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Author Interview: Deborah J. Ross

Deborah J. Ross writes and edits fantasy and science fiction. Her work has earned Honorable Mention in Year’s Best SF, Kirkus notable new release, the Locus Recommended Reading List, and James Tiptree, Jr. Award recommended list, Finalist for the Lambda Literary Award, and nominated for the National Fantasy Federation Speculative Fiction Award for Best Author, the Nebula Award, and the Gaylactic Spectrum Award. She’s a past Secretary of SFWA and currently on the Board of Directors of Book View Café, an online writers coop. Please welcome her to No Wasted Ink.

Author Deborah J RossI grew up in California and Oregon, coming of age in the 1960s, so of course, I grew my hair long, protested everything, and have the tie-dyed t-shirt to prove it. I accumulated various academic degrees, including a BA in Biology from Reed College and an MS in Psychology from Portland State University, before realizing the true “work of my heart” was storytelling. Now I live in a redwood forest with my family, which includes three cats and a retired “seeing-eye” German Shepherd Dog. In between writing, I’ve lived in France, worked as a medical assistant to a cardiologist, taught parent-child gym classes at the Y, revived an elementary school library, studied Chinese martial arts (tai chi and kung fu san soo), classical piano, and yoga.

When and why did you begin 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.

How did your writing relationship with Marion Zimmer Bradley develop?

Somewhere around 1980, I wrote Marion a fan letter. To my surprise, she wrote back, three pages of single-spaced typewriting. I’d been studying martial arts and we began a correspondence about women’s empowerment, story-telling, family, and a host of related topics.
At that time, the Friends of Darkover held periodic writing contests and published its own fanzine. I sent her a couple of stories and received encouraging comments (and, as I remember, an award for one of the stories and eventual fanzine publication of the other). When Marion began editing the first Sword & Sorceress, she suggested I submit a story for her. I was as elated by the invitation as if it had been a sale, and threw myself into writing the best story I could. It was a modest little story, a respectable first professional sale, but more than that, Marion showed me that I could take my writing seriously.

When I submitted a story for the second volume, Marion telephoned me. “Now Deborah,” she said, “I’m going to take your story, but I’m sending it back to you for revisions.” With that, I made the leap from all-or-nothing sale-or-rejection to working with an editor. My manuscript came back covered in red ink, with comments like, “All thuds are dull!” and “Overwritten.” Don’t just fall in love with your words, she was saying, make them serve the story.
Marion didn’t buy every story I wrote, but she saw most of them. More editorial notes followed, although not as extensive as that first round. I like to think I was improving, but it may also have been that Marion understood when outside critical feedback is helpful, and when the act of writing itself, story after story, is the key to development. She often said that the first million words are practice, and I was well on my way.

With my first novel sale (Jaydium, a science fiction adventure through time and parallel worlds, complete with gigantic, intelligent silver slugs), and short fiction sales to increasingly prestigious markets (like Asimov’s and F & SF), I came into my own.

Over the years, we became friends as well as colleagues and editor/writer. My natural authorial “voice” was close, although not identical, to hers. Toward the end of her life, hampered by a series of strokes, Marion worked with in collaboration several other writers. I was one of the writers she considered because she had watched me develop from a novice to an established professional. We discussed the basic details by mail and then I drove up to see her for a personal chat. She’d been resting and was on oxygen, but she insisted on sitting up when I came in, and soon we were deep in discussion of plot ideas. One of my best memories of her was watching her “come alive” as we discussed character and hatched plot points. Her eyes “glowed as if lit from within,” to use one of her favorite descriptions, and energy suffused her whole being. I asked question after question and then sat back as she spun out answers. It was as if she had opened a window into her imagination and invited me to peek inside. She died before we started the actual writing (The Fall of Neskaya, Zandru’s Forge, A Flame in Hali). and I went on to write three more (The Alton Gift, Hastur Lord, The Children of Kings), and there are more to come.

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.

Can you share a little about your current book with us?

My most recent Darkover novel is The Children of Kings, an action-adventure set in the Dry Towns, featuring Gareth Elhalyn, Regis’s grandson, and some nasty space pirates bent on turning Darkover into a smuggling base. I just turned in the next Darkover novel, Thunderlord, a sequel to Hawkmistress, in which the son of the defeated Lord Scathfell plots revenge by marrying a girl from the Rockraven clan, noted for their ability to control storms and lightning. It’s scheduled for an August 2016 release from DAW, under the dual byline with Marion Zimmer Bradley.
Other recent publications include the Lambda Award Finalist Collaborators (under my former name, Deborah Wheeler), and an original epic fantasy trilogy, The Seven-Petaled Shield (in which women get to have heroic adventures), all of these from DAW.
In terms of editing, I’m wrapping up the anthology Realms of Darkover. Once that’s done, I’ll dive into the next novel, The Laran Gambit, which continues the “modern” timeline and brings Darkover and the Terrans back into conflict, er – contact – in a clash between machine-mediated mind control and natural laran Gifts.

What authors have most influenced your writing in addition to Marion Zimmer Bradley? What about them do you find inspiring?

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.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

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.

Children of Kings Book CoverDeborah J. Ross
Boulder Creek CA

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Cover artist: Matt Stawicki
Publisher: DAW Books

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Author Interview: Tom Gondolfi

No Wasted Ink is proud to present an original, approachable science fiction and cyberpunk author with so many stories in his head that he can’t hope to publish them all…short of becoming one with the singularity. Please welcome, Thomas Gondolfi.

Author Tom GondolfiMy name is Thomas Gondolfi, owner of TANSTAAFL Press and author of Toy Wars and the CorpGov Chronicles.

I’m a father of three, consummate gamer (board or role-playing) and loving husband and claim to be a Renaissance man and certified flirt. I was raised as a military brat, I spent the first twenty years of my life moving to a new place every few years giving me a unique perspective on most regions of the United states.

Educated as an electrical engineer and working in high tech for over twenty years, I have also worked as a cook, motel manager, most phases of home construction, volunteer firefighter, and even as the personal caregiver to a quadriplegic.

I’ve been writing fiction for over thirty years and doing it professionally for at least fifteen. Most of my short stories have been commissioned for use in gaming products, such as Babylon 5 Wars and Star Fleet Battles. I’ve honed my abilities through writing well over a million words.

When and why did you begin writing?

I started in high school. I had a friend who took creative writing and threw down the gauntlet that he had written the longest story his teacher had ever received and received nothing but As through his class. I couldn’t let that pass. I wrote two works longer, got consistent As and had the teacher tell me I should write for a living. I continued to write and finish my first novel in high school. As you can imagine it was awful. Along the Paths of Dreams had ever cliché, and mistake a writer can make. But I learned from each dreadful painful scene.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

I finally felt I’d made it when I finished Toy Wars and the yet to be published novel Wayward School. I’d already been paid for a number of short works but to me it was a novel that make it work. I didn’t really feel I was an author until I had a number of people who purchased it and gushed over it.

Can you share a little about your current book with us?

The Bleeding Edge – CorpGov Chronicles: Book Three is the culmination of a war that began in Thinking Outside the Box. As a funny side note, I’d intended Thinking Outside the Box to encompass all of the material in both books but as I got close to the end of my outline (about 300 pages) for TOTB I realized that I’d mistakenly summed up an entire war in two outline bullet points. I tried to make it fit anyways but it rang hollow. I knew I would have to do yet another book to make it work. So TOTB ended up being the political lead up to the war and The Bleeding Edge was the war in all it gory.. I mean glory.

What inspired you to write this book?

If we assume Thinking Outside the Box and The Bleeding Edge as a single book, the reason I wrote them as a follow-up to An Eighty Percent Solution was that I could never understand why power blocks around the previous junta would sit still after a successful coup. The Bleeding Edge itself is to show how a badly one-sided conflict can suddenly turn and go the other way as in what happened to Germany in WWII. In our more highly technical society the flip could be so much faster.

Do you have a specific writing style?

My style varies from series to series depending on the needs of the book. Toy Wars is 1st person with a great deal of mentation on the part of the main character. CorpGov Chronicles is third person following a different character (including the bad guys) for each few page segment of the story but maintaining the flow of the story.

How did you come up with the title of this book?

All the titles of the CorpGov Chronicles are corporate catch phrases. In this case it is too appropriate. The Bleeding Edge is the vast amounts of money required by businesses to stay on the forefront of technology. In this case it is more literally referring to the blood spilled in a war of aggression.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

I’ve said this many times in my author’s note. I write for entertainment, not to forward a social agenda. I do have many personal/political opinions, many of them very strong. However, I don’t use my writing as a venue for shoving them down others’ throats. You want to talk to me in person about something, I’ll be more than happy to disillusion you that I might have all the answers.

Are experiences in this book based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

No. I’ve never been part of a coup or been part of a guerrilla organization.

What authors have most influenced your life? What about them do you find inspiring?
The name of my publishing company, TANSTAAFL Press, should be a clue. Robert Heinlein influenced me in a number of ways including the opinions I’ve mentioned earlier. It seems ironic that I wouldn’t forward the messages Heinlein wrote about in my own works but I’ve always believed that people should have the chance to look at their surroundings and choose. Why should I be trying to inflict my will upon anyone else?

If you had to choose, is there a writer would you consider a mentor? Why?
Steve Kay. You’ve likely never heard of him unless you watch Voyager closely (he has two story credits there). He was forced to delay his burgeoning career because of twins. Steve taught me that talent doesn’t equal craft. I always had talent. I needed to learn craft. There is a quote of his I use with new authors… “You don’t know what you are doing until you have written a million words.” It took me many years to learn the truth behind this simple statement but now I can’t emphasis it enough.

Who designed the cover of your book? Why did you select this illustrator?
Two different people you are talking about. Illustrator was Tony Foti an exceptional commercial artist that is easy to work with and reasonably priced. The cover design was yours truly.

Do you have any advice for other writers?
It may be trite but Write. Independent Review. Rewrite. Publish!

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
I can’t do any of this without your help and support. I will remain approachable, always. I’m just a person and the moment my head gets too big my wife will pop it with the story of the cooler on the banister (ask me some day for a chuckle).

Bleeding Edge Book CoverThomas Gondolfi
Yelm, WA

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Author Interview: Tom Wright

Author Tom D Wright lives in the Puget Sound area with his wife. When he’s not writing Science Fiction, he works in IT for a prominent IT company in Seattle. Tom is also privileged to serve on the board of the Cascade Writers, a writer’s conference dedicated to providing educational seminars and workshops for those interested in writing and publishing original works. Please welcome him to No Wasted Ink.

Author Tom WrightI live in the stunning Pacific Northwest and support my writing obsession with a day job in the IT industry. Although I have worked in technology for a couple decades, I got my Masters degree in Counseling Psychology at Bowie State University. Since I could not afford the huge pay cut to change careers, now I just provide therapy for my characters; but like most clients, they don’t pay attention and just do whatever the hell they want.

My wife and I have a cat who doesn’t listen either, and a small pack of dogs. At least the dogs listen to me.

When and why did you begin writing?

I first began writing in my teen years, and it grew out of my love of reading science fiction. Throughout my childhood I voraciously consumed all the Edgar Rice Burroughs, Andre Norton, Robert Heinlein, Anne McCaffrey, Robert Silverberg, Ursula K Le Guin and Isaac Asimov I could lay my hands on, just to name a few. While reading, I would spin up stories of my own and began trying to put them down on paper, which is always much harder than you expect.

That came to an abrupt halt in High School, when an English teacher gave me a scathing response to a creative writing assignment. My creative side shut down for decades until I started challenging my self-limiting beliefs, and began writing again about ten years ago.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

The first few years after I resumed writing, I spent learning the craft and creating drafts that were more exercise than art. It was when I completed my first short story that I considered myself a writer, because atrocious as it was, I had an actual work of art.

Can you share a little about your current book with us?

I describe The Archivist as a post-apocalyptic “Indiana Jones” type of story, so you can expect a fast-paced adventure tale, with romance, twists of misfortune and wry humor sprinkled throughout.

Beyond that, it is about a man struggling to reconcile with what he has lost, and the cost he must pay to get it back. It is also the story of people trying to build lives in a broken world; one that evokes either the best or the worst in humanity—and that we all choose which path to take.

What inspired you to write this book?

The seed for the story came when I listened to Bob Seger’s song, “Turn The Page” and decided to write a story that captured that feeling of perpetually being on the road, thinking about someone left behind and constantly moving from place to place. My first opening wrestled with a character traveling from planet to planet, so I localized the setting to a post-apocalyptic Earth, thirty years after the sudden and complete collapse of all technology.

But who wants yet another gloomy doomsday novel? So I drew from Thomas Cahill’s book, How The Irish Saved Civilization which makes the case that Ireland, being (relatively) isolated out in the Atlantic Ocean, escaped much of the turmoil of the Dark Ages and thereby preserved the knowledge which later fueled the Renaissance. Similarly, in The Archivist, a group called The Archives has established a base on a remote island and sends out representatives called Retrieval Archivists, to recover and retrieve the knowledge and technology which will one day spark a Second Renaissance.

Do you have a specific writing style?

My writing style varies from piece to piece, depending on what the story demands. For instance, The Archivist is written in First Person Present Tense, and this is the only piece before or since which uses that particular POV. For some inexplicable reason this story demanded it, but in general I would say that my prose strikes a balance between providing enough description to bring color to the tale, while leaving room for the reader to envision it in her or his own way.

How did you come up with the title of this book?

The main character, K’Marr is a Retrieval Archivist and when in the field, is simply referred to as an Archivist.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

Many post-apocalyptic stories end with a dark outcome. While The Archivist does have some rather dark, indeed disturbing moments where I acknowledge that there is evil in the world, I also wanted to make the case that there is much good as well. And the biggest challenge that good faces, is not to give up.

Are experiences in this book based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

There are numerous anecdotal elements scattered throughout, woven into the tapestry of the story, but my lawyer tells me they are all coincidental.

What authors have most influenced your life? What about them do you find inspiring?

A few authors that particularly influenced me were Ray Bradbury with the enchanting tales he wove, Alastair MacLean with his blend of action and suspense, Robert Heinlein’s elegant use of voice and narrative, and the way Anne McCaffrey used world-building.

If you had to choose, is there a writer would you consider a mentor? Why?

I would have to say the late Jay Lake. During a panel at a conference, he said that if someone wanted to be truly serious about the craft of writing, you had to practice it every day. When I took his advice and started a one-hour commute (each way) to work on a train, my writing improved by quantum leaps. His advice transformed my work.

Who designed the cover of your book? Why did you select this illustrator?

The artwork was done by J. M. Martin, who is not only a prolific writer himself, but does a damn good book cover! As far as why, you would have to ask my publisher but I don’t really care because it is an amazing cover.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

I would give this advice to any creative person. Do not give up something that is your passion. If the demands of life force themselves upon you, as they will, put your passion on the back burner—but never take it off the stove.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

Never, ever ever let someone else define who you are and what you are capable of. I spent way too much of my life defined by self-limiting beliefs which I allowed others to impose on me. And always be generous—it costs little to be kind, but it costs your soul to be mean.

The Archivist Book CoverTom D Wright
Tacoma, WA

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Publisher: Evil Girlfriend Media

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Author Interview: LJ Cohen

When not doing battle with her stubborn Jack Russell Terrier mix  or hanging out with her lab/hound mix, LJ can be found writing, which looks a lot like daydreaming. She writes SF, Fantasy, and YA novels under the name LJ Cohen.  Please welcome LJ to No Wasted Ink.

Author LJ CohenMy name is Lisa Cohen, but I’ve gone by “LJ” for some years now, because of how common my name is. In fact, if someone calls out ‘Lisa’ in a public space, I’m likely not to answer, since it’s probably not me they are looking for. I’m a 50-something geek (raised on Star Trek, Doctor Who, and The Prisoner). I’m a physical therapist by training which means I can maim and injure my characters very realistically! 27 years ago, I married to my college sweetheart and we have two emerging adult sons. I’m also a poet, ceramics artist, and local foodie.

In addition, I have a habit of taking in strays – animals and people, included – which is how we’ve ended up with our shelter dogs and housing several international students over the years.

When and why did you begin writing?

I’ve been writing since I realized that the stories I loved were actually created by real people. I was one of those students who, when assigned to write vocabulary words in sentences, wrote them in complete stories instead. I’m certain my teachers were less than impressed by my efforts.

Most of what I wrote in my earlier life was poetry. Later, during my near-25 year stint as a physical therapist, I wrote research papers and textbook chapters. It wasn’t until I turned 40 that I tried my hand at long-form fiction.

And that was my husband’s fault. We are both huge readers of genre fiction and when we were on family holiday, he ended up getting disgusted by the book he was reading. He threw it (literally – this was before eReaders) across the bed and demanded that I write a book, since I could write better than that.

So I did. At the time, I thought it was the best thing since sliced bread. Thank goodness it was well and truly trunked. :) But I caught the novel bug and kept writing – a book a year over the next 11 years.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

When I was a senior in college, I entered several of my poems in the University’s annual writing contest. I did it because I knew I had no chance of winning and entered to placate a friend of mine who wouldn’t stop pestering me about it. One of my poems was chosen to win the Dean’s Prize. Knowing that something I wrote had the power to move a group of judges who selected it from all the blind admissions was fairly momentous.

Can you share a little about your current book with us?

My most recent publication is ITHAKA RISING, book 2 in the Halcyone Space series of SF/Space Opera stories. While the series has an overarching narrative, each book is a complete and stand-alone story. I’m currently drafting book 3.

The quick and dirty version: Secrets from an old war risk the lives of Halcyone’s crew as they search for one of their own.

The slightly longer blurb:
A derelict ship and a splintered crew are not the rewards Ro had hoped for when she helped disrupt her father’s plans to start a war with smuggled weapons. But with the responsibilities of full citizenship and limited resources, she’s forced to take her father’s place working as an engineer on Daedalus station while she and Barre try to repair their damaged freighter, Halcyone. Barre’s brother, Jem, is struggling with the disabling effects of his head injury, unable to read or code. His only hope is to obtain a neural implant, but the specialists determine he’s too young and his brain damage too extensive.

When Jem disappears, Barre and Ro race to find him before he sells his future and risks his mind for a black market neural implant. But locating The Underworld along with its rogue planet Ithaka has political consequences far beyond what Halcyone’s crew imagine, pitting Jem’s life against deadly secrets from a war that should have ended forty years ago.

What inspired you to write this book?

I love ensemble pieces and some of my favorite SF series include Firefly and Farscape. Both shows inspired my desire to write a multiple POV space opera novel. The germ of the idea for book 1 DERELICT was something I had filed away a few years ago about a group of students on a space station, some of whom were the privileged children of diplomats, others the children of station employees. That idea changed significantly until the only thing left was a group of teens on a space station, all of whom wanted to be elsewhere.

While I was drafting DERELICT, it was pretty obvious that there was more to the story than a single novel, and the series was born.

Do you have a specific writing style?

Above all else, style-wise, I strive for clarity in my work. While I was a poet long before I wrote my first novel and use the skills and tools of poetry, I don’t consider my writing style to be ‘flowery’ at all. (My poetry also tends to be spare.) I work to be specific in word choices and choose/create metaphors and similes that come from the deep POV of each character. If I do my job right, readers won’t notice the writing style and simply become immersed in the story.

How did you come up with the title of this book?

Titles are hard. Honestly. I have a completed novel on my computer that’s named YAGSIP. Which stands for Young Adult Ghost Story in Progress. 3 years later, it still doesn’t have a name. DERELICT was easy. The story revolves around a derelict freighter that the characters resurrect. I struggled with finding a title for book 2 for months after the draft was finished. I had included a lot of references to Greek mythology in both books (in this story, one character uses his music to hack into The Underworld to rescue another – a nod to Orpheus, but with siblings), even naming one of the planets Ithaka, after Homer’s fictional Island home of Odysseus. After struggling with hundreds of potential titles that called to different elements in the Iliad and the Odyssey, ITHAKA RISING was the one that stuck. Now I can’t imagine any other name for it.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

I tend not to set out to write any particular message in my work, but several themes seem to be consistent and persistent. Both books explore themes of trust and identity. If there are messages I’d like readers to take away, it’s that trust is the basic currency of all relationships, that all relationships begin with trusting yourself, and that you get to choose your own identity.

Are experiences in this book based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

While the story of a Commonwealth of Planets, wormhole space travel, AI controlled ships, and a hidden black market are products of my unrestrained imagination, the character of Ro is (very) loosely modeled after my college roommate. I gave Ro some of her prickly personality and her single-minded competency, as well as her deep desire to connect with others, despite her fear of it. Barre is even more loosely based on a composite of my two sons, one of whom is a musician.

What authors have most influenced your life? What about them do you find inspiring?

The first author that rocked my world was Madeline L’Engle and the book was A Wrinkle in Time. I ended up reading all of her books for both children, and later adults. She never considered there to be any significant difference between her ‘juvenile’ books and her straight fiction or between her fantasy and realistic novels. It wasn’t until I was much older and writing my own novels that I realized how singular her attitude was. And she never talked down to younger readers, always believing that it was actually more difficult to write for them. I continue to be inspired by her large body of work and the fact that she wrote her entire life, right up until her death.

If you had to choose, is there a writer would you consider a mentor? Why?

I have had many writing mentors in my life. Jeffrey A. Carver and Craig Shaw Gardner were both significantly influential in my maturity as a writer and I found their wisdom and their guidance through their “Ultimate Science Fiction and Fantasy Workshops” invaluable. Wen Spencer encouraged me to keep writing during the tough times and disabused me of any preciousness about the process. Lynn Viehl is my model for someone who is drop dead professional at all times and is incredibly respectful to her fans. She’s also enormously generous with her time and her support.

Who designed the cover of your book? Why did you select this illustrator?

Chris Howard is the cover artist for both Halcyone Space books. He is a writer/artist I met in the writing workshop taught by Jeff and Craig. When I saw his work, there was no doubt in my mind that he would be the right artist to capture the heart of these stories. They both still make me catch my breath.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Surviving as an artist means riding the roller coaster between elation and despair. Finding ways to keep your perspective is essential. And there’s no substitute for creating a work schedule and process that gets you to ‘the end.’

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

A book isn’t complete until it’s read and takes its place in the reader’s imagination. I hope that I have created stories that will speak to you. And thank you for making room for my characters in your world.

Ithaka Rising Book CoverLJ Cohen
Boston, MA

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Cover Artist: Chris Howard
Publisher: Interrobang Books

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Author Interview: Shauna Roberts

Although Author Shauna Roberts writes in several genres, readers can expect a similar experience from all her books and novellas: “Unusual times, remarkable places.” Readers can rest assured that whatever the genre, her works are well researched and anthropologically and/or archeologically plausible, and the setting will be accurate, detailed, and a character in the story. Please welcome Shauna to No Wasted Ink.

Author Shauna RobertsHello, “No Wasted Ink” readers! Thanks for visiting today. I’m Shauna Roberts, a retired medical and science writer and editor who is now writing fiction—fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction, and romance. I love to read all kinds of books: the genres I write and also mystery, history, science, biography, gardening, and cookbooks. I enjoy gardening; playing and listening to Medieval, Renaissance, and folk music; and doing yoga and bellydance. I grew up in Ohio and am currently living in Southern California, but my home is New Orleans.

When and why did you begin writing?

I think I wrote my first short story in second grade. Over the following years I volunteered for various club newsletters, and I sold my first short story in 1986. That one was a fluke; I didn’t sell another story for ~15 years.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

I took a job at the (now-defunct) Journal of NIH Research as a production person in 1989. It was a start-up magazine, and everyone did a little of everything. One of my responsibilities was writing the column on biotechnology techniques and methods. When my first column passed muster with the editors, that’s when I felt myself a real writer.

Can you share a little about your current book with us?

Ice Magic, Fire Magic is an epic fantasy with romantic elements. It’s about a woman who has a genetic defect that prevents her from doing wrong. She lives in a sentient land, which chooses her to be its next liaison—the Servant—with the two species of humans in the land. She doesn’t want to be Servant, and she doesn’t think she’s qualified for the job. Still, she sets out for the capital, because it’s the right thing to do, only to find that people are trying to kill her.

I stuffed the book full of the tropes and themes I like best—an ancient prophecy, women’s magic vs. men’s magic, the nature of love, the nature of duty, secret passages. There are also magical creatures and an ancient spirit of pure evil.

What inspired you to write this book?

Over the decades, I often thought about the good Kirk/bad Kirk episode of Star Trek. I was never satisfied with the conclusions. My original idea was to explore whether a good person was at a disadvantage as a leader. Then I wondered whether “a servant of the people” could actually act as a Servant to the people she led.

Do you have a specific writing style?

I try for different effects in different works, and I adjust the style (particularly in nonfiction) to the audience. Even so, I believe there are some constants that people might notice in every work.

How did you come up with the title of this book?

When I was thinking about titles, I stumbled across a diagram showing the most popular words in fantasy book titles for the previous year. Wanting to choose a title that would attract readers and signify that my book was a fantasy, I studied the diagram. “Ice,” “fire,” and “magic” were among the most common words in fantasy titles. My novel includes a lot of magic, has a predominant theme of complementarity, and includes magical creatures called firehounds and icedragons. I tried out other combinations of popular words, but came back to Ice Magic, Fire Magic—short, sweet, and evocative.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

There are several messages. One is that people of integrity can be leaders. Another is that one can’t stereotype handicapped people; people react in different ways to being physically different from the norm. A third is that it’s important to know the past. And a major one message: society benefits when people are not all alike. For example, in Ice Magic, Fire Magic, women’s magic and men’s magic complement each other, and the two species of humans complement each other.

Are experiences in this book based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

Probably everyone knows people who treat their loved ones disrespectfully or thoughtlessly. I drew on various relationships I’d witnessed for insight into the characters who betray someone they genuinely love.

More specific to my own life is that I was born with birth defects that made me stand out when I started school. (As an aside, that helped me develop a tough skin early, which has served me well as a writer.) Also, my mother’s family was Pennsylvania Dutch; they dressed differently from everyone else I ever saw and had different customs. I was aware of differences and thinking about the meaning of them from a very young age.

I started Ice Magic, Fire Magic in a “Book in Two Weeks” challenge, and to write faster I used the generic and grossly overused faux–Medieval England. Through many, many drafts, I fumbled about trying to choose a better setting. Then it struck me: I had based the forest and the waterfall on the Glen Helen preserve near Antioch, Ohio. I realized that setting the story in southwestern Ohio as it might have been with a different history would be cool. I did tweak several things; for example, I moved the volcano from the Indiana-Ohio border and made it much younger (and thus not only visible but very tall).

What authors have most influenced your life? What about them do you find inspiring?

My aunt, Janet Louise Roberts, demonstrated both that it takes a long time to become established as a writer and that one can make a good living writing popular fiction. As a result, I grew up with an accurate perception of how one becomes a fiction writer, expecting neither instant success nor guaranteed poverty.

If you had to choose, is there a writer would you consider a mentor? Why?

Many members of the Southern Louisiana and Orange County chapters of the Romance Writers of America have helped me over the years. Almost everything I know about the nuts and bolts of writing I learned from the RWA and its members.

Who designed the cover of your book? Why did you select this illustrator?

Tom Vandenberg did the art for the cover. He had done previous covers for my publisher, Hadley Rille Books, and we thought he would do a good job for Ice Magic, Fire Magic. (And he did!)

Do you have any advice for other writers?

When a story comes back with a rejection letter, send it out again the same day. Keep writing new things, read many books about the craft and structure of novels, and join a critique group or get feedback some other way. My Aunt Janet said, “The first million words are just practice.” Be patient during the years it takes to write those million words.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

I encourage you to sign up for my new newsletter. There will be contests to win bookstore gift cards, news about my newest publications, and brief mentions of recent reads I’ve enjoyed.

Ice Magic Fire Magic Book CoverShauna Roberts
Riverside, California

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Ice Magic, Fire Magic

Cover Artist: Tom Vandenberg
Publisher: Hadley Rille Books

AMAZON