Skyler White talks hellish hotels

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Today we welcome Skyler White to FanLit! Her debut novel, and Falling, Fly (reviewed by me) hit the shelves in March, and her second, In Dreams Begin, will be released in November. Comment below for a chance to win a copy of and Falling, Fly. Ms. Skyler will personalize and send a copy to two lucky FanLit readers!

KELLY: On your website, you mention that you’re involved in ballet and have a master’s degree in theater. Have your experiences on the stage (and backstage) affected your writing? If so, how?

SKYLER WHITE: I started taking ballet when I was really young, as an antidote to a ridiculous level of childhood energy which would now almost certainly be diagnosed as ADHD. Wish I’d found something as effective for the attention part of that! I still dance (although not ballet … ack, the mirrors! the tights!), but I don’t think I could put the hours in on my rear writing if I didn’t have dance as exercise and release. I don’t think it impacts the content of my writing though, just my ability to write.

My experience in theater probably does work its way into my writing though, if for no other reason than I studied a lot about the writing of plays. Also, working with actors puts you in very close contact with a wide range of personalities, which is useful for a writer. And I was a stage director, so it was my job to read the plays and visualize them. Trying to imagine what actors and set and staging would look like, how to dramatize a moment physically or stage it symbolically, that all was very useful training. And the theater company I worked with most was founded by three deeply passionate and very different people. Learning to negotiate with the other two and communicate with my actors taught me a tremendous amount about collaborative work, because no matter what you hear, writing, in my experience, is NOT a solitary profession. You have early readers and an editor and a copyeditor, and eventually critics and readers whose opinions and ideas can hugely improve your work and encourage (or discourage) your efforts. I think theater taught me to value that over almost everything, and how to take criticism and how to defend my choices.

KELLY: One of the things I noticed while reading and Falling, Fly was that many of your angelic characters have literary names (Olivia, Ophelia) and many of your mortal characters have religious names (Dominic, Adam). I found this really thought-provoking! May I ask what inspired this choice? (If it’s not too big a secret, that is!)

SKYLER: Oh, I’m so impressed! I don’t think anyone’s caught that yet. Yup. It’s a little game I was playing with myself. Madalene, too – her spelling is Magdelene (as in Mary) without the “g” (which belongs elsewhere, as you know!) Peter and Paul are Dysart’s disciples, although I gave him a literary name (the psychiatrist from Shaffer’s play ‘Equus’) and the boy in the bar is Jacob, because he wrestles an angel … I’m getting carried away, sorry. But yes, I’m playing with the lines because the stories are immortal, and humans are divine.

KELLY: Hmm, yes, I do believe I’ve seen that “G” somewhere. ;-) Another fascinating element is the way L’Hotel Matillide is constructed so that no energy is wasted; there are cogs and gears to recycle things like fidgeting into usable energy. To me, that’s both a really original creation and a logical extension of the way Hell’s denizens feed on energy in other respects: blood, sexual desire, etc. How did that idea come to you?

SKYLER: I don’t really remember specifically, but you’re spot on in the general vein. The crucial idea for me was that Hell is fueled exclusively by humans. There’s no organic, nature-based driver behind it. It’s all us. We make and maintain it ourselves.

KELLY: Can you tell our readers about your upcoming novel, In Dreams Begin?

SKYLER: Happily! In Dreams Begin inhabits the same story-world as and Falling, Fly, and there are some important character and plotline overlaps, but In Dreams Begin is a dark time-travel horror/romance based on my personal history and the occult movement of the late Victorian era. Laura, a contemporary graphic artist, wakes up on her wedding night channeled into the body of Maud Gonne, the famous Victorian beauty, Irish revolutionary and amateur occultist who may have been part faerie.

In Maud’s body, Laura, our modern, professional woman, while still coming to grips with Victorian rules and outfits, meets WB Yeats, the Irish poet. He’s wildly romantic, ridiculously passionate, and she, of course, falls (rather embarrassingly) in love with him, only to wake up back in Portland. The story tracks Laura and her new husband over two weeks, and Laura, Yeats and Maud Gonne over almost thirty years, all completely obedient to actual history.

Yeats really was involved in the occult. He and Maud Gonne really did have a marriage “on the spiritual plane,” and Maud was, at the time, in the Irish countryside, widely considered to be of the Sidhe, a kind of faerie known for spiriting away the souls of wives on their wedding nights! It’s been a tremendously fun project to work on because history kept handing me such amazing stuff, allowing me to explore body-image, feminism, fidelity and about six different kinds of possession across a hundred years, through several perspectives and all echoed in lines from Yeats’s published poems and Maud Gonne’s autobiography.

My editor at Berkley has done an amazing job securing rights for me, so I’m going to be able to include the most relevant quotes and historical annotations in the manuscript, which is very exciting! In Dreams Begin is due out November 2.

KELLY: In your interview with SciFiGuy, you mentioned that you always have four books going at once. What are your current four?

SKYLER: I’m just reading three at the moment. I’m still reading Rimbaud, plus The Gaudy Night and Elif Batuman’s The Possessed (which is wonderful btw!)

KELLY:And finally, a silly question: and Falling, Fly features a literally hellish hotel. What’s your most hellish hotel experience (or travel experience in general)?

SKYLER: That’s a great question! I was doing some research for In Dreams Begin last summer, traveling mostly in Ireland with a few days in London, but I had one thing I really wanted to see in France. In Samois-sur-Seine, a suburb of Paris, in the same graveyard where the legendary gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhart is buried, there’s a little memorial chapel where Maud Gonne buried her first child, Georges, and where she, with her married French lover, one Halloween night, tried to re-incarnate him, and conceived her daughter Iseult instead. When history gives you something like that, you put it in your book! But I didn’t know what the chapel looked like or how it was constructed, and I’d tried to write the scene without that information and just couldn’t do it. So I booked two nights in France: an expensive one in Paris (because they all are) and, to make up for it, a remarkably inexpensive one in Avon, which is as close as the trains get to Samois.

I don’t speak French, and I’ve never traveled alone in a country where I don’t know the language, but I had amazingly detailed directions given to me by a total stranger on a web travel site. Following those on blind faith (or foolishness), I took a bus to the train station. At the train station, I realized that one cannot just assume that there will be trains going where you want at a time convenient to you. I waited several hours and finally got on a train. The pre-recorded stop announcements are all given in very fast French, and it’s too dark out the train windows to read the station names. I got off the train at a desolate stop, completely uncertain I was in the right town. This was where it got hellish.

My directions from there were to walk to my hotel, a mere five minutes’ walk away. But it’s dark, and there’s construction that Google Maps hadn’t shown, and I had to go to the bathroom. I had no idea which street to take. All the roads were empty, so I struck out with my rolly-bag down the first street that radiated from the train station. I walked ten minutes without seeing anything, turned around, and walked back. I did this down each of the next three streets, including one with loitering French youth watching me from a dark parking lot, talking loudly, possibly to me, possibly not, but certainly watching me and my very loud rolly-bag rolling down the street past them and then back up the street.

Nervous, tired, frightened and having to pee like never before in my life, I finally hit on the right street, found the hotel and discovered it locked up tight. The lobby is dark. But there was a large ATM-looking thing by the door, and after much cursing, digging through folders for confirmation numbers, guessing at the French, and bouncing rapidly from foot to foot, I got a little printed receipt with a door code on it. It unlocked the lobby door and my room door, and my rolly-bag tripped me in the final mad dash for the bathroom.

It was a terrible hotel room, complete with bunk beds, blood stain on the floor, and screaming Armenians down the hall. I sleep well and long anyway. The next morning, I managed to convey to the lobby guy that I wanted to leave my suitcase with him and come back for it that afternoon. I headed confidently back to the train station, where I discovered that buses, like trains, are not scheduled to please me. There are two to Samois. One at 8 AM, one at 4. If I waited for the four o’clock bus, there won’t be another back to Avon. So I got directions from the very lovely French woman at the train station who keeps shaking her head and saying “You understand not!” to me. I assumed she was referring to my pig-headed insistence on walking the five kilometers to Samois rather than waiting for the bus, and off I went. Hell-free again. fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsIt was a gorgeous walk along a road through the woods of Fountainbleau – Maud and her dog Dagda were fond of walking here – so I was checking through the tree-trunks for their ghosts. The weather was perfect – sunny, but not too hot – and I was happy and relaxed with hours to explore the graveyard and catch the bus back.

Samois was one of the most beautiful towns I’ve ever seen. I stopped into a pub to use the restroom (amazing how critical the most basic things can be when you’re traveling) and had a gorgeous espresso from an ancient copper machine behind the bar, much to the amusement of the two old men drinking beer who kept lifting their glasses to me and grinning, as though they’re on to something really clever that I’m just too slow, or too American, to understand. I found the cemetery and Django’s grave with no trouble, but the one photo I’ve seen of Georges’ chapel is definitely not his. There was someone else’s name on it, complete with pictures of the married couple buried there.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe only other chapel in the graveyard had no name on it, but peering through the grate in the front door, I can see it had rusted, hinged metal doors in the floor, which jibes with Yeats’ description. I was grateful that there was no one around to watch me, though, because it took me three running jumps to get a hand on the ledge of the window in the back wall. After that, barely holding on with one hand, I poked my camera, lanyard firmly around my wrist, into the crypt to get a glimpse of the opposite side that I can’t see through the much more conveniently located door window. Maud paid for the grave to be maintained in perpetuity, and she would not be happy with the state of things. There was a shovel and bucket in the chapel, and the little altar has collapsed. It made me sad, this big empty, ruined thing marking her grief and her lost child. I tidied it up as best I could, and left a little paper heart for Georges.

I found the bus stop in Samois, but it was hours from due, and the day was still gorgeous, so I walked back to Avon to find the lobby locked up tight again. I found a cleaning lady who spoke about as much French as I do, but no English. We gestured wildly to each other, miming suitcases and desks and men who should be standing behind them, and eventually she called someone and went back to cleaning rooms. After about ten minutes, the guy who took my rolly-bag that morning re-appeared, unlocked a room behind his desk and returned my luggage. I took a stunningly well-timed train back to Paris feeling like locked doors, blood stains and missing desk guys aside, the hotel in Avon was worth it.

I hope you felt the same about your visit to the hotel I made up in Ireland!

KELLY: Absolutely! Thank you for taking the time to chat with us.

Skyler White is author of dark fantasy novels and Falling, Fly (Berkley, March 2010) and In Dreams Begin (Berkley, November 2010). She lives in Austin, TX. Learn more at Skyler White’s website. Comment below for a chance to win a copy of and Falling, Fly. Ms. Skyler will personalize and send a copy to two lucky FanLit readers!


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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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18 comments

  1. Congratulations on your new book! You have some of the most original ideas I’ve ever seen. Again, congratulations.

  2. You hotel trip story was so entertaining! Reminds me of the time I went to the Netherlands with an older freind… neither one of us knew German and we had a heck of a time finding the hotel. I think we walked around with our luggage a couple of hours! :-)

  3. Anonymous /

    The worse hotel experience for me was in Prague in a hostel. It took five cage-like gates with different keys to get to our rooms. It was dirty and scary because strange slept in rooms with you.

  4. This book looks really good and I cant wait to read and falling, fly. Great interview and giveaway.

    Thank you!
    kmichellec87(at)yahoo(dot)com

  5. Great inteview! And thank you for this awesome giveaway! Please enter me, if it is open to international readers! :)

    Thank you!

    Giada M.

    fabgiada @ gmail.com

  6. awesome interview and give away

    i have a story about a bad hotel i was staying at a high end hotel went to take a shower after i got there was along hot car ride had a note stating that it was clean and when they cleane dit i slippe din the shower before i even turned on the water
    talk about grosssed out it was soo nasty what was in the tub was sticky and i felt so dirty i called up to the front desk and complained they just said theyd change me rooms didnt comp my stay or anything just wante dto change rooms i slept so bad because i felt dirty never again will i stay there

  7. forgot to leave an email

    [email protected]

    count me in

  8. great interview you guys! Been wanting to read this book for awhile now, thanks for giving us a chance to win it!

    van
    Littopandaxpress(at)yahoo(dot)com

  9. Anonymous /

    I have been dying to read White’s And Falling, Fly! I would love a to win! This is an awesome giveaway, thank you!

    patronus89013 at yahoo dot com

  10. Anonymous /

    Loved the hotel story!! That’s what would happen to me! Great contest, please enter me.

    I follow on gfc

    mlawson17 at hotmail dot com

  11. Anonymous /

    Enjoyed the bad hotel story.

    Must admit I have been lucky that way and not had a really bad one.

    If the giveaway is open worldwide, please enter me.

    Thanks

    Neville

    buddytho {at} gmail DOT com

  12. Loved the hotel story. Fortunately I’ve never been stranded in a foreign country. The most I’ve had to deal with has been trying to order food off a menu that was all in german. Fortunately Hamburg was on the menu and it really was a hamburger – if oddly seasoned.

    sgiden AT verizon.net

  13. My own worst stay was one in South Carolina about 8 or 9 years ago. It was a road trip, for whatever reason it had gotten to be 2am, and we were also low on money. Well…when you’re looking for a motel that’s both (a) cheap and (b) open with vacancies at 2am, you’re likely to end up at a very specific type of motel. :choked:

    They were shocked that someone wanted to stay through the night. They weren’t even entirely sure what the check-out time was. (This actually ended up serving us well, as we overslept and needed to check out later than planned.)

    The office was encased in bulletproof glass, the toilet came pre-clogged, there were mystery stains everywhere, and I kept feeling like things were crawling on the mattress. Uccchhh! It’s really funny in retrospect though.

  14. Anonymous /

    I’ve heard so many good things about the book that I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy :D

    lesly7ch(at)yahoo(dot)com

  15. Great post! I have really been wanting to read this book :)
    throuthehaze at gmail dot com

  16. Would really like a chance to read this book :-)) :-))

  17. Awesome post! I’ve been dying to read this book– I’ve heard great things about it :-)

  18. And our winners are ….
    KMichelleC87
    ale_bodden11

    Contact Justin within 5 days and send him your address. Happy reading!