Excerpted from Ghosts in the Snow by Tamara Siler Jones. Copyright © 2004 by Tamara Siler Jones. Excerpted by permission of Spectra, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Interview between Marc Giller and Tamara Siler Jones
SPECTRA PULSE asked newcomers Tamara Siler Jones (Threads of Malice) and Marc Giller (Hammerjack) to interview each other, in their own words.
Tamara Siler Jones: I've noticed that your writing is very visual yet not description-heavy. Did your experience writing screenplays help with that? Do you see your stories like movies in your head?
Marc Giller: Screenplays are a really different animal, because–unlike novels–the story is carried entirely by dialogue and action. This forces you, as a writer, to be more economical and distill the story down to its basic elements. I think that influence shows in my novels, which tend to be quite visual and follow the same three-act structure of a screenplay–but novels are a lot more fun, because you have a bigger playground to run around in. It’s easier to get inside your characters’ thoughts and emotions, and the vision is uniquely your own.
I’ve always pictured my stuff on a big silver screen in my imagination–but as an author, you get to be writer, producer, director and production designer all rolled into one. Not a bad job, really.
TSJ: In Hammerjack you mention the evolution of man and machine and natural selection. Why did you choose to explore this scientific premise along with the religious themes of ascension? What sorts of catalysts brought you to this type of story?
MG: I’ve always been fascinated by the line between science and religion, and how much that line has blurred in a modern age. People usually think of religion in terms of some unseen deity–but these days, religion can be based on just about anything: political affiliation, environmentalism, economics, you name it. All have their own initiation, dogma and sacred rites–and many have their own forms of extremism as well. Hammerjack takes that to the next logical extent, where technology becomes the focus of a new religion and mankind its own messiah.
TSJ: You have two small children (and a wife and a dog). How do you juggle writing time with family responsibilities?
MG: Nothing happens until the kids are in bed! That’s really the only way I can work, because everything is just so crazy the rest of the time. My wife is a dedicated mom, and her commitment is what makes everything possible. Without her, I’d be tapping out stream-of-consciousness books in a padded room somewhere.
TSJ: Tell us about your fans - the best part and the drawbacks.
MG: I’ve been lucky enough to hear from several people who have read and enjoyed Hammerjack. They’ve just been fabulous, along with the rest of the science-fiction community. A writer couldn’t ask for a more passionate group of readers, or a smarter one for that matter. As for drawbacks–well, nobody’s offered to buy me a beer yet. Maybe at the next Worldcon…
TSJ: You work in IT, and you write at home. How do you manage all that computer time?
MG: A RAM upgrade might help. Or a faster hard drive. The real problem is parsing out network bandwidth to relieve the bottlenecks from all those requests to the SQL server.
Ummm. . .what was the question again?
TSJ: What does your wife think of this writing job? Your extended family?
MG: Everybody in the family is really jazzed about it. Since I’ve been trying to get published for so long, I imagine one or two might have thought, “Well, it’s about time!”
Seriously, though–unless you’re a hermit, you’re not going to succeed in this business without support on the home front. My wife, my in-laws and especially my parents have shown unwavering faith over the years–and that makes all the difference in the world.
TSJ: What draws you to modern Science Fiction? What facets do you think it's lacking?
MG: I enjoy technology–but I’m also concerned that technology is developing faster than our culture’s ability to handle the implications. Science-fiction is a perfect medium to ask some of those tough questions, not to mention work out vicarious fears about the uncertainties we face today. The “modern” mold was a good fit, because it gave me the dark and gritty setting I needed to convey my story–not a dystopian world, but rather one that straddled the line between order and chaos.
Since I’m the new guy on the block, though, I won’t presume to criticize other authors.
TSJ: Who is your favorite author and why?
MG: I can’t really pin that down, because it all depends on what I’m in the mood to read. A few of the names that come to mind, for various different reasons: Stephen King, Michael Crichton, Tom Wolfe, Mark Bowen, Richard Morgan, Carl Hiaasen–the list goes on and on.
All have influenced me in one way or the other. That’s the magic of reading!
TSJ: What came as the biggest surprise when you became published?
MG: Getting the phone call that my book sold. And pretty much everything since.
TSJ: All published writers have a writing horror story. What's yours?
MG: Sitting in a room full of producers trying to pitch ideas for Star Trek: The Next Generation without having a heart attack. I brought five different stories with me, and when it became clear they weren’t buying any of those I just started blurting out whatever popped into my head.
Funny aside: One of those stories was about a society that cloned people for body parts, which ended up being the premise for that Michael Bay flick The Island. Maybe I was on to something. . .or not.
TSJ: What are your long term plans as a writer?
MG: To write full-time one of these days.
TSJ: What do you do in your spare time?
MG: Spare time? What’s that?
TSJ: When at an ice cream shop, and no one's there to roll their eyes or remind you of your diet, what do you order?
MG: Whatever I want. When you’re in the ice cream shop, all bets are off.
That said, I love the chocolate peanut-butter waffle cone.
Marc Giller: A lot of people imagine writers of dark fiction as tormented, possessed figures trying to exorcise their inner demons. How do your readers react when they find out that you’re a happily married wife and mother with a cheerful Midwestern charm?
Tamara Siler Jones: Some react well. Others… not so well, but I enjoy playing with the dichotomy. In fact, I encourage it. For example, there are a group of folks dissecting my work who think I’m an atheist. I’m not, far from it, but if writing about a religion hating old man encourages that belief, that’s great! I do write to exorcise my demons. I also make these amazing chocolate chip caramel cookie bars. It’s an incredible thing to see the look on people’s faces when I talk about the art of decapitation then give away a quilt. I love dichotomy. It’s just too cool!
MG: Have you ever written something so horrifying that you scared yourself? Or something so twisted that you couldn’t bring yourself to let anyone read it?
TSJ: Nope, never scared myself. What I write barely scratches the dark rancid meat beneath the chipper surface. I do, however, forbid my daughter to read my work. I don’t think she needs to see such graphic depravity written by her own mother. Otherwise, I’ve never had a problem with people reading anything I’ve written.
MG: What draws you to mystery/mayhem in the stories you write? And why do you think readers are fascinated with such subjects?
TSJ: I write them because that’s how I’m wired, but I think people are fascinated with the darker tales because of our primitive lizard brains, that little instinctual piece that remains. It’s the same reason people rubberneck at car accidents and are riveted to horrifying news stories. There’s something visceral and compelling about horrific images and situations — especially if they’re happening to someone else. And to then figure out how and why? That taps into our innate curiosity as well.
MG: Forensic fantasy is an incredibly unique concept. When you started writing Ghosts in the Snow, was that what you set out to create–or did the story kind of lead you in the direction it wanted to go?
TSJ: Actually, I didn’t set out to do anything other than tell a good story. Ghosts in the Snow happened all on its own and I just sort of fell into this forensic fantasy niche afterwards. It’s my editor’s fault, actually. Ghosts in the Snow started as the beginning of an epic fantasy with mystery undertones. She read the manuscript, saw that shining nugget, and had me re-write nearly the whole thing. She’s great!
MG: How do you view the role of violence in a book, particularly of the graphic variety?
TSJ: Oh boy. It depends. Sometimes it’s appropriate, sometimes it’s gratuitous. I am not a good judge of where that line is. Really. I’m delighted to have lots of Texas Chainsaw Massacre moments in my narrative and I’m very thankful that smarter, calmer people can confidently tell me when I’ve gone too far. Personally, I have yet to read anything that was too much for me and I have some pretty gruesome reading material. It’s all a matter of context. Thomas Harris is a master of gore and Lecter wouldn’t be the same without the viciousness, but to have Miss Marple stare down an axe-wielding psycho is just wrong. Cool, but wrong.
MG: Have you ever imagined yourself as any one of your characters? How would you feel about living (or vacationing) in the world you’ve created?
TSJ: Heh. I might be crazy, but I’m not that crazy. No, I’ve never imagined I was a character. I do dream about them, yes, but always watching them. As for vacationing there… I’m not that crazy either.
MG: How does your writing routine work? And how do you handle the temptation to procrastinate?
TSJ: I’m a stay-at-home wife and mom, so my days are spent doing wife/mom stuff along with research, internet socializing, story planning, marketing, coming up with something for the blog… things like that. Supper’s ready when the hubby gets home. After supper we run errands, handle homework… whatever. Then, after things settle down, I write. I write almost entirely at night, from about 8:00 pm until I get the quota, usually somewhere between midnight and 3:00 am. I’m generally up around 7:30 am. Who needs sleep?
Procrastination is a constant battle for me. Especially chatting. I know it’s trouble, but I love it so.
MG: Writing a novel is often a solitary experience, but publishing a novel involves some heavy collaboration. What are your thoughts on the editor-author relationship, and how do they compare to your expectations before your first book sold?
TSJ: Pre Publication: I heard zillions of horror stories about those nasty people known as editors. They’re mean! They rip you to shreds! They shove storylines down your throat and take away your good bits and won’t let you use your own titles! Fear the Red Pen of Death!! Editors are eeeeevil!!
Post Sale: Wow! This is pretty cool! She cuts right to the heart of it and… wow!
Post Publication: Thank God for my editor!
I can’t say enough great things about my editor. All my writer buddies are insanely jealous at how happy I am. I think, though, that a lot of the relationship is what you bring to it. I’m trying to craft the best book I can. She is too. She’s not my enemy, she’s my ally, and she knows what’s selling, what works, and what’s not. I think authors often get too wrapped into the “It’s my baby! How dare you say it has ugly hair!” syndrome. To me, it’s a story, a product, and she can see its failings much better than I can. So far, with two books under our belts, it’s been a blast.
MG: Notice any difference in the way people see you now that you’re a published author? Have you had a “celebrity moment”?
TSJ: Yeah. First and foremost, people equate published author with incredibly rich. Um, no. We actually have less money now since I quit work to do this full time. There have been several people who never used to give me the time of day but now hang on every word. That bothers me. A lot.
The strangest celebrity moment was this past summer at the grocery store. I live in a fairly rural area near a smallish town and one day, while the bagger kid is tossing sacks in the truck, he asked me what I did for a living.
“I’m a writer,” I said as I grab the next thing in the cart.
He stops, stares, and says, “Oh my God. That’s you?!? Science fiction, right? I heard we had a sci-fi writer out here.”
“Um, actually it’s fantasy mysteries.”
“Oh. My. God.”
I thought he was gonna faint. He took 5 bookmarks, though.
MG: What’s the best date movie–a horror flick or a romantic comedy?
TSJ: Neither, because my date won’t go to them. Action flicks and Jackie Chan are the top picks.