Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Oy, the Questions! (Part V)

And the final few questions from the students at KSU.

From A.G. -- Would you like to expand to another line of books, such as romance or horror in the future?

I'm not a full-blown romance writer. I like a bit of romance in my stories, but to use fully half of the story to set up and deliver a romance doesn't work for me. That's a lot of real estate I could be using to deepen the mystery or complicate the heck out of the characters. I have a number of friends who write romance, a few who make good $$. I wish them well. It's just not in my DNA right now.

As to horror -- well, it depends on how you define the word. Trust me, there's lots of discussion about that. Some folks see horror strictly as slasher sorts of tales. To me horror can be a lot more subtle, that glide of icy cold across your skin on a dark night. That sense that you really are pretty clueless as to the bad things waiting to pounce on you. If you use that definition, I already write horror. I like to take my characters to the edge and see what they find when they peer into the abyss.

From K.F. -- Where do you come up with the lingo (terms) used in your books? Are these common science fiction terms or things you have to come up with?

To build a believable world, you have to set up the entire environment, including the nomenclature. For the Time Rovers Series I created new terms to fit 2057's technology. For the most part, they're reconstructions of words we currently use. Holo-screen and holo-keyboard, for instance. Nano-drive. Bots for robots. Words that denote a futuristic setting but are readly understandable by readers in 2006. Time Lag is a term that's been used before (Connie Willis' books). [Disclaimer: I didn't read Connie's time travel novels until after I finished the first draft of Sojourn. I was stunned to find we both have time travelers coming from 2057. So you heard it here first, time travel by '057.]

One side note on creating new words -- often fantasy authors go to great lengths to create incredibly detailed lineages for their knights/elves/trolls, whatever. And then give them names you cannot possibly pronounce, even if you go to the back of the book and hack through the pronunciation guide. Terry Pratchett knows how to work around this problem by giving his characters unique names, but ones that are easy to remember. Detritius (a troll), Knobby Knobs (a cop), Gaspode (a dog), Carrott Ironfounderson (another cop). Unique, but memorable. That's the way names should be.

From M.J. -- Why wouldn't you want to have 'Dame Rowling fame'?

This question comes from a comment I made during my presentation. I routinely have people who say, "Hey, someday you might be as famous as J.K. Rowling." I usually shudder when they say that. Do I wish Dame Rowling ill? Certainly not. She hit the market with precisely what readers wanted at the time. She's done well and she appears to have a very decent heart. That counts a lot in my book.

I am not seeking Rowling-level fame because of what that entails. Suddenly the world knows you. Even people in the farthest reaches of China know you (from the Chinese knock-offs of the Potter series). I'm not sure how it works in Scotland, but in the U.S. someone would be following me around when I went to the grocery store and squeezed the melons. Someone would be there when I bought my weekly order of sushi. Photos of important people are ready currency. So for J.K., privacy is the first casualty.

Then there's the pressure. How soon will the next book be out, Ms. Oliver? I get that now and it's a bit uncomfortable. You're thrilled your readers are keen for the next adventure, but in the back of your mind you're fretting over how good that next adventure will be. Multiply that pressure by gazillion and you have Dame Rowling's life. She seems to manage it well and that is to her credit. Still, that's a lot of pressure.

And lastly, the other problem with J.K.'s career is that she hit the top first crack out of the box. Now where does she go? She's 36 years old, worth over a billion U.S. dollars. Her biggest challenge is topping herself. Sure, she could retire and never pen another word. She won't, or more precisely... can't. The writing virus is hard to shake (ask Stephen King).

She's brought new readers into the fold. She has penned what one person called a "Gateway Drug." Once you read about Harry the world opens in front of you. You can go anywhere, anytime and live an adventure.

But wanting to live her life complete with all the responsibilities it entails? I think I'll pass.

From M.G. -- How long is the process of publishing a book?

It depends on who publishes it. A small press can put a book out in fairly short order. A big press with a full publishing schedule takes lots longer. Most publishers have their 2007 and early 2008 publishing schedules already set. In the case of Sojourn, Dragon Moon turned that book in four months. That was a special case because of a particular deadline. Usually it's 5-7 months (or longer) depending on editorial staffing commitments, cover designs, layout, etc. The bigger publishers can take anywhere from 9 months to 2 years to get a book on the shelf.

One of the key things that most readers don't know is that publisher issue Advance Reading Copies (ARCs or galleys) to reviewers before the book hits the shelves. Reviewers require at least 3-4 months lead time. If you're hoping for a review in Publisher's Weekly, it's got to be to them at least four months early. That chews up a lot of time before publication.

A question from K.J. -- Would your books be considered mainstream like John Grisham or Janet Evanovitch, or are your readers considered a nitch market? At what volume of sales would a book be considered mainstream? Who would reders compare you with (you are similar to)?

If you use the definition found here then technically I'm mainstream. However, since I am an odd blend of genres it's hard for the bookstores to put me on the shelves. Usually Sojourn is found under FANTASY. But it's also science fiction and historical mystery. So someone looking for a book set in Late Victorian London will most likely not be hunting in the fantasy section. Hence the problem.

I've had folks compare my fantasies to "early Anne McCaffrey". I appreciate that immensely. As to my Victorian book, I've not yet had anyone do a comparison, other than saying I was less dark than Caleb Carr (The Alienist). I'm not sure if it's a good thing that they can't pair my work up with a more famous author. Either it means I'm really doing my own thing or that no one's made the connection.

From a student whose name I could not read (though the signature is quite lovely) -- Because of the high costs that publishing carries, did you have any initial investors, friends or family members that helped fund your projects, or was it all you?

For my self-pubbed works, it was my credit card. Sure made the thing smoke. Now that I'm traditionally published, my publisher has all the expenses related to actual book production. However, I'm now spending more on publicity, etc., so it evens out.

And from T.M. -- You said you love ice cream. What's your favorite flavor?

Chocolate Mint and/or Coffee. Yum!!!!!!!!

And finally from C.H. -- If you were a shoe, what kind of shoe would you be and why?

A Victorian boot. They were sturdy, reliable, able to handle the muck on the streets and still hold up. Something to be said for a decent set of footwear.

Thanks for asking, folks. It's been a blast.


Kim Stagliano said...

"I'm not a full blown romance writer." Of course, not! That would be erotica.

Lovely blog!


Jana Oliver said...

Oddly enough, I have a big blind spot when it comes to erotica. I love to write it, but rarely get the chance. When I'm doing mysteries, I want all the 'real estate' I can get to play out the suspense. When I'm penning smut (and I say that with respect) I'll go for the happy ending.

As Tom Lehrer put it,
"Smut, give me smut and nothing but, a dirty novel I can't shut
If it's uncut, and unsub-tle."

A little naughty reading every now and then keeps one young. Or so I like to believe.

M.J said...

A victorian boot? Interesting...heels or not (cause I'm not sure if they had heels then)?

Jana Oliver said...

Without heels for me because I'm a klutz. Never been able to tolerate heels of much above 1"

However, the Victorian had heels --

All the better to truck through the muck on the streets. They used to put horsehair braid on the bottom (inside) of their skirts so they could have their servants brush off the accumulated dirt, etc. without damaging the fabric. I can only imagine how filthy those skirts would get.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for answering all of our questions!! I really admire the fact that you are actually accomplishing one of your dreams. So many people have dreams, ideas and desires that they never put into motion…you are inspiring! What is the secrete to your success? How did you keep yourself motivated when things did not work out the way you had hoped?


Anonymous said...

You told us in class that the characters themselves tell you what to write- that is fascinating! But doesn’t that make it very difficult to finish your book in a timely manner? Do you have to wait until they talk to you before you can work? What if they are not telling you what to write? DO you go through long spells of not writing because they are silent?

Anonymous said...

I use to write as a child for fun but as I got older/busier I stopped writing. Now when I try to write, nothing happens or it really sucks!! What happen to all that creativity? How can I get it back? Any suggestions

Jana Oliver said...

I really don't have a secret to my success. Admittedly, I'm not on the NY Times Best Seller list (yet) but I absolutely LOVE what I do. I guess that means I judge sucess differently than others might.

Deep in my heart I know this is what I'm supposed to be doing in this life. (Sounds corny, doesn't it?) That colors how I view life.

If you can find your passion, whatever that may be, then every morning is a bit easier to face even when things suck.

I apply the "will the sun come up tomorrow?" rule. 99.9% of the time the answer is yes. That attitude makes the small and medium stuff roll by. The big stuff still hurts (loss of family members, etc.) but you cope. You've only got "X" number of days to do cool stuff in this life, so push those boundaries and go for it.

Jana Oliver said...

The characters are rarely silent. They're like a Greek chorus in the back of my mind chirping away. When they do get quiet I get nervous. I nudge them, promise them copious amounts of beer/ale/chocolate... whatever it takes to get them to talk to me.

Relying on them makes writing a lot more 'white knuckle.'. If I knew what was going to happen in each scene, I wouldn't have to do some rewriting after the first draft. I've tried laying out each scene and it buggered the process. So it appears this is way my brain is wired. As long as the little voices tell me their stories, I'm good to go. I pray they don't ever fall silent.

As to your 'lull' in creativity. To all things there is a season. Right now might not be the time for you to write. When the time comes, you won't be able to stop the urge (obsession). I didn't really start writing until I was (clears throat) in my mid-forties. That's when it all hit. Some folks don't get that creative spurt until they're in their '70's. It depends on life pressures and when your mind says "NOW!"

Just because that creativity isn't present at this point doesn't mean you're not storing impressions for sometime down the line. You're just dormant or hibernating. It'll come when the time is right.

Anonymous said...

It was so fascinating to meet you and hear how you go about writing your books. It is also neat how you make the terms in your book significant to the time period but also relatable to 2006. Thank you so much for devoting so much time to answering our questions. K.F

Anonymous said...

I want to congratulate you on finishing your NANO book within a month. After reading your postings on it, it seemed like you were having a crazy time writing it.

Thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedule and speaking with our class and on top of that answering all our questions.


Jana Oliver said...

I've thoroughly enjoyed this 'dialog'. Thanks for asking all sorts of intelligent questions that kept me scratching my head.

Anonymous said...

I love your icecream choices. I'm a fan of coffee icecream too!

Anonymous said...


Thank you for responding to my questions! I must say, I love your outlook on life- it is very refreshing!! I look forward to reading your book over the Christmas break and getting to know the characters in your head. Great advice, maybe I will try writing over the break as well. Thanks again for coming to our class and I hope you have a wonderful holidays!

Jana Oliver said...

Coffee Ice Cream rocks. Edy's brand is good and cuts some of the calories (for those of us who worry about adding inches to our waists).

Matt Rhymer said...

In class you spoke of some of the difficulties and challenges that you often face while writing. Is there any thing in particular that you do to break through this to continue your work? If so what seems to work the best in order to get you back to work?

Anonymous said...

I apologize in my delay in thanking you for coming to our class to speak. It was truly an enjoyable experience. However, I do wonder something about the copy that the publisher sends to reviewers (ARC). With the new technologies that have come out through the internet and such, do these copies ever get out to the public in "non-legal" ways, such as posted on the internet? I just wonder because you said they get sent three to four months before the books go on the shelves. There must be some kind of laws regarding this right? Thanks again!

Jana Oliver said...

I do have times where I just can't figure out where the story is going. I try not to panic. Deep in every writer is that insecure part that shouts "You're losing it. You're not going to pull this off." Etc. Etc. The internal critic/editor (I have less kosher names for him) is always there working on you. You have to ignore him. I keep reworking the mystery plots in my head, over and over until I could scream. Then something will go "BING" and hopefully, it's not the oven timer. A character will step up and point out that the purple umbrella at the end of chapter ten is the key to the whole mystery (or not).

The trick is not to quit. You quit and you're screwed. The little editor will win. Then there would be no living with him.

Jana Oliver said...

ARC's -- ah yes, they can be used in illicit ways. They are specifically marked not for sale, but they show up on eBay anyway. When you track down the turkey who put it up there, they claim they got it from their third cousin who works at a publishing house.

There is a lot of author controversy about this. First, that's a book upon which you receive no royalty. Second, it's not the final version. They're uncorrected (and marked as such) so there's typos in the thing. The plot may have changed between the time the ARC was created and when the final book comes out. It's purely for review purposes.

I'm guessing it's only a matter of time before someone posts large sections of a story online. That's a no-no, pure copyright violation Selling an ARC is not illegal, only bad form.

And then there is a special ring of Hell reserved for those who take an author's work, change the names and post it as their own. That's just so pathetic (and mucho illegal). Hence the need for a specific place in Hades for these folks.

The higher you are in the author world, the more vigilent you have to be. Alas, there's always someone out there keen to borrow/steal/co-opt your work. It's just like any other industry.