauty and that strength. And I thought the logical extension of that is that you could actually become your tattoos.

Secondly, I love Japanese culture and Japanese tattoos: they’re very fantastical and highly developed. When I started researching tattoos, I realized that the Japanese have one of the longest and most interesting histories of tattooing. The Japanese dragon tattoo, which is one of the tattoos that is so famous in that culture, comes from firefighters. Since dragons could withstand fire, one of the things that firefighters did to show their strength was to tattoo dragons as a magical symbol on their bodies.

Then I looked into the Ainu culture in the northern islands of Japan, where Indigo comes from. It’s one of the original cultures that developed tattoos. I looked at their beliefs and tattoos, which are both very extensive. and I tied that into Shinto. The Shinto religion doesn’t actually have a huge association with tattoos, but in the world of my book they are tied together.

M: I never knew that about Japan! That’s cool. You know, they say “write what you know”… but your main character, Indigo, is a teenage Japanese girl, and you aren’t any of those things. How do you relate to her?

AB: It’s true! Well, my daughter’s a teenage girl; that helped. And I enjoy writing fantasy, so when I started writing I just wrote about a character that I thought was really interesting. When you’re writing, you have to start with an interesting main character, and if you don’t start with that, you’re not going to get anywhere. So it was more, just, she was the person I started with. You’re right, it’s not what I know, it’s what I’ve tried to be true to.

M: And you do it very well. So do you feel like there are things that you and Indigo both share in common? Things that help you get into her mind?

AB: That’s a very good question! Yeah, I don’t know. (laughs) I don’t think I share anything with her, she’s a real mystery to me! A good hero should get themselves in trouble because they just have to get some answers. They can’t be afraid of pursuing what they need. So maybe I share a little bit of that. Though certainly not in as fierce a way as her!

M: Can you describe your creative process?

AB: I have one rule about writing and that is: Sit down and write one page every day. Which sounds like I’ve set the bar very low. But that’s the point; if you set the bar very low you can’t fail! Anybody can write a page a day. But if I’m really really stuck, I back up. And I never allow myself to back up more than ten pages. I go back and just start rewriting a little bit and it helps with a couple things: it gives you a sense of where you left off, and it gives you a little bit of a rewrite. It’s like running up to a pool instead of standing at the edge. If you stand at the edge of a pool, you can make yourself very frightened about how cold the water’s going to be, and all that. Stand back ten feet and just start running really hard till you get to the edge, and you can’t stop.

M: Does your writing ever go off in it’s own direction? As in, something just came out and you had to resolve it while writing?

AB: Well I do tend to write myself into corners, because I just want things to become more interesting and I don’t have a solution for what will happen as the person gets into trouble… A lot of times I think people talk about writers block and that they’ve run out of ideas. But I think sometimes people run out of ideas because they don’t think their character into enough trouble! Once your character’s in trouble, you’ll find that you can’t even go to sleep at night because you have to figure out how to help them. And you lay in bed thinking “Oh no, what have I done!?”

M: Haha, I like that! What advice would you give to other aspiring authors?

AB: I don’t know, no one’s ever asked me for any advice! (laughs) If you want to write, I think the smart thing is to write. I took a little seminar with Carrey Harrison, and he said the same thing. He said “Playwriting it’s not something you can be taught, it’s just something you can do lots of until you get good at it.”

M: Who are your other inspirations?

AB: Well, I’m really a big fan of Neil Gaiman, and I read American Gods just before I started this book because I wanted to be thinking along the right lines. I haven’t seen a lot of great fantasy recently, except things that were more experimental, like China Mieville. He writes fantastic very weird stories. And Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson is fantastic; it’s an amazing, weird thing that’s more science-y than it is fantasy.

M: Speaking of fantasy/sci-fi, in your story, your characters turn into animals and as animals they have different ways of seeing the world. How did you come up with how the animals felt?

AB: I don’t know, I tried to think like an animal. When Indigo is a snake, in one scene, I really had to research snake vision! My friend, James (Lasdun), has a personal rule to never write anything that will cause him to have to research. And I love that, because it keeps him where he wants to be as a writer. I sort of like that idea, but I also like the idea that I just have to go off and learn something new and write about it. So I did a lot of research on snake vision so that I could be true to that feeling that a snake sees everything from the ground up and has a little more of a night vision than humans.

M: When your characters turn back into humans, they are naked. Was that a fun writing exercise to try to figure out how to overcome that?

AB: You know what it does? It’s natural to me. I wanted to write something about transformation, and the need and the desire to be something different, and that need and desire doesn’t extend to your t-shirt. Unless you want to invent magical clothes, and then you’re writing a Harry Potter book… Originally, when I first wrote the book, I had Indigo being accidentally taken over by her animal powers. And then I decided that wasn’t very good. The animal did something on its own and then she’d wake up and be up in a tree somewhere!

M: Oh, like a werewolf! No memory of what she did.

AB: ––And then she’d just wake up in a tree butt-naked and have to figure out how to get home and I thought it was funny… I wrote a little bit of it that way, but it didn’t go very far, because it just doesn’t give you any insight into the animal. I’d rather have the person still be conscious, even if the animal totally takes them over, I think the human should still be somewhere in the brain, seeing, observing, and learning. Because otherwise, what’s the point of the transformation? Unless you want to be the incredible hulk, who just become this beast that tears things up.

M: Each animal has it’s own weakness and it’s exciting to see how she’s going to overcome that. Like, the snake has to eat, but then it’s all tired, and has to sleep it off.

AB: Well that’s it. With every strength comes a weakness, right? And in fact the nudity thing is a definite weakness.

M: Although the characters have that weakness, they also have extreme power and strength. There is blatant violence in the book, where Indigo is quite good at fighting and she’s killed a bunch of people already by the middle of the book…(we laugh) sometimes without meaning to! Does that bother her?

AB: It makes her worry that perhaps she is not really a force for good (pauses). I don’t like violence, but I feel like I put my character in a space where she has to make something right that’s gone desperately wrong. Violence has been thrust upon her and there’s no avoiding it. I thought could write it in a more coy way, where I’m avoiding that, but it would be false. So, I just put it out there.

M: Right. Now, you self-published Indigo, so what is the best way for people to support you and where can prospective buyers find your book?

AB: Oh, thank you! Let’s see; the book is available in print form on Amazon or from Createspace.com. And then it’s in digital form on Smashwords.com, the iTunes store, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo.com.

M: And do you have a specific reason that you decided to self-publish?

AB: Well I think it’s a smart thing to do today, and there’s a series of articles on Salon Magazine about a writer named Hugh Howey. He’s very articulate, he’s been very very successful with his books (The Wool Series). He was very successful with them, and if you read these articles, you’ll see why it makes so much more sense to publish yourself these days, as long as you have the ability to edit yourself really well and catch your own errors. But it just makes a lot more sense to publish yourself and market yourself and be on the market quickly instead of slowly.

I’m trying to put out some helpful articles for other people that want to go down the path of publishing their own books on my blog (www.butenoughaboutyou.com). I also blog about my writing, and the process of writing. Because I have a good technical background, there’s some technical information there, to help you publish you own book, and anybody who reads and has a question can email me at
chips@panix.com and I’ll explain it even more fully.

That was a great interview, thank you very much, I really appreciate it.

M: Thank you so much!

Written by Alan

May 1st, 2013 at 9:39 pm

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