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Interview: Jilly Paddock

If you have followed “Nightspore” for a while you will be aware that I have been enthusing about SF & fantasy author Jilly Paddock’s work. (My earlier articles are Discovering new authors with Kindle: Jilly Paddock, which covers two of her novels, “The Spook and the Spirit in the Stone” and “No Earthly Shore”. SF review: “To Die A Stranger” by Jilly Paddock reviews the third of the four books she self-published via Amazon.)

Having first encountered Jilly’s work while she was an “indie writer” it is great to be able to announce that she has now signed with Pro Se Press, an American pulp-oriented publisher. It seemed good timing to ask Jilly about her writing career to date and what the future holds following signing to Pro Se.

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How long have you been writing science fiction?

Since my early teens. I had two friends at school and we all wrote SF; we’d talk about plots and characters in lunch breaks, pass silly notes in lessons and even act out fight scenes to see if they worked. We each wrote our own stuff and collaborated on some stories. We’re still friends now and we’re all published writers of SF and fantasy, so it was good training.

What drew you to the genre?

Why SF? There really wasn’t any other choice for me – it was a no-brainer. What other genre is there where anything is possible, where you can have any world, any person, any creature, any invention you can imagine? And I did love science. I’m still a biology, geology and astronomy geek. I had a whole career of peering down microscopes at pretty stained bacteria and waving, wriggling protozoans, and growing nasty bugs in Petri dishes. I like the sense-of-wonder, the “Wow! Look at that!” feeling of science, and SF and fantasy are the only genres that have that for me.

How would you describe the stories you write?

Character-driven, generally with strong female protagonists and a touch of humour. The science, which is usually biology or medicine, is plausible, although I do use all the classic SF tropes – FTL space travel, human colonies, AI and psi powers. My grandfather would have called them “damn good yarns” and a friend of mine refers to the Anna & Zenni books as “cyberfolk”, a bit gentler and more mellow than cyberpunk. I can’t claim to be a literary writer, I’m afraid. My stuff tends towards adventure, space opera and pulp.

When I first read “To Die A Stranger”, I was reminded of the work of Eric Frank Russell but I understand you are not familiar with his work. Which genre authors do you admire or have influenced the direction of your writing?

Don’t think I’ve ever read any Russell. I read a lot of SF in my teens, all the standards including Heinlein, Asimov and Clarke. It won’t be a surprise that my AIs owe a lot to Mike in Heinlein’s “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” but they also have a touch of Zen and Orac from Blake’s 7. I like a lot of British writers – Brian Aldiss, Colin Kapp, Dan Morgan, John Sladek and Bob Shaw, and John Wyndham. “The Chrysalids” was one of the books we did for my English Literature O level. I adore Cordwainer Smith and he’s a big influence, particularly his short stories “The Game of Rat and Dragon” and “The Ballad of Lost C’mell”. I collected “New Writings in SF”, a series of 30 anthologies edited by John Carnell, and later Kenneth Bulmer, mainly for James White’s Sector Twelve General Hospital stories, but the contents pages read like a Who’s Who of SF.

In fantasy I like Tanith Lee, Louise Cooper, Roger Zelazny and Charles de Lint. If I was pressed for a favourite, I’d have to pick Peter S Beagle for his beautifully-crafted poetic prose and the way he can tell a complex story in such simple words.

These days I’m reading SF from Charles Stross and Peter Watts, fantasy by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette, and a wonderful police procedural/magic series by Ben Aaronovitch.

What is your approach to writing? Do you tend to start with an idea, such as the “agent-pairs”, or with the characters?

Sometimes a whole story will drop into my head fully formed – “No Earthly Shore” was like that. Usually it’s harder, and I get an idea for a scene, or maybe the beginning and end of a story arc for a novel, but the characters arrive very early in the creation process. They seem to practically invent themselves, then they start talking to me, telling me their back stories and arguing about the intended plot and their part in it. I do have trouble with minor characters who aren’t content with their bit and want to take over the book. When I’m writing a novel I’ll often stumble across things and concepts that beg to be included, scraps and fragments of found art or science – call it synchronicity or serendipity, but it does enrich the book.

All of my characters are real to me, as real as people in the outside world, which probably makes me sound like a madwoman! Is writing a kind of voluntary functional schizophrenia? It certainly feels that way sometimes.

Do you have a “target audience” in mind when you write?

Not at all. I write the sort of books I want to read.

Your SF series about both “Afton & Jerome” and “Anna-Marie Delany” are set in a universe where “agent-pairs” operate in the shadows. For me, this idea is a very strong element I enjoyed in your writing. Which came first, the story of the origin of agent-pairs in “To Die A Stranger” or the spook in the Jerome stories? What future plans do you have for related stories?

Anna & Zenni came first. There are a lot of books in their series – I scared my publisher by saying there were ten, but there may be more. The first four are finished but need a final edit and polish, and the rest need more work. I don’t think I’m giving too much away if I tell you that Anna has to join Earth Intelligence and become a spook eventually, which is a bumpy ride on both sides. Agent-pairs are a horrible concept. They can go anywhere, penetrate any defences, overhear secret conversations, steal objects and thoughts, and kill without leaving any evidence. I’m glad they’re fictional – I wouldn’t trust any of our governments with such a powerful weapon. Being the human half of an agent-pair is tough, with a high risk of psychological damage. Anna has the ego to cope with it, but many others don’t.

What technology do you use to write and / or publish? (For example, are you a pen & paper person? Do you use Scrivener?)

I started off spending all my pocket-money on cheap exercise books from Woolworth’s – you could get three for one shilling and sixpence – and scribbling in them in biro, sometimes using green or purple. When I had more money the paper quality improved and I used a nicer pen. I bought an electric typewriter to turn the scrawl into manuscripts, then an Amstrad word processor and eventually a PC. I’ve had to keep switching software as technology moved on, from Locoscript on the Amstrad, through Appleworks/Corel to WordPerfect, which I use now. I don’t care for Word, so I use Open Office to take everything into doc format, but I still find WordPerfect more intuitive and prefer to write in that. I’ve heard good things about Scrivener, although I’m not sure I need all of its complicated functions. I tend to plot in my head and sketch out the trickier twists and time lines on the back of an envelope.

Why have you gone for self-publishing in e-book format? Have you had any feedback as to whether the e-book format is a better approach for your intended audience?

Way back in the 90s I had an agent and we tried to sell the first Anna & Zenni book. It did the rounds of all the major publishers – lots of editors liked it, but it never found a home. When I took early retirement in 2011, my colleagues gave me a Kindle. I didn’t think I’d like reading on it, but I loved it. I realised that now I had the time and opportunity to put my work out as e-books, so I just went ahead and did it. I think the SF/fantasy audience is happy with e-books, although some people still want print.

How much of the publication did you do yourself? What did you use other professionals for and why?

My other half did the final copy edit and I did all the formatting. We did the cover art for “No Earthly Shore” and I admit that it isn’t wonderful. The other three covers are by professional artists.

How easy has the e-publication process been? What would you do differently next time?

It was fairly easy. I taught myself how to do it as I went along, and there are a lot of resources on-line to help. Whenever I got stuck, I’d Google for a solution. The thing about an e-book is that it’s very easy to change it and sort out any problems. I’ve re-loaded some of mine several times when people have pointed out mistakes.

What advice would you give others considering self-publishing in the e-book format?

Go for it, but be sure that your book is well-edited and typo-free. The hard bit is promoting your book so that it sells, and I don’t have the solution to that problem yet.

I know your stories are available from Amazon on Kindle. What other formats is the series available in?

My Amazon author page are Jilly Paddock on Amazon UK and Jilly Paddock on Amazon USA. They will contain an up-to-date list of all my books.

I self-published four books on Kindle in 2012, using KDP Select, so they weren’t available anywhere else. Now that I’ve signed with Pro Se Press, “To Die A Stranger” and Spook/Spirit/Stone will be taken off Kindle and come out as new e-book and print versions, and apparently as audiobooks, but I don’t have any firm dates for that yet. “No Earthly Shore” and “The Dragon, Fly” will still be available on Kindle.

What about the future? Do you see the traditional publication route as viable?

I’ve signed with a small independent publisher, and I’m sure that type of publishing will increase. My work doesn’t seem to fit with the Big Six publishers best-seller and celebrity author plan, which is squeezing far too many mid-list authors out of the game. I see my future output being a combination of traditional and self-published books, and it’s very nice to get them out of the crypt on my hard-drive and let people read them.

What’s next? Do you have anything else “in the works” at the moment?

I have two short stories which will be in Pro Se Presents, although I don’t yet know which issues they’ll appear in. “The URLKing” is an Afton & Jerome short piece, and “The Third Worst Thing That Can Happen On Mars” is an odd little tale, my take on Ray Bradbury’s “Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed.”

I’m working on another Afton & Jerome novella at the moment, which will also be published by Pro Se, possibly with a couple of short stories. I’m also updating the second Anna & Zenni book, “With Amber Tears”, which will hopefully be taken by Pro Se if Stranger does well enough.

There’s also “Warbird”, an immense SF/space opera epic set two centuries before Anna & Zenni’s time, about the Vienna, a ship that travels through voidspace, the first contact with non-humanoid aliens and an interplanetary war. It’s almost finished and I may have to self-pub it, as it’s 160,000 words long.

There’s a work-in-progress fairytale, “Ladder to the Moon”, which is full of all the things you shouldn’t have in fantasy – angels, demons, a dragon and a talking horse – but isn’t like anything I’ve ever read. It’s full of folksong and folk tales, and the flora, fauna and landscape of the English countryside. I must finish it one day.

Thank you, Jilly!

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Interview: Heidi Garrett

In my previous post, I introduced indie author Heidi Garrett’s novel series, “The Queen of the Realm of Faerie”. The first book in the series, Nandana’s Mark, is currently available as a free download on Smashwords.

Here, Heidi answers my questions about her writing and her experience publishing e-books as an indie author.
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Your fantasy series is a re-telling of 15th century French faerie tale of Melusine, but told from the perspective of her sister, Melia. What drew you to this story and what is different about your “re-telling”?

When I conceived this story, I researched fairy tales. Sifting through stacks of books from my local library, I was thrilled to discover many that I had never heard of, the Melusine fairy tale being among them. My original idea was to include characters from several fairy tales, but it didn’t take long for that concept to become unwieldy. When I realized I needed to settle on one, it was Melusine’s story that clung to me. I started writing, but since this was my first novel and I had a lot to learn, I ended up writing several different versions before settling on the one that has been published. In the first version, Melusine was a minor character, and in the second version Melusine was the main character. Neither story felt right. After much brainstorming with my husband, I decided to experiment with making the middle sister the main character, and the younger sister an important character. This choice afforded me more freedom as writer, since Melusine’s sisters’ curses are never defined in the traditional version of the fairytale.

Who is your “target audience” for the Half-Faerie series?

Young adults and new adults, readers ages fourteen and older because I do believe that adults can enjoy the story as well.

Why self-publish as an e-book series? Have you had any feedback as to whether the e-book format is a better approach for your intended audience?

When I began researching Indie publishing in the beginning of 2012, starting with e-books seemed like a logical choice since the bulk of sales for indie authors and publishers come from e-books. Plus I have a few boxes of CDs in my basement from years ago, when I was a local singer/songwriter. I didn’t want to add any boxes of print books to that collection. And I do have some awareness of the limited resources of our planet. e-reading is pretty green, so that was another big positive for me. And finally, I am a very satisfied e-reader myself, to the point that I now avoid print books.

How much of the publication did you do yourself? What did you use other professionals for and why?

I use the writing program Scrivener, which thank you, Phillip, you highly recommended to me. I now highly recommend it to everyone I know who is writing, especially if they are considering publishing. It makes the publication of an actual e-book very easy. You can publish mobis for Kindle, epubs for Nooks and iPads and iPhones, and pdfs for folks who don’t have e-readers yet.

I have had both of the books I’ve published edited by a professional editor and I do not do the covers.

You have changed the cover of Nandana’s Mark for the second edition. What prompted this?

It is common knowledge in the industry that if a book isn’t selling well, the first things to assess are its cover and blurb. These two elements introduce the book to the reader; so it is possible that if these elements aren’t right, you could be missing potential readers. Initial sales of Nandana’s Mark were slow. I fiddled with the blurb quite a bit. That helped, but still didn’t have a significant impact on sales. Finally, I had a book reviewer who stated outright she didn’t like the original cover.

I had always wanted my husband to do the covers for my books. However, initially, he had refused as he had no experience with cover design. After the above-mentioned review, we discussed the possibility of him designing the covers again–as an experiment. I am really happy with his results and it seems that everyone else is, too. He went on to design the cover for the second book and right now, it looks like he will do the covers for the entire series.

I first came across your story through reviewing it on the “Online Writers Workshop”. How did workshopping the story change your approach to writing and / or publication?

Workshopping is critical. Novels are long. It is–perhaps–impossible for a writer to catch any, every flaw, or weak point in their story. Whether there are technical issues with the writing, plot loopholes, flat characters, etc., other writers can help one see where the work can be improved. It is so invaluable to see your work through the eyes of another writer.

I am not sure that my OWW experience changed my approach to writing or publishing. I had been writing for three years before I joined OWW and had worked with critique partners, so my writing approaches were pretty much in place and haven’t changed. What I hoped has changed, is the quality of my writing. The feedback of OWW critiquers covered every aspect of the story and was simply invaluable to helping me grow as a writer. I will always be grateful for the OWW writers who took the time to read and critique my submissions. Critiquing other writers is also very eye-opening. I think it can really help you understand in a visceral way, why certain things/techniques work and others don’t.

It was signing up with Twitter that changed my approach to publishing. Even though I knew some writers who were self-publishing, I never considered going indie, until I got on Twitter in the beginning 2012. Amanda Hocking’s story was breaking and it was incredibly inspiring. After spending years being a rather slow and tedious writer, her writing ethic inflamed me. When she was picked up by an agent and major publisher, she had already self-published nine novels. I didn’t know anyone who was writing with that kind of commitment, dedication, or enthusiasm. I don’t know if I will ever be as prolific as she is, but her story changed the way I looked at writing forever. Also, there is a huge, cutting-edge community of authors and indie authors on Twitter that constantly inspire and motivate me. I continue to rely on Twitter it as my primary social media and go-to for publishing-related news and information.

How easy has the e-publication process been? What would you do differently next time? What advice would you give others considering self-publishing in the e-book format?

The e-publication process has been very positive for me. Scrivener made a huge difference in the physical publishing logistics, but connecting with other authors through Twitter, who walked me through every part of the process and prepared me for the challenges ahead (of which there are many) has been what has kept me going. Also, by the time I published my first book, several of my writing partners from OWW had already embarked on the indie author adventure. Their insight and support has been invaluable as well. I don’t think I would/could do anything different. It’s not that I didn’t make any mistakes, it’s just that there is an enormous learning curve, and I think it’s just impossible to do everything right or the best way from the very beginning.

Advice? Hmm…be committed to your story. Take it on as an adventure. Give yourself time to get up to speed. I’d also definitely recommend signing up to Twitter and learning how to use hashtags. Getting active on Twitter for the seven months before my first book was published was one of the things I did right. It can take a little while to understand Twitter and find your voice on the platform. I would say it probably has taken almost a year for me to start to feel really comfortable, but at least, by the time Nandana’s Mark came out, I’d already learned a lot and had already started building a community. If you don’t already have an e-reader, invest in one; and read as much as you can. But the most important thing would be to enjoy yourself and be as genuine as you can.

Your stories are available from Amazon on Kindle. What other formats is the series available in? Is Kindle the most significant in terms of proportion of sales?

The books are also available for Nook, iPhone, iPad, and pretty much any e-reader that exists. As I mentioned earlier, we also have a pdf version for folks who don’t have an ereader yet. At this point, Amazon is more than 90% of my sales.

What’s next? Will it be another “half-Faerie” story? How many do you plan for the series?

My commitment right now is to finish the Queen of the Realm of Faerie series. It’s a story that is inspired by my beloved grandmother, so I don’t think I will have any peace until it is complete. The final number of books will be however many it takes to tell the story. My best guess would be a total of five to seven books, but I am not driving for a number.

Are you writing anything else at the moment?

No. I’m a rather plodding, one story-at-a-time writer.

Thank you, Heidi!

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