Interview with Deborah J. Ross

December 16, 2016 at 9:00 pm | Posted in Author Interview | Leave a comment
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This week’s post in an interview with fantasy and science fiction author Deborah J. Ross. Enjoy.

Debbie Ledesma: Please introduce yourself to our readers and tell us how you got started in writing.

Deborah J. Ross:  I have written and edited fantasy and science fiction for over 30 years. My recent novels include Thunderlord (with the late Marion Zimmer Bradley), Lambda Literary Award Finalist science fiction novel Collaborators (as Deborah Wheeler), and an epic fantasy trilogy, The Seven-Petaled Shield. My short fiction has appeared in Asimov’s, F & SF, Realms of Fantasy, Star Wars: Tales From Jabba’s Palace, Sisters of the Night, and Sword & Sorceress. I’ve edited a number of anthologies, including Lace and Blade, Across the Spectrum, Mad Science Cafe, and Stars of Darkover. Along the way, I served as Secretary to the Science Fiction Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) and am currently on the Board of Directors of Book View Cafe. When I’m not writing, I knit for charity, play classical piano, and study yoga and dog training.

How I got started in writing? Well before I learned to scrawl my name, I made up stories, and once I could form proper words and pictures to accompany them, I began putting together whole books. My father was a printer, and our home was amply supplied with paper and ink. In my teens and twenties, I began many novels, even finished a few of them, but never knew what to do with them next, nor did I know any writers beyond a few school friends who were just as clueless as I was. I knew I loved to write, and I occasionally dared to hope that someday, my writing would be more than a secret pleasure.

In my early thirties, just after my first child was born, I hit career burnout and decided to work part-time from home. A friend invited me to join a women’s writing group. Although none of us knew what we were doing, I came home from the first meeting so exhilarated that I drafted the story I’d been playing in my head for the last year. No one told me it was crazy to write a novel in 6 weeks with a new baby and a part-time career. The real break came in 1991, when I lived in Lyons, France. A couple of months after I returned to the States, I sold my first novel.

DL: What authors, Fantasy or otherwise, influence your writing?

DR: The list is very long! Some of my favorite contemporary authors include Barbara Hambly, Mary Rosenblum, Lois McMaster Bujold, Sherwood Smith, Carol Berg, Freda Warrington, Jennifer Roberson, Chaz Brenchley, Judith Tarr, Vonda N. McIntyre, Ursula K. Le Guin, Charles Stross, Saladin Ahmed, Diana Wynne Jones, and Tanith Lee. I love authors who give me a new way of thinking about story or language. Once it was possible to keep up with who was writing what, but the field is so large now, I’ve given up trying. I rely on the advice of friends whose taste I trust. It’s hilarious when a friend hates what I love and vice-versa, so I go for whatever they pan. When I go to a science fiction convention, I try to buy at least one book by an author I have just met but have not yet read.

DL: What genre is your favorite to write?

DR: I’m interested in a lot of different things and write for readers who are, too. My first two novels, Jaydium (an adventure through alternate time paths, complete with six-foot silver slug-like aliens) and Northlight (set on a lower-tech world, with romantic, ecological and spiritual themes) were science fiction. Besides seven Darkover novels, I’ve written epic fantasy featuring strong women heroes, science fiction dealing with gender and power, and some rather oddball young adult fiction that turns the usual paranormal tropes inside out.

My short fiction has provided me a place to be wildly inventive. I’ve written a Star Wars story (Tales From Jabba’s Palace) and whimsical fantasy, vampires (funny ones in Sisters of the Night, or a friendship between a vampire and an observant Jew in “Transfusion” in Realms of Fantasy), I’ve done kids’ stories (in several Bruce Coville anthologies), and almost-not-science-fiction pieces about grief and obsession and courage, grim near-future dystopic sf, and epic fantasy. Then there’s wacky stuff like “Harpies Discover Sex” for Olympus. A historical fantasy based on the life of Dona Gracia Nasi and another from the Indus Valley civilization. A story for Marion in Return to Avalon, based on the history of opera. My most recent short fiction has included “Among Friends” (F & SF) about Quakers, the Underground Railroad, and a slave-catching automaton, “A Borrowed Heart” (F & SF), which pits a prostitute against a succubus, and “The Hero of Abarxia” (When the Hero Comes Home 2) in which the hero, of course, is a horse.

DL: I’m always fascinated with Fantasy that has mythic themes. Do you use themes from mythology in your books?

DR: Not consciously, although I borrowed shameless for “Harpies Discover Sex” (Myth Fantastic, reprinted in Beyond Grimm: Tales Newly Twisted, Book View Café). I do frequently draw on archetypes for depth and resonance, although I may change them. The wise old (male) mentor becomes the middle aged (female) mentor, that sort of thing. Archetypes are valuable because they draw upon very deep psychological processes. Myths are culturally-specific, so although we might find stories from a different time or place entertaining, they don’t move us in the way they affect the people who gave rise to them. Archetypes seem to be universal and hence are more powerful.

DL: You also write novels set in Darkover the creation of the late Marion Zimmer Bradley. Is it difficult or easy writing stories in another author’s world?

DR: Writing Darkover stories is much like writing historical fiction. I do research, using not only Marion’s published work, but The Darkover Concordance and her articles in the old Darkover newsletters. I try to create story lines that are true to Marion’s vision of Darkover and the themes that were meaningful to her. Since I work closely with the MZB Literary Trust, I hammer out a detailed outline before I start. Once that’s approved, I turn the process over to my creative back-brain. Because I’m not trying to distort my own intuitive style, I can then write from my heart.

DL: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

DR: Writing is both craft and art. You already have the dream. Now you have to learn the craft. As exciting as the prospect of publication is, if you’re in this for the long haul, be patient. It takes time and work to achieve excellence. There are so many aspects of success you’re powerless over, but the quality of your work is one you do have control over. I wrote a series of essays about nurturing yourself as a writer as you wrestle with the skills, called Ink Dance: Essays on the Writing Life.

Read voraciously, and read the best writing you can lay your hands on.

Pay attention to what lights you up inside.

Study everything besides writing. History, astronomy, human biomechanics, African languages, oceanography, ancient runes, Balinese music, ballet, medicine, fashion design, dog training, walrus training, platypus training, whatever strikes your fancy. Once you have something to write about, something you care passionately about, then pay attention to the craft.

Meanwhile, write every day, even if it’s crap. A crappy manuscript can be revised and edited, but a nonexistent one will never become better.

DL: Thank you very much.


Interview with Diana Pharaoh Francis

October 11, 2015 at 8:07 pm | Posted in Articles, Author Interview | Leave a comment
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Diana Pharaoh Francis is a fantasy author of several books. Here books range from epic fantasy and urban fantasy. She is here today to talk about her writing and books.

Debbie Ledesma:  First, welcome to Fantasy Worlds. Let’s start with why did you decide to become a writer? Was it hard getting published?

DPF:  I never decided to become a writer. At least, nothing that organized. I didn’t know I could write until I was leaving high school, and then I started writing really bad poetry. And for the record, the notion of ‘could write’ doesn’t mean that I thought I was talented or anybody would read me, just the notion that I could actually put words down and make things out of them.

When I got into college, I took my first creative writing course, which was terrible. But it also gave me the notion that I could turn words into stories. I’d always been a storyteller my whole life, but I’d never committed anything to paper in that way. So after that, I started writing. I couldn’t stop. If I had to pick a moment when I started to be a writer, it was then—when I not only started writing regularly, but I couldn’t stop.

DL:  What authors, Fantasy or otherwise, influence your writing?

DPF:  Like most writers, I’m a magpie. I collect stuff from everywhere. From road signs to cereal boxes to T shirts. Everything influences my writing. That said, I can point to Charles Dickens’ Bleak House as a particular influence on my Crosspointe books. Julie Czerneda’s Turn of Light made me want to find my own sense of wonder again in my magical worlds. I read a ton and I admire a great many authors. I will from time to time try to emulate some of the techniques they use. I especially love when a writer uses action and physicality in a deft way to communicate a wealth of detail in a conversation. I think Laura Anne Gilman’s latest book, Silver On the Road, does this incredibly well.

DL:  How long did it take you to write your first book and how long did it take to get that book published?

DPF:  Ah, now you’re assuming my first book got published. In truth, it didn’t. My first book is an awful romance that I hand wrote in my lunch hours sitting in my car over the course of a year. That was in 1989-90. It’s my trunk novel. The first book of mine that got published was Path of Fate. Since it’s a much better book, I’ll tell you about that one.

I’d been working on this very long fantasy novel (almost 200,000 words and still not finished) when a friend of mine called me up and said, “Want to write a book in a week?” Um, wha–?  Was my inarticulate response. But it was something that had come out of the romance world. It was this idea that for one week, you can strip your life down so you can focus entirely on writing. You can take time from the day job, you can ask the spouse or other family to take care of the house, kids, chores, and so on. The idea it that you will focus on doing nothing but writing for 24/7/7. At the end of the time, will you have a finished book? Some, maybe. But you will have a chunk of something that you’ll either like and want to continue, or that you’ll decide isn’t going to work. No matter what, you’ve only lost a week.

I agreed, and started the idea that had been banging around in my head, which was Path of Fate. I didn’t write it in a week, but I did decide I liked it. It took me another seven months to finish, and then I had people read it and comment and eventually submitted it out and Roc purchased it. From when I started writing to acceptance, it was about 18 months. From there, it was about another year to publication.

DL:  Do you have a favorite character in your books? Which one and why?

DPF:  Oh goodness. I like a lot of my characters. Good and bad. I don’t think I have a particular favorite, but if I do have to pick one I love a lot, it will be Max from the Horngate Witches books. She’s tough, and yet vulnerable. She’s built friendships without trying, without really wanting to. She see’s attachments as weakness/vulnerabilities that will most definitely be exploited, but she ends up making those attachments anyway. She’s strong enough to open herself up to pain, even when it’s guaranteed. And she’s really funny and snarky and morbid. I do adore her.

DL:  I’m always fascinated with Fantasy that has mythic themes. Do you use themes from mythology in your books?

I don’t typically set out to incorporate themes. Mostly they just show up. I’ve always been interested in the question of—who puts their lives on the line for others? First responders do it all the time. Why? What drives that willingness to sacrifice? That service? That unselfishness?

I’ve also been interested in thresholds. Between worlds, between who you are and who you were and who you will be, between the old and new, between freedom and slavery, and so on. Do people cross those thresholds intentionally? Do they trip and fall over them? Do they fight the crossing? What cost is there to thresholds?

I often hear bits of Victorian poetry pop into my head that will guide me in characters. Bits from Yeats, from Hardy, Tennyson, Browning, and so on. Often those snippets are dark and full of doubt.

I’m not sure that answered your question. I’m not seeing mythical themes in my work, but I wonder if you do? So much is unconscious . . .

DL:  What themes or modern day issues do you include in your works that you want to share with readers?

DPF:  In the Horngate books, I questioned whether all the disasters we were looking at were intentional—that someone really was out to get us. In the Crosspointe books, I’ve been looking at colonization, and whether the bad guys are really the bad guys, and how much depends on your perspective and place in history. In the first book, I paint the Jutras people as monolithically bad. They are the evil horde come to overrun everybody. But as the books progress, you find they are individuals, and they have really good reasons for what they’re about. One question that always bothered me in terms of history was this: if you’ve been dominated and oppressed for centuries, is violence in fighting your oppressors warranted? And by oppressed, we’re talking genocide and theft of lands, heritage, and all the stuff that comes with colonization.

DL:  Movies are a different medium, but do you think any of your books would make a good movie?

DPF:  I try not to think of that. With all the cool movie effects now, I think they could be made into good movies, but frankly, my books tend to be on the longer/more complicated side and might make better mini-series. It sure would be fun to see them on the big screen, though. And maybe a little terrifying.

DL:  Why did you choose the Fantasy genre to write in?

DPF:  It’s crazy, but I can’t seem to keep magic out of my stories. I can’t tell a straightforward story without a magical element. My head doesn’t work that way. So I’d answer that question by saying Fantasy chose me, rather than me it.

DL:  Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

DPF: Write, persevere, and remember that all advice is subjective and may not work for you. So do your homework. The industry is changing by the second and you have to keep up if you want to be published. That said, improving your craft is the best thing you can do for yourself as a writer. Practice and improve.

DL:  What books and/or stories are you working on for the future?

DPF:  The third Diamond City Magic book will come out in January 2016. It’s titled Whisper of Shadows. I’m also working on a cool new series about magical exterminators. It’s romantic and funny and full of action. The first one is called The Box Job. Then I’ve got the last Crosspointe book to write, and there are two more Horngate books planned. Oh, and I’ve got a story in The Weird Wild West anthology coming out in November or December.

DL:  Thank you for your time.

DPF:  Thank you, for having me here today!

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