Breaking cover during NaNoWriMo to bring you this conversation with J.J. Green.
Who are you? Where are you? What kind of stuff do you write?
I write under the name J.J. Green, but that’s only because I think it sounds cooler than Jenny Green. I’m British/Australian but I’ve been living in Taiwan for six years and plan on being here for another two at least. I’ve also lived in Laos. I write space opera and humorous sci-fi, and I’m hoping to begin writing thrillers under a pseudonym later in 2018.
How has living abroad impacted your writing?
The simpler, cheaper lifestyle has made it easier to find time to write compared to living in the UK when I needed to work a full time job to support myself and my family. On the other hand, I find it much harder to go to conventions and conferences so my networking is confined mostly to the internet. I recently went to the 20 Books to 50 K writers’ conferences and it was great to finally meet some fellow writers face to face.
Tell us about your most recent book, story, or other project.
I recently finished my second sci-fi series! Called Shadows of the Void, it’s a ten-book space opera that progresses from a mysterious life form discovered on a remote planet to an all-out galactic war. The protagonists are a Martian security officer and an Australian starship pilot. The two characters are made for each other but it takes them a while to realize it.
Now that Shadows of the Void is complete, I’ve begun a new series, a space colonization saga. The prequel to the new series appears in an anthology called The Expanding Universe 2 under the title, Space Colony One: Night of Flames.
In what genre do you primarily write? Why did you choose that one?
Science fiction has been my favourite genre since I first encountered it when I was around eleven. I love everything sci-fi from H.G. Wells to Neal Stephenson, so it was the obvious choice when I decided I was going to take the plunge and write novels. I also love mysteries and thrillers, though, so I’m kind of torn. I like to include some elements of both of them in my science fiction.
Tell us briefly about your writing process, from once you’ve got an idea down to having a finished product ready for publication.
I try to have a plan but often the ideas don’t flesh out until I begin to write, and then they may change shape. Sometimes I re-read my plan after I’ve finished a book and think, oh, so that’s what I wanted to write.
I generally try to write as much as I can as often as I can. I aim for 3000 words a day as a minimum, but if something breaks my routine I usually miss that target.
After finishing the first draft, I go over the story again, correcting mistakes, filling out thin parts, checking for consistency, adding items I needed to research and improving the flow of the language. Then the manuscript goes to my editor, who finds more mistakes and gives me her gut-feel feedback as a reader. I fix the extra mistakes and tweak things according to how she’s seen them, then I publish.
How did you go about finding an editor that you trust and could develop a good working relationship with?
I’m very lucky in that I got to know a very good editor through my writers’ group. I knew from firsthand experience that she has an eagle eye for writing errors and because she’s a writer herself she has a good feel for what works and doesn’t work at sentence level. What’s more, she reads science fiction and fantasy, so she’s my target audience.
Who is the favorite character you’ve created? Why?
My favourite character is in my first series. Her name is Carrie Hatchett, and she’s a Transgalactic Intercultural Community Crisis Liaison Officer. What she lacks in smarts she makes up for in enthusiasm and effort and she usually saves the day, though she manages to get herself into quite a few scrapes along the way.
Carrie’s like a female Doctor Who in what she does, but she isn’t anywhere near as intelligent as the Doctor and she has only one—very big—heart.
What’s the weirdest subject you’ve had to research as a writer that you never would have otherwise?
That’s a hard one to answer as I love to read about strange things that have no bearing on my life whatsoever, so I can’t honestly say that I wouldn’t have researched something if it weren’t for the fact I was writing about it.
Having said that, probably the most esoteric subject I’ve ever researched for writing purposes was Ediacaran life forms. They were organisms that evolved very early on in Earth’s history and they were soft-bodied, so little information about them has been gleaned from their fossils. The reason I was researching them was because I polled my readers on what animals to include in my Shadows of the Void series, and that was one of the suggestions. The Ediacarans went on to become the alien creatures called Paths (due to their telepathic/empathic abilities).
How did you poll your readers? Are there any other ideas you might leave up to their whims?
I’m afraid my polling skills are very amateurish. I simply ask my readers questions and ask them to reply on Facebook, Tweet me or write me an email. My method isn’t very scientific, but it helps me build a rapport with my readers, which I love.
What’s the one thing you’ve learned, the hard way, as a writer that you’d share to help others avoid?
There are so many to choose from! I would say, understand book covers before you shell out hundreds of dollars. I paid a couple of hundred for a nice, well-made cover that didn’t fit my genre at all. As a result, I received some negative reviews from readers whose expectations hadn’t been met. After that experience, I spent hours looking at covers in my genre and learning what elements were similar and what made a cover look good. I also learned the names of famous designers in the genre.
If you won $1 million (tax free, to keep the numbers round and juicy), how would it change your writing life?
It wouldn’t stop me from writing, that’s for sure, but I would finally be able to invest seriously in my self-publishing business. A little extra cash to pay for amazing covers and promotion might give me the kick start I need to progress to the next level. Bootstrapping is hard sometimes.
What’s the last great book you read or new author you discovered?
I recently began reading M.D. Cooper’s Aeon 14 series, which is pretty awesome and very useful for me because it’s full of hard sci-fi tidbits.
What do you think you’re next project will be?
As well as the space colonization series I mentioned above I’ve also begun work on a space fantasy series. I’m not so sure on the format that will take yet, but it involves a star mage who’s searching for the rest of her clan and the origin of humankind. The magic is based on the Chinese Wu Xing system, which describes interactions and relationships between objects through classification according to five planets or elements. I’ve written the prequel but the rest will have to wait until I’ve wrapped up the space colonization series.