Queering the Craft: An Interview with Lola Keeley

Queering the Craft: An Interview with Lola Keeley

Welcome to the fourth week of our Queering the Craft series, where some of our favorite writers talk about reading, storytelling, and publishing. 

A lot of people are on the lookout for great f/f fiction. When I read The Music and the Mirror I knew I had found a real gem: bad-ass, opposites attract ballerinas fighting tooth and claw for the spotlight in New York City. I really, really loved Lola Keeley's debut, which I reviewed here, and I was so excited when she agreed to be interviewed. Let's begin!

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H: Hi Lola! Thank you so much for agreeing to participate in the Queering the Craft interview series. 

You just released your debut, but it very much did not feel like a debut book. What’s your writing experience?

L: Well I’ve been writing fanfic on and off since 1999! I would say only to a standard I’m happy with in the last four or five years, though. This is my second attempt at a novel, the first is very much ‘in the drawer’. It is complete and it was longlisted for the Mslexia Novel Prize back in 2008 or thereabouts, but it wasn’t a project I wanted to continue with in the end.

I’m lucky in that a lot of my ‘day job’ now is writing – copywriting, blogging, and also some journalism. I’m always happiest messing around with words.

H: Did The Music and the Mirror’s publication feel like a triumphant, definitive moment, or like a step in a longer journey?

L: I have to be honest, I still haven’t entirely processed it. There’s something genuinely magical about holding a book you wrote. While it’s been this huge milestone to reach, especially because publishing is a looooong process, I’m really pleased that on the other side of launch day I now feel energised to keep writing more.

H: What’s something that you learned during the publication process that surprised you?

L: How patient editors have to be. I’m going to hold my hands up and say I was an idiot about any number of things on more than one occasion. I would read the guidelines, ask questions, and then find another way to do something a bit wrong. The fact that nobody metaphorically threw the manuscript at my head is a miracle!

H: What software, websites, pens, et cetera, do you use for your writing and outlining? The Music and the Mirror’s plot feels so elegantly crafted that I’m wondering how you kept track of it and how much you planned in advance.

L: It was a strange story in one sense: I knew the ending before I knew how I planned to start it. I tend to work out very basic outlines on pen and paper—the one habit I retained from law school before dropping out is yellow legal pads. I think better in pencil than in pen, and as well as the standard HBs I always have a mug full of carpenter’s pencils that you carve instead of sharpening. A good busywork task when you’re stuck!

Actual writing goes straight onto the computer though. I write whatever’s in my head into a Google doc and then use Scrivener to sort things out into scenes and start playing around with the structure. I spend a lot of time in Slack too, talking to a little band of writers and artists, and we all try and help each other through blocks, encourage writing sprints and that kinda thing.

H: What would you like aspiring writers of queer lady romance to know?

L: That there are so many more stories to tell, and the more diverse the better. I know I want to learn about worlds and experiences different from my own, and I would say that’s true for many of us.

H: Are you currently working on any writing projects?

L: I’m about ¾ done with book 2, which isn’t related to the universe of The Music and the Mirror, just the second one I’m aiming to publish! It’s set in the high-pressure world of a London hospital, two gorgeous doctors with very different views on how to run a surgical department!

H: You’re introducing a tough critic to the world of queer lady lit for the first time. What are the titles you recommend to them?

L: I would probably start with my ‘label mates’ – Roslyn Sinclair and Alex K. Thorne. Both achieve things with language that are so literary and dazzling, it really might shake up some perceptions of what romance fiction is. The Lily and the Crown and Chasing Stars are both cracking reads.

In addition, Lee Winter is a kickass name in queer lady lit for a reason. I started with The Red Files and was hooked instantly.

H: Which writers do you think taught you the most about writing? Is there a book, scene, or even a passage that stands out in your memory?

L: I’ve learned a lot about lyricism in writing from Ann Patchett, one of my favourite authors. I’m always bowled over by the scale and depths of the worlds that Donna Tartt creates. And the much-missed Terry Pratchett will always be a hero, both for showing that humour can tell stories with a lot of heart, and how ro rail against the system without ever being completely cynical.

H: Anna and Victoria’s characterization is etched into every word of your book; I could feel their personalities so strongly. What are some of your favorite characters from fiction?

L: I’m a sucker for an ice queen, which might just show! Miranda Priestly, Supergirl’s Cat Grant, Once Upon a Time’s Regina Mills. Michael Chabon’s Meyer Landsman has stayed with me outside the pages of the book (The Yiddish Policemen’s Union), as has Anna Blume from Paul Auster’s In The Country of Last Things. Rounding that list out would be my Scandinavian heroines – Sarah Lund, Birgitte Nyborg, and Saga Norén.

H: You’re holding a book that you know will be amazing before you even turn to page 1. Who wrote it?

L: An author of historical fiction called Kaite Welsh. Okay, full disclosure, she’s also my wife! That said, what she’s done with her novel series is just beyond anything I would have expected, not least because she’s got me interested in Victorian medicine, which is not my jam at all!

Of course, she’s a great source of inspiration and advice as a writer, I’m so lucky to share a home and a life with her. Even beyond that though, she has a mastery of language and storytelling that just leaves me in awe every single time.

H: Thank you so much for stopping by, Lola!

Liked this interview? Join us for the others!

Queering the Craft schedule
May 15: K.J. Charles, in celebration of the release of The Henchmen of Zenda
May 22: Jude Sierra, in celebration of the release of A Tiny Piece of Something Greater
May 29: Roan Parrish, in celebration of the release of Riven
June 5: Lola Keeley, in celebration of her f/f debut The Music and the Mirror

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