This week’s guest is J.J. Green. Fascinated by the unusual and unknown since childhood, she first departed the U.K. as a young adult and has lived in Australia and Laos as well as her current abode, Taiwan. Her choice of writing genres include science fiction, fantasy, and weird, dark and humorous tales.
Have you done any projects that took you way out of your comfort zone?
My latest project has been the most challenging by far because it took me way out of my comfort zone. I’m a big fan of gothic and noir literature and film. I don’t know why, but there’s a part of me that loves exploring the dark side of human nature. I belong to the Taipei Writers Group (TWG), and those guys are used to my dark, downbeat and often tragic stories.
But my most recent book, Mission Improbable, is a light-hearted, fast-paced space adventure that cracks a few jokes along the way. It’s the polar opposite of my usual stuff, and writing it has been fun, but not easy. You’d think creating something cheerful would be more straightforward than writing a serious piece, but that hasn’t been my experience at all. Humor is hard.
Humor is incredibly difficult. For me, the hardest part is nailing the timing. Just a small change can be the difference between a reader who’s smiling and the dialogue falling on its face. And, of course, you need the right characters. Who’s your favorite character you’ve written so far and why?
That’s a tough question. I feel as though I have a personal relationship with my characters and love all them all – and I’ve written about some pretty nasty people. (I know that must sound crazy, but there it is.) In my novella Death Switch, there are three main characters who share the story equally. Of those three my favourite is the clone. She experiences the most personal growth, and I admire her for the strength she shows at the end of the story.
At the moment I’m enjoying getting to know Carrie Hatchett, who’s the heroine of Mission Improbable and the star of the Carrie Hatchett Space Adventures series. She’s a bit ditsy and impulsive, but she also has great strengths, though she doesn’t realise it yet. One of the things she needs to learn is to have more confidence in herself, and we see her do that as the series progresses.
What project are you looking forward to next?
I’m planning on developing a fantasy series under another pen name. I had an idea a little while ago about a young girl who is found unconscious by a kind man. He’s recently lost his family and he brings her up. She looks different from the local people, so she’s clearly not from around there, though she can’t remember anything before she was found. The series takes her through many lands and experiences with her friend, a falcon, for company. The first part of the story is already published in my collection, Dawn Falcon, and the rest of it is in my head. It’s just a matter of finding the time to write it!
The most challenging problem most writers have, in my experience, is procrastination, which can take many forms. Often it’s just the reluctance to write when surfing the internet is so much more fun, but it can also disguise itself as low self-esteem, tiredness, hunger, boredom – any negative emotion really. My advice for avoiding procrastinating is to say to yourself: Okay, but I’m going to do it anyway. E.g. What I’m writing is rubbish. Okay, but I’m going to do it anyway. Or I only have half an hour so there’s no point in starting. Okay, but I’m going to do it anyway. Procrastination is a very tough opponent to beat, but that little mantra has helped me a lot.
That’s a neat approach. Sometimes I use short blocks of time to outline. How much do you structure your stories before you write them?
I’ve tried pantsing and I’ve tried plotting, and plotting is the only thing that works for me. Pantsing is a sure-fire method for stopping me writing, or for writing poor quality stuff. I learned that the hard way. Nowadays I won’t start writing until I have some kind of plan. It doesn’t have to be very detailed, but I must know where the story will end up. The more detailed the plan, the faster I write. But thinking out all the details ahead of time isn’t always possible so I go with what I’ve got.
What do you do for cover art? Do you do it yourself, hire an artist , or purchase premade?
Being artistically challenged has been a great handicap to me. The TWG are lucky enough to have the photographer Craig Ferguson and the artist Hannah Charlton working with the group to create gorgeous, eye-catching covers. For my story collections and Death Switch, I spotted the perfect premade covers on the website Go On Write. The covers tied in with the stories in the books so well it was uncanny. For the Carrie Hatchett Space Adventures series I’ve commissioned covers because I wasn’t sure what I wanted. I needed to see a few ideas before picking the best, and Martin at Illuminati Design has been invaluable in helping me do that.
What has been the hardest thing about publishing for you?
Submitting my stories to magazines has been difficult and a bit of a waste of time, though a few of my stories were accepted. So many writers go this route or try to find an agent or publishing house to accept their manuscript, but the odds are heavily stacked against them.
Submitting to magazines is particularly hard because only a tiny percentage of stories are accepted and many magazines are – reasonably – mostly interested in well-known authors’ work because a famous name on a cover is a powerful selling tool. They also all have different formatting and submissions criteria, so the poor writer spends hours reformatting or jumping through various other meaningless hoops to please them.
Works that are considered classics were rejected numerous times, and famous authors submitting anonymously have also been rejected. That’s evidence enough for me that traditional publishing is too much of a crap shoot. I prefer indie publishing where I have control over editing, covers and promotion and I know if I fail it’s entirely down to me.