Welcome to my weekly Author Spotlight. I’ve asked a bunch of my author friends to answer a set of interview questions, and to share their latest work.
Today, JR Gershen-Siegel – Janet Gershen-Siegel is a freelance science fiction author and blogger for Adventures in Career Changing, which focuses on social media marketing. Her latest fiction project is a near-future detective trilogy, The Obolonk Murders. She works in social media, and lives in Boston with her husband and more computers than they need.
Thanks so much, JR, for joining me!
J. Scott Coatsworth: When did you know you wanted to write, and when did you discover that you were good at it?
JR Gershen-Siegel: I think I was four or five when I started to write, and it was mainly pictures, so it was kind of like graphic novels. I took AP English in High School, and the teacher had us do original writing when we were in the last month of the school year, as the AP exam is in May and classes didn’t end until mid-June. I did well – but perhaps a better indicator was Creative Writing in college. It was the first A I got and it was so satisfying to get. I had been struggling with a science major, and then math (I ended up getting my BA in philosophy) and everything was an uphill climb except for Creative Writing.
JSC: How would you describe your writing style/genre?
JGS: Everything seems to have science fiction in it! I suppose I can’t stay away, but I love it because anything can attach to it. You can have action-adventure take place on another planet, or a romance on a spaceship, or even a courtroom drama as a part of time travel. I have always been more of a character writer than a plot writer, so my work has detailed characters, and is often ensemble works.
JSC: What was your first published work? Tell me a little about it.
JGS: Untrustworthy was kind of an odd bit of creation. I had never done NaNoWriMo before, and by that time I had mainly written fanfiction, but I wanted NaNo to be a wholly original piece. It came to me in flashes. I got the first line – There was nothing easy about it – and that began to shape the narrative. The tagline, too – Trust your dreams, not your memory – that was another phrase which started defining the plot.
I was maybe halfway through November and realized my word count was lacking, and so I added a river to the city, hence there are a lot of points where characters travel from one side to the other, either walking over bridges or taking public transportation, plus there are scenes with vagrants living under the bridges. That proved to be a great addition. The other great addition was a disembodied voice providing instructions. Because the society is dystopian and becoming more and more oppressed, the directions move from innocuous ones like how to use your thermostat or reminding people that it’s wash day to who the state wants you to oppress and, eventually, who the state wants you to kill.
The story had a basis in, among other things, the rise of the Nazis to power, as rights are slowly eroded. But the people I had created had not started off as a free people, so the starting point differed.
I can see flaws in it, like I can see in lots of things, of course. There is a lot of hesitation speech in it, although there is a reason for that – everyone is just kind of winging it. But I realize that could have been better communicated to the reader.
I love the lesbian main characters, and I hope they feel real to the reader. The second FMC was not originally intended to be a revolutionary, but she became that way – and you’ve got to listen to what your characters want, you know.
JSC: What’s your writing process?
JGS: I suppose it can be divided into NaNo and the other eleven months of the year. For NaNo, it’s all about speed and stats. I want to exceed the minimum, get it down, and move from scene to scene quickly. For the rest of the year, there are the trappings of writing which aren’t exactly writing (e. g. research, editing, working with betas and an editor, promotions, querying, etc.) but the writing itself is slower. I have the vision and try to realize it, and I often read it aloud to myself, even changing voice or accent in an effort to really hear the characters and get them right.
JSC: Tell me one thing hardly anyone knows about you.
JGS: In 1984, when I was in law school in Delaware, I needed a summer job. I volunteered for the Biden reelection campaign for Senate. I used to put bumper stickers on cars and hand out flyers, but I also did research on Joe’s opponent. At the end of the campaign, at the victory party, Joe kissed all of the female campaign workers (on the cheek, with his wife right there, I might add). Hence I can say honestly – I have been kissed by our Vice President. He is a very funny guy, I might add.
JSC: Do you write more on the romance side, or the speculative fiction side? Or both? And why?
JGS: Both, or at least I think I do. For the 2014 NaNo work (part 2 of a trilogy), the initial romance was not planned, but it got interesting as the love interest kind of grew on me. The characters kind of dance around each other and they have a messy connection. The second romance, which was the one I had planned all along, could probably use more work.
For the 2015 NaNo, the romance was meant to be a big part of the storyline but not its central nugget. There is a lot of world building there, and that’s got to come across. The reader needs to know what the planet looks like, and how the spaceship works, etc. Future medical care has to be explained, that sort of thing.
JSC: What pets are currently on your keyboard, and what are their names? Pictures?
JGS: Sniff. We haven’t had dogs in years. I miss them but damn, they are work and they are expensive. There are pictures of Jake the Dog tucked around the house. He was an enormous mastiff mix.
JSC: Are you a plotter or a pantster?
JGS: I’m in the middle. I like to have a general outline going on and I write a Wiki for every work or series. The Wiki contains things like character birth dates and heights, so I can quickly know all of that and remain consistent. But I’m not married to any of it. If the story takes me in a new direction (like the Central River, or the unexpected romance, above), then I’ll go there.
I find, too, that I learn about the story as I go. For the 2015 NaNo, the underlying theme became a bit more detailed. It was originally about what it means to be compassionate, but now it’s also about what it means to connect.
JSC: If you could create a new holiday, what would it be?
JGS: It would have to be something with an iconic food or meal like Thanksgiving but without any worshipping connotations. I would want people to be kind to each other and to lay down their arms and stop being so damned hostile and easily offended. Everybody brings a covered dish to some big communal meal. A Peace Potluck, I suppose.
JSC: What are you working on now, and when can we expect it?
JGS: My current work is The Enigman Cave. The story went to beta readers at the end of December 2015. The next NaNo novel is tentatively called The Real Hub of the Universe and is in the planning stages.
And now for AUTHORNAME new book: TITLE:
Tathrelle is the only liberal in the Cabossian government. She represents the will of the people and is responsible for communicating with them about how the war with the Cavirii is going. She has a pregnant wife, and all seems well. The future seems promising, until she meets her new assistant. Something is off with the man.
When Tathrelle wakes up the morning after she first met him, she notices that subtle changes seem to have taken place overnight. She shrugs them off.
But it happens again and again. Someone, somehow, is changing everything she knows, as Tathrelle begins to wonder if her memories are faulty or if her mind is going. Can she trust the face she sees in the mirror? Is Caboss winning the war or losing it? Why is she suddenly the one who is pregnant?
Only her dreams provide a clue, a small vestige of what came before.
Trust your dreams, not your memory.
Once Ixalla was ready, Tathrelle cornered her. “Before we leave for work, I just want to tell you, I’m sorry. I guess I sort of shut down last night. I know you were in pain and I wasn’t too terribly supportive.” There was a wall covering in the main part of their chamber, something that Tathrelle hadn’t noticed before. She stared at it for a second and then shook her head.
Outside, a disembodied voice announced from a hidden speaker, “It is time to travel to all daytime places of employment. Transportation sleighs are available and ready. Citizens are encouraged to thank the sleigh drivers at the end of a successful transport. The government recommends haste, and requests that all pregnant persons be given preference for seating in their designated areas.”
A little distracted, Ixalla just asked, “Pain?”
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Janet Gershen-Siegel is a freelance science fiction author and blogger for Adventures in Career Changing, which focuses on social media marketing. Her latest fiction project is a near-future detective trilogy, The Obolonk Murders. She works in social media, and lives in Boston with her husband and more computers than they need.