PJ Dean is the author of the Felig Chronicles series a post-apocalyptic paranormal/SF adventure saga. The series includes FELIG CHRONICLES, SOMETHING ELSE WICKED, and UNION. Book Four, PARADOX, is due for release later this month. PJ Dean is also passionate about diverse romance books for everyone, and you can find out more about that at her blog. (http://wwwdiverseviews.blogspot.jp/)
PJ DEAN: Thank you for the opportunity to talk about my writing.
RK: What made you decide to pursue writing and what attracted you to the speculative genre?
PJ DEAN: I’ve always written but mostly for myself. I did not begin to think I had publisher-worthy material until the mid-90s. Still, I hesitated due to the routine, confidence-shattering rejections I received. But I forged ahead after having a strong pep talk with myself. Trying to get published is not for the faint of heart or thin of skin. At least not if your sights are set on cracking into the Big 5. Which was my goal at the time because they were the only game in town. But with all the publishing options available now, no one has to rely on traditional publishers anymore to get their work out there. But if one insists…
Breathing life into the ideas in my head by putting them on paper has been something I’ve done for ages. As an only child, I had to entertain myself lots of times. Writing down my ideas was part of it. Plus, I was encouraged to spend time alone without distractions. My grandmother used to say, “If you can’t find, and spend, ten minutes alone with yourself, you got a problem.” It must have worked for her because she had twelve kids and was the calmest person I knew.
RK: Tina, in the Felig Chronicles, is a well-rounded heroine. I was particularly intrigued by her close relationship with her mother. Could you tell us how you developed her character and how you go about working on your characters?
PJ DEAN: The character of Tina Cain is dear to me as parts of me are in her. More specifically, we are not teenagers and we are not Caucasian. We are pretty much loners who possess a choice, small circle of friends. I developed Tina because I like SFR/PNR romance but in my reading of it, I wasn’t seeing many more heroines of color. The only one I’d discovered, and was widely read, was Damali from L. A. Banks’s Vampire Huntress series. This omission pushed me to create The Felig Chronicles, Tina Cain and her world. Five years ago, I put on my thinking cap and whipped up a storyline I wanted to read, and peopled it with characters that were glaringly absent as the leads in the romance landscape. Look at any list of books in the post-apocalyptic/SF romance genre and the lead is usually a young, Caucasian female. Tina is unique. She carries my series. She is not the sidekick, not half-angel, not half-demon, not half-fae, etc. She is only human. I decided that the paranormal landscape needed more heroines who are not what the reading audience has come to accept.
Tina is in her thirties, single and is African-American. She practices Qi Gong in addition to being a Krav Maga enthusiast. And she reflects that in her demeanor. Now readers may question, “Why do we need that portrayal? All we want is a good story. Who cares what ethnicity the leads are? We only want interesting characters.” True, but more varied characters are needed. And depicting what makes Tina different is important. How she is presented is important. How she looks is important. How she dresses and carries herself is important. It is all integral to her as a fully developed character. And most importantly to me, if I, as an African-American, female romance writer, did not describe a heroine who resembles me, in as much loving detail as any Caucasian author has been doing for decades for their Caucasian heroines, I would be doing my creation a disservice.
In addition to offering a good story, if I do not elaborate on my heroine, she will not stand out. She will not stand apart from other contenders in the field. If I do not define her distinctively, what is the point of creating her when my goal is to write a paranormal romance showcasing a totally human, adult, non-White heroine?
As far as creating a heroine who has a close relationship with her mother, I went in knowing that I was going to include that dynamic. Again, in the typical SFR or PNR series, there is scant mention of the main characters’ family or friends. Usually in the series, in the midst of world devastation, the pubescent heroine is basically all by her lonesome, running around, clad in leather, wielding some edged instrument, until she collides with the hero. Not so with Tina Cain. Yes, there is devastation but she has a home life, neighbors, responsibilities and a cat. She is living, and coping, with death all around her. She only meets the hero (Nate) after more disaster hits. Tina’s mother plays a part in her life, and in the story, and is a hoot.
When developing characters, I do cull personality traits, mannerisms and speech patterns from people I have known. My characters act like human beings not a writer’s notion of what a human being might act like. So, yeah, every character in the series is the result of sifting through the humanness of the real folks I’ve encountered.
RK: Do you have a particular writing routine? A special place to write? Music or no music at all?
PJ DEAN: My writing routine is broken into two parts on the days that I write. I work from home so I rise early. After lunch from about 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., I’ll get out the legal pads and fine-point ink pens, or #2 pencils, and write. I use that method because I refuse to sit in front of a computer and stare at a screen waiting for the muse to strike. I need to see my ideas on real paper. All my first drafts are in longhand, cursive. Plus, as long as I have paper, pen, a paperback copy of a dictionary/thesaurus and my mind, I’m good to go. No chargers, outlets, tablets, etc. required. I can make a notation in the margin to look up anything else later. I’ll break for an early dinner, to check email and to watch a little news. Around 8 p.m., I’ll re-read what I produced that day and tweak it until it sounds good. Satisfied, I’ll then type it into WORD on my computer. When I’m done I’ll jot down a few notes for the next session, then I call it a writing day and go to bed.
That’s the schedule I keep on the days that I write. I don’t write every day. I can’t. My aforementioned muse doesn’t work that way. I’ve tried writing every day and the results were disastrous. Several thousand words of which five-hundred were salvageable. Wasted effort. I only put pen to paper when inspiration hits. And when it does, I sit and can produce two or three chapters in one session. It suits me. Right now I’m working on two projects and let’s just say it’s interesting. I write in my bedroom and I have my radio tuned in to an “old school” station as background noise. I’m very adept at tuning out whatever might bother me. And I have been able to do that since I was a kid. Having been raised in a boisterous, crowded house, I had to learn that or be doomed. Quiet was not always going to descend because I wanted it to; I had to create it in my head. Also, writing is a form of active meditation for me. Puts me in that zone.
RK: You are published with a small press. Tell us about working with a smaller press and your efforts as an author to get out the word about your books.
After swimming through the tidal wave of rejection slips I’d received from agents and reps in the Big 5 Force, I had to take stock of my writing. Had to review it again and again. Was something wrong with it? No. I had solid characters and a gripping plot. It simply wasn’t what they were looking for. Which always translates as “what’s selling.” Or “what everyone else is doing.” Fine. That settled I took my stuff elsewhere. To the world of the small press. The first two small press that I submitted to wanted many adjustments with no guarantee of publication. No thanks. I’d decided that I wasn’t changing a word anymore for anyone. The third time was a charm. Tina Haveman and Jay Austin of Extasy Books, based in Canada, liked what they saw and offered me a contract. And I have been happy with a group that eschews cookie cutter characters and plots.
Getting the word out about my books? Promotion? Big publishers have a budget for promoting their author’s work but the bulk of it still falls on the author. The small press has a fraction of the big guns’ budgets so tons of promoting falls to the small press writer. Personally, I’m not good at promoting. I have Facebook and Twitter accounts and have enlisted a marketing service scaled to my budget to promote my books. But getting noticed is difficult. Everyone, and their pet rock, has a book to push and is jockeying for position to get eyes on it.
Book review sites aren’t the best route either as they are flooded with requests. Very few requests make the cut. I don’t outwardly label my romances as multicultural but if one reads the descriptions and sees my covers, one knows I’m not writing about folks taking hikes in the Scottish Highlands. My premises stand out. They are not routine. Which would lead one to think one of my books would have a shot at being reviewed. But nope. Crickets. So I’ve cooled it on submitting to them as I really don’t know what criteria one must meet to get selected for review. That leaves social media. Twitter is a frenzied place. It’s akin to a junior high school gym, filled with a gazillion kids screaming, “Look at me!” And the one who screams the loudest, and the longest, gets the attention. But we who write and want our books bought and read by the public, must do it. Since I’m bad at it, I leave that task to my marketing service. Last but not least, I place ads in online trade magazines. That covers my promotion efforts.
Stay tuned for part two of our interview with PJ Dean as she talks about diversity, music of the 70’s and time travel.
PARADOX, Book Four of The Felig Chronicles will be released by Extasy Books on September 15th, 2014.