ALISON GOODMAN is the author of four novels including EON and EONA, a New York Times bestselling fantasy duology. She won the Aurealis award for Best Fantasy Novel (EON aka The Two Pearls of Wisdom) and for Best Young Adult novel (Singing the Dogstar Blues), and was the DJ O’Hearn Memorial Fellow at the University of Melbourne. The first book in her new historical/supernatural series, Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club, is due out in January 2016.
Visit Alison’s website at www.alisongoodman.com.au
1. Some might think that having a book release date set back is a lemon. How have you been making lemonade from the delay in Lady Helen’s debut from this year to early 2016?
Lemonade from lemons, huh? Well, on that note I can’t be too sour about the set back of the first release date since it is mainly for my benefit. My new series is a historical/supernatural trilogy set in the Regency and my publishers want to release a book a year to maintain the series momentum. That doesn’t quite fit with my writing speed – it takes me about 18 months to write a novel that I am happy to have out in the world – so we have decided to ‘front-load’ the books. That is, when Book 1 is published in January 2016, Book 2 will already be finished, and I will have started Book 3. That way, we can release a Lady Helen book each year and I can write at my best pace and not implode from deadline stress. Admittedly it is a very long wait for the first book to come out – it is already written and edited – but in the end, I think the delay will work in favour of the series. Not only does it enable me to keep to that preferred one book a year momentum, but the longer lead time has already been worked into the marketing plans of my various publishers.
2. As part of your Lady Helen research, you’ve been embracing the Austen aesthetic: so how do you balance a modern sensibility with that older sense?
It is a fascinating process. While I want to maintain a modern sensibility for my modern readers, I also want to create a world that feels authentic. I also want my main character, Lady Helen, to be a woman of her time, but still maintain the empathy and identification of today’s reader. It is why I have chosen to write the novels in third person point of view: there is more narrative room to make subtle comment on the world. I am also trying to keep to the worldview of that time as much as possible and not overlay 21st century concepts on to my early 19th century characters. Interestingly, however, the western world had just gone through the Enlightenment, which more or less was the foundation of modern sensibility, particularly the ideas of individualism (the importance of the individual and his/her inborn rights) and relativism (the idea that different beliefs, cultures and ideas have equal merit). That gives me a bit of wriggle room in regards to the characters’ perspectives on self and environment. In terms of the style of the novel, I have developed a subtle syntax to give that early 19th century cadence, but always with an eye to the books being an accessible and fun read. I’m also enjoying the language, which adds a lot of flavour. I get to use words like sapskull and fustian, and my favourite, Gadzooks!
3. Your stories consistently show superb plotting – things happen when they need to happen, and are never inexplicable. To what detail do you design your narratives, and what advice do you have for plotters?
Thank you – I spend a lot of time thinking about the design of a story and try to make the events feel inevitable but also, at the same time, surprising. Before I start writing, I ask myself a number of questions: what starts the action of the story, where to place it, what is the mid-point, how does that lead into the climax, what is the action around the big climactic decision? I ask these questions (and many more) all through the planning stage, through the research stage, and then all through the writing stage. They are not static; throughout the creation of the novel there is a constant dialogue between the plot that I want to build and the characters that I have created. Plot and character inform each other, so while I do plan my plot before I start writing, I also accept that it is an organic process and my careful planning will inevitably shift and bend around character psychology.
My best bit of advice to plotters is to really think through your character motivations: make them as strong and as logical as possible, in terms of each character’s psychology. Take the time to trace back why your characters have made those particular decisions, and if any of the decisions don’t make sense or are weak, then look that weakness square in the eye and ask yourself: is this character making this decision only because the author needs that plot point? If the answer is yes, then don’t let yourself off the hook. Return to the drawing board: either you need to create a character whose motivations and decisions will fulfill that particular plot point in a satisfying way, or adjust the plot point to fit the character you have already created.
5. Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?
The recent changes haven’t really affected the way that I work, but they’ve certainly affected the way that I publish and think about my career. The rise of the e-book has given authors a way to revive backlists and return-of-rights books, as well as bypass traditional publishing models for new work. I e-published my crime novel A New Kind of Death (traditionally published in the US as Killing The Rabbit) alongside a print edition from Clan Destine Press, and I am investigating the idea of collecting my short stories into an e-anthology. I would never have been thinking along those lines five years ago.
Five years from now, I will have just finished writing and trad-publishing the Lady Helen novels and either be thinking about the next three Lady Helen novels in the series, or starting another project. I have a feeling I will also be working on some shorter works to go straight into e-format. I really like the idea of following up a novel (or a series) with shorter adjunct pieces set in the same world. There are often so many possible paths in a series that you have to resist if you want to maintain the narrative drive, but it would be great to be able to play-out those little gems in shorter works and publish them in e-format.
THIS interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian speculative fiction. We’re blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. You can read interviews at:
- Tsana Dolichva
- Nick Evans
- Stephanie Gunn
- Kathryn Linge
- Elanor Matton-Johnson
- David McDonald
- Helen Merrick
- Ben Payne
- Alex Pierce
- Tansy Rayner Roberts
- Helen Stubbs
- Katharine Stubbs
- Tehani Wessely
- Sean Wright