Blogs by L.T. Suzuki
Patty Jansen Interview
9/15/2012 10:33:17 PM
Sci-Fi and fantasy author Patty Jansen discusses her latest fantasy title and the writing life!
For today’s feature, I’d like to introduce you to one of my earliest followers on Twitter who also happens to be a wildly talented author of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Patty Jansen! I’d like to begin by having you share a little information about yourself with our readers, Patty. What do you enjoy doing when you are not writing?
PJ: When I'm not writing, I like to dabble in art. I used to do this with pen and paper, but have recently discovered the digital art world. I especially enjoy 3D art, and like to illustrate my fiction. I also play the flute and piccolo, the latter much to the chagrin of the neighbour's dog.
Has writing stories always been a part of your life and becoming a published author a life long dream?
PJ: I started writing stories soon after I learned to write, but only ever dreamed of it as career path. While there were a lot of creative people in my grandmother's family (a professional opera singer and three professional artists), both my parents grew up in times of scarcity and hardship during WWII and its aftermath in Europe, and they insisted that I study something that pays the bills. My father, for example, went to primary school for all of five days before war broke out. After the war and a hastily-patched-up education, his parents never had money to send him to university, so he signed up for the army. Just stop to think about that for a bit: Army. A few years after the war.
Having gone through all of that, my parents' generation considered education a privilege that was not to be squandered on frivolous pursuits, like anything artistic. That's how they brought me up. They had an image that it was impossible to make a living as an artist. Maybe this was true when they were getting their education in the 1950's, I honestly don't know, but the "get a real job" attitude was very strong. Writing was not a real job, so it was not a consideration. That didn't stop me thinking about it, nor did it make the stories in my head shut up. I always thought that I'd like to return to writing fiction some day. I finally did in late 2004, after my father died too young and with still so many of his plans unfulfilled.
You have many published stories but today, we’ll discuss your novel Fire & Ice, the first in a trilogy. What was the inspiration behind this story and can you tell us a little bit about your protagonist, Isandor and his special powers?
PJ: A number of things went into this story. First of all, I was reading a lot of epic fantasy at the time, and was yearning for fantasy with an epic feel that didn't feel European, and that didn't rely on medieval tropes. So right off the bat, I decided that I'd take a southern-hemisphere look at the world, and that there would be technology. I'd also decided that Knights in Shining Armour were out, so I had Knights that rode on giant eagles instead. I wanted no goody-two-shoes either. The character who drives the trilogy does things that appear evil and selfish. He does them for good reasons, but does them half-heartedly and is in constant conflict with himself. A good number of the characters are conflicted
Isandor plays the role of reluctant hero. His powers make him the focus for the evil Tandor's attention, but he is more interested in joining the Eagle Knights which are the focus of Tandor's hatred. At its very root, the story shows that people do things for personal reasons that are likely to be irrelevant to others, but can affect others deeply.
Without giving away too much, can you reveal what’s in store for the readers when they crack open Fire & Ice?
PJ: First of all, let me say that there is a short story, Icefire, that is free on all platforms. This short story formed the seed for the trilogy. Have a look at it before you buy.
The trilogy itself is set in a world where radiation from an ancient machine (icefire) turns the land surrounding it into an ice-covered wasteland. The City of Glass is a remnant of a civilization long forgotten (think dystopian skyscrapers) and its current inhabitants are poor and repressed by the ruling Eagle Knights. These people are either impervious to the effects of icefire, or a small minority can absorb it and use it, mostly for evil.
The people who live across the border in Chevakia have no immunity from icefire. They are democratic, have steam technology (think "Romans with steam trains") and are scared of the "magicians" and their hardline knights.
Of course something happens that makes the bubble of icefire expand outwards and the two very different people of the two countries have to deal with each other.
The trilogy follows a couple of these people, all connected to each other in some way.
The road to publication is difficult at the best of times and I know you’ve been published in magazines and anthologies. What made you decide to go the indie route and self-publish some of your stories?
PJ: I decided to self-publish for two reasons, three if you consider the fact that it's a lot of fun.
In the first place, I like being pro-active. While I've been lucky to have sold quite well to traditional venues, being at the mercy of long wait times and decisions that have nothing to do with the quality of my writing ended up draining a lot of my creative energy. I grew so frustrated with being put on hold for years on end that I couldn't write. I would look at my hard disk full of perfectly fine manuscripts that I loved, and think about how, when publishers had FINALLY decided about manuscript A, I had manuscripts B, C, D and E still to send to them, and that whole process would take YEARS AND YEARS AND YEARS, and there was no point in writing any more until all that was done.
Secondly, I made a pact with myself that I wouldn't self-publish until I had my three pro-level sales that qualified me for SFWA membership, since it would put a boot into the argument that a self-publishing writer is a writer who couldn't sell their work elsewhere. If I was able to join SFWA, I was obviously not a hack, and the whole quality argument doesn't apply. As is, the biggest boost to my sales has come from adding six letters to my writer bio: "Analog" which is the largest Science Fiction short story magazine in the world. Self-publishing long fiction and selling short fiction to magazines goes together really well. These days, the majority of magazines deal with their submissions within a month, so you can burn through them pretty quickly, and each time a story sells, you have extra exposure and street cred to go with it.
What is the best and worst part of being an indie author?
PJ: The best part is the feeling of control. Not so much being precious about your words, but about control of what happens to my work and when it is released to readers. The worst part is being 100% exposed to the vagaries of the market. One week you'll have excellent sales, and then suddenly it just… stops… completely… dead. You wonder if there is a reason, and you worry that sales will never return.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned on the road to publication?
PJ: Keep writing new stuff. Are you trying to sell stories or novels traditionally? Your chances are hugely improved if you write something new over fiddling with the same manuscript to the nth degree. Sales of self-pubbed book not what you hoped? Put up something new and they may lift. Or not, but even so, there is no point in trying to desperately force sales for something that doesn't sell well. If you get the opportunity to promote something, always promote your bestsellers.
Of all the characters you’ve created, who is your favourite and why?
PJ: Of all my works? Oh, that is a hard question. I have a favourite in each of my works. In the Icefire Trilogy, I love Loriane for her quiet determination even though life has dealt her a harsh fate. I also love Sady, although he doesn't appear until book 2. He is such a tragic case of always having played second fiddle to everyone.
Earlier drafts of Watcher's Web were totally derailed by the domineering entry of the character of Iztho Andrahar, whom I absolutely adore. He's one of these quite old-fashioned, rigidly consistent people with iron will and meticulous work ethic. He's also as blunt as hell, and underneath it all lives an artist who hates his job with a passion.
I tend to like secondary characters a lot, because you can afford for them to remain slightly mysterious and that makes them excellent for ratcheting up tension.
Still on the subject of writing styles, are you a plotter or pantser? The readers would like to know if you tend to plot out your story line in great detail or if your writing is more organic with the characters and events unfolding as you write.
PJ: I'm a pantser extra-ordinaire. As you may know, I sold a crime-space opera novel to a local small press (Ambassador, out in August 2013). This book started as a note for a scene. One day, I was discussing the UN with one of my online friends (who, incidentally, had worked for the UN), and I had an idea for a scene. Cory Wilson is the main character of my kids book The Far Horizon, and I wanted to do something with him as adult. The scene involved Cory sitting across the desk from an important politician. They were talking about some political stuff that was pretty boring, but outlined the conflict and background for a story. If I "outline" I do so by writing a scene with two characters talking to each other about the conflict. Anyway, while I was writing down this utterly bland conversation, someone outside the politician's office decided to make things more interesting and threw a bomb in through the window. I spent the next four drafts trying to find out who did it. That novel was the ultimate exercise in pantsing and I loved every bit of it. Outlining bores me to death.
Some authors meditate, others need to fuel up on coffee or listen to music. Do you have any rituals, ones that can be shared with the readers, that you must do before you hunker down for a writing session?
PJ: I drink a lot of coffee, but basically, I need silence. I can’t stand noise when I'm writing.
At one time or another, most writers hit the wall and their work stalls because of the dreaded writer’s block. What do you do to get around or over this mental wall to resume writing?
PJ: I have no idea what writer's block means to me personally, and cannot see myself ever suffering it. Probably about once a week, I hit a wall with a particular manuscript, but this is why I always work on two or three things at the same time. When I've run out of juice with one project, I pick up another and continue with that for 1-3 weeks before going back to the first project. Or I look at the first project again and I think BLLLEEEAAARRRGGHH and go and work on a third project. Ah, this is also what's great about self-publishing: no deadlines. I've always been pathetic with deadlines. I'd have OODLES of stuff finished… in fact everything, except what I was supposed to be doing.
Who is your favourite author and how has he/she inspired you to write or influenced your writing style or choice of genre?
PJ: My favourite author is C.J. Cherryh. I don't talk about her books in terms of how they have influenced me. I wrote what I did before I discovered that she also writes what I like to write and read. It's magic to discover a writer whose fiction encapsulates your interests in a way you wish you would have written yourself. These days, I buy all her books in hardcover on the day they come out.
What do you foresee in your future over the next five years and do you hope to branch out from fantasy and sci-fi into other genres?
PJ: I am on track for releasing on average two novels per year. I finished the Icefire Trilogy this year, wrote two novellas (one of which sold to a traditional press), and hope to finish another book by Christmas. This will be hard SF-cyberpunk, in the world of my shorter works Luminescence, The Rebelliousness of Trassi Udang, Charlotte's Army and His Name in Lights all of which are character-led hard SF (trying to make a point here: people keep saying that hard SF has no character). Regular readers will recognise in the novel some of the characters from all of these works. Next in the pipeline will be Trader's Honour, a standalone sequel to my most successful self-published work, my soft SF novel Watcher's Web. At some stage soon I expect my publisher to hit me with revisions for Ambassador, and after I have dealt with those, I might write a few short stories to go on the magazine submission circuit. Besides these, there is also the Willow Magic novel to complete (this follows my fantasy story Whispering Willows) and a YA novel based on my short story Where The Plains Merge With the Sky (Scapezine Sep 2011). As you see, I have way too much to do to even consider other genres!
Thank you very much for joining us today to discuss your writings and the writing life, Patty! I’ll catch you on Twitter.
For more information about Patty and her novels and short stories, check out:
Follow Patty on Twitter: .pattyjansen
Where to buy the book:
Book 1 of the Icefire Trilogy:
B & N: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/fire-ice-patty-jansen/1106913144?ean=2940032801214
(I'll love you if you buy it on Kobo. Seriously!)
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