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Friday, March 23, 2007

Interview with Jennifer Roberson

Official Jennifer Roberson Website
(Photo Courtesy of Doranna Durgin)

Well, here it is, the first interview to be posted on Fantasy Book Critic. My sincerest thanks goes out to Jennifer Roberson, who was the first writer to agree to an interview with me, and therefore, is the first to be showcased...

One of the more prolific fantasy authors out there today, Jennifer Roberson may be best known for her Sword-Dancer saga featuring Tiger & Del, as well as the 8-volume epic Chronicles of the Cheysuli and “The Golden Key” collaboration with Melanie Rawn & Kate Elliott, but she has also cut her teeth on historicals, a western, romantic suspense, and a novel set in television's Highlander universe, not to mention numerous short stories printed in various anthologies and magazines. Currently, Ms. Roberson is in the midst of writing her newest fantasy epic, with the second volume “Deepwood” due out soon. For more information on “Deepwood”, a return to the Cheysuli universe, and much more, check out her interview below:

Q: “Deepwood”, the second volume in your new fantasy epic is due for release this July. Can you give us a spoiler-free preview of what we can expect from the new novel?

Jennifer: DEEPWOOD picks up exactly where KARAVANS left off, with no "time-lag" between the two novels. It continues the story arc begun in KARAVANS and ties up a few plot threads while also introducing new characters, and offering greater challenges and quests to the established characters.

Q: I believe the series is projected as a trilogy with the third book to be released in 2008. How far along are you with the third book and can you share any details?

Jennifer: Many have assumed KARAVANS is a trilogy, but it was never conceived as a trilogy, was not sold to DAW that way, and isn't being marketed that way. KARAVANS is a universe, not a chronological series…my plan has always been to write stand-alone volumes, duologies, and trilogies within the universe as I move around in place and time, depending on the various stories I wish to tell. In fact, my agent just made a deal for a fourth novel in the universe.

I have not yet begun the third (WILD ROAD), as I'm waiting to read page proofs of DEEPWOOD. That will provide a springboard for my dive into the third.

Q: Looking back at the first book in the new series (“Karavans”), some of the criticisms that I’ve read talked about how it was an introduction piece, focusing more on world-building than plotting, while leaving a lot of loose ends. What are your thoughts on this and how “Karavans” turned out as a whole?

Jennifer: Well, loose ends are required if you're writing several books around the same set of characters and various subplots that jump off the main story arc. If the author can tie up all those loose ends by the end of the first book, there's no need to write anymore. The goal therefore is to make the reader very much want to know all the answers, and to learn them as the story continues.

While I felt there was plenty going on in the first 3/4ths of the novel – though certainly it's not as active as the denouement in the last quarter – readers have not agreed. I don't know if it's because they found the first three quarters tedious reading because it is tedious reading, or because the denouement is so active by comparison. Yes, the world-building is extremely detailed and also very different from anything I've done before in my solo work, but as I intended all along to make Alisanos a character, not just a locale, the detailed world-building is vital. In the past, except for THE GOLDEN KEY with Melanie Rawn and Kate Elliott, my books have always been extremely character-driven with much less emphasis placed on world-building. I wanted to change that with KARAVANS.

However, the comments about feeling KARAVANS was mostly introduction are mitigated by those who've said they're anxious for the next book, so I guess I didn't turn off everyone. At least, I hope not!

Disclaimer: "Deepwood" artwork given permission by & copyrighted © Todd Lockwood

Q: The cover artwork on “Deepwood” is provided by Todd Lockwood who also did “Karavans”. What kind of input do you have in choosing the artist/artwork and how do you feel about the finished product for “Deepwood”?

Jennifer: At a certain stage of a successful career, an author may request specific artists, and sometimes these requests are granted. But publishers are also dealing with many artists, and those artists have schedules of their own. So even if the publisher is happy to grant your request, it doesn't mean it will actually come to be.

As for influencing the actual artwork, that depends on the publisher. Some publishers don't want the author to ever talk to the artist, because quite often the author has an entirely different vision and can really annoy both the artist and the publisher with complaints. Also, many authors don't realize that a book cover is not necessarily meant to be a perfect depiction of characters and story, but is an advertisement intended to interest the casual book browser. DAW did put Todd Lockwood and I together by phone and e-mail to discuss details, but the decision of which concept sketch would be turned into the actual cover is always solely up to my editor.

I very much like what Todd Lockwood has done. My personal preference in the two covers is KARAVANS, but that is not to suggest I feel the DEEPWOOD cover is lacking in any way. I consider it an extremely effective cover, beautifully conveying the brooding, dangerous atmosphere of Alisanos. I just happen to like the KARAVANS cover a little more, possibly because it was the first.

Q: What kind of process do you follow when writing a book or creating a new fantasy world? For instance, do you script out the entire story, or let the story tell itself?

Jennifer: I definitely work up a rough outline for major plot and subplot issues, and I know what the ending will be, but then I turn my imagination loose. I'm a very organic writer, and I'm well aware that my subconscious often has more intriguing ideas than my outline does! I absolutely give myself the freedom to jettison outline elements on the fly, and to let the story go off in a new direction if the momentum carries me that way.

Q: What do you like most about the world that you’ve created for the “Karavans” series?

Jennifer: Completely random magic, and the ability to change time and location with Alisanos as the engine for doing so.

Q: According to your website you’ve signed on for three new volumes in the Cheysuli series. Can you tell us what inspired you to return to this world and what you hope to accomplish with the new books?

Jennifer: When I finished the eighth and final Cheysuli novel, ending the series, I intended to continue on with some sequels about the Firstborn. But by then I was also writing the Sword-Dancer series, and I was ready to do different things. When DAW decided to reissue the Cheysuli series in omnibus editions, I had to make corrections to the page proofs. In rereading the entire 8-book series years after I had moved on, I discovered a desire to visit the worlds again. Also, there were clearly more adventures to be told of the characters in the series, such as a prequel to SHAPECHANGERS, the story of the adventures of Finn and Carillon in exile, and more of Keely's story, since she disappears for a decade or more before showing up again in the eighth volume. As far as what I hope to accomplish? To tell good stories about popular characters already established, and that my original readers will be transported back to that world after nearly 25 years.

Q: You have a very extensive
bibliography. As an author, how do you feel that you’ve improved as a writer now compared to your first published works? What do you feel are your strengths & your weaknesses?

Jennifer: I feel I have grown and matured tremendously as a writer, in the technical sense. Certainly readers have their own preferences as to what my "best" book is, based on their own emotions and preferences. But I work hard to improve at least one element of my writing with every book. I constantly push myself to be better than last time. Whether that growth actually shows depends, I think, on the kind of book it is. I don't think improvement as a writer is evident in the Sword-Dancer books, because everything is told first-person through Tiger's point of view. You can see that he changes throughout the series, but I don't know that any growth in my technique is evident in those books because of the format.

My major weakness for many years, I felt, was world-building. I was always in too much of a hurry to tell the story, to carry the characters forward, not to provide a truly detailed, layered setting.

My main strength, I've always felt – and have been told so by editors, reviewers, and readers – is my ability to bring characters to life, to make readers care about them. Of course, not all readers will care about all characters; I know one critic posted that he had no idea what Ferize was doing in KARAVANS, and he felt she was unnecessary. So obviously for him, she didn't work. But she's there for various reasons, even if those reasons aren't visible to all readers.

Q: What would you say separates your books from other authors in the fantasy genre?

Jennifer: I don't think of my books in that way. It's not a competition. I write what I want, the way I want, to please my own soul. Certainly reviewers and readers tend to assign levels of successful storytelling in discussing various authors, but I can't say truthfully say anything separates my books from other authors. I'm one of many. Readers would have to answer this question, not I.

Q: Good answer. So, what do you feel are the positives and negatives of being a fantasy author?

Jennifer: For many years, the main negative was knowing that when I said I was a fantasy author, those unfamiliar with the genre jumped to the conclusion that I wrote erotica. Then I started saying I wrote science fiction, and if they reacted by saying they read science fiction, I then explained that in truth I'm a fantasy author. But if there was no real reaction, I left the explanation at that. Then the Lord of the Rings films arrived, and now I say "I write fantasy, like the LOTR movies" knowing they have a somewhat better understanding of the genre even if they don't read it.

Another negative is that most hardcore science fiction writers – writers, mind you – think fantasy authors, especially female fantasy authors, are writing drivel, not worthwhile fiction, and are vocal about it.

Positives? The complete freedom in what I write. While there must be some form of internal structure and rules in fantasy, the author is still free to make anything happen. It's the freedom to create a suspension of disbelief for the reader.

Q: You’ve also written (and published) historicals, fantasy, a western, a romantic suspense, and a historical romance. Do you feel that you’ll ever try out another genre?

Jennifer: I love all kinds of genre. So it's certainly possible I may write in yet another genre down the road, but I have so many fantasy and historical books in my head that I have no idea when I'll get to that new genre!

Q: In the past, you’ve collaborated with Melanie Rawn & Kate Elliott on “The Golden Key” and talked about working with Michelle Sagara West. Is there anybody else you would be interested in doing a collaboration with, and if so, why?

Jennifer: Not at this point, because I have so much solo work I want to write. But if the time came, I'd absolutely be open to doing another collaboration.

Q: In today’s climate there’s a lot of cross-pollination between different mediums: literature and movies, comic books and videogames, TV and animation, etc. Regarding your works, has there been interest or anything optioned for adaptation, and if so, can you give us some details?

Jennifer: Various options have been taken on the Sword-Dancer series, LADY OF THE FOREST, and LADY OF THE GLEN. So far nothing has resulted in an actual film, but that's true of many, many books. The number of books or adaptations that make it to the screen, compared to options taken, is a tiny number. Heck, it took twenty years and many multiples of options to get MZB's MISTS OF AVALON to TV as a miniseries, and it was a huge bestseller all over the world. Then again, a one-of-a-kind phenomenon like the Harry Potter books puts film rights, screenplays, and actual filming on the fast track.

Q: Staying on this subject, let’s fantasize for a bit. What would be your dream adaptation?

Jennifer: I think SWORD-DANCER would make for a fun ride; a blend of SWORD-DANCER and SWORD-SINGER was shopped around by a screenwriter, but he was told (at the time) there were already enough fantasy movies with desert settings.

Casting Tiger and Del has been quite a pasttime for readers of my newsgroup. 8-) Now I'd be inclined to go with Hugh Jackman for Tiger. I have not yet found the right Del. For a while there was some interest on behalf of Britney Spears' production company, but her movie career took a backseat to, well, all kinds of things! But Britney Spears, with or without hair, would not be my choice to play Del.

For period drama, adventure, romance, tragedy and poignancy, LADY OF THE GLEN, my Scottish historical. This novel has been optioned by a screenwriter twice. I would adore having Sean Connery play the MacDonald laird in a retelling of the real Massacre of Glencoe, in which the Campbells tried to wipe out the MacDonalds. But for the two leads, male and female, I just don't know.

Q: One last question in this area. Lately, I’ve been noticing a lot of writers branching out to try their hand at different mediums be it comic books, television, movie scripts, videogames and so forth. If you were to branch out, what medium would you like to tackle and why?

Jennifer: I did write a media tie-in book set in the Highlander universe, because I loved the TV show. But I would be most likely to write a movie/miniseries script, I think, to be a complete departure from novels.

Q: What are some of your influences?

Jennifer: I'd pay tribute, in no specific order, to MZB, CJ Cherryh, Andre Norton, Patricia McKillip, Katherine Kurtz, and Nancy Springer. I cite these authors because I started writing my own fantasy series because I was impatient for their next books to come out! In historicals, Samuel Shellabarger, Sharon Kay Penman, Judith Merkle Riley, Anya Seaton, Martha Rofheart, and many others.

Q: What advice would you give an aspiring writer?

Jennifer: Don't quit your day job; don't give up; and to finish and SUBMIT your manuscript. Don't just write for workshops or yourself. Write to become a professional.

Q: What was the best advice that someone gave you as a hopeful author?

Jennifer: Heck, I've had so much great advice given to me over the years, I can't refine it to one specific bit. But I would have to say that from a career standpoint, all advice given to me by my agent, Russ Galen, has been invaluable. I wouldn't be where I am today (wherever that might be!) were it not for him.

Q: Of all the characters that you’ve created, which one is your favorite and why?

Jennifer: Tiger, in the S-D books. He is just so damn much fun to write!

Q: What about your favorite book or story?

Jennifer: I have no single favorite book. LADY OF THE FOREST, my first Robin Hood historical, was extremely challenging because it was a multiple viewpoint book featuring twelve main characters, but I think I came out the other end a better writer. The second Cheysuli novel, THE SONG OF HOMANA, because I felt it showed more confidence and ability in my writing at the time. SWORD-DANCER because it was an "attack" book; I wrote the first sentence, and I was off and running. I completed it in two weeks. (But that was two weeks of 12 to 15-hour days, and it was only 72,000 words long.) And LADY OF THE GLEN, my Scottish historical, because I waited 25 years until I felt ready to write it, wanting to do right by the story, and I believe I did. Besides, I love men in kilts . . .

Q: Do you have a least favorite book? If so, what changes would you make to it if you could?

Jennifer: SHAPECHANGERS, the first Cheysuli novel. I know that many readers to this day tell me they still love that book and reread it now and again, which is very flattering – but it was a first novel and features plenty of first novel mistakes and weaknesses. If I could, I'd just smooth out the rough spots and make the overall tone a bit more mature.

Q: What are you looking forward to reading in 2007?

Jennifer: I don't have any specific book I'm looking forward to reading in 2007. I reread many of my books; in fact, I just went on a Judith Tarr kick and reread something like five of her novels back-to-back, followed by two historicals published in the 50s back-to-back. I never pay attention to pub dates.

Q: Are there any up-and-coming authors that we should check out?

Jennifer: I am behind on reading newer authors, so I can't really recommend any up-and-coming examples. It's sheer ignorance, and it should not to be assumed that I think there are no promising authors.

Q: Aside from the breeding & exhibition of Cardigan Welsh Corgis and mosaic artwork, what other activities or hobbies do you enjoy?

Jennifer: LOL! Isn't that enough?

Seriously, I do indeed read a great deal, though not as much as I did before my own books were published. I read every night before I go to bed, and now and again I'll read most of a weekend if I'm not off at dog shows. I love to travel, but it's very difficult for me to get away because of the animals.

Q: Any last thoughts or comments for your fans?

Jennifer: I thank them VERY much for their encouragement and support, and while I'm aware that not every fan will like every example of my books, I hope I can nonetheless appeal to a wide spectrum of readers and give them a ride worth taking. I was a reader long before I became a writer, and I know what it means to find an author whose work you love. I am grateful when my work can transport readers to another world in the same fashion certain books transported me away from the mundane.

I just want to personally thank Jennifer again for taking the time out of her busy schedule to answer these questions for me and hope that you, the reader, enjoyed the interview. Thanks again to all, and much love & respect…



Jeff Hysinger said...

Jennifer Roberson... You were my 1st favorite author. I'm 38 years old now but when Jennifer wrote the Cheysuli novels I was 18 and going throuh a very tough time for me. Reading her novels was the escape I needed and fortunatly found. My " first-born " son I named Kyle Brennon. He's 15 now. Your Cheysuli books left a tremendous and profound mark on me. I Re-read The Omnibus version and have pushed your stories onto many of my friends. I was awaiting your Karavan novels for quite some time and gobbled up the 1st one as soon as I could. I am very much awaiting the 2nd. I read many athors such as Stewert Woods, Lee Child and countless others now that Fantasy is not my main thing, but you have written my favorite books of all time. When you go back to the Cheysuli, I will indeed go back, and feel transported into the past and a time I enjoyed tremendously. Thank you Jennifer Roberson.- Jeff

Roxanne M. Trahan said...

I fell in love with your writing through Tiger and Del and haven't stopped since! LOL I've read and re-read those and the Cheysuli stories and was so excited to begin the Karavan books. My only complaint is the same as yours... It's unbearable to wait for the next "chapter"! At this stage in my life (I'm 51 and facing innumerable situations I can do nothing to control), fantasy is the only thing keeping me near-sane (complete sanity is for the numdane). As always, my thanks for your prose.

Turi Ducommun said...

Dear Jennifer,
My first experience of you is Karavan. Your style and story telling ability totally transported me. This is a quality only the worlds best story tellers achieve with their audiences, be they listeners or readers. I cannot wait for Deepwood. Do not change a thing about your style, it is absolutely refreshing and attention grabbing then holding. Critics? Does everything have to have meaning. Maybe some of these critics live in another world. It is great to see characters walk in and out of the story line, (keeping one guessing), just as real people do in real life. Jennifer, absolutely love your work, ignore everyone and keep doing your thing, we cannot get enough of it, (my partner read Karavan first and she suggested I may want to read it after I was sure the second novel was on the shelf - which is a compliment to your skills and of course a way to tease me!).Cheers with success to you - Turi

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