Today I had the honour of interviewing an exciting new science fiction/fantasy writer, Jo Zebedee, about her new book, The Inheritance Trilogy – book one Abendau’s Heir. Lots of really useful and interesting tips and facts here, as well as a great insight into the work that goes into creating a book for publication:
Jo was published by the small independent publisher, Tickety Boo Press. Abendau’s Heir is the first book in a trilogy, but Jo has other completed works out there now, doing the rounds of publishers and agents. She is by no means a one-trick-pony.
Hi Jo, thank you for letting me ask you some questions here. I’m sure I won’t be the only one to benefit from your replies: other fledgling writers like me will no doubt enjoy hearing your answers too.
Q. It’s been a long, hard slog getting your first novel written, polished and published. What were the memorable highs and lows of the experience for you?
A. It’s felt like a slog but, actually, I’ve been pretty quick at getting something out and published – I’ve only been writing four years. Having said that, I put the hours in…
The memorable highs. Getting an agent was a biggy. Writers hold it up as the holy grail, the sign that we might actually be good enough to make it. It took me two years of submissions to get an agent, so it had been the focus for so long, it felt like a real acheivement.
So, um, losing that same agent was a low. Now, I can see that it was the right thing – I write a more diverse range than she repped, and stubbornly don’t write YA which the novel I was repped for was but at the time it was pretty devastating. I’ve got over it, though, and currently haven’t got a new one. I’m sure I will, at some point, but I’m in no particular hurry: it turns out that, for me, it’s not as important as I made it out to be.
Getting my first offer on Abendau (I had three) was a moment of excitement, until I looked into the contract a little closer and realised it wasn’t as good as it might have been. And that was before I looked up Absolute Write’s Bewares and Reccomendations… So another high/low mixed together.
Another high – winning a flash fiction competition! It was the first time I’d won anything for my writing, and there was no prize, as such, but it felt tremendous.
Lastly, actually having my book in my hands and realising it did, indeed, read like a book.
Q. As a writer on the bottom rung of the ladder, so to speak, I’d like to ask if you ever felt like giving up.
A. Yes, definitely. The day my agent let me go I could only bring myself to tell my nearest family and my closest writing friends. And then I stared into space and thought, what’s the point? It lasted about half an hour and then I decided my validation didn’t lie in having an agent, and I got on with the next chapter…
Also, when I’m working on first drafts, as I am now, I can get very fed up and sure I won’t complete it this time. Often it’s a case of gritting my teeth until I get to the end and have some sort of story. Then I can enjoy the editing and the nitty-grittying.
I think anyone who doesn’t have a hellish writing day and want to toss the pen down (or the laptop through the window) is a saint. In fact, they’re up there with the Tooth Fairy – I’m not sure they really exist.
Q. How much has the story of Kare, and indeed the world he lives in, changed since you first dreamt them up all those years ago?
A. In some ways, a lot, in others, hardly at all.
Certain things have been set in the story since I came up with it as a teen – Kare himself is pretty stable, and his family. The Empress has been a law onto herself from day one and isn’t interested in me mucking around with her. But other characters came less fully formed and only became important as I wrote – Lichio, in particular, was never planned. He was supposed to be the barely-referenced little brother, there to give Sonly a bit more background, but he had other ideas and muscled himself in. He’s one of the most popular characters, though, and good foil for the more serious Kare, so I’m pleased he did.
Other things have grown with time. Abendau was always centred on a desert planet (what is it about space operas and deserts…?) but the heritage of its tribal people, and the Empress’s odd relationship with them, grew in the telling. That will become more apparent in book two and three, when we gain a new central character who is one of the tribes, and I’ve enjoyed expanding on that.
My editor, the fantastic Teresa Edgerton, was great at pinpointing where I was winging it a bit (I’m not a natural world builder) and encouraging me to put more depth into it. I’m looking forward to working on book 2 over the summer and reflect more of that depth into it.
The book came out a lot darker than I planned. Perhaps because I’m used to the world I didn’t realise how dark it really was until the first beta-readers fed back to me. The first book is the one that contains the central tragedy of the series (I’m not ruling out a few more, though) and is, I think, the darkest of the three, but they all have their moments. I’m not sorry it is that way – some stories are just meant to be – but, perhaps next time I’ll try for lighter. (Thinks of current work in progress for a moment.) Um, or maybe I’ll just accept that my stories have a dark edge to them…
Q. How did you feel when Abendau’s Heir did so well in sales right from the off?
A. Astonished. It’s done really well and had loads of attention, and there are quite a few review sites who have taken it now. Having said that, I’ve been banging on about it on the Chrons for years, so perhaps I had people brainwashed….
I have quite a few events coming up, so hopefully the momentum will keep going and build for book two. Certainly, it seems to have surprised people in terms of its quality and the reviews to date have been fantastic.
Q. I mentioned above that you have other novels in the pipeline, apart from the Inheritance Trilogy. Can you tell me a bit about those too, please?
A. I also write standalone novels based in my native Northern Ireland. One, the novel I was agented for, tells what happens in Belfast after aliens invade. Somehow, the juxtaposition of Belfast and an alien invasion sounded fun to me. I’m working at bringing it back to its original demograph at the moment, aging it back up to a crossover adult/YA book. The other NI novel is more of a baby, and it’s a dark fantasy that carries the reader through the Antrim glens into a fairyland that takes some of the classic Irish fairy themes, like changelings and the notion that fairies aren’t the sweet little bubbly things sometimes portrayed, and mixes with them a multi-generational story around mental illness.
I’ve also just started work on what will most likely be a new series, this time a fantasy about a race of Storm-mages with a female protagonist. It’s good fun, but it’s slow going with all the blogging and facebooking and promotion going on.
Q. Finally, if there was one single piece of advice you could give to someone like me, a complete beginner, what would it be (apart from ‘join Chrons’ – you already gave me that advice!)?
A. Try to get into a writing habit? Write regularly. Because sometimes the going gets rough, and it’s only the discipline of keeping going that gets the story over the hump. And, yes, join a community, one you fit in well with. In fact, on my blog jozebwrites.blogspot.co.uk I’m just starting a series looking at some of the things writers might want to think about setting up to help with promotion when things happen for them.
Oh, and write what you love. Don’t go for what’s trendy, or might sell. You will be looking at the book for years, rewriting and editing and working on things. Make sure you can bear to do that…
Thank you, Jo, for answering my questions. Good luck with the Inheritance Trilogy and all the others you have now and in the future.