One of the best parts about winning an IPPY award has been the unique opportunity to get to know my fellow authors. Janine A. Southard is the author of Queen and Commander and the Silver Medalist for IPPY Best SciFi/Fantasy/Horror eBook. Today I got to ask her 10 questions about her award winning novel, her career, and what’s next!
1. Queen and Commander is a great “coming of age” kind of story mixed with a “setting your own path” message. What was your initial inspiration?
Gosh, it’s been so long since the first iteration of this story that I can’t remember the initial inspiration for the plot. Queen & Commander started with the universe and the characters.
Universe: In 2006, I had just decided to change industries from my “day job” (of econo-legal consulting). Before jumping headlong into some new industry, I took a zillion tests. The ones that mixed interests and personality with basic skills. You know. The STRONG assessment. Meyers-Briggs. Enneagram. All that. When doing this as a job seeker (and with my colleges’ career offices), you get a final “result” which includes a list of potential professions. Combine that experience with my semester abroad in Japan (a country where high school standardized tests make or break a student’s future earnings potential), and lo! Thus was born the idea of a test which reliably informed “here’s your perfect job.” (Although, come to think of it, I do have an unfinished adult-oriented story which also has society-set job placement. But that’s more about class systems than standardized testing.)
Characters:I’ll admit that each of the six main characters (the teenagers who escape from their home planet on a semi-legally-obtained spaceship) were originally based on personal friends. As I started revamping backstories and looks and hobbies, they changed drastically. (And once I made most of them Welsh, that kind of knocked the “people I know” category down a few.) I doubt anyone could recognize themselves at this point.
2. 2nd part to the above question… you capture the teenage years beautifully – even set in a different world. How did you write teenagers without giving them too adult of a voice?
Hah! Here I take a page from Orson Scott Card and just write them like adults, but with less life experience. My teenagers are a bit more emotional than adults would be (though some of them aren’t), but mostly they have two main characteristics:
1) They have few practical skills.
2) They believe that everything will be okay.
I don’t believe in talking down to the teenage audience.
3. I love the “Hive” concept in Queen and Commander. The loyalty and devotion but without (usually) the sexual element. A kind of pure community built around a strong female leader. How’d you come up with that?
I saw this a lot in college, actually. Especially with the “smart guys who flock around a charismatic lady” configuration. Pair that with the courts of strong queens of the past like Queen Elizabeth I or Cleopatra, and you start to see what a queen-and-court system might look like. Plus, y’know, I think every woman at some point daydreams about having a bunch of men who love and pay attention to her, regardless of whether they’re romantically interested in someone else. It’s validating as a fantasy, but also requires a lot of reciprocal attention on the part of the focus.
So, taking this idea of miniature courts, I expanded it to include multiple queens and multiple courts. How would they interact?
4. If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in book?
I think I’d end it sooner. A lot of feedback I’ve got has centered on how the book feels too much like it’s leading you into the sequel, that it isn’t done on its own. But if I had left out the epilogue completely (which draws you into the next book), then it would have ended in the denouement.
I’m also unsure about the UK edition. Was it really worthwhile?
5. In your interview with Josh, you mentioned realizing that even as an editor you still needed an editor for your writing. What is your interaction like with your editor? What do you look for from them?
My interaction with my editor is entirely over the internet! I looked for someone with significant experience editing for science fiction and fantasy as well as with a writing style I personally like. Cat Rambo is one of the most literary writers in sf/f today, and that’s definitely a place where I need some help.
We had a number of back-and-forths during the editing for Queen & Commander. There were a lot of structural notes in the first round. And requests for MORE SCENES. (I rarely get told to cut extraneous prose. No, my readers and editors all want more information.)
6. What other techniques do you use to help you write and polish your novels?
My top technique is Steven King’s:
Wait 6 weeks after finishing your draft. Don’t touch it! When you come back to your manuscript, you’ll be able to treat it with an editorial eye.
7. Though all centered around words, you seem to have an eclectic career (writing, editing, marketing for various industries). Do you see writing becoming a full-time career?
Writing narrative fiction, you mean? I’m actually planning to try it out for the next few years. Especially now that I’ve won an award! (Validation FTW.) I want to go all out on writing narrative fiction for the near future. Conventional wisdom says that it takes 8 books to become a writer who makes a living wage, so… 7 books to go!
8. Have you considered going the traditional publishing route? Or do you plan to stay indie?
I’d be very interested in hybrid publishing methods. For Queen & Commander (and its two upcoming sequels), though, I don’t see traditional being an option. I love the ensemble cast and the decision to minimize any love stories. Plus, I’m going to do some really neat tie-in novellas. None of that is particularly mainstream, so I’d like to keep the editorial control.
For some other works, though, I’d be curious about testing the big publisher waters.
9. Any advice for other aspiring indie authors?
Don’t expect to make a lot of money (ala J.A. Konrath) out of the gate. Also, having a pushy friend/spouse/crit-partner will motivate you to work. When you don’t have an editor demanding new pages, you need to find your own reason to get stuff done. (I use my spouse. I call his position “cheerleader with a whip” because he pesters me about how much I’ve written lately, and then tells me I’m brilliant.)
10. Any hints you can give us about what’s coming next in the Queen & Commander 3-book arc? Or any other projects in the works?
Book 2 is tentatively titled Queen & Caper, and it’ll take up right when the first book left off: with our heroes stranded on an American space station, not sure how they’re going to pay their medical bills. I hope to get the first draft finished by August, and to create a Kickstarter project in September (to help pay for its production and my other bills). Keep an eye out!
Check Out All 6 Interviews of the 3 Medalists for 2013 IPPY Best SciFi/Fantasy/Horror eBook: