Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Interview with Mindy Klasky

Mindy Klasky is the author of nine speculative fiction novels, including MAGIC AND THE MODERN GIRL, the third volume in the Jane Madison series, about a librarian who discovers that she's a witch. You can learn more about Mindy at her website - www.mindyklasky.com - including reading chapters from each of her novels.

Available at Amazon, Powell's and most online and bricks-and-mortar bookstores.

Why this book? What made you want to write this story?

I started writing the Jane Madison series because I wanted to play with a world that was light and fun, with a clearly defined supernatural influence. (I had just finished the dramatic, dark, magic-less Glasswrights Series, along with a trunked novel about a world-destroying conspiracy of evil-doers who torture children, murder scholars, and do other depressing dastardly deeds.)

Despite the lighter tone, Jane confronts some serious questions in the books - most often about the nature of friendship and family. MAGIC AND THE MODERN GIRL was specifically sparked by my interest in how friendships change over time, particularly as we get older and more settled, losing some of the angst that cements some ... younger relationships. I think that it's the perfect conclusion to the Jane Madison Series, wrapping up loose ends, while letting readers envision a future for their favorite series characters.

Which authors inspire you? Has that changed over time?

I have always enjoyed authors who build incredible characters, giving them realistic plots through which to navigate. Over time, my list of favorite authors has evolved to include more Young Adult authors (such as Justine Larbalestier and Scott Westerfeld.) I find myself veering away from authors who take political stances that I find distasteful, particularly when their politics stray into their storytelling. (Orson Scott Card? I'm looking at you!)

Why genre? Is there something special about science fiction or fantasy that draws you to write in the field?

I love the opportunity in genre to answer the "what if" questions. I could certainly write a searing indictment of contemporary culture, drawing on "ripped from the headlines" stories about spousal abuse, abandoned children, tortured prisoners, etc. I find it more intriguing, though, to structure my inquiries in speculative terms. Readers free themselves to think more broadly when the framework for their thoughts is patently impossible. Jane Madison readers can ask themselves about their relationships with their mothers, grandmothers, best friends, and romantic interests without needing to cut too close to the emotional bone. Readers are less defensive and more expansive when they are freed from the direct constraints of the real world.

What do you find most interesting about Jane Madison?

Jane is a bundle of contrasts and insecurities. Usually, she knows what she should be saying and/or doing; she just doesn't remember to state those words or take those actions in the immediacy of the moment. (Her judgment is even more impaired when the men of her dreams are around....) I enjoy structuring Jane's foibles - mostly because she is, at heart, an educated, eloquent, strong woman who acts in her own best interest and in the best interest of those around her. (That action becomes even more challenging in MAGIC, when Jane meets her true love, only to find that "the course of true love never did run smooth.")

You're a writer. What else are you? What are your interests? Hobbies?

I've been a lawyer and a librarian. I'm a wife, a daughter, a sister, and an aunt. In between juggling all of the professional and familial hats, I am an avid reader, a cat-wrangler, a baker, a quilter, a movie-watcher, a Boston Red Sox fan, and a scrapbooker. (Basically, I can't just sit and watch TV; I need to have something in my hands. I get most of my quilting done during the World Series.)

Did you have to do any special research for this book? What did you need to know in order to write it that you didn't know before? Do you have some special preparation you do for writing?

For each of the Jane Madison books, I've conducted a lot of "spot" research, doing quick online searches for information about specific crystals, individual runes, and other magical paraphernalia. Jane and her best friend often quote Shakespeare, challenging each other to identify the play, act, and scene. I usually start out knowing the quotation, but I need to research the specific reference. MAGIC is heavily tied to Shakespeare's THE TEMPEST, so I re-read the play in preparation for writing this volume. I can't write without a live connection to the Internet (although I have to restrain myself from checking my email every twenty-seven seconds!) In the rare times that I've tried writing without an Internet connection, I leave myself cryptic notes (e.g., "Find Stomach Crystal.")

I see a lot of food, especially baking, in this book. Is that something that really interests you? Or is it more driven by the needs of the story?

I've always enjoyed baking, although I am almost always dieting. Creating the Cake Walk bakery gave me a chance to indulge my sweet tooth in low-caloric ways!

This fall, my baking interest is going to grow beyond the four corners of the Jane Madison series: I'm launching a charity calendar that will include some of the Cake Walk recipes, along with favorite recipes from a variety of paranormal, urban fantasy, and mystery authors. All profits will go to First Book, a charity with the mission of getting underprivileged children their first books to own. (Details will be posted on my website shortly!)

Jane's best friend, Melissa, goes on numerous disastrous first dates throughout the series. Do you have your own share of first date disasters to tell?

Every one of Melissa's horrific dates has a seed of truth in one of my own first dates. (In one horrific year, I went on 28 first dates - a record that convinced me that I was perfectly happy to live the rest of my life alone. A couple of years after swearing off dating, I logged on to match.com (in response to prompting from my concerned, married brother.) I reluctantly completed my dating profile, clicked on "match" and the first profile that came up belonged to the man I married 17 months later.)

What are you writing now?

I've started a new urban fantasy series, the As You Wish Series. The first volume, THERE'S THE RUB, will be in stores in October 2009. It's about a stage manager who discovers a magic lantern with a wish-granting genie inside. Alas, her wishes don't go precisely as she plans....

Anything else that we should know about you, your writing, and the Jane Madison Series?

In addition to selling the Cake Walk recipe calendar, I am raising money for First Book by auctioning off a stunning, handmade necklace-and-earring set inspired by the Jane Madison series. The glass jewelry was created by a prominent librarian and jewelry artist specifically for this First Book fund-raiser. Details (including pictures of the incredible themed jewelry) will be posted on my website on October 1; the auction will close on October 31.

Thanks for taking the time to ask these questions! I hope that people will stop by my website and/or email me any questions at mindy@mindyklasky.com.

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

Hal Spacejock Book 5 ...

... is a goer. Just spoke to my publisher and it's full steam ahead for a (hopefully) 2009 release.

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

New Hal 1 review

Just spotted a new Hal Spacejock review, this one on the Contrariwise blog. One particular comment caught my eye:

The story is fun and fast-paced, a great book for a quick read or for a younger reader who can appreciate humor, slight cursing, and poop jokes.

Go the poop jokes, that's what I say!

It’s an entertaining read, and I recommend it for anyone who loves deadpan narration and a few hours of frivolous fun in a science fiction world.

Don't delay, go read the rest of the review and see whether you agree with it. If you don't know whether to agree or not, download Hal Spacejock, read it, THEN go and debate the review.

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

Friday, September 19, 2008

Ebook piracy - is it really a problem?

As you may know, my publisher agreed to release the first Hal Spacejock novel as a free ebook in open, non-protected txt/rtf/html formats. Anyone can download it, read it, share it.

If you listen to some authors (and most publishers), this is akin to handing out blank cheques - a sure-fire way to destroy the book-selling business.

Personally, I'm convinced that ebooks are nothing more than preview trailers for the main feature. Sure, some people will read an ebook all the way through, but they're in the minority. And if they do read your novel from start to finish on a cramped little screen I guess that means they're enjoying the thing, which suggests they might recommend the work to others ... some of whom will prefer paper over pixels.

I don't have any sales figures to back up my 'ebooks damage you not' claim, since the first book recently sold out of its second printing (a third is planned) AND the ebook coincided with the launch of Hal 4. There was a spike in Hal 1 sales, but that hit a wall when the stock ran out.

However, I do have one very interesting fact to share. I recently drew three more winners in my monthly Hal Spacejock competition, and in the email which went out to everyone I explained that they could still download the first book for nothing. So which book did all three winners select, given a choice of Hal 1-4?

A copy of Hal Spacejock book one - the same title they can download for free.

Three people is hardly a big sample, but I was surprised even one winner chose the first Hal book. Why pick that one when the full ebook version is just a click away? Why not pick the second so they get two Hal novels for the price of one?

It does show that an ebook was of very little interest to the lucky winners, and that maybe ebooks aren't paperback-destroyers they're made out to be.

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

Friday, September 12, 2008

Query Project

I recently agreed to participate in Joshua Palmatier's Query Project, whereby a bunch of published authors reveal the sekrit handshake they used to get published, get an agent, etc. (You'll find links to a bunch of other posts at the bottom of mine. Follow them all for a different perspective!)

My route to publication was a unconventional, to say the least, and was mostly bereft of query letters, submissions and - let's be honest - common sense.

You can read the full story on my website, so I won't go over that again. Instead, I want to concentrate on the query letter I used after Hal Spacejock books 1 and 2 had been published, and immediately after I handed in the final manuscript for Hal 3.

Around this time (late 2006) I thought two things: one, that a prestigious US agent was shopping my novels around over there and two, that a major UK publisher was still considering them in England.

The catalyst for me approaching my current agent was this: the discovery that the US agent had written to my publisher six months earlier to say that the US publishers wanted to see the books do well in the UK before they'd be interested, due to the british style of humour. Somehow this message got lost, and when I heard about it I leapt into action.

Since the UK publisher was still (I thought) considering the books, I dashed off a quick query letter to the John Jarrold literary agency. John's based in England and I felt he would be ideally located to apply the thumbscrews over there. Immediately after clicking send I rang my publisher to explain what I was up to (they have world English rights to the Hal books, so any sale would be a sub-licensing deal), and I was still on the phone to them when John's reply came back, asking to see the first book.

A few weeks later I heard that the UK publisher in question had already decided against the book six months earlier, and had written to my current publisher to say so. That message also didn't get through. Despite this setback, I signed with John Jarrold and he's represented me ever since.

Anyway, this is a copy of the query letter I sent John Jarrold. Comments are in red.

Hi John, [Hey, I live in Australia. Formality is for Poms]

I'm the author of an SF/Humour series which is currently selling through bookstores across Australia and New Zealand. (The Hal Spacejock series, published by FACP - http://www.fremantlepress.com.au/ - and distributed by Penguin Australia - http://www.penguin.com.au/) [I felt it important to mention this up front. We're not talking self-published.]

I was born in the UK and moved to Australia aged 16, so the humour in the books is more Red Dwarf, Black Adder and Hitchhiker's Guide than Crocodile Dundee. [There's some bloody awful aussie humour around. Not Mick Dundee, necessarily, but it ain't Home & Away with a laughter track either.]

The first book was a Dymocks best-seller for three weeks on release, [So it's not a complete dud] and the second title has been out for just over three months. [So it's not had time to become a complete dud]. Book three entered production last week [ditto], and will be published across Australia and New Zealand in January 2007.

Earlier this year [IMPORTANT US AGENT] of [BIG US AGENCY] contacted me through my website [he'd heard about me via one of his clients, but I didn't mention that] and offered representation, but Fremantle Press have World English rights so I passed his query on to them. He showed the books to a number of NY publishers, without any result, [I didn't mention that I'd literally discovered this an hour or so earlier, a whopping six months after the fact] and Fremantle Press is now going to ship the books to the US where they will sell as imports through the existing distributor, ISBS. ([IMPORTANT US AGENT] said there would definitely be interest if Spacejock did well in another market first, but then you could say that about any book.)

That brings us to the UK, and the purpose of this email. Tom Holt was kind enough to give me a cover quote for the first book ('Better than Red Dwarf', amongst other nice lines), and on my suggestion Fremantle Press sent a copy of Hal Spacejock to [Big UK Publisher]. I don't want to leap boots-first into any negotiations, but I did wonder whether there's anything here for you.

To my knowledge, [Big UK Publisher] haven't decided one way or the other. [Absolutely true. Neither myself nor the publisher had heard a thing] I know these things take time, but I believe the earliest they could have seen Spacejock was October '05. [Nearly a year earlier]

I can't ask you to represent me for these books, since Fremantle Press already have World English rights, and any deal would be between them and a publisher. What I did with [IMPORTANT US AGENT] was to put him in touch with Ray Coffey at FP and they proceeded from there.

The situation is complicated by the fact [Big UK Publisher] are already looking at the first book - assuming it didn't fall down the back of someone's desk. [It hadn't, but I would eventually discover that the reply had]

I should mention that I'm currently writing the fourth book in the Hal Spacejock series, with two more planned after that. My contract with FACP only covers the first three with no option clause on any further works, and [stuff deleted].

On the writing side I've seen several of my stories in print (including one alongside Tom Holt in Andromeda Spaceways), and I won an Aurealis Award in 2000 for a short story. After that I turned to novels. [Never hurts to mention publication credits & awards. The Aurealis is Australia's premier spec fic award, but I didn't bother explaining. A quick Google search will show whether an award is notable or not.]

Hope I didn't go into exhaustive detail in my email. I wanted to lay the details out without taking up too much of your time.

Incidentally, although I live in Western Australia I was born in Croydon, [etc, etc, we're almost family, me ol' mucker, etc, etc]

[This is where coincidence plays a part. JJ wrote back to say he'd worked in a public library near Croydon in the 70's, and a couple of emails later we established this was the exact same library my mum used to take me to every week when I was a kid ... in the 70's. In other words, he was one side of the counter and I was the other!]

Simon Haynes

There you have it - one query letter (or rather, email). It worked for me, and you'll find a bunch of others here:

Paul Crilley
Chris Dolley
Diana Pharaoh Francis
Gregory Frost
Simon Haynes
Jackie Kessler
Glenda Larke
John Levitt
Joshua Palmatier
Janni Lee Simner
Maria V. Snyder
Jennifer Stevenson
Edward Willett
David J. Williams

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Does this mean I'm weird?

I love election telecasts - or rather, I love the ABC (Australia) ones. Come the Federal or WA State Election night I'll be glued to the PC, TV tuner card locked to the ABC and munchies & make-work at the ready.

Yeah, make-work. I'm not daft enough to watch the election coverage without SOMETHING to keep me busy. Tonight I'm packing Hal Spacejock fridge magnets & bookmarks for the hundred or so people who've requested them recently. (Follow the link to get yours - I'll even pay the postage within Australia.

Anyway, the coverage starts in about 45 mins, I have stacks of magnets, bookmarks and printed envelopes at the ready, and then it's on. Later in the night I'll have a second TV window open so I can watch the Formula 1 qualifying, so it's just as well I have two eyes.

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

Friday, September 05, 2008

Boring old hall cupboard? Not here.

I've just spent a busy week or so shifting the burglar alarm & network ports & file/webserver into the hall cupboard, freeing up the spare bedroom. The cupboard is on a corner, with a wall on one side and the door in the front.

Last night I was watching an old ep of Doctor Who and it hit me. Brilliant idea. I turned to my wife & said 'I'm going to turn the hall cupboard into a Tardis.'

She said 'Okay.'

You can see why we've been married 17 years.

Now, I wonder what Pantone colour Police Box blue is?

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Way behind schedule

I had it all planned out - 200m of new cat 5e solid core cable, wife & kids out for the day, everything ready to go. By the time they got home later I intended to have all 8 network ports rewired through the walls (dbl brick) & connected to the server gear which will soon reside in the hall cupboard instead of taking up the spare bedroom. I'm replacing the old paired cat 5 with 5e as part of the process.

So I start pulling up the first of the old cables, and the join breaks. And two hours later I'm still trying to fish the bloody end with a string & weighted hook, something I've done many, many times over the years with ease. It doesn't help that the waste pipe for the aircon runs along the top of the cavity, nor that the roof is in the shade & still damp, nor that the sunlight is in my eyes and the torch has no appreciable effect.

I've paused for brekky & a coffee now, and then I'll get that sucker pulled up the cavity if I have to use levitation.

For the rest, I'm going to solder the bloody joins in a lump. Watch THAT break.

Edit: 30 seconds after posting this I hooked the network cable on the first attempt. See, it DOES pay to whinge aloud.

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

Monday, September 01, 2008

Interview with Lara Morgan

Lara Morgan is the author of Awakening, The Twins of Saranthium Book One published by Pan Macmillan's Tor imprint on September 1 this year. Awakening is a fantasy novel set in the hot lands of Saranthium where the pact between serpents and humans is failing and the rumours of the return of the banished god of the serpents, Azoth, leads twins Shaan and Tallis into a journey they may not survive. It's good versus evil but one in which the lines between become increasingly blurred.

Awakening is Lara's first book and took over ten years to see the light of day which she thinks is not bad in the overall scheme of things. Lara has a BA in English, has travelled to many odd places and has been a gallery assistant, arts project manager and the consulting editor of a newspaper. She lives in Geraldton, Western Australia.

What was your inspiration for writing Awakening?
I started it so long ago it's hard to remember! But I don't think it was any one thing, the story grew very slowly from a small seed and changed a great deal along the way. I think one of the things I find most inspiring though is how people cope with being thrust into extraordinary circumstances and I like to explore that in the book. The characters have to deal with quite a lot.

Who are your favorite authors and books now and when you were growing up?
Some of my favourite books growing up are still my favourite books now, such as The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and The Narnia Chronicles. I was also addicted for a while to the Famous Five and I was wildly into Sidney Sheldon in my teens but that's a different kind of fantasy all together! Now I'd say one of my favourite authors is Ursula Le Guin. I never tire of reading her Earthsea books and am always amazed by her ability with language, she just writes so beautifully. I also love Isobelle Carmody, Sara Douglas, JV Jones, Scot Westerfeld, Fred Vargas, Donna Tartt, Juliet Marillier, Cormac McCarthy's The Road, Mark Twain, Geraldine Brooks ...the list goes on and on.

What is it about fantasy/science fiction that attracts you?
I think it's the attraction of a world less ordinary, a reality less mundane than the one I inhabit. I was always the kid who believed in fairies and was convinced there was something living under my bed at night and I don't think I've ever really grown out of it, I've just moved on to wanting to write about it and create my own strange worlds. I also think good fantasy and science fiction can go just as far in exploring the nature of humanity as any literary novel and I get as much satisfaction from reading someone like LeGuin as from reading Hemmingway, if not more.

Why did you decide to make Shaan and Tallis twins?
The twin idea came about because of the mythic significance of twins and also because of the powerful connection twins have, even when they grow up apart, and that is very important to the story, especially for Tallis. He feels a strong sense of something missing from his life until he finally meets his twin. And Shaan as well even though she wasn't as aware of it. Then again, I'm not entirely sure I decided to make my characters anything. I really feel that most of the time they are telling me what is going on and who they are, almost as if I am writing their history. It's as if Shaan and Tallis and their story already exist and I'm just the typist elected to jot it all down.

What (besides writing) do you do for fun?
Browsing in second hand bookshops - in fact I'm trying to convince myself it's a kind of sport. Travelling, especially to places with ruins, walking on the beach and of course reading, reading, reading garnished with an addiction for watching science fiction tv shows: Battlestar Galactica, Firefly, Buffy, Supernatural etc etc. I'm a total sucker for anything mildly speculative.

What sort of research did you do to write this book? What kind of preparation do you do when you are writing?
I spent some time reading about weapons and ancient civilisations but I don't do a great deal of pointed research unless I get stuck on a particular detail while I'm writing, such as how big a sword should be, the logistics of a serpent flying, or something like that. I researched the anatomy of dinosaurs for the serpents. Any preparation mostly consists of me making sure I have a cup of tea handy - it's like a ritual I find it hard to get to work unless I have tea.

Shaan really wants to become a serpent rider, to be one of the elite warriors that patrol the skies. Would you like to do that too?
I guess I would like to be some kind of powerful warrior woman who can command serpents in theory - except that I am really quite short and afraid of heights and I think that could be a tiny problem. Basically most of the characters in Awakening are braver than I am - especially Shaan, she doesn't run away from a fight whereas I would be the one hiding behind whatever large metal object I could find trying to offer a diplomatic solution.

If you were Shaan or Tallis and found out you were descended from a maniacal god and had to surrender to an already decided fate, what would you do?
I think I would probably head straight for the nearest inn and down a lot of Cermezian wine - but then as I said I am not as brave as either of them. Although it would be quite handy to have Tallis's powers. I don't think I'd mind that.

What are you writing now?
I'm working on book two of the Twins of Saranthium trilogy.

Did you always want to write? Or did you stumble into it? How did you get where you are now?
I've written since I was in primary school but I didn't consciously decide I really wanted to be a writer until my late 20s, despite studying creative writing at uni. I thought for a while I'd be a journalist but realised I didn't like politics enough to do that. It was after returning from seven months overseas in 1997 that I got up one day and decided to write a book and it snowballed from there - although very slowly. I wrote stories, collected rejections and dabbled away at this book until in 2003 when I entered the Women's Weekly short story competition and won. That really changed everything. I got noticed, went to a writers festival and was asked to submit a story for Penguin's Girl's Night In 4. After that I had something to put on my resume. I wrote another book, this time a young adult sci fi novel, and got a mentorship through Writing WA with Isobelle Carmody. That sci fi novel hasn't been sold yet but not long after that I tried selling Awakening to various agents and was picked up by Curtis Brown - my agent was actually a judge on the Weekly competition and remembered me so I think that really helped - and by the end of 2007 Awakening and the rest of the Twins of Saranthium trilogy had been sold to Pan Macmillan. So it only took about ten years!

What does a typical writing day look like for you? How long do you write, that sort of thing?
I wish I could say I write all day like some kind of female Bryce Courtney but the reality is I make tea and spend quite a chunk of time staring at what I wrote the day before and trying not to get distracted by the internet before I really get down to writing. I usually write about four hours a day, six on a good day, and try to aim for 2000 words, but I don't always make it. I comfort myself by remembering that sometimes James Joyce only managed seven words a day ( or so it's rumoured). This is especially important on days when I've done more deleting than creating. If I get really stuck I will write long hand or just try jotting down notes for the next scene so I at least have something to work with.

Where do you write?
Usually sitting at my desk straight into the computer and often cross legged because I can't reach the floor, which results in painful bouts of pins and needles and a reminder to myself that I should invest in a foot rest.

What is easiest/hardest for you as a writer?
The easiest is imagining how the story will progress and the hardest thing is writing it. I often have trouble with the logistics of fight/actions scenes and making sure it isn't just stilted detail and dialogue is like pulling teeth with a set of Barbie's plastic tweezers. I find writing a character's interior monologue and describing surroundings the least difficult.

This is your first book; tell us a little bit about what else is out there.
This is my first book but I have written another, a much shorter book for young adults, which is yet to be sold and as mentioned before I have had a short story published in Girl's Night In 4, but under the name Lara Martin.

What is the purpose of fantasy/science fiction, if any?
I think the purpose is the same as any other form of writing: to try to make sense of humanity and what we do, albeit in a slightly different setting. I also think in some aspects it is just really, really entertaining and a great way to escape from this mad world we've created, because god knows sometimes you just want to be taken somewhere where you can't see the pile of dishes you haven't done today!

Thanks for the interview, Lara!

Awakening is available through Dymocks, Pan Macmillan, Leading Edge Books and many other bookstores.

Lara also has a myspace page and will have her own website soon.

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)