Volunteer Andrea interviews Roz Morris, author of a dozen novels, most recently My Memories of a Future Life and Nail Your Novel.
Andrea: Your novel, My Memories of a Future Life, is about a woman caught up in a series of future life regressions (for lack of a better word). What is your vision of the future that most defines the flash forwards in your book?
Roz Morris: In her current life, Carol, a concert pianist, is searching for a cure to a mysterious injury that stops her playing. She meets a hypnotist, who offers to help her. She doesn’t necessarily believe she’s lived before, but she’s desperate for a cure – so she asks to see a future life. On one level this is a symptom of her desperation – she sees no hope in anything that might happen to her real self. On another level, it’s an eerie, real experience. She finds she is Andreq, a soothesayer or healer in a world where everyone lives in domes in the sea – possibly after global warming. Andreq has a disability he has to hide and, like Carol, he’s searching for a cure. Once again, like a karmic pattern repeating, she finds herself trying to hide a disastrous problem.
Andrea: You decided to serialize My Memories of a Future Life. What advice do you have for other novelists contemplating this approach to publication?
Roz Morris: It’s relatively easy to chop a novel up, but not easy to make it work well. Like a TV series, the book has to be structured to be a good read in each episode. I had to re-edit which was quite a lot of work – but worth it because it strengthened the novel. And readers seemed to like it because most of the people who tried episode 1 completed the set! More here for more about this.
Andrea: You evoke a strong yet well-balanced sense of place (the middle of London versus a small, coastal town) in My Memories of a Future Life. How do you keep description, dialogue, character development, plot, etc all balanced in a novel?
Roz Morris: Thank you! Everything in a novel has to work together. So description has to increase our understanding of the novel’s atmosphere, the characters’ feelings and the overall themes. Characters have to develop because of what they do in the plot, which are deeds that make them uncomfortable and get them into trouble. I have a tool called a beat sheet which I use to assess the true purpose of each scene, and from that I can make sure that everything knits to make an engrossing, tense, integrated experience.
Andrea: In Nail Your Novel you offer writing advice to other novelists. What writing advice has been the most valuable to you?
Roz Morris: I’m always leaping on new pieces of wisdom. Recently I heard the musician Nile Rodgers talking about how a great artist “serves the project,” not their ego. I love this. When I edit, the way I make myself ruthless enough to cut my favourite passages is by telling myself to “serve the project.” Another piece of wisdom I love is Francis Bacon’s observation that the artist’s job is not to explain; it is to deepen the mystery.
Andrea: You’ve published a dozen novels either under your own name or as a ghostwriter. What gets easier about the creation of each subsequent novel?
Roz Morris: Yes, with My Memories of a Future Life I’ve now notched up a dozen! Putting a novel together definitely becomes easier. For instance, I know that if I have a certain kind of protagonist, they need a particular antagonist. They also need friends of particular flavours, and subplots that echo the main problems and round out the world. I also know that my first solution for a problem is not necessarily the best, and that if I carry on digging I will find something much better.
Andrea: Does anything get harder about writing a novel?
Roz Morris: Satisfying my need to be original. With my own novels, I always start with a feeling that I am pushing boundaries and may have bitten off more than I can chew. When I finally make it work, I wonder how I’ll ever do it again!
Andrea: What tenets of Nail Your Novel, your writing advice book to other
novelists, did you have to remind yourself about when you were writing
My Memories of a Future Life?
Roz Morris: The first draft you write is for you. Subsequent drafts are refining what the novel should be. As you redraft and redraft, you learn more and more what the book really is and how to be true to it.
Andrea: When it’s time to write, how do you stay focused?
Roz Morris? If I’m writing a first draft, I listen to music. It’s more than background or mood; it can grab the heart of a scene, help me discover a truth or give me clarity about how a character feels. All my novels have what I call an undercover soundtrack – here’s a piece about the one for My Memories of a Future Life. In fact, this post was so popular I’ve now turned it into a long-running series where other writers describe how they’ve used music in their own novels.
Andrea: Do you have any favorite United Kingdom or European literary journals?
Roz Morris: I’m addicted to The Guardian books podcast. I listen to them when I go running. Other than that, I find what I want to read through searches on Amazon and LibraryThing. LibraryThing is brilliant for finding novels by subject, style and theme.
Andrea: What are you working on now?
Roz Morris: A few things! My MG novel Life Form 3 is out with publishers at the moment. I have two other novels brewing – one adult and one MG/YA. They’re at the embryonic stage – I’m collecting ideas and clarifying my vision for them. Also I’m incubating two other Nail Your Novel books.
Roz Morris is a bestselling ghostwriter and book doctor. Her novel, My Memories of a Future Life, is available on Kindle and in print in the U.S. and the U.K. The first four chapters can also be listened to and downloaded for free. Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence is available in the U.S. and the U.K. Roz blogs at http://www.nailyournovel.com and has a double life on Twitter. For writing advice, follow Roz as @dirtywhitecandy. For more normal chit-chat, try Roz on @ByRozMorris.