Friday, February 1, 2013

Feature Friday: Miriam Forster

Miriam Forster learned to read at the age of five, wrote her first story at the age of seven and has been playing with words ever since. In real life Miriam is a recovering barista and a bit of a hermit. But in her mind she’s a deadly international assassin-ninja and a fantastic dancer. When Miriam isn’t writing, she plots out fight scenes, obsesses about anthropology, nature shows and British television, and reads far too much.

Interview:

A.L.:
What piece of advice would you give to a budding author?

Miriam:

I'm going to sound like a broken record, but I really believe this. Write another book. Don't get stuck on a single project. Write--and read--widely and often.

A.L.:
What's your favorite book and why?

Miriam:
The Giver by Lois Lowry. I'm always blown away by that book, and by the way the world is slowly revealed in such an impactful way. It's pretty amazing.

A.L.:
Where did you get the idea for City of a Thousand Dolls?

Miriam:
I wanted to write a story about an estate where girls were being groomed for all kinds of different things. I thought it would be interesting to put a character in that world who wasn't being groomed for a specific task and see what would happen. The rest just kind of grew out of that.

A.L.:
Did you hit any snags while writing City of a Thousand Dolls? What were they and how did you fix them?

Miriam:
Oh so many snags. I started in the wrong place, had too many characters, my main character was too passive. I fixed things by rewriting. Lots and lots of rewriting. I cut and combined characters, made sure Nisha took action, even if it was the wrong action, and rearranged the book several times. They say "writing is rewriting" and it's completely the truth.

A.L.:
Which one of the characters in City of a Thousand Dolls is your favorite and why?

Miriam:
I've actually got a soft spot for Atiy, the first murder victim. She was exotically beautiful, but incredibly shy. She was being raised for a lifestyle that Nisha absolutely hates, but one which would have been a good choice for her personality and desires. To me, she kind of ended up representing the idea that there's no wrong way to be a girl. Plus her death is the catalyst for pretty much everything that happens in the book.

A.L.:
Can you tell us a little bit about your journey as an author?

Miriam:
I started writing in high school, but didn't take it seriously until my mid-twenties. I took some writing classes, but my writing didn't really start improving until I got into a critique group. For a while, I wrote everything, short stories, articles, picture books. City of a Thousand Dolls was the second book I wrote, and it took me a year to write it and two years of revising and querying to find an agent. It sold soon after. :)

A.L.:
What are you working on now?  Sequel?  Something new?

Miriam:
Companion novel! I can't talk too much about it yet, but there will be some crossover characters and some wider glimpses of the Empire. Should be fun.

A.L.:
City of a Thousand Dolls is considered a fresh South-Asian cross over novel by critics.  Can you tell us a little bit about what South Asian traits you sought to incorporate into your world?  In addition, can you tell us whether or not you sought to preserve these aspects or did you endeavor to "make them your own" in a fantasy setting?

Miriam:
"Considered by critics" is a phrase that still throws me. Sounds way too adult and professional. :)

I tend to build worlds from the ground up, focusing on the details. So all the little fiddly things, the food, the trees, the animals, weapons, etc, those are all related to--or taken from--South Asia. The Empire itself was originally based on the Indus River Valley area, but it ended up evolving into its own space. A similar thing happened with the caste system, which was inspired by India's social structure. They evolved to fit the needs of the book. But I tried to stay true to the South Asian feel, and keep the world firmly grounded there.

A.L.:

I'm sure other people have asked you this before, but I'm curious to know how you (being a modern woman) modeled a city created specifically for girls to be "groomed" for marriage and mistress-hood.  How did you get into their head-space?  Did you try to make them strong heroines who tried to break their societal bonds?  Or did you make your world a frame-work to display societal inequalities?  Or was it all a lot simpler than that? LOL.

Miriam:
Actually, that's a great question! The answer is, it's a lot simpler than that. Sort of. :)

See, I'm really fascinated by people who work within their cultural systems. Social systems don't exist in a vacuum. They exist because they work on some level. If you can figure out how they work--and why they exist--it becomes much easier to put yourself in someone else's headspace. The girls in the City were not only raised to accept their assigned places but to find power in them. And it helps that many of them had been rescued from worse fates.

It doesn't make the system fair, obviously. Both the City of a Thousand Dolls and the Empire have serious flaws. But you can't just take away the bad parts without understanding how that will affect the whole. Change comes both from people who can work inside the system and people who can stand up to it.

For that reason I wanted Nisha, my main character, to specifically NOT be a rebel. To be someone who was just trying to find her place in an unfair world, who had to balance survival and being true to herself. She ends up effecting change but not by being a the typical rebellious "strong heroine."

A.L.:
You're a fan of British television.  What's your favorite British television show and why?

Miriam:
Sherlock, hands down. I love the writing on that show, the way that the characters interact, the plot twists, the acting.... all of it. Fantastic storytelling all around.

The Giveaway:
Miriam is giving away an autographed copy of a poster of City of a Thousand Dolls.

City of a Thousand DollsAn exotic treat set in an entirely original, fantastical world brimming with deadly mystery, forbidden romance, and heart-stopping adventure.

Nisha was abandoned at the gates of the City of a Thousand Dolls when she was just a child. Now sixteen, she lives on the grounds of the isolated estate, where orphan girls apprentice as musicians, healers, courtesans, and, if the rumors are true, assassins. Nisha makes her way as Matron’s assistant, her closest companions the mysterious cats that trail her shadow. Only when she begins a forbidden flirtation with the city’s handsome young courier does she let herself imagine a life outside the walls. Until one by one, girls around her start to die.

Before she becomes the next victim, Nisha decides to uncover the secrets that surround the girls’ deaths. But by getting involved, Nisha jeopardizes not only her own future in the City of a Thousand Dolls—but her own life.


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