Monthly Archives: October 2014

Interview: Laura May

Laura May

Laura May

I was awaken from my blogging slumber by erudite/fun/wandering author Laura May. Her debut novel “Pickles and Ponies” is a fairy-tale for grown-ups chiseled with sweet cynicism on a bedrock of puns.

Piers Anthony himself calls it “a fantasy cousin of Xanth”, and I particularly love this comparison because it correctly implies a common ancestor rather than sheer mimicry.

I have first met Laura on Goodreads when she was kind enough to post a review for The Scriptlings. She won me over in an instant when she called out a Day of the Tentacle (see below) reference in my story. When, a few weeks later, I found out that she was an author herself, I rushed to order and read her book. Yes, such is the kind of bond that DOTT forges amongst fans.

And so we chatted and we chatted, and there were even mentions of a future project together… I can just imagine River Song smiling cunningly as she says “Spoilers…”
But until then, here is what Laura has to say in her defense:


Pickles and Ponies

Pickles and Ponies

Sorin: Why do you write? Just kidding – I know how we all hate this question. So let’s try again – what’s keeping you from writing?

Laura: I love writing, and the only thing getting in the way of me doing more of it is my unfortunate tendency to be far too passionate about far too many things: as well as writing fiction and the blog, I’m semi-religious about travelling (not to mention snowboarding and sailing), I run an international NGO, I’m in the middle of starting up my first business, I bake, I work full-time, I hike every other weekend, I have an amazing social life full of wonderful people, I’m always taking up ridiculous hobbies like learning Russian or belly-dancing, I love to read, and both sleeping and sci-fi/zombie marathons are pretty important to me, too (not necessarily at the same time).  While I’ve started on the next Radugan book, there’s also another novel in a different genre which I do really want to progress.  Sadly, none of my hobbies is cloning myself.  Yet.  So until I learn to be slightly less excited about all of the fun things to try, writing is one fiddle amongst too many hats (or something along those lines)!


Sorin: Day of the Tentacle. Explain.

Laura: LucasArts and Sierra games from the late 80s and 90s are the best!  Day of the Tentacle is one of my favourites, in that it was all animated, you had to use your brain, it was completely ridiculous, and you learned stuff (yay for learning!).  Not being American, DOTT was my childhood introduction to US history.  So, as I understand it, no cherry tree was chopped down, Benjamin Franklin may have had some kind of drug problem, and the conspiracy about the toxic-sludge-mutated-tentacles was all true!  I must say though, while DOTT was fantastic, my absolute favourite game of all time would have to be the Quest for Glory series by Lori and Corey Cole.  I’m pretty sure I owe my habit of terrible punning to them.


Sorin: I thought I’ve read all possible puns in Xanth, but you somehow spray coat your entire story with original puns. How does that work?

Laura: Would you believe me if I told you it wasn’t even intentional?  That’s how I actually talk (my poor friends and colleagues..!).  I had the intention of writing a much more serious fairy-tale, but then I wrote the first sentence about the prince being in a pickle and it was game over: the puns and word-play are just me slipping through, I think.  Then there’s the occasional word I’ve thrown in just to mess with my old students—before coming back to Australia, I spent a year teaching English in St Petersburg.  My students had difficulty differentiating between ‘ribbit’, ‘robot’ and ‘rowboat’, and so there are frogs, robots and rowboats in the book.  Another issue was ‘beach’ and … am I allowed to say the ‘b-word’?  So that makes an appearance as well.  I like to play with words, and apparently also suffer from some kind of condition which makes me laugh at dad jokes— it’s a blessing and a curse.


Sorin: How has travelling made you a better writer?

Laura: Hmm, good question.  It’s definitely changed how I approach life in general, and that could have spilled over into my writing.  I spent ten years travelling, moving around every 3-6 months, and it’s made me a much more extroverted and open person.  ‘Extroverted’ and ‘writing books’ aren’t usually associated concepts, but being open while travelling meant I met a lot more people and had a lot more conversations than I would have otherwise.  Others’ ideas and all of these amazingly different cultures and ways of thinking seeped into me, which in turn made me evaluate my own beliefs and understanding of the world.  I definitely couldn’t have written Pickles and Ponies without Russia, and it’s not just because of the Russian folklore I use in it.  I didn’t realise until I lived there how different the culture was—it was like I’d suddenly arrived on the moon, and nothing made any sense any more!  I remember someone once saying to me, in a thoroughly disparaging tone, that “there’s no point in arguing with you—you’re too logical”.  Are arguments not meant to be based on logic?  To her way of thinking, whoever was more emotional in their response was the winner.  Like I said, nothing made sense to me.

On the one hand I found Russia quite a cruel place in many ways, and on the other there was this abundant and overflowing romanticism everywhere you looked.  Things like dating rituals were likewise really different, and these ideas of romanticism and logic which are so opposed in much of Western culture were all smooshed together in a way I didn’t necessarily agree with, but which did inspire me.  Pickles and Ponies at least is the result of my ruminations on traditional Western and Russian ideas of romance, with a little Colombian fire added in.  To answer your question (finally!), I’m not sure if travelling has made me a better writer, but it’s given me a lot more to write about.


Sorin: Your approach to writing a story seems to me a bit meta, by which I mean that you seem to be equally concerned with writing the story as well as telling a story about the story you are writing. I think this works wonderfully. How do you keep it together?

Laura: There are a few things I can blame this on.  One is studying English Literature at school and then later teaching English: I can’t not think critically about what I’m reading, as in tracking the themes, figuring out what the author was trying to convey, identifying recurrent imagery.  It’s like a secret language which this stranger is using to talk to you, and the most magical thing about it is that every person hears it differently: in each book, everybody finds a different message, perhaps the one most important or meaningful to them.  So I’m a bit ‘meta’ in my reading.  Then there’s writing my blog about living in Russia and my travels before and after that—I didn’t want to simply write an account of “I went to a, b, c today”, I wanted to convey what really gripped me and made me think.  As a result, I’d usually write each post around a theme rather than a sequence of events, and I’d try to weave it all together (this is my favourite: Magical Realism).  Thirdly is my extreme love for the book ‘The Little Prince’ by Antoine Saint-Exupery.  I love it so much that I actually have a quote from it tattooed on me.  TLP is full of these succinct and poignant messages, and it sort of gave me this mental ‘permission’ to write morals and messages into my fairy-tale, even blatantly at times.  As far as ‘keeping it together’, I always had all of the hundreds of kids and teens I’ve taught in the back of my mind, and so most of the time I thought about what I’d want to convey to them.


Sorin: If you were born in Xanth, what would be your magical talent?

Laura: Oooh.  I can choose?!  Best ever!  The first thing that comes to mind is being able to grow chocolate trees.  Somebody could smuggle in a chocolate bar from Mundania, I’d plant it and it would grow.  I would then start a chocolate farm, which would be so overwhelmingly successful that I’d eventually became some kind of chocolate cartel owner.  I’d use my powers for good though, don’t worry.


Sorin: If you were born in Raduga, what Princess would you be?

Laura: Hm, well I’d quite like to be the Princess of Bad-Assery, though I think I’d more likely be the Princess of Misadventures—that’s pretty close to what I am in real life, anyway!  I’m always finding myself in the middle of one adventure or another, and mostly without even meaning to.


Sorin: In one hundred words or less, outline the plot for a Doctor Who episode which takes place in Raduga.

Laura: The Great Poke finally finds the Holy Poke, and his powers are so increased that he Pokes a hole in space-time, causing the sudden unexpected arrival of the Tenth Doctor (<3).  The Doctor realises that Poking is the controlled creation of black holes which send or summon things from an alternate universe, and that the Great Poke’s mastery suggests that he’s not only a Time Lord, but one of the originals who figured out how to use black holes to power TARDISes.  The Doctor closes the hole using the countering power of his TARDIS, then they sit and drink tea.


Sorin: That was precisely one hundred words! Kudos for your preciseness!


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