[Interview] Alana Abbott

Freelance writer, an editor and a role-playing games developer, Alana Abbott is the author of two novels, Into the Reach (White Silver Publishing, 2006) and Departure (White Silver Publishing, 2007).

Her stories have been featured in online magazines that include Coyote Wild Magazine; The Edge of Propinquity and the collaborative writing project, Baeg Tobar.

She has also been published in a number of anthologies, among them, Ransom: The Anthology (Enchirdion Books, 2008); Crown Tales (Dark Quest Games, 2008) and Crown Tales 2, (Dark Quest Games, ___).

In this interview, Alana Abbott talks about her writing:

When did you start writing?

I started writing in grade school, making up stories in other people's worlds.

By middle school, I had started creating worlds of my own, and after finishing a 'novel', the summer before my freshman year of high school, I decided to make it my G&T (gifted and talented) project for the year to attempt getting it published. I learned so much about the publishing industry that year, just from the process of submission and rejection.

In college I interned at two publishing houses and I became an editor after my graduation.

I returned to fiction writing after getting married, making contacts in the game industry and doing shared world fiction projects.

My first two novels, Into the Reach and Departure, came out of work I'd done for a game sourcebook.

How would you describe your writing?

I vary between doing creative projects and work for reference and game publishers, which pay by the assignment. It's a way to make a living!

Currently, I am working on a fiction project for Baeg Tobar, a novel I'm co-writing with Max Gladstone, who is a phenomenal writer (and a member of my local crit group).

I also write reviews for School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly and the Flames Rising website.

There are a few other projects on the shelf that are just waiting for me to have time to devote to them.

Who is your target audience?

I've written for both adult and young adult audiences.

I think the people who follow Baeg Tobar have a nice potential mix -- the type of project that we are is likely to appeal to teens and adults, and so it's great to be able to hit both audiences.

Most of my adult work has some YA appeal, which I think is true for a lot of adult fantasy.

I think I always keep the YA audience in mind, even when they may not be the total market share, because so much of what I read as a teen has stuck with me over the years, and so much of what I learned as a writer developed between the ages of 14 and 20. (I hope I'm still growing and improving, of course!)

Which authors influenced you most?

I think Tamora Pierce was a huge influence on me in the way that I learned to craft a story -- and the way I learned about how stories can grow up with their characters. She was really one of the first writers to start creating strong women in fantasy geared particularly toward teens. So, not only was she ground breaking at the time, helping to shape what would become the YA market that's exploded these days, but she was helping to form the way that strong female characters appeared in YA and fantasy, right at a time when I was exactly the right audience for her books.

I'd also be remiss in not mentioning Joss Whedon, whose writing for television has impacted the way so many writers use language -- I see his influence everywhere, especially in urban fantasy, and I know he's affected the way I write as well.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

I actually thought I wanted to go into physics in college to pursue the development of teleportation, and somewhere along the line I realized I was far more interested in the way it worked in A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle than I was in how the math would work out.

From there, I pursued studying stories, both in literature and mythology, and I've had the wonderful opportunity to work as a teaching assistant for one of my college professors on several study tours to Greece and Turkey, Ireland, and England over the years.

Being able to study mythology in the settings where the stories take place has had a huge impact on me as a writer.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

It may sound mercenary, but sadly, one of the biggest concerns is being able to afford the time to write.

In order to write for a living, I have to balance the types of assignments I take to make sure I'm bringing in enough to help support my family.

I also work part time at my local public library, which helps me deal with the loneliness of the writing lifestyle. It's good to balance being on your own, in your own head, and being social! And it's great to be involved with the publishing industry on the user end as well as on the creative side.

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

The biggest challenge in my fiction is definitely finding the time to prioritize the projects I really want to do. I'm still searching for a good way to deal with this!

Do you write everyday?

I don't have the same writing process every day, in part because of my library work schedule and in part because life events have changed my availability recently: I'm currently pregnant and will be having a baby inside the month (if she comes on time!), so I've been balancing classes on pregnancy, paid writing assignments, and my day job in a much more chaotic schedule than usual!

But even when I had a very regular writing schedule, it was never that set in stone. I'm not nearly type-A enough to be that organized!

I also find that I like to be surprised by my writing process, and that I'm less enthusiastic about projects when I know exactly where they're going, so I try to leave room for flexibility.

How many books have you written so far?
  • Into the Reach (White Silver Publishing, 2006): In the land of Eranon, the Reach is a desolate place where people journey to forget who they are. Now, a menace rises from this wasteland, and he is hunting for someone. To keep the madman and his chaos behind the Reach, four adventurers with haunted pasts must rise to the challenge. But how can failed heroes bring hope to others when they doubt themselves?
  • Departure (White Silver Publishing, 2007): Called to face the pasts they hoped to leave behind, Lydia, Kennerly, Nara, and Taru leave the Reach for the homes they once knew. There, new enemies have been set against them, driven by the same dark force they hoped they had defeated. Now the people they once most trusted have become pieces in a game that may lead them down the road to their deaths.
  • Cowboys and Aliens II Web comic (Platinum Studios, 2007-08): I served as the writer for the team working on the sequel to the original comic, Cowboys and Aliens, which is soon to be made into a movie. The story takes the original characters from their battle with aliens in the West to Washington, D.C., where they discover they'll have to take a little bit of Old West into outer space to meet the threat head on.
  • Contributor to role-playing games, including Gallia (Dog Soul, 2006); Chronicles or Ramlar RPG (White Silver Publishing, 2006); Verto Syzol's Legendaria Geographica (2006); Balok's Book of Banter 2: Battle Cries (Dog Soul, 2007); Allies and Adversaries, (White Silver Publishing, 2007); Steampunk Musha RPG (2007), Politically Incorrect Games: Serenity Adventures (Margaret Weis Productions, 2008) (which won an Origins Award in 2009); The Living Kingdoms of Kalamar (Kenzer & Co.), Xen'drik Expeditions (Wizards of the Coast), and Living Forgotten Realms (Wizards of the Coast) campaigns through the RPGA (now the Wizards Play Network).
  • Contributor of fiction to anthologies, including Ransom: The Anthology (Enchirdion Books, 2008); Crown Tales, (Dark Quest Games, 2008); and Crown Tales 2, (Dark Quest Games, ____).
  • My short fiction has been featured online at The Edge of Propinquity, Coyote Wild Magazine, and Baeg Tobar.

How did you chose a publisher for your first two books? What advantages/disadvantages has this relationship presented?

My first two books (the only two I currently have available as the sole author) were written under a contract -- the publisher approached me about writing them.

Some disadvantages of publishing with a very small start up company is that the publisher is still learning the ropes and, sadly, may not survive the economic pressures (which is why only two of the three contracted books ever appeared).

The best thing I've found to do, however, is move on to other projects!

Which were the most difficult aspects of the work you put into the books?

I struggle with making sure that the story fits within the boundaries it needs to fit into -- that the page and word count work for the size of book being expected, and that the flow of the story works with the size of the book.

As I mentioned before, I prefer not to outline, but in order to keep books fitting to about the right size, an outline is really helpful!

Authors talk a lot about people who are "pantsers" (write by the seat of their pants) and "plotters" (know what's going to happen in advance), and I think that mixing those two styles is a big challenge.

That said, I love the editorial process, when someone on the outside can give me commentary to bang a whole project into shape!

I love telling stories, no question about it. I think there's a magic in it, that we're following in a grand tradition that goes back to the beginning of language. Even if the story doesn't seem to have much to it, the act of telling, and of connecting, is -- I think -- part of what makes us human. And hopefully, if we can relate to each other's stories, we can relate to each other.

What will your next book be about?

The book Max Gladstone and I are working on is about the Parade of Champions, a ritual among the fae of Baeg Tobar to decide which court has political control, and the mortals who get tangled up in the process.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

There's nothing quite like seeing that first novel in print, and knowing that you've done it once, so you can do it again.

But I have to say that it's a toss up for me between seeing that first novel come out and receiving an Origins Award last year -- knowing that people had recognized my work (along with the work of my co-writers and the editorial and art team!) as something that merited acknowledgement. That was incredibly exciting!

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