(re)Visions: Alice – Interview: C. A Young, author of the novelette “The World in a Thimble”

(image (c) Candlestick and Gleam)
(image (c) Candlestick and Gleam)

 

This is the second in a series of interviews with the (re)Visions: Alice that I published on a now sadly defunct writing site back in 2012. I hope you enjoy discovering more about the authors behind these remarkably imaginative re-imagined tales.

C. A Young is an American author whose intricate writing style is ideally suited to the complex, layered world of Lewis Carroll. While he didn’t slavishly adhere to Carroll’s fantastical creation when writing his contribution to (re)Visions: Alice, he did draw on the dichotomy inherent in the story where real life lessons lurk beneath the insanity of white rabbits and Mad Hatter’s tea party.

His story, The World In a Thimble, takes its inspiration from an imagined American wonderland where the fantastical is used to convey the essence of the modern United States in all its complexity.

“It’s sort of a reflective other world to the one we inhabit,” Young says. “Everything there is part of the cultural imagination. What I tried to do was think of things that were embedded in the American cultural consciousness, such as cowboys, scout masters and speakeasies, and played with those; it turned out to be exactly the kind of thing I wanted to write.”
(source: Voxmagazine.com)

I recently interviewed him for writersteaparty and we’re sure you’ll enjoy the great things he had to say about his involvement in this unique project.

(1) What have you written prior to this and how did you come to be involved in the (re)Visions: Alice project? Was it a natural fit for you as a writer?
My efforts to write for publication actually sort of sprang out of my efforts as a fanwriter. Not in a “file the numbers off” sort of way – though I suppose I’ve got some work out there that might make a decent novel if I dusted it off — but the instant, often positive feedback did a lot to bolster my confidence, and befriending a couple of honest, skilled beta readers helped me learn to be excited about the editing process. Plus, it meant I had a lot of experience writing in other people’s universes, which I think turned out to be a very useful skill when it came to writing The World in a Thimble.

While I had already published some short stories, poetry, and essays under my own name before Kate and I made contact, we actually met because a friend of mine from the fandom days (Sam Starbuck) was working as editor and typesetter for a subscription short story project I ran in 2011 called Hold Something. Sam knew both of us, and thought the DIY ethic I had going on meshed well with Kate’s interests, and put us in touch. I’ve loved the Alice story for a long time, so when I heard what Kate had in mind, I was on board pretty much right away!

(2) How hard was it to pay homage to such a well-loved book as Alice in Wonderland in your contributed story without losing your own voice? Especially since it casts such a long shadow over modern fiction?
It’s funny, because I don’t think I was actually intimidated until I actually sat down to start writing. I went through this very enthusiastic prewriting phase where I read a chapter of the original every night before bed, and I went out and bought Martin Gardner’s The Annotated Alice, and so on. Full immersion, basically. Problem was, when I sat down to write, it took me some time to get out of that full immersion groove. I had several working drafts for a while, and it took a few false starts before I quit trying to emulate the source material and really found my voice for the piece.

Once I found that, it was easier to understand what sort of story I was trying to tell, and everything came much more naturally.

(3) What is the one fantastical element from Alice in Wonderland that you were most looking forward to introducing into your story and why? Did it come first or did you simply weave it into an existing idea you had?
Alice has always appealed to me, I think, because it’s very much an Otherworld journey in a very ancient tradition. It’s like the old folklore where the right footstep takes you under the hill and into another kind of reality. I’m not sure Carroll intended to produce something like that, but given that the British Isles are a hot spot for that kind of story, it was certainly a part of his literary heritage.

That said, I think the thing I really latched onto this time around was the way the Alice story plays with iconic types and social roles, and how those things have rules, and all the interesting things you can do with that. It works both inside the story in that the characters are able to do it — Wonderland is marvellously legalistic in this overblown, imaginative play sort of way — but also from out here as a writer. It was great fun using that bundle of ideas as a
tool and going, “Okay, which bit of Americana am I going to pull out of the bag today?”

 

(image (c) Candlestick and Gleam)
(image (c) Candlestick and Gleam)

 

(4) Was Alice in Wonderland an inspiration for you prior to being involved in this project or did you really only come to appreciate its worth once you started writing your story for (re)Visions: Alice?
I grew up on the Disney film, and still have a (slightly dog-chewed) copy that was given to me as a gift when I was in grade school. Plus, it seems like something Alice-flavored crops up every few years in some medium or another. I’m not sure I’d say Carroll’s has been my primary inspiration, but it’s been a presence for a very long time in a friendly touchstone kind of way.

(5) What is your preferred writing style? Pantser or plotter? How did that work with a unique project such as this?
I think I want very badly to be a hard-core plotter. Some of my best friends — and I’m thinking of J.C. Hay in particular, who wrote a fabulous sci-fi romance novella called Hearts and Minds for Samhain’s Impulse Power anthology — are just amazing at it, and I really enjoy helping them plot doctor because you can see the wheels turning in their heads while the notecards stack up. Plus, plotting first gives you a really great road map, and I think that makes it easier to write faster.
It’s problematic for me, though, because so often I’ll feel inspired by something frustratingly intangible or non-verbal, like a feeling or a mental image. That can be extremely difficult to wrench a plot out of right away. I mean, there’s no way to notecard a face nobody else can see, or a sound. Plus, if I invest a lot of time and energy into prewriting, I come away feeling like I’ve already done a lot of the discovery process. Sometimes the whole outcome of a thing can change because of a bit of dialogue, you know?

Maybe the best analogy might be to say that I write how I drive. I make the effort to look up directions and print them out, but once I’m on the road things may have to get highly improvisational if I take a wrong turn or end up hitting some construction along the way. Plus, you know, it can be very difficult to drive and read printed directions! Oh, and sometimes the car breaks down…

(6) What does the future hold for you? Similar themed projects or do you plan to take a dramatic leap to another genre entirely?
Well, I’m lucky in that my first and best love is playing with what-ifs. There is literally no limit on the kind of thing one can write with that impulse. My deepest inclinations tend to be sci-fi and fantasy, with fantasy being the dominant partner in that arrangement.

My plan for 2012 is pretty ambitious in that I’d like to get at least two novella or novel-length drafts finished before the fall, as well as some poetry and short fiction. I also recently started a blog called Not Broadcast Safe so that I have an excuse to do some more critical writing about media.

While I’m not looking specifically at Alice stories right now, I do enjoy the transformative work aspect of projects like (re)Visions: Alice, and would definitely do something in that vein again if the right project appeared. One of the luxuries I have this year is that my 2012 plan is a lot less rigid in terms of specific deadlines, which means saying yes is a whole lot easier to do!

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