Skyler White holds an MA in dramatic theory and literary criticism, teaches workshops on myth, and actively follows developments in the neuroscience community. She infused Falling with a deep undercurrent of literary (Dante, Milton) and classical mythology, as well as the bleeding edge of neuroscience research. She wrote Falling as a personal exploration in challenging the myth and dogma of desire and self-worth, and writing it changed the way she understood herself, her body and her brain.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I grew up in a very academic home; both my parents were college professors. I was a dancer – a physical person in this heady household. So I ran away and joined the circus. Actually, I left for a performing arts high school, but they turn out to be shockingly similar. Later, I found a sort of mental-physical point-of-balance as a theater director, which was work I loved; but when I added ‘Single Mother’ to the teeter-totter, it up-ended and I went into advertising which allowed me to be creative and paid. Looking for a place of peace between all the things I ‘want to do’ and ‘need to be’ led me through a couple other careers until my husband and my best friend sat me down one night with a glass of whiskey and pointed out that writing was the one consistent thread through all my endeavors. This scared the shit out of me. So I had to take the bait. I wrote a novel. I buried it. I wrote another one that scared me even more. Now I’m here to promote it.
When you say you wrote another one that scared you even more, what was the fear?
The first novel, the one I buried, was my attempt at a contemporary romance, and it felt like going out with your friends dressed in your mother’s clothes. and Falling, Fly feels like going out with your friends in no clothes at all.
Does the world really need another vampire story?
Absolutely. The same way it needs another love story or another buddy pic. To me, the best new stories are direct confrontations with old ones, and vampires are fabulously rich symbolically. Like most powerful symbols, they can be a kind of short-hand, and writers can get lazy and let them carry too much of the narrative burden. When people say they’re tired of vampires or fairies or whatever, I think that’s what they’re reacting to. But these things are rich and lasting for a reason, and we always have something to learn from them – if we allow them to challenge us.
So what have you learned from vampires?
Working with Olivia as a vampire taught me a lot about dependence. There’s a weird power in being the prey instead of the predator, of being the host rather than the parasite. But both of those relationships are interesting and not something that it’s easy to explore within human interactions, short of cannibals and chimeric twins.
Why are all your books set in Ireland? Have you been there?
I’ve been twice. Once before I started writing, as sort of a personal odyssey, and once to research Falling’s successor, In Dreams Begin. And really, it’s all the books so far that have been set there. I have an idea for the next one I want to write, and it’s all in the states. I have another one that’s set, at least in part, in Germany. The thing I’m interested in is the mythic element of a person or monster or country. The Hotel of the Damned is underground in Ireland because of Ireland’s passage tombs and stories of buried kings and queens, because underground is so rich symbolically for what is unconscious, and because it’s where I’m from genetically. In Germany, the damned would have their secret home in the universities. In America, it’d be down unmarked roads.
Your books aren’t really a series, but they are linked, right?
Right. They all take place in a shared universe where things that have mythic or symbolic power also have physical reality. There are some common characters and locales, though not enough to make it a proper series, in the strictest sense. But I do think of these books, which I refer to collectively as The Harrowing, in a shared way.
As you spend more time in this shared universe, do you see more stories evolving? And if so, what sorts of stories can your readers anticipate?
There are maybe half a dozen stories rattling around in that world that I’d like to tell. Maybe more. In Dreams Begin comes out this December, but I’m getting close to the point where I could start writing the third book. I know what I want it to be about, and I have a strong sense – and several pages of notes – on three of the characters. It’s set almost exclusively in the States, and it’s more of a ‘buddy story’ than I’ve told before, but I can’t really talk about it just yet because I start out very, very messy. I write ugly first drafts, and things get cleaner and smaller as I work. I’d love to be able to give you a three-line description of the third book, but that kind of concise summary blurb is one of the last things I write.
What’s with the “damned” tattoo gallery on your website?
They’re cool freebie temporary tattoos you can get by writing and asking for one. You can then upload a photo of yourself wearing the tattoo to the gallery at skylerwhite.com. Within the confines of my story world, the damned are those who have taken their destinies out of the hands of the supernatural, culture or received wisdom, and into their own – which can be a painful, scary thing. The journey through that hell is never the same, one person to the next, and the tattoos are a playful way of illustrating that. The tattoo is the same, but it looks different on each body. I love seeing the way people interact with them, and the visceral reaction a single word can still elicit; a certain hesitation people feel in actually applying “Damned” to themselves – even if it’ll wash off.
What do you like to read?
I like to read anything well-written. I know that sounds trite, but honestly, I’ll read twenty pages of anything. I almost always have four different books in progress: a non-fiction book, which is usually research for what I want to write next; a novel; a book of short stories or graphic novel; and a book of poetry. I love the whole genre of speculative fiction and read a lot in that space, but I read horror and romance and literary fiction too. I don’t read a lot of mysteries, but I’m not sure why.
What can we look for next from you?
My next book, In Dreams Begin (December 2010) is a time-travel horror-romance set around the lives of the Irish poet WB Yeats and his on-again-off-again lover the Irish radical Maud Gonne. It’s an intensely personal book about a newly married contemporary woman who wakes up in the body of Maud and falls in love with Yeats, and has to navigate the schisms (and surprising similarities) between Victorian and modern womanhood, body image and marriage. If Falling is a study of wanting versus being wanted, In Dreams Begin is a study of freedom versus fidelity.
Finally, what’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer breaking into print?
I’m facing it right now. It’s a tough market! And what I write is a pretty slender sliver. I got lucky in that Leis Pederson at Berkley, and my agent, Holly Root, were willing to take a chance on me. But the challenge is to prove to them that there’s enough of an audience for what I write to justify letting me go on writing it.