the Little Red Reviewer

Ask Julie Czerneda anything! (plus give away!)

Posted on: November 1, 2015

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cover art by Matt Stawicki

As part of Julie Czerneda‘s blog tour for her new Clan Chronicles novel, The Gulf of Time and Stars, I’m thrilled to be hosting Julie for an AMA (Ask Me Anything).   Click here for blogtour updates on facebook, or follow #timeandstarstour.

Best known for her biology based science fiction, Julie Czerneda has been editing and writing speculative fiction since the late 1990s.  Her first novel, A Thousand Words For Stranger, would eventually lead to novels that tackle the biological needs and requirements of alien species and humans alike, garnering Czerneda numerous Prix Aurora Awards (most recently for her first fantasy novel A Turn of Light).  She’s also involved with science education, anthology editing, and giving her fans more of what they want: namely more of Sira de Sarc!

Today we’re celebrating her newest novel This Gulf of Time and Stars (available Nov 3), which is also the start of a new Clan Chronicles trilogy, The Reunification series. You can read my spoilery review here, and there’s more info near the bottom of this post.   Julie is joining us all day today, Sunday Nov 1st, to answer your questions!  And since this is an Ask Me Anything, you really can ask her anything. Ask a question about her books or characters, or about her writing methods, or her pets, or what she likes to eat, or editing or anthologies, or Canada, or biology, or teaching, or her panel schedule at World Fantasy Con, or well, you get the idea!

photo credit: Roger Czerneda Photography

photo credit: Roger Czerneda Photography

Some starter questions that came in before this post went live:

 

Which do you prefer? coffee or tea?

Are the Dhryn based on any animals from Earth?

You write a lot of trilogies. Do you outline the entire series before finishing the first book?

Any cures for writer’s block?

 

If you’re just joining us, and want to get in on the fun, here’s what the Clan Chronicles is all about:

 

The Clan Chronicles is set in a far future with interstellar travel where the Trade Pact encourages peaceful commerce among a multitude of alien and Human worlds. The alien Clan, humanoid in appearance, have been living in secrecy and wealth on Human worlds, relying on their innate ability to move through the M’hir and bypass normal space. The Clan bred to increase that power, only to learn its terrible price: females who can’t help but kill prospective mates. Sira di Sarc is the first female of her kind facing that reality. With the help of a Human starship captain, Jason Morgan, Sira must find a morally acceptable solution before it’s too late. But with the Clan exposed, her time is running out. The Stratification trilogy follows Sira’s ancestor, Aryl Sarc, and shows how their power first came to be as well as how the Clan came to live in the Trade Pact. The Trade Pact trilogy is the story of Sira and Morgan, and the trouble facing the Clan. Reunification will conclude the series and answer, at last, #whoaretheclan.

Give away details: DAW  has kindly provided a hardback and Audible has provided an audiobook of This Gulf of Time and Stars to two lucky winners.  If you live in Canada or the US, you are eligible to win the hardback, and the audiobook is an international giveaway. (listen to a sample of the audio here) To enter the giveaways, participate in the AMA by asking a question, or just comment below that you’re interested in being entered into the giveaway. Although the AMA is only happening today, Nov 1st, you can enter for the giveaways until Saturday Nov 7th. I’ll choose a winner shortly after the 7th, so be sure to give me a way to reach you (e-mail, twitter, etc).

59 Responses to "Ask Julie Czerneda anything! (plus give away!)"

Hi Julie
I’m going to come clean and admit that I haven’t read your books (yet!). Andrea will confirm that I’m a bit new to sci-fi so with that in mind, and for all the other lighter sci-fi readers out there, what would be the best place to start with your books??
Lynn😀

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Hi Lynn. Hey, that’s music to my ears having a new and willing reader. Thank you! Well, my stuff is pretty accessible (I’m told), but if you like humour, BEHOLDER’S EYE, if romance is a nice hook for you, A THOUSAND WORDS FOR STRANGER, which also gets you into the Clan series. I do have fantasy, however, starting with A TURN OF LIGHT. http://www.czerneda.com has excerpts for them all–plus if you click on the suitcases, you’ll find some of my short fiction to try.

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Hi Julie, here’s my first (of probably many!) questions-

You write a lot of trilogies, and in the case of the Clan Chronicles, a series made up of 3 trilogies. Do you outline the entire story arc before starting the first book? How do you know how long the series will be?

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I rarely outline other than taking notes to check the first 2/3rds of a story to be sure I know everything to tie up. That said, the Clan was complex enough that for the pivotal book, RIFT IN THE SKY, I outlined first every single scene. More usually, I know the ending, if not how I’ll get there, and the overall tone of the story before I start.
Length? Funny you should ask that. I’ll be revealing more about how the Clan series went from one book to nine on launch day, Nov 3rd, at SF Signal, but I’ve only one never-ending story and that’s Esen’s adventures in the Webshifters. I love those and they don’t need to end. Everything else I do? Does. Endings are important and having learned from the Clan series, I do know how long my stuff will be.
I’ve a guest blog with Karina Sumner-Smith on trilogies coming up this week on Beauty in Ruins, for more on those.

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I’m really looking forward to reading your post with Karina Sumner-Smith and your post at SFsignal!

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What are your writing habits? do you always write at the same time of day, or when the mood strikes? do you need peace and quiet, or do you like to listen to music when you write?

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::laughs:: Depends?
Mood is irrelevant. This is how I earn my living, it’s my job, and I’ve been a full time author since 1985, so when I’ve something to write, I’m writing it. That said, I’ve learned what works best for me. I can revise anytime/anywhere, but the fill-the-blank-screen part is much easier once I’ve had some good exercise and have a clear block of time ahead. I’ve also changed to writing standing up with GULF and love that. The result’s a bit sloppier, so I tidy sitting down, but I’ve gained likely two hours a day of the good stuff, and am healthier for it. Plus I can take the desk outside. WHOOO! Best thing ever.
Quiet? If I’m in the zone, I’ve no idea what’s around me. To get there, I do like music. Might be Stompa etc sorts to rouse the blood, or complex, vocal-free soundtracks. And loud, with a subwoofer rumble, unless my other half, who does need peace and quiet, is in his office.
Also, love writing while we’ve hockey or football on the tv–for winter.

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Hi Julie, my family were not readers, luckily the nuns at school made us borrow books at the library every week. At first I did not read them until one peeked my curiosity and after that I couldn’t get enough and I never forgot that first book. So my question to you is, do you remember the first book you ever read?

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I grew up in a family of readers, Gigi, so I honestly can’t tell you my first independent read. I can tell you my first SF read. I’d read everything my parents had and wanted something new. So I went to our school library, picked the first shelf easy to reach (N) and read everything on it in sequence. Most weren’t that great, but then I pulled out STAR RANGERS (retitled THE LAST PLANET) by Andre Norton. I was forever hooked!!! I can still remember how it smelled.
Years later, I happened to be back at that same library. They were in the midst of book culling, to make room for new things. I wish that had a happy ending, but no. They’d recycled “my” book the day before. Oh well. I’ll never forget it.

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Thanks Julie, my first SF book was loaned to me by my boyfriend (now husband) and it was The World of Null-A by A. E. Van Vog. Let’s just say it was a choc to the system, I had to read it twice to understand it but it got me hooked. LOL!

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some questions I came up with ahead of this post: 🙂

Which do you prefer? coffee or tea?

Are the Dhryn based on any animals from Earth?

Any cures for writer’s block?

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Coffee for breakfast and mid-morning muffin, tea the rest of the day.
The Dhryn? Nothing specific, as I recall. A combination of blubbery skin and pores from whales, perhaps?
Writer’s block? I don’t believe in it. I do know it’s easy to write too long at a go–the body hates that–so I switch where I’m working, or go outside and garden. But that’s more body-block ::grins:: in the sense that your body knows best.

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Thanks for the links. I’ve just been checking out those two books and they both look really good.
I notice from your site that you studied biology – how much does that help you when writing sci fi – truth being stranger than fiction after all!

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My pleasure.
Biology? It’s everything! I talked a bit about this at an earlier interview http://www.fantasybookcafe.com/2015/10/this-gulf-of-time-and-stars-blog-tour-julie-czerneda-interview-giveaway/ At the front of SPECIES IMPERATIVE, the new omnibus, there’s a page devoted to my biology-keen readers, “Biogeeks” and I’m one, for sure. Good question.

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Hello Ms. Czerneda! I’m a biologist and a SF nerd and will be in the little shame corner as I have not yet read your books. I am very glad to see they are in audio format as I am an audiobook zombie. So I will be checking those out sooner rather than later.

Now, can you share with us some of the gross facts about Earth you came across and then maybe tweaked or somehow incorporated into your alien biology?

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Hello! Great to meet a fellow biogeek😉 Hmm gross facts? I did adapt male/female anglerfish interactions to create an alien who “wears” her mate on her head in Species Imperative. Beholder’s Eye and so on is where I really let my slime fly, however. I’ve a species that collects the day’s pheromone tracks for the archives, based on ants. Ganthor are a matriachal alien species I created to have as mercenaries. There’s a fair bit of meaningful snot.

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Awesome. I always enjoy encountering these little bio facts in fiction and trying to match them to something we already know about Earth biology. I’ve read several Mary Roach non fiction books and they expanded my knowledge on gross facts.

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An area I’m particularly interested on is how living things communicate and which senses they use. Hence my polarized light sensitive aliens in one of the Esen books. (CHANGING VISION)

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In reading the Trade Pact universe novels, I’ve made connections and parallels to other SF universes. But for you, what authors and worlds have inspired you in creating the worlds and races and characters of the Trade Pact verse?

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Hi Paul! Hmm. I’ve loved Andre Norton’s books, especially those like CATSEYE where we see where the disadvantaged lived and the starship traders of her worlds are very like my own. I think many of her SF speak to me because they’re character/story driven, and the tech is seamlessly in the world. A word here, a use there.
C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner series–I can’t say it was inspiration so much as these are my reward books, to be read when I finish my own. But the depth of her world-building and the subtleties of her alien cultures always inspire.
I also owe quite a bit to some British thrillers. I loved the pacing of the Norman Conquest stories (and characters), the Saint, and the Dr. Palfrey books. Alistair MacLean, whose characters are pummelled by their environment as well as the bad guys, but still have their inner noble core. Keith Laumer, come to think of it. I adore his interactions between alien cultures and Human in the Retief books.
Interestingly, I’m not sure how much was inspiration, and how much was “I want more of this and that and those so I’ll write my own.”

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Questions from a very good friend of mine* who is away from her computer today. She asks:

Which of your trilogies or books do you envision repackaged in deluxe hardback with slipcase, illustrations throughout, and full color endpapers?

Do you have inclination for writing in another genre?

*This is the friend who got me hooked on Species Imperative

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Ahhhh. That’d be nice. I do have great SFBC hardcover editions for all but one of my novels (they missed PLAY), but something to be redone? BEHOLDER’S EYE and IN THE COMPANY OF OTHERS. Although I’m not sure I’d want interior art.
I do write fantasy now. That counts! Right now, I’ve seven books under contract to write, so I probably will stay where I am for the next few years. After that, I don’t know. In short fiction, I explore, but I really love SF and F.

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technology is the best. I snapped a photo of your response on my computer screen, and texted it to my friend.

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at this rate, this post is going to break all my blogging hit-count records!

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::grins:: Thanks for all your hard work in the prep and promoting!

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Good morning Julie! What was your biggest challenge as a writer, and how did you overcome it?

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My biggest challenge? Hmm. It wasn’t so much a challenge as a growth/confidence thing. I’d never let anyone read my fiction until making the decision (at my husband and non-fiction publisher’s urging, not mine) to send it out in the world, which made me hesitate to write full out. I felt exposed enough, if that makes sense? But with BEHOLDER’S EYE, my second, I tossed in some “well, I like this” humour to see. Well, that went over famously. This gave me the courage to do more of that. Meanwhile, my editor at DAW, Sheila Gilbert, was adept at catching moments I’d glossed over the emotion. She’d point to them, I’d wince and fix. With all this, I finally figured out it was impossible to put too much me, and my passion, in the work. Very liberating.

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Love that response, “I’d wince and fix.” Which emotion was the hardest and/or easiest for you to convey? I’m glad you found your liberation!

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Anything strong. There’s a fine line between power and purple in prose.
I’m reasonably comfortable with it now, but I still check once in a while.

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If you could be an extra on a SFF TV show or movie, what show would that be and what role?

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Soemthing presently running, hmm. Okay. TV show? I’d love to walk through the precinct office in CASTLE, and hear them deliver those lines in real time. As for movie? Science officer on the Enterprise in the next Star Trek!

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ok everyone, let’s start a petition to get Julie cast as a science officer on Star Trek Continues!
https://www.facebook.com/StarTrekContinues/

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Since we’re having such a lovely AMA with you, I’m curious to know which now-dead author(s) you would like to interview and why?

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Edgar Allen Poe because his thoughts are so deep and I’d love to see how he processes his thoughts.

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I would love to sit down for a chat with Andre Norton. We did exchange letters and I learned after her death that she had my books and enjoyed them. Wow! I’d want to tell her how much I enjoyed her stories.
I wouldn’t mind a conversation with Edgar Rice Burroughs about John Carter of Mars and other things. Big fan.

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I grew up reading a lot of Andre Norton and having a chat with her would be memorable indeed!

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Are you going to any conventions soon?

any fun convention stories?

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I’ll be at World Fantasy next week, in Saratoga Springs NY, and signing at Flights of Fantasy Nov 8th. SFContario in Toronto on the weekend of the 21st. That’s it till the next book is done, but I’ve a busy August/Sept in 2016. Look for me in Maine, Alberta, Kansas, Quebec…I’ll be zooming! http://www.czerneda.com and click Events.
Fun con stories? Goodness. Catch me sometime in person to ask. I do a reader breakfast Saturdays at most cons because I’m an early riser and it’s lonely at 7:30 am.
I did stare wistingly at C.J. Cherryh when she was GOH of the Baltimore Worldcon, then we sat at supper together and I was totally tongue-tied. At least our son chatted nonstop with her about gaming!

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Have you generally written the books before making the sale? Have you considered self-publishing unsold works (if any) or works you’d love to write that might not suit a trad publisher?

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Only my first book, A THOUSAND WORDS FOR STRANGER. Since then, I sell them before writing. It’s sometimes daunting to have seven books under contract, but DAW and I work superbly together. Job security, in the self-employed world.
I worked as an editor and did sales for a while for a small press, so I’m not interested in self-publishing. I know the work involved and am happy to have a company do it for me. Not to mention an editor/copyeditor etc to watch my writing back.
I’ve so many more ideas I can’t imagine taking time from writing to self-publish. I think if something didn’t fly, I’d put it away. It might one day.

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Hey, Julie! Any news from the book to film front? And what do baby Carasians look like?

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I wish! Every so often there’s a nibble on IN THE COMPANY OF OTHERS and I’ve someone with an interest in my fantasy, but that’s years down the road.
Baby Carasians? Tasty😉

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If you could experience any book all over for the very first time, which book would you pick?

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Great question. Hmmmmm LORD OF THE RINGS. I read it first back in university and it took me three tries to get past the birthday party. I’d love to read it now, as someone more familiar with fantasy.

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Great choice! I read it for the first time in my mid-teens when I had a bad ear infection. Those books helped keep my mind off of some of the pain late at night.

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Do you have Ontario book signings in the near future (other than the conventions)? Loved the reading a few years back at the Stephen Leacock Museum. Do you contemplate another event like that?

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I’ll be at Bakka-Phoenix on the 28th of Nov., and plan something in Ottawa before Xmas. That help?
The Leacock events are great–but I don’t get to pick those, just be invited.

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Awesome! Now I know what I’m doing November 28th!

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Hi Julie – I’ve been planning to read the Clan books, so winning this one would provide additional motivation for me to move the other Stratification & The Trade Pact books up on my TBR.
Count me in on the giveaway!
I’m assuming you have my email (necessary to post this comment).

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This came from Guy, from the facebook page for this event:

As one of your “biogeeks”, I’ve always wanted to ask this:

For years I’ve had trouble with the ideas of telepathy, telekinesis, and all the other powers Humans term “psychic” or ESP.

In the other “bio” series — SPECIES IMPERATIVE and WEBSHIFTERS — your characters typically don’t have such powers. In the CLAN saga of course, they’re central.

What sort of environmental pressures do you envision to which the Om’ray (and even the Tikitik and the Oud) had to evolve such powers or become extinct. It’s clear that they had the powers before they got to Cersi; and logically that means they evolved to survive elsewhere (which implies a Powered predator) — but under what circumstances would such mind powers evolve that could not be “taken care of” by a standard biological mutation?

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Hi Guy. Good question. Short answer? Wait for THE GATE TO FUTURES PAST, out in September. Also, we’re making interesting advances here and now in harnessing brain power. Might not be so SF ish after all! ::grins::

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My thanks, Andrea, and to all who participated today. Terrific, thoughtful questions and I hope you enjoyed my answers. Good luck all on the draw!

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How do you make the leap from working a regular job to being a full time writer when you’ve got two little kids to look after?

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Writing was the perfect job. I could stay home with the wee ones, adjust work to when they didn’t need me (I’ve slept on my office floor to be up at 3 am before now), and once they were older, I was home (and my husband, who’d gone full time photographer by then) when they came home from school.
It took some planning. I’d set up surprise stations so if anyone stirred from a nap before I was done a bit of writing, they’d be happy exploring for the necessary few minutes. I hired a responsible ten year old to be a playmate for a couple of hours a week; I was there, Heather was entertainment and they adored her. I also had someone come in Friday mornings to do the heavy cleaning. Made no sense for me to do it, if I could make ten times as much writing.
Naturally, my husband and I traded off as well. He’d take the kidlets on fun excursions any weekend I had a deadline. I was sorry to miss those, but that’s the job.
A bigger challenge than the kids was telling family and friends that well-intentioned surprise visits and even phone calls weren’t good for us. They understood and became our staunchest time-protectors.
The main thing that helped me do this? Everything for the kids first, get help, work hard.

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Hi! How are you today?

Are you likely to do any anthologies soonish?

I’ll ask one of my favorite author questions–What’s the best advice you’ve been given, and what’s the worse?

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Great, thanks. Finally unpacked from World Fantasy and ready to rock and roll the writing.
I’m not likely to do one soon, as I want to finish Reunification first. That said, I love editing anthologies, so down the road a while, I’m hoping to put out another.
The best advice I was given? While waiting to hear if THOUSAND, my first book, would be bought by a publisher, I was advised to write another book. It helped the waiting, and I had most of that new book ready to offer DAW. (BEHOLDERS EYE).
The worst? Not to write alien protagonists, because no one would buy them. Sorry, but Esen is as alien as they come and a reader favourite! (And mine.)

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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