Friday, August 5, 2016

Interview with Belinda Crawford, author of the Hero Trilogy

Today I'm featuring author Belinda Crawford, the author behind the sci-fi books The Hero Rebellion.

Update: I read the first book in the series after conducting this interview and I must say I loved it! Here's my five-star book review for Hero.

Who is Belinda?
Nothing stirs Belinda Crawford, more than a fast horse, a blazingly fast computer or a really good book. A Melbourne-based IT graduate, she expanded her passion for reading, and penchant for science fiction and fantasy, to creative writing, and in 2012 had her first short story, ‘Lex Talionis’, published in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine.

Somewhere between work, karate training and wrestling her keyboard away from a feline named Faust, Belinda wrote Hero, which, in 2013 won one of twelves places in the Australian Society of Authors’ annual mentorship program.
Currently, Belinda is hard at work on Skin, the second book in The Hero Rebellion, and is still defending her keyboard from felines.

Nadaness In Motion's exclusive interview with the author:

Q: Tell us a bit about yourself and your writing journey.

Belinda Crawford: I’m a geek, am certifiably nuts about horses and have finally tracked down the best ever pancake recipe (check the link at the bottom of the interview). I live in country Australia, down south where it regularly hits 40°C in summer and snows in winter, surrounded by horses, cats and lots and lots of books.

My writing journey did not begin young, in fact there was point in time when my mum despaired of me even reading a book let alone writing one. However, I was always a daydreamer and invented many stories in my head, along with the worlds they lived in.
It wasn’t until my teens that I began writing. I had joined an online roleplaying game where you played by writing short stories that contributed to a larger, overall story. It was addictive and I continued writing like that for many years, but it wasn’t until one of my aunts told me I should that I considered writing an actual book.
It would take a few more years and a several career changes before I gave the book-writing thing a try. Needless to say, once I did, I didn’t look back.

Q: What are you favourite foods?

BC: Chocolate, cake and any combination thereof, unless there’s baked apple involved–my version of kryptonite. I’m also extremely partial to carrots–a side effect of living with horses–and drink lots of tea. Punjab Black, Russian Caravan and Italian Almond are my current favourites, but they tend to change on a monthly basis.
I'm also a fiend for pizza, fettuccine and roast beef.

Q: What countries would you like to visit? Which of these do you think can inspire your writing?

BC: Morocco tops my list. The vision of richly patterned tents, camels and dunes fires my imagination. It’s also a large part of the inspiration behind another story I’m writing, but shhh, that’s a secret :).
Sadly, Morocco isn’t somewhere I think I’ll be visiting any time soon.

Q: Are you a full-time author? If not, what else do you do?

BC: I’m a horse trainer as well as an author, and I usually split my time evenly between writing and wrangling horses.
Horse training involves a lot of things, but for the most part I introduce youngsters to being ridden and train the older ones for the equine version of a marathon.
There are times when there’s a lull in the training schedule, usually if a horse has injured themselves or they’re not old enough to begin training, and then I dedicate myself to writing. There’s never a lull in my writing schedule though. There is always another book to write :)

Q: Are you an indie author? Can you tell us about some misunderstandings about the indie scene or something you expected but it turned out not to be true or turned out to be different from your expectations?

BC: I’m not an indie author (I’m published by Odyssey Books, a small press based in Canberra, Australia) but I can tell you that there’s not a lot of difference between indie and traditional publishing, especially when it comes to promoting your book.
A lot of people think that signing a deal with a traditional publishing house means they don’t have to do any work, beyond approving edits to their manuscript and the occasional guest appearance or interview. If you’re a big name author like JK Rowling or GRR Martin, that might be true, but the rest of us work just as hard as our indie counterparts, organising interviews, book tours and making appearances at cons.
That said, if you’re lucky enough to have an awesome publisher (like me), you can expect a lot of help and opportunities to come your way.

Q: What are you currently working on? And how many parts are you planning for The Hero Rebellion series?

BC: Currently Riven, book two in The Hero Rebellion, is with my publisher and I have started work on the third and final book in the trilogy.
I’m really excited about both of them. After Hero, Riven takes a slightly darker turn, bringing Hero nose-to-psyche with a decision she made at the end of the first book and forcing her to take ownership of some her nastier actions. It also digs deeper into some of the threads left hanging in book one, such as the fate of Hero’s uncle, takes us to the surface of Jørn and throws in a crazy curveball in for good measure.
The third book, which doesn’t have a title yet, wraps the series up with an epic showdown that will change the world, although perhaps not in the way anyone expected.

Q: Personally, I think sci-fi is a hard topic to incorporate in writing. What do you think or how do you feel about that? And how much research did you have to do for your novel?

BC: I think that the idea that sci-fi needs to have a lot of actual science in it is a common misconception. Don’t get me wrong, there is a whole sub-genre of sci-fi novels (known as hard sci-fi) out there with enough real science in them to melt your brain, but it’s on the extreme end of sci-fi.
There’s a spectrum to the science-ness of sci-fi. It starts with soft sci-fi, which doesn’t have a lot of actual science (think Star Wars), and progresses to the brain melting end where hard sci-fi lives (Red Mars by Kim Stanly Robinson is a good example), and all of it is good (well, apart from the boring stuff) no matter how much science it has.

Hero is on the softer end of the spectrum. I did research a few things, such as the mechanism that makes the human cities float in the sky. When I started writing Hero, I had a bit of a love affair with magnetic levitation, which is the repelling effect you get when you point the similarly charged ends of two magnets at each other, except it’s used to make an object float. I wanted to make the cities float using the planet’s natural magnetic field, the only problem was, during my research I found out that a planet’s magnetic field isn’t strong enough to make a dog float let alone an entire city. That meant I had to research a semi-plausible solution. Which I did, but that’s a spoiler :)

Q: How many drafts did you go through before getting to the final and current copy? Have there been any changes in events or characters from draft 1 to the last draft?

BC: Oh my goodness. Lots and lots and lots! My brother jokes that I wrote three full novels while writing Hero, and now every time I tell him I changed something in my current work-in-progress he rolls his eyes and says ‘of course’ :)
Originally, Hero’s dad played a significant role in the story and Dorian and Tis’s roles were played by four characters, not two, plus Dorian was female. There was also a shoot-out at a secret police station, a chase through an abandoned warehouse and an ancient locket that was the key to uncovering the novel’s final mystery.

Q: When writing, did you have a specific audience in mind? If yes, who is your audience?

BC: I did. For Hero, the audience was me, aged 12, and I set out to write the kind of book my kind-of-geeky, horse-mad, teddy bear-loving self would like. That meant a rollicking good adventure, lots of strong women and a somewhat flawed main character who said what she thought and did what she wanted. The fact that the series ended up being science fiction is as much luck as it is a product of my 12-year-old self’s love of Star Wars.

Q: Can you tell us about the setting of your novel? How much of it is fictional and how much of it isn't? (The purpose is to help other writers when working on the setting)

BC: All of the settings in Hero are fictional. My job might be a little easier if they weren’t, but the process I go through when working on setting is pretty much the same for imagined and real environments.

I’m quite visual, so the first thing I do is mentally place myself in the setting, kind of like a meditation exercise, except without the deep breathing. Then I focus on a few select elements of the environment, usually things that the current point-of-view character would notice, or are important to the story, but also one or two features that will make the setting distinctive and memorable (which is very helpful if you have to reference it quickly, later in the story).

Most of the time, I’ll cobble together the broad strokes of a setting by creating mental collage, drawing bits and pieces from my own experiences. Not just sights but sounds, smells and textures as well, I always try to add at least one of those into my descriptions.

When I need specific details, or I want to create a setting that’s different/new, I’ll go hunting for images. Pinterest is an excellent for this not only because it’s chock full of images, but it lets you create ‘pin boards’, like a digital collage. I have a heap of them, including ones for Hero and another for a fantasy series where you can see lots of Moroccan influences.

Q: "Show don't tell", how hard is that for you? Can you give some advice on that quote that drives most writers insane?

BC: I think every writer starting out has a problem with “show don’t tell”, I certainly did and I was no exception. In fact, I went the other way, showing when I should have been telling. The good news is the concept behind the phrase is pretty simple and once you understand it, you’re set.
“Show don’t tell” is one of those terribly catchy phrases that does a great job of being confusing for no good reason. I think if it was rephrased as “describe don’t summarise” we’d have an easier time of things. Although, “describe don’t summarise” is still somewhat confusing so I’ll expand it.

“Describe scenes, actions and emotions that are significant to the narrative, don’t summarise them, because that’s boring.”

Which pretty much means, if your character has just clapped eyes on the most beautiful girl in the universe and fallen sad victim to insta-love, don’t tell me (aka summarise) that he’s in love, describe how he feels (sweaty palms, heart beating hard, chills up and down his spine, etc).

Also think about the kind of words he uses to describe the girl, because that will give us an insight into how he thinks and what’s important to him. He might describe the girl’s hair as “black, like the forgotten depths beyond the stars”, which tells us that a) this is a sci-fi story and b) he’s probably a spacefarer. Alternatively, he might describe her hair as “black, the wild curls inky tendrils reaching out to cage his heart”, in which case I think it’s safe to say that this guy has issues.

It’s also important not to describe/show everything, just the bits that are important, such as the hamburger the above guy had for lunch or the way he tied his shoes (unless the hamburger is dosed with a love potion, and then he might notice the strange taste, which will let the reader know something weird is going on without actually telling them). Too much description slows the narrative down and takes the reader’s focus away from where it should be (such as the waitress with the strange eyes who served the guy’s hamburger).

Q: What is special about your main character Regan in The Hero Rebellion series?

BC: I think what makes Hero special, beyond the obvious ‘specialness’ of hearing voices no one else does, is that she’s not your typical heroine. She’s rude, judgemental and kinda mean but she’s also lonely and desperately wants to make new friends, she just doesn’t know how to do it.
What really makes Hero special though is her dogged determination to not let anyone or anything stand in the way of her dreams, and her unshakeable sense of self and self-worth. I think that’s something we can find some inspiration in.

Q: It is often advised that the main character of a novel should have one or more negative traits, what are Regan's and do any of them stop her from reaching her goal (like an internal struggle)?

BC: Hero has many negative traits, which is part of what makes her so much fun to write, but the only one that threatens to stop her from reaching her goal is a lack of trust. Because of the ridicule and persecution she’s faced most of her life, Hero is wary around new people and always on the lookout for hidden agendas. She’s the kind of girl to strike first and apologise later, which is part of the reason she has so much trouble making friends.

Q: Apart from Regan, who is your favourite character in Hero?

BC: Without a doubt, my favourite character is Fink. In fact, just about everyone’s favourite character is Fink.
Fink is Hero’s companion animal, a six-legged 600-kilogram cake-eating machine who combines the best elements of cat, teddy-bear and every kids’ dream pony. But don’t let his fluffy, goofy exterior fool you. Fink’s not just Hero’s confidant, best friend, and occasional conscience, but her protector and he knows how to use every one of his twenty-six claws and very sharp teeth.

Q: Would you like to add anything about the books, yourself or anything in general?

BC: The best ever pancake recipe, I promised it and here it is. Enjoy.
Ooo, and P.S. if you enjoy Hero the sequel, Riven, is coming out this September! Now, back to the pancakes.

Nadaness In Motion gives Hero, the first book in the series, a five-star review.

Best Ever Fluffy Pancakes
Makes 8 medium-sized pancakes
       3/4 cup milk
       2 tablespoon white vinegar
       1 cup all-purpose flour
       2 tablespoon white sugar
       1 teaspoon baking powder
       1/2 teaspoon baking soda
       1/2 teaspoon salt
       2 tablespoon butter, melted
       cooking spray
1.   Combine milk with vinegar in a medium bowl and set aside for 5 minutes to "sour".
2.   Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large mixing bowl. Whisk butter into "soured" milk. Pour the flour mixture into the wet ingredients and whisk until lumps are gone.
3.   Heat a large skillet over medium heat and coat with cooking spray. Pour a 1/4 cup of batter per pancake onto the skillet and cook until bubbles appear on the surface. Flip with a spatula and cook until browned on the other side.

Synopsis of Hero (Book 1):

Centuries ago, humans colonised Jørn, a lonely planet on the far side of the galaxy. Arriving in five great colony ships, they quickly settled the surface only to discover, after a few short years, that the planet was killing them. The culprit, a native spore, carried on every wind to every corner of the globe.

Genetic engineering, blending DNA from Earth and Jørn species, saved their crops and livestock, but for humans there was no cure. Instead they took to the skies, turning their colony ships into cities that floated above the spore’s reach.

Hero Regan is special, and not in a way she likes. She hears voices, voices in her head that other people can’t. Surrounded by butlers, bodyguards and tutors, insulated from the outside world, her only solace is Fink, a six-hundred-kilogram, genetically engineered ruc-pard. They share lives, thoughts, triple-chocolate marshmallow ice-cream and the burning desire for freedom.

Their chance comes when Hero is allowed to attend school in Cumulus City. Here, along with making unexpected friends, Hero discovers she is an unwitting part of a master plan set into motion by the first colonists, a plan she must either help or foil if she’s ever to attain the freedom she craves.

Connect with Belinda via Goodreads and TwitterCheck out her books on Goodreads.

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