SFFWORLD: Hello Jennifer – welcome to SFFWorld!
Can we start with a little general background as to who you are and what you write?
I am Australian, I live in Alice Springs (smack bang on the middle of Australia) which is the heart of the Outback. I grew up Melbourne and Canberra and moved to the Northern Territory when I was twenty. I left school at 15, had three children by the time I was 22, and decided I was going to be an author at 14.
SFFWORLD: What would you say it is that you write?
SFFWORLD: Is it essential to make a particular work fantasy? What is it that attracts you to the genre?
All stories, one way or another, should be a “ripping yarn”. What attracts me to fantasy as a genre is that it lends itself to ripping yarns. It much more fun to solve a problem sometimes, (i.e. what to do with that pesky evil overlord intent on world domination) when you can just run him through and hang the consequences. More contemporary worlds tend to frown on that sort of behaviour.
SFFWORLD: Is there an element to Fantasy that detracts from writing a good story? Do you prefer one form or the other?
No genre detracts from writing a good story. That’s the responsibility of the writer. I like fantasy because I can play with governments and societal structures to my heart’s content, creating alternate points of view that are great fun to run with and see how they affect people and how they react in a given set of circumstances. Sci-fi has the same advantage and I would write sci-fi if I wasn’t so worried I’ll make some monumental stuff-up involving the most basic laws of physics, blow the whole premise of my story out of the water and make myself the laughing stock of the entire genre.
SFFWORLD: I have heard it said that you write sweeping drama – high fantasy with a range of characters and a gazetteer of places to visit. Would you agree?
Yes. I am a compulsive epic thinker. I’m hoping, someday, to get help with this condition. Do you know of any support groups?
SFFWORLD: Is it that what attracts you to such writing?
Absolutely. Fantasy and epics are synonymous. It’s like scotch and ice.
SFFWORLD: Would you say that your writing is romantic?
Actually, I think I’m a terrible romance writer, but that’s partly because I know some really good ones and I’d never be able to match their level of skill.
In reality, I’m more interested in how relationships affect people. We are driven by all our emotions, love and hate, jealousy and revenge. These emotions impact on people, and influence how they think, act and grow and you can’t write a realistic story without taking them into consideration.
As a consequence of this, yes, I have elements of romance in my books, but only where the effect of that relationship is going to impact on the character or their actions; otherwise, it’s a waste of space.
SFFWORLD: Though you’re a fairly recent arrival here in the UK, our Australian members have known your books for quite a while before we received them here. Your first book published was Medalon, (first in the Demon Child series) which was published here in the UK in 2004, but was published when in Australia?
Medalon was first published in Australia in 2000. We had trouble selling the series into the UK at first, because the US and Australian rights had already been sold to Tor and HarperCollins Australia. This is an issue that continues to plague many an overseas author trying to crack the UK market. It is common for UK publishers to say that if they can’t have the worldwide rights, they don’t want the work at all.
This has just gotten messier, actually, with Tor deciding not to on-sell the rights for the other three books in the Hythrun Chronicles to Orbit, but to import them direct to the UK themselves.
SFFWORLD: How difficult was it to get published?
Disturbingly easy. Mind you, I wrote a whole bunch of crap for about 20 years that I never showed anyone, but when I finally decided to knuckle down and write something publishable, the first agent who saw it took me on and the second publisher who read Medalon gave me a three book contract.
SFFWORLD: Presumably the success of Medalon led to Treason Keep and Harshini being sold? How much of these books were written before the sale & publication of Medalon?
Treason Keep and Harshini were commissioned on the strength of Medalon and were sold off synopsis as a three book deal right from the get-go.
SFFWORLD: You then went onto the Hythrun series: Wolfblade, Warrior and Warlord, though in the US all six books were published as theHythrun Chronicles series.
The Hythrun Chronicles exists because we’d already sold Second Sons to Random House when the Tor offer came in. They wanted to know if there was anything else on offer, and because we’d sold the other series to another publisher, my agent suggested I bash up a synopsis for a sequel.
As I only had an afternoon in which to do this, and couldn’t think of a sequel that quickly, I shamelessly raided the back story of the Wolfblade family and offered it up as prequel, with my agent assuring me nothing more would come of it.
When the offer came in from Tor, it was for the six book series. It made my head hurt, writing a prequel I never intended to write to make it fit the other series. For almost a year on my whiteboard there was a note entitled These People Must Die which was a list of characters I had to get rid of by the end of book 3 to explain why they never turned up in the Demon Child trilogy.
SFFWORLD: What do you think the role of a magical or overt divine system, as seen in the Hythrun books, lends to fantasy?
I’m not sure it lends anything to fantasy, but it gave me hours of fun messing with the heads of my characters as they tried to deal with it.
SFFWORLD: Your next series was the Second Sons series. This is different to the earlier series in that it is perhaps a more medieval-type setting with few of the typical magic trappings usually associated with genre fantasy, or indeed your first series. Do you consider ‘Second Sons’ to be fantasy?
Actually, it’s sci-fi thinly disguised as fantasy. I think the marketing people like the fantasy tag better. And it takes some people a while to realise there’s no magic in it.
Even had a line editor ask once if I’d noticed there was no magic in it. Seriously.
SFFWORLD: Was writing a traditional fantasy, but without a real magical system, more or less interesting than writing the two series that did contain an overt system?
I had more fun than it should be legal to have writing Second Sons. It’s all about people’s motives and beliefs and winning because you’re smarter, not bigger, than the other guy.
SFFWORLD: Do you consider the faith in the divine to be a magic system in and of its own, even if it is just a societal need to explain the unexplained, despite such occurrences clearly being natural phenomena within the realm of science?
I think Voltaire was right when he said “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him”. People can’t help themselves. They want their lives to have meaning, so they ascribe their existence to a higher being or purpose. This is part of our nature and to attempt to create any sort of world where there is no defined belief system in something, be it magical or divine, is to deny a basic precept of humanity, and the story will suffer for it.
SFFWORLD: Would you ever consider writing another series where belief is the only lynchpin to a society’s acceptance of divine or magical influences on the world around them; whether it be a return to the Second Sons world or a new effort entirely?
Yes, I’d love to go back to the world of Second Sons and hit the characters over the head with the real world beyond their limited understanding. I may do, someday, but I have Tide Lords taking all my time and energy for the next couple of years, so I might think about it after that.
SFFWORLD: Now that you are on a global stage with books by Tor in the US and by Orbit in the UK, are things different? Does having a few books sold under your belt make it easier or more difficult?
It makes some things easier, other things it doesn’t seem to affect. We still have arguments with UK publishers about worldwide rights…LOL.
To be honest, in my day to day life, it has almost no impact at all, other than I am enjoying a lifestyle I couldn’t afford a few years ago.
SFFWORLD: I rather suspect that there are treasures to be discovered in the Antipodes! Certainly as well as yourself there have been a lot of recent publications here from Australian authors – Cecilia Dart-Thornton, Glenda Larke, Marianne de Pierres, Kim Wilkins, Trudi Canavan, Russell Kirkpatrick – I’m sure there’s others!
How do you feel about this? Is there a surge of new talent in Australia? Or has it just taken the rest of the world a while to catch up?
I’m thrilled, naturally, but I’m not sure what’s caused it. Maybe there’s something in the water.
SFFWORLD: Any other suggestions for the list?
Sean Williams, Shane Dix, Tony Shillitoe, Kathryn Fox….
SFFWORLD: Are you now a fulltime writer? I am amazed at your many various and demanding occupations…..
Technically yes. Writing is my first job and I make enough to live quite comfortably. But writing is a lonely job and I’m a sociable sort of person with the potential of becoming a total slob, if I don’t have a reason to get out of my jammies, have a shower and leave the house occasionally. It is very tempting to get so wrapped up in the characters in my head, that the rest of the world is forgotten.
By doing other things, I get out of the house and get away from the voices for a while. I don’t go looking for work. Mostly, I do it because people come to me and ask if I’ll do things and I have yet to master the art of saying no.
SFFWORLD: So I suppose my next question is…how do you find the time to write? What is your writing routine, if you have one?
I can write anywhere, anytime. Mostly I write at night, a hangover from when I had small children in the house. This also means I can go out and do realwork during the day.
SFFWORLD: Which authors do you respect?
Barbara Leonie Picard, Harper Lee, Ken Follett, Stephen King. As a child, I wanted to be Wilbur Smith. Now I want to be Joss Whedon.
SFFWORLD: Do you read for recreation? Any recent surprises?
If only… no, I don’t read much at all these days that isn’t related to what I’m working on. This is the biggest and most unexpected downside of being published. As we speak I have the proofs for the Australian re-jacketed versions of Treason Keep and Harshini on my desk, I’ve just finished checking the re-jacketed edition of Medalon and the US edition of Warrior and the line edit of The Immortal Prince arrived yesterday.
SFFWORLD: You have a new series, provisionally titled ‘The Tide Lords’, coming out in Australia in January 2007. Can you tell us about it?
Tide Lords is a four book series, set on a world called Amyrantha, where the magic is tidal. It’s about an immortal looking for a way to die and the mortals trying to stop him, because his death will have catastrophic consequences for everyone else. The story starts in a time when the magical tide is out, the immortal Tide Lords have been forgotten, and the only remaining record of them is a Tarot, which, rather inaccurately, charts their history. The book covers their ten thousand years of history as well as the more intimate details of the lives of the mortals working for the Cabal of the Tarot, whose job it is to prevent the rise of the Tide Lords the next time the Tide comes in.
SFFWORLD: And this is with the new Orbit Australia?
The series was sold to HarperCollins in Australia and Tor in the US prior to the changes at Orbit. The Australian edition of The Immortal Prince is due out in March 2007. Don’t have a publication date for the US yet, although it will probably be late 2007, because they still have to release Warlord next year, before they can start on the new series.
SFFWORLD: How do you feel about such a new venture?
I think everybody benefits from competition.
And what of the future?
I have to finish Tide Lords before I think of anything else. I am halfway through book 2, The Gods of Amyrantha, so I’m looking at another year or more until this series finished.
After that, who knows? I have plenty of ideas, but I’m trying not to fixate on them until I get Tide Lords put to bed.
Thank you very much, Jennifer!
More details about Jennifer can be found at her website: http://www.jenniferfallon.com/
(With thanks to JohnH and Shayna for questions from the SFFWorld Forums)