Writers on Writing: Louise Marley

photo of Louise Marley
© Louise Marley
Used with permission

LOUISE MARLEY is a prolific writer of science fiction/fantasy and historical fiction with strong female characters. She has been awarded the Endeavor Award three times. She has written under the pseudonyms Cate Campbell, Louisa Morgan, and Toby Bishop. Ms. Marley used to sing professionally with the Seattle Opera and music features significantly in several of her novels.

ANGELA: Where do your ideas come from?

LOUISE:  I always have more ideas than time to write them!  I’m particularly inspired by images, sometimes ones that pop into my head (always grateful for those) and sometimes ones I observe in the world around me, in a piece of art, or even one that comes to me when I’m reading another writer’s work.  Some of my favorite books, such as THE CHILD GODDESS, began by thinking of an intriguing title, and then developing a story to fit it.  People often offer their ideas to writers, but it rarely works out; I think our ideas have to be specific to our own creative process.

ANGELA: Why do you write in the science fiction/fantasy and/or romance genre?

LOUISE:  I’ve never written romance, but I love fantasy and science fiction, mostly because I love reading in those genres.  I also love historical fiction and have been working in that field for several years now (under my pseudonym, Cate Campbell.)  I do think we should write what we love to read.  We bring our passions and enthusiasms to that work, and I believe it shows.  With historical fiction, the research and the details of other historical periods fascinate me.  With fantasy, the freedom to create, to play in alien worlds and explore the characters who populate them, is a joy.

ANGELA: What are you currently reading?

LOUISE:  I’ve just finished a historical novel, IN PALE BATTALIONS, by Robert Goddard.  It’s set in the same period I’ve been working in, post-World War I, and I found it interesting, but not a complete success.  It’s been a popular novel, and I think people who love an intricate plot probably love it for that reason.  I found the characters unconvincing, which shows my particular bias–I think stories only succeed if I, as a reader, believe the characters’ behavior and choices.

ANGELA: What is one of your all-time favorite books and why?

LOUISE:  I love Connie Willis’s wonderful time-travel novel, DOOMSDAY BOOK.  Connie is great at character and plot, and this was a book I couldn’t put down the first time I read it.  It has everything–good science fiction, excellent historical research, high stakes, and a lot of tension.  And, of course, Connie’s great, clean writing!

ANGELA: What is your favorite literary technique/device/element to use in your writing?

LOUISE:  I don’t know if I have a literary technique!  I do like drama, and so in every scene I try to find something that makes the scene memorable.  I absorbed this principle from my work in opera, back in the day, and it has served me well as a writer.  One of the things I love about writing fantasy or science fiction is that I can create big-picture scenes.  I suspect some of my novels have an operatic feel!

ANGELA: What is your writing process?

LOUISE:  I tend, with a novel, to start with my idea, and write about fifty pages.  Then (in an act of discipline), I stop and write a brief synopsis.  This is to have an idea where I’m going, to keep myself from wandering off in too many different directions.  Sometimes the synopsis helps as I develop the plot, and sometimes I never look at it again, but it gives me a sense of structure and organization.  I try to always know the ending before I get there!
ANGELA: How frequently (and for how long/how much) do you write?

LOUISE:  I write every day, as a general rule.  Two hours is probably my average, although when I’m on a deadline I can write four to five hours.  I write in my study, or on my deck, or–often–in a coffee shop, with white noise around me.  The day just doesn’t feel right unless I’ve spent some time on the work-in-progress.

ANGELA: Do you already have ideas lined up so that you could immediately start the next story?

LOUISE:  I never lack for ideas!  So, yes.  In fact, I have two book ideas waiting to be addressed when I finish the current one.  And then there are short stories to be written as well!

ANGELA: Do you always start the next work immediately after completing one?

LOUISE:  I do.  Often, as I’m putting the finishing touches on a novel or story, the next one is niggling at me to get started.  If that didn’t happen, I would know I needed a rest.  (See the next answer!  :-))

ANGELA: What do you do about writer’s block?

LOUISE:  I agree with Anne Lamott on this issue.  I don’t really believe in writer’s block, but I do accept that a writer can be tired, or as Lamott says, “empty.”  Sometimes a rest is in order, but that doesn’t mean watching tv or doing something else that fills the mind with non-writing materials.  It means taking a walk, going for a drive with the radio off, or simply sitting somewhere in solitude, allowing the mind to roam and refresh.  I walk a lot, which is helpful.  I also practice yoga, which seems to feed my writing with energy and focus.  I also write before I do something else, like reading a book I’m enjoying or watching a television program (love Downton Abbey!)

Connecting and keeping up with Louise Marley:

Interview conducted in August 2014.

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