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.
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.
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 IT’LL 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.