You may remember that last month I did an interview with my blogger and author friend Lynn, as part of my Blog Waltz for The Storyteller and Her Sisters. I also promised you an interview with Lynn about her most recent book release, Tales of the Little Engine. I’m very happy to offer that interview today! (And come back tomorrow for my review of the book…)
First, a little about Lynn:
Lynn E. O’Connacht is a writer by twilight and, occasionally, sunlight and moonlight. At all times she is a cisgendered white woman. She holds an MA in English literature with a focus on creative writing and fantasy literature. She has geographically confused spelling despite her education’s best efforts to fix this and has been writing stories for as long as she has been able to write. She used to type her works on an old-fashioned typewriter using red ink, but alas both the equipment and the stories have since been lost to time.
Lynn focuses on secondary world fantasy and has a great love of short fiction. She can often be found running around undecided about what shiny project to work on next or thwapping her sentences until they cooperate, but usually she is busy balancing several projects whilst entertaining her cats or slaving away at her day-job. She also loves windy days, singing, reading, gaming, watching movies/tv series, listening to music, and editing, not necessarily in that order.
And a little about the book…
Together with its canine friend Mister Whiskers, the bravest little engine finds itself right in the middle of several magical mysteries. The narrow pass between its hometown of Vawick and the city of Dunnsbridge is haunted by the Nethertrain and its minions, but the bravest little engine isn’t afraid. When the Nethertrain learns of the little engine’s intrusion, it is furious. Can the bravest little engine and Mister Whiskers find a way to stop the Nethertrain once and for all?
Accompanied by two essays on the influences and ideas behind the stories, “Tales of the Little Engine” collects some of the adventures of two very different little steam engines. Join Jan as it learns that, sometimes, dreams come true slightly differently from how we think they should or tag along with the bravest little engine as it travels around Vawick and Dunnsbridge.
And now on to the interview!
Tell us a little about the premise and concept of this collection of stories.
Tales of the Little Engine actually consists of two different sets of stories that are loosely connected. The first two stories are about Jan, the titular little engine, when it sets off to fulfil its dream and discovers what it really wants in life. The others are all stories about the bravest little engine, which are stories that Jan tells to children, and which are about all kinds of bravery and adventure. I always think of them a bit as “Thomas the Tank Engine goes on an Enid Blyton-esque adventure” stories, if that helps people. There’s a lot of meta-commentary going on in the latter stories as well since the narrator herself is one of those fourth-wall-breaking characters and she has fun commenting on how the stories came about.
This book is quite different from your short story collection, Feather by Feather. Did writing for children affect what you chose to write about?
It predominantly affected how I wrote the stories about the bravest little engine. Jan’s two stories are pretty straight-forward modern fables, but the pieces about the bravest little engine aren’t like that at all.
They were pretty tricky to write, actually! The world-building in the bravest little engine stories is much looser than in most of my other work. That’s partially because I think the structure invites people to use their own imagination to tell their own stories, something which the tales explicitly encourage people to do, but it’s largely because the conceit of the stories is that they’re oral stories that got written down without a lot of alteration.
Written stories are far less fluid than oral stories, so I can’t get away with as much. Imagine that I called Mister Whiskers a chihauhau in one story and a whippet in the next. If you’re reading these tales, chances are that that will stand out like a sore thumb and you’d end up feeling the stories were sloppily told. After all, I couldn’t even keep the breed of one of the protagonists the same! But if you’re hearing these tales you might not notice as quickly or easily. And if you do notice, you might interrupt to say so and then I’d be able to play into the comment and tell you the story about how a chihauhau became a whippet instead. Voila, inconsistency addressed!
That’s why, in writing these tales, I needed to make sure that the inconsistencies lined up with the kind of inconsistencies that might form through the retelling of a tale. I had to find a way to make it clear to people that this was deliberate stylistic choice whilst still allowing the stories to work as a coherent whole. That’s tough!
One place where you can see how that works is at the end of The Bravest Little Engine and the Nethertrain. I won’t spoil the story, don’t worry, but if you’re concerned, skip past the next paragraph!
You can see a pretty nice example of the kind of inconsistency I mean when the narrator comments on how she and Jan couldn’t agree on whether fairies are involved with the creation of the Nethertrain. Those are narrative changes that might realistically happen and the passage as a whole comments on how such changes may stick around in future tellings.
That’s it! No more spoilers from hereon out!
The first story in the collection, “The Little Engine That Couldn’t,” has a very powerful and not-often-heard message to it. You wrote about the inspiration for the story in an essay at the end of the book, but can you tell us a little about that here?
Mmm… The first story actually has two messages. The first is that while encouragement is a good thing, it shouldn’t be given blindly. If you encourage someone without paying attention to that person, you can actually do them a lot of harm. The second is that the dreams and goals we have aren’t fixed in stone. Sometimes we realise that what we thought we wanted isn’t what we wanted at all. Sometimes we have to let go of the shape of a dream to find the heart and truth of it. Letting go can be very scary, though!
The final story in the collections has a very wide-open ending…might we look for more stories about the Bravest Little Engine in the future?
I’d be happy to write more of them eventually! I’ve had a lot of fun writing about the Bravest Little Engine and its friends, but I have no immediate plans or ideas to write more, I’m afraid. I’d really like to polish off some of my half-finished projects before I start an entirely new one.
I hope people will let me know if they want more tales about the Bravest Little Engine (as written by me), though! That’s always good to know when I’m compiling my writing schedule because it means I can take people’s interest into account!
This is your second “deluxe edition” release, focusing on individual stories. What was the concept and goal for these special editions?
The one thing I regret about the concept of the deluxe editions is that I didn’t have the idea until after publishing them in Feather by Feather. With a couple of the stories in Feather by Feather I felt that they might actually reach a wider audience if I published them as a stand-alone short. I hadn’t said all I have to say about them either, so I decided to add in some additional material.
With The Passage of Pearl the additional material is a look at the original draft and a discussion of how and why I made the changes that I did. Some people enjoy looking at how the craft of writing works or what older versions of a story look like, so it seemed a good choice.
With Tales of the Little Engine, the additional material consists of a set of essays on the inspirations behind The Little Engine That Couldn’t and several new stories that expanded on the story and the setting. I didn’t actually intend to write about the adventures of the Bravest Little Engine! I’d set out to write a few more fables about friendship and different kinds of bravery, but then the stories developed a loose overarching plot. I couldn’t just leave that dangling without some form of a resolution. Could I? That’d have been so mean. This still makes me feel mean, but at least it actively invites people to come up with their own adventures for the Bravest Little Engine and its friends!
Anyway, I’ll only do a deluxe edition of a story if I feel that the additional material makes it worthwhile to readers to create a stand-alone version. With Tales of the Little Engine that worth lies largely in the first two stories. The moral of the fables is one that would have meant the world to me had I heard it from someone growing up and I want to give other people the biggest possible chance of hearing it too.
What upcoming plans do you have? Should we be looking for another deluxe edition, or maybe a novel?
Definitely a novel! ^_^ And possibly a couple of novellas. I’m currently running a serial novel, A Promise Broken, and I aim to have that polished and ready for ebook publication in spring 2015. That one is at the very top of my list. It’s a traditional fantasy/fantasy-of-manners for kids, though it runs a little long for a middle-grade story. It’s about dealing with grief and the effects of bullying, so you’re warned that it’s frequently not a happy story.
I’m also working on a science fantasy novella that I aim to see published in late 2015 or early 2016. It’s being extremely troublesome and uncooperative. It’s a gift I’m working on for a friend, so I hope they’ll like it!
After those are wrapped up… My schedule is a bit more flexible. I aim to start serialising the sequel to A Promise Broken in 2016, but other than that I’m not entirely sure what I’d like to work on next yet.