Friday, 7 February 2014

A Conversation with Helena Puumala, author of the Kati of Terra Series - Length of Books (and Kati 3 First Draft Done)

January 16, 2014 Plato’s Pizza, Edmonton Alberta

Part Twelve – How Long Should the Story Be?

Question:  So you are nearly finished Kati of Terra Book 3 (provisionally titled “Showdown on the Planet of the Slavers).  How do you feel about that?

Answer:    Correction:  I’m finished the first draft!  I feel good about that and know that I will feel even better as the process moves along.  I am a little behind my ideal schedule (which was self-set) of being finished the first draft by the New Year.  But, notwithstanding that, I have found that this book went faster than the first two of the series.

Question:  Yes, you started in June, which now puts you at roughly the eight month mark.  But your books are full figure books, coming in at 220,000 plus words.  So, you are doing ok – in fact 220,00 plus words in eight months is pretty remarkable productivity.  By the way, I have read the first draft now, and I really like it.  So, it’s not just quantity but quality too (I know I am biased on several counts, but I speak the truth).

Answer:  And despite my occasional bouts of frustration, I have really enjoyed writing it.

Question:  I think that shows.  People who have enjoyed the Kati series so far will really like this book.  We alluded to the length of the Kati series books earlier.  The popular wisdom these days is that a writer should produce at least a book a year, maybe more frequently, with those books tending to be shorter, maybe 60,000 to 80,000 words.  I am not saying that’s well evidence based (editor’s note - in fact some limited evidence from Smashwords in 2012 claimed that their top sellers tended to have higher average word counts, not lower), but that seems to be the trend.  Why do you prefer to write a longer book than seems to be the current norm?

Answer:  I think it’s because I enjoy spending time with my characters and the universe that they inhabit.  And I hope that the reader likes to spend time there too.  It takes time to develop characters or a more complicated plot.   For example, to explore Mikal’s unique combination of diplomat/scholar/agent/man of action, you have to give him the time to ramble a bit about governance, to go into his professorial mode, as Kati might say with a bit of a roll of the eyes.  That not only reflects on his character, but also allows me as a writer to do my world building through his observations and ideals and the conflicts that he deals with.

Question:  And let me just interject: Mikal’s not all talk.  He’s not averse to dealing with conflict, like any action oriented person, and lay his body on the line.  He’s had the training in close-in fighting and is pretty handy with a stunner too.  And when it comes to protecting Kati, he can be as fierce as she can be when protecting him.

But to get back on topic, you find that to really develop your story and characters you want the freedom to write to the length that the story demands.

Answer: Yes, as a writer, you want to write to the needs of the story, so to speak.  And some of those only become clear as you write, and the story evolves from the subconscious.  If anyone wants to claim that there is an ideal length to a novel, I think that they are over-simplifying.  If you try to write to some imposed shorter length, you are generally going to have to give something up; either the well roundedness of your characters, the complexity of the plot (which you should never sacrifice) or in SF, the need to world-build.  In SF it is often the world-building that suffers.

Question:  That seems true.  I have found in my reading that sometimes it is the plot that suffers.  It has to be wrapped up quickly to accommodate some ideal shorter length limitation.  Of course there is the opposite danger, of not knowing when to stop, whether it be a book or a series.

Answer:  Oh, you mean Robert Jordan’s Circle of Time series.  I gave up at about Book 7, thinking that this guy will never wrap it up.

Question:  But some series can go on a long time very productively.  I will put in a word for Patrick O’Brian (that’s the Aubrey/Maturin Napoleonic era naval series).  He still has me at Book 18.

Answer:  Obviously he knows how to end one book, but give himself scope to start the next one in a very long connected series.  But that’s pretty exceptional, it would seem fair to say.

Question:  So it sounds like you aren’t planning to do twenty Kati of Terra books.

Answer:  No, the fact is Kati’s a young woman.  She’s going to have to do some things that don’t translate into SF/Adventure/Romance.  Because she is a very real person to me, I am going to allow her some years out of the spotlight.  That’s why Kati of Terra Book 3 will be the last book of this set.  But I am not foreclosing on the possibility of picking up on Kati and Mikal again, a little later in all of our lives. 

Question:  So, for Kati of Terra, it will be an old-fashioned trilogy.

Answer:  Yes, but maybe there will be another Kati trilogy in the future.  Or perhaps Roxanna or Ingrid might be take centre stage.  There are many possibilities.

Question:  Where do you see your next writing adventure taking you and your readers?

 Answer:  I want to revisit and complete the Sarah McKenzie and Coryn Leigh series, the first book of which has been out for a while, under the title “The Witches’ Stones Book 1: Igniting the Blaze”.

Question:  So, people should be sure to read the first book of that series.

 Answer:  Yes, thanks for the plug.

Question:  You’re welcome, it’s mutual.  But seriously, the Sarah series is a little more space opera, at least so far.  Will it stay that way?

Answer:  More or less, though that doesn’t mean it can’t include some paranormal aspects (Sarah has some interesting abilities) or romance (she and Coryn were definitely developing feelings in Book 1).  After all, mystery and love make the universe go round.

Question:  Indeed, there’s no greater mystery than love.

Answer:  I can’t argue with that.

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