Thank you to all the new subscribers who signed up during book release week. I know I’ve been quiet since release, but I’ve been working on super secret, awesome, 110,000+ word project that I’m going to finish drafting today. I will tell you all about it later. In the meantime, I’d like to introduce you to the lovely Australian writer, PJ Byer.
PJ and I found each other on WordPress blogs a while back when she was launching her debut novel, Collision. She’s been a fantastic digital friend to have online as I made my foray into young adult fiction myself. She just launched her new book, Corrosion, yesterday, and is kicking off release week with a bang. I had a few questions for her about her process, so we did this interview. Enjoy!
1. Some book series start off in the author’s head as a series, others develop into series only when the author gets to the end of the book and realizes they still have more story! Which camp does the Trial Bay series fall into?
Collision, Book 1 in the Trial Bay series, started out as a much longer book, and I narrowed its focus to the teen runaway perspective of my protagonist, Stella. Being my first book, I was completely absorbed in producing the best quality book I could. I had little idea that the storyline would set parameters within which I had to work for Book 2.
Soon after publishing, readers were keen to know what happened to the characters, as well as delving into the family history…This was gratifying, if daunting! One of the main questions readers asked was: when was the next one? And so the Trial Bay series came to be. Readers also wanted to know what happened to Gustav and Grace; they were popular characters from Collision ~ and I also wanted to flesh out their story!
Because of the earlier book, I already had the bones of some chapters, and Corrosion grew from these. This is part of the reason I was able to write Corrosion much more quickly than Collision.
I have a final and third book to come in this series, Chrysalis, due out late in 2017. I enjoy writing a series as I can develop the characters, challenge them, send them off into new ventures.
I already have an idea for another series, but perhaps with a more speculative fiction slant, set in Australia, close to places where I grew up. Having an Australian focus is very important to me, as we have our own stories to tell here, which have universal appeal.
2. Did you find it challenging to go between the voices of Paul and his mother, Mary, when writing this new book from two different perspectives?
This was probably my main challenge! While Book 1 had flashbacks to a century before, Corrosion’s structure is more complex. I was keen to give insights into both parent and teen for all readers. Many YA books focus mainly (only?) on the young person, their friends. The reader must usually infer the adult characters’ motivations. Yet I’ve been pleased to realise both adults and young adults read these books ~ every grown-up has been a teenager once!
Keeping the voice authentic is essential; if the reader doesn’t believe the character, whatever the age, then the writer has failed. I wanted to be as truthful as possible; my characters aren’t always likeable…but then, who is always likeable? Paul has little or no idea what his mother has been through; and his mother lacks skills to really listen to her son, and value his views. I experimented with tense (past and present), as well as First Person Narrative and Third Person Narrative. Maintaining pace and forward momentum was crucial too, as well as covering time shifts. Moreover, the setting was forty years ago for Paul, January, 1973, a tumultuous month in his life, and for Mary, the parent, covered fifty years 1958 to 2008. Research into these periods and places was a fun and time-consuming aspect of the early writing.
After much rewriting, and suggestions from my editor, Helena Newton, I arrived at the structure in the book.
3. For years before you began this series, you taught the humanities… what impact or influence did your teaching have on your writing?
Teaching Humanities (English, History as well as Drama) had an enormous influence on my writing. After an early period of writing struggling to hone my genre and style, I realised I had a goldmine of influences from the many students I had taught over more than thirty years. Their voices and actions in the classroom, corridor, playground, canteen, sporting fields, on the bus, as well as home life stories…and all the variations of interactions with peers, teachers, principal, administration staff and parents and community members was endless.
Teaching high school students was challenging and exhilarating, as well as at times exhausting. Teens have such an energy and joie de vivre, and an honesty that I love. English teaching allowed me to share my love of reading and writing ( as well as film), History was a cavalcade of characters and stories, and Drama teaching, in particular, was a subject where students really put themselves on the line. On a stage, under the spotlight, there was nowhere to hide, and it was a privilege to watch and guide and participate in a student’s creative growth as an actor, and also as a director, playwright, designer.
In fact, I owe Drama a great deal. Teaching Drama led me to discover a rich vein of personal creativity within myself, where I wrote monologues and duologues for students, directed musicals and drama performances. I wanted to tread the boards myself, not having had the opportunity when I was younger, and attended NIDA (National Institute of Dramatic Art) summer drama classes, as well as completing a Drama Methodology diploma at Sydney University. I sang in choruses in our local Gosford Musical Society. A highlight was being in Jesus Christ Superstar chorus with my two young daughters, and having a lead role as Ruth in the Australian play Cosi, by Louis Nowra at Laycock Street Theatre, Gosford. Eventually, that creativity led me here, to writing, a lifelong dream.
4. Who do you imagine as the ideal reader of your book?
That’s a great question, Audrey. Realistically, more females would read it, as women make up the higher percentage of readers.
But as I said above, I’ve been pleased to realise both adults and young adults read these books ~ every grown-up has been a teenager once ~ and I have a few male readers too! So I’d answer, I imagine any age (older than children) reading this book, rather than limiting my view of my reader.
Can I reframe the question as “How do you ideally imagine your reader benefiting from your book?” If my reader were reading my book for pleasure I’d be thrilled. Job done!
As a YA writer, I love the idea of young people ( and any reader!) being drawn to, lost in imaginative worlds. I’m passionate about the power of reading for pleasure, and the empathy resulting from experiencing what your character is experiencing. Nicola Morgan is a fabulous UK award-winning author and speaker with a deep knowledge about teenagers and students, and the power of reading. These are her ideas for reading for pleasure, and I agree with them all.
I like the idea that reading for pleasure can:
•Increase my vocabulary
•Increase my knowledge about a topic
•Increase my general knowledge
•Make me able to express myself better in writing or talking
•Show me that there are other people with similar/worse problems
•Show me how other people might have dealt with their problems
•Help my brain model how to react to problems
•Let me escape from my worries for a while
•Give me the pleasure of escaping to another world for a while
•Reduce my stress
•Lower my heart rate
•Make me laugh
•Make me feel scared – while knowing that it’s “just a story”
•Let me explore my emotions through fictional characters
•Boost my self-esteem and confidence
•Help me understand other people better
•Help me understand myself better
•Help me get to sleep and help me sleep better
•Improve my imagination/creativity
•Help me do better at school or work
•Make me feel proud
•Make me even better at reading
•Be sociable, too, as you can discuss it woth someone else who’s read it
•Let me help my children with their reading
•Be generally good for my mental and physical wellbeing
5. Collision is built up out of many very short chapters. What was the motive behind keeping the chapters so short, and can readers expect a similar structure from your new book, Corrosion?
I deliberately kept the chapters shorter to add pace and excitement to the momentum of Collision. I’ve done something similar in Corrosion, though the teenager Paul’s chapters are shorter more often than his mother’s ones. This is because there is a great deal more to convey about what has happened in Mary’s life.
6. Every author has a unique story behind their publishing decisions, so can I ask what prompted you to self-publish?
Like many writers, over a period of more than a year, I sent my manuscript to quite a number publishers in Australia and USA and I sought agents, but was rejected. I entered competitions, both synopses and first three to five chapters; I did receive some helpful feedback from some my competition entries.
After exhaustive research about the business side of writing, attending workshops on social media and communication with other authors in my writing group and online, I decided to self-publish. While there are benefits, if you find a supportive and ethical publisher, of being traditionally published, I didn’t have time to wait around. I’m older…I didn’t have many decades to find the magic publisher to find my work compelling enough to offer me a juicy contract!
I followed the advice of producing the best qualitly writing I could, being true to my story, having it professionally edited, the cover professionally designed and formatting it by an expert.
Self-publishing continues to be a roller coaster journey, yet one which I’m enjoying. It is a difficult to balance the craft of writing as well as the business side; however, it’s exciting learning about promotion and marketing. I enjoy the control and freedom one has, for example with cover design, and having a higher profit margin. My subscription to the international organisation ALLia (Alliance of Independent Authors) has been very beneficial, and I highly recommend it.
7. Young adult literature is a great way to speak to teens. What are you hoping your book series says to its young adult readers, what do you hope they take away from Paul’s story?
Again, a great question. In essence, Corrosion is about the the poisonous effects of secrets through generations and how deceit can become so entrenched, due to pride or social approval or fear. It’s better to tell the truth.
And while Paul and his mother have a crumbling relationship, there are also many positive examples of friendship and love for readers to emulate and admire.
8. Coming from Australia, do you feel you had unique challenges as an author away from the publishing power houses of the USA and UK? Or has the digital and self-publishing revolution helped close geographic gaps between authors, distributors, and audiences?
The digital and self-publishing revolution has definitely helped close geographic gaps between authors, distributors, and audiences. Obviously, Australia has a comparatively small population, and it can be very difficult for local authors to compete with big overseas names like John Green. But there is a strong readership here too, and a great deal of talent. There is an exciting local movement #LoveOzYa promoting local Aussie writers. While I’m keen to broaden my ebook sales, and hope my series will bring new readers to my books, I have so far sold better as a print author, pitching my work to schools. I had a fantastic time recently as Author-in-Residence at a local school, MacKillop Catholic College. I’m in this writing game for the long haul, and hopefully will gain more and more traction.
9. Finally, the big, controversial question: are you a print reader, or an ebook reader?
Both! I love the feel, smell and texture, as well as drooling over the cover, of a print book. And for travel convenience, you cannot beat a kindle or iPad, with built in backlight and enlargeable print.