Sunday, 9 December 2007

Author Interview - Joshua Palmatier

The Skewed Throne
The Cracked Throne
The Vacant Throne (coming in January)


> Pitch your latest novel OR the first novel of your series.

A millennium ago, the city of Amenkor was caught in the White Fire, a mysterious force that swept across the land spreading madness, drought, famine, and disease. Now the White Fire has blasted through Amenkor again, and as the city begins an inexorable downward spiral, it is up to Varis—-a gutterscum thug from the slums of the city—-to stop it. Trained as an assassin, and with hidden magical talents of her own, she must break free of the diseased slums and ascend to the city proper to face the true power in Amenkor: The Skewed Throne.

Only the throne is waiting. And it’s insane.

> What are your favourite three books (not by you, either in the field or out of it)?

Elfstones of Shannara by Terry Brooks
Song for Arbonne by Guy Gavriel Kay
Stone of Farewell by Tad Williams

> In the books you've written, who is you favourite character and why?

Um, well, it would have to be Varis. She's the main character of the three novels I've written, so I've spent the most time with her, gotten to know her rather well, perhaps too well. I like the fact that she's learning and growing throughout the series; I like her practicality; and I like the fact that she likes to get things DONE, now.

> What character is most like you?

This is a hard one, because there's a little bit of me in practically all of the characters. But out of all of them, I'd have to say Varis again. Not because I grew up in the slums, alone and starving, and then became trained as an assassin, but because in the process of writing Varis, I constantly asked myself what it would take for me to be pushed to the point where would kill someone. What would it take for ME to step beyond that invisible line? Once I figured that out, I'd use that to push Varis, further and further and further.
So in that sense, I see much more of myself in Varis than I do in any of the
other characters in the novels.

> If you could, would you change places with any of your characters?

Oh, hell, no! No matter how much we romanticize "medieval" times, it was a rather nasty, dirty, horrible place to live, and the mortality rate was extremely high. None of my characters really have what I would call a great life. I think one of the best aspects of my novels is that they ARE realistic. The world itself has a dirty, gritty realism to it, and the people in the novel react to that. That's not to say that there isn't any good moments in the novel either, but I think we currently live in rather sheltered times in comparison. And novels are all about strife and peril and overcoming what seem to be impossible odds. My life is eventful enough without adding additional strife and mayhem. *grin*

> If you could live in your fantasy/sf world, would you? Would you live in somebody else's?

I'd love to live on the Frigean Coast . . . provided it wasn't being attacked, starved, or in some other way made to suffer. I think almost any writer would say they secretly wish to build themselves a palace or castle on a hill and live there. Some of us have actually made enough money to do this to some extent. I've almost always lived on the coast, so naturally my fantasy world is currently centered around coastal regions.

If I had to choose someone else's world to live in . . . I'd live in Anne McCaffrey's Pern. A pet dragon would be nice.

> What was the first novel (published or unpublished) that you wrote and how long did it take to write it?

The first novel I wrote, not currently published, was called "Sorrow". It's set in the same world as the Throne books, but with a completely different cast of characters, on a completely different coast. I wrote the first draft over the course of high school and the first few years of college. It's hard to tell exactly how long it took. When I hit grad school, I started revising it. I ended up revising it four or five times over the next few years. So in the end, it probably took me 5 years to get the current draft down. I've become much quicker at the writing and revising game since then of course.

> What was the hardest scene for you to write?

Probably the hardest scene for me to write would be in the second novel, "The Cracked Throne." I can't really talk about it much without giving away a significant portion of the plot of the book, but the scenes that are hard for me to write almost always involve some type of strong emotional reaction. The most interesting parts of novels to me aren't the battles or the magic or plot elements, but how the characters react emotionally to all of those elements and how those elements make the characters change and grow. How does the battle effect the beliefs of the main characters? How do they handle the death and loss of friends and family? How do they handle betrayal? These reactions are what interest me as a writer, and also what give me the most problems writing. Because they're hard to capture, and even harder to create and make believable.

> What is the strangest question you have ever been asked by a fan? OR Share an interesting fan story.

*snort* Ok, the strangest question I've ever been asked by a fan was at my first official signing, the day the first book was released. I was at Flights of Fantasy, a bookstore in Albany, New York, and the reading/signing was going really well. I opened up the floor to questions from the audience and after a few standard types of questions that I'd expected, the owner of the bookstore, Maria Perry, asked me, "Why doesn't Varis have a pet? She needs a cat or something to keep her company."

I was caught totally off guard and honestly didn't know what to say. My mind was completely blank. But after a moment of silence, I guess I started channeling Varis or something because I said, "Because . . . she'd eat it?"

The room burst into laughter of course, but I was being serious! Part of Varis's life is the fact that she's living in the slums, and realistically, in the slums you're fighting to survive. Any kind of animal--cat, dog, rat, pigeon, whatever--would be viewed as a food source. This didn't exactly make Maria happy (she's a cat lover). She's asked me at every signing I've given at the bookstore since then, but so far Varis hasn't had the luxury of having a

> What was the most fun book signing, convention, etc. you've attended and why?

Ah, the absolute best book signing, convention, and event (all rolled into one) was the Zombies Need Brains party that a group of fellow authors threw at the World Fantasy Convention in Saratoga Springs, New York. It was a total blast! I think it was fun because there was no pressure from me or the other authors to be anything other than ourselves. We weren't reading from our books, it wasn't a "staged" event in any way, nothing. We simply invited anyone at the con to come and enjoy some free drinks and food, and if they wanted to buy books and get them signed there were some available. It was an extremely relaxed (and loud and hot and . . .) event, and completely exhausting for us hosts. But well worth it. Because it was totally casual, I could chat with fans and prospective fans and be completely at ease, laughing and joking and whatnot. It's the most fun I've had at any writing-related event I've ever been to.

> If you still have one, what's your day job?

Oh, I most definitely still have a day job. Only the most successful writers have the luxury of not working at another job, unless they're being supported by a spouse or significant other. I support my writing habit by teaching mathematics at the College at Oneonta, part of the State Universities of New York system. I teach during the fall and spring semesters, and do most of my writing during the summer months and the break between the semesters.

> What is your university degree in?

I have a Bachelor's of Science, a Master of Arts, and a Ph.D. in mathematics. I wrote fantasy during all of those degrees in order to keep myself sane. When the strict logic and structure of the math became too frustrating, I'd take a break from it all and escape to the fantasy worlds I'd created. And when the writing came grinding to a halt for whatever reason, I'd go back to the math. It balanced itself out rather well.

> Do you think it is easier to write fantasy or science fiction?

I think it's easier to write fantasy, although neither one is particularly easy to write. Fantasy requires that you craft a world so well that it becomes totally believable to the reader, no matter what magical elements that world may contain. Convincing someone--even someone who's willing to suspend their disbelief--that something magical is real, and that it will work in that particular world, is extremely difficult. You're doing essentially the same thing in science fiction, except that instead of establishing a whole new world, you have to use the known rules of this world to create something completely believable for our possible future. In both, you're working hard to convince the reader that everything is REAL.

> When and where do you write?

I write whenever and wherever I can typically. I have a desk where I do most of my writing, with nothing much on it except my laptop, a notebook for notes, and a stack of CDs. I always write to music (although none of the music has lyrics; I can't write with someone singing actual words in the background). I usually turn the computer on, put in the earbuds, pop in a CD, and open up the file and write. This usually happens during the day, when most everyone else is at work, including my partner. However, I've also gotten up early to write before work (rarely), and stayed up late at night (more likely), when on a particular deadline. I've basically written enough that I don't need a particular schedule or a particular place in order for the words to flow.

> What's the best/worst thing about writing?

The best thing about writing is the complete submersion of myself into the world and the characters that live in that world. I want to make the world as real and believable as I can for the reader, and in order to do that I basically have to LIVE there, even though that isn't really possible. Once I put those earbuds in and turn on the music, I sink into the world and it just comes alive to me. The only thing that feels better is when I've finished the novel. I usually emerge from the story with a sense of euphoria that's impossible to describe.

The worst thing about writing is the middle of the book. That's usually when all of the serious doubt about whether the story is going to work, whether it's going to be good, etc, kicks in. It's often called the "muddle" by writers, because it seriously feels like you're muddling through, that the book sucks, that it's going nowhere, and so forth. It's depressing. Even when you know that you felt the same way during the LAST book, you convince yourself that this time it's different, that this time it's going to be a disaster, that you can't salvage anything from the crap that you're writing, etc. It's the exact opposite of the euphoria of finishing the book and knowing that it's good.

> What is something you didn't know about the publishing industry before you had your first book published?

I didn't know that in the publishing industry the author is the last to know. Seriously. The author (and the editor and publisher as well) pretty much are in the dark about how the book is being received. Sure there are reviews here and there, and you always hope for critical acclaim, but for the most part you don't hear from the majority of the people reading the books. It's like a silent void that you throw your book into and wait intently for an echo . . . and you get nothing. It's rare that the author hears from fans, so you don't know if they like it or hate it, or what. And you don't know how well it's selling. Not even a year after it's been out. You know if it's selling HUGE amounts, but if you're not on the bestseller list . . . then you just don't know. So I didn't realize to what extent the author is in the dark about the whole process once the book has left the publisher's warehouse.

> Do you have any advice for hopeful authors?

I'll give hopeful authors out there the same advice that I got as a "hopeful author" from Kate Elliott: persistance and patience. Those are the two key elements for anyone trying to get published. You have to be patient, because nothing in the publishing industry happens fast, even when you've already been published multiple times. Things are slow, responses are slow. And when you do get a response, it's generally a rejection, which is where the persistence comes into play. More than likely, you'll get lots and lots of rejections before you get an editor to say yes and buy your book. It's depressing when those rejections come in, but you just have to persist and send that novel out again, to the next person on the list. Eventually, someone will say yes. If not to the current book, then to the one you write next. I wrote four complete novels before I got someone to say yes.

> Any tips against writers block?

My only suggestion against writer's block is to write. It sounds stupid, but I think the key is that you have to realize that every writer, no matter how accomplished, no matter how many books they've written, writes crap on occasion. So you have to allow yourself to write crap. When writer's block hits, you have to force yourself to sit down at the computer or paper or typewriter and just write. And don't worry that it all might be horrible, horrible garbage, just plow through it. What I've found in the past with my own writing is that often when I go back and reread all that crap I've allowed (or forced) myself to write, there are usually a few really good ideas hidden inside of it. And those ideas are what you're searching for, and what will get you through that block.

> How many rejection letters did you get for your first novel or story?

Ugh, I can't even count them all. I used to have an entire folder of them. A rather thick folder. But during a move I decided I didn't need to keep them anymore and so trashed them. But I can safely say that it was over 50 rejections, for various short stories, but mostly for the novels. Remember I went through three other novels before someone finally said yes to the fourth. Getting rejections from both editors and agents for each of those books . . . the rejections pile up. So if you've already got a nice stack of rejections in your own little folder, don't fret. Almost every writer out there could plaster their entire house with their rejections.

No comments: