Category Archives: Story Arc

Meet Queenie Chan…

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 Queenie Chan to drop by.

There are links to give-aways sprinkled throughout the interview.  

Q: In the Eighties I lived in Melbourne and knew a bunch of comic artists. One of the things I noticed was that they would be obsessed with art work, the look, the over-all layout of the page, but story would fall by the wayside. On your website you say: ‘After all, the essence of manga is not so much the art, but the story-telling, themes and pacing. These three are what you should concentrate on when trying to tell a story — any story, not just manga.’ Have you always been fascinated by story? Did your parents read to you? When you saw a movie, did you imagine what happened to the characters afterwards?

Oh, that sounds real interesting! You sound like you met a lot of interesting people when you lived in Melbourne (I must say, I did too when I lived there for a year). Anyway, you’re right about the many different camps of people who read graphic novels – some are all about the art, others are all about the story, while yet more believe in a combination of both. Personally, I’ve always felt that story is more important than art – a story can’t be expressed properly if the art is inadequate, but I also have seen a lot of well-drawn manga/comics that are dull and boring despite beautiful, realistic renderings. I still feel that to work in any storytelling medium (which comics is), your first duty is to engage the reader’s attention in whatever the purpose of the medium is for, so if it’s comics, it should be story.

So yes, I’ve always been more fascinated by story, and as you said, I like to imagine the continuation of stories after they’ve “officially” finished. My parents encouraged me to read as a child, but they never read to me much (neither read fiction, to be honest), and so I got my fix from a variety of different sources – books, movies, TV series, cartoons, manga and video games. Even as a child, I was always writing fan-fiction in my head based on my favourite TV shows.

Q: You say you plot the story, concentrating on the beginning and end and often let the middle take care of itself. And that: ‘In longer stories … there is time to set the characters free in the world you’ve created, and watching them interact with each other and with the environment. If your characters are well-constructed, then they would behave accordingly, and sometimes in ways completely unexpected to you.’ At this stage are you still brainstorming the story flow in a sentence or two, or do you actually start to draw and find the characters doing unexpected things?

Since I’m a comic book writer/artist, the way I work is quite different to prose authors. I’m not saying I’m representative of comic book writers or artists in general, but most people who work in the comic medium are often constrained by the number of pages available. So in my case, the first thing I do when brainstorming is to figure out how many pages a story can be, because if a story becomes too long, it may be impossible to draw (since it will be impossible to finish).

With prose, you can always add paragraphs or sentences and rewrite things if you want, but unfortunately with comics, once you’ve set something down on paper, it can be very hard to change. You can’t add an extra two panels to page 26 of your page 170 book (so far) if you want to – it will mess up the panel flows for the rest of the book. Because of this, my brainstorming usually involves writing down what happens on page 1, then what happens on page 2, and continuing by making a page-by-page summary of what happens on each page.

This part isn’t hard, but sticking to it isn’t always easy. Things always change when you go from prose to images, so you have to accommodate having to insert extra pages in when you start drawing the comic. Other times you’ll have to shorten scenes or extend them, so these days, I always make sure I have a good “feel” of the story in my head before I draw anything. As I said, the longer your story, the more freedom you have in letting your characters have their character moments. You may find a scene play out different as you draw it than you originally imagined, but the overall arc of the story shouldn’t deviate from the plan too much.

Q: You say you consider yourself:  ‘… a Citizen of The World.’ You were born in Hong Kong and came to Australia when you were six. Did you live in a multicultural suburb where you mixed with people from a lot of different backgrounds or was this interest in other societies just something that you uncovered as you came across books and movies from other cultures?

I grew up in a very multi-cultural suburb alright – I went to school with all sorts of interesting people and it was always lovely to learn about other cultures! I was always very interested in travelling, and not necessarily to other Anglophone cultures. As a child, I wanted to go to Africa, to the Middle East and to India, because I thought of these places as exotic, and with a long history.

I think being a history buff helps a lot too. I read a fair amount about Ancient History, and it’s always been a kind of dream for me to visit those historic places that I’ve read so much about.

Q: You say: ‘The reason why I’m so interested in interlocking story threads has a lot to do with my interest in human nature, sociology and anthropology. One of the things I find infinitely fascinating about genre-based story-telling in general is the environment the story is set in, and how that influences the character’s morals, values and actions.’ This is where I come from when writing my own books. I like to put my characters in situations that make them confront what they believe. You’ve made me want to run out and buy some of your books now. Was there a particular writer/movie director/artist whose mastery of character and setting made you think, Wow, that is what I’d like to do, but in my own way?

Ah, nice to know we share that point-of-view in common! I think fantasy can get a bad rep amongst some circles, because people tend to think they know what fantasy is without having read any of it (D&D, girls in metal bikinis swinging swords at orcs). The truth is, fantasy is just anything that isn’t set in this world, but set in a different world; a world which has social conventions similar to our own. What better way is there to explore human nature, without all the political, racial, cultural and historical baggage that each one of us accumulates in this world, just by virtue of living in it? As you said, putting your characters in situations that make them confront their beliefs is what people in this world do every day, just as they do in the worlds you create in your novels.

As for people who have inspired me… there’s been far too many to list. I can point out one man in particular who set me on my path – Tezuka Osamu, the creator of Astro Boy. He was a thoroughly-entertaining manga artist, but also a great humanist, and I encountered his series Black Jack at a particular time in my life (I was 15) which left a deep impression on me. Black Jack is about a rogue doctor who charges exorbitant fees for his services, but he’s also a very good doctor who understands that some people have illnesses that have nothing to do with the physical. The ethical questions that crop up in that manga is quite interesting.

Q: From reading the blurb about The Dreaming it seems to have the feel of the movie Picnic at Hanging Rock, which had a lyrical dreamlike quality about it, and to also be a modern take on the Gothic Romance Literature. Are these two sources which might have influenced you subconsciously as you were creating this story?

Picnic at Hanging Rock was definitely the biggest inspiration for The Dreaming, and you’re right about the gothic literature influences. Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier was the other big influence, as were movies like Rosemary’s Baby. The visual aspect was quite important for me (namely the way the school looked), but I think I wanted to create a more modern, “haunted-school” take on the whole Picnic at Hanging Rock mythos, so the story ended up bearing hardly any resemblance to any of these three books/movies. Which is a good thing. Even if you can name all your influences, it’s a pleasure to know that what you created is unique in its own way.

By the way, I have the first 2 volumes (of 3) of The Dreaming online as a free webcomic.

Q: Your chapter dividers in The Dreaming remind me a little of the black & white work of Arthur Rackham and perhaps Art Nouveau (Mucha). Do you have heaps of books on art?

Actually, I don’t have many artbooks, especially compared to other comic book artists. I’m not really big on art at all. As I mentioned before, I’m more interested in story-telling than I am in art, so people are often aghast when it turns out that I haven’t heard of [insert name of famous illustrator here]. It’s assumed that all people who draw must be big fans of the art world, but unfortunately… I’m not.

I really do like Mucha’s art style, though it wasn’t something I’ve discovered until recently. And while I love what I’ve seen of Arthur Rackham’s artwork (google images, yay!), I actually think that the chapter divider art for “The Dreaming” looks more like some of Gustav Klimt’s line artwork (that I randomly saw in a book somewhere). I must say that I wasn’t influenced by any particular artist when I drew those chapter dividers – Klimt’s work was something I encountered afterwards.

Q: With the Odd Thomas Series (stories originally by Dean Koontz), did Koontz see your work and ask you to illustrate his stories, or were the pair of you matched up by his/your publisher? (Reading your blog post about it, I see it was a little bit of both). So I’ll come up with another question. How is the movie project going?

I believe we were matched up by our publisher Del Rey, though ofcourse, Dean has to like my work to begin with. I’m not sure what work he has seen of mine before we started working together, but we’ve had a good working relationship thus far, and it would be an honour if we did more books together. As of now, there’s three Odd Thomas books (In Odd We Trust, Odd Is On Our Side, and House of Odd), and I’m happy with how things are.

I believe the movie for Odd Thomas has been completed, and is looking for distribution. I don’t really know much about it, I’m afraid, since this is a project that is driven mostly by Dean. When it comes out, I’m sure all the Odd Thomas fans will run out to see it!

Q: A while ago at Supanova Kylie Chan pulled out some of your artwork and showed me. She’s so proud of the work you’re doing on Small Shen. Were you already one of Kylie’s readers? How did the two of you connect?

(Update Small Shen isi finished!)

Kylie approached me at GenCon a few years ago, and introduced herself and her novels. I didn’t really know of her or her work beforehand, but it was rare to see Chinese Fantasy be so successful, so I took an interest in her work. When I contacted Kylie, it turns out that she had a prequel to her series called Small Shen, and wanted to do something “graphic-novelly” with it. Since I relish the chance to draw some Chinese-style fantasy artwork, I decided to take on the project. That was how it all got off the ground!

It’s been fun working on this project, and I’m nearing the end. This has been a special book, because this is a book that mixes prose with comics, and is not a straight-forward graphic novel. It’s experimental, but so far it’s working out quite well, so I look forward to it coming out in Xmas 2012 from Harper Collins.

Here’s an interview Oz Comic Con did with Queenie about her Small Shen project with fantasy author, Kylie Chan (no relation), among other things.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=x7qNQ2ryrds]

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 think this perception exists throughout a lot of pop culture. Even when talking about books, there’s a perception that sci-fi, horror, crime, thriller, literary, etc are all male-dominated. The only thing that is seen as exclusively female is probably chic-lit or romance – but even then, these books are packaged in such a female-oriented way that any chance of them appealing to a male audience is pretty much dead due to the deluge of pink covers. Meanwhile, there are a large number of successful female authors working across the genres, and there always has been.

Things are pretty much the same in the comics industry. While it’s true that companies like DC and Marvel dominate (and they are largely male-oriented), there are many female comic book artists out there who don’t work in superheroes, and are just doing their own thing. I’m one of them.

It’s true that there are a lot of assumptions being made by people outside the industry, though, and even inside the industry. Many comics industry blogs tend to cover only superheroes, and hardly any other kind of comic. If you’re going to focus on one small part of the comics industry, then yes, you’re going to get a skewed perception of gender.

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

No, it doesn’t. I think a good writer is a good writer, and I don’t think the gender of the writer has any effect on the final work. Male and female writers may be interested in different things, or approach things from other angles, but a good story told well is exactly that, and all that’s left is accounting for differing tastes.

I think things are a little different for artists though. If you’re talking about artists who are paired up with writers, then it rests on the skill of the artist to tell the writer’s story effectively, and sometimes they don’t do that. However, that’s got nothing to do with gender though – it’s more to do with what genre that artist is used to working in. If an artist is flexible, they ought to know how to adapt themselves to different genres. If they don’t, and they believe that one-art-style-fits-all… then it can get a little awkward.

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, that’s a hard question. My answer can change each time someone asks me that question, depending on what I’m into at that particular point in time. Previously I said just after the meteor that destroyed the dinosaurs hit, so I can see the terrible global destruction that it must have caused (but I would probably die very quickly from it). But as of now, I may just take the easy route and travel to Ancient Egypt to watch them build the Pyramids and raise the Obelisk. I have a theory as to how they raised the Obelisk, and am wondering whether it checks out with history.


Queenie’s Blog.

Catch up with Queenie on Facebook 

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Filed under Australian Artists, Australian Writers, Book Giveaway, Comics/Graphic Novels, Conferences and Conventions, Conventions, creativity, Gender Issues, Genre, Publishing Industry, Story Arc, Tips for Developing Artists, Writers Working Across Mediums

Meet Simon Haynes, Hal Spacejock’s alter ego…

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 Simon Haynes to drop by.

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

Q: I discovered the first of your Hal Spacejock series  years ago and bought the whole set.  On your web page you have a list of humour SF series, Bill the Galactic Hero, Red Dwarf, Hal Spacejock, Stainless Steel Rat and Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy. It’s a very small pool of really brilliant books. It is incredibly hard to write humour and then to write humorous SF makes it even harder. What’s your philosophy about humour?

First off, thanks for buying the books. If everyone did that SF Comedy wouldn’t be such a niche genre. Then again, publishers would leap on the unexpected craze and the market would be swamped. So, whatever you do, don’t buy SF Comedy!

The problem with adding humour to any novel is that the gatekeepers (editors, publishers, bean counters) have to GET it. If the style of humour doesn’t appeal to them, they can extrapolate from that and decide nobody else will enjoy it, either. There’s also that whole ‘am I the only one laughing?’ thing with humour. If you’re the only one smiling, does that mean you have a keen sense of humour, or does everyone else just have better taste for fine comedy? (It’s like sipping wine and making appreciative noises while everyone else is pulling faces and emptying their glasses into pot plants.)

Hal Spacejock contains a fair bit of geek humour, with in-jokes about operating systems and computers, and pokes at genre classics such as Star Wars and Star Trek. If that whistles past the reader, they’re left with the next layer of humour, and they might think that’s all there is.

I guess this is why humorous novels polarise reviewers and readers, although it’s all too easy for authors to throw their hands up and exclaim that nobody ‘gets it’. You have to work hard to make sure as many people as possible get it, without dumbing things down.

Q: Your BIO says you… ‘returned to Curtin (University) in 1997, graduating with a degree in Computer Science two years later. An early version of Hal Spacejock was written during the lectures.’  Seriously, did you write your book during lectures? I lecture first year UNI students. I don’t think many of them are sitting up the back writing books. I think they’re texting or on Facebook.

By the time I signed up for my computing degree I’d been programming for over 15 years. The only reason I applied for the degree was because I was self-taught, and I figured the qualification wouldn’t do any harm.

A lot of the early lectures covered really basic stuff – peripherals, really trivial programming, etc – and so I sat up the back with my trusty old laptop, plotting and typing away.

Once the material moved ahead of me I put the laptop away and paid proper attention. I still managed to write most of the novel at uni though –  I used to finish work at 4-ish, go straight to Curtin and type in the library until the lectures or tutes started.

Q: I can see how Hal Junior would be heaps of fun to write. You say, ‘I drew on my childhood for inspiration. My younger brother and I grew up in a small village in rural Spain, and ‘untamed’ doesn’t cover the daily scenes of chaos and destruction.’  Do you have sons? Are they giving you grey hairs?

Two daughters, and yes ;-)  They’ve had access to a wide range of hobbies and physical activities, from archery to bike riding, martial arts to soccer, digital art to oil painting. There weren’t any frilly dresses or dollies, that’s for sure. They’re mad keen computer games, the pair of them. One’s running her own minecraft server, and the other is working on a graphic novel based on her favourite computer game.

Q: You decided to self publish your Hal Junior books. I’ve met a lot of authors who have been down the traditional publishing route and have opted for self publishing. What was your reasoning behind your decision?

There were several, and they all came to a head at once:

Fremantle Press have treated me well, so it was natural to offer them the new series first. After a couple of months they let me know they were going to pass on Hal Junior – not because it was a pile of crap, but because they felt I should take it to a bigger publisher who would be able to do it justice. This was just after several bookselling chains had folded, and Fremantle Press doesn’t have distribution into the big department stores.

So, I changed the title from ‘Hal Spacejock Junior’ to ‘Hal Junior’, and rejigged the book. I decided to change it so that it featured Hal Spacejock’s son (not Hal as a child). In June last year I sent queries off to three Aussie publishers. Honestly, it was a token effort: I would send out three queries, probably get rejected within a week, move on.

So, I started making plans to self-publish the book. I had a meeting with Fremantle Press because I wanted to discuss the Hal Spacejock ebook rights. None of the books were on Kindle, and I wanted to take them back and issue them myself. At the same meeting I confessed that all my time was going into Hal Jnr, and I didn’t feel Hal Spacejock 5 was anywhere near completion. We agreed to terminate Hal Spacjeock, and I got my Hal Spacejock e-rights back.

At this point (July), I suddenly had four new titles to self-publish, and it seemed crazy to give the Hal Junior series to another publisher instead of releasing it through my own imprint.

Then the kicker … Tehani told me Lightning Source had just set up in Australia. I checked their print prices and was instantly converted. I wrote to the Aussie publishers, who’d already had the queries for three months, and withdrew my submissions. Then I started tidying up Hal Junior for an indie release, including commissioning a cover artist and hiring an editor.

About two months after Hal Junior came out I got an email from one of the Aussie publishers expressing interest in the series and requesting a full manuscript. Oops, missed the boat, should have been quicker off the mark. (I honestly thought publishers would treat an enquiry from an established author a little quicker, but hey, it’s not my problem any more. And I’ve never really considered myself established, just perched precariously on the second rung.)

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?

The finished version of any novel depends on the writer’s skill, influences, tastes and the environment they grew up, not their sex. Take one aspect: sword fighting. Imagine a male writer who has never swung a sword in anger, sitting down to write a sword fighting scene. Now imagine a female writer who is a member of SCA, or a keen fencer, sitting down to write a combat scene. I’m betting the latter will be far more authentic, and the writer’s gender has nothing to do with it.

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

Nope. I pick books based on recommendations, buzz, and my own taste. Most years my new book purchases are at cons, which means GOH books and those by fellow writers. Lately I’ve been reading a lot of junior (middle grade) fiction to see what I’m doing right (or wrong) in terms of tone, language, content and so on. I couldn’t tell you the gender of the authors, because I’ve been reading whatever I can lay my hands on.

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?

It would be good to go back to certain moments in my childhood so I could correct a few wrongs. I’m saying no more.

 

Giveaway Question:  If you were ten years old and you lived aboard a futuristic space station, what’s the first thing you’d do?

The winner will receive an autographed copy of Hal Junior: The Secret Signal OR Hal Junior: The Missing Case. If your idea is better than mine I’ll probably steal it for Hal Junior 27: The Stolen Idea.

 

Catch up with Hal Junior on Facebook

Catch up with Simon on Goodreads

Catch up with Simon’s blog on writing and publishing

Follow Simon on Twitter @spacejock

Check out Simon’s free writing and reading software

And finally, the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior website

 

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Filed under Australian Artists, Australian Writers, Characterisation, Children's Books, Covers, creativity, Fun Stuff, Gender Issues, Nourish the Writer, Promoting your Book, Publishing Industry, Readers, Story Arc, Tips for Developing Writers, Young Adult Books

Meet Keri Arthur…

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

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

Q: Between 2001 and 2011 you released more than two books a year (23 in total). I’m guessing you had a backlog of books that you’d written. Or are you going to put us all to shame and say you’ve written 23 books in 10 to 12 years?

Well, if you want to get technical (and include the two I’ve written this year) its 27 books, 1 novella, and three short stories for anthologies.

I didn’t really have a backlog of already written books when I signed the contract for Dancing with the Devil. I had completed five books by then, but three of those will never see the light of day. Great ideas, but horrible writing.  So yes, I’ve basically written 25 books in ten years.

Q: You have four series that were originally published with Imajin.  Spook Squad series, the Ripple Creek Werewolf series, the Damask Circle series ( which has a release date of 2001) and the Nikki and Michael series. Which was your first series? I’m asking because I like to read author’s books in chronological order of when they were written to see how they develop as a writer. When you look back at these books are you tempted to edit them? I see Bantam are going to release these books. Will you be given a chance to go over them? (Lots of questions, sorry, but all related).

Dancing with the Devil, the first of the Nikki and Michael books, was the first book I had accepted and published, so that’s the series to start with–although I alternated between that series and the Circle books when I was writing them. The Ripple Creek series was next, then finally the Spook Squad series.

All the books will be re-edited before Bantam release them in mass market format. I’ve just completed the edits on Beneath a Rising Moon, the first of the Ripple Creek books which is being re-released in May next year. I was actually surprised how well it held up considering how much I think I’ve grown as a writer since these books were first published.

Q: I see you are one of the guests of Conflux in 2012. Have you been to other SF conventions? Will you know many of the writers and the fans?

I’ve been going to Conflux for a few years now, but tend to stick more to the romance conferences, as that’s the market Bantam have been aiming the Riley Jenson series at (even though they’re dark urban fantasy rather than romance). After the open friendliness of all the Romance conferences, it was a little intimidating going to an SF convention like Conflux, as I very much felt like an outsider.  Thankfully, it is getting better now that I’m becoming a little more known in the SF community.

Q: You blog on a group blog called Deadline Dames, (how the Deadline Dames met, LOL), with Devon Monk, Jackie Kessler, Jenna Black, Karen Mahoney, Lilith Saintcrow, Rachel Vincent, Rinda Elliot and Toni Andrews. I belong to a writing group called ROR and find the support of fellow authors invaluable. We critique each other’s books once every year or so, but I gather you and the other dames share the blog to spread the good word about your books. Would you recommend a shared blog to other writers thinking of blogging, but overwhelmed by the pressure?

I’d definitely recommend it, because the dames have been a huge source of both inspiration and support over the years (as has my crit group). It’s good to be a part of a close knit group of writers who totally understand what you’re going through at any given point in your career. It’s also brilliant to a have a ‘safe’ place—somewhere where you can let off steam and know with complete certainty it will go no further.

However, it can sometimes get overwhelming, especially if you also have your own blog (as I do) as well as twitter, facebook, google+ and whatever else they decide to come up with in the future. Getting the word out there about your books is all well and good, but in the end, it’s the books that count.

Q: When we were talking at Supanova you mentioned you’re renovating. My sympathies, we’re just reaching the end of more than 12 months of renovating. I find having well ordered surroundings helps me to think clearly. Messy room equals messy mind for me. Hopefully, your renovations will be smoother than mine. Are you the kind of person who is heavily influenced by their surroundings? I know some authors collect ‘play lists’ for each book they write, while others collect a resonance file of images. Which are you?

I write by music, and it’s always the same music–Eco Zen 2. It’s gotten to the stage where I put that cd on, and my muse instantly gets to work. I can have the TV going, the daughter in the next room playing shoot-em ups, the neighbour mowing, and none of it matters as long as the music is going.

Mind you, I’m not sure the same will be said when the builders start pulling down the house around us. Especially if they’re well built builders.

Q: In an interview on EUSA Today Books you said the idea for book one, Destiny Kills, of Myth and Magic series came to you while watching The Bourne Identity. You said:

‘Seriously. I know the two have nothing in common, but I was sitting there, watching the beginning, thinking, Why is it always a guy? Why can’t it be a woman? And then I got to thinking what I’d do with that sort of start. Which is how we ended up with a heroine washed up on a beach with no memory of how she got there or why there was a dead man beside her. How dragons got into the equation I have no idea — other than the fact I have a very twisted, very imaginative muse.’

 Dragons, Keri? Are you a fan of Anne McCaffrey’s Dragon Riders of Pern books? Or have you taken a totally different slant on dragons?

 I love the Pern books–well, all of Anne McCaffrey’s. I’m not so keen on the later ones she did with her son. My dragons are different–they’re dragon shifters not actual dragons, and there’s both fire breathing dragons and sea dragons in my mythology. The books are also urban fantasy rather than fantasy.

Q: Your Riley Jensen series is set in Melbourne. Was there any resistance to the Australian setting when you pitched the idea to the publishers?

We were totally expecting resistance, and I had in fact began researching places in America that I could use instead of Melbourne. But it never came up with any of the three publishers who were bidding for the book. Of course, the Melbourne I use is very Americanised, so that might have made the setting less of a problem.

 

 

US Cover

Q: With your Dark Angels series (as with all the others) I notice there are US and UK covers. The US ones look more sensual, while the UK covers play up the strength of the female character and the threat. Would say that that this is the difference between the two readerships? And how much input do you get in your covers?

 

I have no input on the covers–although if I have occasionally asked for some minor changes. The US covers aim for the huge romance market, whereas the UK/Australian covers tend to go more for the fantasy market. I don’t think there’s any difference in the readerships, I just think the covers are a result of marketing people targeting their markets differently.

UK cover

Q: I see you watch a lot of TV series. I must admit I like to get the whole series of something like Deadwood and have an orgy of TV watching. I like to be able to watch the narrative arc for the series, plus the development of the characters. I find I can’t switch off my internal editor unless the show is really gripping. Do you have any specific TV series that you watch, that are guaranteed to switch off your internal editor?

God, how much time have you got? TV has become my escape–more so than books these days. I’m also a whole lot less critical of TV shows and movies than I am of books–a show has to be really, really bad before my internal editor starts getting snarky. I love shows like Deadwood, Justified, Supernatural, Haven, Torchwood, Primeval, Being Human, NCIS, NCIS LA, Castle, Blood on the Wire.….the list goes on. And on.  lol

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?

I think female fantasy writers approach a novel on a more emotional level than most male writers. Or at least, that’s how it used to be (and it was one of the things that drove me to write fantasy in the first place). These days, with writers like Jim Butcher, it has improved somewhat, and there’s not such a noticeable difference in emotional depth.

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

Not really, because when I pick up a book all I’m expecting is to be entertained. If they succeed in doing that, I’m a happy reader. Hell, I read–and love–Matthew Reilly, and his books could very definitely be described as boys own adventure books for grown-ups, but they’re fantastically entertaining.

 

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?

Weirdly, I’d love to go back to Jane Austin’s era, just to see if men like Mr Darcy really did exist. I wouldn’t want to stay there though–couldn’t stand not having a shower every day, let alone no internet access!

 

Keri has a signed copy of Darkness Unbound to give-away (or a copy of one of her books to complete your set, subject to availability). Give-away Question:

If paranormal creatures existed and humans were lowest on the pecking order, which kind of paranormal creature would you like to be?

 

Keri’s blog

Follow Keri on Twitter: @kezarthur

Catch up with Keri on GoodReads

See Keri Arthur quote on GoodReads

See Keri Arthur’s official fan page on Facebook

Keri’s extras

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One Writer’s Daydream Directors

Normally, I would put an interview up today, but I figured everyone is probably madly scrambling doing holiday/christmasy things so I thought I would indulge myself. I’ve watched the trailer for The Hobbit.  Who hasn’t?

Sigh … Love that deep, melodic male singing.

Since this is the silly season I’ve compiled a list of the directors I would like to see turn my books into movies/TV series. Here goes:

Peter Jackson. Why? Because he took LOTR and did what I did when I read it for to boys. He picked the narrative high points. He knows how to craft a story. Have you seen The Frighteners?

Allan Ball. Why? Because I’m impressed by his interpretation of Charlaine Harris’s books – the humour, the exploration of prejudice and the humanity. A very perceptive man.

Guillermo del Toro. Why? I find his sensibility fascinating. Look at what he did with Pan’s Labyrinth and the backstory of Hellboy 2. Something can be both beautiful and frigthening.

So there you have it. This is what writers daydream about when they should be writing …

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Meet Anne Bishop …

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

 

 

Q: When I met you at the National SF Convention in Tasmania, it was the first time you had been outside of the States. Have you done much travelling since then?

Going to Tasmania is still my big adventure, but I have done a couple of vacation cruises since then–one to Alaska and one to the Caribbean. I’ve also attended a couple of the World Fantasy conventions that were held in the U.S. For me, this is a significant amount of traveling.

Q: I read your first book, Daughter of the Blood (part of the Black Jewels series) long before I met you and was swept away by your vivid imagery. I see there are nine books in this series now. Do you have more planned?

Nothing more planned at this time. Will there be more? I’m sure there will be. With Black Jewels stories, I seem to need a resting cycle where I write other things before I can go back to them–or before the Blood come back to me.

Q: I love the new covers, particularly Daughter of the Blood. How much say do you get in your covers?

For the U.S. covers, I send in descriptions of the main characters so the artist doesn’t have to hunt for the information. For the Australian covers, I’m sometimes asked to send a few ideas of images that could be used as a starting point. After that, the artist’s vision comes into play, and the end result is fabulous.

Q: What was it about the fae that convinced you to write The Tir Alainn Trilogy? Have you always been fascinated by the Fair Folk?

I’ve read stories about the realms of Faery since I was young, but the Fae weren’t the start of Tir Alainn. I was thinking about what I wanted to write after the Black Jewels Trilogy (I already had a draft of The Invisible Ring), and I had decided that I wanted to play with a world that had a more traditional earth-based magic than the Craft in the Black Jewels world. Then one afternoon I was coming home from a convention and saw a cloud formation that looked like the dark cliff of another world sitting on the horizon–a place you could see but could never reach. I said to the friend who was driving, “That’s the otherland where the Fae live.” After that I began to put the pieces together–the nature of the Fae and how they traveled from Tir Alainn to the human world, the nature of the witches, who else inhabited this world, and what was going to enter their lives and threaten their world. So it was actually the witches who provided the first seeds for that world, and then it was characters like the Hunter and the Gatherer of Souls who changed the texture of the story and Tir Alainn itself into something far richer than I had first envisioned.

Q: With The Landscapes of Ephemera Series it looks like you veered more into the love story side of the plot. Was this intentional or did the characters draw you in this direction?

The stories in Ephemera are about heart, about making a life journey, and about making choices, so I guess it’s the world itself that demands the stories spotlight the connection between two people. On the other hand, I would have said Cassidy and Gray’s relationship in THE SHADOW QUEEN and SHALADOR’S LADY was just as much a love story as Sebastian and Lynnea’s relationship.

Q: You also write short stories. Do you write across other genres as well or are these all fantasy stories? I see Twilight’s Dawn is set in the Black Jewel’s World. For a sneak peek see here.

Almost all of my stories fall into the fantasy/science fiction/horror genres. The one exception is a story chapter I did for SUMMER IN MOSSY CREEK, the third book in the Mossy Creek series. Not only was that mainstream, it was the first time I had written a story in a world that was created by someone else. That was a lot of fun, but the imagery of fantasy feels like home so that’s what I tend to write.

Q: I see you are working on an urban fantasy series. This is a change for you. Can you enlighten us?

I wanted to write a story in a world where the characters could have telephones and television and cars–that is, a contemporary setting even if it wasn’t Earth. And I wanted to try my hand at playing with vampires and werewolves (or shifters in this case since they aren’t really werewolves). And you want some humans in the mix because squeaky toys are fun. I had the framework of the world before the characters grabbed the story and ran off with it, so now the rest of the world building is taking its shape from the story.

It’s dark and it’s fun, and I’m never quite sure what the Others are going to do until I type the words.

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?

I hope there is a difference. Where would the fun be if we all saw things the same way and wrote the same kinds of stories?

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

Judging by my bookshelves, if I’m looking for a story that is primarily adventure and action and explosions and battles, I lean toward male writers. If I’m looking for a people story that includes adventure and action and explosions and battles, I lean toward female writers. And then there are all the writers on my shelves who don’t fit those choices because the gender of the writer wasn’t part of the decision to pick up the book.

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?

Since I’ve been pondering lately if the TARDIS has a shower and other kinds of plumbing, I’m not sure I’m mentally equipped for time travel.

The official fan site.

Anne Bishop quotes on GoodReads

Anne Bishop on Facebook


 

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Meet Juliet McKenna …

As the next of my series featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) I’ve invited the amazingly prolific and talented Juliet McKenna to drop by.

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

Q: Wow, Juliet, looking at your list of published books takes my breath away. Tell me, do you sleep 3 hours a night?

Well, I have been doing this for a while now. My first novel, The Thief’s Gamble came out in January 1999, so I’ve written a book a year since then. I’m also lucky enough to write full time, as far as any wife and mother can do that. So I work from around 8.30 in the morning when my husband and teenage sons have left for work, college and school, until about 5 in the afternoon.

That’s writing the current book in progress along with doing fun things like this, blogging, reviewing, getting involved in conventions and other events and the much less exciting but equally necessary stuff like the accounts and other administrivia.

Q: You have five series out now with a 3 – 5 books in each series. There’s The Tales of Einarinn, The Aldabreshin Compass, The Lescari Revolution, and your news series, The Hadrumal Crisis. You have an invented world and where you have set stories in different places (and at different times?), with some characters crossing over into different series. Tell me, do you have a huge map on the wall with a flow chart of events and timelines for different families and kingdoms? How do you keep it all straight in your head?

I have a lovely big map. One of the smartest moves I ever made, in hindsight, was marrying a design engineer who trained as a draughtsman. He drew that map for me and it’s fantastic. I used to keep a card index with details of every character noted down but that got harder and harder to keep up to date at the same time as computers made searching for individual characters in the text of a book so much easier. So that’s how I keep track of the details now.

That said, preparing for this new series, I did have to go back and re-read my first nine books, making notes as I went, since I’m picking up a lot of threads from those earlier tales. I have always drawn up timelines for each book, with notes on what each character’s doing and where they are. I’m one of those writers who does a lot of planning ahead before I ever type ‘Chapter One’. Every book has its own working note book and so I can also refer back to those when whatever I’m currently writing draws on what’s happened before.

On the other hand, I work very hard to make sure that each series is a fresh start, so that readers don’t have to go all the way through my backlist for the new story to make sense. That does lighten the burden of what’s gone before for me as a writer. I only have to include essential back story, in the same way as any author creating rounded, realistic characters does with any book.

Q: Reading the information on your web site, your books come across as very down to earth stories about real people, set in a world where magic happens to be normal. Where … ‘there are developments in science and technology, philosophy and literature, quite independently of whatever it is that has wizards and princes running round in circles?’ Would describe yourself as a very grounded person, who just happens to have an imagination that won’t let her sleep?

Words that often come up when people are describing me are ‘practical’ and ‘organised’ and yes, I imagine ‘grounded’ is in there too. That said, I think what I’ve always read and enjoyed has more influence on what I write than my personal character. I’ve always loved books that feel ‘real’ and I’ve always read right across the speculative genre and on into folklore and myth and then onwards into history.

They’re all colours in the same spectrum as far as I am concerned, and how can anyone read this wonderful stuff without their own imagination catching light? I’ve made up stories for as long as I can remember. I was one of those kids who could spend a whole afternoon spinning some fantastic yarn with a couple of toy animals, some building bricks and a cardboard box.

As to the depth and breadth of the worlds I create now, knowing so much history, I really cannot be doing with fantasy worlds where nothing changes in a thousand years (unless that’s part of the point the writer is making). I think how much change my grandmother saw in her 95 years!

Q: In an interview on SFFWorld, you mention that you do aikido. (This is one of the martial arts I studied for 5 years. I found it helped me when writing fight scenes). Do you do other martial arts and did you find that they help you give verisimilitude to your fight scenes?

I have nearly thirty years of aikido under my (black) belt now, including sword and staff fighting techniques, and yes, that’s a fantastic help when I’m writing fight scenes. I don’t do any other martial arts but I do swap notes with those studying other disciplines. Shotokan Karate blackbelt and author John Meaney and I did a hands-on panel on fight scenes at a recent convention and that was a fascinating exercise in compare and contrast.

I also did some Live Action Role Playing as a student and that’s also very useful. Table top gaming just isn’t the same. Get out in some woods at night for real and you really won’t have a clue what cunning plan the wizard ten feet behind you is hatching when all you’re looking at is the orc who’s trying to cut your head off!

That said, as an author, I have to be aware of readers’ expectations, particularly the way those have been shaped by what they see on film and TV, where fights are long, drawn-out, full of ups and downs, will our hero win or won’t he? Whereas real fights, when at least one person knows what they’re doing, tend to be very short and to the point. Also, when you’re watching a fight, it’s clear who’s doing what. Describing a fight so the reader can visualize it can be tricky. So, as with any other aspect of writing, crafting a fight scene that’s both realistic and rewarding for the reader is a challenge. But hey, if it was easy, it wouldn’t be nearly so much fun.

Q: You are one of the founding members of The Write Fantastic , (TWF), an organisation established in 2004 to promote the fantasy genre. On your TWF site, you say: ‘Nowadays  … Bestsellers thrive, while writers seen as ‘mid-list’, and those in genre fiction, suffer. Browsing used to be the route by which such authors picked up new readers. But now people popping into a bookshop ‘for something to read’ get no further than the 3 for 2 deals. So authors face a choice between grousing into their beer or looking for alternate ways to contact potential readers and bring them in past the discount tables and the bestseller charts.’ Do you think TWF has helped fantasy writers connect with new readers?

Definitely. The feedback we get tells us that time and again. The publishing world, from that first idea in your head to the finished book on the shelf in the shop, has changed enormously in the past ten years. What hasn’t changed, and what never seems to change though, is what really sells books is word of mouth recommendation.

Readers are always eager to hear about new books and these days, there are so many books that it can be a challenge to keep up to date with the new voices, never mind hearing about other people’s established favourites which you might not have tried. Hearing writers talk, about what they’re writing and what they’re reading is always a good way to find out if something’s likely to be on your particular wavelength.

Q: I see that TWF has successfully applied for grants. I’m thinking that is what my ROR group should do. One of the things that holds us back here in Australia is that the literary festivals expect to be contacted by the publishers who want to promote their authors. If an author contacts a literary festival, more often than not, they ignore the author. I’m guessing you haven’t had this problem in the UK?

Well, we have had success in the past… That kind of grant money dried up a few years ago. Then last year, as soon as the current government was elected here in the UK, the library funding for author visits was drastically cut back, so we lost a lot of those events. This year, so far, I’m hearing of literary festivals being cancelled or put on hiatus, so we’re looking at alternatives for TWF gigs, not least running a day event or two ourselves.

Literary festivals vary enormously. The really big ones, sponsored by our national newspapers, certainly aren’t much interested in dealing with anyone outside the best-seller lists, whose publisher will be paying to promote them, and where the author is expected to turn up and do their thing and be grateful for ‘the prestige’. It’s actually the smaller, more local events that are open to approaches from groups like TWF and will often work harder to pay writers for their 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 is a bit of a boy’s club. Do you think there’s a difference in the way males and females write fantasy?

This idea that fantasy is for men, written by men, does persist and it baffles me for several reasons. I mean, don’t people look at the shelves? There are so many women writing superb fantasy these days, in the UK, the US and elsewhere. Perhaps it’s another knock-on effect of those front-of-store promotions. The mega-sellers of late have been written by men and so they have much greater visibility, certainly for people who don’t know much about our genre. I’m not sure what we women can do beyond write the best books we can and hope they reach that readership tipping point to get us to the front of the bookstore. But of course, we are already writing the best books we can…

Do we write differently to the men? That’s hard to say. I’m sure for any generalisation that I might make, someone will be able to point to a book where that simply doesn’t apply. For instance if I said, women writers focus more on the emotional responses of female characters with a higher profile overall within the story. Or if I said, male writers get far more down and dirty with the vicious and brutal.

I really do think it’s a problem of perception rather than reality and we all need to challenge it if it’s ever going to change.

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

No, it really doesn’t. What grabs me is the back cover copy and then the first page. It’s all about the story and the characters for me.

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?

Ancient Rome, in the last days of the Republic. I studied this period at university and actually being there, seeing what really happened would be fantastic. Of course, I would need some kind of access all areas pass or Doctor Who’s psychic paper so I didn’t just end up wandering round the Forum. Though that would be pretty cool as well.

Or… a hundred years into the future, where I would want to spend a week just soaking up the atmosphere, the news media, the day to day life, to see how far we had come as humanity, and what hadn’t really changed, for better or for worse.

Find Juliet’s blog here.

For a video interview of Juliet McKenna see here.

Hear the Ghost in the Machine Podcast with Juliet McKenna.

Juliet on Facebook 

Juliet is happy to give away a copy of one of her books, depending on which one you need to fill the gap in your collection. Here’s the give-away question:

Every fantasy fan I know is waiting breathlessly for HBO’s adaptation of George RR Martin’s A Game of Thrones – even those who haven’t read the books. Which fantasy book/world would you like to see turned into a television series and why?

 

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Currently working on …

The Homeless Mystics (working title for the trilogy).

I chose these pictures from my Resonance file on this series. The mystics have a sophisticated society which evolved to keep their powerful gifts under control. They value honour and beauty in all things. I based the concept of their home, Celestial City, on the Heavenly City in medieval Japan and on the capital city of the Aztec Empire.

This series follows the fate of a tribe of dispossessed mystics, the T’Enatuath. Vastly outnumbered by the Meiren (people without magical abilities), the mystics are persecuted because the Mieren fear their gifts. This persecution culminates in a bloody pogrom sanctioned by the Meiren King who lays siege to the Celestial City, last bastion of the T’Enatuath.

When the city falls at great cost to both sides, the T’En leader, Imoshen, negotiates their surrender and the mystics are exiled from their homeland.

Under Imoshen’s leadership, the T’Enatuath battle vindictive Meiren, storms at sea, pirates, and even betrayal from within their own ranks.

 

I’m currently polishing the three books to hand in to my publishers early next year. I thought book one was almost done, but when I went away to World Con I spent every spare moment in my room writing and I had an epiphany. I realised I’d ended book one in the wrong place, (which explained why the opening of book two felt wrong). So I had to end book one earlier. This meant I had the room to explore a couple of narrative threads that had been implicit before. The book is much stronger now.

Love, loyalty … betrayal – all the things I like to explore.

Now if I only had more hours in a day! (If only I didn’t have to sleep!).

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You know you’ve made it when …

As a writer, you know you’ve made it  when one of your invented words ends up in the Oxford Dictionary. eg.

(Photo from Nova Albion Steampunk Exhibition)

Here’s the Oxford Dictionary definitnon of Steampunk (See here for the origin of the word)

My definition of Steampunk – A reason to wear really cool costumes and celebrate intricate and elegant machinery from a time when things were not designed to wear out in 2 years to force you to buy the next model.

See my article on the Allure of Steampunk here.

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Doing the Happy Dance!

You know how writers labour away for years in back rooms writing books, throwing their whole heart into these series, never knowing if anyone will read their stories?

Well,  every once in while the fates of publishing smile on the struggling author  and  these series do sell. This is one of those days. So I’m definitely Doing the Happy Dance!

Solaris have bought my First T’En trilogy.

Book one:
This series follows the fate of a tribe of  mystics, the T’Enatuath. Vastly outnumbered by people without magical abilities, the mystics are persecuted because ordinary people fear their gifts.

This persecution culminates in a bloody pogrom sanctioned by the King who lays siege to the Celestial City, last bastion of the T’Enatuath.

A fantasy-family saga, the characters are linked by blood, love and vows as they struggle with misplaced loyalties, over-riding ambition and hidden secrets which could destroy them. Some make desperate alliances only to suffer betrayal from those they trust, and some discover great personal strength in times of adversity.

You know how to fall in love with your characters?  I fell in love with these people.  I’m over the moon now that the trilogy has sold!

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Firefly, why weren’t there more episodes?

I’m currently preparing a lecture on dialogue and I began to trawl the Firefly series for examples.

It made me realise I could use this series for examples of excellent world building.

And characterisation.

Dramatic tension.

Subtle subtext in dialogue and character interaction.

Lighting and shooting. Music (that scene where they bring the young man’s dead body home).

Planting of clues that contribute towards a larger story arc in self contained episodes.

In fact the whole series is just so darn good, I don’t know why it was cancelled. What’s your favourite scene from Firefly?

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