Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Eleven Up: Interview with Alex Epstein

Today I'm pleased to welcome Alex Epstein, author of The Circle Cast, a debut novel that chronicles the lost years of Morgan Le Fey.  It's a beautifully-written and evocative book that offers a unique perspective on the, dare I say, misunderstood character of Morgan Le Fey.

          1.  What inspired you to write about Morgan Le Fey?  Have you always been a fan of Arthurian lore?

My dad used to read to me from THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING and THE SWORD IN THE STONE by T. H. White. Those books always stayed with me. Later on, I did a lot of spiritual searching, and spent a lot of time with Wiccans. That was a big influence on Morgan's story. And my first wife was studying the legends of the pagan Celts, particularly their war goddess, the Morrígan, and I edited her Ph. D. thesis. All of this came together in the book.

2.  Piggy-backing on that: What does The Circle Cast bring to the Arthurian canon?

There are some fascinating holes in the King Arthur legend. For example, Arthur doesn't have a legitimate heir, but no one talks about it. Which is odd, considering he's the king. Was the subject too embarrassing? Why? Was he not sleeping with Guinevere?

And why does Arthur put up with Morgan? She repeatedly tries to hurt Guinevere -- she even sends Guinevere a poisoned dress. But Arthur never sends his knights out against her. He tries to thwart Morgan's plans, but he never goes after her. What's up with that?

And then there's Morgan herself. The legend tells about how Uter killed her dad to sleep with her mom. And then she shows up decades later as this super-powerful sorceress, second only to Merlin. Well, how did she get there? How did a fatherless girl become a feared witch? Sir Thomas Malory, in Le Morte d'Arthur, says she was "sent to a nunnery, where she became a great clerk of necromancy." What sort of nunnery teaches black magic?

It seemed to me there's a story there that needed telling. So I wrote the book. 

3.  What was your biggest challenge in writing this book?

I think the biggest challenge in writing anything is what I call the "Sucky Point." When you start something, you're full of excitement. Then about 40% into it, whatever it is, it starts to suck. You start to doubt yourself.

Then, if you stick to it, you hit the halfway point. You can start to see the shape of it. You know you're going to finish. 

And soon, you're over the hump and heading home.

The rest is tinkering. Sometimes years of tinkering, but it's less scary to rework something than to work it in the first place. 

4.  Can you tell us a little bit about your journey to publication?

I wrote the first draft of the book a long time ago. I had an agent, and she sent it around, and people said nice things about the writing and the story, but at the time no one was looking for a King Arthur book. The book was a bit longer, and maybe a bit more literary, and the relationships were a little less straightforward. 

Much later, someone pointed out that Morgan was a teenager throughout most of the story. Why not tweak the book a bit and make it a YA novel? There's a huge market for YA novels. I was in touch with a YA publisher about film rights for another book of his, so I asked if he'd like to read it. And he liked it.

Then I went through about three drafts, streamlining the story and shortening it, and compressing the story's chronology a bit so Morgan is a bit older to start and a bit younger at the end. But I kept all the magic and Morgan's spiritual journey. I kept her character and her drive toward vengeance. It's a much more readable book, thanks to my editor Kim Aippersbach's hard work.

5.  I noticed you are a television and film writer.  Was transitioning to working on a novel difficult?

Not at all. I wrote fiction and poetry in high school and college. In many ways it's easier to write a novel. In a movie or TV script, you can only show what people do and say. In a novel you can hear them think. You can slow time to take apart a moment, or speed it up to take in several years. Movies and TV don't do internal stories well.

Also, in a novel, you don't have to worry about budget. If THE CIRCLE CAST were a movie there would be some big special effects (a flock of birds attacks an army! the landscape itself changes as the lost lands beyond Tintagel rise!) and quite a few battles. 

So there's a lot more freedom. Of course you have to write more words. But writing more words has never been a problem for me. It's much harder to cut than to write!
6.  Without giving anything away, The Circle Cast definitely leaves room for a follow-up.  Do you plan to write a sequel?
I guess that will depend on how the book does. I have two sequels in mind. One is Morgan's romance with Arthur. The other is Morgan's romance with Merlin.

Of course they won't be YA novels, because Morgan's a young woman, not a girl any more, so I have to find another publisher!

On the other hand, I also have a YA novel in mind called HOUSE OF MORGAN which puts a modern-day Morgan in the world of the super-rich... I'm trying to sell it as a TV show right now, but at some point I'll probably write it.

7.  Have any advice for a debut author? 
Make sure there's a Kindle edition of your book. Price it low to get the word out.

Put together a blog tour, or several blog tours, if you can.

Expect to do all the publicity yourself; most publishers do little for most books.

          8.  Where can readers find out more about you and The Circle Cast

I've got a blog, Morgan's Lost Years, and a website. I also blog more frequently about screenwriting at Complications Ensue.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the interview! I grew up with T.H. White too -- read "Once and Future King" over and over. I also started writing my book as an adult novel and switched to YA; it's a complicated move, so I'm always interested to find others who've done that and learn about their reasons. I'm looking forward to reading THE CIRCLE CAST!