BLUE MAGIC by A.M. Dellamonica hits the shelves today! It’s the sequel to the award-winning INDIGO SPRINGS—which (as I mentioned when I reviewed it) contained a character whom I hated so much she made my teeth ache. In today’s episode of “Three Questions Make An Interview” I ask Alyx about the tooth-achingly hateable Sahara, ambition, balance … and so much more. Read on, won’t you?
1) First, let’s talk about that dread term (especially when applied to women writers): Ambition. The Publisher’s Weekly review for BLUE MAGIC calls this volume out as being “more ambitious” than INDIGO SPRINGS. How exactly did you take that comment?
PW has it right: BLUE MAGIC is a more ambitious novel than INDIGO SPRINGS. It can’t be anything else. The first novel is about containment in a lot of ways: Astrid, Jacks and Sahara are trying to keep the magic contained, and they’re trying to keep the secret from getting out too. That makes for an intimate book with comparatively few characters.
But they fail, and once the magic’s contaminated half of Oregon and there are magically-tainted bees on CNN, the whole world’s involved.
There are four POV characters in BLUE MAGIC instead of two, and four storylines. In addition to having things happening with Astrid and Will at the site of the magical spill, the story follows Ev Lethewood, who’s gone with Patience to help find Jacks in the magical realm, the unreal, where the magic’s been hidden for centuries. There’s a new character, Juanita, who’s got a front-row seat at Sahara’s televised treason trial.
It’s all a lot more busy and complicated, because in INDIGO SPRINGS Astrid and the others create a huge problem, and BLUE MAGIC tells of the attempted clean-up… and it’s just plain easier to make a mess (or write one) than it is to restore the world to balance.
Did I consciously set out to write an ambitious novel? Not so much. I told the rest of the Indigo Springs story as honestly as I could. But I do like that word, ambitious. I appreciate PW saying ‘Hey, Alyx you tried something really hard.’ ‘Cause wow, it so was. It’s probably trite, but I’d rather attempt something friggin’ difficult and risk failing than just do some easy thing. Though I can’t honestly imagine how one goes about writing an easy or simple book. The minute I put my name on a page I seem to end up wrestling with 7,500 words.
2) In INDIGO SPRINGS, I absolutely despised the character of Sahara. She rubbed me wrong way from her first appearance, and by the end I wanted to stab her in the eyes with a fork. But as her creator, you must harbor a soft spot for her—so, what’s the secret side of Sahara that you love, the side that I don’t see?
Charming, funny, effortlessly witty people are compelling, and Astrid’s fascination with Sahara is bound up with how charismatic she is; she has that ability to light up a room, to command the attention of a group just by opening her mouth. Having someone with that glow focused on you can be heady; you just bask. Everyone’s got flaws, but it’s easy for a charmer to seduce you into overlook them.
Sahara has that charm, of course, but she also has a yawning emptiness behind her mask, an unwillingness to connect with people as equals. She’s narcissistic and afraid to make herself vulnerable. Anyone who gets close enough to hurt her pretty much faces exile the minute she notices the chink in her armor.
She wants fans, not friends. For that, I feel nothing but sadness.
I’d love to be able to say “Come on, Sahara’s an adorable but misguided scamp and I’m terribly fond of her!” The truth is I have loved people much like her… though I made her an extreme example, of course, and gave her a magical messiah complex. The initial inspiration for Sahara came directly from something a loved one of mine said about their inability to forgive anything, ever. It was a comment that stuck in my writerbrain even as the rest of me, the part of me that was so emotionally attached, automatically thought, “Well, you say that about yourself but you’d never really treat people that way.”
(I realize, in retrospect, I’d accumulated a fair number of “You don’t really mean that,” thoughts by that time.)
Anyway, many other things went into Sahara’s character, but those two elements—charm overlaying emptiness—were the core. Her best quality is that she’s smart, I suppose, but she doesn’t use her sharpness of mind for anything worthwhile.
Not long after INDIGO SPRINGS sold to TOR, it turned out that the person who’d inspired her was almost as hollow as I’d painted Sahara, and that real world relationship fell apart. We both got hurt, badly, and so did a fair number of other people. When I think of Sahara I think of the affection I still feel for that person, and that’s the sense in which I do love her. But I don’t like or admire her. I made her bad, I don’t think she’s got any great virtue you’ve missed, and I think that inability to negotiate or forgive means she’s irretrievably broken.
So … too much info?
3) I think you’re brilliant at creating small, meaningful, revealing moments between characters. But I think you also like to go BIG, tackling sweeping global themes on a huge canvas. It seems to me like it could be really hard to balance the two. Is it?
I write a lot about what amounts to war, and war is just … it’s big, you know? It’s humanity moving immense amounts of resources across vast stretches of terrain just so they can hurl them at each other in as lethal a fashion as possible. It’s a weird, baffling, crazy phenomenon and if it were bloodless you could call it an impressive achievement, on a scale with the building of the Pyramids or the Space Race. Since it’s too awful to be impressive, I’ll just say it fascinates me.
But stories are about people, right? I’m not really interested in troop movements or the strategic value of new tanks or the nuts and bolts of how you take a mountain away from the other guys. I like to write about how people deal with their daily lives, how they shut out the rumble of all these deadly resources in motion. How does Astrid Lethewood cope with falling in love while the USAF is fire-bombing what’s left of her hometown? How does Juanita Corazon protect her family when witches and witch-burners start to blackmail her? What’s it like for Ev to have magically undergone gender transition, which he desperately wanted, but without any kind of preparation or support?
Where it’s tricky—and it is—to balance the sweeping conflicts with the intimate is in the area of perception. I think we all see those pieces of the puzzle that are our life and our problems. As a storyteller, I’m showing those small-scale—I want to say domestic—effects but I need point of view characters who can back far enough to make the actual big conflict makes sense. It’s as though I was writing a story about the people in a little French village during the German occupation… but I was doing so in a world where I’d invented World War II from whole cloth and had to fill in all the backstory, politics, and some of the major battles. Does that make sense?
Looking at the things I’m writing now—my squid stories, for example, and “Among the Silvering Herd,” I’m choosing to believe I’m getting better at it.
A.M. Dellamonica is a Vancouver writer whose first novel, the apocalyptic fantasy INDIGO SPRINGS, was released in 2009 to rave reviews. Filled with sexual tension, unrequited love, messy ethical dilemmas and an ecologically unbalanced form of magic, the book tells the story of three friends who inadvertently cause the mystical equivalent of a nuclear meltdown in a small town in Oregon.
In her spare time, she volunteers for the Out in Harmony Community Choir, gardens, and is an avid digital photographer. Her 1989 marriage to Chatelaine wine columnist Kelly Robson became legal in 2003.