The Conscious Interview with S.M. Beiko

In the debut and hope­ful­ly ongo­ing instal­ment (I tend to get dis­tract­ed fair­ly eas­i­ly) of The Con­scious Inter­view, in which I etalk with lit­er­ary muck­y­mucks, I speak with author/editor S.M. Beiko.

Click here to read my review of S.M. Beiko’s The Lake and the Library.

From her offi­cial bio:

SAMANTHA MARY BEIKO works in the Cana­di­an pub­lish­ing indus­try in var­i­ous capac­i­ties, first in mar­ket­ing and pub­lic­i­ty, and now in edi­to­r­i­al and lay­out design. She has edit­ed some remark­able books in her short time, and along with San­dra Kas­turi, she co-edit­ed Imag­i­nar­i­um 2013: The Best Cana­di­an Spec­u­la­tive Writ­ing for ChiZine Pub­li­ca­tions. Her first nov­el, a young adult fan­ta­sy titled The Lake and the Library,  is a love song to the prairies and the remark­able mag­ic found there.

Saman­tha cur­rent­ly resides in Win­nipeg, Man­i­to­ba.

Describe The Lake and the Library in a tweet.

Small town girl liv­ing in a lone­ly world builds her own in an aban­doned mag­ic library along­side the strange mute boy who can nev­er leave it

Now, describe it as a movie pitch.

Six­teen-year-old Ash­leigh is final­ly mov­ing away from her dull home­town of Treade, Man­i­to­ba. But before she can make good her escape, the aban­doned build­ing on the out­skirts of town that has haunt­ed her child­hood beck­ons one last time. What she finds inside, or what finds her, is an enchant­ed library and the live­ly mute boy who keeps it. Secrets swirl and mys­ter­ies abound, and as Ash­leigh finds her­self going deep­er down the rab­bit hole, she finds all too quick­ly that her great­est dreams can come true … at a price.

You ini­tial­ly wrote The Lake and the Library when you were six­teen. What was the impe­tus behind its cre­ation?

I want­ed to find my own voice, I think. Grow­ing up, my broth­er was big into video games and sci-fi and fan­ta­sy, and I rode his coat­tails with enthu­si­asm. He was a great cre­ative writer, and of course I want­ed to be, too. I could ham­mer out the wack­i­est things, pages and pages of adven­ture and fan­ta­sy and utter whim­sy until my teach­ers were just giv­ing me auto 100% on any­thing I hand­ed it. I was sud­den­ly miles ahead of my peers and find­ing myself bored with the assign­ments we were giv­en. I start­ed won­der­ing if I could write sto­ries like, for real, with­out the lim­its of school, and borne from my love of my neigh­bour­hood (Charleswood, right beside the Assini­boine For­est, which is the inspi­ra­tion for Wilson’s Woods), and all things sto­ry, The Lake and the Library just kin­da hap­pened. I took that com­mon teenage long­ing of some­thing more and rode the wave to what would hap­pen if I got exact­ly what I want­ed.

Accept­ing that you are now not six­teen, how did your adult self go about work­ing on the man­u­script?

It was 5 years after fin­ish­ing the draft I sub­mit­ted that I had to hun­ker down and basi­cal­ly re-write the entire thing. Luck­i­ly I’d learned a thing or two since matur­ing from an I CAN DO ANYTHING AND ITLL BE AWESOME teen to a super self-crit­i­cal adult with a touch of actu­al­ly know­ing what I was doing (but not real­ly, ha). It was hard work—I had to entire­ly change the book’s tense, com­plete­ly restruc­ture events and add a lot of things in there that hadn’t exist­ed ear­li­er (The Drowned Woman, for exam­ple, and the par­al­lel sto­ry.) I think I added anoth­er 20,000 words, for sure. And I had an awe­some edi­tor who helped me make it the best it could be (thanks, Jen Hale!).

How much of you is there in Ash?

A lot, for sure. (Hope­ful­ly not enough to make it a Mary Sue.) That long­ing to go off on your own, the extreme dreami­ness, the escape into books—yeah, those things are pret­ty close to my heart. But I feel there are a lot of teens out there who feel that way—like the world they’re in is way too small. I start­ed out writ­ing this book from the per­spec­tive of a dreamy teenag­er who didn’t know any bet­ter, and went back to it with the insight that grow­ing up affords. I was for­tu­nate enough to attend a read­ing group com­prised of teens who had read the book, and they all said that I’d writ­ten Ash and her friends real­ly well, and that their issues and dia­logue were ‘real and relat­able,’ so in the end, I’m grate­ful to teen-Sam for lay­ing the ground­work based on what I was going through at the time.

Alter­nate realms are always fer­tile ter­ri­to­ry for fan­ta­sy. How did you set­tle on a library as your Nar­nia or Mid­dle Earth?

I’ve always con­sid­ered libraries and book­stores as gate­ways to oth­er worlds or expe­ri­ences, and I want­ed to get to the heart of that. Mul­ti­ple worlds in one place—an epic lit­er­ary Star­gate. A library is a famil­iar place to sto­ry tellers and lovers, but what if you could phys­i­cal­ly go to all the places you read? Or go there and build a world entire­ly your own? I feel like libraries are the places this hap­pens most often—for read­ers and writ­ers alike—and I want­ed to high­light all the mag­ic libraries entail. I wouldn’t have want­ed to leave the library, either.

There are themes of obses­sion and mania weaved through­out the nar­ra­tive as Ash becomes more and more enam­ored of the library and its mute pro­tec­tor Li. Were you con­scious of this sub­text, or was it some­thing that came about organ­i­cal­ly?

I was total­ly con­scious of it, yes, but the impres­sions of these char­ac­ters just sort of formed on their own as I wrote them. I def­i­nite­ly want­ed the fan­ta­sy ele­ments to have some grounds in a real­is­tic out­come though, because the pow­er you get from being in that library is way too good to be true; there’s no way every­one can get what they want with­out a cost. At first, I was so pumped about this amaz­ing place where you could dream worlds into being, but my next imme­di­ate thought was there has to be a catch. When I start­ed writ­ing the book, I knew from the get-go that Li wasn’t going to be the per­fect boy that every­one expects from these kind of sto­ries. I want­ed him to be too good to be true, too. He’s the touch­stone for what hap­pens when you get lost in a dream, and I want­ed this behav­iour to bleed into Ash’s to show the cost of unlim­it­ed dreams.

You’re an edi­tor for ChiZine Pub­li­ca­tions. Did your edit­ing back­ground affect your writ­ing? How did you bal­ance the edi­tor and author sides of your per­son­al­i­ty?

I think it def­i­nite­ly helped, espe­cial­ly in the stage where I was mad­ly re-writ­ing. My expe­ri­ence and back­ground made me very con­scious of what need­ed prun­ing and mas­sag­ing, and allowed me to cut judi­cious­ly with­out the deep attach­ment or per­son­al insult I may have felt with­out know­ing an editor’s per­spec­tive—you can’t cut that, you’re ruin­ing my life!!, etc. It made things pret­ty straight­for­ward, and allowed me a bit more free­dom because I knew noth­ing was set in stone and I could flip and cut and change until it was the best it could be. Also, my edi­tor was great, and our per­son­al­i­ties are real­ly sim­i­lar, so we were both able to be frank with one anoth­er with­out hand-hold­ing or head-pat­ting. We’ve both been on the front lines, we know what it’s like!

In L&L, the library man­i­fests the plots of books phys­i­cal­ly. What nov­els would you like to expe­ri­ence in this way?

Oh man. Wayyy too many. Because of the his­to­ry of the library in the book, I had to stick to clas­sic lit­er­a­ture for the worlds Ash and Li went into. But if those rules applied to any book? Lord of the Rings is pret­ty much #1 for me. Or Har­ry Pot­ter. Or the Out­lander series by Diana Gabal­don. The pos­si­bil­i­ties are end­less, but thank­ful­ly we can just live these set­tings out in our brains. I wouldn’t want to bear down on the busi­ness end of an Orc unless I was real­ly seri­ous about it.

Next: The Sub­con­scious Inter­view with S.M. Beiko