Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Interview with Diana Pharaoh Francis

Diana Pharaoh Francis’s latest book, The Black Ship, is the second in her Crosspointe Chronicles series. It a novel of adventure at sea, friendship, betrayal and magic, and will be released November 4th, 2008.

1) What was your inspiration for writing The Black Ship?

Well, there were a couple of things that led to writing this book. First, I meant for it to completely stand alone, so very little of the first book in the series, The Cipher, ends up in this book. A bit of it is there as backstory, but this book is really about Thorn and his big mouth and the trouble he gets into. At the same time, I wanted to tie into the unrest and political events that started showing up in The Cipher, but hopefully those flow naturally from Thorn's story. Probably most importantly, I wanted to get my characters out onto the Inland Sea because it is such a marvelously strange sea. It's a magical see where what was shallow a moment ago is now deep, where the currents shift in the blink of an eye, and it's filled with magic and monsters. Many ships don't survive. Exploring the sea, more than anything, is what pushed me to write this book about these characters. And once I met Thorn and Plusby and several others, I had to tell their stories.

2) What do you find most interesting about Thorn?

I’ve become very interested in flawed characters—in people who don’t always do things in their own best interests, or who are contradictory and sometimes dangerous to themselves. These flaws can be incredibly valuable, when you think about people who are willing to sacrifice themselves for others. Yet those flaws can be dangerous, too. Thorn fascinates me because he ends up in a place where he’s torn between doing one version of right and doing another and he doesn’t know which is the more right thing to do, but he can't do both. That and he’s snarky and sometimes rude and he was huge fun to write.

3) What is it about fantasy that attracts you?

I think it’s the possibility for real heroism, and that an individual can have an enormous impact on his or her world. That a person’s decisions matter to the larger world, and that honor is worth something, and so is sacrifice.

4) What sort of research did you do to write this book?

I did something incredibly bizarre. I set this book on a square-rigged clipper ship, even though I’d never been sailing. Ever. I didn’t know anything. So I did a lot of research on clipper ships, square-riggers, the commands that are used, the feeling of being on the sea, life aboard and so on and so forth. I went out to Washington to take a short cruise on The Lady Washington and asked a whole lot of questions. I read all sorts of sailing accounts and manuals and fiction about sailing. I looked for diagrams and slang, I looked for everything that might have anything to do with sailing anywhere. I watched The Deadliest Catch to see a cold, vicious ocean in action. The process was wonderful. I think that when people read this book that they’ll really feel like they are aboard a ship. At least I hope they get that.

5) Who are your favorite authors and books now and when you were growing up?

I have so many favorites. Wow. Well, early on I read the Narnia books over and over, and of course the Madeleine L’Engle books. But I remember that the books that really jolted me into reading broadly in fantasy were Zelazney’s Amber books. I still don’t know what it was about them that appealed so much to me at that time, but after that, I became an avid reader of fantasy, almost excluding anything else.

As for favorites now . . . I love Carol Berg and Robin McKinley. I’m a fan of Marjorie Liu, Anne Bishop and Guy Gavriel Kay. But really, I’m a voracious reader and I have so many favorites that I couldn’t begin to cover them here.

6) Did you always want to write? Or did you stumble into it? How did you get where you are now?

I have always been a storyteller, but I didn’t start writing until I got into college. Then I tried to write mainstream sorts of fictions. They were bad. My heart wasn’t invested in them. Eventually I began to write fantasy, which made me so much happier. As for how I got where I am now? Hmmmm. Where am I? Essentially I did some short stories and published a few of them, but I am really more a novel writer—short fiction doesn’t really come to me very often and it's uncomfortable to write, not like novels. So I worked on a novel, then another one, and then another one. At the same time, I was getting my MA and my Ph.D.

Then one day a friend (Jennifer Stevenson) asked if I’d like to do a novel in a week. I said . . . “wha…?” She explained that a novel in a week is when you take time off from life. Most people can carve out a single week of life from work, family, and other obligations and totally focus on writing. The idea is to write as much as you can during that time. When you’re done, you’ll know if you’ve got the beginnings of something (or maybe a complete draft if you’re really kicking butt on the writing), or you’ll know if it’s not worth pursuing. Either way, you’ve only lost a week to it.

So I did this, and found that I was really rocking on a novel I liked. It turned out to be Path of Fate, my first published novel. I did the submitting rounds and it was picked up by Roc.

7) What does a typical writing day look like for you?

There’s no such thing as typical. I’m still working full time, and I have a family with kids, and so I end up squeezing the writing in wherever and whenever I can. I’ve become a lot better about getting more accomplished in shorter bits of time, but really, I’m always scrambling to keep all the balls in the air and hoping none of them shatter if they fall.

8) Where do you write?

I usually write in my office. It’s a room in the upstairs of my 1917 house. It’s painted purple and has a bank of five windows that looks out over the front yard and lets in a lot of light. It’s got wall to wall books and my ‘desk’ is an old kitchen table from when I was growing up. It is about eight feet long and about five feet wide. It’s also piled with papers and books, my computer, printer and scanner. On the walls are swords, a battle ax, a munch of maps, and a bunch of pics. I also have two lava lamps, one shaped like a space ship.

9) What is hardest for you as a writer?

You know, it really all depends on the day. Like many writers, my ego is sometimes fragile so some days it’s just hard to believe that what I’m writing isn’t utter dreck. Then other days, it’s squeezing out time to write. And then maybe it’s getting through a particularly tricky scene, or figuring out how to fix a scene that just won’t work the way it is. The hardest thing changes every day.

10) This isn't your first book; tell us a little bit about what else is out there?

The Path books (Path of Fate, Path of Honor, Path of Blood) are traditional epic fantasy. The first focuses on Reisil and how she has to make a choice to do something she absolutely doesn’t want to do, even though everybody else thinks is a great honor. In the second book, she finds out that not everybody is what they seem to be, and that evil can be really seductive. In the third book, she finally comes into herself and must really embrace who she’s become.

The Cipher is the first of the Crosspointe Chronicles, and is about Lucy and Marten. They are both very flawed characters and must come to terms with their flaws. In the course of it, they do some pretty awful things, even though both want to be good peopel. I really like them both. This world is not your usual epic fantasy world and has a lot in common with Victorian England.

11) How do people find out more about you and your novels?

First, thanks everyone for hanging out with me. I appreciate it. To buy the books, head over here to Mysterious Galaxy , Barnes and Noble , or Amazon. For more about me, a taste of the books, or random useful information, go to my website. Here’s a link for my blog, Mad Libs.

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

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