November 8, 2010

WayWords with The Black Arrow, author of The Blessing and the Curse

FFN Summary: By pretending she is falling for Edward, Bella is fulfilling Esme's dying wish. But sexy, possessive Edward can read her mind. Will she ever get into his? Can Bella forget the pain of her teenage years, and can she resist his relentless seduction? AH.
Introduction: Brilliantly captivating and recently completed, The Black Arrow’s The Blessing and the Curse is a must-read for any twific fan. It’s an angst/romance story with a possessive Edward and a premise that will keep you reading from prologue to end. The Black Arrow (Sally) was kind enough to answer some questions about her fic and writing process, so read on to find out more!
How would you describe The Blessing and the Curse to someone who’s never read it?

An intense, slow paced and dark story of unhealthy obsession and flawed people. Unashamedly inspired by Wuthering Heights and featuring every colour of the rainbow!


Your prose is beautiful – some of the best imagery I’ve ever read. Had you written much before starting TB&TC?

TB&TC is the first thing I’ve ever written. Well, I mean I’ve written a few little drabbles here and there in high school (over ten years ago) when I couldn’t hold the words in any more, but I’ve never written anything that had a sustained plot. It’s been a huge learning curve.

Describe the moment when the idea for TB&TC popped into your head. And how quickly did you put pen to paper, so to speak?

I’d always told my (soon to be beta) bookbag that I’d love to get some writing experience. We had just signed up to a writing class, after finally deciding to do something about our suspected talent, and we were both right into reading fanfiction around that time. I said if I had an idea for a fanfic, I’d try to write something for practice.

With that in mind, I had to think of a semi-original premise. It was really daunting- with over 40,000 Twilight fanfics on the site, I was certain that nothing I wrote would be noteworthy. I started thinking of twists on the canon, and thinking in opposites. I had always thought how interesting it would have been if Edward COULD read her mind. Then I started to think about what I’d like to read- the story I was searching for but was never fully satisfied by. I love Wuthering Heights and the intense, claustrophobic and disturbing sense of inevitability. I wanted to read something intense- I wanted to feel like I was THERE, in that moment. Anyway, the idea of going home to visit a dying Esme just popped into my head, and Edward’s ‘game’. I had the entire idea on the drive to work.

I wrote the first four chapters a few days later, but then hesitated to post them. I couldn’t see any point- I thought that no one would find it or read it. But bookbag encouraged me, telling me I had nothing to lose, and I uploaded it with zero expectations. I thought twenty reviews was a reasonable goal, and now I’m nearly at 12,000. So really, we have bookbag to thank/blame! And hey, the message is as always: there’s no new stories, only new ways of telling them. The idea of TB&TC itself is not particularly outrageously original. It’s just told in a different way.

The prologue of TB&TC starts off with a telling quote from Wuthering Heights. Do you think on some level women secretly yearn for a consuming, and even frightening, love? Or are we just fascinated by the concept and like reading about it?

I think people like reading about things that would disturb them in real life. And maybe that little remnant of our teenage selves want to remember what it was like to be totally consumed by someone else. It’s alarming and seductive, and beats the hell out of reading about a normal romance in which the protagonist is mildly irritated with her boyfriend for not rinsing his cereal bowl.

Your Edward is sexy, possessive and relentless. What were your inspirations for this character?

He’s just the sort of man I love to read. Remember, this entire fic has just been total self gratification for me. I’ve been able to create my favourite kind of male character: the kind that loves fiercely, is playful when he means to be serious, is deadly serious about who he wants, and the glimpses of vulnerability give him a hidden dimension. He’s an arrogant, unforgivably awful and self centred man, but his redeeming feature is the depth of his love. Maybe his only redeeming feature.

What has reader reaction been like when it comes to your Bella? Do they always agree with her decisions and motivations?

People feel frustrated with her, and I understand that. And I admit, she wasn’t an easy character to write. My Curseward leapt out onto the screen, and made me laugh with the things my fingers were typing (sucking a diamond ring- I have NO idea where that came from!) but she was more shadowy. Most people find her too soft, too fragile. What I found most interesting was that before the Michael Newton character arrived, people were hard on her for being cruel to Curseward. But after Michael arrived, people were critical of her cruelty to Michael AND Curseward. She couldn’t win! People shouted in their reviews at her- stop being wishy-washy and stop playing it safe and just JUMP! But by the same token, others criticized her for relenting so quickly. I think that readers are very hard on Bellas. I take it all as feedback, and I hope that the next female protagonist I write is easier for me to pin down.

I liked that Michael was a character. Did you deliberately choose him instead of Jacob, thereby giving us a new triangle to focus on?

I needed a fairly neutral male character, and most people would expect a Jacob type character to be more intense and passionate. I needed someone whose greatest crime was a sort of exhausted workaholic emotional neglect, and Michael Newton fit the bill perfectly. How easily I was able to imagine him wearily vacuuming the hallway outside her study, stressing over his morning’s court appearance. I needed someone whose greatest crime was NOT being Edward, and he just fit. For the record, I like my Michael.

In terms of genre, the story is an angst/romance. As a reader, I always felt the emotion was raw and real, believable and moving. How do you as a writer inject this emotion into your words? Did you always get the level of angst right when writing, or were adjustments sometimes needed?

It was unbelievably hard to write this story in the style that I did. I have never written before, and to decide to write in such a prose-heavy style was a bit ambitious. And it took a lot of time. Towards the end in particular, the weight of my words was harder to bear, and it took weeks for me to birth each chapter. Each chapter took at least six or seven drafts- it was the only way I could achieve the level of detail and the intensity of emotion that people liked and connected with. I’d write the bare bones, and then do what bookbag and I dubbed ‘weathering’… adding in the colours and smells and textures that bring it all into focus. I wanted to make people feel like they were held still, right in that room or field or car, holding their breath as they felt the scene playing out in front of them. That’s what I was lacking in so many things I have read. The moments that are the most important seem to slip by so quickly in only a page or two- I want to savour it.

My style has been described as ‘purple prose’ and to that, I simply say that this is how I like to write, and I never claimed to be an expert. It’s hurtful, especially when people don’t actually put it in a review so that I can improve, but say it in forums where I stumble across it, feeling like a fool. It is hard to put yourself out there. I think I’ll try to strike a balance on the next thing I write.

What Edward has seen and captured as a photographer is a compelling element of his personal story, as are the scars inflicted by his line of work. What informed your decision to make him a photographer?

I wanted to give him a creative, adventurous job, and I didn’t want to make his material wealth a focus like some stories do. It’s tempting to gift your characters with fantastic jobs and a designer wardrobe, after all. I wanted to juxtapose his ability to ‘hear’ with a job that requires him to purely ‘see’. War photography seemed fitting- his self-inflicted punishment for being so utterly awful. I needed a job which forced him to be a nomad, wandering the planet. I read some blogs written by war photographers, and I was struck by the sheer sacrifice that they make in order to give a voice to people who are in these awful conflicts. They force themselves to look upon horror in order to record history, and I think it would take an extraordinary personality type to be able to cope with it.

You chose to write in third person – as opposed to first person or first person with switching narratives – and it was a decision that paid off really well. When it comes to other fics, are you still tired of only reading first person?

I just love reading something through the eyes of an omniscient narrator, who can make observations on characters motivations that they are unaware of. It’s so much fun to write. You can shape the reader’s perception and put in delicious little throwaway lines that just make them CRAVE more information. I still get PMs from people asking, “What DID his face look like when she sat on his lap in Esme’s room?” And I always reply, “What do YOU think it looked like?” Stories come alive for people when they have gaps for their imagination to fill in. My favourite books have little bits that I will never KNOW, and that’s what makes me reread… like one day the missing puzzle piece will reveal itself. I’m maddening to many, I’m sure. I hope TB&TC has inspired more people to play God and write in third person. Back when I started it, third person was relatively uncommon- it was all EPOV and BPOV. I like reading any perspective, as long as they make me feel like I am there.

Different authors rely on their betas in different ways. How would you describe Bookbag’s impact on your work?

bookbag has been indispensable. She was the one who encouraged me to write it, post it, and she has workshopped every single chapter. She’s questioned my motivations, challenged ideas that I thought I had and run a fine tooth comb over every word I’ve written. She’s had the guts to tell me when something doesn’t work, and she’s given me back a draft I’d slaved over and told me to rewrite sections. I often wondered what she must have thought when I would pass on a draft for her review. It’s very exposing, posting fiction online, but there is nothing scarier than letting someone you actually know in real life read it. Imagine reading a sex scene written by someone you know. Mortifying, right? Well, we established the Realm of No Wrong very early on and I’ve never felt like she was judging me. She’s only ever wanted me to write the best piece of fiction I was capable of, and for that I thank her.

What was it like winning a Golden Lemon Award?

Um, awesomely embarrassing! Do you know, the now-famous ‘Alchemy’ chapter has about four times as many hits as the other chapters. It was a difficult scene to write- I took weeks perfecting it, trying to live up to expectation and to do justice to the culmination of a lifetime of longing and passion. I’m really happy with it, and I’d like to think that it transcends the physical act. I hope it’s tasteful and fits with the story. But yes, I say that winning was slightly embarrassing, because I never thought when I was writing it that I would win an award for a sex scene.

Describe how it felt to complete the story, and also to post it?

It was wonderful. Everyone knows how badly I struggled in the last few months of writing this story. When I started writing it, I was in a place in my life where I was very introspective and slightly melancholy, and this story was an outlet for me. Angst was my middle name back then. But things change; people change, and I got busier at work, and the sun came out and I realised that I had really badly neglected my partner for a year from locking myself away to write, and I had a garden and a house that needed my attention. And writing no longer felt like a hobby any more. I wasn’t having fun. I wanted to move on from it, but I was no longer in the right headspace to write the ending. There was so much pressure- messages every day from people asking me to finish it. I was desperate. I’d listen to sad music, trying to make myself melancholy… my own version of kicking around in the foliage on the side of the road, trying to find the entrance to the Cullen dimension. Just like any birth, it took a few final painful heaves, and it was DONE. I knew writing an ending would be impossibly hard, especially as the story had evolved far beyond anything I had originally planned. The entire story wrote itself and I could not control it. So I gave the last chapters to my beta and pre reader, and got on a plane to Paris to start a lovely European adventure. I posted the first chapter in Paris, and the final chapter from a hotel in Interlaken. It was strange, being so far and so disconnected. Usually when I uploaded a chapter at home, I’d have twenty minutes of silence and then my inbox would implode. Completing the story whilst overseas was an oddly solitary sensation- I didn’t read any reviews for a week or two, so had no idea if I’d hit or missed. I’m proud of myself for managing to finish it, and maybe when enough time has passed I will be able to read this story myself and be able to truly see what I’ve accomplished. I’m still too close to it to be able to do that.

What are your writing plans for the future?

TB&TC will be the only fanfiction I write. I was toying with the idea of doing a prequel at one point, but I think it would just take too much time. I’ve realised how badly I want to be a writer. A professional, published writer. I’m so grateful to everyone who has read this story and given me feedback and helped me with this journey. I’m planning on writing original fiction, and I hope to have a completed manuscript by December 2011. That’s my goal. I had an idea for my first novel whilst on the Glacier Express travelling through Switzerland, so wish me luck!

Do you have any fic recs for us?

I’m sorry, I don’t! I’ve moved on from fanfiction- I just can’t keep reading the names Edward and Bella over and over. The Twilight bug has faded out for me. I will always love it and remember fondly the days where getting an update alert in my inbox would make me squeal. Such a gift that those writers gave me! But I think that there are so many talented people writing fanfic, and they’re having fun with it. That’s what everyone should do. Have fun, keep it as an enjoyable hobby and a way to explore what kind of writer they want to be, in such a positive and supportive fandom.

Fun Stuff

  • Favourite holiday destination? I’m just back from Europe a few weeks ago, and I’d have to say that I’m already yearning to be back on the beach in Positano, Italy. 
  • What’s one thing you consider a blessing, and one thing you consider a curse? I’d say that fame and money would be both a blessing and a curse. 
  • Favourite Twilight book and movie? Eclipse! 
  • First album you ever bought? I begged my dad to buy me the Tiffany album, and I’d rock out to it on my Walkman out the front of my parent’s holiday caravan. The eighties were awesome. 
  • Biggest fashion disaster? Deliberately mismatched socks, stirrup pants and a hypercolour t shirt- all courtesy of the eighties. 
  • Worst haircut? Again, the eighties were cruel to me, and a hairdresser cut my hair into a mullet when I was about nine. It was absolutely horrendous. It’s looking like the eighties were my blessing and curse! 
  • Last time you cried? I cry all the time, and it was probably yesterday, watching footage of sailors returning to shore after a year on duty, and a man seeing his baby for the first time. 
  • Pepsi or Coca-cola? Coke, but I’m on a permanent diet since gaining so much weight from sitting on my ass writing fanfiction, so it’s got to be sugar free Coke Zero (but I YEARN for full strength Coke.)
  • Peas or carrots? Mmmm, carrots! And my pug Delia loves carrots too!

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