Welcome to the six hundred and thirty-first of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with soft science fiction and fantasy writer Jessica Steiner. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Jessica. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Jessica: Hi! My name is Jessica Steiner. In my real life, I’m a family law lawyer, and I live in a small city outside of Vancouver, Canada. I work with my mother, who is my business partner, and my wife, who works as our secretary, and my stepfather does the accounting. It’s a bit of a family operation, which I find really rewarding. We mostly do legal aid work, helping battered women escape abusive relationships, and also represent people who have had their children taken into foster care by the government. It’s a difficult, emotional job, but well worth it, most days.
I wrote my first short story when I was five years old, though I’m not sure that counts. Still, I always wrote stories, as long as I can remember. When I was in high school, I wrote my first novel. It was absolutely terrible, but I knew even then that I wanted to become a professional writer, and I was already shopping short stories around to magazines. They all got rejected, but I persisted. Law school definitely made it hard to keep up my writing routine, but now that I’m finished and have been called to the bar, I have the time to focus on my second career.
Morgen: I’d say your story definitely counts. You clearly enjoyed it enough to still be a writer. I love that. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Jessica: I write a mix of soft science fiction and fantasy. Often my stories have a romantic or horror flavour to them, and I’m doing research for a historical fantasy, but basically you won’t ever find me writing fully outside of those genres, I think.
Morgen: What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Jessica: In August, I published Mortis Unbound, which is my debut novel. Mortis Unbound is a fantasy novel, set in a universe where all of the natural forces (such as heat, movement, and light, and others) are caused by tiny, invisible fairies called vox. The mages in this world have used their knowledge of these forces to trap death, and make everyone immortal, but she escapes her imprisonment. A journalist, named Liiran, meets death and tries to help her, but is declared a traitor as a result. There’s romance and political intrigue, and some interesting magic in the book. It’s available through Amazon and Smashwords, and if you read it I would very much appreciate a review!
Morgen: I don’t review books, unfortunately too little time, but I have a list of those who do. I know fantasy is such a popular genre that hopefully some of the readers of this interview would gladly assist. You’ve self-published, what lead to you going your own way?
Jessica: I am self-published, and there are a lot of reasons for that. I’ve made a pretty thorough attempt to outline my reasons for deciding to self-publish in a blog post, so it’s probably simplest if you read it there.
Morgen: Are your books available as eBooks? How involved were you in that process? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Jessica: Right now, my books are only available in e-format. I completely formatted and uploaded them by myself. Personally, I love the ebook format! I have a Kobo ereader and I carry it around with me everywhere I go. Though there is something special about paper books that can never truly be replaced, I love the convenience of being able to carry my entire library around with me. The only problem I have with ereaders is that paper books don’t run out of batteries!
Morgen: That’s very true, although unless you have a colour eReader the batteries last for weeks. I use the Kindle app on my iPad so I have to charge it more often (it’s still in days) but then I’m using it for other things too. Very few authors I’ve spoken to say they solely read eBooks and I think both formats will run alongside each other quite happily. I know some readers have enjoyed an eBook so much that they’ve bought the paperbook just to have it on their shelf. Did you choose the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Jessica: I struggled over the title of Mortis Unbound. It was awful. I’ve always hated coming up with titles for anything I’ve written, but I’ve never had so hard a time coming up with a good title for a book, before. As I was going through the process of getting Mortis ready to be published, I hired an editor, and she gave me a few suggestions for titles, one of which became the final title of the book.
I hired a graphic designer friend of mine to design the cover. Her name is Rebecca Potter, and she does beautiful work. You can learn more about her work here. She and I worked together on the cover in a collaborative way. First we discussed basic concepts and she did some different concepts, then we went back and forth while I told her what I liked about each iteration and she came back with changes.
Morgen: It is a great cover, and I’m a big titles fan; yours is intriguing (a huge plus). What are you working on at the moment / next?
Jessica: My next project is a collection of short stories. I’ve written a series of erotic short stories, set in a post-apocalyptic version of Earth where a virus has created vampires and caused the dead to rise as zombies. There are also shape shifters and other supernatural creatures. The collection will be called Grim Hunter, and basically all I need at the moment is to edit and format the collection and to get a cover done, so it should be out in a couple of months.
After that, I’ll be working on releasing a science fiction mystery called OtherWhere. OtherWhere is set in a near future where virtual reality has allowed a company to create fully immersive Massive Multiplayer Role Playing Games. Only it seems as though some people who play the game get so obsessed with it that they are literally starving to death inside the game. But are these accidents, or are they being murdered?
Morgen: I don’t know why you worry about titles, they’re great. The thing about titles is they have to represent the book, be as different to others as possible – if you have a story called ‘The Journey’ try searching it on Amazon and you’ll find nearly 85,000 results. It’s advised to stay away from titles beginning with ‘The’ anyway). Do you manage to write every day?
Jessica: I do try to write every day. I don’t always manage it, but I maintain a spreadsheet where I track the work I do on my various projects each day. That keeps me accountable.
Morgen: That’s a great idea. I do for NaNoWriMo and it certainly keeps me in check. I wrote a story a day for my blog’s 5pm fiction slot (currently on a break until March) and because it had to go on the blog it got me writing. I keep reminding myself that 300 words a day is 100,000 words a year. Really, anyone can achieve that. Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Jessica: I do sometimes suffer from it, but I don’t believe that writer’s block is some mystical issue with my Muse. I find that when I struggle with a story, it’s because I have done something wrong, gone in a direction that isn’t working or had a character do or say something that’s out of character or problematic. Writer’s block is my subconscious mind’s way of throwing up a sign saying, “You’ve screwed this up!” Usually, I just need to rethink things, back up and rework what I’ve done, and that breaks the logjam.
Morgen: A lot of people suffer from the fear of starting but you can’t edit a blank page so getting it down is the main thing and nothing’s perfect when it first comes out and having a break and coming back to it is the best thing to do when you stall. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Jessica: I do plot my stories out, and usually I’m pretty good at keeping with my original outline. I generally write one or two sentences for each chapter, just to give me a guideline for what I wanted to have happen in it. That gives me the freedom to figure out exactly how each plot point is accomplished in the moment when I’m writing, but gives me all the signposts to follow, so I always know where I’m going.
Morgen: That’s a great idea. I don’t usually plan at all but am going to back to writing a synopsis for a crime series I started last November. I think I’ve written parts of the series in the first book but writing outlines for each one will certainly help clarify where it’s going to go. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Jessica: Oh gosh, editing is vital! When I write my fanfiction, I generally don’t do much editing, just a proofreading pass to tighten things up, and the writing does tend to come out well enough that people enjoy my stories. But when it comes to professional writing, especially novel-length writing, it needs to be tighter. By the time I get to the end of a novel, I’ve learned so much about my world and my characters that I always have come up with some different ideas that require me to go back and rework things at the beginning.
When I edited Mortis Unbound, I changed my opening scene three times. All of the flashback scenes were added in later, and quite a few scenes were reorganized into a different order, broken in half, or reworked. I eliminated an entire sub-plot about a girlfriend that Liiran had, because it never really worked for me, and I also combined two characters into one. Ultimately, I feel the book is much better for it.
Morgen: Maybe it could reappear in a sequel. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Jessica: Maybe it’s not that creative, but my advice is to write, read, and write some more. Read books in your genre, and books in other genre. Read books about the craft writing, then try to apply the lessons that you’ve learned. When you read a book, try to analyze what’s working, and not working, so that you can take those lessons and use them in your own work. I’ve taken a lot of online writing courses through Holly Lisle’s website, Forward Motion, and I really recommend them. They can be very work intensive, but Mortis Unbound would not be the novel it is today without the How To Revise Your Novel course.
But the biggest piece of advice is to write. Write and understand that it doesn’t have to be perfect. Write actively, always trying to figure out how to improve little by little, but don’t allow the fact that you know your writing isn’t as good as you’d like it to be to stop you. I think every writer suffers from the feeling that their writing isn’t as good as it could be, but the thing that separates someone who wants to be a writer and someone who is a writer, is that the writer writes.
Morgen: I used to listen to a lot of podcasts and Holly’s was great. I tend to listen to music when I’m walking the dog now because I’m writing, editing or reading on the ‘hoof’. Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Jessica: I’m on the Strategic Planning committee for The Organization for Transformative Works, a non-profit, wholly online organization dedicated to the study and preservation of fanworks of all kinds.
Morgen: Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Jessica: The best place to find me is on http://jessicasteiner.dreamwidth.org, which has news about my writing, general reflections, and reviews of the books I read and podcasts I listen to. I can also be found on Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin.
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention.
Jessica: Just to say thanks so much for the opportunity!
Morgen: You’re very welcome, Jessica. I’m delighted you could join me.
I then invited Jessica to include an extract of her writing and the following is the first chapter of Mortis Unbound.
Laxamora, 316 A.B. (After Breakthrough)
Mortis heard the banging, felt the swaying, even in her dreams. It angered her, and she hammered futilely against the interior of her prison. The impacts of her own fists echoed in her ears, assaulted her senses, and did nothing. Nothing.
Sleep tried to drag her down again and she prepared to surrender. Nothing she did mattered, and she would never escape. It was better to live in dreams.
But then she heard shouting, a “Be careful with that!” and a jolt ran through the prison.
Then she sensed it: the tiniest of hairline fractures in the glass. It was too small to see, but for her, it was enough.
She burst from her imprisonment and rose into the air in a shower of glass, wings unfurling. There were humans all around her, men and women who wanted to put her back in the prison. She wouldn’t let them. She wouldn’t go back to that endless hell.
She spread her hands and the humans were falling, dying, their little lives snuffed out effortlessly. She felt nothing except the relief that they could not hurt her again.
Her feet touched the ground once more, when the last human lay dead on the floor. They lay all around her, like broken matchsticks and of just as little consequence. Glass sliced into her feet. Pain, strange and foreign and unpleasant, jolted through her body like tiny bolts of lightning.
She wanted to escape. Needed to hide, but she didn’t know where to go. Where could she hide?
She stepped over one of the bodies.
The certainty she had felt was fading, subsumed by fear and memories of the endless sleep. She pressed her hands to her eyes, shuddering. Where could she go? Who was she running from? That didn’t matter. What mattered was that she was running, and she was all alone in the world.
She straightened. She wasn’t all alone. There was one person. He might be an enemy, but he was the only person in all the world whose face she could picture in her mind. Everything before that quickly became smothered in fog. If he was an enemy she would do…do something.
She would not go back to prison.
Death could find anyone. She stumbled out into the street, gavoxae tugging at her hair with their little hands, and savoxae wrapping their chill arms around her, toying with her skin.
She turned towards the place where she knew he could be found, and took flight.
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