Snapshot 2014: Alison Goodman

alison goodmanALISON 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!

eon by alison goodman
 
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.

eona aka necklace of the gods by alison goodman

 
4. What Australian works have you loved recently?
I was fortunate enough to be given preview copies of Garth Nix’s new novel Clariel, and Trudi Canavan’s Thief’s Magic. They are both cracker reads.

 
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.

 
2014 aussie spec fiction snapshot

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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:

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Snapshot 2012: Alison Goodman

australian speculative fiction snapshot 2012 logoALISON Goodman has been writing and being published for almost 24 years. She began to get published in her second year of university – mainly feature articles and short stories – and her first novel came out in 1998: Singing the Dogstar Blues, a young adult science fiction thriller. It won the Aurealis Award for Best YA novel and was an ALA Best YA book. That was followed by her crime thriller, Killing the Rabbit, published originally in the USA, and which is now about to be re-released in print in Australia and as an e-book under the new title, A New Kind of Death.

Her latest two books are the fantasy duology Eon and Eona, which were New York Time Bestsellers and have been published in more than 18 countries and 10 languages. Eon (under its initial Australian title The Two Pearls of Wisdom) won the 2008 Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Novel and was also an ALA Best YA book and a James Tiptree Jr Honour Book.

This year, Alison has been contracted to write a new historical/supernatural series with publishers in the USA, Canada and Australia. The first book is due out in 2014.

Keep in touch with developments at www.alisongoodman.com.au and her Facebook page.

  • Alison is guest of honour at Continuum, starting TOMORROW NIGHT at Rydges on Swanston in Melbourne.
  • YA SF, crime, Chinese-influenced fantasy … have you picked stories to best address certain themes, or are you just having a grand old time in all the diversity genre has to offer?
    I suspect a bit of both. In terms of genre, I go where the story takes me. When I have the initial idea for a book or series, I take note of where it seems to fit in the genre market and think about the conventions of that genre. If some of them work for me, I’ll use them (either with or against the expectations). However, I don’t feel obliged to stick faithfully to the conventions or, indeed, to one genre. I do like to meld genres, which can bring a whole bucket load of problems with it but is a lot of fun to write.

    In terms of themes within a novel, I usually find that I may start with an idea of a thematic line – developed from the plot and character – but find that other, stronger themes emerge as I write. Having said that, the thematic starting point is not usually the driving force for me in my writing process – I am more engaged by character and plot and these supply the passion that propel me. So, I don’t feel that I pick stories to write by the appeal of their themes. Still, it is not really possible to separate out those three elements – plot, character, and theme. They are so deeply entwined in the development of my fiction that at least some of each needs to be in place before I start writing.

    Romantic plotlines, of varying degrees, operate under some level of mostly social pressure duress in your books, and happy endings are not guaranteed. In what ways is love, whether unrequited, doomed or conquering all, important to your storytelling?
    I think it is more that desire is important to my storytelling, rather than love. That often includes the desire for love, but I think that is secondary to the desire for the ultimate goal of the main character, be it power as in the Eon duology or truth in A New Kind of Death (Clan Destine Press). Love is not the main goal of my characters, but it is almost always part of their motivation. How characters go about loving or seeking love is a fundamental building block of my characterisation. It is not the driving force of the main plot-line – that is the domain of romance fiction – but it is one of the elements that adds depth and universality to the characters, and provides sub-plots that support and add duress to the events in the main plot.

    You’re in the midst of a research trip to Europe for your new series. Has anything you’ve unearthed been wonderfully surprising, the kind of thing where you just HAVE to use it in the books?
    Yes, I came across a porcelain women’s urinal shaped like a lady’s slipper. In time of necessity in a crowded royal drawing room, it was slipped under one’s huge hooped court dress and clutched between the thighs! That is definitely going into my novel. However, I’m always wary of bunging in a bit of research because I like it. For me, research has to be at the service of the story and the fastest way to become a bore is to write pages of research detail and go off-story.

    I recently read an article by James Wood in the on-line New Yorker about Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell novels, but it is also about writing good historical fiction. Wood writes that:

    ‘..what gives fiction its vitality is not the accurate detail but the animate one … novelists are creators, not coroners, of the human case’.

    That really hit a chord with me. When I am researching, I look for those shining details that are going to give the flavour and energy of the time without weighing down my story…such as a urinal for women that is shaped like a shoe.

    What Australian works have you loved recently?
    This is where I shift uncomfortably and confess that I haven’t read much fiction lately because it has been all about researching my new series. My stack of fiction To-Be-Reads is huge, but I have just finished Garth Nix’s new book A Confusion of Princes which was magnificently inventive with a great, wry narrator and a lot of satisfying action. I’m also reading an advance copy of Kirstyn McDermott’s new novel Perfections, which is heart-achingly gorgeous. Mostly, though, I have been reading primary and secondary source research books, which sounds dry but is actually a lot of fun. And, as it happens, one of the most valuable research books I’ve come across so far has been by an Australian – Jennifer Kloester – who has written an excellent guide to the Regency era in Georgette Heyer’s Regency World.

    What have been some of the biggest changes in Australian speculative fiction in the past two years since Aussiecon 4?
    I think some of the biggest changes in Australian speculative fiction are the same changes that have been hitting all of publishing. What immediately comes to mind is the rise of the e-book and the crisis of the bookshop. The gathering force of the e-book is offering some great opportunities for authors – more control over backlists and a greater cut of the royalties – but as with all these new modes, it also brings challenges that often leave many behind. The demise of so many of our bookshops breaks my heart, and I sincerely hope that Australia does not follow in the footsteps of Britain and starts closing libraries too.

    Another change that I think has particularly affected the speculative fiction market is the ‘phenomenon book’ such as Harry Potter, Twilight and The Hunger Games series. They can all be gathered under the banner of the speculative genre and, I think, have opened up new audiences to our work, and in fact, to the idea of reading for pleasure.

    * THE END *

    THIS is my final interview conducted as part of the 2012 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’re blogging interviews from 1-8 June and archiving them at Australian Speculative Fiction in Focus: the list of interviewees is here. You can also read the interviews at:

    Eona: a soaring sequel

    eona aka necklace of the gods by alison goodman

    It has been three years since Eon, aka Two Pearls of Wisdom, set alight the fantasy firmament with its faux-Chinese setting, gender blending and superb story-telling. The story involved a young girl who has to masquerade as a boy to have her shot at being a Dragoneye — one of a chosen few who link with a pantheon of celestial dragon spirits in order to tame the weather and bring prosperity to the nation, as well as garner significant powers. I reviewed it here.

    And now we have the sequel, Eona, aka The Necklace of the Gods, and it’s been well worth the wait. It’s wonderful that Alison Goodman was able to get off the factory processing floor that dominates so much of fantasy publishing these days, trust that her readership would stick by her, and deliver such a quality read. Sadly, the economics of full-time (genre) writing don’t seem to be engineered that way — the focus remains on quantity, not quality, although one doesn’t necessarily negate the other!

    I review Eona (Necklace of the Gods is such a more romantic title, isn’t it? The UK cover is delicious!) over at Asif, and highly recommend it as both a stunning sequel and a valuable case study for writers looking to roll out a series.