Elizabeth Watasin is the acclaimed author of the Gothic steampunk series The Dark Victorian, The Elle Black Penny Dreads, and the creator/artist of the indie comics series Charm School, which was nominated for a Gaylactic Spectrum Award. She lives in Los Angeles with her black cat named Draw, busy bringing readers uncanny heroines in shilling shockers, epic fantasy adventures, and paranormal detective tales. It is a real pleasure to introduce her here on No Wasted Ink.
Hello everyone, and thank you to No Wasted Ink for having me. My name is Elizabeth Watasin and I’m a workaholic.
When and why did you begin writing?
I started with comic strips in high school. I was working up to sequential storytelling and gag writing was the way to begin, which are 2-4 panel strips. From there I progressed to comic books. But I happened to injure my hands at one point in my career and had to figure out how to continue storytelling. Learning to write long fiction was the result.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Strangely enough, that would be after publishing my third book. There’s a saying in traditional 2D animation, that you don’t know how to really draw until you’ve drawn 1000 feet of animation (that’s 16-24 drawings per foot). Though I’ve been writing for a while, whether it was comic book scripts or other novels in progress, I didn’t feel accomplished until I’d more novels under my belt.
Can you share a little about your current book with us?
Sundark: An Elle Black Penny Dread is about an unconventional Victorian housewife and psychic detective, Elle Black, living in an 1880 supernatural and mechanical London. She must solve why guests are disappearing in a notorious mechanical hotel that rotates its floors and towers, the Sundark, and uses her telekinetic abilities to do so.
What inspired you to write this book?
The pure fun of doing Victorian pulp fiction was what inspired me–the opportunity to play with uncanny, two-fisted heroines, horror elements, and discover how to do neat, mystery twists. I’m not overtly melodramatic in my storytelling, but I’d love to emulate the lurid penny bloods and gothic novels of the 19th century, as well as the tradition of female sleuth mysteries.
Do you have a specific writing style?
I’m very clear and hopefully concise when I write. I place an emphasis on settings, so that the reader can be immersed in a memorable, cinematic environment or theatrical moment. I like every word to count. I self-edit very much. I can be eloquent at times but I do yearn for a storytelling voice that just pours forth, clearly and beautifully. That would be something to come, eventually.
How did you come up with the title of this book?
“Sundark” is a play on “sun” and “dark”, naturally. It was meant to be a placeholder title representing core symbolism in the story. When Elle visits the Sundark, she finds that it’s full of alchemic symbols, the “black sun” or “dark sun” representing transformation and such. The more I used the word “Sundark”, the more it seemed to fulfill the “pulp fiction” feel.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Yes, but I try to be subtle about it. Elle is a sapphist; by our modern terms, a lesbian. And she’s in a very happy, contractual marriage with the love of her life, another woman. So here’s this 1880 London housewife in an unconventional marriage and dedicated to maintaining a perfect, Victorian home. She’s very frank about her marriage, even when people aren’t sure what to make of it. Though female marriage existed in British history, from the 1850’s to the 1880s, I’m taking that fact further into alternate history. I’m establishing events that would invalidate our criminalizing what would be labeled ‘homosexuality’, a word invented during the 1890’s. You can read more about female marriages in the book, “Between Women: Friendship, Desire, and Marriage in Victorian England”, by Sharon Marcus.
Are experiences in this book based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Not that I know of. What’s fun about writing speculative fiction is exploring what could have been and making brave things happen that are not as fun to do in real life. In storytelling, I can make such things funnier so they’re easier to endure; endearing, so that we may value them. Thought-provoking so that we can see our lives from a different understanding. I love heroic stories and exploring the mythic possibilities. This gives readers something to hold on to.
What authors have most influenced your life? What about them do you find inspiring?
Oh, that’s hard to say, so I’ll just pick who comes to mind, right now. Shakespeare because he was so astute and so true; Virginia Woolf for the clarity. Agatha Christie for being so clever. Ray Bradbury for pointing at us like the Electric Man and saying, “Live!”.
If you had to choose, is there a writer would you consider a mentor? Why?
I’ve had plenty of mentors in my art career; often what I was told while watching them draw would follow me to my desk and echo in my head as I worked. But with writing I never had that person. Writing novels is remarkably solitary. I guess if one were in a bull pen or working in-house on publications, you can get those elder guides whose words follow you as your career grows. But back to your question, who would I pick? The screenwriter, Katherine Fugate. She knows what I want to know, about women, about people. About delivering The Story. She knows the heart of things. I want that in my stories.
Who designed the cover of your book? Why did you select this illustrator?
Let me say first that I usually illustrate the covers, and you can still see mine (if I’ve not changed it yet), on the paperback version of Sundark. But I do know that my style looks too much like graphic novel work, and that may mislead people who look at the thumbnail on Amazon and other online venues. So I’m experimenting with photo covers. Dara England was suggest to me and she’s a solid, versatile professional digital artist. I’m very picky and critical of my own work, but when Dara does her thing I only have to make minimal directions, and that’s a nice change. She did a splendid job with Sundark, I couldn’t be happier.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Write, write, write. Never mind anyone else, what they say or what they want or what they think you should be doing. Be selfish. The more you write the better you get, and if you didn’t quite write anything today, just be sure to, tomorrow.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Thank you for reading my books, and thank you for reading my future books. Not only do I hope you enjoy them but I hope they give you something to comfort or enrich your life.
Los Angeles, CA