Friday, June 16, 2006

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Patricia Bray, Part 2

Last week Kathleen and Therese chatted with author Patricia Bray. Bray has managed to leap from category romance to the world of epic, 500-page fantasy novels. Part Two of her interview is below.

Q: The character of Devlin in your first series, SWORD OF CHANGE, was a hard-bitten, cynical man. In your new series, THE CHRONICLES OF JOSAN, the protagonist of Brother Josan is a gentle monk. Did you consciously choose to depart in a different direction for your hero, or was Josan an intuitive choice?

A: THE SWORD OF CHANGE series started with the idea of survivor's guilt, and how someone would respond to being the sole survivor of a vicious attack. Devlin's character sprang to life from that initial seed, as he is clearly shaped by his experiences.

In THE FIRST BETRAYAL, I started with the idea of a man whose memories were not his own. From there I knew I needed a strong contrast to drive the story--Josan, the gentle scholar and his opposite the arrogant, self-centered Prince Lucius. It was an intuitive choice as I kept developing the character until he just felt right.

[Note: You can read an excerpt of THE FIRST BETRAYAL here.]

Q: Talk a bit about your female characters. They don't fit the stereotype of women often found in fantasy literature (healers and so forth). Do you consciously steer clear of Arwen-types or don't you worry about it?

A: I knew when I was writing The Sword of Change series that I wanted a world with gender equality, where both men and women would be found at all levels of society in diverse roles. Part of the fun of the series is playing with reader expectations—as in the second book DEVLIN'S HONOR where we learn that Devlin was the sensitive artist while his wife was the warrior in the family. It's only after her death that he took up arms and became the hardened warrior that we met in DEVLIN'S LUCK.

When I was writing Regencies, my female characters were constrained by the limitations of the genre and the historical time period. When I began writing fantasy, I enjoyed the freedom to create different types of female characters, such as Captain Drakken, the commander of the guard. Originally Captain Drakken was a peer of Devlin, but my first reader kept waiting for me to pair them up, so I added fifteen years to Captain Drakken's age to make it clear that she was a mentor, not a potential love interest.

In my new series I'm using gender roles to help drive the plot. Lady Ysobel is one of the strongest characters that I've ever written, and she comes from a culture where women and men have equal status. But in Ikaria women are regarded as inferior beings, and thus despite her diplomatic rank many men refuse to take her seriously. Lady Ysobel uses this to her advantage, knowing that the Ikarian's prejudices means they will constantly underestimate her.

Q: What can you tell us about your new series? Was writing JOSAN easier than writing SWORD?

A: The first book begins with the story of Brother Josan, a humble monk whose quest to unlock the secrets of his past inadvertently brings the Ikarian empire to the brink of civil war. As he strives to undo the harm he has caused, his opponents include Lady Ysobel of Seddon, a spy posing as a diplomat, who has been sent to Ikaria to incite rebellion. She and her allies will do whatever it takes to carry out their schemes, while Josan has no one he can trust except himself.

THE CHRONICLES OF JOSAN offers a number of challenges because of the intricate plotting, and the fact that action is spread out across the known world. To do this I'm using two primary characters to drive much of the story line—Brother Josan in Ikaria, and Lady Ysobel, who begins by plotting to destroy Ikaria, but over the course of the trilogy will become a reluctant ally. Prince Lucius also has a large role to play, though I don't want to give too much away for fear of spoilers.

Writing the new series is both easier and harder than the first. It's easier in that I've already written one trilogy, so I know I can do this. I know tricks that will help me along the way, such as maintaining an index of people, places, things, so I can ensure consistency between the three volumes and don't wind up with seven different minor characters each named Thor.

It's also harder in that I am putting pressure on myself to take my writing to the next level—to fulfill the expectations of my fans and make this series even better than the first.

Q: What are some of your literary influences? What authors excite you today?

A: I read omnivorously, including literary novels, science fiction, fantasy, mysteries, techno-thrillers and the occasional romance. I don't have much time to read, but lately I've found myself reading a number of first novels, and enjoy the opportunity to discover fresh voices.

Q: Do you use a critique partner or group, and if so, how do you process their feedback?

A: I've had the same critique partner for thirteen years. In the beginning our critiques focused on craft—issues such as point of view or overuse of passive voice. Our relationship has evolved over time so now when we critique each other's work, we're generally looking for big picture items, such as pacing, or whether a particular scene has hit the right emotional notes. I don't always agree with her suggestions, but if she tells me a scene isn't working, then I know I need to do something different.

Q: Like many authors, you hold down a day job as well. How do you balance writing and work?

A: Balancing my writing with the demands of a full-time career is hard, and often leaves me no time for other things I enjoy, such as reading for pleasure. Most of my writing is done on weekends, or late at night. It helps that I have deadlines to keep me focused—I know that each time I sit down at the computer I have to be productive.

Q: What advice can you give to writers who wish to write fantasy fiction?

A: If you aren't reading fantasy, now is the time to start. Read a little bit of everything to get a feel for what interests you, and what has been done before. Find a copy of Diana Wynne Jones's THE TOUGH GUIDE TO FANTASYLAND for a hilarious look at the cliché’s you'll want to avoid.

Above all, have fun. Don't try to write fantasy because you think the market is hot. Write because this is what you want to write—what you need to write. Believe in yourself and your story, and readers will sense your passion.

Thank you, Patricia! Book One of the CHRONICALS OF JOSAN is available now at all online retailers, including Amazon.com.

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