Frequently Asked Questions: 2000

Editors note: this FAQ was posted on Sara’s website in 2000, and much of the information is no longer current.

Will I continue the Tencendor series?

Big breath – probably not. Seven books (if you include “Beyond the Hanging Wall”) is enough. I know there is an opening left at the end of “Crusader”, and I left it there deliberately in case I did want to go back, but at the moment (2000) I am so ‘Tencendored-out’ that I couldn’t write another word on the land, and probably won’t be able to for 10 years at least. Sorry. I have heaps of exciting plans for new trilogies, so I hope they’ll keep you satisfied.

As a reader I’ve always been disappointed when the lure of big money has kept authors continuing on with a series to the detriment of story and characters, and as a writer I’ve vowed always to make a clean break and move on to something else once I’ve lost the fascination with a particular tale, so for both those reasons it will be a long, long time before you learn what fate I have for StarDrifter!

Hint: the more people beg me to go on with the land and people of Tencendor, the more I dig my heels in and shake my head!

Why the sudden increase in swearing from Pilgrim?

Well … it wasn’t that much!! Just the odd word here and there (in fact, three, I think for 160,000 words)! But basically what happened was that I had a change in editor from Pilgrim onwards who didn’t mind the occasional swear word here and there. Previously, I’d been forced to cut them out. So the odd swear word had been present in the previous books … it is just that they’d never made it to print. (That rape scene had been cut out of previous books as well.) Some people have commented that using profanities out of character for the fantasy genre – I disagree entirely. One of the huge problems I’ve always had with fantasy is that characters get sent on long and incredibly dangerous missions, they often find themselves in terrifying danger, and they just stand there and blink? I mean … come on! Everyone is going to swear occasionally when they drop that sword on their foot or the demon suddenly appears out of nowhere. It is just making fantasy more realistic and more fun.

In the glossary of Enchanter under the name Moonwalker it states that this is the name Rivkah adopted when she went to live with the Icarri, there is no listing of Goldfeather. Is Moonwalker the name you were going to call Rivkah or just a mistake?

Moonwalker was Rivkah’s original name, but HarperCollins Publishers Australia (original publishers) didn’t like it, so it was changed to Goldfeather (more in keeping with the Icarii way of naming people). It was changed in BattleAxe’s glossary, but not in Enchanter, and I’ve left it there through countless editions simply because it amuses me! Go figure …

Is there going to be a sequel to Threshold?

No. As far as I am concerned the story is ended, and the characters dead (metaphorically speaking, of course!). However … I did like that novel and world so much that there is a possibility I will go back to it, or a very similar world, for a trilogy one day. It won’t involve any of the characters from Threshold, however.

Which is my favourite of my own books?

Threshold, because it was a special book (hard to define why – but one of the reasons was because it was such a relief to get away from High Heroic Fantasy and do something very different; also the characters were particularly wonderful to work with).

Are there any books I regret writing?

Noooo. There are a couple I might not do again if I had my time over because of the length of research that went into them, but I’m not unhappy about any of my books circulating out there.

Where do I get my ideas from? How do I write?

See my page on my Businesslike Approach to Baths to get full details on 1) how I write and 2) where I get my ideas from.

When is the next book coming out?

I have little to no control over this; sorry, but authors don’t control this aspect of the process. HarperCollins publish me in Australia and the United Kingdom, and Tor in the USA. Contact them for details if you wish.

Can you write faster?

No. I write as fast as I am able, as fast as enables me to retain my sanity, and as fast as enables me to maintain a life. I’m actually slowing down my writing – for 4 or 5 years I put out two books a year, and that’s too much. I need to slow down. From now on it will be one book a year.

Why are my books now coming out in trade paperbacks/hardback first, rather than mass market paperbacks?

Again, this is a publisher’s decision based on marketing research. Authors have no say, so ring or write to HarperCollins about it. Unfortunately, as of 2000, it is going to get worse, as in Australia and the USA the books will be coming out in Hardback first. (Yah! I am a hardback author!!)

What about that interview where you said you were thinking of moving on from writing?

Ah, the panic I caused with that! But I also stick by it – basically the interviewer noted the many changes of career I’d had in my life (nurse to medieval academic to fantasy author) and wondered what I’d do next. I said I had no idea, but that I couldn’t see myself writing for the rest of my life. That got interpreted as “Douglass is going to give up writing!”. Well … one day I will give up writing, but I don’t know when that will be – only when it no longer gets to be any fun or the ‘expectations’ start to get too onerous. And, of course, when I find another source of income as good!

Where do the names for characters come from?

From several sources: I either make them up, or find them in medieval poetry or other source material, or even from the Bible and classical literature. If I am writing in a particular ‘culture’ then I will glance at the literature from that culture: for instance, in Threshold I got names from the Bible and sundry books on Egyptology, and others I just made up on the spot.

Why did I kill/maim/be cruel to ‘x’ character?

I am going to use Ray Feist’s answer here: “Because I bloody well could”. Because I’m the author and because it felt good for me and for the integrity of the novel at the time. I don’t particularly like happy endings, and novels where no-one gets hurt occasionally makes for bland reading. Tension requires that the characters which readers get emotionally sympathetic with must occasionally die. Badly.

Recently one of my fans (Hello SinnerStar!) labeled the various nasty ends of my characters as a “Sara Fate: TM”. I rather like that! I often imagine my characters sitting in a tea room somewhere behind the scenes thinking, “Oh God, she’s running out of uses for me, I’m going to die badly very soon!”.

Sometimes a Sara Fate:TM is simply because I’m having a very, very bad day – in the initial scene in BattleAxe where the woman gives birth … well, that was supposed to be a normal birth, but I’d had SUCH a bad day at work, and by the time I got home and wrote that scene … well …

Is Faraday ever going to have a happy ending?

I would dearly like to squash her under a huge pumpkin studded with rusty twelve-inch nails so that she dies a lingering, painful death from blood poisoning and a badly leaking belly, and I reserve the right to do so any time I feel like it. (Of course, by the time you get to the end of “Crusader” you’ll see that that is not quite the fate I’ve given her … nevertheless, I’ve been nasty enough …)

Do I like my characters?

Sometimes, sometimes not. As is apparent in the above question, I have never liked Faraday very much, and other characters I get seriously annoyed with when they won’t do what I want them to do. Basically my favourite characters are the secondary characters in any novel: Belial in “The Axis Trilogy”, Zabrze and Isphet in “Threshold”, and Baron Raby in “The Crucible”.

What are you going to write next?

Whatever takes my fancy, and whatever I think I might be able to sell. My mind changes from week to week about what I’ll do next. At the moment (2000) I am deep in historical fantasy – working on a trilogy based around the adventure of Henry V and Joan of Arc (“The Crucible”) and beyond that … well, there’s always another mathematical, middle-eastern trilogy in me, or perhaps another historical fantasy, or something biblical (“The Crucible” is going to condemn me to hell anyway, so I might as well risk it …), or whatever strikes my wine-addled mind when my publisher takes me out to dinner and whips out a blank contract halfway through it.

Is there going to be a film version of …’whatever’?

I am not particularly concerned about seeing my books turned into films and don’t chase the possibility down. I have no desire to sell the film rights of a novel to see it be massacred for the sake of Hollywood and for zilch returns (authors do badly out of film rights). I’ve had some discussions with directors/producers, but nothing has come of it.

Why don’t I try and get my initial unpublished novels published?

Because I know they’re awful. They were my ‘learning pieces’ and every writer needs them – but not to try to get published.

Who do I most like reading? (Who is my favourite author?)

I don’t read much fantasy (many SF and fantasy authors never read in their genre). I honestly have no idea what’s out there at the moment, or know what today’s ‘trends’ are. I sat on a panel with 2 international fantasy authors recently, and they also sat bewildered when asked what fantasy they liked. They just don’t read it. Of fantasy authors, I have enjoyed Tad Williams and some of Ray Feist’s books the most. It would be easier for me to say who I didn’t like … but that wouldn’t be diplomatic!

As far as relaxation goes, I read a great deal of nonfiction (mainly in historical or archeological fields) and I’m only now beginning to appreciate crime writing – Ruth Rendell is one of my favourite fiction authors.

Which authors most influenced me as a writer?

Again, this one always stumps me. I am not aware of any one or any several authors influencing me. I read everything I could get my hands on for the first half of my life, and I guess most of it influenced me in some manner, but I can’t think of a single major one.

What are my hobbies?

Well … gardening and books, really. I also enjoy playing about on the computer a fair bit. Gardening is a fairly new love, one I learned when I brought my first house (with the aid of the advance from “The Wayfarer Redemption”) in 1996. For the past 4 or 5 years I have spent just about every spare moment digging up flower beds, and re-digging up flower beds, and cornering fellow-fantasy authors in dark corners at conventions and discussing composting in great detail (some people now run whenever they see me).

Books have always been my greatest love. With the success of my own books I can now afford to collect in a way I never could previously. At the moment I am building up a library on medieval London (for a new and fascinating project that I’m not prepared to discuss with anyone yet!). My growing library is also one of my biggest headaches – where do they all go? I desperately need more wall space for more bookcases …

How does someone become a writer?

Through very hard work and through years of practice. Writing is a craft as much as dentistry is, or as much as carpentry is, but many would-be authors simply think it is a matter of throwing words on to a page. People are prepared to train as a carpenter, or a dentist, but think they can instantly become a writer. Writing is many, many years of solitary writing and many more years of disappointments. Mostly, is it about learning the craft of grammar and style, and learning how to distance yourself from your work so you can learn from your mistakes. Novice or amateur writers tend to think of writing as an emotional experience, a talent that simply bubbles to the surface. It’s nothing like that at all. Writing is as mundane a job, and as hard and as sometimes even as boring, as going in to the office every morning. See my pages on Writing for more details.

Should I approach a publisher directly, or should I get an agent?

Tough question, and it will differ from situation to situation and from country to country. Authors always get asked this, and every author will give you a different answer. Publishing is a tough industry to crack, but the best way is to a) be professional and b) be good (and that means the hard years put in learning skills). Some people succeed without an agent, some with. See my section on Publishing and Writing for details on agents and more …

How do I get an agent?

Get lists from writer’s societies, or search the WWW for lists (search for ‘literary agents’ on a search engine … I’ve seen the lists out there, but can’t remember where they are). Some agents are now so overwhelmed by manuscripts that they don’t advertise by traditional means (e.g. phone books). They know that if a writer is professional enough, they will find the agent, and agents don’t want to know about the unprofessional. Whatever, pick an agent who is still taking on clients and who likes to work in your area.

What’s better to write, short stories or novels?

Whichever takes your fancy. Most writers tend to start out writing short stories and then slowly graduate on to novels. This is a good idea for one major reason: if you are writing short stories, you’ll have the benefit of finishing a piece, learning from it, then going on to the next piece and doing better. Novice writers who start out on a trilogy first are probably never going to make it because they will never finish, learn, move on. I started my fantasy writing on a trilogy, true, but I was also a professional writer beforehand with numerous published and non-published works (including seven or eight novels). My first published fiction book, BattleAxe, was the result of fifteen years of practice. Short stories are a very good way to get that practice. Fantasy and SF magazines in Australia and overseas are fairly far and far between. Try Eidolon and Aurealis (both of which have web sites – I can’t remember where they are now, but if you do a search you’re bound to find them), but be aware that they get many thousands of stories a year, it takes them ages to get through, and they’ll probably only take 20 of the three or four thousand they get.

What’s the best way to succeed as a writer?
  1. Be professional in everything you do. No-one needs to deal with enthusiastic amateurs when there are heaps of professional writers around.
  2. Know how to write. Learn your craft. Don’t just throw words on a page and think they look cute and that because your husband/sister/best friend also thinks they look cute that you don’t need to do any more work. Family and friends are the very worst critics you will ever have. Be prepared to write 3 or 5 novels before you get to something that might be worth something.
  3. Find a genre that suits your skills: your favourite genre may not be the best one for you to actually work in. For instance, I adore military adventure, thrillers, but I can’t write them. On the other hand, fantasy is only of mild interest for me, but I know how to write it well. Experiment a bit.
  4. Research your market. For instance, what are the current trends in fantasy? What publishers in what country publish what kind of material? What do they look for? A hint: if you have a dragon, a dark lord or a bevy of gnomes, elves and dwarves, you might not have much of a chance. Most editors right now are sick to death of hackneyed fantasy characters and plots. Dragons will almost certainly get you rejected every time. Tolkien may have been the master, but editors hate hopeful writers who can’t think out something original for themselves (and Tolkien-imitations are now so numerous and so boring that no-one wants to read them). Also, make sure your women characters are very strong: most editors in the field are women, and if they see simpering, shallow female characters you’ll never make it to the short list! Don’t write in clichés, unless you know what you are doing and you are very good.

See also my section of Writing and The Publishing World for some other advice.

Can I read your book/chapter/short story?

No, for varying reasons. Legally, it is a minefield for me to do so because it could easily open me to charges of plagiarism at a later date. Be professional, send it to an agent, writer’s society, freelance editor etc. for comment. I receive many requests for me to read material, and while I wish you all the best of luck and appreciate how hard it can be to ‘break through’, I can’t do it for you.

Why don’t I put up more reviews?

Because I just don’t have the time to type them up, and because some reviewers have objected.

How do I feel about reviews?

I don’t feel much about them at all. Good reviews are fine, and so are bad ones. I often have a good laugh at the motives reviewers attribute to me (reviewers write for themselves more than for anyone else). Genre readers generally don’t read reviews, so they make little to no difference to sales. The reviews that do matter to me are those that are passed down the 9 am tram: “What did you do over the weekend, Jim?” “Well, I read this great book …” My agent once told me that word of mouth sold more books than anything else, and she’s right.

If I send you books, will you sign them?

It’s way too cumbersome for me to do that: postage costs far too much, and I’d be constantly wandering to and fro the post office. I do signings around the country, so try and catch me at one of those. (Contact HarperCollins for details on 02 9952 5000.)

Can you interview me, or have me appear at your function?

Requests for appearances and interviews in Australia can be made through HarperCollins publicity department (02 9952 5000 ) or via my agent Lyn Tranter of Australian Literary Management (02 9818 8557) . But be prepared for a “I’m sorry”. I have a heavy schedule for the next couple of years, and my spare moments are very precious. I do very little promotional or appearance work compared to some authors, partly because I guard my private time very jealously, and partly because I have a wide (and widening) range of business interests that just keep me too busy.

How can people from overseas get my books?

Contact Bob Hoffman at the Australian Online Bookshop if you have difficulties finding my books in your country. HarperCollins in the UK, Ernst Kabel Verlag in Germany, and Tor in the USA all have various contracts to publish my books – but I have no idea on the publication shcedules, so ask them, not me!

©2000 Sara Douglass