Ten Questions About Pantomime, by Laura Lam
I met Laura at Chicon this past year, and at the time I met her I didn’t realize she had a book coming out — but once she started talking about it I was like, “Okay, you buried the lede on that one because uhh, holy crap, AWESOME.” I am now in possession of her novel and it’s a lovely creature whose covers I cannot wait to crack.
TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF: WHO THE HELL ARE YOU?
I’m Laura Lam, naturally. I grew up as the child of two hippies outside San Francisco and for some insane reason (well, my husband), I left behind the sunshine to move to cloudy North-east Scotland. I’m your pretty typical bookish girl who spends far too much time in front of a computer screen.
GIVE US THE 140-CHARACTER STORY PITCH:
Girl stifled by society. Boy joins a circus. Their stories combine in an unanticipated way in a magical circus where everyone has secrets.
WHERE DOES THIS STORY COME FROM?
This story emerged from a lot of my pet interests—the circus, Victorian society, a decaying empire, industrialization and colonization, and gender studies. It’s a mashup of genres, but somehow it all came together and worked, or at least I hope so.
The main character sparked to life in a phone conversation with my other half, Craig, when he was in Scotland and I was in California. But I was afraid to write about that character for about a year, until I realized that his was a story I needed to tell. I started writing the character as a 27-year-old, but I kept running into walls on that story, so I decided to write about Micah’s backstory joining the circus as a teenager. I absolutely loved the setting and Micah’s younger voice and everything clicked.
HOW IS THIS A STORY ONLY YOU COULD’VE WRITTEN?
Every book is the culmination of experiences and interests. Though I have not experienced what Micah and Gene have, Pantomime explores topics that I am passionate about. The voice and tone and everything about it is a result of the life I’ve lived, the books I’ve read, the films I’ve watched, and the places I’ve visited. If you asked someone with zero interest in gender studies to write a book set in the circus, for instance, it’d be a very different book to Pantomime.
WHAT WAS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT WRITING PANTOMIME?
Writing characters that both are both similar and dissimilar to myself. All characters have aspects of the writer or someone the writer knows, though they may be exaggerated. In Gene especially, we react to things in similar ways, and some of Micah’s thoughts mirror my own, but at the end of the day they have gone through travails and experiences that I never will. Putting myself in their shoes was sometimes easy and sometimes very difficult. I also focus more on characters, at least at first, and I had some issues with plotting. As the first book of a series it was hard to know how much to reveal and how much to keep close to my chest for future books.
WHAT DID YOU LEARN WRITING PANTOMIME?
Most of what I know about writing. Pantomime is the first book I completed. I wrote it all chronologically, and then writing buddy and fantasy author Anne Lyle pointed out that it meant the pacing was way off, and the problems set up at the beginning didn’t match the problems at the end. In my edit I alternated between Summer and Spring viewpoints so that they were two intertwined plots, and that worked much better as they each had their own problem to solve.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT PANTOMIME?
I love that it dares to be different. Gene and Micah are not your typical YA protagonists in many ways, and I love them both. I think they’re strong yet flawed and are trying to make sense of the world they’re in and who they want to be.
I also really love the world. There’s so much for me as a writer to explore, and that I hope a reader will enjoy exploring. The first book focuses on the small corner of the circus, a little microcosm that prides itself on staying apart from society. Everyone there is a freak, and so being freakish is normal. That world around the circus blossomed as I wrote this book and the 75% of the other book I wrote with the elder Micah Grey (which I’ll revisit one day), and so I look forward to exploring it more.
WHAT WOULD YOU DO DIFFERENTLY NEXT TIME?
Probably have a better game plan going in. I wrote Pantomime in very slow dribs and drabs and the first draft took 15 months, though I was working on different projects. I also wrote without a cohesive outline.
That meant that during the revision request from Strange Chemistry I received I had to basically gut it, rearrange it, rewrite half of what I had and add 25,000 words. Now I outline and edit as I go (the vomit draft method doesn’t work for me), and I write faster and hopefully stronger as well.
I also would have researched the publishing process more than I did so I didn’t accidentally make an ass of myself, which happened once or twice. I shake my head at my past self.
GIVE US YOUR FAVORITE PARAGRAPH FROM THE STORY:
Technically it’s two, but I’ll cheat a little as one is so short:
“The aerialist stepped onto the tightrope. The rope bent slightly under her weight and I held my breath, frightened she would fall.
But her feet were steady as she made her slow, steady crossing in midair. She looked so dainty and delicate as she walked, pointing her toes when she lifted a foot, holding the parasol aloft, as though she could bend her legs, propel herself upwards, and fly away. The light filtered through the lace, shadows dappling her skin. When she finally made it across, I let out the breath I had been holding and clapped as loudly as I could.”
WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU AS A STORYTELLER?
I’m currently hard at work on the sequel. Agent edits have dropped so I’m taking my rough-around-the-edges draft and making it shine. Pantomime 2 (title to be determined) takes a different focus to its predecessor, while it still focuses on the theatrics and magic that Pantomime contains.