Category Archives: Collaboration

Meet Douglas Holgate…

I’m expanding my series featuring fantastic authors to include fantastically creative people across the different mediums, which is why I’ve invited the talented Douglas Holgate to drop by.

Watch out for the give-away question at the end of the interview.

Q: We met at Supanova and hung out at the cocktail party. Do you get to many of the Supanovas? Is it fun to mix with other illustrators and talk shop?

Doug with Skye, one of the Amazing Supanova Team

I’ve been to Supanova on the east coast fairly consistently over the last 3 or 4 years. I’ve yet to make the trek to Perth but I’m keen (and not just because I’ve never been to Perth).

Absolutely one of the best parts of the shows is mixing with peers, it’s always great to catch up, especially with people out of state and while the internet keeps us all up to date on what we’re up to it’s not a substitute for a drink and chat. I’ve found of late though I actually really like meeting and talking shop with people NOT doing what I’m doing…but working in similar creative fields. I had a ball talking to all the writers just recently at the Brisbane show (where we met), and came away with different perspectives, work ethics and ideas around publishing and the like.

Q: Back in the 80s when I was working as an illustrator in Melbourne we used to have to make appointments with the art directors of publishing houses, lug our folios in and be interviewed in hope that they’d send us work. Now artists have pages on all sorts of sites, as well as their own blog sites, to promote their artwork. (eg. The Loop. Illustrators Australia). Do you still have to do the ‘meet and greet’ with art directors or is it all done over the internet now?

I was saying to someone the other week that I have no idea how I’d work if I didn’t have a scanner, a computer and email. I can’t even imagine what it must have been like to navigate the creative process via the postal system. I do a lot of work for the US market so predominantly I work exclusively with them via the likes of email and sometimes skype. Local clients I do like to try and get a face to face with at some point. It’s nice to put a face and a voice to a name.

As for approaching clients for potential work, when I first started freelancing about 10 years ago it was still a phone call to the AD and physical hard copies of my folio sent to them if they were keen to see it. Now though…it’s pretty much all email and the internet. Which I think is good for ease of breaching that inner sanctum (It makes it less intimidating), and promotion wise you can have global reach instantly. But there is still something about even just talking to someone on the phone and a physical copy of your work in that person’s hands which can’t be replaced (Though I am a bit of a sucker for beautiful printed objects).

Q: You illustrated the Zack Proton (genuine intergalactic hero) books. Was this a chance to let your ‘inner kid’ loose? And how did you hook up with the writer, Brian Anderson, (I see he lives in Austen, Texas)?

I have such a soft spot for Zack proton. Not just a ridiculous, over the top, irreverent and just plain FUN series but also my first big time published work in the US.

All set up through my agent. The way it works is a publisher has a project, they approach my agent and ask if I’m free to work on the series and if I’d like to…and then I (always) say yes.

I then will back and forth with the publishers art director, receive a manuscript, any art direction they’re keen on, cover concepts, internal illustrations etc.

It’s very very rare that I’ll actually talk to the writer at all, especially during the process of putting the books together. This seems to be standard in the industry, which is a bit of a shame…but I can understand it from the publisher’s perspective, they want control of the books and don’t want creative decisions made without being in the loop.

I did however end up after the series was published getting in touch with Brian and we’ve stayed in touch every since, which is great!

Q: You worked on The Amazing Joy Buzzards from Image Comics, which is about an adventure rock-and-roll band. Look like lots of fun. When you work on a project like this how closely do you collaborate with the writer? Are there really tight deadlines?

I sort of already answered this one, but there are always exceptions to the rule. For original material I’m generating with writers to pitch, or self publish then absolutely it’s a complete collaboration.

Of course every writer is different and in some cases they’re happy to let me go away and work on the visual design of these things with minimal guidance. Others I’ve worked with have a strong vision and want to see it realised, from character design and aesthetic through to direction of what is happening specifically in a given scene. Writers like Alan Moore (whom I’ve not worked with) are notoriously specific about their art direction that in some cases almost becomes a novel in itself.

I do like a middle ground though. And there is nothing quite like brainstorming, back and forthing with someone and creating worlds and plots and characters from scratch.

For things like Joy Buzzards there was already an established universe that I was coming in to play around in. So the main characters and the like had pretty much already been fully realised. Which isn’t to say I didn’t have any creative input, it’s just a different challenge to say something original with someone else’s characters.

Q: And you worked on Super Chicken Nugget boy. When you were doing your Post Graduate Degree in Illustration at the University of Newcastle did you think you’d end up drawing animated chicken nuggets? LOL Do you have a personal project that you are madly working on in your spare time?

Haha! YES! Well…sort of. Maybe not chicken nuggets, but certainly I was aiming my sights on comics and material for kids and younger readers. There was a small group of us who were constantly getting in strife with the lecturers for pushing our project work in the comic book, cartooning direction. We were repeatedly told there was no future in it. Ironically I’m pretty sure we’re the only ones from our graduating class now working fulltime as artists and designers.

And I’ve got a list as long as eternity of personal projects. It’s one of the things that frustrates me some about what I do. IT TAKES SO LONG! If only I could snap my fingers, get that thing that’s gnawing at the back of my head DONE and then move onto the next thing. OH…and be paid a gazillion dollars for it…that would seriously not only make me happy but the world!

But yes. Right now I’ve got a couple of things in the works that I’m really excited about. The main one taking up all my time (When I get it) is an all ages graphic novel with a fantastic local Melbourne (though she’s been swanning about the streets of New York for the last 12 months) kids comic writer, Jen Breach.

Q: On Twitter we were talking about fantasy movies we loved like Mystery Men. “We struck down evil with the mighty sword of teamwork and the hammer of not bickering.” What were your biggest influences when you were growing up?

Oh, you mean the list of things that never seems to end? It’s funny, it’s only in the last couple of years since I’ve had a little boy that I’m rediscovering things that I used to love and adore as a kid…and I realise are a direct influence on what I’m doing right now. They’re obviously always in the back of your head, consciously or unconsciously, but tracking down vintage copies of Richard Scarry’s busy town series to introduce to him, looking at them and having this epiphany that he is a major influence is pretty wild. I spent some formative years in the UK and was obsessed with weekly kids comics magazines like Beano and Dennis The Menace. A lot of annuals like Eagle. Was a big fan of Roald Dahl and CS Lewis. And long form comics wise I was reading things like Asterix, Tintin and Lucky Luke a long time before I discovered American comics. Herge and Uderzo definitely are the two seminal influences though. Relatively strict realism of form with a cartoon sensibility inhabiting that world.

Q: If you could go back and give that starry-eyed kid advice, what would it be?

Get serious sooner. YOU’RE WASTING TIME!

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 (in books) is a bit of a boy’s club. I’ve come across quite a bit of talk on the blogs recently about female comic artists and writers, and their lack of representation in large companies like DC. Have you come across this in your professional life?

Not really no. I’d argue that illustration is actually a pretty even spread, in my experience anyway. There are as many female illustrators (if not more) whom I know and love working fulltime and being consistently published by major publishers. Also the majority of art directors I’ve worked with at the major US and Australian publishers have been women.

I’m a little torn on the issue of women in comics. On one hand I think that It’s pretty well established that there is indeed a boys club at the upper echelons of the likes of the major publishers, and obviously being a man I have no idea what that boys club mentality would be like to breach being a female creator. Not to mention the weird curtain wall of fandom thing you have to scale before even making your way to the keep.

But I also think that now is probably the best time in the history of comics for women. I can name you dozens who might not be published by the likes of DC or Marvel but they’re making original comics that are above and beyond in creativity, aesthetic, storytelling and vision than any run of the mill churned out monthly.

The push by established book publishers such as Random House and Scholastic into graphic novels, Independent comics publishers like IDW, First Second and Adhouse, the rise and rise of webcomics, artist sites like Deviant Art, Concept Art and the growing tendency for a lot of animators dipping their toes into comics making are all being driven by some incredible amazingly talented female cartoonists. I don’t see that stopping anytime soon.

This can’t help but change attitudes eventually at the dinosaurs. You know…if working on spiderman is something that you really want to do.

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer/artist change your expectations when you approach their work?

No not at all. If it’s well written, drawn, crafted and published I’m all over it. You know…I read my first babysitters club a few years ago and LOVED it, all because it was adapted by one of my favourite cartoonists (Raina Telgemeier) into a brilliant graphic novel.

There are as many male creators I like and don’t like as female. And none of that is based on gender it’s just about the work they create.

I don’t go into a movie or a novel thinking “oh it’s directed or written by a woman therefore it’s going to be formula X.”

Certainly there are directors and writers and creators who work in specific genres so you’re going to consume that material based on that. But that has little to do with gender and more to do with the genre’s I appreciate.

I think if a creator is specifically broaching topics of gender or social acceptance or struggle and it’s a key part of their approach or the material they’re producing then absolutely you view that work with that in mind. And that’s probably why you’re reading or watching it in the first place.

At the end of the day it should be about creating the best material you can, and letting your story speak for itself regardless of gender.

The best work always will.

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?

Rowena, this isn’t the fun question, this is the HARD question! I’m a pretty mad history buff…can I go EVERYWHERE?!

God…just one?

I love pre history…but I’m not sure I’d want to get eaten by a giant mosquito (It’s not the dino’s you’ve got to watch out for).

Adore American history…from Revolution, The Westward push to Civil war to Cold War and modern politics.

I’m doing a lot of reading and playing around with  Gallo/Romano Britain at the moment for a project. So I’m a little obsessed with that. And Roman history in particular…so maybe Ancient Rome?

Do I really want to gad about in tartan and blue body paint screaming murder at Roman legionaries in their incredibly well drilled formations? Yes…probably. So I think I’ll go there. But only if I can use the time machine again to scoot to medieval England for lunch, then shoot to Aztec south America for a couple of days and then over to Ancient China for tea and then take a break on a circumnavigation of the globe with Magellan, back in time for dinner with Caravaggio.

(And then wake up in WWII occupied France.)

To win a copy of Zinc Alloy and Super Chicken Nugget Boy here’s the give-away Question:

 What was your favourite comic book character when you were growing up?

 

Follow Doug on Twitter: @douglasbot

See Doug’s Blog

My folio is here - http://www.flickr.com/photos/douglasbot/sets/72157627375431276/with/3265305994/

But some of my favourite (read, newer) images are at these links -

http://www.flickr.com/photos/douglasbot/5830416545/in/set-72157627375431276

http://www.flickr.com/photos/douglasbot/6304341159/in/photostream

http://www.flickr.com/photos/douglasbot/5239949004/in/set-72157627375431276

http://www.flickr.com/photos/douglasbot/5308333564/in/set-72157627375431276

http://www.flickr.com/photos/douglasbot/4673721219/in/set-72157627375431276

http://www.flickr.com/photos/douglasbot/4884587173/in/set-72157627375431276

http://www.flickr.com/photos/douglasbot/2208125088/in/set-72157627375431276

http://www.flickr.com/photos/douglasbot/3265305994/in/set-72157627375431276

8 Comments

Filed under Australian Artists, Australian Writers, Book Giveaway, Children's Books, Collaboration, Comics/Graphic Novels, Conferences and Conventions, Conventions, creativity, Fantasy books, Fun Stuff, Gender Issues, Genre, Inspiring Art, Movies & TV Shows, Tips for Developing Artists

Meet Tom Taylor …

I’m expanding my series featuring fantastic authors to include fantastically creative people across the different mediums, which is why I’ve invited the talented Tom Taylor to drop by.

Watch out for the give-away question at the end of the interview.

I usually put a photo right here, but I couldn’t resist this:

Artist Harrison Chua draws comicbook writer Tom Taylor

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dCDGPRKdn8A]

Q: Not only do you write for comics, but you’re also an ‘award-winning playwright who has written for radio, musicals, film, magazines, satirical news and sketch comedy. (For a full list of Tom’s works see here). Tell me, did you sit there doodling in your school books while daydreaming about what you’d do one day? Did your teachers encourage you, or tell you no-one ever makes any money from writing? Did you ever dream you’d see your work performed in the Sydney Opera House?

Yes, I absolutely spent all of high school doodling in books, especially in Geography, where I just drew and drew… in-between sleeping. My geography teacher wasn’t very engaging. He’d probably have far less-kind things to say about me.
Outside of the arts, the education system was never really my friend. I did have a few teachers who encouraged me, and one in particular who used to let me leave class and do creative writing up a tree.

No, I can’t say I ever thought my work would be on at the Sydney Opera House or at the Edinburgh Festival. However, being involved in theatre from the age of 12, and in a singing group before that, I probably thought I’d have a better chance of having something on at the Opera House than to be writing in a galaxy far, far away.

Q: I’ve interviewed authors who write books for Star Wars, Star Gate, Doctor Who etc. And many of them start out as fans, so it is no trouble for them to immerse themselves in the world. You’re currently writing for Star WarsBlood Ties with Chris Scalf, Invasion with Colin Wilson published by Dark Horse Comics, with more on the way. Looks like you are thoroughly immersed! Is there a huge ‘bible’ of information you have to refer to? Do you get to add to this ‘bible’ as you develop your stories?

Absolutely. Star Wars canon is immense. On top of the movies, you have the cartoons, computer games, short stories, role playing games, novels, and more, and almost everything that is created becomes canon. So yes, all creators need a bible and I think everybody becomes fast email friends with a man known as Leland Chee, Lucasfilm’s keeper of continuity.  He’ll be called on a lot in the next year as I work on the next instalment of Star Wars: Blood Ties ‘Boba Fett is Dead’ and some other Star Wars work.

Q: You also write your own original material. The Deep: Here be Dragons has just come out from Gestalt Publishing, art work by James Brouwer. In a review on Broken Frontier Kris Bather says: ‘Comedy in this artform can always be tricky, but the pair know what they’re doing and elicit the most laughs out of each comedic moment, thanks to great pacing, expressions, and dialogue’. Comedy can be challenging. Did you have to work at developing your relationship with artist James Brouwer, or did the two of you just click?

I’ve written a lot of comedy over the years – musicals, sketch comedy, and plays, including for the Comedy Festival, and generally I don’t really have to think about, or analyze, if something is funny. With James, I found a guy who also just gets it, and just as importantly, is a fantastic storyteller. I used to direct theatre back in the day, and for me the characters on the page need to react appropriately to situations, and need to react to whatever people are saying, just like actors. There are some fantastic artists in professional comics who think that 22 pages of some dark superhero, switching between the same two expressions tells a story. James isn’t one of those guys. James puts so much character and life into the Nekton family (The main characters of The Deep). No character stands around blank-faced while someone else is talking. Every page he sends me has me smiling. So yes, James and I did just click. And, thanks to that click, The Deep is the most joyous comic I’ve been a part of. Seriously, get this book for Christmas, for yourself and for your children. It will fill your heart with rainbows. It will fill your heart with exactly six rainbows. Any more than that and your arteries would begin to clog with rainbows and that would end messily… but probably very colourfully.

Q: Rombies (written by Tom Taylor, illustrated by Skye Ogden, Colours by Mikiko Ponczeck) is a historical paranormal tale set in ancient Rome. What inspired you to set a story in ancient Rome? Have you always been fascinated by its history?

Skye Ogden inspired me. Honestly, this was originally his idea. I just ran with it, and I’m very glad I did. Gestalt actually asked me to write this very early on in our working relationship and I said no.  I’m not a massive horror fan and I wasn’t sure this was the project for me. The night after I said no, I had a dream about Gladiators fighting zombie lions beneath the Coliseum. I called them the very next morning to say yes. I wanted to see Zombie Lions come to un-life. We made that happen. Where we plan to go next is epic.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=9eVw0wPd7vI#]

Q: Example (written by Tom Taylor, Illustrated by Colin Wilson) is being made into a short film. Newsarama said: ‘This book should be used in writing classes everywhere, and should be the primary example (no pun intended) for aspiring comic writers to reference when trying to learn how to write dramatic and compelling dialogue.’   This is quite an accolade for any work, let alone a graphic novel. (I see it is an adaption of your award-winning play Example. I always tell my kids a play needs to be really well written because it has to hold the audience with the power of the premise, characterisation and dialogue – no special effects).  Do you do a lot of train travel? Do you listen in to people’s conversations or does it all spring from some deep dark part of your psyche?

The Example was written in the wake of the London Bombing. And it was these events, along with a typically appalling, fear-mongering ad for A Current Affair, which inspired the play. The government in Australia at the time was pushing the ‘Be alert, not alarmed’ slogan and that was also driving me insane. A lot of my writing is a vehicle for vent – an outlet for outrage. Almost all of my short plays stem from this.

On the surface, The Example is a story about a man, a woman and their reactions to an abandoned briefcase on a railway platform. Below the surface, it’s an exploration of terror and racism. It’s essentially a prejudice versus preservation story. And it’s just been optioned and filmed.  Yay!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K1KCYq11GHY&feature=player_embedded]

Q: Flinch is a collection of stories including Shaun Tan, Justin Randall, James Barclay, Terry Dowling and yourself among others. The stories all revolve around each person’s interpretation of the word ‘flinch’. One of your stories White Dove 111 is about a colonist ship leaving a dying earth. This looks like an SF mystery from the description. Did you grow up reading Science Fiction?

I did read a lot of sci-fi, but I was far more into Fantasy. White Dove III was another great excuse to work with the man, Colin Wilson.  I also wrote another short story in Flinch called 96,000m, illustrated by Tom Bonin, which was my first published underwater story. It was the first time I’d publicly shown my fascination for all things underwater and squid-like.  Although, that story was a far cry from the joyous all-ages adventure of The Deep: Here Be Dragons. 96000m is pretty disturbing. If you like disturbed, or are disturbed, you’ll probably like 96000m.

 

Q: You are working for DC comics (Green Lantern and Sinestro). Is this one of your childhood dreams to write in the DC universe?

Yes. So many times, yes.

I grew up with DC comics. I loved all of these characters as a kid and never stopped loving them (except outwardly when I was a teenager). Superman is my absolute hero and writing him is one of my ultimate goals. I’m really proud of The Brainiac/Sinestro Corp War which is the story I’ve just written in DCUO Legends #16 and #17 and I was very lucky to get to work with a great artist like Bruno Redondo (another guy who, like James, just gets it). I’ve written something else unannounced, and I’m also still staggered I got to write The Authority for a year. The Authority was the super team that made me realise that superhero comics could also serve as an outlet for outrage.

Q: Looking at your published works you have been amazingly productive. In an interview on HYPERLINK SciFiBlock you say: ‘Like any work, there are times when it’s a hard slog and things get very hard, but then you just have to pick up the nearest blunt object, smash yourself in the face, and remind yourself that you’re writing Jedi and superheroes for a living.’ Do you have a work routine that helps you meet these deadlines?

I’d like to say I have a routine but, really, I have kids, including a baby who doesn’t sleep very well, and that throws all routines out. My only real routine is that I stay up very late to write. The rest of the world needs to be asleep before I can do my best work. The Example was written one night between 1am and 5am. I started writing this very interview at 2am, it’s now 4.27am… and the baby’s already been up twice.

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 (in books) is a bit of a boy’s club. I’ve come across quite a bit of talk on the blogs recently about female comic artists and writers, and their lack of representation in large companies like DC. Have you come across this in your professional life?

I have heard this, and I do know this was an issue for DC in the announcement of the New 52, one they’re trying very hard to rectify. I think mainstream superhero comics have the perception of being a boys club, but the comics medium absolutely isn’t.

This year alone, I’ve worked with four female artists on eight different projects, which is possibly more female creators than some of the majors are working with.

I’m not sure superheroes have the same appeal for women. And I’d argue that they are often narrowly written and illustrated with men in mind. For every brilliantly written and lovingly illustrated superhero book like Secret Six by Gail Simone and (Australia’s own) Nicola Scott, there is a book with a scantily clad superheroine tearing her clothing while scratching the face of… probably another scantily clad woman who is tearing her clothing.

But outside of the Superhero genre, there are a lot of women telling brilliant stories.

Keep an eye out for Believe, which is set to be published soon, to see the incredible work of Emily Smith (and two other huge unannounced things we’re doing together). On top of Rombies, Mikiko Ponczek has just handed in the last pages of a 22 page story she has illustrated and coloured. I can’t wait for that one to be announced. It’s a script I’m very happy with and Miki has just smashed it.
Kate Moon has already finished the story Poppins which will be included in Brief Cases (whenever that comes out) and I have a small, but very cool story coming out with someone else who must remain nameless for now. She knows who she is. Hi, you!

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer/artist change your expectations when you approach their work?

Nope. I never really think about it. And, when I do, I actually tend to get genders wrong.

Sorry, Robin Hobb.

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 think it’s ridiculous that a time-machine company needs to take bookings. You can be anywhere and anywhen! Why do you need me at the time-machine depot at 9.30am?? It’s a disgrace!

Having gotten over my rant, and glared at the Time Machine operator who apparently couldn’t come to my house at 12, I would take a trip a very long way back.

I hypothesized earlier tonight that a pterodactyl may have eaten a missing link which would have caused humans to have one extra thumb. I would go back in time and ride that Pterodactyl into a live volcano before it ate our three-thumbed ancestor, thereby making all of us fifty percent more opposable.

You’re welcome.

Give-away Question:

For your chance to win a copy of The Deep: Here Be Dragons, and the six rainbows in your heart that come with it, answer this question.

If you had three thumbs, what would you do differently?

 

 

Follow Tom on Twitter:  @TomTaylorMade

See Tom’s Blog

Catch up with Tom on Facebook

 

 

16 Comments

Filed under Australian Artists, Book Giveaway, Book trailers, Characterisation, Collaboration, Comics/Graphic Novels, Covers, creativity, Dark Urban Fantasy, Fantasy books, Gender Issues, Genre, Indy Press, Inspiring Art, Movies & TV Shows, Nourish the Writer, Writers Working Across Mediums

Meet Felicity Pulman …

I have been featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) but this has morphed into interesting people in the speculative fiction world. Today I’ve invited the talented Felicity Pulman to drop by.

Watch out for the give-away question at the end of the interview.

Something’s gone wrong with my blog’s ability to embed videos. Here’s the link to Felciity’s great new promo for the Janna Mystery Series.

 

Q: We ran into each other at SheKilda, the women’s crime writers conference, but you write across a number of genres and ages. Your first novel (to appear under your own name) Ghost Boy was set in two timelines, the present and the past set, in part, around the small pox outbreak in 1881 when travellers were quarantined on arriving in Australia. There is a special Ghost Boy tour for school children at the Quarantine Station. It must be a real thrill to make a connection with children and bring the past to life like this. Have you been on the Ghost Boy tour and do you get a lot of emails from school children?

A: Yes and yes to both questions.  I found it very moving to watch my novel come to life up at the Quarantine Station. It’s a wonderful place to visit, very atmospheric.  It gives students a real feel for what life was like back in those times and of course they’re always sure they’re going to see a ghost!  (The guides themselves are quite sure the place is haunted!)

Q: In your Shalott Trilogy, which was inspired by Tennyson’s The Lady of Shallot a group of five Australian teenagers try to rewrite the legend and save the Lady of Shalott. Have you always been fascinated by the King Arthur legends? Have you been to the UK to see Tintagel Castle?

A: I wrote the Shalott trilogy because I was being bugged by the questions: why was the lady trapped in the tower, why was there a curse on her, plus the questions that followed on from that: what if it’s possible to go back in time and change history (or a legend);  what if you’re also rewriting your destiny at the same time? I didn’t know much about anything at first so it was a HUGE learning curve. I began to acquire a library of Arthuriana old and new, plus books on magic, on life in medieval time, and so on. And I went on my first research trip, following the ‘Arthurian trail’ through England, Wales, Brittany and France.  Tintagel was only one of the marvellous places I visited; other sites included Merlin’s ‘cave’ and Merlin’s ‘tomb’, Glastonbury and the Isle of Avalon, the ‘home’ of the Lady of the Lake, plus South Cadbury Castle, Caerleon and Winchester, all of which have been variously named as Arthur’s seat of power, sometimes called Camelot.

Q: Your current series The Janna Mysteries are set in England in the 1140s during the King Stephen/Queen Matilda civil war. This series contains a number of mysteries which the main character, Janna, has to solve. I think I’m seeing a theme here. You have a BA in Communication and an MA in Children’s Literature. Were you ever tempted to do further study in the area of history? (See Felicity’s Tips on Writing Historical Fiction).

A: Actually I’m a late convert to history; I found it so boring when I was at school, probably because my teacher didn’t teach it as the continuing soap opera it really is!  Those who marry – or murder for a crown, those who drive themselves to acts of great courage or bastardry for the sake of love, rivalry, power or wealth. Those idealists who dream of a brave new world, sometimes at a price too terrible to bear … the history I study is the history that informs my books. If I wasn’t so busy writing I’d love to go back to uni and immerse myself in the middle ages – or ancient Greece – or Egypt – or …? So difficult to know where to start!

Q: You wrote two of the Guinevere Jones books, based on the hit TV series. Was it hard to immerse yourself in the series and the back-story, then write creatively about characters you didn’t invent?

A:  Sophie Masson and I wrote the four books based on the series, working from notes, scripts and recorded episodes that were sent to us.  Writing the GJ books was a very different experience from anything else I’ve written.  The books also had to be written very fast so there really wasn’t a great deal of time for angst over characters and back story, we pretty much had to work with what we were given. So there wasn’t a lot of scope for imaginative input; it was more a recording of other people’s lives.  One of the things I need to do is walk the place I’m writing about, but this wasn’t possible as GJ was filmed on set in Melbourne (I live in Sydney) so I found that a real challenge – where do the characters go and what do they do once they go ‘off screen’?

Q: In an interview on Need to Read This, when talking about your new  book you say: ‘Most recently, I went to Norfolk Island. Hearts in Chains is a time-slip romance going back to the mid-19th century and the time of the brutal second penal settlement. I visited the museums, the ruins of the gaol, the houses along Military Road (now called Quality Row) and also Government House (and I am deeply grateful to the administrator and his wife for allowing me free access and even finding for me a hidey-hole for Alice to hide her diary!)  I think it’s essential for me, as an author, to walk in my characters’ footsteps, to experience the landscape and identify what he/she might have seen – wildlife, trees, flowers, buildings (or their ruins), weather and the light, etc.’ (Felicity has a whole page dedicated to research on her web site. See here). I envy you the chance to do this. Where will you be going to next to research?

A:  I loved writing the Shalott trilogy so much, and became so immersed in Arthurian legend that I’m thinking of revisiting that time and place, with hopefully the chance to explore the Arthurian trail once more.

Q: You write books with a strong historical base. In the past females had many restrictions on what they could do from the inability to own property to the choice of who they married. Do you ever worry that young readers could have trouble identifying with a female character whose life choices are limited?

A: Society might change but human nature doesn’t, so my belief is that readers identify with and feel sympathy for Janna’s predicament, left alone in a hostile world with only her skills and her courage to save her; her life constantly under threat from everything from wolves and wild boar in the forest to an assassin on a mission to silence her – quite apart from having to find such basic necessities as food and shelter to keep herself alive. And then there are the three young men in her life – who will she choose?  Readers are certainly VERY interested in that question!

Q: I’ve been interviewing quite a few authors and discovered many of them combine similar genres, mystery, fantasy and history. Why do you think these genres blend so well?

A: Good question! It’s not something I’ve considered before, but I think in my case I enjoy reading and writing all these different genres, and if you can combine them, so much the better! I particularly enjoy time-slip stories, combining history with fantasy although of course they can also encompass the future (like my favourite author Connie Willis, for example.)  Plus a mystery to solve or some sort of quest to fulfil is usually at the heart of every story, especially a fantasy.

Q: You go by the nick-name Flick. Did you have an annoying older brother who teased you and the name stuck? How did this come about?

A: I actually had an annoying older sister who called me ‘Fwiz’, which became the family nickname, while I was Fuzz (pronounced Fooz) to everyone else.  My family still call me that but anyone else does so at their peril!  I became Flick when I went to uni (in my late teens) and was christened thus by a girl in my res who subsequently became my best friend and who had known a Felicity/Flick at school.  Infinitely better than Fwiz, so I don’t mind that the name has stuck. ‘Felicity’ is far too formal.

Q: I understand you are cooking up a new project to write about. Can you share it with us?

A: It’s still in the cooking stage but, as I said earlier, it will be centred on King Arthur and Camelot, exploring in more detail some of the issues I found so fascinating while writing the Shalott trilogy – but this novel will be for adults.

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?

A: I don’t read ‘high fantasy’ at all, so this is not a question I can answer, except to say there do seem to be any number of wonderful women fantasy writers around so I’m surprised by your observation. Perhaps female fantasy writers need to establish a Sisters in Fantasy, the equivalent of the international Sisters in Crime movement?

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?

A:  Perhaps subliminally, not consciously.  If I find an author I like I’ll keep going, in which case I know what to expect.  With a new writer, I’ll go with the blurb and whether it sounds like an interesting story rather than defining it by gender.

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?

 A: Fun??  That’s a very difficult question with so many people and places to choose from!  Backwards?  Forwards?  Decisions, decisions…and the temptation to try to change the course of history while you’re at it!  I might opt for Jerusalem at the time of Christ. I always wondered how I’d have reacted to the Messiah if I’d been around then. I’m sure it would be a very interesting time and place to visit.

Give-away Question:  Following on from the question above:  if you could meet anyone past or present, who would it be … and why?

Felicity’s Blog

Follow Felicity on Facebook

Network with Felicity on Linked-in

Catch up with Felicity on GoodReads

4 Comments

Filed under Australian Writers, Book Giveaway, Children's Books, Collaboration, creativity, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Gender Issues, Historical Books, Movies & TV Shows, Thrillers and Crime, Thrillers and Mysteries, Tips for Developing Writers

Meet Anita Bell …

As the next of my series featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) I’ve invited the talented powerhouse Anita Bell  to drop by.

Watch out for the give-away question at the end of the interview.

Q: First of all, major congratulations on Diamond Eyes winning the 2011 Hemming Award for Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy Themes. Since this is award is not necessarily awarded every year, winning must have come as a wonderful and welcome surprise. Did you consciously set out to explore the themes of race, gender, sexuality, class and disability in the book?

Actually, Diamond Eyes is a story about freedom and independence. But since my main character is a young woman who is blind, sexually inexperienced, and misdiagnosed by nursing staff who all treat her as crazy as well as handicapped, all those other themes grew organically in a way that also resonated strongly and unanimously with the judging panel.

Sad but true; while working for ten years in a mental health facility, I saw young men and women routinely castrated or medicated to suppress their sexual development, often without their knowledge or consent (due to the fact they’d been declared unfit to make such decisions on their own). So this part of Mira’s story is inspired by a young handicapped couple I met, who’d both been disabled through a contagious disease, but eventually regained their independence through modern medications and therapies – and when it came time that they’d recovered enough to have healthy children, it was too late. They’d both been “cared for” in their best interests.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LkbKh4hGmSU]

Q: Following on from that, we were part of the QUT Cohort doing a Masters while writing a book. You produced Diamond Eyes. What was the research question you were exploring with this book?

Funny story: It started out as;

How can I crack the big markets overseas and for movies?

But since that was too big a question for a masters and required too many non-existent definitions about degrees of cracking, and how big is big etc, my lecturer dis-engorged the “choke” from my throat and encouraged me to narrow my focus to the more definitive;

How can a novel manuscript be ‘re-visioned’ to create a more satisfying draft.

(Where satisfying is defined by a self-assessed improvement that results in a commercial reward that had previously been unattainable.)

So the dissertation I wrote is called: Revisioning a “Novel Concept”: Beyond vision and revision to advanced editing strategies.

But since a lot of the research is drawn from the film industry, and from mega-best-selling works from overseas, and since a lot of the advanced editing strategies are topics that are never normally discussed in most writing workshops, it might as well be called;

Tips on how to crack the big markets overseas and for movies.

Sound familiar? Hehe.

David Meshow the theme for Diamond Eyes.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qERvjhq7tCg&feature=player_embedded]

Q: You have a wonderful book trailer (LOL, my husband did it). The music is by David Meshow. Recently, we were on a panel together where you walked us through the process of finding the musician, approaching him and what has happened since. I’m sure people would find this fascinating, as it’s an example of cross-pollination between creative people.

Wow, yes! We’ve chalked up more views than a lot of big budget Hollywood movies and over 300 Youtube Awards in 17 countries, including;

#1 Most Discussed, worldwide in Feb & March

#2 Top Favourited, worldwide in Feb & March

#2 Top Rated, worldwide in Feb and March

Normally, I thrive in silence while I’m writing and editing, but at all moments in between I refill my creative energies by filling my home, my car – even my saddlebags with music.

Three of my characters love music, and play instruments, so I spent a lot of time on youtube looking for talented amateurs with the same kind of interests. People who could not only play, but play so well, they make it look easy by playing with a relaxed sense of humour. I also looked for people who could play with their eyes closed and invent their own tunes on a wide range of instruments, and that’s how I came across David Meshow – who can do all of that, and resembles Mira’s bodyguard in looks and personality. Best of all, he taught me out how to play electrical instruments outside, around a campfire – so I could make a scene work properly in the sequel Hindsight.

Then after being inspired for so long by David’s music, and his advice during my research stages, I wrote to ask permission to use one of his original instrumental pieces for the book trailer during the launch, because that piece has brilliant moments of violin and xylophone along with all the other instruments that gave it a unique offbeat quality which also dramatically suits the chase scenes at the end of Diamond Eyes, the novel.

But when I mentioned the novel and what it was about, he was so inspired by the unique concept behind Mira’s eyes that he offered to write a piece to suit her specifically.

And that’s what the Original Theme to Diamond Eyes is. Close your eyes, and you can image yourself blind. Open them again and imagine the world around you isn’t today. It looks how things did a century ago, even though you can still feel all the invisible *real* things around you – so if the three story building you’re in wasn’t there back then, well, now you’re standing in mid-air, looking down on the world. Living in two worlds at once. That’s the core idea, and David’s really nailed it with the official theme song. He’s got millions of fans now, but they all seem to agree. Diamond Eyes is the best yet, and I have to agree. But then, I’m biased! Hehe.

Q: I understand there are two more books in the Diamond Eyes series, Leopard Dreaming and Hindsight.  When is the last book of the trilogy due out? And what will you do after this?

Interesting question, because it’s not a traditional trilogy. Diamond Eyes is a stand-alone story set in an asylum, Serenity, which is on a sub-tropical island in Queensland.

Then the duet of sequels; Hindsight (just launched) and Leopard Dreaming (June 2012), are both set on the mainland, during a brand new stage of her life. They’re also much faster paced than Diamond Eyes.

If you liken them to movies in the film industry, then Diamond Eyes would be the pilot, and the next two would be the mini series. So you don’t necessarily need to read Diamond Eyes to enjoy Hindsight, but you’ll definitely need to read Hindsight before taking on Leopard Dreaming in the new year.

 

Q: In a post on the ROR site you say … ‘SF is not dead – from my perspective it’s morphing/maturing beyond the “pure” genre of science fiction into speculative fiction (the new meaning for SF[1][1]), in a way which offers room for a natural blend of genres which must also complement each other uniquely for each story. Effectively, this permits a wider scope for wider technologies and invites more possibilities and opportunities to cross-dress our genres.’ You go on to say …’ In our own fast-changing world, which is already rife with “fantastic” opportunities and “tomorrow technologies” is it any wonder that such elements are so readily accepted in the environment of a wider story – often even expected – by a market that can still shy away from health food if we label it health food? To many people, it seems that science fiction sounds more like “homework” while fantasy sounds like a “holiday”, and yet how many wouldn’t go anywhere on holiday without their mobile phone, ipod or laptop?’  I love this quote. How near future is the Diamond Eyes series? Would people feel at home in this world?

It’s tomorrow fiction, akin to James Bond, but nowadays, most genres need to be tomorrow fiction to some degree during the writing stages anyway, or else the technology can date the story too quickly and make it seem old fashioned too soon.

e.g.

So I’m constantly inventing new technologies based on my best guesses from existing products and research, and very often those “fantastic” new gizmos are hitting the market by the time the book is.

Off the top of my head, technologies that I invented for my stories in the last ten years, only to have them invented for real by the time the books launched, include;

  • Electronic pens, which convert any sketches into a text file or digital image.
  • Night Owls, a form of high tech night vision goggles which can also see through buildings using sound waves akin to mobile phone transmissions. Now also used in airports for full body scans.
  • NOR:STAN, the National Orbital Reconnaissance: See Through Anything Network. Same principle as nights owls, but also incorporating technology from the mining industry as a larger scale satellite system to help find lost bushwalkers, people trapped in burning buildings, and even terrorists in underground bunkers.

Even Mira’s Hue-dunnits – her electronic sunglasses which can change colour – are now in development as a fashion accessory to suit any wardrobe.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eAXBTXnVHns]

Q: You write in many genres under a number of pen-names, including a set of best-selling non-fiction titles, award winning adventures for children and even wickedly funny romance for women. You’ve always been a writer of exciting stories. What was the first thing you wrote seriously to submit?

A cosy crime story, called Budgie Soup, which was published in 5 countries, including the USA’s prestigious Murderous Intent Mystery Magazine, and won the Penguin Award, as part of the Scarlet Stiletto Awards, way back last millennium, in 1999.

Q: You say if you hadn’t been a writer you’d be …’ A cartoonist, vet or research scientist. And as it turns out, writing allows me to do bits of each!’ I can relate to research scientist. I think writers have to have enquiring minds. But cartoonist and vet? Why these two? Are you good at drawing and can you ‘talk to animals’?

Hehe… something like that.

To be a vet, we need to be astute at understanding body language – which works for characters as much as for animals. Pets can’t tell us where they’re hurting, and often characters can’t either. How we treat animals also helps to define us, not only as individuals, but also as a society.

Same goes with cartooning. It’s a social science that’s heavily dependent on observation of the human condition, as individuals, and in society, and how we perceive ourselves through the lens of humour also helps to define us.

To be a vet, we need great compassion, but humour is more often a dark art that can throw masks over fury, injustice and tragedy.

Q: You seem very comfortable writing a fast paced action thriller and moving across genres. A good book is a good book, no matter what the genre. Do you have any advice for writers to help them improve the pacing of their books?

Short sentences. Listen to men speaking, and compare to women on the same subject. Guys rarely use more than 8 words in a sentence at a time unless they’re explaining something, while women rarely use more than 12.

In action scenes, guys tend to get serious with only 2 to 6 words at a time, while women often clip down to 8 or less.

If you think that’s an exaggeration, watch all your favourite movies with the sound muted and subtitles on – and take notice how clipped conversations can get as the images speed up. Or take a ride on a train or bus with your ipod switched off so you’re listening to other people around you.

Q: You had a friend who attempted suicide when you were younger. You said …  ‘From the time we were both 10, we both had to ‘be mum,’ looking after our other brothers and sisters before and after school, and I had to manage my parents’ farm as well when they went away on business. On top of this we went to a high school where extreme pressure existed to be the best we could be. Students came from all over the world because of their high standards and we had to compete against them, too. My friend passed the breaking point.’ Are you tempted to write something that would reach out to teens who feel overwhelmed?

Yes, but not for a while. I can’t write really dark material unless I’m detached from tragedy myself and that’s definitely not this year. Otherwise, writing dark material only tends to take me down further, and once those chemicals in the brain start triggering the downward spiral, it’s a hard cycle to break free from again. And I’d never write that sort of thing without an uplifting ending, because it was soul-destroying misery-lit with downers for endings that drove my friend over the edge all those years ago. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good book that leaves me weepy, but if they’re not tears of hope, love or joy – if they leave me feeling empty and emotionally wretched – I’d never go anywhere near it. If I want to be depressed, I’ll read a newspaper.

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?

Historically yes. Absolutely. But I’d like to think the last 10 years has become a bit more like this:

 

There’s been plenty of times when I’ve been told by readers that I must have had some of my stories written by my husband. Apparently, I’m not supposed to know how to field strip a Styr or Glock and put it back together again without it blowing up in my face. Or how to turn a gum tree into a signal tower, use scorpions and black light to navigate an underground tunnel, or the horns of the moon to tell north from south in either hemisphere.

At the other end of the scale, I know a subset of male writers who can really get inside a woman’s head well enough to write convincing female characters – but a lot more who can’t.

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?

Depends on the name they choose to put on the front cover, especially if it’s very feminine or hyper-masculine.

e.g.  Stephan King was always going to rule the page once he nailed his genre, and Karen Slaughter was never going to write little kiddies faerie tales.

Then there’s androgynous names, like AA Bell, Sonny Whitelaw, JR Ward etc, where the writing style is far more likely to appeal to both genres. Or at least try to, more often than not.

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?

Ah, but if I told you, I’d create a paradox and a full set of alternative futures in another dimension. Just thinking about it is enough to split the future in two; one in which I do, and one in which I don’t.

Cool timing; there’s a new scientific theory (evolved from string theory, which in turn evolved from studies of nuclear explosions) that our present and past have already been shaped by our future in all its permutations in all dimensions. And that many things about Fate seem inevitable, because they’ve already been tampered with by those who’ve already travelled.

So assuming I’m one of them, and have already made the trip – or “will have going to have made it” at some time in the future (or alternate time line) – you can rest assured that all my friends will have nice things happen to them, while all those who’ve been nasty should be grateful I don’t hold grudges… much.

<insert evil laughter>

Give-away Question:

It’s said that everyone has something they’re naturally or uncannily good at – so good, you might call it a super power. Mira’s gift is seeing the past, her stalker can hear the future, while my own superpowers are merely green lights in heavy traffic and finding the perfect parking space when I most need it. (touch wood!)

So what’s your super power?

 

Catch up with Anita on Facebook

on GoodReads: www.goodreads.com/aabell

44 Comments

Filed under Australian Writers, Awards, Book Giveaway, Book trailers, Children's Books, Collaboration, creativity, Dark Urban Fantasy, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Gender Issues, Genre, Inspiring Art, Music and Writers, Nourish the Writer, Paranormal_Crime, Promoting Friend's Books, Script Writing, Thrillers and Crime, Thrillers and Mysteries, Tips for Developing Writers, Writers Working Across Mediums, Writing craft, Young Adult Books

Meet Rebecca Moesta …

As the next of my series featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) I’ve invited the talented Rebecca Moesta to drop by.

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.

Q: You’ve written a Buffy book Little Things. Were you a big fan of the series? Was this why you ended up writing the book (with vampire fairies no less!)?

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.

Q: I see you and Kevin also script comics and graphic novels (The Gorn Crisis and Grumpy Old Monsters). Have comics always been one of your loves?

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

Rebecca’s Blog.

Rebecca on Facebook.

Catch up with Rebecca on GoodReads.

24 Comments

Filed under Book Giveaway, Children's Books, Collaboration, Comics/Graphic Novels, creativity, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Fun Stuff, Gender Issues, Movies & TV Shows, Readers, SF Books, The Writing Fraternity

Meet Kate Elliot …

As the next of my series featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) I’ve invited the prolific and cross-genre author, the talented  Kate Elliott to drop by.

Watch out for the give-away question at the end of the interview.

Q: We met at World Con in Melbourne in 2010. This was only the fourth time a World Con has been to Australia since 1975. As you are based in Hawaii do you miss out on a lot of conventions, or do you make the effort to get to them?

Since moving to Hawaii in 2002, I do not have the opportunity to attend many conventions. The closest is a 5 + hour flight, and flights to and from Hawaii are not cheap. So these days I am likely to attend only one convention a year, if that. Conventionally speaking, my isolation in the middle of the Pacific Ocean has worked in my favor in one way, however: Going to Australia was relatively “close” so I jumped at the chance to attend AussieCon in Melbourne and am glad I did.

Q: I have to ask this question. You had four books published under  Alis A Rasmussen  - The Labyrinth Gate, a ‘through the tarot cards to another world’ fantasy and the Highroad Trilogy, which looks like a fun space opera. Why did you change to the Kate Elliot name?

I was asked to take a pen name to launch a new series (Jaran 1992) with a new publisher. Three years later, Robin Hobb was born when Megan Lindholm was asked to do the same thing. Launching a new series and what publishers often call a “new brand” is now relatively commonplace, although readers aren’t necessarily aware of it. It’s a way to create a new identity in a different genre, or to get out from under a series that did not sell well and try to make a bigger splash with a new series. This worked well 15 years ago before the explosion of social media. Now I think it is much more difficult to pull off a new public writing identity.

 

Q:  I see you have a page dedicated to  The Writing Life on your web site, with lots of useful information for aspiring writers. Do you run workshops and get involved with developing writers?

I recall clearly the long lonely road I took in my early years of writing. I think many aspiring writers don’t have access to writing groups or workshops because there aren’t any writing groups near by, they may not be able to afford the time or money to attend a workshop, or they simply don’t know how to connect up with such groups. I write my articles on writing for those people, who may be working in what feels to them like isolation. I want them to know there are many writers out here, and we all face many of the same problems.

I’ve never run a workshop myself. I don’t really have the personality to be a teacher, as I find it very exhausting. While I have personally helped a few developing writers, these days I don’t do so except in rare cases because I simply do not have time.

Q: Your first series was  Novels of Jaran, and it was SF, but somehow the book made it onto Locus’s Recommended List for SF, Fantasy and Horror. How did this come about?

I’m not sure! The first book is set almost exclusively on an interdicted planet with low technology cultures, and the heroine and the people she is traveling with ride horses, so perhaps there was a sense that it “felt like” a fantasy novel even though it is clearly science fiction.

Q: There are four books in the series. I like your description of the series: ‘It’s about people, mostly, and about the historical process: what happens when two cultures come into contact — and conflict. It’s about consequences.’ I see the protagonist in the fourth book, The Law of Becoming, was 16. Is the series YA?

Jaran is not a YA series, although teenagers can certainly read it and many have. In fact, my current editor at Orbit Books, Devi Pillai, read Jaran when she was 13.

The protagonist of Jaran (the first novel) is 22 and has just graduated from university. The subsequent books add additional protagonists, some of whom are younger and some older, but certainly the character of Ilyana in book 4 is the youngest of all the point of view characters in the series as a whole.

Q: In 1996 you co-wrote  The Golden Key with Melanie Rawn and Jennifer Roberson. The book was a World Fantasy Finalist. Can you tell us a little about the collaboration process? I always find this fascinating.

After we agreed to collaborate, the two most important issues were how we would handle 1) the world-building and 2) the actual blending of writing.

We met for a long weekend for an initial world-building sessions in which we hammered out the main elements of the world, culture, main characters, and plot. It was a really fabulous three days. What I remember most is that we came up with things out of the synergy of the three of us bouncing ideas off each other in a way we couldn’t have done if we had each been working separately and alone. It was a great experience.

For the other, we decided not to try to write a braided novel with three points of view moving in and out of the tale. Instead we deliberately went for a generational saga, so that we would each write one generation’s story. That way we used all the same world building and the overarching plot we had come up with together, but we each wrote a separate “novella” (actually, a short novel in length each) that was complete in itself. That way we avoided trampling on each other’s toes during the writing process.

I’m very proud of The Golden Key. It was truly a collaboration: It is the book it is because the three of us, working together, came up with something bigger than any one of us would have managed alone.

Q: With  The Crown of Stars, book one: King’s Dragon was a Nebula Finalist. This series is set in an alternate Europe. Did you let your inner history buff out to play?

I did a lot of research. I’m not sure I’m a history buff as much as I was very aware of how much scholars know about the medieval period and how little I do. I didn’t want to screw up too much so I worked hard at making sure as much of the bigger picture as well as the details had a degree of authenticity even though the books are not set in our medieval Europe. Certainly, however, almost everything in the books is directly borrowed from history and from scholarship I read that illuminated that history for me. Translations into English of works from that time were invaluable as I tried to get a handle on ways people would look at the world differently than we do. I think that is at the heart of writing good fantasy: That the people in your books live the way they live in their world, not the way you live in your world.

Q: This is a seven book series. While you were writing it, did you have a flow chart that showed who was related to who and where they were over the years that the books cover? How do you keep it all straight?

There is a lot I simply kept in my head. However, I did create a calendar on which I wrote events on the day and month and year they happened. It spans the same timeline as the story, which takes place over seven years. I also made an index of character names and their associations, because there were so many characters that if I needed to know the name of the attendant of one of the nobles, say, it was far less time consuming if I had a place I could look it up than if I had to flip through the books looking for a reference to that character.

Other than that, I mostly have multiple file folders of scrawled notes in no particular order except by categories, things like astronomy, architecture, and so on, and many many academic articles on various subjects in folders by topic.

I actually did a better job creating a reference notebook for the Crossroads Trilogy, with tabbed dividers with subjects like Calendar, Language, Guardians and Eagles, Geography. What I learned from my less organized work in Crown of Stars was that the better organized my reference notebook was, the easier it was to look up details when I needed them rather than relying on my memory.

Q:  The Crossroads Series is described as High Fantasy. I love the covers on these in both editions. Do you get much say in the look of your covers?

No.

With the USA cover for Spirit Gate, I did specifically mention two things, however, although technically these were merely requests because in fact I don’t have any say over covers. I wrote up a description of how the reeves are harnessed to the eagles, and the artist clearly used my description rather than having the reeve riding atop the eagle as a person rides a horse. The other request was that the woman depicted as a reeve on Spirit Gate be a woman of color, not blonde or white, as there is only a single white-skinned, blonde character in the land known as the Hundred, where most of the action takes place.

Q: The  Spiritwalker Trilogy. With a description like this: ‘An Afro-Celtic post-Roman icepunk Regency fantasy adventure with airships, Phoenician spies, the intelligent descendents of troodons, and a dash of steampunk whose gas lamps can be easily doused by the touch of a powerful cold mage.’ Who could resist this series? Do you find that publishers are more open to cross genre now than they used to be when you were first writing?

I think publishers reflect the times in that sense. The entire artistic genre of mash-ups is a product of the new media and very much a part of the new century. I think that books that have a mashed-up quality therefore fit right into the new artistic sensibilities. Publishers, writers, and readers all seem more interested in cross genre and mash-ups. I don’t think they’re at all unusual any more.

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?

In essentials? No.

I think there are differences in the way individuals write fantasy, and then in our culture those differences tend to get mapped onto a gender axis because our culture is comfortable defining and patterning things along the gender axis as if differences between genders are more important than differences between individuals.

But it might be possible to quantify some weighted differences.

As far as I know, no one has done a study of the last 30 or 40 years of the science fiction and fantasy fields in which they analyze something as simple as character presence in fantasy fiction. Do male writers mostly write about male protagonists? How about female writers? And what about the percentages of secondary characters? Do male writers disproportionately populate their worlds with male characters (including protagonists and minor characters) overall, in a way not consistent with the actual presence of people in the world? That is, rather than showing a world in which there is an approximate 50/50 split of male to female characters, do these worlds foreground and give speaking roles to far more male characters than female? And if female characters are represented, are they represented in only a few limited types of roles, and how do they function both within the society and within the story? What about female writers? Do they tend to have more female characters throughout their books? In a wider variety of roles, with more agency and importance? Or not?

I think a lot of the idea that males and females “write fantasy differently” has more to do with emphasis. And I personally don’t believe the emphasis has much to do with an biologically quantifiable essentialist differences; even if there were some, it would be practically impossible to tease out what those were from the morass of cultural expectations and assumptions that tend to bury everything else.

Because in addition to the quantifiable issue of character presence, there is also the issue of what actions, events, details, and experiences are emphasised. Emphasis and “worthiness” can be culturally influenced by unexamined assumptions about what matters enough to be written about or noticed. So in that sense, it’s a little difficult to say that men write differently than women BECAUSE of their gender rather than because of what culture tells us about gender. It’s a subtle difference, but if we’re talking about “real” potential differences in writing, I think it is the crucial one.

I think we carry exceedingly strong cultural expectations about gender and about the past, and especially about ideas about “how” the past “was” that often ignore or deem unimportant entire swathes of human existence. I think we still assume that a male point of view combined with the male gaze (seeing things from a particular set of assumptions about what is important and worthy) is the norm. So it is perfectly possible to pick up an epic fantasy novel in which almost all the characters are male, and women practically invisible, and somehow think there is nothing exceptional or even wrong about a depiction of a world in which women barely figure. To me these are flawed depictions and bad world building. They’re not “male” or “female.”

And anyway, what is “male” and “female?“ If I want to write about clothes or sewing, then am I “writing female” even though tailoring was and is a male occupation in many societies? Or are our ideas that this must be gendered-writing cultural? If I want to write two women talking to each other about something other than a man (see also The Bechdel Test for films), does that make my writing “girly?” Are male writers more likely to have only one or a handful of female characters, few of whom ever talk to each other or relate in a meaningful way? Are female writers more likely to emphasise female relationships within a story? Again, I would call this cultural, not biological.

Until we have actual data on such questions rather than anecdotal information or suppositions based on “what everyone knows” or our assumptions about how things must be or the last two books we read, I think we can’t draw any firm conclusions.

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?

Probably to the extent that I’m more cautious, when reading a male writer, because I’m less certain there will be as wide a variety of characters in the story, and I’m more likely to fear that people like me won’t be included and more surprised and pleased when they are. Because personally, as a reader, I get tired of feeling excluded in stories.

Two of the best examples of men writing women I’ve read recently have come from outside the field and were written decades ago in the 20th century: Minty Alley by C.L.R. James and God’s Bits of Wood by Ousmane Sembene. Frankly, many a fantasy writer could take a lesson in how to truly incorporate women in what could have been a solely male-centered story from Sembene’s masterpiece about a railroad strike in West Africa in the late 1940s.

 

 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?

Into a future with medical advances and space travel.

Give-away Question:

What is a favorite “guilty pleasure” character type, the one you know you probably shouldn’t enjoy reading about so much but really love anyway?

One of mine (I have more than one!) is the arrogant jerk who falls in love despite himself (Darcy in Pride and Prejudice is a classic example of this type).

 

 

Follow Kate on Twitter: @KateElliottSFF

Catch up with Kate’s blog.

Catch up with  Kate Elliot on GoodReads.

If you are trying to keep Kate’s vast list of books straight in your mind,  here’s her bibliography.

24 Comments

Filed under Book Giveaway, Characterisation, Collaboration, Covers, creativity, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Gender Issues, Publishing Industry, Readers, SF Books, Steampunk

Meet Dave Freer …

Today I’m interviewing Dave Freer because, for one thing he is a wonderful writer, and also I thought I’d ask him the same questions I’ve asked the female writers about fantasy writing and gender, to get his perspective as a male fantasy writer.

Look out for the give-away at the end of the interview.

Q: You quote Lewis Carroll, the Hunting of the Snark, on your blog. This is entirely suitable as you are something of a Beamish Boy.  Was the work of Lewis Carroll your first introduction to satire, whimsy and the fantastical?

Good grief, no. I was the most obnoxious little boy (I haven’t changed much) who started reading before school, and didn’t like fiction. My only tolerance for it was Kipling’s Just So Stories, which, as I was the third child, my dad had read so often he could recite. Those, to a brat who ‘knew’ the real answers, were delightful and whimsical. My first brush with sf/fantasy was satire was L. Sprague de Camp’s “Lest Darkness Fall” when I was nine. I remember it well, because I tried to ‘make’ all the inventions our inadvertent time traveller did. It did not end well. Like my attempts at parachuting with a beach umbrella off a 3 story building, it stands as proof that evolution-in-action fails quite spectacularly at eliminating idiots from the gene-pool. Perhaps we’re selecting for blind luck. The curious thing about that book was that at that age, I didn’t realise it was satire. It was just adventure, the triumph of ingenuity over brute force. I still have that very battered 1949 copy. It’s curious, in the gender debates that dominance of male sf/fantasy authors (particularly from my 1970’s childhood and before) that I came to sf via my mother, who started reading it from pulps left behind American servicemen working on the Naval guns on Robben Island, where she was a gunner. If there was a major gender stereotype of the time that shaped my perception, it was that only girls had ‘weird’ names.  Boys were Matthew, Mark, Luke and John etc. Girls had started getting Marzipan, Autumn and Galadriel, but patriarchal society had boys still being spared Moon-unit and Wobbegong. So Rudyard… was female. Sprague… was female. Andre (Norton) was male. I got Zenna Henderson and Ursula LeGuin right.

Q: You currently live in an island off the coast of Tasmania, but you are originally from South Africa. Do you think growing up in South Africa gave you a particular mind-set that has influenced the way you write?

Put it this way there is no reason why growing up in say Seapoint  or Rondebosch (wealthy formerly all-white suburbs) in South Africa (as a ‘white’ woman, anyway – men went to the army as conscripts) should be materially different to growing up in a wealthy suburb of Brisbane or Boston, except you probably had more chance of someone cleaning your home without having to be quite as wealthy. Having been ‘a South African’ is no guarantee of a better understanding of the poisonous effects of privilege and division than being say a white-bread American. Being born into my family made South Africa formative, though.  So did conscription.

My mother was a De la Rey, one of the Lion of the West’s nieces, part of the hard core of Boer ‘Bittereinde’ (bitter end) Guerrilla fighters.  She married the grandson of a British Army Boer War Surgeon General, in a time when the wounds of that war were still very raw (it took years before either family came around to it. Some of them never did.) My father–given his rather bizarre childhood, spoke and thought in Sotho more naturally than English—and was I think more at home with black South Africans than white ones. His work and I suppose my parents political and religious beliefs saw us mixing with people most white South Africans didn’t know much about. So I grew up tossed between cultures and learning people were human and rather alike even if they were lifelong traditional foes. Yes, it is one of the reasons I take mickey out of tradition a lot, although I believe in its tested strengths.

I was seventeen, very idealistic, and very wild, when I was conscripted. I was sent to the Medical Corps. I wasn’t eighteen before I saw my first man die. I grew up very fast and learned to be responsible, and saw things that haunt and shape me to this day.  What shapes you, shapes your writing.

Q: You’ve been in Australia a couple of years now. Just recently your son got married here (congratulations!).  In a post on ROR you said:  ‘it becomes very important to me know not just what ‘a squatter’ or ‘a bogan’ is but what implications there are in calling a character one. Knowing the baggage carried by a word and using that baggage can subtly make you a much more powerful and effective writer.’ Do you feel that you have a handle on the Ozzie mind-set now? Or do you still feel like a Stranger in a Strange Land?

Oh my word. It’s  complex. You don’t learn a culture in a week or even two years. I’m very much in love with Australia, especially our Island, and, oddly especially the nearest it has to an indigenous people (the island had its pre-European settlement population die off in the last ice age. The sealers who settled on Island took (or traded) wives from the Tasmanian North East Aboriginal population. Like the Bounty mutineers, the Straitsmen had a culture and traditions of their own. It must have been a tough, stark life, and yet it produced a very close-knit solid people. There’s a strong affinity (particularly with the older people) to the land and sea and to living off it, with which I identify and find I can fit into.  But know it and understand properly? No. Love it, want to learn about it, try to fit into it, yes.

Q: In 2008 your book, Slow Train to Arcturus, won the Best SF &F novel in the Preditors & Editors Poll. I heard you read from this book at Worldcon in 2010.  It struck me as a traditional premise told in an irreverent way. Were you surprised when the book won this award?

(Chuckle) According to my agent that book either had to win every award or be buried in soft peat by the industry. They chose the latter, but the book has a cult following so it got nominated in a reader-voted poll. To be honest I am at best ambivalent about most awards. They’re too much of a ‘cool kids club’ where if you’re ‘in’, you will at least be nominated. Some of those are very books of course,  BUT If you’re ‘out’, it doesn’t matter how popular or good you are, it’s not going to happen until the book/s are so wildly successful that the ‘Cool kids gang’ are starting to look bloody stupid. Look no further than Sir Terry Pratchett for an example, where his DARK SIDE OF THE SUN should have won every award (and his CARPET PEOPLE – originally written IIRC when he was 17, every juvenile award)… and it took another 20 years and about a 100 million sales for Cool Kids to admit he was alive. I’m too much of a loose cannon, too socially maladroit, and far too politically incorrect for most awards.

Yes, Slow Train took an old trope – a slower than light generation ship taking colonists to the stars (which has been out of fashion for many years) and another old trope ‘humans meet aliens’ and turned both on their heads and made them spin and whistle waltzing Matilda out of every orifice. It also was one of the very rarest combinations in our genre – Hard SF and social satire.

Look, the reason that generation ships fell out of fashion (besides that hard sf is hard to write, and our genre is fashion-driven) is three-fold.

1)    They really are slow. Interstellar war and trade – the life-stuff of our genre are hard across hundreds of years. And ‘colonisation’ is a nasty un-PC word (despite the fact that every human on earth is a colonist or descended from one. As Douglas Adams said, we’re not proud of our ancestors, and never invite them around to dinner.) .

2)    When you get there (after hundreds of years), the place sucks. It’s either not habitable or worse, the locals don’t really want colonists. Or from a modern ecologist’s point of view, you’ll destroy a unique alien ecosystem.

3)    We’ve never kept a closed ecosystem going for any worthwhile period of time. Generations is so far off plausible as to be silly.

So I set about finding solutions to all three… and limiting our scenario to present or already theoretically possible and plausible science. And then, just because I have a theory of ordinariness  (or orneryness, at times) I set about making a set of novel hard science ideas just parts of the background, that neither the characters (because they live with them and it’s an everyday situation) nor the reader are overwhelmed by flashing-light bling ‘science’.  And yes, I am a manipulative son-of-bitch with an ulterior motive.  Bling and flashing lights we accept as, well, fun-but-a-fantasy.   Ordinary – Which both Heinlein and Asimov did well—becomes, quite rapidly ‘normal and expected’.  And then the world moves to catch up. I don’t think social engineering via PC-speak works very well. I think it probably loses more readers than it changes minds. But if you’re subtle and clever about it (whether I am either is another matter, but I understand the need) you can shift perspectives. Of course it takes more effort and ability than PC-rote, but who said idealism should be easy? And yes, I believe we need interstellar travel, and that we should colonise space. I’ll explain why, as an ecologist, I believe this a little further on.

The solutions to problem 1) and 2)  are relatively simple when you think about it (but like Columbus sailing West, no one seemed to). More than 2/3 of travel times at speeds we can presently attain… are used in acceleration or deceleration.  What’s worse, is that those two phases take a vast amount of energy.  Once the ship accelerates to its cruising speed (a process which would take about 20 years) that momentum must be conserved.  Let’s put it this way – at 1/3 of light-speed cruise speed (theoretically possible now) accelerating and decelerating at ever star, a ship could perhaps cover 30 light years in 320 years.  If it never decelerated, but dropped modules at each passing star, which did slow down,  then a 100 light years becomes plausible. There are a lot of stars within 100 light years of Earth.  Think of the ship as a train, dropping off the last carriage to slow down at each passing star. And that of course is the second feature: the humans no longer colonise planets. They don’t even care if there are planets. They colonise space. There is a habitable zone – and all the materials you would need – around nearly every star.  It’s an idea that has been suggested for our solar system, just not for interstellar colonisation. To the best of my knowledge neither solution has been suggested anywhere else in sf.  It does mean, that as an ecologist I can heartily support space colonisation. It will increase the variation of life in an area that supports none.  The third issue of course is that bio-viability. Dyson spheres – the space habitat I suggest, are old hat.  They’re big hollow bubbles with spin to provide pseudo-gravity on the inner wall by centripetal force.  Which makes sense to an engineer, or a physicist… but not to biologist or a chemist.  A biologist will tell you that the viability of a habitat is determined by size… multiplied by complexity—or in other words, by surface area. A chemist will tell you that almost all reactions are affected by… surface area. Your lungs only work, because, although they fit in your chest, their surface area is about that of a tennis court.  So the insides of our space habitats are very complex spiral layers, making the surface area vast.  Big and complex is far more stable, and these have another advantage. Like islands (but in space) they are largely isolated, but can draw from a resource pool, and act as reservoirs for each other.  It’s good science, and it’s different, and, oddly, could work.

So then I introduced some more elements to it. Who colonises? Yes, it’s usually your refugees, your outcasts, your ne’er-do-wells, your convicts, your poor, your adventurers, your odd sects. The scaff and the raff?  Maybe.  Or are they something human society needs? Each of the habitats has a different set of migrants in it, off on a one-way, isolated multi-generational trip, which, especially viewed through alien eyes, is an interesting environment for social satire. Into this I added the reverse of Rendesvoux with Rama. I had an alien species, like but unlike us, meet the ship 300 years out from Earth. The aliens –who are principal point of view characters–provide an unusual outsider’s view of humans, and the weirdness that is our heterosexual species and the mores derived from this. They are de facto unisexual, starting as smaller mobile, risk-taking males, and, when they reach a certain size becoming near sessile, very conservative and territorial females (an arrangement that makes good biological sense, but is wholly unlike ours). Basically the hero is a bisexual male who comes from a matriarchal society.

And then, to finish putting my money where my big mouth is, I went along with one of my objections to the PC tokenism in science fiction. I took as his co-hero and companion, and later friend, the character who is NEVER allowed to be hero. Howard is one of the Bretheren – a fundamentalist Christian sect somewhere between the Quakers and the Amish, who practice traditional agriculture and, yes, are ‘white’.

So, yes, just a slight twist on the usual.

Q: You indulge in what others might call Danger Sports, like rock climbing and scuba diving. You once told me that we writers have very little control over our books. We can write a wonderful book and then we send it off. Even if a publisher publishes it, we have no control over the cover, distribution or how long the book stays on the shop shelves and that taking part in dangerous sports was your way of achieving something you did have control over.   With the changes happening in publishing (See Dave’s post on the Mad Genius Club blog), do you feel now that you have more options? And would you go down the self publishing route?

Yes, and am doing so. As all of us who have been through the proposal route of selling books know, it’s a very damaging process—you build hard and then have drop a book you are now deeply involved in. And then pick it up again, often midway through an unrelated book. You also shape proposals around your agent and the target – which is a publishing house, not the important target, the reader. It’s not good for writers, and it’s not good for readers. It’s convenient for publishers. I keep saying to O’Mike (my agent, Mike Kabongo) that I’ve written my last proposal. And he talks another out of me. But I am determined to stop. A few publishers have various rights of first refusal, but I am rapidly approaching take it now or I will continue writing it.

Q: You’ve collaborated with Eric Flint and Mercedes Lackey. Writing is a very individual experiences and you are a very individual individual. How did the collaborations work specifically?

I write a first draft – sometimes only sketching scenes I want Eric or Misty to write. Eric does a structural edit, positing add-in chapters and scenes (there are few cuts) We divide the new scenes up, do a round robin edit, and submit. Collaborations take a degree of tolerance and egalitarianism from all parties. If that exists, they can work. If one person is inflexible, they don’t.

Q: I discovered the Witches of Karres books by James H Schmitz over thirty years ago and loved them. Now you’ve continued the series with Sorceress of Karres. Was it daunting knowing that you were writing in a much loved world using much loved characters?

I absolutely hated the idea. I knew I wasn’t good enough or able to write like Schmitz. I got talked into it by Eric.

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?

Sigh. As individuals there are female writers whose natural voice is rather like Robert A. Heinlein. There are male writers whose work shows derivation from Ursula Le Guin. I think you really, really, really need to judge a writer’s without the spectacles of a pre-conceived bias. My childhood assumption that Sprague was female and Andre was male, didn’t stop me loving both, and suggests that at base level readers don’t actually care, if the story is good for them. There may be gender differences in what is typically good for an average reader, but once again we wander onto generalizations to which there are many exceptions.  It’s important to emphasize that. Prejudgment is for fools.

What I do think (sadly) that we see is peer group conformity pressure, both in male and female authors. It’s peer pressure, remember, that allows female genital mutilation to continue, often at the hands of older women. And it’s not confined to some uneducated Somalis. It exists still everywhere, and needs to be fought at all levels of society.  I admit to feeling strongly about this, because of my mum. Look, there was never any woman less in need of ‘liberating’ – she was terrifyingly capable, and never let gender (or size–she was tiny) stop her doing anything she wanted to try–from driving 10 ton trucks (pre-synchromesh and pre-power steering) to carpentry. But she did. Once. She went off to university, the first woman of the family to ever do so, supposedly to train at a profession respectable for women: teaching junior school.  As her mother (widowed) had no idea what courses she had to do, mum managed to take subjects that were ‘inappropriate’–Chemistry and Geology–in her first year, as the only female student. Unfortunately her second year required a narrowing of subjects.  She broached the idea to her mother of… not teaching. Her mother simply said “no”. The head of the Geology Department actually came to call, to beg my grandmother to let his best student continue.  She would have been the first female geologist in South Africa, which would have suited her as a profession down to the ground, and below it. And my grandmother, silly old bat, (I’ve never forgiven her for this) said ‘no, it was not a suitable profession for a woman.’

So: No.  There is a difference in how individuals write. We do not write to group orders. Or at least we don’t have to.

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?

Good grief no. I’ve wised up enough to know that you do not write by sitting on the keyboard, so genitalia probably don’t matter. (Although the cover might change my expectations. Bare-chested males do for me what clinging big-boobed bimbos in bikinis do for the average feminist. When am I going to hear: “who put the Bimb-he on the cover of my book?”)?  Don’t ever judge a book by its author’s gender.  Yes, there are those written by people trying for female roles in Emily Bronte novels, but there are a few wet-lettuce males in that category too. Yes, there are female fantasy authors with far too much in the way of soft furnishings, fashions and angst for my taste. A few seconds of dispassionate assessment should tell you if you want to read it or not. While one is advised not to judge a book by its cover, publishers do use ‘types’ of cover to point readers in the right direction.  If you want equal consideration, don’t show me a bare male torso!

There is gender bias, of course.  And it’s as dumb as rocks. But I think we need to take great care not to assume it is ALL gender bias.  I’m going to be politically incorrect as usual but I suspect at least some of  ‘I’m a victim of gender bias’ is rather reminiscent of Lenny Henry’s satirical ‘It’s ‘cause I’m black, Innit?’

I, for example, battle to read an award winning vastly popular male writer. He reads like exactly what his background is: a cubicle dwelling desk-jockey in the computer arena. Which means to many readers, his books have appeal, because this is their experience too.  Unfortunately for me, as something of an outdoors nutter, I kept hitting parts of his books (the quasi-fantasy ones) where I wanted to mutter ‘write about something you know about.’ I assume no one is saying I ought to love his books, and I am discriminating because they’re not really my thing, any more than mine would be his? There are quite a few other male authors I feel the same way about.  Now, this is NOT something I feel when reading Lois Bujold, or Elizabeth Moon, or Courtney Schafer, or Stina Leicht . When you tell me men are not reading their books because they’re written by women, I’ll tell any male who makes such a statement what an idiot he is. However, I can think of two female ‘high’ fantasy (quasi-medieval set) authors whose work I also avoid with great care, because their experience of the rufty-tufty amenity-less world which makes for realistic medieval type settings… stems from a life experience of working in HR or the like, in a big city. And it shows (some people manage to make it not show). Just as in the case of the computer geek, this is the sum of life experience of a lot of their readers and I am sure they’re loved, but not by me.

Let’s be realistic about our society: the statistical probabilities are that more men than women are going hit their description of walking through the forest and TBAR the book saying ‘what a load of fetid dingo’s kidneys.’  And yes, I have heard both of these women complain about gender bias in their reviews and readership.  I’ve never known quite how to tactfully say: ‘actually, it’s NOT because you’re a woman. It’s because a horse is not a car, and you’ve never walked a hundred yards through bush, and it shows.’  What do you think they’d choose to believe if I said that?

We need to make sure that when we’re talking about gender bias, that we’re talking about irrational stupidity, not just “I don’t like your writing”. Because yes, men do not have the monopoly on fantasy that I think sucks. That’s equality: you too can show extreme suckitude.

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?

The future—which is a vast exciting and exciting country–in which we may yet deal with the ills of the human condition. Sorry, the past was worse for nearly everyone. If I could go on holiday in the past I would come to my beautiful island before any humans did. I’m still a zoologist at heart, sometimes. If I had to move into the past, please, not before antibiotics and snake-bite serum. I’d have lost my wife, my children and my own life, without them.

David has a copy of Dagon’s Ring, a Much Fall of Blood, and a copy of The Sorceress of Karres to give-away. Here’s the question:

What sort of Dragon is Taboo?

 

Catch up with Dave on Facebook.

Catch up with Dave on Twitter. @davefreersf

Or at Dave Freer.com

See the Dave Freer page on Baen

15 Comments

Filed under Australian Writers, Book Giveaway, Characterisation, Collaboration, creativity, Fantasy books, Fun Stuff, Publishing Industry, SF Books, The World in all its Absurdity, The Writing Fraternity, Writing craft

Meet Marianne de Pierres …

As the next of my series featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) I’ve invited the multi-genre talented Marianne de Pierres to drop by.

Watch out for the give-away question at the end of the interview.

Q: You’ve just seen the release of the fourth book of your huge space opera series Sentients of Orion. Was writing the YA fantasy series that starts with Burn Bright a fun break for you?

Well to be honest  … there is some science fiction in Burn Bright. It just wrote itself in without my say! But the fantasy side of the story was lovely to compose. I found myself more able to indulge my word muse and loved writing the younger character.

Q: You combined with singer song writer Yunyu to produce a song and book trailer for Burn Bright. Since much of the book takes place in and around dance clubs, this seems very appropriate. How much collaboration was involved in this project?

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Np4iHj1AIMg&feature=player_embedded]

Simply, Yunyu read an early draft of the novel and went away and wrote a sensational song. Or songs, actually, three of them. In the end we could only afford to record one, so we picked Angel Arias. From her end, there was a lot more arranging and production to do after that. I was able to sit back and enjoy her genius. We got together a couple of times in Sydney and brainstormed the business side of it, but essentially the creative side was one artist inspiring another.

Q: Burn Bright takes its main character, Retra to some pretty dark places. She’s looking for her brother on an island where teenagers party non-stop and there are no rules except the warning not to wander off the path. It feels very surreal and dreamlike. Was it hard to slip into this alternate fantasy world when you sat down to write? (Read the first chapter of Burn Bright).

Not at all. It’s been sitting in my hindbrain since I was a teenager. I think it reflects the fact that I had my own dark places to contend with back then. Perhaps, if anything, writing the book has been a catharsis.

Q: Book two Angel Arias is due out late in 2011. (Love the cover, by the way). Did you have the second book finished before the first one was released? And, following on from that, did you plan the whole series before you started to write?

No, the second book was not written but in early meeting with my publisher, Zoe Walton, we discussed where the story might go and how many books it might take to get there. The second book synopsis was written, I just needed to decide whether it should be structured in on or two parts (hence bk 3.)

Q:Slightly off the topic of fantasy, since your Parrish series was described as near-future Australian cyber punk, I see there’s a We want more Parrish site on Facebook. Are you planning any more books on Parrish?

That will rather depend on a publisher wanting to publish them. At the moment I’m in talks with someone on a sideline Parrish project,  and I’m writing a novelette (1o K) for an e-book publisher. But a full blown series is not something that’s likely to happen in the immediate future.

Q: You also write ‘frivolous, fun-filled urban fantasy’ under the pen-name Marianne Delacourt. Your first Tara Sharp book, Sharp Shooter, won the Davitt Award. There’s a touch of paranormal in this series because the main character can tell what people are thinking from their body language. Did you do a lot of research to make the paranormal element believable?

I did do a lot of research but much of it was anecdotal or “dubious”. What was really interesting were the studies done on paralanguage itself. We are so much more than the words we speak. Communication is complex and largely subconscious.

Q: I notice you have a degree in film and television. Do you plan to get back into writing scripts and, if you do, are there some exciting projects brewing away in the background?

I’ve been slowly working on a script with New Zealand writer Lynne Jamneck for Enchanter Productions called Stalking Daylight. It’s been a slow process because Lynne’s been studying full time and I’ve been writing full time. However we’re nearly there on it. It’s an original SF thriller (not an adaption of a book) in the vein of PK Dick and Vernor Vinge’s work.

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?

Well, I just have to say that if some people think fantasy is a boy’s club, they should look over the fence at SF J

To answer your second question though, I think there is a difference in way that male and female writers tell fantasy stories. But you have to be careful about making blanket statements because there are also many commonalities. And for every difference you might point out, there is an exception to the rule you’re trying to define. I guess the only thing I’d be comment on is that male authors write male characters a little differently. And it’s a difference that is both gratifying and enlightening.

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?

No. Not at all. I never think about the author’s sex when I read a book. Afterwards, though, if it gives me cause to reflect, those considerations might crop up. I certainly never choose a book to read based on gender.

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?

Right now (post deadline!) I’d settle for masseuse and a slice of banana cake right here in my own time!

Give-away question to win a copy of Burn Bright:

If you could choose your favourite musician to compose music for your favourite book, who would it be and what would be the book?

13 Comments

Filed under Australian Writers, Book Giveaway, Characterisation, Collaboration, Covers, creativity, Dark Urban Fantasy, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Fun Stuff, Music and Writers, Nourish the Writer, Promoting Friend's Books, Script Writing, The World in all its Absurdity, The Writing Fraternity