Speculative Fiction Reviews, Interviews, Art and Whatever Else!
Lila Bowen (aka Delilah S. Dawson) is the writer of the Blud series, Servants of the Storm, the HIT series, Wake of Vultures (as Lila Bowen), and a variety of short stories and comics. She's also a geek, an artist, an adventure junky, and a cupcake connoisseur. She writes books for young adults and mostly-adults that range from whimsical to dark to sexy to horrific to adventuresome.
Delilah is the winner of the 2013 Steampunk Book of the Year and May Seal of Excellence from RT Book Reviews for WICKED AS SHE WANTS and has earned stars from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and Library Journal for Wake of Vultures, as well as a star from Library Journal for the Blud e-novella THE DAMSEL AND THE DAGGERMAN.
Delilah loves horseback riding, superhero movies, Star Wars, going to cons, traveling, reading, tacos, the ocean, pretty boots, tattoos, vests, cosplay, The Cure, painting, crows, cheese, drinks made with elderflower, dark chocolate, cold sheets, Boyd Crowder, and shows like Justified, Firefly, Venture Bros., Community, Adventure Time, Arrested Development, TWD, and Frisky Dingo.
So without futher ado, may I present to you...
Hello Lila Bowen, and your doppleganger Delilah S. Dawson! *squeeing erupts from the crowd* Welcome to Book Frivolity!
*squees back and wiggles in place*
Please tell us a bit about yourselves :) If you could include at least one weird fact, so we readers can confirm that authors are in fact human, and not godlike creatures,,,
We're more subhuman, really. ;) So I'm Delilah S. Dawson, and I currently have a fresh tattoo of a moth that's two days old and very sticky. I live in the mountains of north Georgia, where I work from home and name the deer and go riding on my paint mare, Polly. I didn't actually know I wanted to be a writer until I was 32 and wrote my first book, so I've only been published since 2012. I write the Blud series, which is about steampunk sorta-vampires and has vampire rabbits, as well as the YA books Servants of the Storm (Southern Gothic Horror) and Hit (teen assassin in a bank-owned America). Oh! And I have a Star Wars story, The Perfect Weapon, out this month—which is one of my life dreams, as a big-time geek and Star Wars fan. My alter ego, Lila Bowen, is about the same as me but writes for a different publisher.
Wake of Vultures is the first book in the new fantasy series The Shadow, and has been recently been published under the pen name Lila Bowen, through Orbit books. Could you tell us about the world and characters you have created in Wake of Vultures, from your point of view?
Wake of Vultures is what happened when I watched Lonesome Dove and got really annoyed that all the heroes were white dudes. There are really only three women in the whole thing, and they're a martyr, a whore, and an idiot, respectively. So I set out to write the most improbable hero possible. That's Nettie Lonesome. Nettie's life is changed when she learns that the West is full of monsters, and part of her destiny is to hunt them. And she's surrounded by colorful characters who likewise defy the default. I figured that if I was going to flip one table, I might as well flip ALL THE TABLES.
You have dedicated Wake to #weneeddiversebooks, a fantastic social media driven movement to have all types of people represented in books, by including characters of different race, gender, sexuality, religion and cultures. Wake addresses so many of these traits in its various characters, which creates a very progressive and inclusive fantasy novel. I was wondering if Wake was written as a direct response to the movement, and if so what about the movement made you decide to tackle the challenge head on? If not, was it a conscious decision to create such a diverse book, or was it an organically driven process?
It felt like defiance at the time. Like I was writing an unpublishable book, actually, which was very freeing. Instead of thinking, “Will this be okay, will this sell?”, I was thinking, “HERE. TAKE THIS. YOU LIKE THAT? SUCK IT!” So I wasn't filling out a Bingo card, but every time there was an opportunity to create a character, I didn't default to the straight white male around whom most Fantasy books and Westerns revolve. Servants of the Storm was my first book with a non-white protagonist, and that empowered me to try harder to represent the actual world as compared to the small slice of it the media tends to sell us. The world is so much bigger than beautiful, thin white girls in ball gowns.
I think the thing that truly impressed me about the characters, and Nettie in particular, is that even though these characters are considered the ‘heroes’ they aren’t immune to holding obvious prejudices towards others. They aren’t perfect, but they work on it (even the stubborn ones!). One of the strongest messages I got from Wake was that anybody can learn a prejudice; but if you take the time to get to know somebody for who they are, rather than judging them on a preconceived idea - that acceptance can follow quickly in its footsteps. It serves as a lesson to some, and a message of hope to others. Is that something you intentionally wanted to portray, if so why?
Definitely! One of the great things about writing Nettie is that because she's treated as a servant instead of a daughter, she hasn't been force-fed as much prejudice as most people in her time and society would've been. She's been told that she's ugly and useless, but she considers the people espousing those beliefs to be likewise ugly and useless. She's never heard of homosexuality/bisexuality or heard anyone rant against cross-dressing, so those things don't strike her as unnatural or bad, which they would've if she'd gone to church in the 1800s. Nettie judges other people on their usefulness and how they treat her and animals, which makes her a better judge of character than the people who look down on her. I lean more toward Nettie's system. The presidential debates would be far more interesting if the candidates were judged on how useful and kind they were, don't you think?
The world of Wake of Vultures was surprisingly more ‘fantasy’ to me than many other Fantasy books out there! Even though you have set it in a time and place that actually did exist, being from Australia and not schooled in any real American history, I found myself wanting to look up quite a few things to understand the true intention and meaning, of what was being said and done (I still have no idea about the Sam Hill curses!). Is it important to you as an author of diverse books to motivate readers to start looking into, or asking and understanding where different cultures are coming from; the history that has created the people we know now? Is a fantasy a safe setting to ease people into the idea of of learning about these past elements that affect ‘real life’ now? Can it be used to help expose those more reluctant to explore diversity, in a less confronting way than say - a realistic setting?
Oh, wow! I never considered how it would read outside of America. ;) Over here, the Wild West is just this accepted part of history that we romanticize, even when what we know might not be accurate. As I said in the Author's Note in the back of the book, I'm better at the Fantasy than the History. I love to make up new worlds that let me play with societal rules, and especially with characters who live outside of that society. Wake is inspired by the Texas of the 1800s, but it diverges in many ways and would not be the best place to learn facts. I guess I want to make the West accessible to new readers through familiar Fantasy tropes while also disturbing those tropes with a new twist. When you actually dig down deep in history, as my friends Cherie Priest and Deanna Raybourn do for their more historically accurate books, you find out that people as different as Nettie existed and often thrived but were erased or forgotten. So I would be honored if readers found something intriguing that they wanted to research more, but I admit up front that I'm a storyteller, not an historian. Sam Hill is a real invective, though, and awfully fun to use in dialogue.
You have added in the back of Wake, that it’s ultimately a fantasy book, rather than a historically accurate account of the time period. There are some obviously fantastical elements (talking vultures with dugs!), but how do you decide when and where to blur the lines of fact and fantasy in the not so obvious areas?
For this book in particular, I spent a lot of time digging into the fringes of history. The place names, for example—Durango, Azteca, Tanasi—are all based on actual early names of Texas, Mexico, and Tennessee. I don't enjoy reading historical tomes, so I dip into Wikipedia, do Google searches, and pull up old maps, taking what appeals and leaving what doesn't work. The only book I read for research was Black Indians by William Loren Katz, which was fascinating. Just as I tell readers that my Blud series is more about adventure and romance than whether or not the steam engine could conceivably work, I admit that Wake is more about Nettie's journey. So... I use what's helpful and fun and blur the rest.
Which all leads to the obligatory fantasy world building question: Are you an Architect, a Gardener, or an Architectural Gardener?
I guess you could say that I'm a Gardener who builds a pretty wall, first. I don't start writing a book until I know the beginning, the instigating factor that changes everything, the climax, the ending, and the fallout. I need to know the protagonist pretty well, and I generally have some ideas about other characters who will pop up. For Wake, Nettie was immediately herself, and I knew Monty, Sam, Dan, and the Captain would appear. I didn't know about Winifred until the moment Nettie looked down and saw her. I need the little surprises, but I can't feel free enough to find them unless I know the final destination.
I, and many other readers know you best for your novels Servants of The Storm, ‘HIT’ or your Blud series as Delilah S. Dawson, a mix of both YA and adult books. I was wondering if there are any major differences in writing for a YA audience in comparison to an Adult audience? If so what are they, and how do you approach them?
As each book idea forms, I get a feel for whether it would work better written as a YA or an adult book—although I thought Wake was YA, and it sold as adult Fantasy, so I'm sometimes wrong. ;) For a YA, I want action and immediacy and bad decisions and some kind of crush/love element, no matter how dire the circumstances. For Adult, I have to keep more mature considerations in mind. Responsibility weighs more heavily—did I feed the cat before I walked through the magic portal? What about my job and mortgage? Hit, for example, wouldn't have been nearly as fun with an adult making decisions and thinking everything through. And the Blud series was adult from the start, as I wanted a steamy romance. When teaching writing classes at LitReactor, I suggest reading widely in your genre(s) to see what conventions readers expect so that you'll know where to lean while writing. But when actually writing, I say to do what comes most naturally without thinking too hard about age. You can sort that out later when you know the plot.
I have a question from Matt Summers from Smash Dragons (he’s a Wake fan too!): What is your take on the speculative fiction scene at the moment? How do we go about making the community more accepting of authors and books, that don’t fit the perceived ‘norm’?
I'll admit that I'm not one of those folks who feels like a spokesperson, tastemaker, or critic for the genre. I advocate writing the book only you can write, the one that makes you feel energized and passionate. For me, it's just as bad to whitewash or straightwash a book to make it more palatable to publishing as it is to add token diverse characters who are really just cardboard cut-outs instead of fully realized people. Authenticity and empathy shine through. The more non-default people write awesome books, and the more everyone writes non-default books, the more agents and publishers will, I hope, take them on. The readership clearly wants better representation, and for those who don't, there's a contingent that will continue to make the same old Straight White Dude Saves the World books for them. And, as readers, making conscious choices to broaden our own horizons and purchase diverse books for our kids is a must.
I have seen you mention that you wrote Wake of Vultures to a soundtrack that you found particularly inspiring (you can find it here on Spotify). Do you write all of your books to music? What is about music that inspires your writing?
Yep! Creating a Spotify playlist is an integral part of my writing process. I look for new music that feels like the book, not that necessarily has lyrics that match it. While I'm brainstorming, writing, and editing, I listen to the playlist exclusively, which conditions me to be in that world whenever I hear that music. It's a great way to get back in the groove when my mind is elsewhere.
Let’s talk horses (the positives of conducting your own interview is that you can ask the questions you want to!)! From an ex-rider to a current rider, is there anything more exhilarating and freeing, than galloping on a horse across a wide empty plain, just because you can? Your horsey scenes made me grin so widely my face almost split; I was truly back there racing about and whooping like a nut! What has been your most positive horsey experience?
There is truly nothing better than galloping down the trails. :) My most positive experience would be working with my mare, Polly, over the last three years and seeing her go from a skinny, abused, terrified horse who'd never had someone canter on her back to a more confident partner who can weather anything the trails can throw at us. I had an accident last year and broke my back, and since then, I've been dedicated to proper groundwork and being a better rider. I never dreamed Polly would be the amazing trail horse and partner she is now.
If I offered you the opportunity to pick a Mule, a Horse, or a Unicorn to use as your daily mount in the desert, which would you choose and why?
A muleicorn. That way, I get the “probably not going to die” nature of the unicorn plus the sturdy, confident, stubborn personality of the mule.
If you were a supernatural creature of the Durango, what would you be and why?
A shifter of some sort—probably a bird. I've always wanted to fly.
What are your top 10 obligatory fantasy books/series reads (YA and/or Adult)?
Oh, goodness. I could never obligate, since we all have different tastes, but I will name the first ten that come to mind.
What authors/books/genres are you reading at the moment?
I'm first drafting the sequel to Wake of Vultures, so I don't want to sink too deeply into another world. That means I'm mostly reading self-help stuff, especially since this year has been crazy, healthwise. But I just downloaded Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor, Nexus by Ramez Naam, and Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal. I just finished The Harvest by Chuck Wendig and A Gathering of Shadows by Victoria Schwab, both of which were marvelous. And I want to read Silver on the Road by Laura Anne Gilman as soon as Wake 2 is done.
Are you working on anything in particular right now, and do you have any projects to be released soon that we should look out for?
I'm writing Wake 2, title not yet decided. :) On November 24, my Star Wars short, The Perfect Weapon, will be released as an e-book and the first story set in the era of The Force Awakens. This holiday season, my short story Uncharming is in the Unbound anthology from Grim Oak Press, along with stories from Terry Brooks, Jim Butcher, Rachel Caine, and more amazing people. My next full-length work will be the sequel to Hit, called Strike, which is out next April.
Will we see you out and about at any conventions, bookstores, signings etc. in the future that you would like to mention?
Sure! I love doing events, and you can always see where I'll be next at my blog, http://www.whimsydark.com/events/. I'm really looking forward to ConFusion, Anomalycon, and ConStellation next year. One of my greatest hopes is that Wake of Vultures will do well in the UK and Australia, as I've never seen either one and long to visit.
*Kristy's note: Victoria is a fine state, you should definitely visit there... The rest of the country, meh.. ;)
Is there anything else you wish to tell the world? About anything at all?
If you ever have a question about writing or my books, you can ask on Twitter, @DelilahSDawson, or on my author Facebook page, and I'll do my best to answer.
Can somebody call the medics for the audience members that have fainted from the over-squee? That's definitely a standing ovation for Ms.Dawson! Wave your glowsticks people! All the thanks go to Delilah S. Dawson and her carbon copy Lila Bowen (Please muzzle tickle your horsey for me!)! You can follow Delilah on the Twitts, the Book’o’Faces, and at her blog Whimsydark. Delilah also teaches fantasy writing classes at LitReactor!! (if somebody wishes to fund me, I’ll take one and let you know how it goes!! Go on, fund me.. damnit! ;) )
And finally thanks to Hachette Australia for providing a copy of Wake of Vultures for me devour and love on hard!