Vanessa MacLellan's’s first novel, the time-travel fantasy Three Great Lies (Hadley Rille Books), officially comes out August 6 but it is already available. Three Great Lies is the story of a half-human, half-elf woman and her struggle to find her place while, unbeknown to her, an ancient evil has awakened and plans to use her to destroy the world.
Welcome, Vanessa, and congratulations on the publication of your first novel! Please tell us a little about yourself.
I'm a tattooed, vegetarian, outdoorsy woman with one head in the clouds and the other firmly settled in my hiking boots. I'm an environmental engineer by day and author, runner, reader, gamer, and naturalist by night (and weekends).
When did you start writing, and why?
When I was a wee lass I'd make up stories to tell my mother while she was gardening. I think it started there. My favorite subject was Baggy Piggy, who had a curly Q tail that never ended (I knew this, because I drew him incessantly with pink crayons). I remember, before I could even write, 'writing' (aka doodling) on paper and then reading these works to my great grandmother. Storytelling is in my blood. I guess that's enough of a reason why.
Though the fact that I enjoy it doesn't hurt. I have little people in my head (Doesn't every author?) who want me to explore their worlds, flesh out their personalities and goals, and give them something to do. I can't take all the credit; it's partially their fault.
What do you write, and why? What do you enjoy about what you write?
I write speculative fiction. Mainly fantasy, though I mix horror and magical realism in there. I write fantasy because fantasy is what first got me excited about reading. I remember my older sister, Audrey, handing me the first of the Piers Anthony "Xanth" novels, and I was astounded at these magical places, characters with magical talents, all of the magical beasts. Magic. Magic. Magic. I wanted that. To live there. Be special. Be something more than just human.
I read as much fantasy after that as I could. Tolkien, Eddings, Pratchet, Weiss and Hickman, Duncan. You know the era and the authors. Their books are what fueled me as a young reader. I hope to fuel other readers too.
Another reason I write is that joy comes from creation and imagination. Of speculating: What if? and expanding from that. I am the master of my own universe; what is not to like?
What is your latest book? Any forthcoming books?
My debut novel, Three Great Lies, releases August 6th. It's fantasy, with historical and literary trappings. It carries a bit of a “Finding My Place in Life” theme.
Jeannette Walker, a modern scientist, ends up in ancient, mythological Egypt. Though she constantly casts doubt on the existence of such a world, she has to learn to live in it. While trying to save her mummy friend's soul from a wicked tomb-robbing ring, she realizes a few important things about life. What those are, well, you'll have to read the book!
I have one complete manuscript for a dark fantasy I'm currently shopping out and am working on a modern superhero series. There's always something I'm working on.
Tell us a little about the world of Three Great Lies.
Ancient, mythological Egypt. It never rains. People's lives aren't equal. Prayers constantly dance upon lips. Beer is a meal. Sand is a major filler in the bread. Children of gods walk the street with the heads of animals and prophecy on their lips.
To Jeannette it's, of course, a total shock. There are people about in public naked, and jackals speak. A mummy—a desiccated, lumbering thing—chases her through the crowded streets, accusing her of stealing his ba! It's not necessarily a friendly place, but people are people, and even Jeannette is able to find friends in ways she never expected.
Introduce us to some of your characters. What do you like about them?
Jeannette Walker is my protagonist. She's in her mid-twenties, a scientists with a jilted past. She still holds the hurt from a past betrayal and has learned to trust nobody and nothing. I love her voice and her mind-chatter. And she's got a good heart that struggles to show through her armor.
Abayomi is the dead man walking, a reanimated mummy who seeks his lost ba container so he can continue on to the afterlife. He's a perfect citizen who knows his place in the world and doesn't seek to unbalance tradition. . . . until his friends are endangered; then his loyalty shines like a beacon. True best-friend material!
Sanura is the young daughter of Bast, cast out from her litter. She's lost and alone, and Jeannette saves her—saves her!—and she'll never forget such gifts. Sanura, like most young people, is soul-searching, trying to found out exactly why she's been cast away and what her purpose and place is in life. Her journey is one everyone can connect with. She's the spirit of the story.
What fun fact would you like your readers to know about Three Great Lies?
A major aspect of the book (the stray-dog theme) sprang to life at an agility dog show. The midsummer day was baking hot, and I had parked myself under a tree for the next show. A Jack Russell Terrier was looking at me with that intelligent tongue-lolling smile terriers have. Honestly, the dog was smiling.
And that was the original start of the novel: "The dog was smiling at her." It's since changed, but that line and scene are still in there, the theme planted throughout the novel. The story just unfolded from that one dog's smile.
Any challenges with getting Three Great Lies to where it is today?
Three Great Lies has been on a long journey.
In 2008, I wrote my fifth NaNoWriMo novel. That was Three Great Lies. It was titled simply Egypt back then. It was a 50,000-word rough draft. Then I added extra plot threads and themes, and it topped out at 140,000 words. That's quite an addition! Then there were years and years of critiquing and editing.
Finally in 2013, I begin seeking representation for Three Great Lies, and it was picked up by Hadley Rille Books (which was the most perfect place for this book to land).
Now for the rough stuff. As I was due my edits, my publisher had a stroke. (Though he insists he was abducted by aliens to an alternate universe.) It was terrible; we weren't sure whether he would make it. The entire press huddled together in worry and anticipation. I was wavering between feeling devastated for my publisher's situation and worrying about the state of my book (and feeling so so guilty for that). But he did pull through and has worked tirelessly on my novel, by my side every step of the way.
Now, we're here, and my novel is published! I think other authors might have pulled their book to seek other representation, but I knew Hadley Rille and my publisher were perfect for my book.
What's your writing process?
First and foremost, Three Great Lies was a “pantser” book. I didn't have an outline. I wrote forward from the smiling dog on guts and intentions. I had this idea of where I wanted to go, with no map on how to get there. Now, I am an outliner. I think the process, for me, would have gone so much faster if I'd had a more solid idea of the substance of the story. As it was, lots and lots and lots of editing and rewriting were necessary to make this book shine.
When I'm in the thick of writing and editing, I try to work on the novel every single day. It keeps my writing sharp and my mind on the storyline. It keeps me from losing plot threads and missing finer details. For me, every day is the way. (Ooh, that even rhymes.)
Another thing I've learned: Do not work heavily on writing in the summer. I like to play outside too much, and I feel guilty if I don't write. Now, I just hold up my hands and let it all go. Summer, for me, is play time. No guilt for taking some time off writing. Because we're our worst guilt-trippers.
You can learn more about Vanessa and Three Great Lies by visiting her Website at http://www.vanmaclellan.com/. Her book is available from Amazon.com in Kindle and trade paperback versions.