Monday, July 29, 2013

A Short Q&A With Ali Vali

                                                                                 ALI VALI

1. Why did you start writing?
Surprisingly enough, the answer is Harry Potter. Around when the third book in that series came out, my partner gave them to me as a Christmas present, and when I opened the box, I seriously thought she’d lost her mind. I’d thought them to be children’s books, but after about three chapters I was hooked. Those books made me want to try and see if I could put something down that was a complete story that was longer than a business letter, and from that Ramses and Sarah were born in my head.

After I posted it, I didn’t really think I’d get any response but I was surprised again. The majority of the comments were good, and it gave me the opportunity to meet some really nice people since. All in all I’ve been truly blessed.

2. If you had to do it all over again would you still write?
Considering the amazing experiences I’ve had because I write, I wouldn’t change a thing if I had it to do over again. Anyone who’s met me knows I love a good tale and I’ve told quite a few, but it’s listening to the readers at events like Women’s Week in Ptown, the Lone Star Lesfic Festival in Austin, or GCLS that really are humbling. An example is the conversations I’ve  had over Carly’s Sound.

I wrote that book because of the pent up emotions I had because of my partner’s cancer. Our story ended thankfully on a good note. She’s been in remission for over 18 years, but I’ve had so many conversations with women who lost their loved ones to cancer, and the book touched them. Every time I sit and talk to someone like that it’s an honor that they share their story, and so humbling that they enjoyed my work.

3. Once you’ve written a story do you ever sit down and read it for enjoyment?
Sometimes I think it’s kind of a sign of ego to say you do go back and reread your own stuff for enjoyment, but on occasion I do. Perhaps not the entire book or story, but parts of them that have special meaning for me and it gives me ideas on how to go forward. That’s especially true of the Devil series. There’s a lot happening in those books and a huge cast of characters so rereading does help as the series continues.

4. How did you start writing Xena fan fiction?
The Xena fan fiction was something I actually found by accident. I was on Google trying to find out if Renee O’Connor had renewed her contract after the season ended with her falling in that pit. What a wondrous thing when I found names like Radclyffe, Kim Baldwin, Missy Good, LJ Maas and the other vast talent that had penned either Xena stories or had gone in a more uber direction. Between reading all that and the whole Harry Potter thing, I thought I’d throw my words on the pile and see what would happen.

5. Is your muse a constant companion, or does it abandon you for long periods of time?
Living around New Orleans my muse is constantly with me either sitting on my head on hanging off my shoulders. The stories and the characters are always there whispering what comes next, but not in a crazy I need lots of medication kind of way. I’ve gotten used to the clamor for attention they all want.

6. How do you feel about sequels?
LOVE SEQUELS. Cain Casey would be in a sorry state if I didn’t (she said laughing out loud). They are interesting to write, so maybe it’s a good thing I didn’t know that going in. What I mean is, the whole balance of telling a new story while reviewing what happened in the last book so new readers aren’t completely lost.

Even if I didn’t write a series, I love sequels as a whole especially when it’s characters I love. Reading a book that touches you because of the characters always makes me sad in a way when I get to the end, and you know there is no more. I have that burning need to know what happens next, and from some of the events I’ve attended, I’m glad to know I’m not alone in that. Sequels give you that satisfaction that the relationship you have with these characters will go on.

7. Is writing a quiet thing for you, where there can't be any noise or conversation going on?
My life hasn’t been really quiet for a while now so I’m glad I can write anywhere. One of my favorite places actually is at the mall while my partner shops and runs errands. Some of those secondary characters in my books are plucked right out of the crowd that’s walking by, so beware of a woman with a pen in her hand if you’re out on a Saturday in and around New Orleans. Most people never believe me that I write all the books out longhand but that is the case, and quite a few of you saw that in action last year in Ptown as I finished The Devil’s Orchard. I was on a deadline so I wrote whenever I could.

8. Do you prefer to write/read romance, angst, horror etc, etc?
Even though some of my characters are violent people, I’ve always considered them romantic, so I love a good romance with a tiny bit of angst thrown in.

9. What usually sparks a story idea for you?
Just about anything really. Going back to Carly’s Sound, that one was the most profound that I can remember. My partner had just finished chemo and through the year of treatment I was always upbeat, trying to make her laugh at every opportunity, and never tried to show the bone-deep fear that kept me up most nights. The diagnosis, the surgery, and all that came after was so fast that at times I thought it was happening to someone else, but it finally came to an end—well sort of.

The treatment ends, but the waiting, worrying, and the fear began anew because you have to see if the treatment worked. Will this crap come back? Will I lose the one person in my life that makes it worth living? You try not to but it’s like a shadow that follows you and you can’t shake it.

About a month after her treatment ended we were at a Billy Joel concert and he’s up there singing Only the Good Die Young, and my beautiful partner is on her feet dancing and singing at the top of her lungs along with the rest of the crowd. It was the first time in so long that she wasn’t sick, exhausted, and beat down by the chemo and everything she’d been through and it was such a gift.

In that one second Carly came to me in a complete package and it took me less than a month to write the first draft from beginning to end. That book isn’t about us per say, but it summed up for me what our life is now, and it is the meaning of that book. We faced something scary that we never expected to come along, but it taught us to appreciate what we have, and going forward never to take anything for granted. We were never really rigid people, but now we never turn down an opportunity to have fun.

10. Where do your ideas come from?
Most of the time, the books come from something I find interesting, or really like and there aren’t any books out there in lesbian literature that fit that genre. The Godfather is one of my favorite books, and movies, so I wrote my version of the mob.

11. What advice can you give to future writers?
Write what you’re passionate about, and take the advice that’s offered to you if you are interested in getting your work published. What I mean is no one but you knows the blood and sweat you put into each word, but if a publisher wants you to cut some of them out or rework the piece, listen to their advice, it’s invaluable. But you have to believe in the work before anyone else will so put your heart on the page.

Another important piece to everything I write is my beta readers. Try and find someone who’ll read your work with an eye to improving your craft, and don’t egg their house if you don’t like what you hear. Trust me, I scream at the screen every time I go through the editing process but my editor, Shelley Thrasher always shows up prominently in my acknowledgements for good reason. We go round and round sometimes but Shelley is an excellent teacher and she gives the stories the polish that makes them better.

12. What has the show Xena meant to you?
I loved that show because of the interaction between Xena and Gabrielle. The relationship, the friendship came through every week, and I still miss it. The good thing was that the community that loved it along with me hasn’t disappeared along with it, and the stories it sparked people to write are still out there for all of us to enjoy.

13. How do you feel about the way it ended?
I never watched the last two episodes because I can’t believe that’s all they could think to do with the characters. To me it was insulting to the fans that supported the show and the cast for so long.

14. How real are your characters to you?
When I found myself taking time out of my work day to Google for any clues that Gabrielle didn’t die in a fiery pit, I knew I was invested. And they live on in so many of my favorite stories, so they aren’t completely fictional.

15. Do your characters speak to you?
All the time, but I’m not complaining. I think the day they stop so will the stories that usually come with them.

16. Are you in control of your story, or do the characters run the show?
We’re a team. I usually come up with a general idea and the beginning, the characters take over in the middle and the end. I’m what’s called a panster in that I write by the seat of my pants. When I start it’s like having a road map with only a starting point and a general direction you want to end up. There’s no plotting and agonizing on how you will get to the destination, but more of a I’m going to enjoy the scenery and the experience along the way.

17. How would you feel about another writer giving one of your characters a cameo in their story?
What a great question. I’ve never really considered it, and so far no one’s asked. The characters are all such a part of me that I’m not sure how I would feel about that.

18. Has online writing changed your life in any way?
I started online and I’ve never forgotten the friends and notes I’ve gotten along the way. The folks who read my stuff not only welcomed me, but they sent notes of encouragement when my mom got sick, and warm words when she passed. There are so many more friends I have now because of the stories I posted, and I’m forever grateful for that.

19. Have you ever been stalked on the internet by an overzealous fan?
Overzealous I don’t really mind in an “I love your work” kind of way, but yes, and it’s not been fun. I never try to be rude or insult anyone, but one person stands out as making me worry if I were to ever meet her on the street somewhere. Aside from that everyone else has been great.

20. Which one of your online stories is your favorite?
Ooh, that’s like asking which kid like best if I had any, but if I have to pick a story I’d say the two with Harry and Desi. How Do You Mend A Broken Heart and All It Took Was You were some of my first, but the characters are still some of my favorites.

21. Do you do a lot of rewrites?
Not so much rewrites as much as editing as I go. I’ll write a section go back and read, take some out, fix what’s broken or doesn’t work, then decide if I actually need more to get my point across.

22. Is there ever a point in your writing where you get stuck each and every time? How do you get out of it?
Thankfully, I don’t get stuck often but it does happen. My solution has always been to start something else, as in start writing something completely different and go with that for a few days. After that I go back and reread the part that stumped me and it usually flows from there.

23. Which part of the writing process do you enjoy the most and why?
The characters are the core of any story, and building them and their relationship is my favorite part of the process. If the two leads in any story don’t resonate, the rest of it no matter how well written or action packed, to me anyway, won’t work either. The last book I have out right now is the new Devil and the timeline is right before Katrina. The Devil’s Orchard actually catches the series up to that point in time, so going forward it’s going to be post Katrina New Orleans and all the issues that entails.

What I didn’t count on is the many emails I’ve gotten because Sept Savoie from Calling the Dead, like she has before, makes a pretty big cameo appearance in this book and Cain tells her to find someone to settle down with. In the readers’ minds, Sept is settled, only her relationship in this book hasn’t happened yet. Like I said, it’s humbling to me that the readers care enough about the characters that a hint of problems in a strong relationship warrants an email.

24. When you’re working on a story are you obsessed with it until it’s done?
If you ask me, no absolutely not, but if you ask my partner the answer is an emphatic yes. Maybe just maybe I get a little engrossed until I’m done, but I try to keep it to a minimum. But while I’m cutting grass or sitting in a boring meeting you can bet I’m working on plot as I mow or daydream.

25. Who are your favorite top five writers? Online or published.
I have like 100 so I won’t bore you with a list.

26. The song says “Who rules the world? Girls." If that were true would the world be a better place?
Definitely so. We certainly wouldn’t have screwed it up as well as the men have up to now.

27. Do you write a story straight through, or do you write in pieces, then put it all together.
Usually straight through. I’ve written in pieces, but it’s hard to keep the story tight if I do it like that so I try to finish what I start.

28. What do you enjoy most about writing?
The ability to construct different worlds and people in my head and get them down on paper. As a kid I loved to read because of the different places books took me, so it’s nice to give that to others now.

29. Do you read books for pleasure while you are writing?
Yes, I read all the time, sometimes too much. I love holding books, but I have to admit I’m addicted to my iPad now. iBooks is a wonderful thing and I find I read faster.

30. Do you have a favorite Greek God?
Aphrodite hands down.

31. Have you created a character that you would like to meet?
That's an easy one, I'd go with Cain.

32. Do you have a pet peeve?
Repetitive noises can drive me to insanity. I’ve got a few more but that one is the top of the list.

33. What do you see yourself doing in the future?
Pretty much the same thing. I love my partner, my job, I love to write, and my life in general so there isn’t much I’d change about it.

34. What is your favorite word?

35. What is your least favorite word?
Don’t have one.

36. What turns you on?
If you mean in life, it’s learning new things and seeing new places. If you mean intimately, I’d tell you but then my partner would kill you right after she walks over my dead cold body.

37. What turns you off?
Mean people.

38. What sound or noise do you love?
My partner’s laugh, and the roar of the crowd on a Saturday night in Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge.

39. What sound or noise do you hate?
The alarm clock in the morning, and anything really irritating that goes on and on and on.

40. What is your favorite curse word?
I can use the f word in any situation, but shit is my go to when the other might be too harsh.

41. What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?
Landscaper. I love working in the yard, and I’d start tomorrow if I had a chance to make a decent enough living at it.

42. What profession would you absolutely not like to participate in?
Pole dancing.

43. If Heaven exists what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
Come in, first, followed by the answers to all the mysteries I’ve always wondered about. Who killed JFK if indeed there was a conspiracy, where’s Elvis and Jimmy Hoffa, what’s the government hiding at Area 51, and so on.

Here is Ali Vali's favorite story:

How Do You Mend A Broken Heart   
Do you remember your first love? Harry Basantes did. She remembered with vivid clarity the way young love could break your heart leaving you empty inside. Would seeing the object of her pain and desire sixteen years later drive Harry to forgiveness, or would it be her turn to walk away without explanations? Only one way to find out.

All It Took Was 
You knew there had to be a sequel to How Do You Mend A Broken Heart, and here it is. Harry and Desi are busy building a life together after Byron and his family have been shipped off to the Angola State Penitentiary. The happy couple are expecting a baby and happy ever after, only in 'All It Took Was You' they get so much more.

Belle Of The Mist  
Harry and Desi attend a Halloween party dressed as a notorious land pirate and the plantation wife who captures her.

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