Watch out for the give-away question at the end of the interview.
Q: We met at the Brisbane Writers Festival a few years ago when you and Kevin (Kevin J Anderson, Rebecca’s husband and business partner) were in Australia and again this year when you both attended Supanova. As a writer who is trying to meet deadlines and run a business (WordFire) and attend fun (but exhausting) events, how do you balance your professional life?
I’ll have to let you know when I figure that balance thing out. It can be pretty tricky. I’m terrible at writing or editing while I’m on travel. I tend to bring only light projects with me, like reading or formatting, since I’m highly distractible. I tire easily, and I’m also a sucker for picking up any sort of local cold or flu as a souvenir when I’m on the road. It takes me days (if I’m lucky) or weeks to get back to normal after a trip. Knowing my weaknesses, I jealously guard my time at home to get brain-intensive work done. My best bet for balancing deadlines with travel is to limit the number of event invitations I accept in a given year and to give myself recovery time in between.
Q: The list of books that you’ve written is impressive. Let’s look at the Young Jedi Knights, Junior Jedi Knights. Working in an established world must be challenging. How much freedom do you have as a writer when working in the Star Wars universe?
When I was writing Young Jedi Knights, only a handful of other authors were writing in the Star Wars universe, so there was much more leeway to move around. I never felt that my creativity was being hampered. Whether you write a story set in 1960s San Francisco, in feudal Japan, or on Yavin 4, you have to know the climate, the culture, the language, the geography, etc. All of those worlds have intrinsic restrictions. Writing in them involves research and world building. For Star Wars, most of Kevin’s and my research came from watching the original three movies again and again. Every book had to be thoroughly outlined so it could be approved by a continuity committee at Lucasfilm, but that didn’t seem too restrictive to me. After all, I was playing in George Lucas’s sandbox with his toys.
Q: Then there are the Crystal Doors series. This is a young YA series (the protagonists are around 14 years of age). The Jedi books were also YA. Do you find you are most comfortable writing for the YA audience?
YA and middle grade fiction has been my favorite to read since I was about ten. Somehow, I never outgrew it. There’s a magic in YA: it’s the literature of transformation. Something essential always happens to the main characters. The journey from childhood to adulthood presents challenges and rites of passage that are social, emotional, physical, and moral. Our protagonists confront issues like first love, conflicting loyalties, losing a family member, false friends, uncertain values, leaving home, poverty or violence, idealism vs pragmatism. How could I not be fascinated by that? What is a mere murder mystery by comparison?
Q: You have a Masters Science degree, yet you seem to have written mainly Space Opera and fantasy. Are you ever tempted to write Hard SF?
My MS is in Business Administration. Even though I love science and gadgets, the nuts-and-bolts part of science fiction doesn’t come easily to me. First, there are gigantic gaps in my knowledge, so hard SF requires me to do lots of added research, and second, it gives me way too many more chances to goof up. For me, space, fantasy and science are backdrops against which I set my characters & plot. I prefer to use science as a spice for my story stew, rather than as the primary ingredient.
I was, in fact, a huge Buffy fan. One year, my husband Kevin was on a book-signing tour with Brian Herbert for one of their Dune novels, and I was along for the part of the tour. Before the signing at Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore in San Diego, I chatted with the owners, Maryelizabeth Hart and Jeff Mariotte, and we got into a spirited discussion of what might happen in the next season of the show and what directions we hoped the show would take.
Jeff was already writing Buffy novels, and he and Maryelizabeth were also working on some of the nonfiction BtVS books. Quickly realizing that I was a True Fan, one of them commented that I should write a Buffy YA novel, and I said it sounded fun.
I thought no more about it until I got an email a few days later from the then-editor of the Buffy line, Lisa Clancy, asking me to consider writing a BtVS novel for her. (Apparently, Jeff had sneakily informed her that I was a fan and that she absolutely had to invite me to do one.)
Though surprised and flattered, I was intimidated. I’d never written horror before—even humorous horror like BtVS. In fact, I seemed to lean much more toward fairies than vampires, so I asked my husband, “Do you suppose they’d let me do vampire fairies?” Kevin thought the idea was different enough that it just might “fly,” so I suggested the idea to the editor, and the rest is history.
Q: You often collaborate with your husband Kevin. I’m fascinated to learn how you manage this? Does one of you plot the idea, then the other fleshes it out, or do you plot together, then write alternate chapters, then rewrite together?
In most cases, it starts with brainstorming. We talk over story ideas, jot down notes, arrange them and expand on them, we play up on each other’s ideas, and eventually write a detailed outline. Then we break it down into chapters and decide who is best equipped to write the first draft of each particular chapter. Kevin writes half of the chapters, I write the other half, then we edit and swap files and edit each other’s work. It goes back and forth until we’ve got what we consider a finished version. And the collaborative book that comes out is different and better than anything either of us could do individually.
When I was growing up, my mom didn’t much approve of what she called “funny books,” so I didn’t read many. It was only after meeting Kevin that my appreciation for them developed. (My mom has been educated on the subject and now approves.) For a writer, there’s a exceptional joy that comes from seeing a story that I wrote come to life in illustrations.
Q: What’s next in the pipeline for you?
I’m doing quite a bit of epublishing at the moment, but I’d like to squeeze in a nonfiction book, as well as writing a few books for younger children (with illustration). I also have a new humorous science fiction project coming up that will be co-written with Kevin.
Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy is a bit of a boy’s club. Do you think there’s a difference in the way males and females write fantasy?
It doesn’t seem politically correct to say it, but I do think that on average men and women construct fantasy using slightly different mental recipes.
When I was a teacher, I started with the assumption that all gender differences are a result of how the student was raised. I reluctantly came to accept that there are actual biological differences that affect the thought process. Later, when I had my son, I tried to raise him in a gender-neutral way, to revive my preferred theory of differences coming primarily from nurture rather than nature. I struck out. He was all boy from the start, and I gave up on my theory.
That said, I do think that there is a boys’ club that holds male fantasy writers in higher esteem than female writers, especially in epic fantasy. Writing styles vary widely, and some authors’ writing crosses the gender divide, but overall, books by male authors draw more respect from readers and are more valued by editors.
Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?
Unfortunately, yes. If I read a book whose author’s name is male, I expect a story that is idea-driven or plot focused, while with a female author I anticipate more emphasis on relationships, feelings, and personal development. I feel really guilty saying this—tell me I’m wrong!
Q: And here’s the fun question. If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?
I’d visit Pompeii before Vesuvius erupted, to experience daily life there. I’ve always been fascinated by ancient cultures in Egypt, China, Greece, Italy, Persia, etc. How did the rich people live? What rights did the poor or enslaved have? What was the state of technology? How did they practice religion? What were their arts and entertainment?
I wouldn’t want to stay there longer than a few days, but I want to know how accurate modern historians really are in interpreting a culture 2000 years older than our own.
Rebecca has generously offered a Give-away book bundle of:
- Crystal Doors trilogy in trade paperback
- Jedi Shadow paperback (an omnibus of Young Jedi Knights books 1–3)
- BtVS: Little Things
Which she is willing to send anywhere in the world!
Give-away Question: Do you see yourself more comfortable living in Buffy’s world or the StarWars universe?
Follow Rebecca on Twitter: @RebeccaMoesta
Catch up with Rebecca on GoodReads.