Tuesday, July 21, 2009

An Interview with Aviva Rothschild, Part One

Aviva Rothschild is the author of With Strings Attached, one of the oldest known Beatles fanfics to appear on the Internet. Almost unique in the small universe of Beatlefic, Strings is an epic fantasy. It's spring 1980, and the four ex-Beatles awaken on another planet, terrified out of their minds, sixteen years younger, and utterly clueless as to why they're there. As they struggle to make sense of their predicament, they must contend with two very different (but equally unpleasant) cultures: Ketafa, a quasi-Victorian theocracy based on a fake religion, and Baravada, a dying magical anarchy whose inhabitants' fondest wish is to find monsters to kill. Overseeing all this are some rather fannish aliens, whose dialogue punctuates and clarifies much of what's going on, and who have their own little dramas. Ultimately, the four are spectacularly equipped to embark upon a quest that, if successful, will remove a curse that prevents the real gods from seeing Ketafa. Of course, complications ensue....

I first contacted Aviva after reading part of
Strings online several years ago. As I've mentioned before, this was my first exposure to Beatles fanfiction, and it ultimately led me to write the award-winning novella "Move Over Ms. L." and its sequel, which became the first draft of Across Two Universes. When Aviva published Strings earlier this year, I thought it would be interesting to share her story with my readers, as her writing path has been a long and winding one indeed.

Q: Please tell us about yourself.

A: Well, I'm a very unemployed 45-year-old woman who has, in her spotty career, been a book editor and indexer, a copyeditor, a regular writer, a writer of computer manuals, a book reviewer, a (very feeble) website designer, an eBay seller, and a soapmaker. I have three master's degrees: creative/professional writing, technical communication, and, most recently, library and information science. In 1995 I wrote the first formal bibliography of graphic novels, and I still get itty bitty royalty checks for it every year. These days I volunteer for the National Theatre Conservatory library in Denver. Oh, I'm also a hardcore musical theatre fan, with well over 1,100 musicals on CD, LP, and other media. And I have one of the larger private collections of graphic novels in the country.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for With Strings Attached?

A: The basic idea was a merger between sudden, deep love for the Beatles; a fascination with the then-new role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons; and rather befuddled observations that celebrities seemed to attract a lot of attention whether they deserved it or not. (The object of my scorn back then was Liz Taylor, who was a permanent fixture in the tabloids.) I wanted good celebrities (i.e., my favorites) to attract more attention than these other yutzes.

When I was creating some new characters for D&D, I thought I should make characters based on the Beatles. From there it was a small step to “I'll use the actual Beatles as my characters!” (Hey, I was 15 at the time [1980] and recovering from pneumonia/bronchitis to boot; it made sense back then.) The rationale was that alien fans decided to put them on another planet to see what would happen. I started telling myself stories about what they were doing, and I quickly decided to write a book.

Things changed drastically over the years, but the basic underlying premise remained pretty much the same.

Q: I know this novel took you twenty-nine years to finish and that there were long stretches of time when you didn’t work on it at all. What made you take a break from WSA, and what made you return to it?

A: Well, I was never a prolific writer; I enjoyed thinking about the story but not writing about it. So even when Strings was the main focus of my life, I didn't commit much of it to paper. I had to have a finished version in 1989, when I used it as my first master's thesis, so a chunk of it got done between 1986 and 1988, under pressure. I hated that version, though, and resolved to redo it after I graduated.

Well, my writing speed didn't increase, so I hadn't gotten terribly far with the new version by 1993, when I took my first long hiatus from it. I can't really remember why, except that probably I was burned out on it. I didn't touch it again until 1997, when I started posting it online to see if anyone thought it was interesting. The response was good enough (I met Sandra that way!) that I began to work on it again, slowly rewriting the early chapters yet again. By 2000 I had my own website and domain name (www.rationalmagic.com) and was posting chapters there, as well as a lot of other stuff.

In 2002, however, my personal life imploded. I was laid off from the best job I'd ever had; my mother was sinking into Alzheimer's; and I was badly, badly depressed. I simply stopped writing at that point. In fact, I stopped viewing myself as a writer any longer. Almost the only writing I did between roughly July 2002 and December 2008 was descriptions for my eBay items and scripting for the Rocky Mountain PBS Auction. The very little bit of fiction I produced came painfully and infrequently; I sent out a total of one story for possible publication (it was rejected). As for Strings, well, I expected that I would never go back to it. I had lost interest in it and the Beatles.

So why did I go back to it? I still don't know. Maybe it was listening to the Beatles Love Cirque du Soleil soundtrack a lot. Maybe it was my friends at the theatre pestering me to write. Maybe I had reached a point in my life where I had literally nothing else to do. I just know that one day I wanted to work on it again.

In early January 2009, I started to reread it. It was pretty good. I started to edit the early chapters—and suddenly I was hooked. I went crazy then. Years' worth of material came pouring out. I wrote 300 pages in 3 weeks. I spent almost the entire month of January holed up in my house. I skipped theatre, dinners, everything. My emotions went completely wonky (my poor father had to put up with me crying almost every night). It was simultaneously wonderful and horrible.

I'm still writing now, working on the sequel. However, this writing fever doesn't extend to any of my other projects. I wish it would. But I guess I should be glad it came back at all. Even with the mood swings. (At least they don't come as often!)

Come back on Thursday, July 23, to read Part Two of this interview and see the cover of Strings!

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