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ON THE COVER
Julie Czerneda Soars On Sci Fi
By Diego X. Jesus and Mark London
October, 2005, 22:58

C
anadian science fiction wizard Julie Czerneda made big waves with her first novel, A Thousand Words For Stranger.

Her second novel, Beholder's Eye, became an Aurora Award finalist. Her acclaimed teacher resource book No Limits: Developing Scientific Literacy Using Science Fiction, based upon her workshop for students and teachers alike, has become a valued classroom tool.

Growing up on air force bases around the world, with her family moving with each transfer, Czerneda was somewhat of a gypsy as a child, at least unconsciously. I certainly kept her looking toward horizons and experiences that would lead to t her currently popular Trade Pact Trilogy series of sci-fi stories. She took a few moments to talk with IN.

IN: Why science fiction?

JC: As a reader, I discovered it in a school library. I'd become bored (at 10) and was reading everything by authors whose last name began with N (I could reach that shelf). I pulled out Andre Norton, and was immediately transported to worlds I'd never imagined. I've never looked back.

I want to engage that wonder every time I read. Later, as a scientist, I used science fiction as a way to think through possibilities, to imagine new areas of research. It becomes a window to a wider reality, one which still has me looking under rocks and over hills.

IN: When writing series, trilogies, continuing sagas of science fiction, how do you keep track of the characters, plots, sub-plots, scenes, and all of the other details as the story continues to expand?

JC: Not as well as I'd like! I've learned my lesson ,the hard way. I can keep all the plots and subplots in mind without problem, but character details? Particularly the small ones, or for secondary characters? Those slip like sand through fingers. I have a notebook for each book or trilogy in which I attempt to jot down anything I might want to know later. Eye colour -- or are there eyes at all? Names mentioned in a conversation. Any quirks.

As for vocabulary? I make a dictionary per story setting, to help my copyeditor know which words I made up and also to help me when I revisit that setting. That's been most helpful. I'll reread the previous books as well, looking for opportunities. I like to make my worlds rich and interesting. That's what's fun for me and it's proven to be useful too. I'll find an odd bit of information I've tossed in because it caught my fancy, and expand on it in a later book.

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IN: What approach(es) or methods do you use when writing science fiction?

JC: Of course, after nine novels, nine anthologies, and fifteen short stories, I have noticed certain, ah, trends. Short fiction makes me compulsively organized. I sometimes even make an outline. I obsess. Novels? More a tendency to collect information. I have files stuffed with articles and clippings to fuel upcoming work. I know how long it will take, so I relax.

Although I don't outline novels, I do a little book-keeping exercise when I can see the end approaching. I'll make a rough graph of the level of tension from the beginning. It should be pretty high by this point, but not at its highest. Hopefully not all a straight line, either. I like some relief, some fun, along the way.

Over the graph, I'll mark where everyone is. I'll check that all the subplots are now combining. I want the climax of the book to be fully satisfying, with no loose ends I don't intend for future reasons. This sounds very technical until you see that I've done it on a napkin before now.

From a practical standpoint, I write on my computer. I type faster than I write legibly and it saves steps. I like to listen to music. The same music per book, usually. Over and over. A bit of conditioning, so I know what I'm supposed to be doing. Howard Shore did me an immense service with his soundtracks for the three Lord Of The Rings films. Each has been my music of choice for that year's novel.

I listen to other writers and ask questions. I like learning new ways of doing things and we all have unique approaches. The problems are the same, which is oddly reassuring to know.

IN: How important it is for writers to have an Internet presence with their own web site, such as yours at http://www.czerneda.com to contain and present their portfolio?

JC: It's absolutely essential. Readers, particularly of science fiction and fantasy, rush to the internet to find out about your work. If there isn't a source, it's as if they've hit a roadblock. Are you any good? Are you current? Are you approachable, interesting? They ,won't know. Of course, fans will produce their own sites eventually, but to me those are compliments, not substitutes for a web-presence.

Plus it's helpful. The only up-to-date list of all of my fiction is the one on my website, so I use that. My publicist and those contacting me for events use material from my site, from book covers to my biography. We've been working for a year on a thorough redesign of my site, to offer more information about the worlds and characters in my novels, something I haven't done before.

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IN: Who have been the most influential people during your writing career?

JC: My first publisher/editor, Trudy Rising, was the one who not only got me started as a writer and editor, at that time with John Wiley & Sons in Toronto, but she let me learn every aspect. I went on to have my own publishing company, in part because I loved the process.

Even better, though, Trudy was the one who thought it was ridiculous of me to have novels in the drawer that only I read. To her, I was an author and authors sent out their work. All of it. Between her and my husband, I had to try. At a convention in Toronto, where I was sent by another of my editors, Jonathan Bocknek (thank you!) I met my first bona fide New York sci fi author, Josepha Sherman. Although she didn't buy my novel, we became friends over the years and she was my mentor through the early days of finding my way to DAW Books, my publisher now.

Today, I'd have to say my editor at DAW, Sheila Gilbert, has made a tremendous difference to my confidence. She's been willing to let me do what I want from the beginning. And, well, there are too many members of the sci fi community I should mention -- you don't have room even online for them all.

As for influence from other writers I've never looked at a favourite author and wanted to write like that person. I've been in awe many times, and given myself personal goals of improving myself. I do look to other authors for how they behaved with readers -- something that was completely new to me. I'll always be grateful to Guy Gavriel Kay for his advice on how to handle relations who read my stories (which hadn't occurred to me at the time) and Lois McMaster Bujold for giving me an example of how truly gracious other authors could be. At my first public event, where she was the guest of honour, she took the time to show off my book and introduce me. I've never forgotten how that felt.

IN: What's next for Julie Czerneda that fan can look forward to?

JC: I've written and sold my first novella, a new form for me and one I was initially avoiding. That story will appear in a special anthology from the Science Fiction Book Club, entitled Forbidden Planets edited by Marvin Kaye. In August, I've a disturbing little thing in John Helfer's In The Shadow Of Evil, from DAW. It began with peeling paint. My next novel, Regeneration, completes the Species Imperative trilogy. That's May 06. In the meantime, I'll be doing Word on the Street in Kitchener this fall, and some other events.

IN: Advice for new sci fi writers?

JC: Get to know the science fiction community. Attend conventions. Go to writer's workshops. You'll be amazed how approachable everyone is. I don't know any established author in this field who isn't more than willing to help new writers, which makes sense. Others helped us.

Read Julie Czerneda's excerpt from Regeneration, coming out May, 2006.

Bibliography:

Novels:
Species Imperative:
Book 2 - Migration
Book 1 - Survival
Book 3 - Regeneration

The Stratification Books 1 & 2 (Prequels to the
Trade Pact Universe trilogy)
The Reunification, Books 1 & 2 (Prequels to the
Trade Pact Universe trilogy)
The Trade Pact Universe Trilogy:
Book 1 - A Thousand Words For Stranger
Book 2 - Ties Of Power
Book 3 - To Trade The Stars

Web Shifters Series:
Book 1 - Beholder's Eye
Book 2 - Changing Vision
Book 3 - Hidden In Sight

Turn Of Light (my first fantasy novel)

In The Company Of Others

Tales from the Wonder Zone anthologies
Stardust
Explorer
Orbiter
Odyssey

Realms Of Wonder anthologies:
Summoned To Destiny
Fantastic Companions
Mythspring (with Genevieve Kierans)

Other anthologies:
Packing Fraction And Other Tales of Science & Imagination
ReVisions (with Isaac Szpindel)
Space Inc.

Non-Fiction:
No Limits: Developing Scientific Literacy Using
Science Fiction
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Diego X. Jesus is a Dominican-born American freelance journalist and associate editor of IN who makes Toronto his home approximately half the time. Otherwise, we don't know where he might be. email Diego Jesus

 

Mark London is a Toronto based freelance writer and associate editor of IN who has been with the FWO-Int'l from the early years volunteering much of his time in assisting young writers' careers. email Mark: talktome@canoemail.com



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