Talking SF and Fantasy writing with Charlie Pulsipher and Jo Zebedee

I’m joined today by Charlie Pulsipher and Jo Zebedee, two authors who share something in common. They each write in more than one genre. My main focus today is to discuss the difference between writing Science Fiction and Fantasy. We often see them lumped together into one ball. On amazon we have the Science Fiction and Fantasy Books category. We see George RR Martin on the best-selling science fiction lists, we have sites like SFF World and SFF Chronicles, and this gives people the sense that they are almost one and the same. If you’re a fan of one, you must be a fan of the other. Do you two think this is true?

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Charlie: Not at all. I love them both, but I know many people who lean toward one or the other. They share some major features, appealing to readers who love adventure and escape, but the science in science fiction can be a turn off for those who are looking for something more accessible and the loose realities of fantasy can be a turn off for those who like a more solid world. Nothing wrong with disliking one or the other. We’re all unique little weirdos with our own tastes.

Jo: There is a massive cross over readership between the two genres, for sure – but, equally, there are people who only read one or other. Scifi, in particular, trips non-readers, up, I think – they worry it’s all about the science and not enough about characters.

I read both – I probably read more fantasy in my formative years, but the sf tend to be the ones which stayed with me most.

Anyhow, I’m hoping there is a crossed readership since I write such a wide range and would like to keep people with me!

Nathan: I was always a life-long fan of fantasy, and for years that is all I really read. Epic fantasy was my go-to, and branched to urban fantasy, and some other variations. It was only in the past few years as I’ve found my niche in writing too, have I made the move over to reading Sci-fi too. Where did your reading habits start and how have they changed?

Jo: My first genre book, if you like, was Gobolino, The Witches Cat, which we read in school and I loved. In terms of early fantasy, I made my way through Narnia at a young age, and still return to it from time to time. But it wasn’t until I read Heinlein’s Starbeast that I got hooked, and that set me as a sf gal, as a predominant choice.

As a teen I read Dune (until it all got silly around book 4 and I decided enough was enough and I didn’t want Paul Atreides ruined for me by reading on) I also read Card, especially his short work, and still love his writing, despite his personal views being less edifying.

On the fantasy front, epic is probably the genre I struggle most with. I’ve read Lord of the Rings and quite a lot of Eddings, but not much else. However, I now read more in the fantasy genre and enjoy it more.

One genre I did fall in love with was magical realism. I was a mad Duran Duran fan at one point and John Taylor, their bassist and my obsession for years, suggested every hotel room should have a copy of Isabel Allende’s House of the Spirits as well as the Bible. Like the good obsessive I was, I sought a copy out and was blown away. I still love Allende, as well as Carlos Ruiz Zafon and Robertson Davies. I could see me writing something around that genre at some point (and my fantasy coming out next year, Waters and the Wild, certainly pulls on the sense of the magical entwined with the real world.)

Charlie: I started with sci-fi and fantasy. I remember reading My Robot Buddy followed by James and the Giant Peach as soon as I could move past the basic books. I picked up Ender’s Game at eight and chased it with Piers Anthony’s On a Pale Horse. I’ve been flipping back and forth ever since.

Nathan: So when I started writing I defaulted to Fantasy. I started a novel and after 17,000 words I realized it was crap and binned it. From there I moved into horror shorts, which I found I really enjoyed, and into science fiction, which seems to be the way I’m leaning. What genre did you each start writing in?

Charlie:  I started with both. I knew going into my first book that it would be a mix of sci-fi and fantasy. It was the only way I could mesh together the ideas in my head. I also knew I would have a dozen point of view characters and I’d be following several distinct plot lines that wouldn’t all come together until the second book. I don’t recommend doing that out of the gate. My brain still hurts.

Jo: My first attempt at writing was a nature book along the lines of Whale Nation, which was very politely rejected by Jonathan Cape, who told me to keep writing! I think I was about 13.

At 16 or thereabouts I made the first attempt to tell the Abendau story. I tried again at around 18 and again at about 22, and gave up. I put it away, didn’t write for almost 20 years and went back to it when I was 40! But I do also remember a pretty grim fantasy story in my late teens (although with good characters, who I might reinvent sometime.)

Nathan: Charlie, your series The Lost Shards is a cool mix of SF and Fantasy. It was refreshing to see two separate story-lines in different genres that eventually merge to one. I also noticed you did this with your Explorations: Through the Wormhole story. Is this something you enjoy? Writing both in a single book, because it is quite unique.

Charlie: I loved marrying the two genres in one series. I saw my short story set in the same world as one of the plot lines in my novels, so it made sense to mimic that style. I also enjoy writing just one or the other. I am well into a pure fantasy novel now that is much more soothing to my gray matter in many ways.

Nathan: Jo, your Inheritance Trilogy is SF but on the side of space fantasy, much in the way Star Wars is. You created a story that could easily have been told in medieval times rather than in space. Was there ever a time you thought about doing it that way, or was it always in space? You also have a contemporary fantasy book out next year. Did you find the experience much different than creating your own world?

Jo: I was always aware the Abendau world didn’t need to be a sf world, but was never tempted to change it. I love Space Opera and Abendau is very much my homage to that kind of world, and Kare was never anything other than a space waif to me. So, no – to divorce the world from the characters would have changed them both too much.

But, then, I also write real-world books, mostly (but not all) set in Northern Ireland. Inish Carraig, which came out last year, was the first I attempted this in, and I loved the experience. In it, capturing the voice of the people was important, whereas for next year’s Waters and the Wild (which is fantasy), it’s about the sense of a place. So, yes, it’s different, and presents its own challenges – not least making sure readers can understand the vernacular!

Nathan: I know Charlie just did a SF story for Explorations and is also in Journeys, a fantasy collection due out late 2016 from Woodbridge. Do you find the process for writing one, different than the other?

Charlie: Not really. I tell the story that wants out. Sometimes that involves magic and sometimes it involves science. I research both heavily and focus on making characters that feel real and consistent. The rest takes care of itself.

Nathan: How about you Jo?

Jo: Not hugely so. For sf I need to pay attention to the tech a little more, but in fantasy the magic system etc has to be worked out.

For me, my books are about characters. And sometimes those characters are in our world, or one of their own. Sometimes they’re facing a sf ‘what-if’, sometimes a fantasy. I suspect my next project to write will be a quiet supernatural one, along the lines of a haunted garden and lake. I hope people begin to see that whilst I write in multiple genres, I have links between all my books – close characters, with lots of nuances, and not a little darkness.

I wish I could write slightly more formulaically – certainly, it’s an easier way to build a fan base. But it’s not my way. My way is to see a place, or a picture that sets something off in me, and then wait for the characters to show themselves. When they do, I capture it.

On the plus side, I’m rarely bored.

Nathan: Jo, it’s funny you say that. I was just telling my wife that I thought of my novel I’m working on as a story about a guy, and what happens when he is put into a seemingly impossible scenario. It’s not a science fiction book, as much as his story.

Thank you both so much for taking the time to talk with me. One last question, if you could bring two books with you as you fell off the Titanic2.0 beside a deserted island, what would they be? And not, ‘how to survive on a desert island’…

Charlie: Jasper Fforde’s Shades of Gray and a big ol’ blank book for me to fill with stories of my own. If I’m not allowed a pen, I’ll roast me up some charcoal. I’m that committed to my writing and that resourceful when it comes to surviving.

Jo: Ooooh, hard. The complete Vorkosigan books by Lois McMaster Bujold, if I could be allowed them. If not, one of the collections – possibly Miles in Love because A Civil Campaign can make me laugh no matter how grim things are.

For the second, probably Audrey Niffennegger’s The Time Traveller’s Wife.

Both character-led, both sf, both written by woman writers who also write fantasy. That probably sums me up, and it’s interesting it’s also what I’m drawn to read.

To read more about them please check out the below links! They are both wonderful writers, and you will enjoy their books immensely.

To see more about Jo, check out here site below! – links to all sorts of things are on there, including some cool free stories and reviews and what not. I can also be followed on twitter at @joz1812.

And click the below links for Charlie’s stuff!

Charlie’s Website

Charlie’s Facebook

Charlie’s Books

Charlie’s Cardboard Art


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