SF Fantasy Author Mary Fan Chats About Space Opera Sequel and More

Hi. Today I’d like to welcome author Mary Fan to Dean’s Den. Mary is the author of the Jane Colt series from Red Adept Publishing which includes the sci-fi space operas “Artificial Absolutes” and “Synthetic Illusions.” She is also the author of the Flynn Nightsider series from Glass House Press. Welcome, Mary.

Tell us about yourself, including influences.

I’m just a simple bookworm too addicted to stories for my own good. Can’t boast of any fancy writing degrees, but I’ve learned a lot by just diving in and doing things. It’s hard to say who my influences are, because I’m pretty sure I can’t be taught (never learned a thing in classrooms – all my education came from reading and doing projects, and somehow I managed to finagle a degree out of my university). Probably a mishmash of all the things I read – fast-paced contemporary thrillers, mind-bending classic sci-fi, fanciful children’s books… and having grown up obsessed with movies and TV, I’m sure some elements of those mediums affected my perception of storytelling.

Mary Fan

Mary Fan

These days, I live in New Jersey with a crazy kitten who likes adding punctuation to my manuscript. And who’s been known to delete a paragraph or two.

What was your inspiration for the Jane Colt novels?

I’ve been a huge fan of space operas since I was a kid – and still am. But all the starry adventures I came across were about Very Important People doing Very Important Things. Space commanders saving the galaxy and the like. Which is awesome, but I always wondered about the lives of those who weren’t chosen for some great destiny.

Enter Jane Colt, a girl living in a universe of fast starships and advanced tech but primarily concerned with the things that plague most 20-somethings – what she’s going to do with her life, how she feels about the boy she’s seeing, etc. etc. And then, I threw her into a sci-fi adventure full of things she’s nowhere near prepared to face.

The Jane Colt novels also feature a heavy dose of cyberpunk – virtual reality, hackers, artificial intelligence, and the like. These were elements that arose as plot elements, then opened doors I didn’t expect to have to handle – questions of consciousness and, to some extent, religion.

“Artificial Absolutes” features a superb visual and imaginative scene that really stayed with me. It’s the part where Jane is conducting a virtual concert and singing as if her life depends on nailing the performance. Can you share with us the inspiration for this scene and what techniques you used to make the scene come alive?

I knew I was taking a risk when I decided to make Jane a composer, because people would inevitably assume she was autobiographical (because that degree I finagled is in composition). But you know what they say: write what you know. And there honestly wasn’t any other occupation better suited for her.

Then there’s another old saying: music speaks when words fail. As both a writer and a musician, I can say that’s definitely true. Music has this inexplicable power that transcends language. The scene you mention comes at Jane’s most desperate hour, and her music is the only way she knows to truly express what she’s feeling. To describe her performance, I drew upon my own experiences on stage – which was back before I conceded that I’m no good at performing.

For those of us who have read “Artificial Absolutes” (and I recommend it to those who haven’t), can you give us a feel for what to expect in the sequel, “Synthetic Illusions”?

synthetic-illusions-800Synthetic Illusions picks up about six months after the end of Artificial Absolutes and is largely about the consequences of what Jane discovers in the first book. It’s quite a bit darker, since loyalties forged in the first book are yanked apart, and characters are trapped by forces even more inescapable than the ones in the first book. Jane has grown up a little – although she’s still her stubborn, outspoken self – and, having survived Artificial Absolutes, bolder when it comes to taking action.

Will Jane to be returning in a third, and perhaps, fourth book?

Yes, a third book is in the works! Without giving too much away, I can say that at the end of Synthetic Illusions, Jane makes a decision that changes her life, and the third book would show her dealing with the new world she finds herself in. And I have plans for a fourth book to wrap up the saga, although a lot of things are still up in the air with that one.

You seem to be tireless and super-productive. Where does your strength come from?

I’ll take that as a compliment, thanks! As for where it comes from… an overactive imagination, impatience, a compulsion to finish things, and sheer stubbornness. The overactive imagination means I have about a million ideas for stories, and the impatience means I can’t wait to put them to paper. The compulsion to finish means even if I get a new idea halfway through a current one, I can’t just abandon it, so I end up working on several things at once. Stubbornness is why I keep at it even though often I feel like I’m being asked for my every ounce of energy as an advance payment for something I might never actually receive.

What are your research and novel-writing habits like?

I always start with a setting – a new world I want to explore. For the Jane Colt novels, I knew I wanted a story set in a classic space opera universe, plus Internet, minus aliens. Then comes the plot and the characters… well, actually, it’s usually the other way around. The characters come to life in my head, and I throw obstacle their way, and they dodge them. I’m an obsessive planner – I have about ten documents worth of backstories, outlines, and brainstorms before I even create a manuscript doc.

As for research – that tends to come in the planning part to help set the stage, then crop up again when I’m writing (and realize I have no idea how to answer something, so I’d better look it up!). Sometimes what I find inspires the story – like all that philosophy I crammed into my head when trying to create the character of Adam Palmer, Jane’s love interest.

As someone who has come pretty far in a short amount of time at a professional pursuit that is notoriously challenging and competitive, what advice can you give to authors trying to break in or turn novel-writing into a career?

Be prepared to work your tail off, and say goodbye to your relaxed life. Seriously. Nothing comes without a price, and I’ve paid in missed gatherings (which lead to more missed gatherings, which lead to people forgetting you exist), an end to my TV and movie-watching habits, and perpetual exhaustion. There’s far more involved in writing a book than most people imagine, from needing to work out every little detail of your story to swallowing your pride when your editor tells you’re wrong.

It requires a strange combination of arrogance and humility to write a book. Arrogance because you think your story deserves to be told more than all the million, billion others out there. And humility because you have to be willing to accept that no, you are not always right, and not everyone who points out a plot hole or clunky sentence is a simpleton who “doesn’t get me.” Arrogance again when people say you’re no good, because you’ve got to find it in yourself to come back with “yes, I am!” And humility again when not everyone recognizes your genius.

Oh, and get a thick skin. It’s not easy facing a mountain of rejections, both when you’re searching for a publisher and later when your book is languishing at the bottom of the Great Kindle Mountain.

Thank you for being with us today, Mary. All the best.


To find out more about Mary, please visit:

Mary Fan website: http://www.maryfan.com
Jane Colt series webpage: http://www.maryfan.com/jane-colt.html
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/mfanwriter
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/astralcolt


Fantasy Author Ivan Amberlake Visits The Den

Hello. Today, I would like to welcome author Ivan Amberlake to Dean’s Den. Ivan is the author of “The Beholder,” an urban fantasy novel that I recently enjoyed. Ivan’s latest novella, “Diary of the Gone,” was released September 23, 2013, and he’s here to discuss this new release as well as his first novel and future projects.

Ivan, welcome to Dean’s Den. First, tell us about yourself.

Ivan Amberlake, author of The Beholder and Diary of the Gone

Ivan Amberlake, author of The Beholder and Diary of the Gone

I’m from Belarus, and to my deepest regret I’ve never been to an English-speaking country. I fell in love with English and with the way it sounds about the time I was finishing school. Since then I’ve been learning it and also writing in it.

My wife and I are both teachers of English at a university where we met in 2004. I’m lucky to have her by my side. She’s a very active person who always supports me in my endeavors. I enjoy putting some of her traits into my female characters, like the kind of perfume she uses, or the color of her eyes, and it’s fun when she finds these parts in my books and keeps asking me questions about these traits.

“The Beholder” is a classic good versus evil tale with the theme of sacrifice running through it. What was your inspiration for the novel?

I can’t say there’s one thing that inspired me. While writing “The Beholder” I was greatly influenced by the music I listened to, and it varied from really heavy stuff like The Crown and In Flames (not recommended for the faint-hearted) to enchanting romantic melodies of a Swiss band Eluveitie. In the end, the book turned out an unexpected mixture of fantasy, thriller and romance. Movies like The Matrix and books like Harry Potter also had a great impact on me at that time, which a lot of readers mention in their reviews.

As for “Diary of the Gone,” I must say I finished it thanks to my wife’s encouragement. She believed in me and in this book, and I’m really grateful to her for her support.

In what ways is “Diary of the Gone” similar to “The Beholder” and in which ways it is a departure?

I’d say these two books are different in many ways. “Diary of the Gone” is a paranormal suspense novella about fifteen-year-old Callum Blackwell who sees people before and after they die. It’s aimed mostly at young adults (13+), but it also appeals to adult readers.

Diary of the Gone

Diary of the Gone

“The Beholder” is an urban fantasy with a more pronounced romantic thread than in Diary. “The Beholder” is a new take on the Light vs. Dark theme, involving a new kind of reality that only a chosen few are able to see and control.

One obvious thing in common for me is the protagonists. Both Callum Blackwell and Jason Walker are thrown into turmoil of dark events happening around them, and their task is to survive and save those who are dear to them, which is not always easy to accomplish.

Is this new one through the same author consortium, Breakwater Harbor Books? Tell us about BHB.

BHB is a group of self-published writers who support each other with feedback and promotion through various websites like Facebook, Twitter and so on. Some of our members are bestselling authors in various genres from sci-fi to zombie novels. A few of our members haven’t yet published their books but we anticipate they will in the near future. For more information on the group, you can go to http://www.breakwaterharborbooks.com/

Any favorite hobbies, movies or books you’d like to mention?

I have two hobbies right now, reading and writing, although I don’t have as much time to devote to them as I wish. I also enjoy watching sitcoms, but often real life is in the way so I can’t spend much time doing the things I enjoy.

What’s next for Ivan Amberlake?

I have a few projects in mind, but I’d better share them with you when I finish these books. I can only say that after a long period of procrastination, I’ve started writing Book #2 of The Beholder Series called “Path of the Heretic.” There are lots of ideas in my head right now, and the only thing is to put them in the right place so the story is both coherent and believable. I can say that there are things happening in the book that I couldn’t even think would happen, and I hope the readers will be as surprised as me.

Thanks for being on The Den.

Thanks for the great questions, Dean!

Note: Ivan mentioned he is currently enjoying a sci-fi novel called “Synthetic Illusions” by New Jersey author Mary Fan. By coincidence, Mary is scheduled to be the next guest on The Den. For more about Ivan, see below.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/IvanAmberlake
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ivan.amberlake?ref=tn_tnmn
THE BEHOLDER page on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Beholder/152577228229536?bookmark_t=page
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6907727.Ivan_Amberlake
Website: http://www.ivanamberlake.weebly.com