New Voice: Rebecca Maizel on Infinite Days

By Cynthia Leitich Smith

Rebecca Maizel
is the first-time author of Infinite Days (St. Martin’s Press, 2010, 2013)(author blog & author facebook page). From the promotional copy:

“Throughout all my histories, I found no one I loved more than you…no one.”

Those were some of Rhode’s last words to me. The last time he would pronounce his love. The last time I would see his face.

It was the first time in 592 years I could take a breath. Lay in the sun. Taste.

Rhode sacrificed himself so I, Lenah Beaudonte, could be human again. So I could stop the blood lust.

I never expected to fall in love with someone else that wasn’t Rhode.

But Justin was…daring. Exciting. More beautiful than I could dream.

I never expected to be sixteen again…then again, I never expected my past to come back and haunt me…

Could you describe both your pre-and-post contract revision process? What did you learn along the way? How did you feel at each stage? What advice do you have for other writers on the subject of revision?

Rebecca at work!

The biggest learning curve? I didn’t realize how tactile I was; I actually need a pen and paper. Once I was contracted, I became super aware of every choice I was making and every word on the page.

When I knew that people were paying me for writing and it was no longer some pipe dream from behind the bar, I was super aware of my process of revision (I was a bartender for 11 years).

At that point, I had to identify and find my process. Other people were involved, giving me notes — people that had literally read thousands of books. That pressure was very hard to take, so I paid attention to what I was putting on the page, and how I was choosing to do it.

My process goes something like this: I type as much as I can, usually get blocked, hand write, input those handwritten pages into the computer, and then start printing — and repeat. I have to see my work on the printed page instead of on the computer.

Something about those infinite number of computer pages usually blocks me about half way into the second act. So when I print, I am able to see on the page what my book will look like.

I always knew that I needed to see my work on the page in front of me, I was just never aware of the repetition of my process. I hope other people do this and I don’t sound loony tunes. I also read aloud when things sound clunky. I should probably be reading this interview aloud.

Another aspect of my revising process is where I start my novel. Usually what I think is my beginning chapter, usually isn’t. It usually ends up being what I needed to write to get into the book. The faux opening expresses the voice of the book, but as I revise and think of the world I am setting up, I usually find a better way to open. Sometimes I need help.

For example: When penning the opening of Stolen Nights (St. Martin’s, 2013), I was 100% stuck on Lenah waking up from surviving the ritual in a hospital. I don’t know why, but I just couldn’t imagine opening in a different way. That is, until my editor said to me that she wanted the problem/conflict on the first page. I don’t think she’ll mind me sharing this note because I think it’s an important editorial note.

A lot of writers struggle with the dilemma of where to begin. How do you balance world building, reveal of character/setting, and try to get the plot going?

It’s important to hook readers, especially young readers, and this note really tested my revising skills. I had to balance the two audiences of Stolen Nights, the readers who had read the first book in the series and the readers who had not.

I had to introduce Lovers Bay and Wickham Boarding School, all while establishing very quickly that this story was a fantasy, a low fantasy where the magical world is hidden from the realistic every day world.

I didn’t make it to page 1, but I did make it to the first half of page 2 and I’m quite proud of it. I’m not sure I could have found that beginning on my own. It’s important to trust your “trusted readers” (that’s why we call them that, after all) and to listen if someone thinks your opening isn’t working. Trust the process. Write the bad opening without knowing it then revise. Your characters will thank you for putting them in the wrong place at the right time in your manuscript.

As a historical fiction writer, what drew you first-character, concept, or historical period? In whichever case, how did you go about building your world and integrating it into the story? What were the special challenges? Where did you turn for inspiration or support?

Photo of Rebecca by Olivia Wilcox

When I first started writing Infinite Days, I was fascinated by the concept of accountability. I say this now, in hindsight, because I don’t think I was very conscious of this at the time. I think what happened artistically is that I heard a voice in my head and knew I had to write her.

Lenah came to me very viscerally and I knew immediately that she was old, very old, but I saw her in my head as very young physically. I reconciled these two things by making her a vampire.

I don’t think I thought very much about it except that she had a very big guilt issue. She had a big problem. She was old, she was angry, and she was tired of craving blood. She wanted to come back to the land of the living, she wanted to be human.

That was always my intention when writing Lenah. She wanted to come back to the light. But can you when you’ve been a murderous vampire for 592 years?

592 years gets to the answer of your question.

If Lenah has lived for hundreds of years but was a vampire, only certain aspects of history would matter to her. For instance, the older my vampires get, the more they can withstand the sun. Yet, the older they get, the more their minds begin to wane. Lenah, by the time she is 300, is really losing her mind. Being alive for too long is beginning to eat away at her mind.

Georgie on Rebecca’s desk

So I had to choose what would be important? Lenah is 592 years old and when she is made a vampire it is 1417. The plot of Infinite Days is modern day! That’s a long time! So I decided to keep the most important moments in history directly connected to Lenah’s internal, emotional arc.

Yes, the French Revolution is critical in the history of humanity but Lenah is living in England at that time. I didn’t include what didn’t affect her within the active moments of the story. I also only included what would stand out juxtaposed to modern day, as this book straddles Lenah’s history and present day.

For example, in 1850 Lenah meets Vicken, one of the main characters of Infinite Days and Stolen Nights. But it’s1850 Scotland. There are no cars, something Lenah comments on in the opening of Infinite Days. Everything in the modern day is so loud. So I chose Girvan, Scotland.

I wanted somewhere on the coast so I contacted the Girvan, Scotland library and spoke to a historian over e-mail for several months. I think he was a bit surprised to be working on a young adult Gothic fantasy, but he was endlessly helpful.

I don’t think you can be afraid to ask for help. I think it’s crucial to ask because even if you are writing fantasy, it has to be believable. Here are some moments in history/technological innovations, etc, that I really had to consider when writing Infinite Days and Stolen Nights.

  • Candlelight and the transition to electricity
  • Telephones (my vampires don’t use them or acknowledge them)
  • 18th century France
  • 19th century Scotland
  • Victorian England
  • Daguerreotypes
  • Orchards in the middle ages in England 
  • Clothing from 1400-2010 
  • The Order of the Garter/Richard the III 
  • The Black Plague 
  • Taverns in Girvan Scotland 
  • Bar songs of Scotland in 1850

You get the idea. I had to build an entire back story for Lenah and her coven. There are about 50 more items on this list, but this is a good place to start.

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