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Monday, October 3, 2011

Interview with Philippa Ballantine (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Philippa J. Ballantine is an author I almost missed out on. She has released a number of books in the past five years, but I didn’t really notice her until last year’s publication of Geist. After this year’s release of Spectyr, the second Chronicles of the Order novel after Geist, my curiousity got the better of me and I read Geist and Spectyr back-to-back. Thrilled by how exciting the books were and intrigued by the world and magic system found within, I immediately contacted Ms. Ballantine to find out more about herself, the Chronicles of the Order and her other novels...

Q: Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic. For someone who hasn’t read any of your novels, how would you describe your writing style and what book would you recommend giving a try first?

Philippa: All the stories I write are character driven. I love creating people that readers can sympathize with—even if they aren’t perfect. I read to get inside other people’s heads. I don’t do a huge amount of description of the world, instead I like to use sensory words to describe scenes rather than spend pages describing every nook and cranny. I like to leave enough for the reader’s imagination to flourish. I’m not a big fan of books that spend a great deal of time dwelling on every minute detail of the scene. That is time I could spend delving into a characters motivations, thoughts and feelings.

As for recommendations…

If you want something fun and adventurous, then I recommend the steampunk novel Phoenix Rising I wrote with Tee Morris. If you’re after something a little more fantasy-based then go for Geist, the first Book of the Order.

Q: Geist was actually my introduction to your writing. How would you describe Geist and what can readers expect from the Chronicles of the Order series?

Philippa: Geist and the Books of the Order are set in the world of Arkaym, where the supernatural is an accepted every day fact. At any moment a geist can leak through into the world and take over your family member, and the only people to protect you are the Deacons of the Order. In Geist we meet two Deacons; Sorcha Faris, a seasoned veteran of fighting geists, and Merrick Chambers, very new at the game. They are thrown together when they are sent by their superior to investigate a geist attack in a distant town. Naturally, nothing is as it seems and before too long Sorcha and Merrick find themselves embroiled in a conspiracy involving the pretender to the throne, terrible supernatural threats and assassination.

The subsequent books dig deeper into the conspiracy, and readers can expect more revelations, more torment for my characters and many supernatural dangers.

Q: What can you tell us about Spectyr, the second volume in the Chronicles of the Order?

Philippa: Spectyr is the continuing story of Sorcha, but it also examines the role of religion in the world where the supernatural is fact.

Spectyr takes place about three months after Geist, and Sorcha and Merrick have been assigned to work that is essentially directing traffic. However, the otherside is not done with them, and soon the Bond that they developed with Raed is pulling them into a new part of the world to face new threats.

Q: Currently, the Chronicles of the Order is slated to be four volumes long. Will this be long enough to tell the story you want and what was your original plan for the series?

Philippa: For this particular arc of the story of the Order, yes indeed it will cover the overarching threat. However, that being said, I could easily see myself returning to this world again—though perhaps not these characters.

The original plan was for two books, but I hadn’t started writing the second book when Ace came back to me with an offer for another two, so I was able to adjust my view towards the end of book four

Q: In addition to Geist and Spectyr, there are a number of short stories floating around the Internet about the world of the Order:

Bondmate” by Nobilis

What can you tell us about these stories?

Philippa:In the Beginning” is exactly that—a telling of the first day the geists broke through into the world of Arkaym about one thousand years before events in Geist.

The Destruction of Station One tells the story of an event mentioned in passing in Geist and occurs in the month preceding events in the first book.

The rest of the stories examine what it means to be a Deacon, the perils and joys of wielding magic. Honestly, I was surprised with what people came up with, and though they do not contain the main characters of Geist (except as brief mentions) they round out the world of the Order in ways I never imagined. They are all set to occur before the events showcased in the first book.

Q: What sparked the genesis of the Chronicles of the Order?

Philippa: I had several ideas that sparked the original concept for Geist. I wanted to explore a slightly older character than was usual in most fantasy. Sorcha is in her late thirties, and I wanted to look at what all that power would do to a character slightly later in their life.

Then, I got the idea of the supernatural being just accepted as being in the world. None of this Ghost Hunters, questions about ‘what was that?’ In Arkaym, everyone knows—it was a geist! How this would affect people and civilization intrigued me. Finally, I wanted to put in a healthy slice of the buddy cop movie. Sorcha is paired up with what is essentially a rookie partner. All sorts of complications and conflicts arise from that—all fertile ground for an author.

Q: Could you tell us a bit more about the world of the Chronicles of the Order?

Philippa: I think the richness of the world of the Chronicles of the Order comes from the unique breadth of cultures and locations and the way the supernatural has filtered through and occupied portions of it. Arkaym is the empire that most of the books will be set in. It is an empire of feuding princes and states, where only a few generations ago, the old Emperor was cast out. The Assembly of Princes then sent across the water to the kingdom of Delmaire for a spare prince to occupy the throne. (Something similar happened in Europe in the twentieth century). Arkaym has vast deserts, teeming jungles, and many beautiful and dangerous cities.

Add in the creepy swamps haunted by the undead, grey ruins with the whispers of past murders, and geists infesting even the aristocracy of Arkaym and it is a marvelous canvas to paint on.

Q: Out of all the characters in your books, who was the most fascinating to create and write about?

Philippa: The wild and crazy ones are the easiest to write, but I find characters like Merrick in Geist  and Spectyr to be the most intriguing. The quiet ones; I enjoy finding reasons for why they do things, what they are thinking and why they keep so much hidden fascinating. They are like onions, and as I continue in the Books of the Order series, I am peeling back the layers.

Q: In this essay about Sorcha, you mentioned Ellen Ripley, Trinity, Paksenarrion and Morgaine as the inspirations behind Sorcha’s character. Could you highlight one character trait from each of these lovely ladies that is present in Sorcha as well?

Philippa: Sorcha has inherited Ripley’s determination in the face of great adversity. From Trinity, a surprising ability to still love while in the midst of it all. From Paksenarrion an impressive skill in battle, and from Morgaine an inherent darkness.

Q: Actress, noted fantasy fan and The Guild creator Felicia Day is a big fan of the Chronicles of the Order. Personally, I think Felicia could portray a mean Sorcha. What do you think? And how would you like to see your novels adapted?

Philippa: I was so excited that Felicia Day enjoyed my books. I think, after seeing her performance in the unaired episode of Dollhouse, that she could do a great Sorcha. It would be an attitude and personality she hasn’t had much chance to present to the world certainly!

After I saw the Pillars of the Earth miniseries, I can’t shake the idea of Eddie Redmayne as Merrick. As for Raed, it would have to be Sam Trammell from True Blood. He has that rough and ready look, and he can certainly do charming.

I think I would love to see the Books of the Order as a series of movies, while the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences would be fantastic as a television series.

Q: In 2012, Pyr Books is releasing a new dark fantasy series called The Shifted World. What can you tell us about this series?

Philippa: It is a little darker than the world of either Phoenix Rising or Geist. It’s a story of hard-won redemption in a place full of magic, and strange creatures called the Kindred.

Q: What other projects do you have in the pipeline? Will you continue podcasting as well as writing?

Philippa: I am editing the books due to come out next year, and working on two more novels for Ace and Pyr. Also, I have an idea that Tee and I want to develop into a Young Adult novel in the Ministry universe.

Yes indeed, I will always continue to podcast—in fact I have never really stopped. I am podcasting my erotic speculative fiction short stories and have been since 2009. Currently Tee and I are working on finishing up the short stories from Tales from the Archives. We have also launched a chatty writers podcast called “The Shared Desk” — which is a lot of fun. So I don’t really foresee a time when I am not somehow involved in podcasting. It gets into your blood and before you know it you are addicted.

Q: What is it about podcasting that you find so addictive?

Philippa: I’ve been involved with podcasting since 2005, and from the moment I got my first feedback from podcasting my first novel, I was hooked. I think I love the intimacy of it, and the feedback from the community. Community is big in the podcasting world, and that feeling is one writers don’t often get. As far as my novel podcasting goes, I have recorded the whole novel, often with characters voiced by my fellow podcasters. It gives a whole new dimension to my writing, and I am completely addicted to it. I think it reaches a whole new level of story telling.

Q: In addition to the Chronicles of the Order, you have written about Shakespeare, revenge, mystery and even a steampunk series with your fiancé Tee Morris. Where you get your ideas/inspiration from?

Philippa: It is strange how people don’t see fantasy writers being inspired by the world around them. I am constantly. I love people watching, and snippets of overheard conversation often get me thinking.

I love the natural world; a still lake, a magnificent tree, a beautiful mountain. A mysterious forest, for example, will get me plotting what stories to see there. That goes hand in hand with traveling which is one of my most favorite things to do.

Finally, history. I’ve always been a big history buff, and there are plenty of untapped stories all over our world that help me build my own. I watch documentaries, read books and blogs and it is amazing where I can find inspiration.

Q: You’ve already shown the ability to write in different genres, but what about a different format like television, movie scripts, or videogames?

Philippa: I would love a chance to explore other formats, but I think I would like to do it in collaboration with another artist. I have so much on my novel writing plate right now, that I fear I wouldn’t be able to find the time to learn a whole new skill-set. However I am very much open to working with a graphic artist or a scriptwriter—either based on a work I’ve already done, or something new. Who knows—in this brave new world of digital media there are so many exciting opportunities out there.

Q: What kind of books and authors do you enjoy reading?

Philippa: I am a hard core fantasy and Sci-Fi reader, but I have been known to pick up a sweeping historical novel as well from time to time; like Pillars of the Earth. In genre, I have always enjoyed the works of Elizabeth Moon, CJ Cherryh and David Gemmell. Recently I have been enjoying books like Boneshaker by Cherie Priest and Native Star by MK Hobson. I am also a fan of Nathan Lowell who writes stories set in space and has been podcasting them all.

Q: In closing, are there any final thoughts or comments that you'd like to share with your readers?

Philippa: I hope listeners and readers will join me on the ride ahead. I’ve had three books published since October 2010, and I will have another three published by the end of next year.

I’m also going to be journeying around the world—both physically and virtually, to conventions and blogs quite a lot. If you want to keep track of me visit my official site, follow me on Twitter @PhilippaJane or search for me on Facebook—I have a page there too.



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