L. J. Smith (the initials stand for Lisa Jane) is the author of a number best-selling books and series, and her writing has spawned two television series and been translated into over thirty-five languages. She lives in the Bay Area of Northern California, USA, but she gets her best ideas watching deer in the backyard of a small cabin in Inverness or walking on the rocky beaches that surround that area. She enjoys movies and music, and often listens to her favorite songs as she writes. She loves to hear from readers at email@example.com, and to hold book-related contests on her website, www.ljanesmith.net. She reads all her email and Guestbook entries and even answers whenever she can.
1. Your latest project, The Last Lullaby, features strong female characters & a cast of outsiders. Can you tell us a bit about how you came to develop those characters, and whether you’ve felt at all compelled to address some literary stereotypes and offer your female readers strong role models?
The strong female characters were part of the first glimpse I had of the story. It was so blessedly easy to watch them reveal themselves that I can’t really count it as work. My very first concept, croaked into a mini tape recorder because at dawn I had to pin everything down faster than I could write—faster, really, than I could talk—was of these two sets of diametrically opposed characters in a world where all social norms are turned upside-down.
This means that there are strong girls both in the harem and outside in Crispy’s gang. Crispy is the kid with burn scars all over the right side of her face and body, who, like Peter Pan, has no set age beyond “child.” Her older friend Roach is even tougher and more competent than young Crispy, and even Old Useless, the elderly woman from the crazies’ pen, has magical powers of healing and prophecy.
Then there’s Brionwy, the singer of songs, and her friends, Melisande, Lyria, and Junhee—a dancer, an artist, and a martial artist. All of them are strong in different ways. Seventeen-year-old Brionwy, who begins merely as a depressed virgin courtesan with no interest in Catching the Eye of the Lord Overseer, ends up leading the revolution. Melisande the gambler and shadowy, soft-spoken Lyria are never afraid to risk their lives when truth or love is at stake, while delicate Junhee, brought up as a fighter in the Way of the Phoenix, is mentally and physically in top condition.
I guess the literary tradition I trampled was the one where a female is presented as very strong—but still needs an even stronger male to rescue her. In The Last Lullaby none of the girls are rescued by stronger guys. They rescue themselves or each other. All the most deadly villains are females, too. What fun!
2 Lisa, throughout your career, you’ve managed to create some fascinating antiheroes whom we’ve nevertheless come to love, despite theirflaws. Do you enjoy playing with reader expectation and empathy and character binaries, in that regard? Who is your favourite literary antihero?
Thank you for your kind words. I do like anti-heroes because they’re so much fun to write, especially from their POV. And my anti-heroes are, indeed, mostly binary. They may be simply sullen, like Nick in The Secret Circle, or they may seem to have almost infinite power, like Julian in The Forbidden Game or Kierlan in Strange Fate, but when your pierce their hard and crusty outer layer you may be surprised to find a sweet creamy inner layer underneath (which doesn’t mean there won’t be another harder layer below the cream—so be careful not to bite down!).
My first favourite literary anti-hero has got to be Shakespeare’s Richard III, as played by Sir Lawrence Olivier. In Act 1. Scene 1, he just makes my heart melt. And then there’s Christopher Marlowe’s Mephistopheles, who breaks my heart when Faustus asks him what he’s doing out of hell and Mephistopheles replies:
“Why this is hell, nor am I out of it. Think’st thou that I who saw the face of God, 75 And tasted the eternal joys of Heaven, Am not tormented with ten thousand hells, In being depriv’d of everlasting bliss?”
And then I can’t help but mention my favourite modern author, Terry Pratchett, and two things. First is the fact that my beloved Sam Vimes of the Disc World series is often written very much like an anti-hero, and second is that in my absolutely fave book, Night Watch, the young Havelock Veterinari, junior member of the Assassin’s Guild, is an absolute killer sweetheart? For that matter, Pratchett has made a wonderful anti-hero out of the seemingly-impossible-to-sympathize-with character Death. (And don’t forget the Death of Rats, either, with his tiny robe and scythe. SQUEEK!)
3. Your website is incredible, Lisa! It must be challenging for you to keep on top of such an interactive, regularly updated space? How do you divide your time between creating and being such an active participant of the social networking explosion? Can you give us some insight into the evolution of your author/reader interaction since the beginning of your professional writing career?
Um, you’re giving me way too much credit—it really belongs to my genius Administrator. Mr. Usok Choe, of Usok Choe Designs is a sort of mythical guy himself. He’s a black belt (or whatever is highest above that) in Taekwondo, he takes stunning photographs, he’s a terrific website developer/maintainer, and he somehow finds time to be the father to three precocious kids, and husband to Junhee (yeah, I stole her name for the sake of the revolution in Lullaby.) He does all the hard work. Then there are the incredible Forum moderators, who, under Christina Crowley make sure that there are no flame wars or character assassination on the Forum. (One reader—this is the truth—read that rule and asked, “Does that mean we can’t kill any of the characters in fanfic?”)
I’m lousy at social networking. I’m the kind of writer who dives into a book and doesn’t come up for air for months (one reason I’m hoping Strange Fate will be done very soon, now that Lullaby is out of the way). I was asked once just to stand to acknowledge a review at a writing club meeting and I knocked my purse off the chair and onto a fellow writer’s foot.)
I suppose that shouldn’t matter now that the Internet has changed everything, but it does. I’m still super-shy. I do the site for my readers, and that’s the truth. I adore them, and I want to talk to each one personally. But now that Cherie Durant has showed me what I’m missing by introducing me to you and four other totally amazing and incredibly kind authors who’re in the thick of Internet networking, I want to peck my way out of my shell and join in. It’s fun! And I can’t drop my purse on anyone’s foot!
4. Which of your fictional characters Burns Brightest in your mind and why?
Oh, that’s hard to answer. I mean, the first thing that springs to mind is Damon Salvatore of The Vampire Diaries—just because he is more fun than a barrel of monkeys to write. But I have to admit that Julian of the upcoming The Forbidden Game: Rematch, burns with an even brighter blue light than in the original Game trilogy. And then there’s Ash Redfern, from multiple Night World books, who spends Strange Fate attempting to win his soulmate Mary-Lynnette’s approval by rescuing other soulmate couples from the blood and darkness covering the world.
But these are bad boyz, and although terrifically amusing there is something even closer to my heart, and that’s a sister bond. I first did it with real sisters in my debut novel, The Night of the Solstice. Janie and Alys Hodges-Bradley, the fledgling sorceress and the burgeoning hero—complete with sword. And, although it’s undoubtedly frustrating for readers, perhaps other writers will understand that what burns brightest is always what one has just finished writing.
So I’ll have to stake everything on one throw of the say Brionwy and Crispy of The Last Lullaby. They’re such opposites, and yet I find I can see their world in great detail when I look through their eyes. Brionwy is looking at roses and jewels and gowns and eunuchs and tranquilizing wine. Crispy is looking at rubbish yards and hunting beasts and pens full of unwashed humans soon to become dragon-fodder. And yet they find a middle ground to meet upon in Brionwy’s lullabies. So for now I’m going to have to say the unlikely sisters in Lullaby, because they make me stretch and allow me to get my (rotten) poetry in the guise of song lyrics.