The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Janine A Southard

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The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Janine A Southard


Summary: Jill thought that Queen & Commander by Janine A Southard was an enjoyable space opera and a fun read with plenty of potential to take the disparate central characters further. She had a few questions for Janine when she popped into Bookbag Towers.
Date: 3 April 2013
Interviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy

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Jill thought that Queen & Commander by Janine Southard was an enjoyable space opera and a fun read with plenty of potential to take the disparate central characters further. She had a few questions for Janine when she popped into Bookbag Towers.

  • Bookbag: When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?

Janine Southard: I actually see two kinds of readers. The first kind are high school freshmen who are smart, but a bit apprehensive about trying new things. Because I was one.

The second kind: adults who like spaceships. I use my husband as a litmus test for whether or not something is working. My editors almost always agree with his gut reactions. It's amazing.

  • BB: What was the inspiration for Queen and Commander?

JS: This book has been in the works, in multiple forms, since 2007. In 2007 I decided to change careers, but didn't know to what. So I went a little crazy with personality tests, hoping they'd make the decision for me.

I can't even tell you how many tests I took that year. Each one had slightly different suggestions on how to interact with other people, best practice for improvement, and which careers I should look into. But you can't take all of the advice, and some of it is flat out WRONG.

In 2012, everything really came together for Queen & Commander in terms of writing style and plotting. And suddenly I'd written a whole novel!

  • BB: Queen and Commander makes much use of Welsh culture and mythology. A good thing as far as we are concerned! What made you choose this background for your hive?

JS: Honestly? It's because I named the spaceship.

Okay, let's go back in time to my undergraduate college days. I took this brilliant class (very much outside my major) called Medieval Romance Literature of the Otherworld. Thanks to that amazing class, I'm really good at traditional poems and stories of the British Isles and France from, oh, 1100-1500.

So I knew from the outset that I wanted Ceridwen's Cauldron as the spaceship's name (symbolism with learning, growing into adult power, and calling on inner strength). I also knew that I wanted to rename the spaceship to the Manawyddan's Mousetrap — cleverness and a refusal to be taken too much advantage of — when the characters went from being trusting innocents to adults. (This still hasn't happened, darn it! Maybe by book three.)

It turned out, as I was doing my research, that the modern-day faster-than-light theories on which I wanted to build my spaceship's drive had actually come out of the University of Aberystwyth. See Alcubierre drives on Wikipedia.

That made too much for coincidence. So I went for it all the way.

In retrospect I love this choice even more because of the way that everyone talks about including minorities in young adult fiction these days. I mean, sure, the Welsh doesn't ''seem like a minority to most outsiders (especially to the American audience), but Welsh politics and positioning within the UK make the country very much its own tiny outpost of Welshness. (The distinctive accent and having their own language definitely add to this.)

  • BB: Without giving too much away about the ending of Queen and Commander, we suspect the next book will have a frontier, pioneer flavour. Can you give us any clues or teasers?

JS: There's going to be plenty of culture shock on the frontier, and you'll see real consequences to the actions at the end of book one. Without giving too much away, I can also say that I'm reading up on frontier-era Texas Rangers.

  • BB: It seems to us there is plenty of potential for a longrunning series here. How far ahead have you planned?

JS: Well, I've finished plotting book two and am about 20% of the way into its first draft. I know the major plot points for book three as well. While I have vague ideas for books after that, and maybe some spinoff novellas, I want to concentrate on the plot arc that I know. Keep an eye out for a sequel in late 2013/early 2014.

  • BB: Where and how do you write? Are you a disciplined writer?

JS: I have no discipline whatsoever. I get distracted so easily. That's good for research time (e.g., my Alcubierre tensor jets have science because I fell down that research rabbit hole), but not so good for 'let's write two scenes this afternoon to stay on track.'

So, even though I have a home office, I usually end up at the café or the library for 3-4 hours of solid, uninterrupted writing time. Once or twice a week, I organize with a group of local writers to all get together and WORK. That's the best sort of enforced discipline, where you can ask your tablemates for help or ideas, and you're all keeping each other honest.

  • BB: What would be your desert island book?

JS: Can't I bring my Kindle? (I am addicted to my Kindle.)

In seriousness, I'd probably bring Young Miles by Lois McMaster Bujold, a clever comedy of manners (and disasters!) in space. Plus, it's an omnibus edition, so that's like having three books.

  • BB: Which authors inspire you?

JS: Define 'inspire.' There are authors who inspire me with:

Lyrical prose — Cat Rambo, Aliette de Bodard

Cleverness — Lois McMaster Bujold, Gordon Korman

Millions — Stephen King, J.A. Konrath

Immediacy of whatever I'm currently reading — James Baldwin, Cat Rambo

Wishful thinking — every fanfic author ever (I desperately want to read some for Q&C)

  • BB: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

JS: Be honest. The reason you haven't finished anything is because you're scared it won't be any good (or won't sell or won't be something your mother approves of). But it'll never be good (or it'll never sell or convince your mom of its worth) if you don't finish it, polish it, and sell it. So: FINISH, POLISH, SELL.

I know this in my head, but lose track of it emotionally ALL THE TIME. Thankfully, I have a person who knocks me back on track, either by reminding me that I'm pretty awesome (e.g., I get paid to write for other people; he likes my work) or by reminding me to just write now and make it be awesome later (with help from my rockstar editors).

So maybe my real advice is “get a cheerleader with a whip”?

  • BB: That's excellent advice, Janine. We think we need one too!

What's next for Janine Southard?

JS: Well, I'm wrapping up a contract in the next two months... writing videogame dialogue. After that, I'm going to be full-time writing the sequel to Queen & Commander. After that, hmmm. Whatever it is, you'll probably see a Kickstarter project for it.

  • BB: That sounds exciting, Janine. Thanks for chatting to us.

You can read more about Janine Southard here.

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