Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Author Interview: Misty Massey

Misty Massey is no bandwagon pirate fanatic who got turned onto the trend on account of the Disney Pirates of the Caribbean movies or by watching too many Captain Morgan rum commercials. Nope, she’s been fascinated by pirates since she was a kid, and her first novel, Mad Kestrel, carries on the rich literary heritage of great pirate adventures. Misty and I became acquainted several years back on an online forum where she was hosting a Q&A session. She happened to mention that the Tim Powers novel On Stranger Tides was a big influence for her, and I quickly bragged that I work with Powers at the Orange County High School of the Arts, and was myself a big fan of his work. She was duly impressed, and when my book The Roads to Baldairn Motte (co-written with Craig Comer and Ahimsa Kerp) came out, I more or less begged her to give it a read and write a cover blurb. She obliged, and once again her generosity has come through by granting her time to come chat here on my blog.

What follows is the inside scoop on a potential sequel to Mad Kestrel, who it is that makes her gush like a school girl, and some secret skills she’s been honing that’ll keep randy buccaneers at bay on the dance floor. Yarr!

Garrett: First off, how is the sequel to Mad Kestrel coming along?

Misty: (laughs) That's the question of the hour, isn't it? You wouldn't believe how many people ask me that every day (which is lovely, and I'm not complaining at all.) It’s coming along. I'm in rewrites, and frankly I've discovered a few things that I somehow missed in the first draft, making it a deeper and hopefully more satisfying story. I had hoped to be finished mid-July, but now it looks like I've got another week or so of work. The end is in sight!

Garrett: That's great. I'm sure a lot of people will be very stoked to hear you're so close.

Misty: That's why I'm not complaining. It's really ego-boosting to know that there are people who want to read what I write. As a writer yourself, you know how good that feels.

Garrett: Indeed. So now that we’ve gotten that obligatory question out of the way, what sparked your interest in pirates?

Misty: Oh gee, I've been a pirate girl for nearly my whole life. When I was 6 or 7, my family visited the Outer Banks on vacation, and the best part of the whole trip was getting to climb on sun-bleached shipwrecks and pretending to be a pirate. Later, after we moved to the Lowcountry of South Carolina, I learned more about the real pirates who prowled the Atlantic. I was fascinated by the romance of a life at sea. I know that pirates were criminals who'd have been happy to dip my toes in boiling tar to make me tell where the gold was hidden, but they represent the kind of freedom that we just don't have available anymore. That makes them fun.

Garrett: Yeah, it's pretty hard arguing against being a pirate. Who are your biggest influences as a writer?

Misty: I've been writing since I was a kid, but for many years, it never once occurred to me that I might be published. Back then, authors were these semi-divine beings who lived on mountaintops and could not be seen by mere humans. After college, I worked for a while in an independent bookstore, where I found a book called The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers. I took it home, devoured it, and decided then and there that I wanted to do what he'd done. He'd managed to create something amazing and I wanted to do that myself. But how to go about it? I started writing short stories, and even managed to sell a few to magazines that paid in copies. Eventually, I met Faith Hunter, who was part of a local writing group. She was writing mysteries at the time, while I was writing fantasy, but her insights and advice were exactly what I needed to push me along. After critiquing a number of short stories in the context of the group, she started insisting that I try writing a novel. I didn't think I could do it, but here we are! I've often said that there would have been no novel from me if Faith hadn't strong-armed me into trying it.

Garrett: Thank goodness for Faith, then. And huzzah for Tim Powers! Anubis Gates is one of my favorite books, too. We'll have to get you out to California so you can meet Powers one of these days. I actually get to work with him at the Orange County High School of the Arts. Amazing guy.

Misty: I would LOVE to shake his hand one day. Unfortunately, I have a feeling that when I come face to face with him, I'll be so starstruck I'll babble something incomprehensible and run away. Or cry. (laughs) Some girls lose their minds over rock stars; for me, it's writers.

Garrett: Same for me. I went to Comic Con this year and while my girlfriend was starstruck seeing different movie and TV celebrities, I piddled myself when I happened to walk by George R.R. Martin.

Misty: (laughs out loud)

Garrett: All right, back to Mad Kestrel. You did a great job of addressing gender roles in the novel through the natural progression and context of the story without being heavy handed. As a woman author, how do you approach gender roles and the issue of sexism in your writing?

Misty: Gender roles...that's really a tough one. Once upon a time, society dictated such concrete standards that one could hardly think about stepping outside them. These days, the world's open to anyone. Or mostly. Luckily, there were a few female pirates among the 18th century pirates that I used for inspiration, so I'm not entirely out of my depth by writing one. Then again, those female pirates weren't supposed to be pirating at all, and I tried to keep that in mind when I was working on Mad Kestrel. Brave and vicious and strong they were, but they weren't entirely accepted.

I've had the occasional review that complained about male characters seeing Kestrel as a sexual object, but those instances were important to show how very unusual it was for her to hold such a position aboard a ship. A 21st century man knows better than to behave that way to a woman doing her job, but the 18th century men saw women like that as unworthy of respect. So, I think I'm trying to make sure that I accurately portray the cultural behaviors of my world, even though as a modern woman I might not like it much. And I also do my best to make my protagonist fight those strictures so she can ultimately live the free life she craves.


Garrett: I happen to know some 21st century men who still think it's the 18th century when it comes to women.

Misty: Yeah, I live in the South, where some people still think it's 1875.

Garrett: Well, I for one think you did a great job—both with your response to the question and in portraying Kestrel in a realistic, thoughtful way.

Misty: Thanks!

Garrett: Okay, let's lighten it up a little. You're a contributing member of MagicalWords.net. What is Magical Words all about and how did you get involved?

Misty: Magical Words is about helping would-be authors by giving them tips, advice and suggestions about the publishing world. I'm honored to be a member of the team—we've been at it for three years now, and I hope we keep going many more years.

It all began when I went over to Faith Hunter's house for tea one afternoon. She and David B. Coe had been tossing around an idea for joining together to make a bigger mark on the internet than a single person's blog could accomplish. We talked and plotted and planned all afternoon, then I came home to tell my husband. He happened to be an amateur webmaster at the time, and offered to set up our site. We invited C.E. Murphy to join us, and soon we were posting new content four days a week. C.E. Murphy had to drop out after the second year, due to having a baby, so we added Stuart Jaffe, A.J. Hartley and Edmund Schubert to the lineup.

Garrett: That sounds very cool. And you guys even have a book out in print now, is that correct?

Misty: Yes, last January we released a book of the best posts from the first two years, called How To Write Magical Words. We're talking about a fiction anthology, but that's up in the air right now, until we can get an interested publisher.

Garrett: Very cool. I'm working on a couple of different anthologies myself. Lots of work, but it's great to get to work with other writers. Sometimes you feel sort of isolated as a writer and it's nice to collaborate, I think.

Misty: You're absolutely right. That's one reason I like going to cons so much. Just the chance to talk shop with people who know how this crazy business feels!

Garrett: Agreed. All right, ready for the speed round?

Misty: (cracks her knuckles) Ready!

Garrett:  Are you any good at singing pirate shanties?

Misty: Yes, I am! I can do at least ten verses of "A Drop of Nelson's Blood" all on my own. And while I don't remember all the words, I can power through the chorus of "Barrett's Privateers" with the best of them.

Garrett: Nice! Favorite rum?

Misty: Cruzan Blackstrap (although Kraken has the best bottle design).

Garrett: Good choice. I haven't tried Kraken yet, though I've held the bottle longingly many at time at the store. If you ever find yourself in Fiji, I highly recommend Bounty overproof room. My good friend and collaborator Ahimsa Kerp turned me onto it. Unfortunately, you can't find it here in the states.

Misty: I'd love to find myself in Fiji someday!

Garrett: Scariest sea creature? The Kraken?

Misty: Jellyfish. They're really hard to see in the water and they hurt if they touch you! At least the Kraken I can see coming...

Garrett: Good call. How are your saber skills?

Misty: Alas, they've been better. I took one semester of fencing in college and loved it, but I haven't had much swordfighting experience since then. Unless you count DANCING with a sword, in which case my skills are excellent!

Garrett: Nice, that’ll keep any unwanted scoundrels from strong arming you into a dance. Any other hobbies or interests your fans might not know about.

Misty: My fans probably already know that I'm a belly dancer. I've been studying various forms of Middle Eastern dance for nearly nine years now, and there's always something new to learn. Lately I've been teaching myself how to use fan veils (dance fans with silk veils about 3 feet long) and hoops. I drop the hoops often, but I'm getting better.

Garrett: Sounds exotic. I'll have to see if I can talk my girlfriend into finding a fan veil class somewhere nearby.

Misty: Fan veils are beautiful—she'll love them! I should also warn you, they're addictive. I have four pair already.

Garrett: Warning taken under consideration. So, that's all the questions I have for you. Apart from the new Kestrel novel, anything else you want fans to know about?

Misty: Well, once the rewrite is done, I'll be returning to the project I started last spring, a weird western fantasy with gunslingers, faeries, lost loves and electricity in all the most dangerous places, so keep a weather eye open for that.

Garrett: Definitely will. That sounds awesome. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk. It's been a great honor.

Misty: I've enjoyed this! Thank you for inviting me!

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