I’m here with celebrated sci-fi author J.S. Collyer and…
(I’m sorry, what’s that, darlings? Well of course she’s celebrated. She just had a birthday recently. A milestone. Yes, I know everyone has birthdays, but not everyone writes brilliant science fiction.)
Where was I? Oh, yes. J.S. Collyer.
Can I call you Jex? How about Jexy? Jexica? Or is it Miss Collyer?
I normally insist upon Mistress Jexington Collyer-McSmyth III, but as it’s you, Helena, Jex is more than dandy.
Jex, you’ve recently published Zero with Dagda Publishing, running a successful IndieGoGo campaign for the launch. You’ve enamoured yourself with the online writing community with your reviews and reputation as a prolific reader. But what everyone is dying to know is, how is Joss Whedon, and how is the script to Season Two of Firefly coming along?
Joss is doing just grand, thanks! I’ll pass on your love. I’ve twisted his arm in hopes he releases the next series right about the time I release my next book, as I think it would benefit both of us! I really must get round to watching Firefly at some point since Zero is apparently very similar in style…except mine is pirates in space rather than cowboys!
Someone needs to do Downton Abbey in Space next…now there’s an idea.
You seem to have a real love for what I like to think of as Pop-Sci-Fi – the sort that has a wider appeal than some of the niche writers. You love Star Wars, Alien, that kind of thing, and it really comes through in your writing. How do you approach the technical aspects of science fiction without going into tedious description? How much do you trust your reader’s imagination?
You’re absolutely right; I do love the wider-appeal stuff. This is because my loyalty lies first and foremost with the good story, and most people really enjoy a good story, whether it’s set in space, Middle Earth or 221B Baker St, London.
So, as you pointed out, I try not to get bogged down in the details of the universe, the technology etc., though I admit they are vital to the genre. The technique I try to employ is that I don’t overstate and try not to over-explain. This is the universe these characters were born in. They wouldn’t stand round thinking about or explaining technology, politics or settings to each other. So I just try to let everything pertinent be mentioned or noticed in passing, as it would be in real life, with just enough detail to make its nature or significance understood by a reader and then move on with the story. As you have pointed out, I trust the reader’s imagination to do the majority of the work.
What is your writing discipline like? I know I’ve been inspired by your dedication to deadlines – you’ve a tendency do disappear, and when you do, I know you’re writing up a storm. What goals do you set for yourself, and what do you do when you hit the wall? Are there any tricks you use to get yourself out of a block?
If I have a deadline, I manage to get myself in gear and get it done, though I’m not brilliantly discipline, I have to admit, if there isn’t one. If there’s no date circled in red on the calendar (sometimes with a little skull-and-crossbones scribbled alongside) I tend to let my habits slide and can go a week or two without even thinking about my draft.
This is why I like my deadlines. Once that brand is on the calendar, it’s back to thinking about the plot on the walk to and from my day job, writing every evening between dinner and bed and going away for writing retreats for days at a time.
I tend not to set ‘mini-goals’ like some writers, e.g. so many words per day or ‘I must get to such-and-such plot point by tomorrow’, because I find the process of writing is so fluid, you simply can’t judge how long it will take to get x-amount of words done or get to x plot point. You could end up tearing your hair out as you’ve been up all night and still nowhere near, or you get what you wanted done in half an hour and then have an excuse to sack off the rest of the evening’s work.
I find it’s much better to allocate chunks of time, and use them, write and write, even if you don’t like what you’re producing, even if it needs work, even if it feels you’ve got loads done already or nothing at all. That is also my way of working through blocks. Just keep writing. I plan my plots, so even if I hit a wall I know what needs to happen next so I know there has to be a way to get my characters from A to B. So I make it up. Sometimes I have to go back and tweak or refine, but as long as I’ve written *something*, that’s better than a blank page.
In Zero, you pulled some pretty clever rabbits out of your hat that I didn’t even see coming (plot twists and surprises). Having achieved that, was there any pressure to top yourself in book two?
Oh Holy Mother of God, yes. I’ve struggled with book two, not with coming up with the ideas, but trying to silence that voice that’s telling me ‘well, it’s not as good as such-and-such’ or, even scarier, ‘well that’s just what you did before.’ There is pressure because I want all my Orbit novels to work individually and be their own stories, but still remain true to the tone, style and the characters and all be equally enjoyable.
So, pressure? Aye. What fun.
What have you learned, as a writer, between the writing of book one and now, having wrapped up book two, are there things you might do differently, or are there things you’d like to try with book three that you’re excited about?
I’ve learnt so much with this whirlwind of two novels in two years. The biggest and most important lesson is knowing how much time writing a book takes and to not let yourself make any excuses for not sinking in the time because it is so, so worth it. When those boxes of first editions of Zero arrived at my house for my book launch, there are no words to describe how amazing it felt.
Technically, I’ve learned a lot about pace and detail and planning plots to make sure they hinge together but don’t need too much exposition. At least, that’s what I aspire too. Whether I pull it off is up to the reader.
I’ve also learned that I frigging love these characters and the journey we’ve been on together. And that I’m going to have to apologise for everything I’ve done to them so far, and especially for what’s still left to do to them in book 3.
Who would you recommend your book to? (I mean, besides EVERYONE). For instance, fill in the blanks: “If you liked BLANK, BLANK, or BLANK, then you’ll love Zero.” For someone who’s read Zero and wants to know what the author reads, where you get your inspiration, what would you recommend reading next?
As you mentioned earlier, so perceptively too, darling, I do lean to stories with broad appeal. I’m hoping a range of readers and not just Sci-Fi fans would enjoy Zero and its as-yet-unreleased sequels. But if you like Star Wars, Firefly or the likes of Sunshine and new Star Trek films, narratives that are character-driven and out of this world but not out of the realms of possibility, you would hopefully enjoy Zero.
My main areas of inspiration aren’t in fact Sci-Fi novels, though I was hugely addicted to the Star Wars stories when I was younger. I am mainly influenced by Japanese Manga and Anime: my biggest influences are the likes of Akira, Gundam Wing, Pat Labor and many others of the post-apocalyptic/futuristic series and films. They all have a tone and a style that I loved, particularly how there’s usually little backstory or exposition. The settings are just what they are and, where as they inform and add depth to the narrative, they are not the driving force of the story. There may be a larger-than-life setting, but to the characters, it’s just reality. This makes it real for the reader. This is what I want from a story and try to replicate with my own.
As for recommending what to read next, as daft as it sounds, I would read the series of books Isaac Asimov wrote for children, the Lucky Starr series. I loved these growing up and they are still great fun now. It’s like Narnia in space! And not too heavy on the politics and technology. They’re just good fun and this is the other thing I try to achieve with my stories: they are not going to change the world; they’re just supposed to be fun.
Finally – and thank you for being patient with my rambling questions – other than the obvious ones, what stories do you wish you’d written? Those stories that are just so damn clever that they make you jealous?
Ooo, that’s a good question. I really wish I’d come up with the concept of the Predator. It might have been a different sort of story if I’d written it, but the concept of this alien that comes to hunt men for sport, with no other explanation or justification than that, really gets my imagination firing.
I also love the writing in the Alien films. I know if might be a given, but it’s just true. I am especially fond of Alien 3 and that amazing setting of the abandoned prison colony with the zealous prison guardians and their weird little society.
I always get a bit jealous of excellently written twists too, the ones you never saw coming. I don’t want to be listing any though for fear of spoiling!
Thank you, Mistress Jexington!
Bio: J. S. Collyer is a Science Fiction writer from Lancaster, England where she stayed after studying Creative Writing to MA level at Lancaster University. Her first novel Zero: An Orbit Novel is available now on Amazon.
Zero is the story of Kaleb Hugo, decorated officer of the Service who, after a fateful decision, is secretly re-assigned to captain the undercover infiltration vessel the Zero. With his new assignment, unruly crew and challenging commander Ezekiel Webb, he ends up discovering more than he ever wanted to know about the organistation he serves and the reality he lives in and is forced to make decision that will affect the lives of millions.
This resulted in a published book, available on Amazon HERE