I recently had the chance to talk to J.C. Hall, whose latest book, Lady of the Lakes, was just released by Zumaya Publications last August. J.C. talks about the creative process, writer’s block, and her preference for strong female protagonists.
Why don’t you start by telling us a bit about your latest book, Lady of the Lakes, and what inspired you to write such a story?
LADY OF THE LAKES is the story of Corryn, a young outcast from his village who encounters Jess Lochlen, Lady of the Lakes, so-called because she travels via the Silver Lakes in the land of Rogrovia. Jess is on a double mission—to recover her captured infant cousin, and to determine if treachery is stalking the Rogrovian throne. Fascinated by her and her silver sword, Corryn tags along, and gets much more than he bargained for as he gets swept up in political intrigue, high adventure and romance.
I love the fantasy genre, but much of what I read feature male protagonists. I wanted to read about strong female protagonists who have responsibilities, can wield a sword (preferably a magic one), and who actively participate in politics and high adventure. I also wanted to create a believable romantic relationship between my two main characters who are literally from different worlds.
A common theme in both Lady of the Lakes and my other fantasy novel, Legends of the Serai, is the difficulty the female protagonists have in reconciling their duty (responsibilities) with their personal relationships (romance).
How would you describe your creative process while writing this novel? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline? How long did it take you to write it?
When I first began writing, I would simply have a good idea of my main characters and their motivation and several key-scenes in mind, and then proceed to find ways to get the characters to move from one key-scene to another. While fun, it’s not the smartest way to write a novel. Now, I’m a believer in outlining. It may seem counter-productive to spend so much time on an outline when you could just jump in and start writing the first draft right away, but it’s time well spent. It’s much simpler and takes considerably less time to change things within an outline, and it forces you to think things through to the end. I’m still new at this, and seem to work best with both going at the same time. I start writing the first draft and soon the outline develops, and as I keep writing, the outline changes for the better and that keeps my first draft on the straight and narrow—no meandering, no side-tracking, no waste of time or effort.
Technically speaking, what was the most difficult part in writing this novel?
Tying up all the loose ends. The climax is where things come to a head and that’s dramatic, but then you have to tie up all the loose ends and that’s anti-climactic and hard to carry off without feeling like you’re over-explaining to the reader.
You chose an unusual language in your novel, similar to medieval language… was this choice an easy one to make? Are fans of fantasy novels used to this type of language?
I use it to highlight the difference between Jess (who, after all, does come from a different world) and Corryn. I think high fantasy readers (as opposed to readers of contemporary fantasy) do expect a degree of otherworldliness in the story, and language is one way to evoke that sense of wonder one experiences when reading about the unearthly and the unknowable or unknown.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? What seems to work for unleashing your creativity?
Sure, who hasn’t? For me, writing both fiction and non-fiction helps to mix things up, allowing me to take a break from one thing and mess around with another. I started writing a screenplay recently. It’s a very different discipline from novel-writing, poetry, reviewing or travel writing, all of which I do. Anyone can get into a rut if you do the same old, same old. It helps to challenge yourself and try different things. There’s no law that says you can only be a novelist or a poet or a screenplay-writer. Writers write.
What type of books did you use to read as a child?
I grew up on Enid Blyton, then graduated to Agatha Christie, quickly followed by the rest of my dad’s novels lying around the house: mostly Dorothy Sayers, P.G. Wodehouse, Dashiel Hammett, Erle Stanley Gardener. It wasn’t until I emigrated to Canada that I discovered the fantasy section in the local library. I was hooked from my first Judith Tarr, Patricia A. McKillip and C. J. Cherryh, and read all their wonderful novels in a matter of months.
How do you set about promoting your novel? How many hours a week do you spend on book promotion?
I have a website (http://jc-hall.com) devoted to all aspects of my writing, where samples of my fiction (novels, poems) and non-fiction writing (book reviews, movie reviews, travel articles) are showcased. I am a Top Reviewer (Books Category) with the online consumer community review website (http://epinions.com/user-jc_hall). I also contribute to the Mad Ten Authors blog (http://madten.wordpress.com). And I’ve just joined the Facebook online community.
Are there any fantasy authors who have inspired your writing?
My favourite fantasy authors are Patricia A. McKillip, C. J. Cherryh, Lois McMaster Bujold and Judith Tarr. Patricia A. McKillip writes beautiful, lyrical fantasy and has won numerous awards, including the World Fantasy Award. C. J. Cherryh and Lois McMaster Bujold write both fantasy and science fiction; their awards include the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award respectively. Judith Tarr writes standalone novels as well as high fantasy series, including the Avaryan Rising Chronicles.
Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?
Yes, my website URL is http://jc-hall.com and my blog can be accessed on the homepage of my website.
Do you have another novel on the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects?
I’m currently working on two projects. The first is the outline of the last instalment of my Silver Lakes fantasy series, The Reclining Dragon. I’m also working on my first screenplay. It’s a very different format from novel-writing, but being that much shorter, it’s not taking me as much time. It’s also a departure from fantasy, and so will probably appeal to a very different audience. Hopefully, once I finish my screenplay, I will complete the outline of The Reclining Dragon and start writing it in earnest.