Joanne Anderton Interview
Joanne Anderton is the author of The Veiled Worlds Trilogy, a series that mixes fantasy, science fiction and anime. The first book, Debris, was published by Angry Robot Books in the fall of 2011. The second book, Suited, was released this year in June. Ms. Anderton has also written numerous short stories, one of which was short listed for this year’s WSFA Small Press award.
Ms. Anderton has graciously agreed to an interview for our site. So without further ado, on to the questions.
To people who haven’t read your work, describe the concept behind The Veiled Worlds.
This series is set in a world of industrialised magic. In this world, most people can see and manipulate semi-sentient subatomic particles called pions, which they use to rearrange matter. The more people you have working on this manipulation, the greater the effects, enabling the creation of grand cities full of majestic buildings and powered by massive pion-binding factories. But there’s a cost. All this manipulation creates debris — a waste product that destabilises pion bonds. It’s invisible to most people, only a few can see it instead of seeing pions, and they are conscripted by the state to clean it up.
In the first book, Debris, we meet Tanyana. She’s an architect and a powerful binder, but an accident strips her of her power, leaving her scarred and destitute. Forced to become a lowly debris collector, Tanyana struggles to find the truth about her accident and about the nature of debris itself.
What was it about The Veiled Worlds that made you realize you had to write this?
A lot of that was thanks to Tanyana herself. Tan’s a very strong character. She’s worked really hard to get herself to this point in her life, starting as the child of a poor single mother and ending up as an expert architect and powerful binder. Employed by the state she creates extravagant structures and gets paid very, very well to do so.
And then she loses it all, right at the beginning of the book, in one violent incident. I wanted to see how she dealt with that. Things are always interesting in Tanyana’s head. She’s arrogant, but not actually as worldly as she thinks she is. She vulnerable, but there’s no way she’d ever show it. I knew she wasn’t going to take this lying down. So I wanted to see what she’d do.
The Veiled Worlds has elements of fantasy, science fiction, and even anime. Where did this genre-blending come from?
Why, from me of course! I love all those things, and I love to play with them. When I first started writing them, I totally thought these books were fantasy. They have the main character with a special power, a cast of motley companions, and not-quite-human bad guys bent on destroying the world. So I was surprised when Angry Robot started talking about them as science fiction. But, then, the magic system (and I still think of it as a magic system) has got some sciencey elements to it, and this is a world of highly advanced cities, not a castle or tavern in sight. By the end of the second book, it even starts to go a little cyberpunk. My love of anime comes through in the aesthetics. The dark tendrils of berserk debris, verses the shining blades of Tanyana’s metallic suit.
So, it’s not something I set out to do. It’s just the way my mind works.
Speaking of highly advanced cities, Movoc-Under-Keeper really does read unlike any other city I can think of. It’s not just the pions and debris, either. It’s being examined from the point of view of mostly blue collar workers who need to do this potentially hazardous work for a system that doesn’t care about them. Even Tanyana is formerly well-off and now seeing how the other half lives for the first time. What made you put class at the forefront of these books?
Again, I have to admit it’s not something I set out to do. For me, it’s more about Tanyana’s personal journey than any examination of the class structure of Movoc-under-Keeper. I suppose the two go hand in hand, though. The truths Tanyana is forced to face are inextricably linked to that social structure. You call the collectors “blue collar workers who need to do this potentially hazardous work for a system that doesn’t care about them” and I think that’s a great description of them. They are that way because certain sections of the state work very hard to keep them there, and that’s all linked to the truth about what debris really is, the truth that Tanyana gradually reveals.
Of those blue collar workers, did you have all of their history planned out before you started the story, or did they end up surprising you? Obviously some of the major ones like Lad and Kichlan had history, but what of Natasha, Sofia, Aleksey, or the others?
Oh, yes, I got to know everyone before I started writing them. Definitely Lad and Kichlan — although Lad did surprise me by the end. I always knew he was important, but didn’t know just how important! Mizra and Uzdal, for example, told me about their quiet crusade for the rights of debris collector children the first time I met them. Sofia’s pretty tight-lipped, but she let slip that she’s not actually as straight laced as she seems. Natasha… ah Natasha, now she’s got an exciting past. We only get to see glimpses of it. One day I’d love to be able to tell her story (I think it belongs in manga form). Even poor Aleksey has a history, a reason for the choices he makes. In fact, I know Tanyana’s circle of nine pretty damn well too!
Which characters do you have the strongest attachment towards?
It’s hard not to be attached to Tanyana, given I’ve spent so much time in her head. I feel a bond with her, sometimes we really do share the same aches and pains and joys and frustrations. But I have the most affection for Lad. He’s such a ray of sunshine to be around, I’m always pleased when I get to write a scene with Lad in it.
What should we be expecting for future Veiled Worlds books?
You’ll be shocked to hear that things don’t actually get any easier for Tanyana and her rag-tag bunch of companions. Things do get a tad post-apocalyptic cyber-punky though, which is fun.
Let’s change gears a bit and talk about your short fiction. What are the major differences you find between writing short fiction and novels. Is one easier for you?
There are actually a lot of similarities between the two. A lot of backstory and worldbuilding go into short stories, although on the whole I’d have to say I do more for novels. While I do plot out short stories I certainly do more planning for novels. Sometimes a short story starts with nothing more than a tiny spark — an image or a sentence — and I’m able to sit down in a day and write it. I’m not sure one is easier than the other. Short stories and novels are just different. I often talk about them in exercise terms. Novels are marathons, short stories are circuits — together they make for a healthy writing brain.
Also, congratulations on the WSFA nomination. Tell us about the story that was nominated, and the Hope anthology it was published in.
Thank you, it’s really exciting! “Flowers in the Shadow of the Garden” follows Asfar, who is Threaded, bound to collect powerful and toxic stigma from the Gardens of plants and bone that float above her desert world. The Gardens have begun to fall, and with the stigma growing scarce, she finds herself in a conflict for resources with the technologically advanced City States. But when one such battle brings an entire Garden down on her, Asfar must learn to trust her enemy — Edward, captain of a City State harvester — to survive. Edward and Asfar must put aside their conflict to learn the truth about the Gardens, and save themselves.
Hope is an anthology to help raise suicide awareness, and specifically targeted at the young adult reader. I am very grateful to have been given the opportunity to be a part of it.
I have a lot of love for this story, and I’m actually writing a book set in its world right now!
Are there any bits of that worldbuilding, or even character creation, that you simply can’t find a way to fit into the story organically?
Oh yes, that happens all the time. I always know more about the world and the characters than ever get into the actual story. But I think that’s a good thing. It’s that bit extra, hiding in the author’s brain, that makes a person or a place real. You also need to resist the urge to tell your readers everything. Just because you’ve come up with all these great ideas doesn’t mean you’ll get the opportunity to explain them all — which is also good, or you’ll end up with a travel guide or a character sheet instead of a story!
On an average writing day, how much do you get done?
I write every day, but the number of words depends on what day of the week that is! If it’s a work-day, I’ll try to write for an hour or two in the evening. I’ve got a dodgy back, so sitting down all day at the computer makes it harder to sit down at night. If it’s a writing day at home, I’ll try to mix it up. A few hours of new words, a few hours of revision/editing, a few hours of blogging or other promo activity. I’ve usually got a few things on the go at the same time. However, if I’m at the end of a book, I’ll be totally focused on that. Woe be to anyone who tries to distract me until it’s finished!
What are your rituals for writing? Does it have to be a certain time of day? Do you listen to music or keep the TV on?
I’m not really a ritual type person. I do like to listen to music though, but that’s mainly because it helps me block out the real world and really focus on the page. I tend to write in hour blocks, and get up and move around in between. But that’s got a lot to do with keeping my back healthy and pain free!
Excluding the obvious ‘read a lot and write a lot’, what’s the best piece of writing advice you can give?
Take breaks, get up, and get moving. Seriously, I know so many writers with desk work-related injuries. There is nothing more frustrating than wanting to write and not being able to because of pain. Trust me on that. So do what you can to prevent it, before you even get to that point.
Who are some of your favorite writers?
I have a lot of love for Tolkien – my father introduced me to The Lord of the Rings when I was a kid. I reread the books regularly, and enjoy them more every time. Over the years I’ve enjoyed Robin Hobb, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Stephen King. I was addicted to David Eddings throughout most of my teenage years. I have particular soft spots for Aussie authors like Margo Lanagan, Kaaron Warren, Paul Haines, Deborah Biancotti. Sara Douglass. I get lost in their stories and in their writing, and that’s always what I’ve wanted to do for my readers. I want to be these people when I grow up.
After The Veiled Worlds is finished, what ideas do you have for the next series?
Well, as previously mentioned, I’m writing a book set in the same world as “Flowers in the Shadow of the Garden”. It’s another mix of science fiction and fantasy, with middle-eastern steampunk, genetic experiments, and spaceships. I’m having great fun.
Thanks for your time, Joanne! We were thrilled to have you with us.
Thank you for having me!