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Friday, October 25, 2019

SPFBO: Semifinalist Interview with Allison Pang (Interviewed by Łukasz Przywóski)

Order Magpie's Song over HERE (USA) or HERE (UK)
FBC's Review of Magpie's Song is right HERE
Allison's webcomic Fox & Willow can be found on Tapas and Webtoons as well as here 

Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Before we start, tell us a little bit about yourself. 

*waves* Hi there! As far as writing goes, I’m a hybrid author – both traditionally and indie-published. I’ve written novels, short stories and comics and I enjoy creating them all, particularly those with a somewhat tragic bent. I’m an avid gamer (or I am when I have time, which is a lot less these days… >_<). Otherwise, fairly typical things – a full-time job, mom, owner of a truly obnoxious northern breed dog – but with a LEGO and anime obsession that borders on unhealthy at times…Oh, and I like to sew subversive cross-stitch projects with dirty words.

When and why have you decided to become an author? 

I think it was always something I wanted to do. Back in the late 80’s/early 90’s the internet wasn’t as much of a thing, so trying to find out HOW to get published was a lot harder than it is now. I was always a writer, but after a bad experience in college, I essentially gave up the idea of being published completely and didn’t really pursue it again until about twelve years later. By then, there were all sorts of online workshops and writing groups so I simply joined as many as I could to learn the craft. (That and I started playing in play-by-post D&D games in online forums and it reminded me of how much I enjoyed telling stories.)

How often do you write? Do you have a set schedule for writing, or are you one of those who write only when they feel inspired? Do you aim to complete a set number of pages or words each day?

When I’m working on a project, I try to write every weekday, usually about 1000-2000 words or so. I’m a computer engineer by day, so I fit it in when I can, usually earlier in the morning. If I have an actual deadline, I’ll write weekends as well, but I’ve found I’m a lot happier if I actually give myself a couple of days to pursue other things.  If I’m editing, I tend to edit every day, particularly weekends when I have large blocks of time. I’m slow but steady. 😊

What made you decide to self-publish Magpie’s Song as opposed to traditional publishing? As far as I know your Abby Sinclair series was traditionally published.

*laughs* Well, to be fair, the latest Abby Sinclair book, which was released a few weeks ago (A Symphony of Starlight) is self-published as well, but as far as Magpie’s Song goes, my agent did send it out to publishers, several times in fact. But as you yourself noted in your review, the book sort of defies easy genre categorization. Even though we had major interest from two of the big five publishing houses, one wanted me to rewrite it without the steampunk elements, making it more of a straight magic fantasy. I wasn’t particularly willing to do that as certain steampunk elements really are the entire point of the story. The other editor loved it but was afraid the marketing team wouldn’t know how to sell it. It happens. It’s frustrating, but I would rather see the story out there as I intended.

One of the big challenges with self-publishing is finding readers. Was that your experience?

Eh. Yes and no. I had the advantage of essentially having a built-in audience from the Abby Sinclair series. But Magpie’s Song is a much different sort of book and not all of that audience was particularly interested or thrilled about the direction I went. The Abby books are a UF/PNR series with a lot of goofy pop-culture references and smutty bits and a unicorn who whacks off in the heroine’s underwear drawer. Magpie’s Song is much darker and grittier and while there is an element of gallows humor about it, it’s not remotely the same. There was also a fairly significant time gap between the two due to health issues, so that probably didn’t help much. (On the other hand, watching Magpie’s Song get pirated thousands of times in the first week was also depressing. Yay readers! Boo, loss of income.)

Why did you decide to enter SPFBO?

I learned about it the year before but I was too late to enter and thought it was a really interesting contest. I nearly forgot about entering this year, to be honest, but I was on Reddit the morning entries were opened and I jumped on it. I think it’s a great contest overall, regardless of placement. It definitely offers a lot of writers some great exposure, and given how many books are out there, anything that can boost your presence to the readers is wonderful!

For those that haven’t read Magpie’s Song, can you tell us a bit about it?

On the surface, it’s about the clashing of two societies – the technologically superior Meridians on their floating fortress, and the people of BrightStone who have been reduced to fighting a plague of mysterious origins in a decaying city, overcome by fear and suspicion. In between are the Moon Children, roving clans of halfbreeds scorned by both sides, immune to the plague, and rounded up as sacrificial scapegoats to escort those with the plague to an underground facility known only as The Pits.

When one such Moon Child, Raggy Maggy, becomes a fugitive from the law after accidentally discovering the remains of a mysterious clockwork dragon, she finds herself embroiled in a political plot between the Meridians who are subverting BrightStone and a rebellion bent on trying to discover the true origins of the plague. Along the way she must learn who she can trust, even as everything she’s ever known is overturned, all while protecting the mystery of the clockwork heart that keeps her alive.

What was your initial inspiration for Magpie’s Song? How long have you been working on it? Has it evolved from its original idea?

I actually started writing it in 2008. Approximately the first page or so. And then I set it aside and started working on the Abby Sinclair series - as noted above, I was taking a lot of writing workshops and PNR/UF was fairly hot at the moment, so I decided to focus more on that. And then I sold the first Abby book and ended up with a trilogy that I had to work on. But I think the idea of the first scene with the clockwork dragon and a floating city in the distance was what really resonated with me. I didn’t have a firm idea of characters until much later (around 2013 or so when I started writing it for real – and the main character, Raggy Maggy was actually inspired by my daughter – at least her attitude, among other things…)

Could you briefly tell us a little about your main characters? Do they have any cool quirks or habits, or any reason why readers with sympathize with them?

For the most part I tried to create characters with definite shades of grey to them. Some are more innocent than others, but they’ve all got strong motivations for the way they act. Raggy Maggy does what she needs to do to survive, but takes her joy where she can. She protects a chosen few, but she isn’t looking to be a hero. Ghost is a mysterious character, but he’s stoic and loyal to an absolute fault. Once he commits himself to someone or something, he’s with them for life. Both of them are Moon Children, which makes them halfbreed outcasts in a society that doesn’t want them.

I’ve also got a soft spot for the character of Molly Bell as well – it was very refreshing to write someone whose motivations are unknown to everyone but herself, even to the very end. She is cutthroat and ruthless and completely unapologetic about it.

What was your favorite part about writing Magpie’s Song? 

I actually think the whole thing was very cathartic for me. I was in a bad place at the time when I was writing it (mostly due to health issues – multiple spine surgeries within a short period of time) and it colored my writing vision – everything felt dark and despairing for me, so it made sense to put my characters through dark times as well. But overall I think I just enjoyed writing in a world I made up completely. Writing UF is fun, but obviously you have to ground it in the real world, at least from time to time. Being able to explore some darker themes in a place where I made the rules, was very freeing.

Oh, and writing the twisted little nursery rhymes at the header of each chapter was a lot of fun too.

What sort of research did you do for The IronHeart Chronicles series?

Honestly, not a huge amount. Even though there are some elements of a Victorian-esque backdrop for the city of BrightStone, it isn’t meant to be historic, so I borrowed some the bits that I wanted and made up the rest. I have a biology degree as well, so when it came to the plague and some of the genetics I worked off what I was familiar with, but it’s definitely not an exact science.

Would you say that The IronHeart Chronicles series follows tropes or kicks them?

Tropes are there for a reason – those familiar archetypes that resonate with readers are sometimes the best part of a story. That being said, I did try to maybe go against some of the usual tropes with Maggy’s character. Often in fantasy or YA books, the main character is essentially enlisted into a cause, as a sort of “chosen one” – and while Mags may or may not be such a character (that remains to be seen), I didn’t want her to simply agree to taking on such a task – at least without a fair bit of convincing. Sometimes it feels as though she’s fighting against everything – her fate, the world, herself…

Cover art is always an important factor in book sales. Can you tell us about the idea behind the cover of Magpie’s Song?

I wavered back and forth on it honestly, but eventually decided against putting anyone specific on the cover. (Although if you buy the trade paperback you will see a bit more of the design – there’s a magpie on the back of Magpie’s Song, for example.) The story is a bit of a genre-mash up and I wanted the cover to reflect that, which is why you’ve got a bit of the city on the bottom (e.g. the Mother Clock) and some cogs, the feathers, etc.

Can you tell us about your editing process? Do you proofread and edit your work on your own or pay someone to do it for you?

I’m actually a terrible writer. Or at least, a terrible first-drafter. These days I do a pretty dirty draft and then rewrite. And rewrite. And quite possibly rewrite a third time. But I absolutely could not do it without my editor. (Danielle Poiesze of Double Vision Editorial.) Danielle was my editor over at Simon & Schuster, but she eventually went freelance and it was a no-brainer to hire her for my indie books. We usually do three rounds of revisions – a deep edit where we completely shred the book in the hopes of making it stronger, a line edit/proofreading, and then we have a cold reader work through it to point out anything obvious or confusing that we missed. It is not a cheap process, to be honest, but I do think it is worth it.

Can you name three books you adore as a reader, but that make you feel inadequate as a writer/in awe of the craft? 

That’s probably a pretty big list… >_< but if I had to pick just three, it would be Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn, Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart (the whole series, really) and Robin Hobb’s Assassin’s Apprentice.

What are you working on at the moment?

The third book in the IronHeart Chronicles, Magpie’s Flight, an un-named fantasy standalone that hopefully my agent will sell, a script for the forthcoming KicksStarter comic anthology Gothic Tales of Haunted Futures and weekly updates to my webcomic Fox & Willow. And editing a couple of short stories to put out on submission. 😉

Thank you for taking the time to answer all the questions. In closing, do you have any parting thoughts or comments you would like to share with our readers? 

Just to thank them for their time for reading this of course, and just a bit of a request for any indie books they read – please, please review them. Amazon, GoodReads, blogs etc. Love it, hate it, it doesn’t matter. So many indie books get swallowed up and lost in the crowd  - if a story touched you in some way, pay it forward and help other readers find it too. :D



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