My special guest today is author Patty Jansen! I first met Patty through Twitter a few years back and have followed her career with interest since. There’s a lot to talk about, so let’s get straight to it. But first a quick introduction:
Patty lives in Sydney, Australia, and writes both Science Fiction and Fantasy. Her best-known works are the trilogies set in the Icefire world, and the popular and addictive Ambassador series. She has published over 30 novels and has sold short stories to genre magazines such as Analog Science Fiction and Fact.
So, Patty, tell us, how did you come to be a writer? Was it always something you were interested in or did you fall into it?
I was always interested. At first, I made the mistake of writing about writers! And trying to write contemporary fiction because that seemed to be what one did. Then I made the mistake of not showing my books to anyone for many years, not that they would have been worth reading. Ten million words of crap and all that.
What were your favourite books/films growing up? What kick-started your creativity?
I know there were a lot. I was always reading science fiction. I must have read all the usual suspects, but and I feel really bad about this, because I had a huge reading and writing hiatus, I don’t remember the names of any of them. I remember some of the stories, though, does that count?
When I got back into it, I read all the usual suspects, too. From Ursula LeGuin, Heinlein and Asimov to Aussie names like Ian Irvine and Glenda Larke and current genre authors like John Scalzi and Elizabeth Moon.
You were trained as an Agricultural Scientist. Can you tell us a little about this and how it influences your work?
Agriculture is surprisingly useful for worldbuilding. Surprise, surprise, it keeps us alive. Understanding how ecosystems work is a vital world building element. Usually, this knowledge operates in the background of my fiction, but occasionally I pull out all the stops, as in Ambassador 5.
I worked for CSIRO in North Queensland and our area of responsibility covered rangelands from Coen up Cape York to Emerald and anywhere in between. This is a huge area and we spent a lot of time travelling by car, truck or six-seater aircraft. I’ve listened in to commercial airliners talk to each other, I’ve un-bogged an aircraft, we’ve done go-arounds to chase emus off airstrips, we’ve driven through swollen rivers, made camp fires, chased snakes and the occasional mad bull, learned why you don’t park a car with a chip in the windscreen facing the sun (not unless you want to buy a new windscreen).
So yeah, there were two parts to training as a scientist: one, the knowledge, and two, the odd experiences.
You write both Science Fiction and Fantasy, but I’ll focus on the SF today. You’ve written a few series within this genre. Can you tell us a little bit about each of them?
The Ambassador series is space opera, non-military, political, with strong thriller elements. It takes place about 100 years from now, and Earth plays a strong role. The premise is that in the 1960s a small space craft crashed on a beach on a Greek island. The two occupants were refugees from a harsh alien regime, and they started a refugee community in Athens. They were enough like people to pass themselves as Chinese, and lived hidden until the late 21st century, when people on Earth found out that there are many different types of humans all over the galaxy. These people don’t all get along with each other, and are jockeying to maximise their influence on Earth. It’s a long-running series, with the main character Cory Wilson and an ever-increasing cast of side characters.
The ISF-Allion series is hard SF. I sometimes label it as military SF. Technically the majority of characters are in the military, although it’s not always about the military. It takes place about two hundred years from now. There is limited FTL travel. Most of the books take part within space stations or ships.
The Jonathan Bartell novellas are hard SF, and deal with a lot of biology and various problems related to living in closed ecosystems. The format is a space whodunnit where in each novella, the heroes arrive in a new locality to solve a problem that may or may not be related to criminal activity.
I’ve read the first book in your Ambassador series, Seeing Red. I enjoyed it! You’re up to book 8 now. Do you have a planned end point in mind, or are there still a few books to come?
I take the books one by one as they come. Currently I have at least one more book planned (I have the cover for it ready to go), but I already have ideas for further books. I will probably split off a new series so that the series has multiple entry points for new readers. I set it up so that the universe is endless. The overarching series mimics real life: when something is resolved, it will probably lead to something else that you didn’t expect to happen.
You’ve had great success self-publishing and have become a great help/resource for writers who are self-publishing themselves. You recently released a series of non-fiction books aimed to help self-publishers. Can you tell us a little bit about those?
My “thing” is mailing lists. Authors are familiar with the concept of a list as a service to loyal readers, but few people tend to use the mailing list as a means to sell books other than new releases to existing readers. I figured that I can pay a bunch of services a lot of money to promote my book, or I can pay money, through advertising, to entice people onto my mailing list, and once they’re there, I can email them more often without having to pay for it—and knowing who they are—while trying to make my books sound enticing to them.
Because so many people asked me, I wanted to write a book about how you can do this, but when I started writing, I needed to keep stepping further and further back in order to explain basic things. So I pulled all the basic stuff out and put it in its own book. The books, Self-publishing Unboxed and Mailing Lists Unboxed explain my low-stress, low-profile method for earning a liveable wage from your writing.
For the writers out there, you also run a Facebook Group dedicated to those self-publishing speculative fiction, as well as a newsletter service Ebookaroo for readers of speculative fiction. Can you tell us a little bit about those?
The Facebook group can be found here. It gives writers the opportunity to find like-minded people with similar books to cross-promote each other.
The Ebookaroo is my private promotions newsletter. Since I have spent a lot of effort collecting emails from people who like offers and promotions, and I don’t have these myself all the time, I figured I’d send them notifications of other people’s promotions and new books. It’s my way of paying forward to the community.
If you weren’t a writer, what would your dream job be? Do you have a secret passion that we don’t know about?
Many things. The easiest would be if I became a cover designer. I know where to find the audience, and Bob’s yer uncle.
I wouldn’t mind having an orchid nursery. I’d move to Mareeba or Atherton and grow tropical orchids for the Sydney and Melbourne markets who are willing to pay ridiculous prices for them.
I don’t think I’d be much good as musician, but I would have loved to be a composer. Alas, the post-war generation of parents deeply distrusted the arts as a means to make a living and these pursuits were never encouraged. Not blaming my parents, just the generation who had seen their own parents battle genuine hardship.
What’s the one piece of advice you wish someone had told you when starting your writing career? What do you know now, that you wished you knew then? A friend of mine gave me the best advice ever long before I started self-publishing. It applies to writing, but also applies to your writing career. She said: You have a whole book to show the reader the characters and setting. Don’t try to cram it all on the first page.
This is what we tend to do early in our careers: trying to obsess and front load everything with so much STUFF that the all-knowing “they” say we have to do. It’s bullshit. Just do one thing until you feel comfortable with it. Then learn the next thing.
What can we expect from you next?
I will be publishing a number of things in the coming months. I’ve started a new fantasy series called the Dragonspeaker Chronicles which features an older female servant character who comes into the possession of a dragon.
I will also be publishing Juno Rising, a standalone novel in the ISF-Allion series.
And then I will continue existing series. Apart from the Ambassador series, I’m going to be a bit coy about this, because, hey! There are only so many hours in a year and I don’t like making promises that I know I won’t be able to fulfil within 12 months.
Thanks so much for your time today, Patty! Readers, if you’d like to find out more about Patty’s work, follow these links: