SPFBO Author Interview: Deborah Makarios

And we return to SPFBO’s interviews! I bring a new author into the Scar’s den with Deborah Makarios, bringing her debut novel The Wound of Words to 2020’s mad edition. Hope you enjoy!

STARTING OFF WITH A BANG

Introduce yourself! An easy question to start off with. Who are you, what do you write?

Hullo! I’m Deborah Makarios, and I live in Lower Hutt, New Zealand with my fairly eccentric husband and two daft cats. I studied scriptwriting at university but in the decade-ish since have mostly focussed on fantasy novels, though I have a number of unfinished dabbles in other genres such as mystery.

SPFBO DISCUSSION

Is this your first time in SPFBO?

Yes! Where have I been all this time, under a rock?

What book did you enter into this year’s event?

The Wound of Words—my second novel. Standalone, same as the first.

Does one of the main characters hold a special place in your heart? If so, why?

I must admit to a fondness for Porfiry. He’s a witty and amusing companion but I can’t help feeling I’d probably end up trying to murder him if we had to flat together.

What was the inspiration for the story? What are your future project(s)?

Like my first novel, Restoration Day, the kernel of The Wound of Words was a scene or two in a dream. I scribbled it down on waking and tried to get back to what I was supposed to be working on, but the idea was just too alluring, so in the end I gave up on what I was supposed to be doing and focussed on The Wound of Words instead.

I have a couple of other fantasy novels lurking nearby, with a couple of comedy-mysteries (one novel, one play) and a couple of more literary novels and an adventure movie script—oh, and probably half a dozen other things—all waiting around for me to magically become enormously productive. Perhaps my TBW list would be shorter if my TBR list was longer and had less turnover.

What are the key themes and/or messages in the book?

The biggest theme in The Wound of Words is—surprise surprise, given the title—the importance of being careful with words, not using them manipulatively or as weapons. As the proverb goes, “Life and death are in the power of the tongue.”

What were the key challenges you faced when writing this book?

The usual challenges: I invariably get to a point where I feel utterly stuck and think I should give up being a writer and just, I don’t know, get a job out in the garden eating worms or something. And then there are the occasional sickening moments when you find yourself dropping through a plot-hole you could pilot a blue whale through. (Happily this has always happened pre-publication.)

What is the future for the characters? Will there be a sequel?

Who knows? I doubt I’ll write it (see above TBW list) but if anyone else fancies having a go, feel free. The Wound of Words is under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license. Help yourself.

MORE RAMBLES ABOUT WRITING

What is your favorite book you’ve written?

Out of the whole two? Hard to say. I like different things about them. I like Restoration Day‘s texture—the layers of geography, astronomy, poetry, myth, and song—and I like The Wound of Words for its brisk pace and amusing interactions between the characters.

But it’s always the next book that holds my interest—at present The Ambition of a Potato, which is a compilation of seven years’ best of blog, with a bunch of assassinatory stuff thrown in. And some non-assassinatory stuff, to be scrupulously honest. Out at the end of October.

And the next-next book, which is probably one about a magic-user who doesn’t have a name (not just I haven’t named him yet, he genuinely doesn’t have a name) and the adventures he has after joining a small group of… mercenaries? Sort of like mercenaries except not specializing in killing people. Multi-talented gentlemen for hire. 

Who are your favorite authors?

In no particular order… (deep breath) Agatha Christie, P. G. Wodehouse, J. R. R. Tolkien, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, C. S. Lewis, Ngaio Marsh, Lois McMaster Bujold, Patricia Wentworth, Dorothy Sayers, Ellis Peters, Madeleine L’Engle, Naomi Novik, Diana Wynne Jones, Rumer Godden, Judith Flanders, Carola Dunn, Terry Pratchett, Freeman Wills Crofts…

What makes a good villain?

Competency. What challenge is there from a chaos-ridden villain who can’t pull anything together? I mean, if you want to take over the world (some or all), you’ve got to have at least a bit of organizational ability to back you, even if it’s coming from your enslaved semi-human social secretary.

Do you have any writing blogs you recommend?

Blogs about writing? Not really. Each to their own tastes, I think. Writers are all so different.

Do you have any writer friends you’d like to give a shoutout to?

Friends? (scratches head) I’m going to need a Victorian etiquette manual with a glossary. How about Sara Litchfield, author of The Night Butterflies and absolute nail-on-the-head empress of developmental edits? (Hi, Sara!)

Did you learn anything from writing your latest book? If so, what was it?

It’s always hard. Knowing it’s going to be hard doesn’t mean you can prevent it being hard. Also I discovered more than I ever wanted to know about manipulative/subtle/narcissistic abuse.

Are you a plotter or a pantser? A gardener or an architect?

A plotter! Lemme just get my cloak and dagger. (Ok, cloak and letter-opener.) But I’m a gardener in writing the way I’m a gardener in earth: I have a lot of plans and layouts but sometimes what comes up isn’t quite what I expected. And like gardening in earth, sooner or later you have to stop with the details of planning and get to work with what’s in front of you.

If you had to give up both snacks and drinks during writing sessions, or music, which would you find more difficult to say goodbye to?

Oo, that’s a hard one. Snacks I could easily do without, but writing without my trusty pot of tea at my side? Perish the thought. I do like to have music, but I can do without it, so I guess the tea wins this one. I work best in long chunks of writing time, and dehydration is not conducive to creativity.

Which is your favourite season to write in, and why? 

I’m not too fussy. As long as it’s not enervatingly hot or finger-numbingly cold, I’m good to go.

It’s sometimes difficult to get into understanding the characters we write. How do you go about it? 

Any way I can! I don’t really have the patience for those long lists of “where did X go to school” and so forth—and much of that isn’t really relevant to a lot of fantasy anyway—but I do often have a look at MBTI profiles and see who might fit where. I also write impromptu descriptions of the characters, figuring out what does and doesn’t matter to them, what they would and wouldn’t do under different pressures, what their speech and body language are like.

What is your writing process? Do you have one? What is your workspace like?

On the macro scale: Have idea, expand on idea, write outline, start writing, realize outline insufficiently detailed, rewrite outline, finish draft, rewrite, despair, rewrite some more, send out to beta readers, edit, polish, proofread, publish, publicize. 

On the micro scale, make pot of tea, scribble in project book about today’s work—research notes or a detailed scene outline, say—then open up computer file and go for it. And try not to get distracted. Music can help there, if it doesn’t have words in a language I know. It forms a sort of ceiling for my attention to bounce off, without escaping further. Radio New Zealand Concert is my favourite source of music at the moment.

As for my workspace…well, it’s a big desk, but there’s not much of a surface visible. Fountain pens, books, notebooks, computer equipment, tea cosy, Dishonour Cow, enough random pieces of paper to get a good-sized fire going… I do clear it off periodically, but papers are drawn to flat surfaces in this house like flies to honey. Even one of our cats brings home papers.

Where do you draw inspiration from?

Dreams; nuggets of information in books I am rabidly reading for reasons I am unclear on; wondering what would happen if something was different in a story I’ve come across. 

How many plot ideas are just waiting to be written? Can you tell us about one?

To take an example of “what if that was different”—what if you were some kind of fantasy hero/ine endowed with immortality for your eternal quest and you…just didn’t go? Stayed home? How would that work out, with the whole immortality thing? How long before the neighbours get suspicious? What then?

Do you have any new series planned?

I have never yet written a series, although I have drafted a novel which may yet be the start of a vintage comedy-mystery series. But mostly I go for standalones, because…well, if books are writers’ children, I have the mothering instinct of a cat. Once I’ve licked ’em into shape they’re on their own. Leave home already. 

I did consider writing a sequel to Restoration Day, but frankly the lure of the new idea is always irresistible. Why settle for rearranging the same old furniture when you could move to an exciting new house?

MORE ABOUT YOU 

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Read. Read. Read. And make things with my hands—I knit, crochet, tat, sew, and garden (with varying degrees of proficiency) and am trying to learn tambour embroidery for work-related reasons. 

If you couldn’t be an author, what ideal job would you like to do?

Hermit sounds good. Anyone hiring?

Coffee or Tea? Or (exult deep breath) what other drink do you prefer, if you like neither?

Tea! Absolutely tea. Black tea in the morning, green tea in the afternoon, herbal tea (ok, it’s not really tea, but let’s pretend) in the evening. My favourite tea-adjacent beverage is Dilmah’s rooibos with cinnamon, turmeric, ginger and nutmeg. And then TradeAid hot chocolate before bed.

You can travel to anywhere in the universe. Where would you go, and why?

Assuming no wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff is going on, I’d probably be unambitious and pop across to Papua New Guinea to visit my parents. Haven’t seen them in a few years.

Pick any three fiction characters. These are now your roadtrip crew. Where do you go and what do you do?

Oooh! I’d have to pick Psmith, Miss Marple, and Aslan. We’d do a tour of the world’s most beautiful gardens and have the tearooms all to ourselves, as people tend to flee in terror when you walk in with a lion.

What superpower would you most like?

Do I want a superpower? With great power comes great responsibility, so presumably with superpower comes super-responsibility. Doesn’t appeal much. Perhaps a minor domestic superpower like being able to fall asleep whenever I want to. Or maybe that gene which means you sleep really efficiently. Who couldn’t do with a few more unwearied hours in their day?

What are two of your favorite covers of all time? (Not your own.)

For a person with a visual memory and an overdeveloped sense of aesthetics, covers are something I don’t often remember. I often don’t remember authors or titles, either—it’s the story that sticks in what passes for my mind. I’m too busy zipping past the cover to get to the contents, usually.

The one cover which does come to mind is the cover of The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold—the golden one with the distant city/fortress and the crow perched in the foreground. But that may be in part because it’s one of my favourite fantasy novels of all time and the cover is directly linked in my mind to Excellent Read Commencing In 3, 2, 1…
Just kidding. It never takes me that long to open a book. 

If you could invite one person to dinner, who would it be and what would you cook?

Jesus! Not swearing—actual genuine Jesus. I’d probably start preparing a leg of lamb or something, and then (if Luke 10:38-42 is anything to go by) it would get forgotten and we’d just talk and talk and talk and then realize it was tomorrow already and maybe Jesus would cook breakfast like he did for his buddies on the beach. Probably no bacon, though, Jesus being Jewish and all.

Share something your readers wouldn’t know about you.

I have a Canterbury cross tattooed on my arm. It would have been my wrist but for a) an inconveniently placed cat-scratch scar, and b) the tattooist saying my veins were too close to the surface and he might just go right through. (Side note: nothing feels as writery as bleeding ink.)

It’s a very difficult time right now for the world. When quarantine and pandemic comes to an end, what is the first thing you would like to do?

Well, here in New Zealand—at least, in my part of New Zealand—we are at Alert Level 1, which is pretty much business as usual except with contact tracing plus recommended masks on public transport/other crowded and anonymous situations. (And forget about international travel and books arriving promptly by post from overseas, sob, sob.) So it turns out that what I did once we got out of Level 4 lockdown was pretty much just the same as usual. Eat, sleep, work, go to meetings in person instead of online. Sorry to disappoint you all! To be honest, even Level 4 didn’t create that much of a change in my lifestyle—make of that what you will.

Finally, what is your preferred method to have readers get in touch with or follow you (i.e., website, personal blog, Facebook page, here on Goodreads, etc.) and link(s)?

Probably the website is the easiest—https://deborah.makarios.nz—and from there you can have a look at the blog, or email me through the contact form, or subscribe to blog and/or book announcements, etc. Pop in and say hello! I surface on Goodreads fairly often too. I don’t have a Facebook account, though, which is why you won’t see me on the SPFBO public page. You won’t see me, but I’ll be there, just the same…

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