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Today's treat is an interview with author Justine Musk moschus - whose novel “Bloodangel” sent John Skipp into a happy dance. Justine has an interesting life perspective, and has had an interesting life. A short bio in her own words:

JM: Bio -- I was born in 1972 – Year of the Rat – in a Canadian town in southern Ontario called Peterborough. I started writing fiction in fourth grade and never stopped. I spent a year as an exchange student in Australia and got my black belt in Tae Kwon Do, graduated from Queen’s University with a first-class degree in English literature. After my time in Japan teaching ESL I ended up in northern California, got married to a ‘tech-visionary’ type, and we migrated south to LA a few years ago. We have three dogs and one set of young twin sons. I have exactly one published novel, BLOODANGEL, from Roc/Penguin; before that my publishing credits were limited to a few online stories under my maiden name Justine Wilson. I have a YA novel called STRANGER coming out from MTV Books/Simon & Schuster in September 2007 and am finishing up a BLOODANGEL sequel in order to meet my August deadline.

Without further ado, the Deep Blue Interview:

DBJ: You have lived in a lot of places, and a lot of different situations. What was it like moving from Canada to Australia? Was your exchange student period a boon, or a bother? How did it affect your writing, and do you think you work differently because of it? Same thing on Japan...the moving around is something that interests me because of my own Navy background.

JM: I was seventeen when I first stepped onto a plane, or even visited a major airport, and that was to go spend a year as an exchange student in Australia. I lived with four different families throughout the year, and began to understand -- in a way I couldn't quite glean from reading fiction -- how each family contains its own private world, its own culture, which can be surprisingly isolated from the world flowing around it. I climbed Ayer's Rock and traveled the outback. I saw ocean and rainforest and mountains for the first time. And for the first time I was part of an international crowd -- I had European and South American friends -- so my sense of the world up to that point got exploded pretty quick. I remember when my Belgian friend expressed her amazement that "you can drive for six hours and still be in New South Wales -- not just the same country, but the same bloody province!" I was from Canada, above the US, so I just took these big sprawling countries for granted, lots of land with not so many people, borders far between. Plus, these young Europeans all spoke at least three or four languages, while us Canadians and Americans and Aussies and New Zealanders grew up inside just the one language. I was a kid, so these were things I had to leave home in order to start to really learn and think about.

After Australia I wanted to live abroad again, but this time in a culture as different from my own as I could find. So Japan seemed the natural choice, and while I was teaching ESL there I was able to travel to other places as well. Eventually I ended up in California, married a man from South Africa, so my family now includes a mess of South African in-laws who have also emigrated here, and they have brought a strong and influential perspective into my life. My husband is close to his brother and cousins, and they in turn ended up marrying an American artist, a Brazilian who came here to study at NYU, and a high school sweetheart who’s also from South Africa but a family of Afrikaners (my husband's family is English, and the two white tribes of South Africa -- the Afrikaners, or Dutch, and the English -- have a highly unpleasant history with each other, so it’s a marriage that once upon a time would not have been possible). And I'm the Canadian. So when the extended family gets together, it's interesting. We all came here from someplace else. Even the American came over from Hawaii.

As to how this affects my writing -- I wrote BLOODANGEL in my late twenties, and you can see how the characters are all nomads in some sense or the other -- sure, they're exploring these supernatural forces and fighting off apocalypse and the like, but as individuals they're also in the process of defining, or redefining, notions like 'belonging' and 'family' and 'community', because the usual concepts are not working out for them. The book also takes place in a number of different locations -- the sequels will continue to do this -- which is really not something I would have had the confidence to attempt if I hadn't been to those places myself. (Now I’m much more willing to fake it. Research is a great thing.) You could say that BLOODANGEL (and sequels) is the story the teenager in me always wanted to write, but lacked the experience and craft to do so, so my adult self is now compelled to fulfill that imperative.

DBJ: You gave yourself away in this very journal, responding to my post to the tune of Concrete Blonde's Walking in London. This is an often repeated question, but I'm going to twist it (as I so often do) to fit my needs. You write a particular sort of surreal, sensual fiction dropping almost casually in and out of reality as we know it. Groups like Concrete Blonde seem as if they would make a perfect backdrop, so my question has several barbs...hope to hook something. What sort of music appeals to you the most, and why? Is there a particular type of music you listen to when working, or do you find it too distractive? Do you imagine soundtracks to your novels? If so, what would be on the soundtrack for Bloodangel?

JM: Concrete Blonde was my favorite band for years…You know, even though music plays a pivotal role in BLOODANGEL I didn't truly realize it until my agent was saying things like, "I love how you wrote the music scenes, the concert scenes, they were a highlight for me" or using that as a kind of selling point when sending the ms. to certain editors (we're all -- the agent and editors and I -- more or less in the same age group). The writing of the book most definitely had a soundtrack -- a lot of Blur, a lot of Bowie (he did some really great, underrated stuff in the '90s), and Alabama 3. I played Alabama 3 so obsessively that I ended up Acknowledging them, and three of their albums, in the published novel.


The book I'm writing right now -- the still-untitled Bloodangel sequel – is forming its own soundtrack of alternative rock and electronica -- Red Hot Chili Peppers is turning out to be pretty central, since this book is set mostly in LA and I have a musician character who's a little bit Anthony Kiedis and John Frusciante combined. A lot of Chemical Brothers, Crystal Method, Dandy Warhols, Blur, which are my trusty standbys. White Stripes. Franz Ferdinand. I just discovered Spoon and Twilight Singers. Part of the deep real pleasure of writing is having the music to play in the background. When I revise the novel, I'll know the story enough and the sequences enough to organize a very specific playlist for it, which I'll just play over and over to get my mind in the mood it needs to be in -- and that will be the soundtrack for this book. Possibly one day I’ll write something that will require a completely different kind of soundtrack – classical music, perhaps – but it sure as hell is not this one.

Not to mention, the supernatural bad guy in my novel which recently sold to Simon & Schuster -- STRANGER -- was physically inspired by singer Marty Casey, even though the character himself has nothing to do with music. (The novel's big revelations revolve around the night of an outdoor rave, though, so music still plays a part.) I can't sing worth a damn and never got very far in learning an instrument, so I do appear to be working out some issues: I-wish-I-was-a-rock-star kind of issues.

DBJ: You have twins. This has to be a unique experience in many, many ways, sort of like watching the same movie run two plotlines at the same time in slightly skewed directions. How has motherhood helped shape you as an author? Do you feel a shift in the way you perceive the world, or in how you record those perceptions, or is your work more "separate" and impervious to such changes?

JM: Having twins made me think a lot about twins, twinship -- I just found the concept in general very cool, and started to play with it -- and as a result twinship will play a central role in Bloodangel books 2 and 3. So that was the immediate result.

My twins are fraternal -- two different brothers who happen to be born at the same time. You form -- or at least I did -- a whole new respect for the nature part of the nature vs. nurture question, because they come out of the womb and they're different. They have entirely different reactions just to the experience of being born. (One was okay with it, easygoing, hanging out in my arms. The other was pissed off.) And as they grow up -- they're 2 years old now -- you see these different personalities unfolding themselves, how they focus on different aspects of the exact same environment. Also, you see them always together, aware of each other, and realize they are forming a very different sense of 'aloneness' than us singletons (if they're even forming it at all).

As far as my fiction goes -- I'm still working out the stuff from my twenties, so I think it's going to be another few books before I feel prepared to write about motherhood in any real way.

Although I can say -- and this definitely relates indirectly to what I'm writing now -- that the immediate crushing consequence of motherhood is you become aware of your own mortality -- that very real connection between birth and death. I had a C-section, which would have saved the babies but likely killed me if performed in olden times, and I remember how much blood was left on the operating table when they wheeled me out of the O.R. (they told me not to look, so of course I looked). At the same time, your own mortality is no longer the thing you fear or dread the most -- the possible death of your child opens up this whole new abyss of terror and horror and grief. It's a new way of relating to the world. The idea of self-sacrifice in general becomes less abstract, more visceral. In certain situations, it would be a gut response. You wouldn't have any other choice. So I have a deeper appreciation for some of the things my characters are pushed to do, the choices they're forced to make, and how they feel about them, and why they choose what they do.

DBJ: You are very passionate about a number of causes. I don't believe I've seen you attack a subject of any importance without exhibiting that passion in one form or another. Can you tell us a little bit about the things that fire you up, how control that energy and focus it, and - once again to get on point - how you think it colors your fiction? Do you consider fiction a focus for such beliefs, or do you confine your political
and ethical battles to the real world? Examples either way?

JM: I consider fiction a focus for such beliefs in that any kind of fiction -- even the most formulaic -- ends up expressing a worldview of one kind or another. At the same time, my obsession up until now has been with story -- how to tell a compelling, can't-put-it-down kind of tale that also manages to be rich and full-bodied -- and so I've always felt that the particulars of story come first. Certain gifted, experienced writers can get away with an obvious agenda, but in general it's not and shouldn't be the fiction writer’s first priority. How the storyteller chooses to frame the story -- and how the story evolves through cause and effect and character and consequence -- should be allowed to speak for itself. The story should express its own agenda. Which will of course align with the writer's -- can't help but align -- but in a way that doesn’t come off as contrived.

I am -- at 33 -- still a youngish writer (I love how, in fiction-writing, you can still be considered ‘young’ in your mid or late thirties; as a dancer or an actress or a model I’d be facing the end of my career…) -- with something of an academic streak and a taste for the gothic, so I'm interested in issues of evil -- where evil comes from, if it's born or made or both, how it gets made -- and this whole idea of the 'return of the repressed' -- how the nasty bits of personal and political history we attempt to suppress will out themselves in one way or another -- BLOODANGEL is a fun read, or so I hope, but the idea behind its villian Asha is very much rooted in this. I'm interested in issues of family and community vs individualism and solitary artistic pursuit, because of where I am in my own life, and so my characters also tend to be wrestling with this.

When you write something, and send it into the world, if you're lucky it takes on a life of its own and the meaning that people take away ends up being bigger and more complex than you intended (since so much of writing is intuitive and subconscious to begin with). So you don't want to close anything off by dictating one specific interpretation of your work. You want to create this space, this meeting and commingling of the minds, the writer's and the reader's. Maybe you'll have some lasting influence. Maybe you won't, but either way, a good time was had. Hopefully.

In other words, my writer-self is a lot more accepting and patient and tolerant than my real-life self, if that makes any sense. In real life, I can be competitive and confrontational and heated -- an intensity I try to channel through calm and logical argument, which my husband tends to be better at than me, which drives me nuts. But my writer-self is much more easygoing: "What's that? You think global warming is just left-wing alarmist junk science? You don't say! Come in, have a beer, take a load off...”

DBJ: The standard Deep Blue Question: You have twenty-four hours to come
up with a plot for a new novel. You can either have transportation to any place you want to go, a library of all the worlds literature at your fingertips, or a library of the entire world's music to choose from. What would you choose, and why?

JM: My first impulse would be to say transportation -- since a new place can make you see things differently -- hell, just getting out of the house can make you see things differently -- but with that kind of time crunch? I'll take the library of all the world's literature, so I can find some powerful intriguing myth that resonates with me -- transpose it to my own culture -- update it to modern times or maybe set it within a period of history that particularly interests me -- play around with it, brainstorm it, explode it -- and see what results. Usually it takes me a long time to piece plots together -- a lot of thinking and mulling, carrying around the characters and images in my head until I get the big Idea that starts to connect them -- so if I had only 24 hours, I would need to engage in some very clever theft.

You can order BLOODANGEL by clicking the cover art below. You can catch Justine over at Storytellers Unplugged every 20th of the month, and you can catch her (almost) daily in her live journal moschus




ONWARD!

DNW


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