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Palma Offers Escape from the Mundane with Map of the Sky

Map of the Sky by Felix Palma
Map of the Sky
by Felix J. Palma

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An exclusive Authorlink interview with Felix J. Palma
Author of Map of the Sky (translation by Nicole Gaines)

 

By Ellen Birkett Morris

September, 2013

Map of the Sky is the second of a planned trilogy that takes the stories of H.G. Wells as a starting point. In this book, War of the Worlds is the point of departure from which readers are taken on a fantastic romp where anything seems possible. Author Felix J. Palma offers us a glimpse behind the creation of this elaborate and clever tale.

“I knew . . . that nothing would make me happier in life than exciting someone with a story invented by me: “
PALMA

AUTHORLINK: When did you know you were destined to be a writer?

PALMA: Around the age of twelve or thirteen. I remember that when I watched a movie, I’d be paying more attention to the reactions of my siblings or my parents than to the movie itself. I knew then that I wanted to awaken those reactions in others, that nothing would make me happier in life than exciting someone with a story invented by me: to make them laugh, cry, tremble, sigh, reflect, maybe fall in love. But I had no connection with the cinema, nor did I draw well enough to tell my stories through comics, but in my house there was a typewriter. So then I realized that words were the material available to me to tell the stories that swarmed around in my head.

AUTHORLINK: Can you tell us something about your experience of learning the art of writing? What were the workshops, writer’s groups, mentors or teachers who most influenced and influence you?

PALMA: Although literary workshops and writers groups are very in vogue now in Spain, at the time when I began to write, they didn’t exist. Besides, I lived in a small town, where there were no professional writers for me to talk with. One could say I’m a self-taught writer. I began imitating the themes and way of writing of the writers I most liked, for example, Cortázar or García Márquez, and little by little, I developed my own voice. More than as a reader, I read like a spy: I wanted to see how others did it.

AUTHORLINK: Where does a story or novel begin for you? With a character? An image? A plot? A first line?

PALMA: Its origin could be any of these things, though in my case it almost always arises from an image that is stimulating and powerful enough that I can intuit a whole story behind it.

AUTHORLINK: In your work, there is always something of the fantastic. Speak a little about this aspect of your writing. Is reality overrated?

PALMA: I think many readers overrate it, and for this reason the fantastic is usually considered a minor genre. For me, though, it is just the opposite: it’s always been my favorite genre. As a child, each time I would read a story that harbored in its pages some fantastic element, my brain produced a spark of pleasure that no other genre could produce. When I started to write, added to that early fascination I discovered a more practical value, as it allowed me to tackle hackneyed, age-old themes from another angle, from a new perspective that is perhaps today one of the few ways we can capture originality.

AUTHORLINK: In an earlier interview you said “I want my prose to be interesting in itself, and not just to be a vehicle.” Tell me about how you think prose should work and why.

PALMA: I think that every story needs a tone, a particular kind of writing, and the key for the writer is finding it, so that story and prose fit each other perfectly, so they don’t grate against one another. But aside from this, whatever the chosen tone is, I always try to work my writing to be the best it can possibly be, so it’s not just a vehicle, but also produces aesthetic enjoyment for the reader. I like to combine words in a daring and pliant way, to find new ways of saying things.

“The idea was to write a trilogy that would turn Wells into my own Sherlock Holmes. . .”
—PALMA

 

 

 

 

 

AUTHORLINK: Where did you get the idea for The Map of the Sky?

PALMA: Being the second part of a trilogy, the plot was almost imposed on me by the characteristics of the previous novel, so maybe I should explain here how I got the idea for a trilogy about the writer H.G. Wells. After re-reading The Time Machine, which I had liked so much as a child, I wondered what the contemporary readers would have felt when they read it, living at a time when science had attained such spectacular progress that it seemed to be making the impossible into reality. And I imagined them closing their book with the conviction that inventors would shortly make a machine capable of moving through time, as if it were just another dimension of space. I imagined them excitedly thinking that within months, they would be able to travel to the past or the future in a steam powered vehicle, and I also thought of Wells himself doubtfully standing in front of a travel agency that offered trips to the future. It was such a powerful image that I decided to write a novel starting from it. And when I finished The Map of Time, another image came to me that was just as powerful: a police agent arriving at Wells’ house because in the outskirts of London, a cylindrical Martian spaceship had fallen to earth, just as he had written in another of his novels, The War of the Worlds. And that is the seed of the second part of the trilogy, The Map of the Sky. The idea was to write a trilogy that would turn Wells into my own Sherlock Holmes, making him live out adventures related to his best known novels.

AUTHORLINK: This is a very fun novel and it seems like it would have been fun to write. Is it important that the writer play a little with the reader and his expectations?

PALMA: I assure you that the writing wasn’t as fun as it may seem, because it demanded a lot of work and patience, but the success of the writer is precisely in concealing all of that, so that the reader will think it was as fun to write as it is to read. In terms of playing with the reader, it’s something I’ve always liked to do. I like stories with unexpected twists, and it’s something I’ve put into practice since I began writing, even with my first stories. When I began to create these novels, I wanted the reader not to know what to believe, to play with him, to bamboozle him, and above all, I wanted him to think that sometimes deceptions are useful, that they can serve to create beauty and save lives. These novels ask for the collaboration of an active reader.

AUTHORLINK: In the Victorian Trilogy, there are many unexpected connections (for example, Edgar Allan Poe finding Martians at the South Pole). What is the process for you of developing a plot and these connections?

PALMA: It could be said that, more than using a compass, when it comes to writing I use a map. I never begin any story until I have designed the plot, from beginning to end, with all the connections between the characters, all the tributes that can be made . . . Completely, until I think I have squeezed out all the juice. Even though I leave a margin of flexibility, I almost always keep a tight grasp of the reins of the story. I don’t think that novels that are as complex as these can be written improvisationally, unless you are a genius, which isn’t the case with me.

AUTHORLINK: You have said that there are writers that make you think and there are those that make you dream, and you are the later. In what ways is a novel like a sustained dream?

PALMA: I would like for the reader to see it this way. I think that these novels are written for the reader who, after a routine day of fighting with reality, wants to escape, escape to a world of adventures, romances, dreams. A novel that is a refuge, that provides a truce.

AUTHORLINK: In what ways is this book about the transformative power of love?

PALMA: Without a doubt. Love is beautiful in itself, but it also beautifies all that it touches. My greatest challenge in this novel was making the reader believe that a character as negative as Gilliam Murray could change and become a more generous person thanks to a woman’s love.

AUTHORLINK: How long did it take to write The Map of the Sky?

PALMA: Almost a year and a half, working every day.

AUTHORLINK: Tell me about your research. What resources did you draw on when developing the novel?

PALMA: I used everything within reach, from articles that I searched for on the Internet to books about the period and biographies of the writers who were the protagonists, and I also watched a lot of movies related to the story, without forgetting, of course, the works that the novel alludes to, like The War of the Worlds by Wells, or The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym by Poe.

“What ended up being most difficult was not revealing any of the surprises of the first book.”
PALMA

AUTHORLINK: What challenges did writing this book pose? How did you overcome them?

PALMA: What ended up being most difficult was not revealing any of the surprises of the first book. I wanted readers who started reading the trilogy at the second book to be able to later read the first without any problems. In order to do that, I had to carefully choose the point of view from which to narrate each scene.

AUTHORLINK: Do you have an agent?

PALMA: I wrote for ten years without an agent, managing my own contracts, because just about everything I was writing then was for submission to literary prize competitions. I met my agent, Antonia Kerrigan after the success of The Map of Time, and I’ve been with her for five years. When you get something of a name as a writer, and above all when you start to publish abroad, it’s advisable to hand over the marketing aspect of your work to someone who is truly skilled at it, so that way you can concentrate solely on writing. AUTHORLINK: What was it like working with your editor?

PALMA: I usually write three drafts of each novel. The first contains everything I want to say, as I prefer to say everything and later trim the scenes and things that are redundant until I have a second draft with the novel much more condensed. Afterwards, I revise the writing in a third draft. It’s like polishing. And that’s the version I give to the editor. Then begins the editing phase, during which we discuss modifications that could be made to improve the plot. In The Map of the Sky I didn’t have to change or cut anything that I didn’t agree with, as my editor and I are really in tune and we usually agree on almost everything.

“To perfect your skills, I would advise that you read all types of literature, not just the authors that you like.”
PALMA

AUTHORLINK: What advice do you have for new novelists about honing their skills and staying encouraged?

PALMA: To perfect your skills, I would advise that you read all types of literature, not just the authors that you like. If one thinks that he has a weakness when it comes to developing characters, or writing dialogue, to give two examples, he should read authors who are good at these aspects of writing. In terms of staying encouraged, I would just say that it’s the only way to be if you want to publish, because in the majority of cases, becoming a writer is a long distance marathon.

AUTHORLINK: What advice do you have for new novelists about how to get a first novel published?

PALMA: I would say to them that rarely does a novel come out perfectly the first time. It usually requires many rewritings to arrive at the definitive version, so it’s advisable to give the novel to as many people as possible to read, to get diverse opinions. If a publisher rejects our novel, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad. But it can also mean that it’s not quite good, that it could be better, so you have to keep working on it, and sending it to the publishers.

“I have many projects in my head, but I don’t know which one I’ll decide on.”
PALMA

AUTHORLINK: Aside from the third book of the Victorian Trilogy, are their other literary projects in your life now?

PALMA: I have many projects in my head, but I don’t know which one I’ll decide on. The first thing I’ll do when I finish the trilogy will be to take a break, not just to rest, but also to reflect on what I want my next project to be. But at the moment, I only know that it will be very different from the trilogy. I want to try other things, measure myself with another challenge.

About the Author

Félix J. Palma was born in Spain in 1968. His first volume of short stories, El Vigilante de la Salamandra (The Lizard’s Keeper) was published in 1998. He has published four other volumes of stories: Métodos de Supervivencia (Methods of Survival,1999), Las Interioridades (Interiors, 2002), Los Arácnidos (The Arachnids, 2003), and El Menor Espectáculo del Mundo (The World’s Smallest Show, 2010).

His novels are La Hormiga que Quiso Ser Astronauta (The Ant that Wanted to Become an Astronaut, 2001), Las Corrientes Oceánicas (The Ocean Currents, winner of the 2005 Luis Berenguer Award for Novel), and El Mapa del Tiempo (The Map of Time, winner of the Ateneo de Sevilla Award 2008). His work has been translated into more than 25 languages. He has also worked as a columnist, literary critic and has given creative writing workshops.

Palma has won more than one hundred awards.

About Regular Contributor
Ellen Birkett Morris
Ellen Birkett Morris is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in national print and online publications including The New York Times. She also writes for a number of literary, regional, trade, and business publications, and she has contributed to six published nonfiction books in the trade press. Ellen is a regular contributor to Authorlink, assigned to interview various New York Times bestselling authors and first-time novelists.