Consuelo Roland talks about her latest book “Lady Limbo”
‘Quick, sleek and beautifully crafted, this mystery love story has a depth to it that puts the reader at the heart of the story. ‘
#AuthorInterview: Consuelo Roland |Jeri Walker
An author interview with Consuelo Roland about her two novels Lady Limbo and The Good Cemetery Guide. Read about her inspirations and marketing tactics.
1. Please provide a brief synopsis of your book.
A darkly humorous look at one man’s existential crisis, The Good Cemetery Guide is the story of Anthony Loxton, a 3rd generation funeral parlor director who lives in Kalk Bay, a small fishing seaside town near the Cape of Storms, with his cantankerous mother. Facing the prospect of a bleak dutiful future Anthon finds some relief by living a parallel secretive existence as Tony the Fox, a guitarist who has brief liaisons with women who frequent the town music locales. His two worlds collide when a nubile one-night-stand (Lily) ends up on the funeral parlor bed the day after their late-night encounter.
Anthony pits himself against the unleashed forces of chaos and destruction assisted by a wise-guy skeleton paper puppet who harks from remote, fascinating capsicum-chili Mexico.
Through the intervention of his golden-haired lover the seductive Alexandra (aka Akauba) who has a passion for photographing cemeteries, and Aurora Morningstar who hides a secret, and Grethe Marais who dives with seals, the tormented Anthony discovers that the living are far more tenacious than the dead, and that fulfillment can arise in the most unusual circumstances.
2. Tell us a little bit about what motivates or inspires your writing.
The stories have always found me, clamoring to be told, possessing me.
One night, just before falling asleep and at a crossroads stage of my life, I happened to read the foreword of one of John Irving’s books where he commented that a friend of his had once advised him that he should become a writer because nothing else would ever satisfy him quite as much. It was one of those incendiary light bulb moments. I realized the same was true for me. All those years dedicated to my career in the information technology industry had been a magnificent diversion; I had avoided becoming a writer because it seemed indecent that any ‘work’ from which I would make a living should revolve around something that gave me so much pleasure.
It seems to me that the work of a writer of fiction is to use his or her imagination without fear. It is only in this way that the human condition can be meaningfully explored and endlessly re-interpreted to give us new beginnings, middles and endings.
3. It’s hard to pick just one, but what do you consider your favorite modern novel and why?
The only way I could tackle this question was to ask myself a question: If I could choose to have written one book on my bookshelf which one would it be? Of course this is merely a game, but a serious game nevertheless. For its ferocious vision, its perfect technical execution, its brilliant plot curve and bone-ache-inducing portrayal of flawed humanity my choice would have to be: We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver.
Nobody should be able to write like that. I cannot find a single fault with it. It’s a psychological and philosophical investigation of the human heart and family life that holds us in nail-biting suspense through horrifying twists and turns to its blood-curdling inevitable tragic finale. Like Shriver I want to tell fearless stories about witty intelligent engaged human beings who jump off the page as they face terrifying moral issues in a mysterious and complex universe.
4. What is the name of your blog and what can readers expect to find there?
My blog is more a meditation on the art and craft of writing novels in today’s world, than a DIY guide to writing or getting published. What do we aspire to? Why write fiction at all? These are the difficult questions we have to keep asking ourselves.
5. Are you traditionally published or self-published?
My debut novel The Good Cemetery Guide was originally traditionally published, but the fiction imprint was dissolved by the parent company. In 2012, after the being given my world rights back, I self-published it as an e-book on Amazon Kindle and Smashwords. It was a practical way of keeping The Good Cemetery Guide in the marketplace, but it also provided an ideal opportunity to start gaining an understanding of what it meant to self-publish. I did the formatting myself (learning to use Microsoft Word styles and text formatting properly nearly killed me) and I commissioned a new book cover with a cover designer I found on the internet. The collaborative cover design process was an intense, difficult, time-consuming, expensive saga that ultimately failed to produce the ‘wow’ cover I had hoped would materialize.
My second novel Lady Limbo was published in 2012 by Jacana Media. It is available on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Sony & Apple, and with South African online and retail distributors. It’s a more layered mystery thriller with an international setting, and the first of the limbo trilogy. It seemed to make sense to publish traditionally. This time round I got lucky with the packaging; Lady Limbo’s cover design, as commissioned by my publisher, is ultra cool. But along with the pros come the cons; important aspects such as a low e-book price, online distribution in all the channels of a global market, online marketing geared at the right readers, all lag behind in the traditional publishing model.
6. Can you offer one or two helpful tips for fellow writers when it comes to marketing and publicity?
The best thing that ever happened to me was landing on Catherine Ryan Howard’s blog Catherine, Caffeinated when I was hunting for the perfect blog name aligned to a cool, spontaneous-looking authorial identity. It was Catherine (who I don’t know at all, although I feel I do) that gave me the gung-ho courage to go onto social media platforms at all. That gorgeous take-me-home pink typewriter on her blog probably had something to do with it, as well as her witty down-to-earth sane approach to what seemed like Mount Kilimanjaro to climb for someone who didn’t even have a Twitter or Facebook account.
I’m not sure if being on social media has improved my book sales short-term (it seems to me word-of-mouth/ other bloggers blogging about one’s books is more important), but it’s certainly taken me way out of my comfort zone, taught me new ways of working and communicating and launched me on a DIY trajectory I never imagined 18 months ago. The successful bloggers have the big 3 D’s of Success (Desire, Decision, Dedication) in bucketfuIs, and they take a long-range view. In my case it’s opened up opportunities to collaborate and made me more Gracious and less Self-serving (caps intended), and for a socially-inept book-geek that can only be good. Actually, the giving habit is pretty darn cool; sooner or later somebody else’s giving comes your way and all of a sudden you’re grinning at the getting and the universe is working for everybody in a wondrous way.
My online investigations led me to the blog League of Extraordinary Authors which is “a coalition of critically acclaimed authors” – operated by the extraordinarily generous Joni Rodgers who never sleeps judging by how much she gets done. Joni accepted my request for membership after she purchased The Good Cemetery Guide Kindle version on Amazon, read it practically overnight and gave it a resounding vote of confidence with her 5-star review. I was so elated I walked around on cloud nine for days; a New York Times best-selling author and online social media guru liked my novel! Then Joni invited me to participate in a blog promotion and so I had my first lesson in generosity.
And so it goes on. We are not alone.
7. Describe your writing background.
The gift of a diary with a key at the age of ten started me off on the path of self-expression. Later writing poetry was a huge source of relief to me in the years I was in the IT industry; it provided an outlet valve. I attended regular writing workshops at one stage but I find it difficult to write well in a public arena. Eventually I did an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Cape Town which involved writing a novel as my thesis, under supervision. Black Moon Rising (my thesis) morphed into my debut novel The Good Cemetery Guide, published by a local publisher
I don’t know how one ‘learns’ to write. I know that on cold rainy days I write better. Maybe it’s because on cold and rainy days I could be Jack London in a remote log cabin in Canada. Sometimes I won’t recognize a story piece the next day – as if an independent agent had instructed my two fingers on the keyboard. I know that sometimes a passage of dialogue will improve with endless repetition, and sometimes the first take is the best. I know that to get a story out is to suffer from an obsessive compulsive disorder.
8. What does your drafting and/or editing process entail?
I get the writing done whenever I have time, fitting it around contract work deadlines and family life. I’m totally disciplined when I get long periods of uninterrupted time (the cold and raining bit); I can sit for 12 hours stretches, days at a time. I find it harder to write when I’m constantly interrupted by real life, and often I lose the story’s thread entirely, but as soon as I can I get lost in the work again.
With The Good Cemetery Guide I worked with a fantastic mentor on the MA program, and then later with an excellent editor provided by the publishers, so it was a relatively smooth editing process. Lady Limbo took several years to get written, with some major rewrites. At a crucial point (do I give up on this novel?) I found an editor who played a more empathetic and advisory role, paying attention to the wider story arc and giving me high-level suggestions around structural cohesiveness, reader accessibility and genre. For instance, was I writing literary fiction, or a fast-paced thriller? I was assuming rather too much it seemed. The reader wasn’t psychic apparently!
9. What future projects can we look forward?
Writing the other two volumes in the limbo trilogy is my first immediate priority. After that I have an idea for a never-been-done-before apocalyptic novel, a feminist science-fiction novel a la Angela Carter and a horse-farm socio-political novel (every South African writer has one farm novel in them). Not necessarily in that order and quite possibly interrupted by another dramatic story that won’t wait.
10. Is there anything else you want your potential readers to know?
Both novels contain animals and a touch of mysticism. I don’t believe it’s coincidental.
You can connect with Consuelo on her website and blog.
Author Photos by Bernadine Jones
GLAMOUR: Your novel has been described as fitting into various genres. How would you classify it?
CONSUELO: Lady Limbo is perhaps most easily and best described as a mystery novel. There are some big dollops of mind-twisting suspense, and plenty of character development, as well as sex, fear and violence.
The mystery genre aims to keep the reader perched on the edge of her or his seat, without being as restrictive as a whodunit. It allows for the more interesting whydunit perspective. In Lady Limbo the emotional stakes are high and villainous external forces mirror the internal conflict.
Yet it seems an inadequate description. We lead complex modern lives that straddle many dimensions. It seems natural to me that novels should also portray a fantastical undercurrent. Cross-genre ‘complex’ stories − the longer the better − with layers of secrets and surprises are the kinds of novels I love to read so perhaps it’s natural that my inclinations as a writer tend in that direction too. For me the best novels − like Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient or Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin − are multi-genre.
The cross-genre approach allows Lady Limbo to probe and play with the light and dark of human motivations and moralities, even while actions and events overtake the characters.
How do you create a strong sense of place when describing the book’s setting (and in other parts of your writing)?
My first novel The Good Cemetery Guide was set in Kalk Bay and I was at pains to describe it as an allegorical place, but I realize now with Lady Limbo set largely in Cape Town and Camps Bay that these very familiar places allow me to explore familiarity and defamiliarise it.
A French air hostess who told my mother about an unusual organisation in Belgium that allowed women to procreate with real men (rather than sperm donors) became the inspiration for Lady Limbo, the novel. For the overseas locations of Paris, Rome and Brussels I employed a mix of first-hand experience, impressions gained from movie settings, material gleaned from newspaper stories (which I find incredibly useful) and Internet research.
When I needed to get closer to my central character Paola I’d head for Camps Bay and wander onto the beach, or sit at an outside table at a pavement café; places that to me were imbued with the lingering intimacies of the nightly Camps Bay social scene. The secrets of Lady Limbo are fictionalised secrets that have grown out of true stories shared with me, and real people I’ve encountered, watched and eavesdropped on in my daily South African life.
I will have done my job properly as an author if a reader of Lady Limbo visiting Camps Bay recollects a scene in Lady Limbo, and suddenly feels certain that practically everyone around them is thinking about sex, in one way or another.
What was the biggest challenge that you faced while creating Lady Limbo?
Lady Limbo is a mix of fact and fiction. I faced a curious dilemma because the truest part of the story (the air hostess’s account of how she planned to have a baby without the complication of a possessive male partner) feels fantastical. How was I to satisfy the modern reader’s paradoxical urge for integrity and immersion?
I reworked endlessly, attempting to draw the reader closer and closer to what was real about modern life by taking them further and further into a labyrinth of fantasy’s pleasure.
From the beginning I’d envisaged the story starting with an email message picked up by three university friends. The Internet became a background narrative that grounded the events in a kind of ‘real’ fictional time that began in 1994 with the era of Internet chat sites, mostly between universities − I had no idea when I started the novel what an enormous amount of research would have to be done into the origins of the Internet in South Africa before I could tie up the chronological order of a big multi-layered story.
What music were you listening to while writing Lady Limbo?
R.E.M. was constantly playing in the background. It was Daniel’s theme music. I felt as if I knew him as well as any real live man of my acquaintance when I listened to R.E.M. I became an R.E.M fan years earlier when they played live in Cape Town.
When Daniel de Luc barged into my novel with all his unpredictable energy he arrived together with R.E.M. Periodically Daniel would withdraw from the world (and Paola) by listening to R.E.M with its underlying rebellious undertones. The music of R.E.M was ideal for Lady Limbo as a kind of activist male anthem. Its cunning appeal comes from beautiful edgy lyrics − ‘Everybody Hurts,’ ‘The One I love,’ and ‘Losing My Religion’ − that ring true. The enigmatic aura of the melodies suggests that pain and confusion is part and parcel of living life, in a deeply spiritual sense. In the novel it’s R.E.M’s mysterious ‘Nightswimming’ that finally brings some peace to Paola’s tormented thoughts.
What keeps you writing when you’re feeling uninspired?
The best advice I was ever given hit me like the voice of a lesser god out of a cloudless blue sky while jogging on a Transkei beach, desperate for inspiration for my first novel: ‘Listen to your characters!’
With Lady Limbo it was arrogant and charming Daniel de Luc, the missing husband, who appeared first, but when it came to transcribing their unusual love story into a novel it was his wife, the emotionally conflicted career-driven Paola, I heard and would keep listening to, through all the numerous slumps and rewrites. Later the child Simone kept intruding, bringing me back to what Lady Limbo was really about; the mysterious unpredictable nature of love.
What’s your number one tip for young and aspiring writers?
Take notice of what trusted (this may take time) commentators have to say about your writing, whether it’s a friend, a writing group or an editor. If they say something is not working they’re often right. But don’t ask them how you should fix the problem, because most times it’s just a gut response and it’s your story and your characters, not theirs. Only you can fix what’s wrong.
Which South African authors should we be reading right now?
Twenty years in the making, Ron Irwin’s Flat Water Tuesday has won enormous praise and international accolades. Irwin has put 15 years of teaching creative writing at UCT to excellent use by producing a moving world-class novel about a boy from the wrong side of the tracks who becomes part of a prestigious school rowing team. It’s primarily set in the USA (there’s a South African connection) but it has all the things we want good novels to be about: resilience, achievement, friendship, and love. (Check out our interview with Ron Irwin here.)
At the Franschhoek Literary Festival I listened to Gareth Crocker, a South African author I’d never heard of. Crocker writes what he calls ‘emotional thrillers’ (his latest novel King features an autistic child and a lion cub). Apparently writing heartwarming fiction can make for a solid writing career − Reader’s Digest has translated his work into several languages thereby allowing him to be a full-time novelist.
Redi Tlhabi’s Endings & Beginnings: A Story of Healing impressed me hugely with Tlhabi’s ability to draw me in across cultural barriers while she walks in the shoes of her fascinating characters. Tlhabi displays empathy and openness to the best and the worst of human nature: a sure sign of that rare writer, a storyteller who is the ‘real thing’.
What can we expect from you next?
I’m busy with book II of the limbo trilogy that picks up on Lady Limbo but will also stand alone, which seems like a metaphor for its overriding theme. The focus has moved to the mysterious gathering of dark forces that threaten the young girl Simone. There are plenty of magical plot twists as Paola sets out to rescue her daughter.
The Undercover Soundtrack – Consuelo Roland’s Lady Limbo
Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative environment – perhaps to connect with a character, populate a mysterious place, or hold a moment still to explore its depths. This week my guest is award-nominated novelist, poet and essayist Consuelo Roland @ConsueloRoland
Soundtrack by R.E.M., The Beatles, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Youssou N’Dour, Bob Marley
Writer of literary mystery novel Lady Limbo, Consuelo Roland plays a little blog tag. She was tagged by the wonderful short story writer Liesl Jobson, and here she shares a quick Q&A about her new novel Lady Limbo.
What is your working title of your book?
From early on I had two working titles, partly because I knew it was volume I of the Limbo Trilogy; the one title was With My Last Breath and the other was Lady Limbo. When my agent wanted my manuscript to submit it to Jacana Media for their consideration, I hesitated over which title to use. Eventually I went with Lady Limbo, and then once we had a signed contract I mentioned the alternative title as a possibility. But Jacana Media were adamant that it should remain Lady Limbo. I think they were right in retrospect because the cover design perfectly complements the title, and as my niece pointed out “Alliteration is always good in a title!”
Where did the idea come from for the book?
A ground hostess told my mother a very sexy naughty story one long night at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. Her name is forever lost in the torrential downpour of that stormy night. Lady Limbo is the story of a globe-trotting career woman whose life unravels when her husband disappears. Paola Dante’s search leads her to a mysterious international organisation that hires genetically superior men out for the purposes of face-to-face procreation.
Real Man International (aka RMI), the name of the secret organisation she visits, is an invented name, but the organization exists; it’s details reside in a ground hostess’s little black book as per her own words. It was fun to turn things around and evoke a world where men are paid ridiculous stud fees to be at the beck and call of willful high-flying women who can afford to be extravagant. If one believes the ground hostess’s story then it’s clear that occasionally a perfectly ordinary independently-minded woman – such as a ground hostess – might use RMI’s services, and get herself into a spot of trouble.
What genre does your book fall under?
Lady Limbo is perhaps best described as a literary mystery novel with some big dollops of mind-twisting suspense. There’s plenty of character development as well as sex, fear and violence. The mystery genre aims to keep the reader perched on the edge of his or her seat, without being as restrictive as a whodunit. It allows for the whydunit perspective which is far more interesting. In Lady Limbo the emotional stakes are high and the internal conflict is mirrored by villainous external forces.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem are the obvious choices for the lead roles of career woman and missing husband in the movie version of Lady Limbo. The girl at the bus-stop would be somebody newly discovered who has that ‘it’ factor which combines the innocence of freckles with wide open knowing eyes and a blonde ponytail… the daughter of somebody I know is perfect. The male half of the French villain couple should be slim, suave and able to wear a dinner jacket – maybe Ben Kingsley – and the female half should be Naomi Rapace of Girl With The Dragon Tattoo movie fame.
The Bay Bookshop (Cape Quarter) will host an event with Consuelo Roland, the author of Lady LIMBO, on Wednesday, the 13th of March 2013.
CRIMINAL MINDS AT WORK: Crime novelists with a penchant for mystery, mayhem and murder
Friday, March 01, 2013
Special Guest: Consuelo Roland, author of Lady Limbo
(Thanks to the Extraordinaires and book friends for the random questions).
TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT YOURSELF YOU’VE NEVER TOLD ANYONE:
I once kissed a total stranger on an empty night train making its way out of Frankfurt. He asked me to go to Paris with him for the weekend and I refused. I’ve always wondered what would have happened if I’d said yes.
WHO’S ON THE COVER AND WHY IS SHE IN SUCH TROUBLE?
The perfect life… Or a beautiful lie? Forced to hunt down Lady Limbo, the ghost of a youthful love affair that ended in betrayal, Paola Dante risks everything and learns to trust no one in a race to find her missing husband. Lady Limbo leads her into dark territory she never knew existed, where she must question all she knows. What if the great love of your life committed the perfect crime?
GIVE US THE 140-CHARACTER STORY PITCH:
Here today, gone tomorrow. Paola Dante’s husband has disappeared. All she has is the Limbo files. 7 women 7 files. Which one is Lady Limbo?
YOUR CHARACTER, PAOLA DANTE, HAS TO COVER SEVERAL DIFFERENT ANGLES; FROM CAREER WOMAN TO COOL SEDUCTRESS TO RELUCTANT CHILD PROTECTOR. YOU’RE ITALIAN AND YOU’VE WORKED IN THE INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY BUSINESS. IS SHE MODELED ON YOURSELF?
Not at all. Paola knows how to stay one step ahead in the combat zone of corporate meetings; she treats bullying shark tactics with the disdain they deserve. On a personal level she is sassy, witty and smart – this frightening mix of self-control and social maturity is totally unlike me. But of course there’s a very human side to her. Sometimes it makes sense to work with background knowledge you already have. I could just let her develop organically without too much over-thought.
IT’S AN UNUSUAL PREMISE FOR A PLOT; AN ORGANISATION THAT HIRES MEN OUT FOR COPULATION? DOES SUCH AN ORGANISATION EXIST? WHO IS YOUR SOURCE?
My source is a ground hostess who told my mother a very sexy naughty story one long night at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. Her name is forever lost in the torrential downpour of that stormy night. Real Man International (aka RMI) is an invented name, but the organisation exists; it’s details reside in a ground hostess’s little black book. It was fun to turn things around and evoke a world where men are paid ridiculous stud fees to be at the beck and call of wilful women who can afford to be extravagant. Occasionally a perfectly ordinary independently-minded woman – such as a ground hostess – will use their services.
ISN’T THE WHOLE IDEA OF A VIRGIN AUCTION ON THE INTERNET A BIT IMPROBABLE? IT’S A COMPELLING AND ORIGINAL STORY IDEA BUT DO SUCH THINGS ACTUALLY HAPPEN IN REAL LIFE?
A good thriller chills our blood, readying us for a mesmerising journey through the glowing portals of hell. Lady Limbo transports us into a parallel reality where humanity’s worst instincts are at play. The “dark web” (an invisible black hole of untraceable activity) is estimated to be an incredible 15 times larger than the web we know, with more than 900 billion pages. It is a world where the illegal is openly available, providing a hidden shop window for criminal gangs and sexual predators. On the dark web innocence is traded like any other commodity.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT LADY LIMBO?
I love that it’s a thoroughly twenty-first century story full of enigmatic twists and turns. Just when you think the story is going one way then it suddenly gets even more interesting and ups the ante. The shocks and surprises keep on coming at the character like she’s in a shooting arcade, dodging a hidden shooter in a world of seduction and darkness. Paola has to think on her feet all the time, or the truth will find her before she finds the truth.
Stellalinkbooks (Joni Rodgers); Youtube Review of Lady Limbo: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cGp2dBYQRyg
Joni L. Rodgers; Amazon Review of Lady Limbo:
Author photo by Bernadine Jones
Posted by Cheryl Tardif at 6:00 AM
‘Music to wake the living’ Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative process – perhaps to open a secret channel to understand a character, populate a mysterious…
The Good Cemetery Guide began one fog-laden winter’s night in a dimly-lit music locale in Kalk Bay, South Africa. Three acoustic guitarists, jamming loud enough to wake the dead, shifted my world a step to the left. – Consuelo Roland
The Complete Interview here: SSDA Interview
‘We’ve compiled twenty-one questions our followers want to know about writers in Africa. Please post your answers on your blog before 21 June 2013, in celebration of Short Story Day Africa.’ – SSDA email
Note: I assisted with the assessment of manuscripts in the first round of SSDA in 2013.
- Do you actually enjoy writing, or do you write because you like the finished product?I consider writing a novel as similar to penning an excrutiatingly long poem; it’s a highly detailed labour-intensive activity that you’d have to be crazy to attempt. But somehow I find the whole process, from the first word to the splurb for the back cover of the published novel, immensely satisfying. There’s a curious feeling of dissociation from the finished product once it’s beyond my control.
- What are you reading right now? And are you enjoying it? (No cheating and saying something that makes you sound like the intelligensia).I’m reading The Childhood of Jesus by J.M. Coetzee as course material for my university studies (doing an Honours course in English Literature at UCT). It has a simple biblical feel to it as if it’s getting back to the distilled essence of story. It’s very accessible and quick to read on the surface but will take me months of mulling over and revisiting to get to any kind of grip with the high idealism of its themes.
- Have you ever killed off a character and regretted it?Yes and No. I can’t say too much because it would be a spoiler for those readers who haven’t yet read Lady Limbo, my second novel. It nearly broke my heart to kill off a certain character who was intensely alive and fascinating, but it was a necessary tactical decision. I regretted the demise of my lovable character on an emotional level, but in logical story terms I had no choice.
- If you could have any of your characters over for dinner, which would it be and why?It would have to be Daniel de Luc, the missing husband in Lady Limbo. He always insisted that I tell the story from his wife Paola’s point of view, wanting to accept responsibility for his role in the unraveling of her neatly ordered existence. I tried telling it in his voice (he has a delicious French accent), but he refused to co-operate until I gave in and told it in her voice.
- Which one of your characters would you never invite into your home and why?I wouldn’t invite the child abductor Albert Sarrazin or his wife Nada in Lady Limbo to my dinner table. On the other hand I wouldn’t mind meeting up with them at a dark bar somewhere far away from normal life and finding out more about their childhood, and how they became who they are. The nature of villainry is endlessly interesting.More here: SSDA Interview