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Today I’m lucky to welcome best-selling author and contributor to the Beyond The Stars Anthology series G.S. Jennsen. She is the author of the Aurora Rhapsody series which features a female lead in an epic Space Opera. She’s here to talk about writing, publishing, scifi, and women. Thanks so much for joining us!
P.K. Tyler: You chose to publish under your own imprint Hypernova, why did you choose to do this?
GS Jennsen: At the time I was offered a publishing deal, Starshine (my first book) had only been out for two months. While I had made it clear that I was writing a trilogy, I hadn’t yet confessed that I was actually planning a nine book series. These days, traditional publishers aren’t exactly playing the long game—you’re only as good as your last book.
I knew the story I wanted to tell was going to take time and multiple books to develop. And regardless of whatever verbal promises they gave me, I knew I couldn’t trust any publisher to stick with Aurora Rhapsody to the end. But that’s one of the appeals of indie publishing: you get to set your own rules. If you’re lucky (as I have been), you’ll find a reader base that not only accepts but loves what you are doing, even when (or because) it’s different and risky.
So I bet on my readers and stayed indie, and I haven’t regretted it for a second. I’ve worked successfully in a business setting before. I know what it’s like to have a boss, good and bad. Been there. Done that. Got a t-shirt of a gold watch. Where others see a publishing contract as a goal, as the reward or ultimate recognition, I see a collar. A leash. A loss of freedom. And I haven’t worked this hard to give away what I’ve built to someone else just because that’s the way success used to look in publishing.
PKT: How has becoming a full-time author changed your life?
GSJ: How hasn’t it changed my life? Before Starshine, I fit writing in where I could, which in reality meant that I wrote all the time but was constantly under the gun everywhere else—work, family and the rest of life. After I went full time, writing became the focus and the hours unlocked for other pursuits.
I get up and go to the gym with my husband. Then, most days I write all day, and during the evenings we relax and spend time together. The freedom of setting my own schedule, release dates, and everything else means that I can structure my life around what I believe needs to happen when, instead of what someone else feels I need to make happen. Of course, I can be my own worst enemy (my current WIP, Abysm, gushed out of my brain and onto the page in a little more than a month, and my life wasn’t very balanced while it did), but the feeling of being in charge of my own life is unparalleled. I wouldn’t take the world for it.
PKT: Science fiction often takes a strand of reality and spins it out. Can you give an example of this in one of your books, or a science fiction book you’ve read recently?
GSJ: The science and technology in my books is often fantastic, but I try to also make it plausible, realistic and authentic. I try even harder to do the same with my characters. One of the things I’ve learned through three careers in three fields is this: people are complicated. Mary Sues/Gary Stus and one-dimensional villains with an Emperor Palpatine evil laugh don’t exist in real life. This is true today, and it’ll be true 300 years from now (when my books are set). My characters (good, bad, major and minor) all have their own motivations; they all believe they are the hero in their own story.
PKT: Who are your favorite science fiction authors & what authors sci-fi books are you reading right now?
GSJ: I grew up reading the classics of old (Asimov, Herbert, Clarke) and new (Cherryh, Banks, Bujold). I still enjoy going back and reading my favorites, but these days I am almost fully committed to reading independent books. Some of that is market research, some of it is genuine support for others daring to strike out into the unknown, but mostly it’s because of the refreshing originality to be found. I rejected the traditional publishing route from the outset – I never queried – because I had a vision of a story I wanted to tell that was different from anything I’d read before. Others are doing the same with some really wonderful results.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed discovering the many successful indie authors in SFF. Ryk Brown, BV Larson, Jen Wells, Nick Webb, S.H. Jucha, and Samuel Peralta’s Future Chronicles have all done time on my Kindle. But I’m always reading the latest from authors whom I’ve developed relationships with over the last several years, such as E.J. Fisch, Katie Cross, Tammy Salyer, Lucas Bale, Chad Ganske and Pippa DaCosta (to name a few).
PKT: When did your love of science fiction begin, and what inspired you to write your first novel?
GSJ: I took a one-two fiction-nonfiction hit in my early teens from Asimov and Carl Sagan, and the rest is history. You know, history with a 20-year gestation period during which I was a lawyer, a software engineer and an editor. But I was never without a book close at hand. In 2012, I ended up on the backside of a job that I really hadn’t cared for, and I just couldn’t bring myself to go back into the corporate world.
At the time, I had been writing for a couple of years for myself, for fun. My husband, who had been a fan the whole time, encouraged me to take a shot at it professionally. There is no doubt that when I’m writing, when I’m fully into my current WIP, I am obsessive, frenzied and fully engaged in it, but I’m also happy. Delightfully, wonderfully, out-of-my mind happy. And that, he said, was the real reward. It’s still the best reward.
PKT: Science fiction worlds can be complex and nuanced. How do you keep your book universes authentic? Do you do elaborate planning before each book you write, or something different?
GSJ: Oh yes, I’m a planner. The entire nine book Aurora Rhapsody series was planned out at a high level first. Then I focused on planning out the Aurora Rising trilogy (Books 1-3) to a finer point. Only then did I turn to writing Starshine. Because of the way the story unfolds, it was essential that I knew where I was going before I started. I dearly love developing a revelation, a secret or a surprise plot line over several books, but to do it you have to plan, or you’ll reveal too much too soon (or not enough), or not get the right foundational pieces in when and where they need to be.
In practice, what that means is that the first books in each of the successive trilogies are the hardest to write (Starshine, Sidespace and the forthcoming Relativity). An entire trilogy is going to build off of them, and it’s there that I have to be most careful. In contrast, the final books in each trilogy (Transcendence, Abysm and eventually Requiem) are the most fun to write, because the cat is largely out of the bag, the planning and careful pacing is behind me, and those are all payoff—for me and the readers. Honestly, all the early planning allows me to indulge in a little “pantsing” while I’m writing those, and I kind of love it. So I plan my spontaneity?
PKT: I often see questions like this: “What challenges and opportunities do you see for women interested in writing for and editing anthologies and magazines with a science fiction focus?” pop up in interviews with women science fiction writers. Do you think we’re past the gender issue in this industry, or have you ever felt that you were at a disadvantage publishing in this genre?
GSJ: Women just swept the major Nebula awards, and it was a wonderful thing to see. I grew up reading books in a genre with a smaller percentage of female participation, but it was there. I read Cherryh and Bujold, and later Catherine Asaro, and there were always other female authors that I never got around to reading.
For my view, I’ve never faced anything that I felt was a disadvantage in publishing due to my gender—but keep in mind that I’ve never seen what traditional publishing holds. No matter the field, I’ve always focused on my work and let the rest sort itself out. Publishing means my PC, my WIP, Amazon and my readers. As an indie author, there are no impediments to me publishing exactly the way I want.
I’ve gotten a few reviews that criticized the ways my books differed from what a ‘typical male sci-fi writer’ produces, but I’ve also received reviews from women who took me to task for having too much tech, science or non-romantic content. Are those two perspectives that different? The reader had certain expectations going into my books, and those expectations were not fully met. I tend to not focus on or ascribe to sexism or gender bias what can easily be explained as simply varying personal preferences.
I’ve also gotten emails from senior citizen, retired military men who sheepishly admit to loving the romance storylines interwoven between the space battles. One guy left a review saying he made his wife read the sex scene in my first book because it was the hottest thing he’d ever read. To me, these readers are proof of exactly what I said above – people are complicated.
The only thing that has annoyed me is the occasional ‘White Knight’ that swoops in and attempts to save me (or other women) from the evil, sexist wave of men allegedly trying to push us out of sci-fi. Inevitably that ‘wave’ turns out to be nothing more than some old, grumpy relic of a guy sitting in his house ranting at the clouds about the kids on his lawn and writing Amazon reviews or posts on his Geocities blog. To me, the most problematic sexism in the industry is the belief that I or any other woman in the 21st century needs to be protected or rescued from anyone or anything. I never had any use for the fainting couch, and if I’m troubled by anything, it’s what at times looks like attempts by certain factions, male and female, to resurrect it. I do wonder why more women aren’t getting annoyed by that.
PKT: Last question! You also publish short stories in addition to your full length works. How different is the writing process for you when writing short stories, and what motivated you to be part of short story anthologies in the first place?
GSJ: The short stories were a stretch for me at first. The first one I wrote, Restless, was for the Stars and Empire 2 collection. They wanted something exclusive to go with Starshine, and I took the opportunity to try out having a little fun with my two main characters’ back stories. Special note of thanks to Nick Webb for reaching out to me for that collection, by the way. It was one of the first author-to-author opportunities I was given when I was starting out, and I really appreciated it.
As I’ve continued to write Aurora Rhapsody, I’ve come to enjoy the challenge of fitting a meaningful story into a short space that can be enjoyed by someone who hasn’t read any of my books. Because of the depth and complexity of the universe, there are lots of great stories still waiting to be told, and often short stories are the ideal avenue. For my dedicated readers, these are extra rewards for being fully engaged with the larger story, but short stories also serve as a great draw for people who aren’t (yet) reading my books. The trick – and it isn’t easy – is to provide something a new reader will truly enjoy and hopefully be the gateway drug to pull them into my books.
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PKT: Mountains or the Ocean?
PKT: Coffee or Tea?
GSJ: Tea. Monster brand, with added caffeine on top of the caffeine.
PKT: Spaceship or sportscar?
PKT: Hiking or swiming?
PKT: Dine in or Eat out?
GSJ: Dine in
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About G.S. Jennsen
G.S. Jennsen is an internationally bestselling science fiction author, futurist, geek & gamer. Her first novel, Starshine, was published in March 2014. While she has been a lawyer, a software engineer and an editor, she’s found the life of a full-time author preferable by several orders of magnitude.
When she isn’t writing, she’s gaming or working out or getting lost in the Colorado mountains that loom large outside the windows in her home. Or she’s dealing with a flooded basement, or standing in a line at Walmart reading the tabloid headlines and wondering who all of those people are. Or sitting on her back porch with a glass of wine, looking up at the stars, trying to figure out what could be up there.
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G.S. is giving away winner’s choice of a signed copy of Starshine or an ebook of Aurora Rising: The Complete Collection to one random commenter.