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Monday, February 19, 2007

Interview with Joshua Palmatier

Last week I reviewed The Skewed Throne by Josha Palmatier. Joshua has the first two books of the series out now and the third installment will hit the shelves early '08. After reading the opener, I know that I'll be picking up two and three. I simply can't leave a trilogy unfinished! Joshua was kind enough to answer a few of my questions.

1. When did you begin writing with the goal of being published?

I started writing in the 8th grade, when we were assigned to write a Twilight Zone short story. I wrote "Aquantico," a short story about a man looking out the window of his space ship as his homeland, Atlantis, was engulfed by the ocean. One page. In 8th grade size handwriting. But the teacher thought it was written well and suggested I write more. The idea took hold and I started writing to see what I could come up with, including stories for shared-world anthologies like "Magic in Ithkor."

However, I can't say I got REALLY serious about the writing until I hit graduate school. At that point I'd written a rather bad fantasy novel and after finishing that I sat back and asked myself whether this was just a hobby or whether I really intended to go anywhere with it. I decided I'd get published, and worked hard for the next 10 years before managing to break that first barrier and getting an editor (and an agent) to say "yes."

2. Is The Skewed Throne your first novel (completed - not published)?

The Skewed Throne is actually the fourth book I wrote. The first book was called Sorrow, and it went through numerous revisions before I managed to get myself to set it aside and move on to something else. It's the book I used to teach myself how to write, at least in my mind. I then (stupidly) worked on the sequel to Sorrow, which of course can't sell because Sorrow never sold. Once I realized my mistake there, I began something completely different, a contemporary fantasy/horror novel along the lines of Stephen King called Fever. (Actually, I call it a cross between Stephen King and M Night Shyamalan.) I needed the break from the usual fantasy novel, a break from Sorrow and it's characters and environment. Once I'd had my breather, I returned to the world of Sorrow and wrote The Skewed Throne.

The good news is that my editor is interested in returning to Sorrow and it's sequel at some point in the future. And I hope to get Fever published at some point as well.

Now, that's definitely an interesting writing history. I'm curious about the premise of Sorrow! I'm not so sure about Stephen King, though. A mixture between his style and Shyamalan sounds intriquing to me!

3. How long did it take you to write it?

The Skewed Throne took be approximately 6 months to write. Since I teach mathematics at the university, the only real "free" time I have to write--to seriously write--is during the summer break. I wrote Part 1 of The SkewedThrone one summer, and Part 2 the next summer. Now, however, I've settled into the teaching schedule and the writing schedule, and I can actually write some during the semester as well. I hope to produce one book a year from now on, if not more.

4. Varis is an interesting character, she's strong and her emotions are equally strong. What did you do to bring her to life on the page?

Ha! Actually Varis "came to me," so strongly that she demanded I write her next, even though I had another project in mind at the time. However, that's not extremely helpful, and in the end that doesn't answer the question about how I brought her to life on the page. Yes, having a character come so vividlyto you is great it gets you halfway there, but the other half has to come from you as a writer.

So, how did I bring her to life? Well, the main point of The Skewed Throne is her development, how she progresses from a gutterscum thug to a royal assassin. So when I sat down to actually begin writing, I asked myself, "What would it take for ME to kill someone? What would have to happen to push me onto the road to being an assassin?" And that's how I moved Varis from thief to assassin. Each time I sat down, I spent a long moment pushing myself into her world, into its grittiness and reality, and then I forced myself to live Varis' life.

That's the secret to good writing, I think. The writer has to actually place himself or herself into the character's world, into their mind. To write Varis, I had to become her. Some days this was easy, others it wasn't. I listen to music while I write, because I find that it helps submerge me in the character's world, blocking out the "real" world at the same time. There are other tricks as well, such as rereading what you've written the previous day, revising as you go. This seats you into the character's mind before you start writing something new. In the end, to get that emotional impact that you want,you have to BE that character.

Excellent advice, Joshua. I could tell that you had an excellent handle of Varis. Your commitment to her character shines through!

5. The third installment of Varis' tale is coming out soon. Can you give us a few hints of what will happen? I haven't read 2 yet - but I will... will we find out why Varis can see the river? And, what is the story behind the White Fire?

What, and spoil all the fun, all the anticipation? You couldn't torture that information out of me! *grin* OUCH, OUCH, OUCH! Don't touch the hair, don't touch the ha--AHHHHHHHH!!! OK, OK, OK! I'll spill! Geesh. *grumble, grumble*

*rubs my hands together* MuHaHaHa!

Both The Skewed Throne and the sequel, The Cracked Throne, take place almost exclusively in the city of Amenkor where Varis grew up. In the third book, The Vacant Throne, due out January 2008, Varis actually gets to leave the city and see some of the rest of the Frigean Coast. I found it hard to get Varis to leave actually, because Varis herself didn't want to leave. Or rather, she did, but she's grown up so isolated that she was afraid to leave. I had to push her out, essentially.

Once she gets out, it gets interesting. New cities, cultures that are close to what we've seen in Amenkor, but with subtle differences. All of it outside of Varis' experience. Along the way, you learn more about the magic system of the world, about the Skewed Throne itself and in particular its creation, about the Frigean coast and its past. And yes, you learn more about the White Fire. I don't answer all of the questions readers might have though, because I hope to return to the coast, to Amenkor and the people we've gotten to know (and Ihope, love) in the Throne books, but I believe I wrap up all of the important plot lines while still giving the impression that the characters' lives continue beyond the third book.

Excellent, I look forward to reading it even more!

6. What else will we be seeing from Joshua Palmatier in the future?

Well, I've just signed a contract for a book called Well of Sorrows, the first book in a new trilogy set in the same world as the Throne books. However, it's set over a thousand years earlier than the Throne books on a different continent, with (of course) a completely new cast of characters. The main character is named Colin and during the course of the first book . . . he becomes immortal. The series is about how he tries to use his power, his successes, his failures, and his struggle with the idea of immortality, its advantages and its curse.

After that, I have at least four other ideas--either trilogies or duologies--set in the same world. I hope to be able to write them all, assuming there's continued interest of course.

Yup, it definitely sounds interesting to me!

7. Who do you like to read when you aren't writing?

I read pretty much everything. At the moment, I'm reading the first Harry Dresden novel by Jim Butcher called Storm Front, and the fifth book in Michelle West's Sun Sword sextet, called The Riven Shield. However, if I were to recommend an author or two, I'd suggest Tad Williams or Guy Gavriel Kay. Both can create incredibly vivid worlds, with interesting, well-developed characters. And narrowing it down to two authors was HARD!

8. What advice do you share with aspiring writers?

The best advice I can give aspiring writers is the advice that Kate Elliott passed on to me: Be persistant. Which I take to mean, write. And even as what you've just written is out there, waiting for an editor or agent to look at it, write more. Write, write, write. And when you get a rejection (and you will, it is extremely rare that an author gets accepted with their first story and the first editor or agent they send it to), yes, get upset, feel depressed--it's impossible not to--but PERSIST. Keep writing. File that rejection away, make a note of whether it was a good rejection or a bad rejection, and who it came from, and keep that rejection in mind when you send out the next submission. But KEEP WRITING. Nothing in publishing happens fast. You have to be persistant, and have some thick skin, if you really want to be published.

More excellent words of advice, thank you, Joshua.

9. Do you think having a blog and a strong internet presence has impacted your writing career?

I think having a blog and a strong internet presence allows the writer to "keep in touch" with readers, giving them a place to ask questions of the author, to voice their opinion about the books, the world the author has created, etc. Authors love to hear what readers are thinking regarding their books. Without the internet, we'd live in a void. We know our books are out there, we hope they're being read, but we rarely hear what people think of the books. And since we can't write and release a book a month, our blogs and the internet allow us to keep connected while we work on the next book.

Also, the internet can help generate sales, because you can reach readers that you wouldn't normally be able to. It's impossible--financially and phycially--for an author to travel to all parts of the nation or world in order to promote their book. The only way to do this is through the internet. And authors have to promote themselves, because--let's be realistic--if he or she doesn't, then the sales won't be high enough for the publisher to continue publishing that author. And all of us want to continue writing stories.

But in the end, it's still the readers themselves who help the author the most. If you've read a book that you found interesting, that excited you, that made you say "Wow!", the best thing you can do for the author is to TELL SOMEONE ELSE, either in person, at the bookstore, or using your blog or website. Post a review at amazon.com or Barnes & Noble. Talk about it in a chat or create a thread at a forum. Word of mouth is the most effective promotional technique, especially for new authors. So (here's where the self-promotion kicks in) if you liked The Skewed Throne, go tell someone! Let all your Myspace friends know. Get them to try the book. Otherwise, I may not be able to continue Varis' or anyone else's story.

Another reinforcement that as readers we do have the power to keep seeing the books we like. Find something you like and spread the word.

Thank you, Joshua, for taking the time to share your thoughts and advice with us. We appreciate it!



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8 Comments:

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Awesome interview, Rash! Thanks, Joshua -- you say some VERY important things about writing and the process. (and self-promotion, sigh)

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