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.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 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: