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Lisa Lee and Tee Morris
Interview by Tina Morgan
Join me while I talk to Lisa Lee and Tee Morris, the authors of Morevi. Interviewing these two is almost as much fun as reading the book.
Fiction Factor: How did the two of you meet?
Tee Morris: Okay, here was how we met from my perspective. I was in the WBS chatroom "Nia's Tavern" playing Rafe Rafton. I had just "walked in" and was looking for someone or a group to play with. Then I saw this picture, this SERIOUSLY cool picture of what looked like a demure Asian female. She had the headdress and the parasol. You would have thought she was a geisha, but she was dressed in full battle armor, had a quiver of arrows and a long bow across her back. The character's name was "Askana Moldarin, First Queen of Morevi" and her tagline (WBS allowed you to put next to your character's name some kind of motto or quote...) read, "The female of the species is deadlier than the male." I clicked on her name to access her character's web page and caught in her character's stats Askana's nickname: The Black Widow.
I thought "Oh, I've GOT to play with this character.
She was on her way out of the Tavern when I spoke up to her and said, "Well met, Askana Moldarin, Black Widow of Morevi." Her reply: "I do not know you." My reply: "No, but...I know you." I then received this private message from Lisa: "No, really, who ARE you?!"
And that was how we met.
Lisa Lee: The thing I always hated about role-playing online was waiting for someone else to happen along who wanted to play. I mean, people would be just sending out short messages (eg. "drinking at the bar") and ignoring all the other bored players. Then, one day, I was approached by this character under the nickname Rafe Rafton just as I was about to leave. Amazingly, instead of hailing me by private message, he actually approached me in character and we spontaneously began RP at its best. So it was coincidence more than anything, I think. A stroke of good luck.
FF: What led you to write a novel over the Internet?
TEE: That, to me, is one of the most amazing things about this book. We didn't say, "Let's write a novel together." We just started a role-play. Originally, it was supposed to be three of us, but the third person was a no-show. So Lisa threw out the first pitch, concerning a government conspiracy, and we started from there. Since it was just us, I thought, "This could get dull being just us..." so I brought in the first NPC (Non-Player Character) which was Kubi-Sogi. Lisa then brought into the mix Elunear and Jailene. We started adding in details of the surrounding, other supporting characters and introduced villains. It was a lot of fun because the e-mail's we were sharing were like episodic cliffhanger serials. It was when I was writing the final segment in King Henry's Court when I went back and reviewed some of the prior posts. I thought "You know...this is pretty good stuff. No, this is really good stuff!" And that was when I brought it to Lisa: "I bet we could get this published."
Lisa thought I was out of my mind.
There was something wonderfully spontaneous in writing over the e-mail. We really didn't know what each other was up to, and as I'm a sucker for those classic cliffhangers of the 30's and 40's it was a lot of fun writing in this fashion. There were also some sections of the book we literally wrote together via ICQ and that was a real delight because we got to work together in real time!
LISA: Actually, I think a major factor was my lack of online time. I could only make three hours at max, and that simply wasn't enough time for the story, as it was growing so rapidly. With the addition of NPC characters, as Tee pointed out, it was starting to become more than simple role-play. But yes, I was shocked when Tee suggested we make a book out of it. I've actually been writing for a while, but never thought of taking the big step and writing a novel.
The other major reason is, basically, geographical distance. If our meeting was a coincidence, our actually writing a novel online was... well, something that still makes me wonder when I sit back to think about it today. At first it was e-mail, and we wrote the first chapters as if we were writing episodes of a soap-drama. *LOL* it was almost one-upmanship, throwing an idea at Tee and seeing how he would cope with it and vice versa. I think because we didn't start out saying "OK, lets sit down and write a novel together" that it worked out well online. I have to say we didn't work out plotlines and character bios etc... especially when we were writing through ICQ sessions. If we had, I think having to go through this medium would have frustrated us. But we were having fun this way, and by the time we seriously sat down to compile notes we already had an extensive body of work and a feel for what we wanted. We hardly disagreed during the actual writing of the novel; that came during the editing! *LOL*
FF: What challenges did writing long distance create?
TEE: Two words -- TIME ZONES. As Lisa is in college and busy during the day, her only available time was at night. This meant if I wanted to get in touch with Lisa, I had to be awake and coherent at four or five in the morning. And sometimes, communication would be a challenge. Because of the time zones, I couldn't just call her up and ask "Hey, is everything okay? I've not heard from you...etc., etc." So I would never know what her schedule, studies, or life was like. Just this past June, I'd not heard from Lisa for nearly a month. I was convinced I had said or done something wrong. Then suddenly, I get this e-mail from Lisa who is working on book dealer contacts in Sydney, working on promotional materials for MOREVI, and helping her aunt crusade for human rights in Sydney, Australia...all while taking her finals.
So, if I go several weeks without hearing from Lisa, I figure she is either splitting the atom, finding a cure for the common cold, or circling the globe in a hot air balloon...while studying for her mid-terms.
LISA: OK, Tee's entitled to grumble here. He's been very patient with me!
Initially when we were actually writing the book, I would sneak into the study at 3 am to write via ICQ with Tee (at the risk of being discovered by my ever-vigilant parents). We were burning the candle at both ends.
The problems really started when we had to go through the laborious job of editing, though. I had several crises of varying proportions during that time, and I think put an unfair amount of stress on Tee. Like most authors, I had to admit that I hated the process of dotting the i's and crossing the t's. Plus, the whole 'moving to a new country' and starting university was a problem as well. Time zones changed AGAIN, and it was not as if we could ring each other or talk over coffee either.
(I don't think hot-air ballooning is my type of thing, Tee. But I'm thinking of saving the rainforests next hols.)
FF: Did you take turns writing chapters, how did the writing process work for the two of you?
TEE: When we initially started, it was very, very conservative. Lisa's first "post" to me was only a page and a half in length. Then I sent her a couple pages. She then sent me three pages, so I replied with three. It went back and forth like that at first, each segment leaving some kind of cliffhanger ending. Each situation, ending in a moment more precarious than the other. Then a tragedy in my family sent me out of town and out of reach of e-mail. So, in the middle of a small town in Missouri, my mother-in-law was being strong for everyone, my wife was being strong for my mom-in-law, I was being strong was my wife...and I was on my own. I was surrounded by strangers.
But out of habit, I had packed my PowerBook, so I wrote my next installment to give myself a bit of peace in such a dark time. When I got back, Lisa was e-mailed fifteen pages. I was convinced after sending this monster of an e-mail, she would be overwhelmed by it all and say "I'm out of my league..." or something like that. A week later, I got her next installment...twenty pages of killer content with a cliffhanger that would make Spielberg proud!
In the end, Lisa and I were writing half-chapters at a time, although Lisa wrote Chapter Twenty: Answers of the Higher Power on her own, and I wrote the Prologue. Perhaps one of the highest compliments we've received was from author Dan Cragg (who is a co-author himself with the Starfist series) when he said we had "...so successfully blended their writing styles that the story comes through as if written by only one person."
So I guess we did something right.
LISA: The hardest thing was co-coordinating information and making sure all the mini-plotlines and timelines meshed. But then, all that came later. I may be speaking for myself only on this, but during the writing process I was too caught up in the story to really have any worry about it. Later there was a lot of editing to be done to make sure the 'voice', the language etc were smoothed out.
FF: How did you settle disagreements over the story or the publishing process?
TEE: Luckily, Lisa and I didn't snap at one another...too much. We did have a spat or two concerning deadlines, and I think it was less about the deadlines and more about the stress. I can't speak for Lisa but I was terrified. I mean, here we were, about to submit our manuscript for final review and then the next time we would see it would be as a book, so yeah we were a little stressed.
Probably the biggest crisis was when Lisa and I got our notes concerning rewrites. They were harsh. I mean, HARSH, and our publisher was asking us to rewrite the book to such a point that we were concerned it was no longer the story we wanted to tell.
Looking back, I've got to wonder if Gwen Gades, the head publisher of Dragon Moon Press, wasn't trying to push us hard just to make sure we weren't "flying by the seat of our pants." You see, as part of this fantasy took place in Tudor England, we had to double-check our facts. So Lisa and I worked together on the world building and double-checking resources. We sent Gwen a list of all resources and website we pulled information from. We backed up our fantasy with facts. Something you wouldn't think about when writing fantasy.
If we would give any advice to aspiring authors, do your homework. Back up your arguments not with "I think..." or "I feel..." but with "Because..." and "According to the source..." and then cite the sources, be they online or in print. And make sure your references are reliable and you have at least two resources for each fact. It will make your work stronger, and you a better writer.
FF: How did you decide to submit to a small press?
TEE: Process of elimination. It was down to Baen Books and Dragon Moon Press. Baen had the manuscript since August while Dragon Moon Press received a copy of the manuscript in October. In December, I sent them both a "Happy Holidays" card to sincerely wish them Season's Greetings, and to thank them for their opportunity. I never did hear from Baen, but Dragon Moon Press started up a dialog as well as an offer. I called Lisa and we talked about it. Consider Dragon Moon Press? Or wait on Baen? Lisa and I were both feeling a pull towards Dragon Moon Press because of their dialog with them. Gwen answered all our questions and made no bones about the work we would be facing in working with a small press. So a few months later I wrote to Baen, just asking what their progress was on the manuscript. They responded in the same week with a rejection.
Again, Lisa and I talked about Dragon Moon. By this point, I found out that most (not all, but MOST) new authors had to fend for themselves in ways of promotion and marketing, so we could either try again with the larger presses, or make MOREVI happen. Lisa and I agreed to "go for it" and we signed with Dragon Moon.
FF: What problems did you have working with a small press?
TEE: There were some unexpected responsibilities that fell on Lisa and myself, in addition to the promotion and marketing. There were moments I felt as if I had pulled Lisa into a partnership with Dragon Moon Press, and she would wind up regretting it. I know Lisa told me a couple of times "We shouldn't be doing this, Tee!", but with the small size of DMP we were given few options. And it was tough to juggle everything. I don't know if the larger presses would "take care" of some of these problems and issues as we are "new and untried" authors, but I was pretty stunned by some of the obstacles we faced.
I don't know if Lisa has faced this yet, but I've been getting snubbed by some of the bookstores in this area. Apparently, if you are not distributed by Ingram's or Baker & Taylor (which, luckily, DMP works with both) then your work does not exist. Still, when I mention my publisher, I've got this as a reply: "Dragon Moon Press...never heard of them." So if you are not with the BIG publishers, then apparently your work is under par and not up to the store's standards. I guess DAW, Baen, and Harper-Collins NEVER publish a bad book.
FF: What advantages did working with a small press provide?
TEE: While a lot of responsibility fell on us that we didn't expect, some of the benefits included a say in the look and feel of the book. When it came to laying out the book, my graphic design background came into play and I got a chance to layout the book. How many authors have a chance to have a say in their book's layout? So Lisa and I agreed on a typeface, a look, and the order of things in the book. We LOVED that!!!
Something else that was a plus was the communication between Lisa, myself, and the publisher. Instead of being new authors in a "big machine" press, Lisa and I were sharing open dialogs with the publisher, having a say in the book's content, the overall story, and cover artwork. Gwen Gades really made things happen in getting the work off the press and into distribution warehouses and bookstores. It was a "hands-on" process for us and we learned a LOT over the time between contract signing and seeing the book in our hands.
And this is a personal perk for me...but being a web designer, I could ask DMP if they would like me to give their website an overhaul. So I was allowed to give www.dragonmoonpress.com a full makeover and build for them (with full creative freedom) a Flash website. The end result for both was a website I am proud to show off to people and what Gwen Gades and her husband both describe as "really, really cool."
FF: How are you promoting the book and what is Dragon Moon doing to help?
TEE: Well, disadvantage of the small press --- no marketing/promotion budget. But Lisa and I are making things happen on our own. First there is the website -- http://www.morevi.com -- which not only sold the manuscript to Dragon Moon Press, but now promotes the book and provides direct links to Dragon Moon Press and Amazon.com. Then we have business cards that we circulate liberally. I've been collaborating with two other author friends of mine, Tony Ruggiero (author of Team of Darkness from Hard Shell Word Factory) and Danielle Ackley-McPhail (author of Yesterday's Dreams from Vivosphere Press), who are buying ads in Midwest and West Coast science fiction and fantasy convention programs. We are also sending to bookstores and sci-fi/fantasy cons free CD-ROM's of writing samples. Our CD includes a short story from Lisa, a first chapter of a work-in-progress from me, and the first two chapters of Morevi. The CD serves as a "test drive" for anyone interested or intrigued with Morevi, and also links back to both MOREVI's website, Dragon Moon Press' website, and even Amazon.com. We have found these to be VERY popular, especially at conventions. I watched a stack of fifty CD's disappear in ten minutes.
And then we have the "Leap of Faith" Tour which is a self-sponsored book tour that began at Madicon 11 and will probably end at Madicon 12 in 2003. So far, our appearances have included Balticon 36, Toronto Trek 16, and Shore Leave 24, and you can read all about them on our website. We are constantly updating appearances and signings, and still have yet to plan the "meeting" when we finally do come together, face-to-face. Maybe that'll happen on Oprah or the Today show. Who knows? Stay tuned!
Read Tina Morgan's review of Morevi
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