Hey Space Cadets, how’s everyone doing today? I’m doing amazing, busy taking care of my wife as she recovers from her concussion post-accident. Sorry I didn’t post my blog yesterday, but I was exhausted and just forgot. I’m getting back on the writing horse and if I can swing a measly 15k words this month I’ll call it a win! One final note before we delve deep into the forest of Raven Oak’s writing interview, I’ll be attending RavenCon at the end of the month. If you’re there, look for the fat guy that looks like Santa shaved his beard!
Now, let’s get right to the point of my latest blog posting! Yes, I’ve gotten bit by the interview bug! That being said – here is the next installment of SciFy Friday! I put my weed whacker to work and found Raven Oak! Now grab your popcorn and enjoy the ride!
Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls, Children of All Ages,……
First, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?
I’m a bestselling science fiction and fantasy author best known for Amaskan’s Blood (2016 EPIC Awards & Ozma Awards Finalist) and Class-M Exile. I’ve got several short stories in anthologies like Untethered: A Magic iPhone Anthology and Magic Unveiled. I spent most of my K-12 education doodling stories and 500 page monstrosities that are forever locked away in a filing cabinet. When I’m not writing, I’m gaming, indulging in cartography, or staring at the ocean. I’m also a former public school teacher and live in the Seattle area with my husband (he works for Bungie) and our three kitties who enjoy lounging across my keyboard when I’m working. Like right now. G93he-wjew.
Well hopefully your editing guru can help translate the cat’s writing back into English! Until then, you’ll just have to persevere! What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
I was a music composition & theory major in college before I changed majors to English/education. And just to throw another topic into the mix, my Master’s is in computers. I also had my first graphic design job at fifteen, so I have a varied background in many different fields outside of writing.
I’ll go out on a limb and assume that if you write books you also enjoy reading them. What other genres do you enjoy reading, and how have they affected your writing?
I read most widely in speculative fiction, which influenced me the most growing up. The idea of what-if and why made my brain buzz. I didn’t like that the adults around me couldn’t answer those “big life” questions such as “Why are we here?” and “What if magic used to exist?” Okay, maybe that last one isn’t such a big life question, but still—my childhood self wanted to know! SF/F not only allowed me but it encouraged me to think outside the box and ask every question I could think of.
Outside of spec-fic, I read a lot of mystery and mythology. I read some general or popular fiction, but not a ton. Too cliché and ham-fisted for me. Mystery on the other hand encourages my inquisitive nature, much like speculative fiction does. One of my stories in Joy to the Worlds: Mysterious Speculative Fiction for the Holidays entitled “Ol’ St. Nick” is a closed-room mystery in space involving a mobster Santa. I enjoy taking the structure of whodunits and tossing it into a science fiction or fantasy setting. Lots of fun. Plus, who doesn’t love the idea of Santa as a mobster?
Who are your biggest writing influences?
Definitely Connie Willis, Neil Gaiman, Patrick Rothfuss, Melanie Rawn, and Anne Bishop. They write so succinctly and with such flair. They could write a phone book, and I’d buy it.
Who are your favorite authors and books?
My favorites include those names above—specifically American Gods by Neil Gaiman, Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis, the Kingkiller Chronicle by Rothfuss, the Dragon Prince series by Melanie Rawn, and the Black Jewels series by Anne Bishop.
What is your preferred writing style?
Whatever style tells the story best. Yes, authors all have their own styles, but inside of those styles, voices and such shift depending upon the story one is telling. If I’m writing humorous space opera, my style is slightly different than when I’m writing epic or general fantasy.
How did figuring out what your preferred writing style was?
Discovering what my style was meant writing and writing and writing some more until I discovered it.
When did you get serious about your writing?
At sixteen. No, really. I wrote a 300 page novel in 6th grade, but that was for fun. When I was in high school, I began attending professional writing conferences and was involved in a critique group full of published and not-published adults who also wrote SF/F. I’ve known since I was very young that I wanted to be a writer. The only way to do that was to be serious about it, so I did. But a lot of what I wrote in high school was immature drivel, so I didn’t really begin writing as an adult for publication until about my late twenties.
What is your current novel? Tell us a little bit about the premise?
I’m currently rewriting and revising Amaskan’s War, Book II in the Boahim Series. Book I, Amaskan’s Blood, came out in 2015. The best comparison I’ve ever received was from another author who said it was like “if George R. R. Martin wrote [Disney’s] Tangled,” which is an apt description for this fantasy novel. The main character (Adelei) is an Amaskan, a sort of holy assassin who protects the Little Dozen Kingdoms and its people. She’s a typical cocky 19-year-old who’s sent into the hands of the Amaskans’ worst enemy, her father. Lots of political intrigue, world-building without taking five pages to describe a table leg, and self-discovery.
But being about sci-fi, I’ll give you some tidbits on a space opera of mine called Class-M Exile. The main character, Eerl, is a Tersic (alien race) who studies extinct humans via old Earth videos, specifically westerns. He thinks everyone talks with a bad Texas drawl, so he talks like that too. Then he stumbles into a human and they go off on an adventure that teaches them both that nothing is as it seems. I really wanted to look at prejudice from a different perspective than the typical “humans good, aliens bad” angle. I’ve been told by many that it’s very Douglas Adams (Hitchhiker’s Guide) meets Firefly.
I’m also doing rewrites on the first in a space opera trilogy due out Winter 2017/2018 entitled The Eldest Silence, which is set in the same universe as Class-M Exile. It, too, deals with prejudice in space.
The Eldest Silence is part of a series, so where can we expect it to go?
It’s going to be a trilogy and like most things I write, it’ll be humorous with some darkness to it. The main character, Captain Kris Berstenfin, isn’t going to make it out of the war completely unscathed, but she’ll learn who she is and how to love in ways she never imagined.
Where did you find the inspiration for Class-M Exile?
When I was in middle school, I met a girl who was the complete antithesis of Texas (where I lived at the time). She was a feminist and liberal (both sins in the Bible belt) but also an atheist who played with tarot cards. She was the child of a single mother, who arrived at school amidst a car full of dogs and cats. Her first day of school, it was like a stampede of afraid kids as they reacted to this girl sporting tons of hair braids, pentacles, and hippie-style clothes. I like to tell people that this was a town where even the Catholics pretended to be Southern Baptists. You were either a church-goin’ Christian, or you were Satan himself. It didn’t take long for them to jump into bullying and harassing her. Ostracizing her. She became one of my best friends and introduced me to the world of science fiction and fantasy. I am the writer I am because of her, and I wanted to tell her story.
Your characters from Class-M Exile are sent into a gladiatorial death match. Who wins?
Mel. She’s fiesty.
What do you listen to while you write? Or do you prefer silence?
I have mood/setting-based playlists I created in iTunes made up of wordless songs. If it has words, I’ll sing along and not write. I mostly pull from movie or television scores. If I’m writing a sad scene, I’ll plop on my “sad writing” playlist, which is made up songs that evoke a sad emotion in me. Helps me write.
What is the most embarrassing thing you’ve looked up in the name of research – or what do you think the government has maybe flagged you for?
What haven’t I been flagged for? I’ve looked up how to poison someone and how that poison would react in zero-g and with no oxygen, how to fire a revolver and a pistol in an oxygen-less environment, medieval-era feminine hygiene products/methods, how to weave on the large looms of the 1800’s, and the difference between a bottlery and a buttlery.
What was your favorite part of writing Class-M Exile?
Eerl’s proclivity for bad American puns and how to get them wrong.
Which actor/actress would you like to see playing your main characters from Class-M Exile?
I know a lot of authors give this thought, but I haven’t! Eek! Um, Eerl’s a three-legged, multi-eyed, multi-nosed alien who always tells the truth, so I don’t know that it matters too much who plays him. Someone who can fake a bad Texas drawl. I’ve heard Keanu Reeves is hideous at a southern accent so maybe? For Mel, we’d need to go back in time as I’d want a really young Daryl Hannah.
Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured?
I write full-time, so my entire day is filled with writing activities. I usually write on the current Work-In-Progress in the morning, then revise on another project in the afternoon. After I hit my word counts or page counts, the last thing I work on is promotion/marketing/social media.
Do you aim for a set number of words/pages per day?
I have a minimum of 1500 words per day in terms of writing. In terms of critiquing works for others or revising works, I tend to aim for two-hour’s work.
When you develop your characters, do you already have an idea of who they are before you write or do you let them develop as you go?
A mix of both. Some characters pop into my head completely formed, but sometimes I start writing and they have other ideas about who they are.
How did writing Class-M Exile differ from your writing your previous novels?
I was at a writing workshop with Sci-Fi Grand Master Connie Willis and Chris Barzak, who wanted us to take a real life event and flip it on its head. I took that moment when my friend stepped out of the car and people fled, and turned it into the opening scene of Class-M Exile. The story grew from there, but it’s essentially my thoughts about how everyone is capable and guilty of prejudice. I would hope that people would look a little deeper at themselves and their own misconceptions and prejudices, to learn that we share more in common with “Them” or “Others” than we think. It was the first time I’d had someone I admire as an author encourage me to finish something I’d just started that day. It certainly lit a fire under me to do just that.
If Class-M Exile had a theme song what would it be?
Honestly, I can’t think of one particular song that fits the book, but I did listen to the Robin Hood: Princes of Thieves score a lot while writing it.
Amaskan’s Blood is full of many amazingly talented characters and I imagine it was really fun to create some of them, but which one was your favorite and why?
Definitely Adelei. Being an Amaskan, she’s trained in multiple forms of combat, but she also carries a belief set that reminds me of Buddhist monks. Because she’s nineteen, she has the flaws of youth while carrying a great weight on her shoulders. Flawed characters are the most well-rounded characters and the best to write. She’s so badass and yet so vulnerable.
What advice do you have for writers who are just starting out?
Find time to write every day. Even if it’s five minutes. Even if it’s via voice recordings on your phone while on the bus. Get in the habit of writing regularly and stick with it.
Also, write for yourself. Tell the stories you want to see in the world, the ones you want to read. If you write on the hopes of striking it rich or playing the market, you won’t be happy. If you’re not happy writing, your readers won’t be happy either.
I hope you enjoy this little conversation, and if you want to find out more about Raven Oak then follow the rabbit trail to their warren in the Internet! If they don’t like it, beat ‘em with a carrot and keep on truckin’!
Raven Oak’s Social Media Platform:
Until next time, stay frosty and don’t forget to keep your powder dry!
–> As usual, all images came from the Google’s “labeled for reuse” section or are screen shots taken by JR Handley and used under the Fair Use Doctrine.
–> Some of these interview questions were inspired by my good friend TeacherofYA, and are used with her permission. If you have kids who love to read, she’s the girl who’ll make the literary introductions! You should check her out, after a lifetime of reading, your kids will thank you.