In addition, I will be giving away a copy of AND FALLING, FLY to one lucky commenter. Please see the end of the interview for details.
Enjoy and Good Luck!
AND FALLING, FLY by Skyler White
In a dark and seedy underground of burned-out rock stars and angels-turned- vampires, a revolutionary neuroscientist and a fallen angel must put medicine against mythology in an attempt to erase their tortured pasts...but at what price?
Olivia, vampire and fallen angel of desire, is hopeless...and damned. Since the fall from Eden, she has hungered for love, but fed only on desire. Dominic O'Shaughnessy is a neuroscientist plagued by impossible visions. When his research and her despair collide at L'Otel Mathillide-a subterranean hell of beauty, demons, and dreams-rationalist and angel unite in a clash of desire and damnation that threatens to destroy them both.
In this fractures Hotel of the Damned, Olivia and Dominic discover the only force consistent in their opposing realities is the deep, erotic gravity between them. Bound to each other finally in a knot of interwoven freedoms, Dominic and Olivia-the vision-touched scientist and the earth-bound angel, reborn and undead-encounter the mystery of love and find it is both fall...and flight.
First, let's take a moment to analyze the beautiful cover you scored for AND FALLING, FLY. What's your favorite aspect of the cover? Do you think that Olivia, your heroine, was represented well? How important is a cover to you as a writer?
The cover was terribly important to me, especially since this is my first book, and I was very, very worried about it. ‘and Falling, Fly’ isn’t an easy book to represent visually, and I desperately wanted a conceptual cover, something more ‘album art’ than ‘alpha male’.
But it’s tricky. I didn’t know what to ask for. Olivia’s a bit of a shape shifter, so I didn’t really want to see her face, since it changes. I didn’t want to see her back, because it’s covered with scars. I put together this ridiculous, massive PowerPoint presentation, full of ideas and inspirational art, and sent it to my editor. I have no idea whether she used it or not, but she brought back this cover, which I love, so it doesn’t really matter.
And yes, I think it captures the spirit of Olivia very nicely. I love the way her hair shadows her face, allowing for a little ambiguity there, but my favorite aspect is the stone wings. I’m just totally in love with them as a metaphor, and it was exactly the sort of non-literal touch I was hoping for, but didn’t have the artist’s skill conceptualize. Although her gorgeous, leaf-rimmed, blood-red, branch-or-vein corset is pretty damn awesome too.
The written narrative of AND FALLING, FLY isn't common, at least not from my own personal reading experience. Why is Olivia written in first person while Dominic is written in third? What was the reason? Which narrative did you enjoy writing the most? Was it difficult to switch between the two?
The book is written in two separate narrative voices because it’s about perspective. Olivia’s perspective, her world-view, is diametrically opposite Dominic’s, as his is of hers. From his perspective, she doesn’t exist. He has to become willing to doubt, to cope with mystery and ambiguity to see her. Because the book was about how differently different people can see the world, it was important to give both poles their own voice. Because Olivia’s stance on life is immediate and self-centered, she’s first-person present. Because Dominic is all about objective distance, he’s third-person past.
I enjoyed writing both. They each feel like a groove you get into. I would always re-read my last Olivia section before I wrote the next to find her voice again. I did a read-through, as one of the my final edits, of all her sections in a row, followed by all of his, to check each as a unified narrative and voice. I didn’t really find switching between them too difficult, but I never tried writing them both in the same day.
During the first chapter, my initial impression of Olivia was that she had a self-deprecating humor when in fact, as the story progressed, she evolved upon the pages into an increasingly dark and disturbing character. I also detected an overwhelming hopelessness about Olivia that simultaneously made me sympathetic to her plight but also wary of where her hopelessness was leading. My thought - which may be totally wrong - is that you're attempting to convey modern human nature via this vampire character. What did you ultimately hope to represent to the reader with Olivia? Is she the result of a society drunk on lust and sex with the absence of love and forgiveness? Is she a warning or am I giving too muck life to a concept that is really just a character?
Wow! That’s an incredibly complex and interesting question! I think I’m trying to depict, not so much “modern human nature”, as a facet of it. I wanted to look at what might happen if a woman’s appearance becomes more important than her physical sensation.
Humans are, by nature, visually driven. The amount of real-estate in the brain given to sight totally eclipses any of our other senses, but I think contemporary Western culture might be pushing attention to the visual beyond the boundaries of health. When plastic surgery to make our lips or breasts appear aroused – swollen – actually impedes our ability to feel aroused, there’s something really interesting going on.
I wanted to push the boundary of what might happen if the body is made for being seen only, not for being experienced, if how we look is more important than how we feel. It’s almost the ultimate selflessness, really. To put another person’s experience of you above your own experience of being you. Olivia is so out-of-touch with what she wants for herself that the only real desire she has is to get back to her pre-fall, disembodied state. I don’t think of her as a warning though, so much as an experiment.
I've read that for some actors, the extremely personal process of embodying a particularly intense or dark role can at times have an overflow affect onto their life outside of the movie set. During the writing of AND FALLING, FLY, did Olivia's character ever permeate into your everyday life? If so, what was her affect?
That’s another interesting question. I don’t think it affected me negatively. If I can do it without making you afraid of me, I’d say it’s the other way around, almost. Olivia is a part of me, rather than me becoming a part of her. She’s a dark part of me, but I feel like writing her drags her into the light, blunts her sharp teeth.
By recognizing those hopeless, grim instincts in myself, by giving them names and, ultimately, happy resolutions, I think (I hope) I take some of their power away for all of us—or at least for me and readers who recognize the same demons in themselves.
Writing Olivia healed part of the ‘Olivia’ place in me. She says, at the end of the first scene, “Desire denied, consumes.” And I did, in the process of writing her, get a chance to dig into that “eating what we can get when we can’t taste what we actually want” tendency. Wanting things you can’t have, or can’t control access to, is a scary space. It’s hard to simply be with the wanting, not to blunt or sate it with other things. I have to keep reminding myself of that, but I’m much healthier (and thinner!) when I can simply look it in the eye and try to make myself comfortable with the pure, original emotion.
I'm especially impressed with the gruesome twist you've placed on the traditional vampire myth. Cast from Eden, Olivia is a fallen angel, doomed to taste only the fear of her victims - never their pleasure. With the unhinging of their jaws and the lengthening of their sharp quilled teeth, Olivia and her sisters convey a frightening picture to the reader. Obviously you've created a vampire that is different and original in today's glutted vampire market, but how difficult was that accomplishment? Why make Olivia and her sisters vampires at all?
They’re vampires because it seemed to me a fitting metaphor for what I wanted to play with. If you don’t have direct access to something, one option is to get it vicariously, through others. That’s what vampires are, right? And often we paint that kind of second-hand living as sacrifice – the mother who lives through her child, for example – but there’s really something vaguely parasitic about that kind of all-consuming love. And with vampires, it can literally consume.
Same thing with attraction. If we condition girls to be attractive, to be desirable, they grow up wanting to be wanted. That’s desire at one remove. Vampiric desire. And that tendency in myself, to be absorbed by wanting to be wanted rather than simply to want, was what I wanted to get a grip on with Olivia and her sisters.
Also, I was particularly jarred by the inherent evil of Olivia's sisters. It was actually very hard to imagine them as once being angels. That is as angels that are generally accepted by today's society - beings of supreme purity and goodness. What ultimately drove you to apply a fallen angel twist to the vampire? Is this evil something that Olivia's sisters were already capable of? And to begin with, why this vampiric punishment at all? What crime did they ultimately commit to deserve such an existence?
You certainly don’t ask the quick and easy questions, do you? Wouldn’t you rather know my favorite ice cream? ;-) Actually, I’m having a lot of fun with this. I like hard questions. It’s part of the idea behind the book, actually, that there is some deep, rich pleasure to be gained by interacting with things that challenge us, by trying to spread our minds, (and, the snake would say, our legs) as widely as we can to hold as much of what is paradoxical as possible.
I didn’t actually put a fallen angel twist on the vampire. I put a vampire twist on the fallen angel. Olivia and her sisters were angels first. I started with desire. Desire, in its pure, uncorrupted, angelic state. The ideal of desire. Its personification, its angel. Olivia and her sisters were initially the angels of desire.
And it wasn’t their crime – they’re actually blameless – it was their parents’ crime that got them chucked out of Heaven. Their parents tried to seduce God. Tried to introduce desire into perfection. Tried to make Everything want something. And because of that, wanting is taken out of the abstract and made specific.
The ideals fall. And earth-bound idealism is a clumsy, wing-scarred thing. Sometimes a blind and even ruthless thing. I truly believe it’s in the negotiation between our ideals and what we see as reality that most evil originates.
Most evil, certainly most of the sisters’ evil, is simple selfishness. They can’t see how their actions affect others. Nor do they care. And they don’t care – not because they’re evil (although it makes them evil) – but because they’re blinded by their fallen idealism. They are so wrapped up in their own disappointments that they can’t see beyond it into the experiences of others. To be moral, you have to treat people as you’d be treated, right? That’s the Golden Rule, shared by almost every articulated faith on the planet. It’s the common basis of morality.
But to love, you have to go a step beyond. Love requires you to know not how you would have others do unto you, but how they would have others do unto them. It’s a leap, not of compassion, which morality requires, but of imagination. To love someone you have to be able to understand their desires, to see through their eyes, look from their perspective. And put your energy behind helping them achieve what they want. And to be loved, you have to first be seen and equally understood.
Dominic O'Shaughnessy, out of all the characters of AND FALLING, FLY, he was the easiest to identify and relate too. Simply put, he felt incredibly human with his stubborn denials and his scientific logic. In addition and more importantly, I recognized Dominic's need for a cure-all pill, thereby reflecting the world's obsession with medicating everything. Is this reality of today's society something you purposefully incorporated into Dominic's character? What did you hope to ultimately represent with his character?
Oh, yay! Yes! That “fix it” response to suffering is definitely one of the things I wanted to look at. To really feel what you want, especially when you want things like love or acceptance that are transactional things, that have to be given by another … like Dominic’s (or Judas’s) kiss … when you want things you can’t steal or fashion for yourself, it’s painful.
Wanting implies a lack. And it hurts. And we’re very, very quick these days, it seems to me, to respond to pain by taking the shortest path to its departure. Now, I’m not against medication. I’m grateful for it, but I’m learning that some pain I need to listen to before I try to silence it. Pain is a messenger. It’s frequently a messenger that won’t shut up long after the message has been delivered and received, at which point shoot the guy with an aspirin, by all means.
But I know I, at least, sometimes forget to hear him out at all. I forget to respond to pain with “why” before “what will it take to make this stop?” And sometimes I spend so much time looking for the “quick fix” that it really isn’t quick anymore. But that’s who Dominic is. He has a lot of trouble seeing the meanings of things. He’s very good at proof and evidence, but not so much at interpretation.
Without giving away spoilers, I have to mention how much I loved the resolution of AND FALLING, FLY. For two people trying their damnedest to become that which they most desired above all else, Olivia and Dominic each had to accept themselves, inadequacies and all, to have each other. Reappearing on the other side of their struggles, they each were stronger for having embraced that which they despised most - themselves. Is that the lesson to be learned with AND FALLING, FLY? Is it love that sets us free or is it acceptance? Did you plan for a moral to the story or is aF,F intentionally written to be open for interpretation?
I’m so glad you liked it! And yes, I deliberately left the ending open for interpretation. Which would really irritate Dominic. But I’m very, very leery of stories with morals, and I certainly don’t feel like I have enough answers to be in a position to pen one.
What I have (what I have in spades!) is questions. I feel if, as a novelist, I can pose an interesting question, or if I can give you an analogy for grappling with a question of your own, then I’ve earned my keep. Novels ask a lot of a reader. It’s a bigger time commitment than a movie or a magazine, and requires much more mental investment, too. If I’m going to take your time and your mind away from other things, I feel a responsibility to engage you, to offer you a challenge and a puzzle and something to play with that will hopefully outlast the time you spend with the book in your hand.
Not all pleasures have to come from this sort of wrestling, but I think there’s a special pleasure in engaging with a difficult idea, or narrative, or question, that no easy pleasure can touch.
Your website gives some tantalizing information on your next novel in the Harrowing Series, IN DREAMS BEGIN. What can we expect with this next installment? Will Olivia and Dominic be making any appearances?
I can say with certainty that Dominic does *not* show up in ‘Dreams’, but I’m not saying anything about Olivia. ;-P
‘In Dreams Begin’ inhabits the same story-world as ‘and Falling, Fly’ and there are some important overlaps, but it’s a time-travel story about a modern graphic artist living in Portland, Oregon who wakes up on her wedding night channeled into the body of Maud Gonne, the famous Victorian beauty, Irish revolutionary, and amateur occultist who may have been part faerie.
In Maud’s body, Laura, our modern, professional woman, while still coming to grips with Victorian rules and dresses, meets WB Yeats, the Irish poet. He’s wildly romantic, embarrassingly passionate, ridiculously flamboyant, and she, of course, falls in love with him, only to wake up back in Portland. The story tracks Laura and her new husband over two weeks, and Laura, Yeats and Maud Gonne over almost thirty years, all completely obedient to actual history, but allows me to have a lot of fun with questions of body, fidelity, passion, morality, and about five different flavors of possession. It took a lot of research, but real history was amazingly cooperative and bizarre!
Skyler White is author of dark fantasy novels ‘and Falling, Fly’ (Berkley, March 2010) and ‘In Dreams Begin’ (Berkley, December 2010).She lives in Austin, TX.
Big hugs and thanks to Sklyer White for turning my sadly inadequate questions into an amazing interview with her wonderful answers. Thank you!
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***Contest Closes Thursday, March 25th at Midnight U.S. Pacific Standard Time and a Winner will be Chosen Randomly and Announced Friday, March 26th**