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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Interview with Christine Pope

Christine Pope is a novelist who defies categorization. She's equally at home writing contemporary romance and science fictionized fairy tales. She writes short stories. She blogs. She keeps up with Kindle boards. She is my hero! This year she's been especially prolific and if I didn't like her so much, I'd hate her. If you like well-plotted, character-heavy fiction with a romantic edge, you owe it to yourself to discover Christine's work, if you don't know it already.

Let's talk about the books.
Your new book, All Fall Down, is the first of your "Tales of the Latter Kingdoms." What are the "Latter Kingdoms" and what is the book about?
The "Latter Kingdoms" are a group of countries spread across one continent in a fantasy world that's more Renaissance than medieval in terms of technology, the arts, politics, fashion, and so forth. Since I plan for the series to be set in a variety of these kingdoms, I wanted the series title to reflect all of them. All Fall Down is mainly set in a kingdom named Seldd, a land that's rather backward compared to many of the other countries on the continent. It's about a young woman named Merys Thranion who has been trained as a physician, and how she's captured as a slave and brought to Seldd, at first to heal a nobleman's injured daughter. But she comes up against a far more difficult situation when the plague appears for the first time in hundreds of years. And behind her surface struggles is her growing affection for Lord Shaine, her master. Physicians in her Order are not supposed to form personal attachments, so poor Merys really has to go through the wringer on multiple levels in the book.

Did you originally intend to write a series? Will each story in the series be stand-alone or will there be "cross-pollination" of plots and characters?  Can you tell us a little bit about the second book in the series, Dragon Rose?
You know, I really didn't think about writing a series. I just started writing several different books set in this world, and then I sort of realized partway through that they were a series, although one connected by milieu and not any overarching quest or storyline. All the books in the series are standalones, although events in some books may be mentioned in passing in others. For example, the next book in the series, Dragon Rose, has a brief comment about the plague that dominates the storyline of All Fall Down. Dragon Rose takes place about five years later in a neighboring kingdom called Farendon. It's a very different book, somewhat inspired by the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale, but with an almost gothic tone.

Your book Blood Will Tell and your novella Breath of Life are both set in the Gaian Consortium world. What do you have planned for other books in that series?
I have two more books planned right now, but I'm sure there will be more than that. The first one is called The Gaia Gambit, and it's another planet-hopping romance/adventure story with an adversaries-to-lovers relationship at the center of it. That one is planned for a spring release, depending on what happens with my other books. The next book after that is called Marooned on Mandala, and it also has a Zhore hero (the same alien race we first meet in Breath of Life), although the heroine is very different. She's a Gaian ambassador who gets flung into a world of hurt when the ship she and the Zhore are on crash-lands on an uninhabited planet. I actually got the idea after a fan commented that she really wanted to see another book with a Zhore hero. Your wish is my command! 

Breath of Life is a lovely sci-fi take on the classic "Beauty and the Beast" fairy tale. Do you have any plans to science fictionize other fairy tales?
See my comments on Dragon Rose. I really don't have any plans to do more science fiction fairy tales, although I am going to do some set in the "Latter Kingdoms" world. I have some ideas jotted down for a Red Riding Hood–inspired book called The Wolf of Harrow Hall.

You've published a couple of books this year. Anything else coming out this year? What's in the queue for next year?
Dragon Rose is slated for release in December. It's finished and has gone through its first edit, and I'll be sending it out to beta readers in October. For 2013 I'm planning on releasing The Gaia Gambit, the next Gaian Consortium book; Desert Hearts, a sequel to my paranormal UFO romance Bad Vibrations and the second book in the Sedona trilogy; Binding Spell, another "Latter Kingdoms" book; and possibly Marooned on Mandala and (I hope) Angel Fire, which will complete the Sedona trilogy. In addition to all that, I'll start getting the rights back to my small press–published books in 2013, so I'll be editing and updating them as needed and then releasing them with new covers.

Let's talk about process:
You always have such gorgeous covers. I especially like the cover for All Fall Down. How did you find the artist and what was it like working with her?
Well, my day job is as a graphic designer and editor, so I do my own covers (and those of many other people). I actually found Nadica, the artist for All Fall Down (and Dragon Rose) through one of my clients. I commented on how beautiful the original art was, and the client gave me Nadica's contact information. She is a wonderful artist and an absolute dream to work with, very open to suggestions. I plan to use her for all the "Latter Kingdoms" covers.

What comes first for you--the idea or the character?
That's a tough one. I'd say the idea, though, and then the characters come to life around it. However, since they appear pretty early on, it's an organic process from there on out. My stories are fairly character-driven.

How much do you outline? Do you write in a linear fashion or do you skip around, leaving a troublesome scene until later?
I don't outline at all. I'm an inveterate "pantser." Sometimes I'll scribble some quick notes for upcoming scenes, but that's about it. And I write in a linear fashion. Because character is so important to me, and I need to feel how a character grows throughout the course of the story, I need to take the journey with her, which means I don't skip around. I do skip names of secondary characters, though -- if I'm writing in a rush and don't want to stop to think something up, I just put in an initial, knowing I'll fix it in the second draft. 
Do you ever get writer's block?
Sometimes. But that's why I have so many projects going at once. I can skip to a different one if a particular scene or plot point is giving me trouble. I also like making covers or working on my website. If I'm feeling really stuck, having those other creative outlets gives me a chance to work on something that's related without forcing myself through the block. And I always eventually get past it.

Cassandra Clare and E.L. James have made fanfic respectable these days. I know you used to write fan fiction set in various universes. Do you think writing fan fiction is a good way for a writer to gain experience? Did you find the community nurturing or competitive?
Fanfic was great for me because I'd hit a place in my life where I wasn't writing anything. It was awful. I discovered fanfic and just took off. I wouldn't say I was hugely involved in any of the fanfic communities, and my stories never had the huge followings that some of the other ones did, mostly because I either wrote about niche characters or used my own original characters in established settings. It was very helpful, though, because you get immediate feedback every time you write a chapter, and you get a feel for the sorts of things people react to.

You once wrote a hilarious serial story based on the song "Welcome to Skullcrusher Mountain" by Jonathan Coulter. Are you often inspired by songs or music?
Well, my first piece of fanfic was actually my book No Return, which was inspired by Phantom of the Opera and which I heavily edited and then actually published. I also have another Phantom project partway done, a sequel to the original book by Gaston Leroux, but I'm not sure when I'm going to squeeze that one in. Otherwise, I do use music during my writing process -- I have playlists I make up for each of my books and listen to them as I'm writing. It's almost all soundtracks. I've found they work best for me, especially music from movies I've either never seen or only seen once. That way, I don't get images from the film in my head as I'm trying to write.

Do you participate in NaNoWriMo? Have any of your novels emerged from a project you completed during the writing challenge?
I've been doing NaNo for years (seven? eight?). All Fall Down was a NaNo project, and so was my paranormal romance, Sympathy for the Devil. The Gaia Gambit started as a NaNo book, but I didn't "win" that year because I was in Sedona for a week that November and just fell way behind.

Do you write every day?  Do you have a specific word count you'd like to hit?
I try to write every day, but it's probably more like five days each week. My daily goal is 1,500. I shoot for 2K if I'm in the groove, and I try to get at least 1K. This keeps my output pretty high.

Your first books were published by indie presses but you've since begun publishing under your own imprint. How's that working out for you?
It's working out great. For whatever reason, my indie-published books sell far better than the ones put out by the small press, and of course I get to keep far more of the royalties from my indie books. Also, self-publishing allows me complete creative freedom. I'm not sure I could have gotten my former publisher to release some of my titles because they wouldn't have fit in with their brand.

When marketing your books, what do you think is the most effective tool?  Social media? Blogging? Posting on Kindle Boards?
I seriously have no idea. I don't do a lot of marketing, and I'm pretty low-profile when it comes to social media. I have my various accounts, but I'm not super-active. I really think my best marketing strategy is just writing more books. The more of them that are out there, the more discoverable I am.

Let's get personal.
Your books feature such beautiful descriptions of clothing. (I loved the peacock gown worn by Lavinia in your gaslight/steampunk romance Hearts of Gold.) Are you a closet clothes designer?
I don't know about clothes designer, but I do love clothes. My wardrobe is probably overkill for someone who works at home! And I have a background in historical costume stretching all the way back to high school, when I was in the Society for Creative Anachronism. I've also won awards for my costuming at local science fiction and fantasy conventions. So I guess that love of costume comes out in my books.

You write in a lot of different genres--romance, contemporary romance, science fiction, fantasy--do you have any favorite authors in those genres?
Oh, this one is hard to pin down. In fantasy, I've really enjoyed George R.R. Martin's "Ice and Fire" series, but the last few books turned me off a little because he was killing off everybody that I cared about! I adore Barbara Hambly's books. She's one of my go-to comfort reads. I'm also a huge Mary Stewart fan, although it saddens me that none of her romantic suspense titles seem to have been digitized yet. For contemporary romance, you can't beat Jennifer Crusie. I haven't kept up with my SF reading as much lately, but I really like Neal Stephenson's and Vernor Vinge's work, although for widely varying reasons.

Are there any romantic movies you've enjoyed lately?
It's hard for me to catch many romantic movies, since my husband is much more an action, shoot-'em-up kind of person when it comes to movie-watching (and actually, so am I, come to think of it). But I'm addicted to Downton Abbey!

Are you a romantic in real life? 
I'd like to think so. I know I do believe in happy endings -- I had the hugest crush on my husband all through junior high and high school, but he never really knew about it. We reconnected years later and have now been together for almost fourteen years. So you can get your happily ever after if you're willing to be patient!

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