The Write Stuff – Monday, October 8 – Claudia Gray Interview

This week’s guest is New York Times best-selling author Claudia Gray, an American writer of paranormal romance and young adult fiction, best known for the Evernight series and her Star Wars novels, Star Wars: Lost StarsStar Wars: Bloodline and Leia, Princess of Alderaan. She is not the least bit shy about telling you this name is a pseudonym. In fact, this is the first declaration on both her website and Goodreads author page where she states at the outset her real name is Amy Vincent. When asked about her pseudonym and her life, she says, “I would like to say that I chose another name so that no one would ever learn the links between my shadowy, dramatic past and the explosive secrets revealed through my characters. This would be a lie. In truth, I took a pseudonym simply because I thought it would be fun to choose my own name. (And it is.) So far, in life, I’ve been a disc jockey, a lawyer, a journalist and an extremely bad waitress, just to name a few. I especially like to spend time traveling, hiking, reading and listening to music. More than anything else, I enjoy writing. I write novels full-time, absolutely love it, and hope to be able to do this forever. My home is in New Orleans, is more than 100 years old, and is painted purple. In my free time I read, travel, hike, cook and listen to music.”

We begin our exchange with a discussion of the initial volumes of the Defy the Stars series: Defy the Stars and Defy the Worlds. Here is a brief description of Defy the Worlds’ premise. (Please note that the third volume of this series, Defy the Fates, is in the final stages of the publishing process.)

Hunted and desperate.

Abel only has one mission left that matters: save the life of Noemi Vidal. To do that, he not only has to escape the Genesis authorities, he also must face the one person in the galaxy who still has the means to destroy him. Burton Mansfield’s consciousness lives on, desperate for a home, and Abel’s own body is his last bargaining chip.
Alone in the universe.
Brought back from the brink of death, Noemi Vidal finds Abel has not only saved her life, but he’s made her into something else, something more. Not quite mech, yet not quite human any longer, Noemi must find her place in a universe where she is utterly unique, all while trying to create a world where anyone—even a mech—can be free.
The final battle between Earth and the colony planets is here, and there’s no lengths to which Earth won’t go to preserve its domination over all humanity. But together, the universe’s most advanced mech and its first human-mech hybrid might have the power to change the galaxy for good.

The moment in Defy the Stars, when Abel demonstrated sensitivity to Noemi’s dilemma about how to deal with Esther, caught me off guard—one sign of a superior author. Do you remember how the solution came to you?

In all honesty, I don’t remember when Abel’s solution for Esther’s “burial” came to me. That may be one of those things that seems to spring from the character himself. Abel had always had a deeper emotional life and sensitivity, but that becomes so much stronger as soon as he meets Noemi—for many different reasons. And it was important for Noemi to start thinking of Abel as more than a machine very early in the story. The readers know it before she ever encounters him; if she didn’t start to catch on soon, it would be easy to hold her in contempt. Abel’s suggestion here gives her an immediate reason to do that.

Both Defy the Stars and Defy the Worlds are filled with numerous religious references—Zoroastrianism and Catholicism, for example. How much time have you spent studying the religions you deal with?

Probably not as much as I should? Well, Catholicism is the faith I was raised in, so that one at least I have covered. As for the others, I wanted to make it clear that these are the religions we know…and yet not entirely. Centuries have passed between our time and Defy The Stars, and every religion changes over time. Plus, these religions are almost all represented on Genesis, an entirely different planet that has been developing its own culture for at least the past hundred years. So there probably are some differences between our reality and what’s in the Defy The Stars series—but that’s by design.

When you set out to write this series, did you do so with a conscious attempt to involve your young adult readers in both philosophical and spiritual matters?

No, that wasn’t my intention. I’m a big believer in story and characters coming first. Any “message” should emerge organically from the writing process. If I’d sat down to teach young readers something about religion or philosophy, the result probably would’ve been a seriously dull book.

Both plots are concerned with the natural of humanity: at what point might a bio/machine hybrid’s sentience make it human and how might its humanity evolve? Was this question something that arose during the course of your writing, or was it what drove you to write?

Abel’s nature was the origin of the story, really. Or, more specifically, it was what I wanted to see in the movie Prometheus, and didn’t, and then decided—well, if Ridley Scott doesn’t want to tell that story, I do! I was intrigued by the idea of a being who does have programming and inner laws to obey, but who has true personhood as well. How much free will does this individual have? Can they be held responsible for their actions? Getting a robot into this situation, and pairing him with someone who had every reason to doubt him, gave me a central conflict to build the story from.

Your earliest successes with the Evernight and Spellcaster series all involved the paranormal. Then, when you launched the Firebird series with A Thousand Pieces of You, you took your readers in a different direction, one that approached science fiction, albeit not the hard sci-fi of your Star Wars novels. Why did you choose to move away from a genre that was garnering certain success for something slightly chancier?

I wish I could tell you I had some well-developed theory as to why I should shift from paranormal fantasy to scifi. Really, it comes down to the fact that I had a scifi idea. Alternate universes—that story grabbed me from the get-go. I would’ve followed wherever it led. But since I—like most fangirl types—love scifi and fantasy and always have, it didn’t feel like that much of a leap.

The way your plots abruptly shift makes me wonder: are you a plotter or a pantser?

I’m a plotter. If I don’t know where I’m going, I can’t get myself excited about taking the trip.

How were you chosen to write Leia, Princess of Alderaan?

Well, I’d written the first new canon novel about Princess Leia, Bloodline, which dealt with the character at a later period in her life. People were happy with it, so that led them to ask me to do LPOA. It’s been a real privilege to get to spend that much time telling Leia’s story.

Who informed you?

I think Jennifer Heddle emailed me? Or maybe it was Michael Siglain… but I think it was Jen. If you’re talking about finding out I’d get to write my first SW novel, that definitely came from Michael Siglain via email. My agent called me while I was pumping gas, and said, “Did you see this email?” I said, “What email?” She said, “The one that says STAR WARS.” My afternoon was made!

I can imagine. Can you tell us something of the process, from first notification to the completed book?

The word comes that I get to write a book! I learn what their prompt is for it—the hook, the central concept of the story they need told. From there, I develop the story. The plot really is very much mine to invent, which gives me a lot of freedom. I come up with an outline, which I then submit to my editor and publisher. They come back with thoughts and suggestions, both just in terms of crafting the narrative and in making sure that my story is going to fit into the developing canon. Once the outline is approved, I can begin writing.

I notice you’re planning to attend the Humbook Fest in Prague, Czech Republic. Are you excited about it?

Yes! As I write this, it’s about one week before I’ll leave for Prague. I’ve never been to the Czech Republic before, so I’m thrilled to have the chance to go. This book festival seems to be a wonderfully run event that will give me a chance to meet readers I’d never have been able to talk with otherwise.

Since I suspect that you don’t speak very much Czech, I am compelled to inquire if you will be a panelist.

…You know, I’m not sure? They haven’t said I’ll be on a panel, but they haven’t said I won’t. Forgive my not being sure, but I actually just got home from a long trip (pure vacation) and have only just begun pulling myself together to focus on the events ahead. I imagine there will be some kind of setup where I get to talk with readers, even if it’s just before a signing.

In which countries are your books in print?

I’ve never put together a list. Maybe I should! I know they’re in France, Germany, Russia, England, China, Japan, Hungary, Spain, Italy, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Ecuador, Columbia, Poland—you know, I should stop listing, because then it will seem like I’m leaving someone out! It’s amazing to me how broad a reach the books have (especially Star Wars).

How do you spend your time when you’re not either writing or attending literary conventions?

When I’m not writing or attending literary conventions? I love movies, I read a lot, I’m learning to cook, I really enjoy board games, and I do a fair bit of traveling. Though right now it feels like maybe too much traveling!

I’d like to that you, Claudia, for sharing your thoughts with us. Before I close, I’d like to try a Lightning Round because of the unexpected insights it sometimes provides. In as few words as possible, please answer the following:

My best friend would tell you I’m a: …a very silly person, sometimes.

The one thing I cannot do without is: my dog, Pierre.

The one thing I would change about my life is: I’d be more organized and disciplined.

My biggest peeve is: the way restaurants in the US put tons of cheese on EVERYTHING.

The person/thing I’m most satisfied with is: my dog. Again. He’s just the best.

Do you have a parting thought you would like to leave us with?

There’s no such thing as learning how to write books. You have to learn how to write each individual book as it comes along.

Boy! Do I agree with that! The following is an excerpt from Defy the Worlds, after which I provide social and book buy links for those who’d like to learn more about Claudia and purchase her work.

Chapter One

Noemi Vidal walks through the two long lines of starfighters in the hangar, helmet under one arm, head held high. She doesn’t wave to her friends, like she always used to—until six months ago.

Back then, somebody would’ve waved back.

Chin up, shoulders straight, she tells herself, taking what comfort she can in the familiar smells of grease and ozone, the hiss of repair torches and the thump of boots on tarmac. If you want them to see you as a fellow soldier again, you act like one. You don’t back down from mech fire, so you won’t back down from this.

But Earth’s warrior mechs only aim at the body. Noemi has shields for that. The distance between her and her fellow squadron members aims at her heart, for which no protection has ever been invented.

“Vidal!” That’s Captain Baz, striding across the hangar with a dataread in her hand. She’s wearing her uniform, a dark-patterned hijab, and the first smile Noemi’s seen all day. “We’re putting you on close-range patrol today.”

“Yes, ma’am. Captain, if I could—”

Baz stops and comes nearer. “Yes, lieutenant?”

“I wanted to ask—” Noemi takes a deep breath. “You haven’t put me on Gate patrol in months. I’d really like to take on a shift sometime soon.”

“Gate patrol’s the most dangerous gig there is.” Baz says it matter-of-factly as she scans through her dataread. Everyone on Genesis knows that the Gate ties them to Earth and the other colony worlds on the Loop, holding one point of a wormhole in place and making instantaneous cross-galactic travel possible. It also makes possible the war that’s devastating their world.  “Most pilots would be glad to stick a little closer to home.”

“I’m willing to share the danger.” More than willing—by now, Noemi’s very nearly desperate. Defending Genesis is what gives her life meaning. She hasn’t been allowed to truly defend her world for months, not since her return.

It takes Baz a few long seconds to answer. “Listen. That day’s going to come, all right? We just have to give it time.”

The captain is on Noemi’s side, which helps a little. That doesn’t mean Captain Baz has it right. In a lower voice, Noemi says, “They won’t trust me again until I’m pulling a full load.”

Baz weighs that. “Maybe so.” After another second’s contemplation, she nods. “We’ll try it.” Her voice rises to a shout. “Ganaraj, O’Farrell, Vidal’s with you today! Let’s get up there, people—gamma shift’s ready to come home.”

The other two pilots stare at her from across the room. Noemi simply heads straight for her starfighter.

She’s going to earn their acceptance the only way she can: one flight at a time.

Wait and see, she tells herself. Soon they’ll like you just as much as they did before.

She figures it shouldn’t be hard. They never liked her that much.

You can follow Claudia Gray at the following:

Website:         http://www.claudiagray.com

Facebook:      https://www.facebook.com/authorclaudiagray/

Twitter:          @claudiagray

Tumblr:         http://claudiagray.tumblr.com/

Pintrest:         https://www.pinterest.com/realclaudiagray/

You can purchase her books here:

Amazon:        https://www.amazon.com/Claudia-Gray/e/B001JRZGQ6/

 

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