This is the second of the revamped author interviews from The Other Website. As we transition the rest will follow.
Yellow30 Sci-Fi was able to catch Jana Oliver at the recent SheVaCon 13. She’s an intriguing lady with a lot of irons in the fire. We are pleased to have her as one of our Featured Authors.
Title of your first novel
My very first novel was supposed to be The Circle of the Swan, a fantasy. However, right in the middle of the book another one intruded (The Lover’s Knot). Once that was done, I went back to the fantasy. Oddly enough, I never realized that Circle was a series until I wrote the last sentence.
I’ve gotten smarter about editing over the years. Initially, my novels came out in a mad rush of 10-14 hour days over a period of two or more weeks. Then I’d crash (literally). What I’d written was pure, unadulterated drivel. That drivel needed a LOT of editing, usually five or more passes to clean it up. Now I write slower, more precisely, and I’m down to about three edits. After I’ve hammered out the first draft (which is always pretty ugly) I set the book aside for a few weeks. When I come back to it all the good stuff pops out and all the really dumb stuff glows like a supernova. I do a read through for plot holes and mark notes on a separate sheet of paper for those things that just don’t track. Did I mention something in chapter three but never mention it again? Does the hero’s best buddy’s hair color change half way through the book? Does the story drag at the beginning? Should I have started the story later? Is a particular character really needed or can I combine him/her/it with another? That sort of thing.
Then I go back and edit the manuscript scene by scene. I evaluate the scenes for the following:
1) Is the scene really necessary or is it one of those “meanwhile, back at the ranch…” sorts. I’m guilty of these. Is this a scene I can I roll into another and cut word count? Where word count isn’t very important when you’re self-published, when you’re writing for someone else the numbers matter.
2) Does the scene move the story forward, develop character, set something up that is very important down the line or tell a bit of backstory? If not, why is it there?
3) Are the five senses strong? I don’t overload on every scene, but the really important ones I want to insure the reader feels he/she is there.
4) Is the scene in the proper place? Sometimes by moving a scene ahead or further back in the story can make all the difference. Same thing holds for a paragraph. Move it three paragraphs later and it suddenly has punch. Odd how that happens.
After a full edit of this type (which takes a ton of time) I send the book out to my critique folks who merrily have their way with it. When their marked up manuscripts return, I read through the comments and then do the scene by scene thing again, incorporating their ideas if I think they’ll work. They see problems with amazingly clarity as they haven’t lived and breathed this book for what seems to be an eternity.
How long does it take for you to do a book?
A year, including the edits. I’d love for it go faster, but it doesn’t. But then I write long books (135K words or higher.) I’m currently working on a 90K word novel and I’m hoping to get it done in five and a half months. We’ll see if that works.
Just about everything influences me. I read the online versions of the NY Times and the Washington Post. I read various UK papers courtesy of a flight attendant friend of ours. I read lots of magazines. I also listen to a fair number of audio books, as well. I’m sort of like the robot in Short Circuit – “Input, need input.” Input allows my brain to percolate and generate story ideas.
As for the other sort of influences – I am a devoted Celtic music fan and find I get a lot of good ideas when I’m listening to really good Irish music and drinking fine Irish beer (Guinness, Harp or Beamish will do). There’s just some switch in my brain that goes ‘click’ and ideas pour out. And I know the next question – no, I’m not Irish. I’m Welsh.
I also try to pay attention to how really good authors write. If I can get into the middle of a story and not be tearing apart the sentence structure, grumbling about point-of-view shifts and such, then the author’s hooked me. That doesn’t happen very often and when it does — pure joy. When I finish the book, I go back and read it again trying to figure out what made the story so good. Maybe some of that will seep into my brain by osmosis.
I read across a number of genres. In fantasy, I’m a fan of David B. Coe whose writing makes my jaw drop. I’m just starting to read Janny Wurts and I enjoy the layers in her stories. I’ve just started to read Terry Pratchett. I know, I’m late to that game, but enjoying it none the less. Going Postal was brilliant. In the paranormal genre I’m fond of Kelley Armstrong and Kim Harrison. Their witches are seriously cool. Kim’s world building makes me green with envy. Who wouldn’t love a Pixie named Jenks who likes to swing on your earring and annoy you? In the mystery field, its Anne Perry, Kathy Reichs, Michael Connolly and Ian Rankin. I’m also fond of Bruce Alexander’s Sir John Fielding Series, but alas Mr. Alexander (Bruce Cook) has gone onto that great reading room in the sky. We’ll miss him. As for newcomers, Jack Kerley’s Hundredth Man was awesome.
Life is beginning to get interesting. I just signed with Dragon Moon Press to write a time travel/shapeshifter story set during the Ripper murders. If all goes as planned, Sojourn, will be out in early 2006. I may also be penning an article for one of their upcoming anthologies on the business of writing fantasy. I will be finishing my third book in the DragonFire Fantasy Series and working on the second in a paranormal series (the first of which is floating around NY). If all my ducks fall in line, the next couple of years could be really busy.
Advise to new writers
Tempted as I am to shout, “Put that pen down now! You don’t know where it’s been!” I’ll not do that.
Writing is no different than learning to be an Olympic athlete or training for the Masters. It requires practice. Years of it. You will not likely be an overnight success. If you are, congrats, but I wouldn’t count on it. Just write a lot of words. It gets easier and harder at the same time. You’ll know what I mean by that after herding verbs for a couple of books.
The level at which I’m currently writing is nowhere near where I was writing four years ago or even one year ago. It’s a long haul. It requires discipline, a good sense of humor and a balanced life. Most of all, you need to feed your brain and your soul. Go for that occasional walk, take up a new hobby, go to an art show, a concert, talk to people you wouldn’t usually speak with. All of those things stimulate those little gray cells (as Hercule Poirot would say) and lead to interesting plots, dynamic characters and finished books.
Talk to your betters. Other authors have knowledge and most are willing to share it. Some of their wisdom won’t work for you, but a lot of it will. Talk to them, find out how they handle problems related to their writing, their career, their lives. They’re a resource and should be utilized to the full.
Even if your goal is never to submit your books to the outside world, but to just write for yourself, you’ve created something uniquely your own. That, in the end, is all that matters.