Jill Braden is the author of The Devil’s Concubine and its sequel, The Devil Incarnate. The Devil of Ponong is her first published series and takes place in Ponong, a tropical island under colonial rule in a fantasy world. Join us for our interview as we talk about her amazing fantasy world, NaNoWriMo and how writing can be compared to watching paint dry.
1. QuiTai is a truly incredible woman in many ways. Was there a woman either in your life or in history that inspired her character? Or was there something else?
I’m glad you like her. My main literary inspiration is Irene Adler from Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Scandal in Bohemia. I don’t like modern versions of her much (and could go on forever about why) but the original is still wonderful. She was a former actress like QuiTai, and rather notorious, and she outsmarted Sherlock Holmes. I also love Amelia Peabody from Elizabeth Peter’s Amelia Peabody mysteries, Miss Celeste Temple from Glass Books of the Dream Eaters, Lisbeth Salandar from the Millennium trilogy, Mattie Ross from True Grit, Joan Wilder from Romancing the Stone, and Hermione Granger from Harry Potter. Each of them are wonderfully sensible in their own way, and they have the added attraction of being so well written that they just about leap off the page.
2. You chose to write a fantasy world in a tropical island culture–a very unusual choice in the Medieval European dominated fantasy world. What made you choose this route? Was it a conscious effort or did you always visualize your story happening in a non-European based setting?
I had, for lack of a better term, a vision. It was like a short movie in my head. I saw QuiTai and Kyam meeting for the first time and knew from that quick glimpse that those two had a story I wanted to tell. Sometimes setting isn’t all that important to a story, but this time I suspected it would be. I don’t know if the tropical setting heavily influenced elements of the story, or if elements of the story reinforced the tropical setting as ideal. Probably both. I needed a place that was different enough from the western world that readers were constantly reminded that they were in a foreign setting. I wanted a lush, feminine, fertile land that had been invaded and overpowered by a masculine force. Europe didn’t offer that feel.
3. What was the road to publication like for you?
Long and frustrating. I originally wrote the Devil’s Concubine as a NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) novel. It was horrible. I tossed it out and wrote it again, from scratch. Hated it! The third time I told myself if I couldn’t make it work, I’d have to give up, but I loved the characters too much to let go. Thankfully, the third one was what I wanted. At that point, I worked with a professional editor on a story level edit. It was my Christmas, birthday, and several other holiday gifts to myself, and it was the best thing I ever did for myself. By then, it was more than a year since I’d written the first version. After another round of polishing, I tried to find an agent. Many, many, many rejections later, I decided I’d self publish if I had to. Over the years, I’ve become friends with many writers and quite a few publishers. I posted a question about self publishing on a writer’s list and the publisher from Wayzgoose said, “Let me read it first and see if I have suggestions,” so it wasn’t even a real submission, just a personal favor. She ended up offering a contract. The same day the book was released, I got the last rejection from an agent.
4. Do you have any advice for any aspiring authors reading this?
Make friends! Be nice. (Unless someone is really horrible. Then ignore them.) Build a support group of writers either on line or in person, because if you live with non-writers, they CAN NOT understand. They try to, but they don’t, and they never will. So find other writers to talk to.
So many people say, “I want to write, but…” and I wonder if they’re cursed and if they write a seal over a portal to hell cracks open and demons roam the earth. Because if what they really mean is that they haven’t made time to write, I’m seriously disappointed by their lack of epic doom. Wake up half an hour early. Stop watching that TV show you don’t like just because it’s between two shows you do want to watch. Do the laundry some other night. Write during your lunch break. There are so many ways you can sneak in an hour of writing time every day. And women, you’re the absolute worst about this because you sacrifice every second for other people and feel guilty about taking an hour to yourself, when in reality, if you said, “Hey, I need this personal time,” the people you live with would probably be cool with that and the world would not come to a horrible end. Probably. I’m not an expert on random comets or demonic possessions.
Pick your own definition of success. You do not have to try to get published if you don’t want to. On the other hand, someone will be the best-selling author for the week, so if that’s your dream, try for it.
And I guess the last thing I’d say is that writing is both art and craft. The art is in thinking up a story. Craft is actually writing it. Mastering a craft takes lots of practice, so write, listen to critique, write some more. Write. Write. Write. (but go outside and play sometimes because it’s good for you in so many ways)
5. Can you give us any hints about the third book in your series?
I swore Tempt the Devil would be a simply murder mystery. I should know better. Nothing is ever simple in Levapur. Hints? Hmm. If QuiTai were on Facebook, her relationship status would be “complicated, and getting more so.”
6. Who is your favourite character in the series so far? Why?
I love writing QuiTai because she gets to say all those witty things I think of two days later. Poor Kyam– I’m so cruel to him. I like RhiHanya because she may be the only person besides Kyam who isn’t afraid of QuiTai. But right now I’m enjoying Captain Voorus because he was such a jerk in DC, then he mellowed a bit in DI. In every book, he’s becoming a better person.
7. What is your world-building process like?
I mentioned my initial vision of the story. My first question was, “Who was that woman?” but I only got so far with that before I had to think of her in context, meaning where she lived, her situation, etc. As I replayed that snippet of mental film I paid attention to the background and saw southeast Asian architecture next door to French Colonial architecture. That told me that two cultures were living together. I asked why that would happen. The answer was that it was a colony. Who were the natives and who were the colonists? I kept asking questions like that and the answers I gave myself built framework for the world. The bigger questions led to thinking about the whole political structure and economy of these interdependent countries and what the continent was like. Then I had to switch my view from the big picture to what it would be like for an individual dealing with that historical/ economic/ social backdrop on her present world. Then I read work by people in former colonies to check my assumptions. And I did a lot of research.
At some point, I’d mined every bit of information I could from my vision. So I asked, “What happened next?” That started a new round of discovery. Bit by bit, the picture filled in until Levapur felt like a real place. It had to make sense politically and economically because I’m a bit of a geek about such things. I wish I’d studied anthropology too because I have a feeling it would add another dimension. Detail is everything, but you need a telescope as well as a microscope or you miss something.
8. Are you one of those authors that meticulously plans out every detail or do you just write and go back later to edit for any continuity/factual errors?
I write a couple chapters, then something occurs to me and I have to go back and put it in. It’s like layers of varnish. You put one coat on and let it dry. Then you come back and add another coat. Eventually, you have depth and complexity, but you can’t get impatient and try to rush things or you’ll end up with a hazy layer that ruins everything.
Oh great, I just said writing is like watching paint dry.