Since winning the silver IPPY for best SF/F/H ebook, I’ve gotten to know the other two medalists in my category. The three of us have been chatting (and put together the awesome giveaway I’ve linked at the bottom of this post). We’ve been learning about each other, and this has led to some fun interview opportunities.
Today, Josh Viola (gold medal winner for The Bane of Yoto) interviews me. He’s asked me to host the blog post here. Enjoy!
My name is Joshua Viola, and I’m the seven-time award-winning author of The Bane Of Yoto.
Storytelling, like any art form, is very personal. It’s an emotional process. One of the biggest challenges for any writer is determining whether or not you’re any good at it. And so I’ve entered my work into numerous literary contests in hopes of finding the answer to that question.
But this time was different. This time I was lucky enough to come away with something far more valuable than I hoped to gain. I had the honor of befriending fellow IPPY award-winner Janine A. Southard, author of Queen and Commander, and diving into her imaginative world.
Janine’s writing is refreshing with a great sense of prose and character development techniques I hope to make use of in my own future works.
If you haven’t yet read Janine’s fantastic novel, Queen and Commander, do so now and witness independent writing at its best.
For a deeper look inside Janine’s process, read my interview with the award-winner below.
Josh Viola Interviews Janine A. Southard
In my first draft, the characters were all secular Druids. I based my system of Druidry on readings of the medieval texts (e.g., The Mabinogion), but the secularism confused my first readers. In our present day, Wales and Druidry are such minorities that alpha readers couldn’t place the culture well.
So, in the revisions, each character ended up with a different level of belief (some pagans, some animists, etc.). Except Luciano, who is staunchly Catholic. Not being a Druid myself, I mixed my existing version of Druidry with information from Druidcast, a monthly podcast from the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids (OBOD).
2. Your story focuses on challenges faced by teenagers. Was that an intended theme?
Well, I do bill the novel as a “young adult space opera,” so: yep!
Less flippantly, yes, I wanted to write about real teenagers confronting difficulties in a practical way. No characters in this book have any luck (unless it’s bad) or magically know how to do things. And yet, they persevere.
I hope that teen readers will see this realistic portrayal of “what would happen if I owned a spaceship?” and will take it as both encouragement (“hey! If they can try something so outlandish, so can I!”) and also as warning (“Oh, things don’t just happen because you smile right.”) .
I also believe adult readers can remember teenagerhood and making (or not) rash decisions and seeing how that worked out for them.
3. Queen and Commander has a very unique voice. The characters, especially the females, are strong and well developed. Do you feel female characters receive the attention they deserve in today’s literature? Was that a focus of yours?
Queen & Commander is an ensemble novel. As far as I’m concerned, it has six main characters, each with a complete character arc. I have sixty pages of character notes. Aside from the societal structure that requires at least one of them to be female, gender didn’t enter into my decision to develop each character.
As for female characters in modern literature… let’s narrow this down to strong female characters in recent space opera science fiction (into which category Queen & Commander falls). Whether they receive the attention they “deserve” really depends on how individual authors treat their female characters.
For instance, I can think of a number of wonderful, recent space opera novels that center on strong female characters. There’s Elizabeth Moon’s Vatta’s War series, with a militaristic bent which probably draws on Moon’s experience in the USMC. Or Sabrina Chase’s Sequoyah trilogy, which has an old-school protagonist-out-of-time feel. Of course, everyone loves to reference Lois McMaster Bujold’s Cordelia’s Honor, the story of a peaceful space explorer who gets roped into a more militaristic society’s situations. Or how about some books where female characters are still fully-formed, but more a part of the ensemble? This brings to mind R.M. Meluch’s Tour of the Merrimack, a classic space-marines-versus-aliens plot with a number of twists.
On the other hand, I can think of novels that get it wrong. I love the first four books of Stephen L. Kent’s Clone Wars series. Sure, there are almost no women in those at all, but that’s sensible when you consider that the army is made entirely of clones. When would our hero interact with women? Unfortunately, Kent bowed to the pressure to add a female character in book five. Ava’s two purposes seem to be crying and having sex. She’s got backstory, but she’s mostly gratuitous. Which is extra sad because I’m no longer interested in reading these books (and I adore anything with space marines).
4. Who or what was the inspiration for Rhiannon?
I will blushingly disclose that all six main characters in Queen & Commander began as personal friends of mine. Only as I gave them backstories and motivations and family members did they evolve into their own people.
5. Queen and Commander has been described as a series. How soon can we expect the follow-up?
Queen & Commander is the first in a three-book plot arc. I’m hoping to get the second book (working title: Queen & Caper) out by the end of the year. Check for a new Kickstarter project in July or August!
6. Your content is very clean. I’m guessing your background as an editor played a role in that. Can you tell me more about your work in that field?
I’ve seen a lot of overwrought prose in my day, so I’m always very careful about what I put into my own work. Thus, I have the opposite problem of most writers. They get told “cut cut cut!” Whereas, my editors and readers say, “I need another chapter” and “This scene that you thought wrapped up all the subtle themes? It feels like a whole new plot point. Please revise.”
What being an editor has taught me is that I NEED AN EDITOR in order to have a really well paced and plotted final product. I was super-lucky to snag Cat Rambo for Queen & Commander and hope she’ll be available when I’m ready with the sequel.
7. You’ve also worked on video games. Can you go into more detail about that? What games have you worked on?
The game I’ve worked on most is Aion Online. If you’ve gotten past level ten in this MMORPG, you’ve probably seen my work. I’ve been part of this franchise on and off for four years now.
What kinds of stuff have I done for Aion? I’ve written hundreds upon thousands of character dialogues and quests. Numerous storybooks. Lore documents. Short stories. Cutscene scripts.
Cutscene scripts might be my favorite. For the past two years I’ve also directed the voice actors in the studio. Videogames get a lot of flack for their voice acting, and it’s particularly challenging to get right for Aion. We receive all the visuals, background music, and sound effects from the Korean development team, and we can’t change any of that stuff. So the scripts have to be written as best they can to match the timing, and the voice actors work hard to match unexpectedly embedded sound effects (like someone’s evil laughter). Usually it works out.
8. Do you consider yourself a gamer? If so, what’s your favorite game and why?
I’m not much of a gamer, actually, which might explain my perspective on game writing. I don’t get distracted by the desire to, y’know, play the game. Rather, every NPC (non-player character) is important to me, whether they’re food sellers or campaign questers. I care deeply about their stories and lives… and keep spreadsheets of every person I’ve written.
9. How do you feel about story-telling in video games?
That it’s a good idea! Games have so much potential as a narrative medium, and I love them for that. I adore watching people play story-based games (for all that I don’t want to play them myself; I just don’t want to deal with all the bits in between the storytelling).
Heck, I adore any games with fun writing, full stop. Last year, I watched someone play Deathspank from beginning to ending, cackling over the dialogue the whole time.
10. What made you decide to work as an independent author?
The creative freedom. I mean, here I have a book that I call a young adult space opera. For the last ten to fifteen years, there hasn’t been much new space opera in young adult section. Plus, I wanted an ensemble novel (rather than a single-person limited POV), and there isn’t a romance plot (highly atypical, especially in books with teenage girls on the cover).
I didn’t even try to get a traditional deal. Any publishing house that took the book would want to make sweeping structural changes.
Queen & Commander may not be mainstream, but it’s the book I wanted to write. And, in another five to twenty years, we will cycle back to having spaceships in YA, non-romance in science fiction, and ensemble as “cool” rather than “too confusing.”
Don’t forget to enter the raffle to win copies of Josh & Janine’s books, plus a Kindle Paperwhite, and a bunch of other neat stuff!
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