Questions for interview - J C Steel
What genre(s) do you write in and why? Do you write flash fiction, short stories, novellas and/or novels? Graphic novels, anime or comics? If you do multiple genres and/or lengths, which do you prefer? Have you ever written any poetry?
At some point I’ve experimented with most types of writing, including that old author favourite, lying on a patch of carpet somewhere and waiting for writing to happen.
My open relationships with poetry, short stories, and essay writing petered out in my mid-teens, probably to everyone’s relief, and gave way to full time science-fiction and urban fantasy novel-writing.
It’s a funny thing, but until this past week, ‘why science-fiction?’ wasn’t a question I’d ever asked myself. It may come of having been born wanting to explore on a planet that’s been pretty thoroughly explored, but by the time I got around to asking myself ‘why sci-fi?’ I’d already got four novels published.
What writers do you admire? What are you currently reading?
Writers I admire? There’s shelves of them. In fact, there are so many shelves of them than visitors to my home tend to back away from the evidence of my fetish slowly. If I had to name a few, I’d have to go with Robert Heinlein, for managing to weave the most thought-provoking, intelligent sci-fi stories out there, Dorothy Dunnett, for being able to create characters more real than most people I meet on the street, and J.R.R. Tolkien, the one pantser who rules them all.
Right now I’m reading a Canadian sci-fi and fantasy author, Tanya Huff. She’s got a military sci-fi series out that I love, with excellent characterisation, and a couple of urban fantasy series that are also very good. In fact, one of them was turned into a TV series a few years back, called ‘Blood Ties’.
What are you working on now?
Right now I’m working on the final print proofs for my very first urban fantasy, Death is for the Living. It’s currently out for advanced readers, and it’s a tale of vampire hunters working from a yacht in the Caribbean. I originally wrote it in my teens; I was in boarding school, and feeling homesick (for clarity, I was homesick for the Caribbean and the yacht, not the vampires...um). The tag-line I’m currently running with is ‘People think vampires are a curse of the Old World. But before modern borders divided the lands around it, the Caribbean Sea was better known as the Spanish Main...’ (Insert creepy crescendo here...)
Because I have commitment issues, I’m also in edits on the fifth in my Cortii Universe sci-fi series. It’s running under the working title of The Instructor, but that sounds vaguely BDSM and may change during edits - so much tends to.
If you had it to do over again, would you have started writing sooner?
That would actually have been difficult :) I started writing seriously when I was about fourteen, which coincided conveniently with leaving the yacht I’d grown up on and having computers available to actually write on. That said, they were over-worked and abused school computers, and a number of very fruitful edit rounds in those early days were triggered by corrupted floppy disks. My tendency to keep hardcopies and print proof copies very probably dates back to those days. I keep hoping that one day they’ll be memorabilia auctioning for millions, but then, what author doesn’t dream?
Which do you find hardest: coming up with a story idea, writing, revising, or marketing?
Marketing, hands-down. Story ideas happen to the extent where lobotomy is probably the only solution, and writing usually happens quite irresistibly and of its own accord (often at times when I’m actually supposed to be doing other things). While editing can and sometimes does feel like pounding sand, I do enjoy it most of the time. As I’m an unashamed pantser, editing is also when a lot of the ‘Ah! That’s why that happened!’ moments come in, as I tweak, and re-arrange, and add in the cameo scenes that explain why something happened the way it did.
Marketing, however...I have the greatest respect for those who can, but as I loathe receiving marketing, and there’s about two companies out there whose ads don’t go straight in my junk mail, I have trouble imagining what kind of ad copy wouldn’t be badly received. I also share with a lot of authors the problem that I’m perfectly happy in the 50,000 - 500,000 word range, but I can sit there petrified when faced with 50 words designed to entice punters.
Are you a plotter or a pantser or a hybrid of the two?
I’m a pantser all the way. My books start with a scene, or a bit of dialogue, playing in my head that refuses to go away; it shows up in the shower, when I’m supposed to be listening to VIPs in meetings, and at 0300. After a few weeks, by which point my attention span has degraded to that of a blue-arsed fly on crack, I cave and write it down, and once I’ve dropped my characters into the scene, the rest of the book is really just a case of me typing fast enough to keep up.
While I have nothing but respect for people who can plan down to the scene level and know exactly what will happen at every stage in their books, I couldn’t write 100,000 words while knowing exactly how it was going to go. I write to find out how the story ends, and if the story isn’t interesting enough to keep me typing, well, that’s a pretty good heads-up that it’s not going to keep a reader interested either. Happily, I’ve only had a couple of manuscripts that died that way.
What's your solution to writers' block?
What’s writer’s block? (Sorry.)
Seriously, as a pantser and a self-publisher with a full-time day job, if I get stuck on one thing I’m working on, I go and work on something else for a bit. I usually have at least two manuscripts vying for whatever free time I can throw at them (with a day job plus commute that eats 11 to 12 hours of my weekdays, there isn’t a lot), and if nothing there is calling my name, drawing summoning circles and offering sacrificial snippets, then I blog, or start one of the side stories that’s been bugging me. By the time those are partway done, one of the main manuscripts is fresh and waiting for me again.
How much time do you spend on research for your writing?
Eh, good question. I noticed that the editing end for Death is for the Living took a bit more time spent on the Internet checking details than my sci-fi novels usually require (as a not-random example, just exactly where other than Paramaribo can you moor a 65-foot yacht in Suriname?), but usually research is more general. I’ve researched blood spatter analysis, orbital mechanics, explosions in vacuum, and once, late at night, accidentally typed ‘coronal mass ejaculation’ into my browser instead of ‘coronal mass ejection’. (Don’t make that mistake - voice of experience.) Generally, research for my writing is a lot of fun, although given my browser history, I do fully expect to receive the ‘Men in Black’ experience at some point.