Interview with Julie Czerneda, and a Give Away!
Posted November 4, 2014on:
A friend of mine had been recommending Julie Czerneda’s science fiction to me for a while, and last year I finally picked up the first book in her Species Imperative series, Survival. In a word, that novel was phenomenal. Strong characters, fascinating and freaky aliens, politics, intrigue, and even better, it was a scifi book based on biology (instead of physics, which seems to be a standard. Nothing against physics, but biology is damn cool!). The main character of Survival, Dr. Mackenzie Connor, leaps of the page and pulls you right back in with her. She’s a biologist, what could she possibly have to do with saving trillions of lives so far away from planet Earth? Here’s a link to my review of Survival, and a link to my review of the second book in the series, Migration. Stay tuned for a review later this month of the third book in the series, Regeneration!
After discovering Julie’s older science fiction titles, you can imagine how thrilled I was to learn she has a brand new fantasy series out, called the Night’s Edge series. The first book, A Turn of Light (click here to read an excerpt), came out last year and won the Prix Aurora Award for best English novel of the year. The second book in the series, A Play of Shadow comes out today! (Scroll to the bottom of this article to enter in the give away for a free copy!) Learn more about Julie Czerneda by checking out her website, and by following her on twitter at @julieczerneda
Enough squeeing from me, let’s get to the interview!
LRR: The same weekend you won the Prix Aurora Award, you were a special guest at CanCon in Ottawa. Wow, what a weekend! As an author, what’s the most fun part of attending conventions? What’s been your favorite convention that you attended? Any tips for folks who are new to the convention scene?
JC: It was a busy few days, that’s for sure, and happy!
The most fun? Meeting readers. To see eyes light up, to have someone mention a story or character they loved? It’s better than chocolate for the soul, believe me. I store those moments to think of when writing.
I attend several cons a year, and have since the 90s, so I can’t point to a favourite. Plus, each is special in its own right. There are conventions in amazing places, such as the national conventions of New Zealand or Australia. There are conventions where everyone shows their talent, such as the costuming at Anime North, and those of international drawing power, like Worldcons. Some have a tight focus, often on writing. World Fantasy, Ad Astra, Armadillocon would be examples. Can-Con’s was writing and science, very cool. Others, like Necronomicon or Polaris, mix everything I adore in one spot, from TV genre shows to movies to books to art to music and… the list depends on the organizers and those attending. That’s really what matters. Who is there, what they love.
For at their heart, conventions are to share what makes us smile.
Tips? Go! But not, at least not first, to a giant comic-con. Yes, they showcase a remarkable array of actors and are fun, but at them you’re a spectator, not a participant. Find your local convention, small is a good thing, and check that out. You won’t be sorry.
LRR: Happy release day for A Play of Shadows! What can you tell us about this series? Did you run into any particular challenges while writing it?
JC: Well, it’s fantasy and that was scary.
To write, that is. I’m a biologist turned SF author. I’ve always loved the type of fantasy where the words themselves resonate in my mind years after reading, full of grace and meaning. My SF voice isn’t like that, or to be kinder to myself in hindsight, any lyrical prose was unintentional, even if I liked it.
I wanted to write fantasy where the words mattered as much as the landscape as much as the story; it took me years to figure out how. As if the bar wasn’t set high enough, I was determined to write the sort of story I loved, but wasn’t finding any more. Accepting those challenges? Basically, I cut loose and did it, hoping for the best. I loved the result, deeply and personally. Would anyone else?
I’m happy and relieved to say, yes, they did.
A Turn of Light, in brief, is a romantic, lighthearted, tender story about a girl becoming a young woman, the choices ahead of her, and the oft-grumpy dragon who has guarded and loved her all her life. It all takes place in the valley and small village of Marrowdell, modeled after early 18th century pioneer settlements. (I built it, to scale. Being a fantasy author, I could do that.) Magic lurks everywhere, because Marrowdell is bound to another, stranger world called the Verge, but it’s the shy kind, that hides and peeks. There are house toads. When a stranger arrives… well, if I said more, I’d spoil it. Suffice to say if you enjoy Jane Austin and such fantasy tales as Stardust (by Neil Gaiman), you should feel right at home.
My story became a series in my first call with my editor at DAW after she’d read Turn. As you might imagine, writing A Play of Shadow was much easier. I had the world and the confidence.
There’ll be three more in the series, but first, I’m back to science fiction for a while.
LRR: You’ve been publishing science fiction novels since the late 90s. What changes have you seen in writing trends and in the science fiction community in the last 15 years?
JC: Considering I wrote my first book on a typewriter? It’s the tech that springs to mind first, at every level. Research, communication, being in touch with readers. Even the process of making books. I was DAW’s first author to email in a manuscript, as opposed to print/courier, and first to sign an ebook. Today, everything but the final proof stage is on screen and via the internet. It’s sped up production and I feel improved many aspects of the quality—but the actual writing? That’s about the same. (Though I wouldn’t trade being able to delete on the fly for anything.)
Perhaps the greatest change has been in accessibility and exposure. Access to information, for writer and reader, is light years ahead and for the better, in terms of getting things right. Science fiction readers have always been aware and critical, quick to catch errors. Writers? We’re info-junkies, the lot of us. Being able to click and find someone to talk to about a minute point of research? Pure gold.
Access goes both ways, however. The other side is exposure. Good for some, not so much for others. I love it. I enjoy interacting with people—the cons are almost like being online, but with hugging! I like sharing tidbits on Facebook or Twitter. That said, writers tend to be private people, (I am) and many are introverts (I’m not). We work alone and, not so long ago, the only place a reader could have met one of us was at a convention or signing. Preplanned. Safe, in the sense that when meeting face-to-face people tend to be polite and at least tactful. Now anyone can reach us before we start writing for the day, in the middle of a plot problem or during a low moment of confidence, and say whatever they wish, however they wish. Suffice to say negativity isn’t helpful to the muse. I’ve known writers who no longer risk opening fanmail before getting to work, or read posts on open platforms about their latest book. Another tip? Be public about what you like, not what you don’t. It does us all good.
LRR: I discovered your writing through your Species Imperative series, which was recently re-released as an omnibus. To simplify it greatly, the story revolves around a salmon research biologist who ends up studying an alien species. What was the trigger that inspired this story?
JC: I love far future SF, like Star Trek and Star Wars, (and Guardians of the Galaxy!) where we co-exist with nonhuman intelligent species. They delight me to no end. Still, the biologist in me couldn’t help but wonder. What if something innate in one of those species, some drive or need, proved incompatible with the rest? Everyone who’s had a pet or worked with livestock or gardened knows what works for one organism does not for another, or could even cause harm. I wanted to look at that on a cosmic scale. Migration immediately came to mind, since having to blunder heedlessly across the economic/social/political boundaries of other species? Oh, the possibilities!
Another theme, if you will, for me was to value whole worlds, all their life, not just the bits who can converse. We do. I believe, even in the future, we will.
LRR: One of my many favorite things about Species Imperative is that the aliens are so, well, alien! How did you come up with some of the design of some of these guys? Wouldn’t it have been easier to just have humanoid aliens?
JC: Thank you. Easier? Not really. We know “human,” so to write beings who are like us, yet convincingly different takes work. I do have such a species, the Clan, in my Clan Chronicles series. I live in envy of filmmakers, who can have actors do all the fine creepy things under their makeup to convince us. Plus diversity is not only nature’s preference, it’s fun!
I’ll confess, what’s truly weird in my aliens is real. I’ve a group of readers called Biogeeks who love to catch those bits. For example, the weasel-like alien “gonad” who smacks Fourteen? Pretty much straight from anglerfish sexual dimorphism. I couldn’t — and needn’t — make that stuff up. I do love my job.
LRR: You have an amazing resource on your website for educators who are teaching about science fiction and scientific literacy in the classroom. Can you tell us more about this resource and how you put it together?
JC: While my first novel sat in slush I worked full time as a science writer for educational publishers.
I’d do workshops in schools on scientific literacy and it was natural to use science fiction as my “hook.” Those went so well, I was asked to put together a workbook. At the same time, I noticed a dearth of science fiction suitable for younger, current readers in school libraries. To work on both at once, I enlisted SF authors for an anthology of stories using topics from grade nine curriculum, called Packing Fraction and Other Tales of Science and Imagination, then wrote a guide to their use, and sf in general, called No Limits: Developing Scientific Literacy Using Science Fiction.
These books were very well received, so my then publisher, Trifolium Books, gave me the go ahead to do more. That was the series, Tales from the Wonder Zone, each book aimed at a different grade/reading competency. The set won the Golden Duck Award, and the final volume, Polaris, won Best Science/Society for Youth from the Canadian Science Writers Assn, a first for science fiction. (I should mention they’re still in print and available from Fitzhenry & Whiteside.)
I’m very proud of them all. (And of my three anthologies of fantasy for the language arts: “Realms of Wonder.”) The more I worked with sf in the classroom, the more I found to use. I’ve done programming at Worldcons, as well as for the Smithsonian, teacher groups, and other organizations. Not so much lately, but I’ve put the materials you mentioned up on my site to encourage others.
LRR: Who are some of your favorite science fiction authors?
JC: C.J. Cherryh. Kristine Smith and Tanya Huff. Jack McDevitt. I’ve come late to Elizabeth Bear and Alison Sinclair, but wow! Years back, Andre Norton was my first. Asimov & Dickson. I’ve a Keith Laumer collection because Retief makes me grin and Burroughs because Tarzan got me started (story for another day). I’ve masses of authors on my toread pile, many new to me.
One new author I’m particularly excited about is Karina Sumner Smith. Her debut novel, Radiant, is astonishing.
JC: Of mine? Beholder’s Eye. The main character remains my favourite. A Thousand Words for Stranger is something even nonsf readers have enjoyed, though Species Imperative? I think that’s the intro to the genre I’d like to give.
Out on shelves now? Ask your bookseller, but here’s my final tip. Before you do, think what you like to read that isn’t science fiction. Do you like westerns? Mysteries? Thrillers? Romance? Gritty examinations of real issues? Comedy? Military adventures? New age? Historical? I guarantee you can find a work of science fiction that is right up your alley. It’s the most diverse genre there is.
And you’re going to love it, once you find your science fiction.
Thank you, Andrea, for the interview!
LRR: Thanks Julie!
The Night’s Edge series sounds fantastic, doesn’t it? And thanks to Penguin Canada and DAW books, we’ve got a copy of A Play of Shadow to give away! Entering is easy!
1. Leave a comment below that you’re interested in the give away. If you are not prompted to sign in with your e-mail address when commenting, give me some way to reach you (e-mail, twitter, whatever)
2. Give away is open to US and Canada residents.
3. Give away closes a week from today, at Midnight on Nov 11.