The dates of the original Q&A session were 9/18/06 through 9/24/06.
Author Jennifer Fallon recently visited the ARWZ Community Forums to answer questions from fans and ARWZ readers in an Interactive Q&A. The questions and conversations in this transcript are in no particular order, and may vary from the order in which they were originally asked.
In our recent interview, we discuss your techniques for blending science fiction and fantasy into a subtle genre crossover marketed, ostensibly, as fantasy. I'm curious, are you considering working with any other genres? That is, creating crossover worlds in future stories that combine fantasy with another genre, such as horror, mystery, historical, etc?
You know, I was thinking about this the other day. I'd really like to write scifi, and there's a political thriller writer inside me bursting to get out, too.
Interestingly, though, if I do tackle another genre, I may not publish it under the name Jennifer Fallon. I am so closely associated with fantasy, that it might work against me.
Still, it's just a thought at the moment. I have to get Tide Lords wrapped up before I even think about it.
We've been talking about pen names in the Writers' forum lately - why to use them or why not to use them. I can't recall reading anywhere about you whether your current publishing name is a pen name or real name.
So to my question: Is "Jennifer Fallon" a pen name or your real name? What influenced you to make that decision, whether for pen name or real name? What are advantages/disadvanges of either option that you find compelling? Obviously, you've pointed out the advantage of using a pen name when writing in a different genre, but what other pros and cons have you discovered?
OK... The long and involved "How Jennifer Fallon Was Born" story...
Once upon a time, I was married to a person with a name very similar to Tolkien, who made noises about supporting my efforts as a writer, right up until the day he made the comment: "I wish you'd quit writing and be a better housewife because you're never going to get published."
This was not the devastating blow you might imagine (although it is among the many reasons he's now my "ex" husband). More like a red rag to a bull. The very next day I started writing Medalon.
Anyway, by the time Medalon was sold to a publisher, he really was the "ex", and because he's the sort of person who would have gone around telling all and sundry he'd been my rock and my greatest supporter for the past 20 years and that I couldn't have done it without him, I decided I wasn't going to use his name on my book. Not ever.
I reverted to my maiden name and rang my agent, proudly informing her that I would now be using this new name.
Dead silence greeted my announcement followed by the comment: "It's kind of, well, boring..."
Fair enough. But I wasn't going with my married name, even if it would have put me right next to Tolkien in the book shops.
"I'll pick another name," I said, and hung up the phone.
So how does one choose a new name? Well, at the time, I had three teenage kids and they told me of a joke that was getting around about how to work out what your name would be if you were a porn star. The secret, apparently, was to take the name of your first pet, and the name of the first street you lived in, and that would be your porn name.
My porn star name, incidentally, is Laddie Blake.
So, applying this highly scientific formula to my search for a pseudonym, I started listing all my pets and all the streets I've ever lived in.
The second street on my list was Fallon Street. Jennifer (which is my real name) Fallon, sounded pretty cool. And then it occurred to me that in the bookstores, it would go Eddings, Fallon ,Feist...
Thus was Jennifer Fallon born.
If I write something in a different genre, maybe I'll publish it under the name, Laddie Blake.
In hindsight, the only thing I would have done differently if pick a more generic first name, one that wasn't so gender specific, because there is a faction out there who won't read any fantasy written by a woman.
To those of us who are book addicts, we think that being a writer would be the best profession in the world. But I suspect there have to be some negatives. Are there times when you feel that you are tired of being creative and could use a few months doing something less demanding?
— Saundra Kane
I have author friends who feel the need for a break, some who find the whole process quite draining, but I'm not one of them. I love what I do and think it's the greatest job in the world.
On the other hand, I do several other things as well as write, because there is a very real temptation to become a complete slob, never leave the house, work in my jammies, and get sucked into my imaginary worlds so far I would need an intervention to get me out again.
On the down side, the time between offers and actual checks is horrendously long and unpredictable and I can't budget on six monthly pay checks to save my life, regardless of how big the check is.
Even so, I'd rather do this than anything else and seriously, even after all this time, it still doesn't feel like work.
Would you say, then, that budgeting is the hardest part of the writer's life? If not, then what is most challenging?
For me it is... but that's mostly because I have a gift for living beyond my income, no matter how much I earn... LOL
I would like to ask what's your writing regimen? Do you have a shed at the bottom of the garden where you lock yourself away for 8 hours a day?
I have an office at home. I have a bad tendency of waking up, walking into the kitchen, making a coffee then going into the office to check my email, opening up the lastest MS and not getting up again until lunchtime... only to discover I'm still in my jammies...
I write either first thing in the morning or very late at night. The rest of the time, I'm either wasting time trying to avoid doing my tax receipts, or working on other things (I am a business trainer, too, and teach at a couple of different places).
I never force myself to write. I am happy to let things percolate until they're ready to be written.
When world building, how deep do you go in creating your world, and populating it with politics, religion, race etc.
Also, where do you stop, so as to be able to get on with writing the tale?
Before I write a word, I will know all of the following:
type of government
number of countries
major religious observances
type of agriculture
level of technology
role of women (equal, subservient or dominant)
types of transport
cultural structure (slavery, nobility, etc)
role of the military
And probably a score of other things I can't think of right now. I might refine some smaller things as the story unfolds, but I usually have a pretty clear idea of the world before I start putting characters in it.
The reason I believe you should do this is because the environment will affect the characters' reactions to things. We are all, to a degree, the product of our environment. If you don't have a clear idea of your character's environment, how can you describe their reactions?
When developing both main and secondary characters, have you consciously pilfered traits (even whole personalities) from people around you, people you have met, people you wish you hadn't met, people you don't ever want to meet?
On the flipside, have you noticed on a re-read that you have unconsciously allowed traits/personalities from the above group, to develop in a character over the course of the MS, contrary to plan?
No on both counts. The characters tend to be their own, unique voices.
I frequently steal names off people I know, but they in no way relate to the characters I write.
Don't I wish I knew Damin Wolfblade....hahahaha
Having said that, other people who know my kids have said that Tejay and Adrina share quite a few traits with my daughters, but it was never intentional.
Hi Jennifer - thanks for posting with us.
I've finished books in all genres and thought they were good, but why couldn't this character have been female? Or that one male?
So I wonder how authors choose genders for their characters. I think it would need to be done very close to the conception of the book. Have you ever started out thinking a character was one gender, then changed your mind? What made you change your mind?
Do you ever make a character be a woman for the shock factor? Fantasy is more likely than other genres to have a strong heroic woman, which I appreciate. It really irks me to have a woman with no personality beyond housekeeping and whimpering on the floor (not helping) while her man gets beaten up.
What about making a character a man for the shock factor? A man with "female" traits is usually derided. Why not a man who cooks and grows flowers, yet is the best swordfighter in the land?
— Alicia GA
I usually try for a balance of genders rather than a specific hero or heroine. And no, I haven't ever had a character change genders. My characters and the role they will play fairly well defined before I start writing, so there isn't a lot of room to start messing with their gender.
And why not a man who cooks and grows flowers, yet is the best swordfighter in the land?
I might have one who'd turned his back on killing and was trying to get by as a gardener or a chef. To be the greatest swordsman in the land, however, requires hours of training and practice, which he's not likely to get in a garden.
So would I write an effeminate swordsman hero for the shock value? No. One, because it wouldn't shock so much as irritate, and he probably wouldn't seem plausible. Two, because readers want to identify with characters. They want to see themselves in the hero or heroine and such a character would more likely alienate people, rather than entice them.
Look at it this way... which film made more money, Lord of the Rings or Brokeback Mountain?
How do you deal with continuity in your writing? That is, what methods do you use to track what's come before, what day did something happen, etc? This is a question I ask all authors and I'm curious to know what methods you use.
I wish I could give you an easy answer, but the fact is, I have a mind that retains the most complex plots and I have no trouble keeping track of them.
Occasionally I will make out lists to remind me, but then I forget where I put them.
Mind you, I can't remember anything in my daily life if I don't put it in my diary. There's not enough room in my head for everything, you see.
Do you ever forget about something, a specific detail about the world or a character, you've written in an earlier chapter, and then find it surprises you when you go back and reread your work?
I lost a whole army once, in between Treason Keep and Harshini, but fortunately I discovered it before Treason Keep went to print.
I do ocasionally come across something I forgot about, but it's usually picked up in the re-writes, of which I will do scores before the book is completed.
As I understand it, you publish your novels first in Australia, with the HarperCollins imprint Voyager, and then they are later picked up by American publishers for distribution in the states.
I'm curious, since you've worked both with Australian publishers and with US publishers, what has been your experience with both? Are there any differences you've noticed in how they operate?
There is very little difference in the way they work in Australia or the US, but I do have more contact with my Australian editor, mostly because she is more accessible.
To talk on the phone to my US editors means one of us has to stay up half the night.
To be honest, I'm suprised by how similar the process is, regardless of the country.
We all write to appease the immortal demon that plagues our souls. What influences what you write? How do you pick from the ideas that come to you? Do you know when an idea is good or not? Oh, and why trilogies?
— Doug Gogerty
My head hurts if I don't write. Seriously.
How do you pick from the ideas that come to you?
They evolve over time. Sometimes quite a long time. Often I have a theme, rather than a plot. And I often think up titles first. As for what works, somehow I just know.
Do you know when an idea is good or not?
I run it past a few trusted friends first. If they don't fall about laughing derisively, I try it on my agent. If she likes it, I know I'm on a winner.
Oh, and why trilogies?
My series have all been sold to Australian publishers first and that's what they like at the moment.
Tide Lords is a four book series, though, and nobody has complained about that.
Personally, I prefer them. Worldbuilding is a lot of work. It seems a pity to go to all that trouble for one book.
Having grown up on fantasy, and finally turning away from its derivative regurgitations as an adult, I have seen the fantasy camps become more divisive as it evolves. What do you feel are the major forces behind this splitting up of the different world archetypes? For instances, Tolkien vs. Howard...
— Nickolas Cook
I think people like you are the reason, (and I mean it in the nicest way possible). As you say, you've grown up on fantasy, and are finally turning away from its derivative regurgitations as an adult.
I think readers like you are becoming more sophisticated and are demanding more of their authors in believability and world building. You want stories that offer more than just the "prophesized goatherder becoming a prince" sort of cliche that fantasy is often derided for.
On the other hand, there is still a huge market for the less sophisticated type of fantasy (Harry Potter anyone?) which irks those who think the genre has so much more to offer.
Hope that answers your question.
What sorts of fiction were you exposed to as a child, and did it carry over into adulthood?
I'm going to cheat and make this a two fer'...
What was the most important book (fiction or nonfiction) to your craft?
— Nickolas Cook
I can't remember ever not being able to read and I devoured everything I could get my hands on as a child. Didn't matter what it was.
Having said that, I was always a lover of adventure over romance, and I think that's still with me.
As for the book that I remember as being most important... One is One by Barbara Leonie Picard. I just read it again last month.