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Jo Zebedee Interview on SFF World

Abendau's Heir“Everyone has a plan to use Kare. His cruel mother, the Empress, demands he accepts his position as her only heir. His father’s rebellion want a figurehead to stand against her. Kare just wants to avoid the horrific future foretold for him.” We have talked to Jo Zebedee about Abendau’s Heir, the first book in her new Inheritance Trilogy.

First of all can you tell us a bit about your new novel, Abendau’s Heir?

Abendau’s Heir is a character-focused space opera. It follows Kare, the only heir to a galactic empire he doesn’t want. His mother, the Empress, at first tries to convince him, but when he refuses to take the Empire she turns on him and takes a vengeance that will resonate through the trilogy.

What I wanted to do was to take the sff trope of the ‘chosen one’ and ask what it would mean to be that chosen person. What would it do to their relationships, their friendships? Their sanity? I wanted to explore that against a classic sf setting, so there’s plenty of action, ftl tech, some military scenes, and the backdrop of a big space opera world.

Can you give us some insight into your main character, Kare?

He’s been left in a position where he struggles to trust anyone, so he starts as a fairly isolated character. As he grows – the book covers his life up to the age of 25 – he opens out and becomes someone who very much knows their own mind. He’s caught between a horrific future foretold by his Seer father, his mother’s desires, and the demands of the rebel group he joins, but has his own ideas of what he wants to be, if his destiny will allow it.

What goals might you have set for yourself when writing Abendau’s Heir and how do you feel about the end result?

Abendau’s Heir is, genuinely, my first book. I’d tried to write it about three times when I was in my twenties but it had never been close to the standard I wanted. This time, my goal was to finish it and get it published – naively, I thought that would be easy! Then I found out the truth…

Since then I’ve written six books, including the two sequels, and ended up totally hooked. Now, I just want to be a writer but, like most writers, have a day job to put food on the table.

I’m very proud of the final result. My editor, Teresa Edgerton, was amazing at shaping the book and pushing me to make it better. The result is so much more than I ever dreamed of.

Abendau’s Heir is the first book in The Inheritance Trilogy, can you reveal a bit what we can expect next?

Book two and three deal with the aftermath of the events of book one, and expand on the world a lot. In book one the protagonists are in the rebel movement and have limited impact on the wider world – in two and three they are more central and I could play more with the politics.

We also learn more about the origin of the psi powers, and discover there is more to Kare’s heritage than known in book one.

What is it with Space Opera you find fascinating?

I love space opera. From the fun perspective, I like that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. I like the freedom of the suspension of disbelief encouraged within the genre, and that I can lose myself in the worlds completely. I’m also fairly fond of sexy space pilots. Isn’t everyone?

I must say you have a great cover. Can you tell us a bit about it and why you chose this particular cover?

I can’t take any credit for it! My publisher had a different cover originally but my editor felt a space cover would suit the story better, and we chose some ships that suited the story. When it was first sent to me I was just delighted – it captures the feel of the story so well.

Can you tell us a bit about the process that led to the book being published?

Abendau didn’t get subbed very much – it got caught in a big, slow submission window which it stayed in right to the end (out of 5000 books it got into the last couple of hundred), despite being an early version. While it was in limbo I wrote a different book and got an agent for it (we’ve since parted amicably) and it looked like Abendau was going to be lost.

I knew Gary Compton from Tickety Boo Press from an internet forum and when he set up the publishing house I asked my agent to sub to him. I knew by then Teresa was his editor and had once received an amazing edit from her (for Abendau, as it happens) and I really wanted to work with her again.

Gary offered on the trilogy, and we’ve been working towards publishing it ever since.

How do you market your book?

I’m on a few forums (mostly as springs) which I find a great vehicle as I’m chatty and enjoy being part of a community. I have my own sub forum on one of them – http://www.sffchronicles.com/forum/jo-zebedee/ – with a number of threads dedicated to Abendau.

I also blog regularly at jozebwrites.blogspot.co.uk, and am on twitter under @joz1812. Lastly, I have a facebook page for the trilogy https://www.facebook.com/theinheritancetrilogy

How did you start writing? Was there a particular book or moment in your life that spurned you on?

My kids were finally old enough to entertain themselves one summer and I decided it was then or never. That I was about to turn 40 might have been another incentive! That was five years ago, and I haven’t stopped since.

How do you develop your plots and characters? Do you use any set formula?

Not really – I find planning hard (impossible, actually). I usually start with the germ of an idea, the what if, and a vague notion of the destination, and then I start writing. I enter monthly flash fiction competitions and find inspiration from that – all my books, except Abendau, have been sparked by something in them.

Characters usually make themselves known as I go on, and by the second or third draft the plot is reasonably set. From there it’s honing and editing and working on feedback.

What is the hardest thing about writing?

For me, first drafts. I don’t like not knowing what I’m working towards. Once things are more set I’m happier. Unusually, I quite like editing.

For your own reading, do you prefer ebooks or traditional paper/hard back books?

Trad for me, every time. I do have a kindle app but I do a fair bit of beta reading and am glad to get a break from the screen.

What kind of books do you read, any favourite authors?

I’m a fairly wide reader but I do tend to return to genre. I love Lois McMaster Bujold, Neil Gaiman and Carlos Ruiz Zafon, so that’s fairly wide, I think. I read some YA, but more adult, to be fair.

I tend to go for character led stories – I’m a sucker for someone to root for.

What do you do when you’re not writing, any hobbies?

Loads! My life is chaos! I run my own business – a small consultancy – have kids and pets and still find time to garden, walk, read a lot and enjoy days out with the family. Living near a beach is a bonus! I also have a passion for canal boating and would love to do that more often than I do ( there aren’t many narrowboats in Ireland, sadly…)

What’s next, what are you working on now? Do you have other projects besides the The Inheritance Trilogy?

Yes, lots. I write prolifically. I have two genre novels based in Northern Ireland I’d like to find a home for, and am subbing at the moment. They’re both standalones. And I’ve just started a new novel, a sort of gaslight fantasy (although the sub genre might change) which I’m slowly working at and having critiqued by my long suffering writing group as I do. Fitting writing in around the flurry of release is challenging, though, and I really either need to bend time and get a few extra hours or clone myself.

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Interview by Dag Rambraut – SFFWorld.com © 2015

Author on Author…

tbp“In what Alex Davis hopes will become the first of a series of informal chats with his fellow Tickety Boo-ers, he was lucky enough to catch up with the very talented Jo Zebedee, author of the newly released Abendau’s Heir. It’s a book he’s really looking forward to reading, so it was great for him to get some insight into the book, and it’s always nice to talk about his own book of course – what author doesn’t like to?

You can pick up Abendau’s Heir by clicking here, or get your pre-orders in for The Last War here. Or both, if you fancy – both authors won’t object to you buying the pair…”

 

Jo Zebedee and Alex Davis in conversation:

Jo:
Okay, so you have a trilogy coming out? Tell me more?

Alex:
Sure thing – the Noukari Trilogy starts with The Last War, which comes out in July, and will be continued with The Last Days and The Last Star. The first book is really about trying to get a civilisation started, and some of the conflict that can be intrinsic in that.

Jo:
Noukari – unusual name? Is that a planet or a system?

Alex:
That’s the name of the species at the heart of the series – they’ve just been created and ‘seeded’ on the planet, so it really is the very earliest days for them

Jo:
Cool. So it’s told from the alien’s perspective?

Alex:
Absolutely, they’ve got a lot of human qualities I suppose, but it’s their telepathic powers that set them apart.

Jo:
Heh. I have am Empath at the centre of mine. Telepathy is in! So, you’re launching at Edgelit, yes? Buried in edits?

Alex:
Great minds think alike – especially where telepathy is involved! Edits are on their way, I gather, so will be interesting to see what the editor makes of it. But very exciting to be launching on home turf at my hometown gig, even though I’ll probably be too busy running around to fully appreciate it!

Jo:
Yes, because you run Edgelit, of course. And it’s been going a good while now, hasn’t it?
I was lucky to work with Teresa Edgerton on mine – she’s a terrific editor and made a huge difference.

Alex:
This’ll be the fourth Edge-Lit, and I was involved in another event in Derby prior to that called Alt.Fiction. This’ll actually be the tenth convention I’ve headed up, so something of an annniversary!

And you’re absolutely right, you can’t underestimate what a good editor brings to the table. That second pair of eyes is invaluable..

Jo:
Teresa is one of the reasons I was so keen to go with Tickety Boo Press – I had worked with her before and knew the quality of her feedback. Plus it was great to see a start-up press using great editors and attending to detail.

Alex:
Absolutely – it’s such a vital part of making books read really professionally. Tickety Boo have definitely been making a splash so far.

Jo:
They’ve been doing well and signing some really great writers.

Alex:
And speaking of making a splash, your novel Abendau’s Heir has been making some waves so far!

Jo:
Yeah, Abendau is going well so far, getting a good reception and a fantastic first week. I hit the bookshelves this week (NI only for now) and have a launch happening next month. There will be stormtroopers, allegedly. I’m also at Comic con in Belfast at the start of May. It’s all new to me and a crazy learning curve.

Space opera is going through a resurgence, and Abendau has a classic feel though closer focus on characters and consequences than most. But that’s the sort of books I like to read….

Alex:
I think every first-time published writer goes through that learning curve – how does it feel to have the book in your hand now?

Jo:
It feels incredible. The ebook had been out for a day or two before the pback but it wasn’t until I opened the first box it really hit that I’d done it. It was, genuinely, my 1st book (I’ve trunked a few since, though) so to see it was pretty special. Made all the rewrites worth it!

You also have a publishing company, don’t you? How does it feel to see it from the other side of the coin?

Alex:
Yeah, I run a press here in Derby called Boo Books – we largely aim to publish writers from around the region, but we’re not too genre specific. It’s definitely odd being on the other side of it, although hopefully knowing how it is for a publisher will make me an easy writer to work with.

We’ll have to ask Gary about that I suppose…

Jo:
I had worked with an agent to get a book to submission-level and found it helped a lot in terms of learning some of the ropes. But the level of detail going into the release still took me by surprise.

Alex:
Oh yeah, there are so many steps to the process it’s hard to believe. There are a lot of people who support the author in getting the book out there.

Jo:
Support has been amazing, which is incredible as I’ve met approx 10 of the writing community face to face (I live in the sticks)

Alex:
There’s a phenomenally supportive community online – it’s one of the things that blew me away when I started to get involved in events side of things. It’s lovely because the support is so mutual – I sometimes get emails asking for favours and advice, and it’s great to be in a position to help other people in some way.

Jo:
Yes, I went to Worldcon a few years ago and was blown away by the sense of community. It puts the more negative aspects currently on show into perspective. Without the online support, especially, in my case, on the sffchronicles.com I wouldn’t have got past first base.

So, do you have a timescale in mind for book 2 and 3 – are they written/planned/still in your head?

Alex:
Book 1 is written, Book 2 I started yesterday with a view to completing by the end of September, and book 3 is anyone’s guess!! Book 2 is planned out, so hopefully shouldn’t be too tricky to get written.

Jo:
Oh, you’re very brave! I had to be sure I could finish them before I signed! I’m glad I did because some of book 3 needs reflected in book 2 and I have the chance to do that over the summer.
In the meantime, I’m waiting to see if my Aliens-invade-Belfast YA finds a home and starting to query for a new agent with my Glens of Antrim based gothic maybe-fantasy.

Oh, and writing a new one which might be another trilogy. I need a clone.

Alex:
Very nice – always important to be working on a range of genres I think

Jo:
There is a limit, though. Actually, I like to write across a couple of things – it gives time between edits and keeps things fresh.

It’s also good because Abendau is darker than the rest of my stuff (though fluffy bunnies rarely feature highly) so it gives a nice contrast.

Alex:
I wanted to ask about that, because how dark Abendau is seems to have been a real talking point. Was that deliberate, or something that just came out in the creative process?

Jo:
I’m surprised at how dark it came out. It mainly came about because of the research I did on what happened to people put in the position of my protagonist and wanting to show what such an ordeal did to a person reasonably accurately.

Book two and three are a little less dark, I think, but instead of shadows of the future there are the scars of the past to be dealt with, so the dark edges are still there.

What I wanted to do was take what SFF so routinely does to their chosen ones – pit them against what the trope so often casually puts forward – and actually put a character the reader has been following and, hopefully, likes into it. I wanted to ask questions of that trope. Unfortunately, to do that the ordeal faced is pretty horrific. And the fall out from it, on a person, high.

Alex:
So those darker elements come more from character psychology than the setting itself?

Jo:
I think so, yes. The setting could be the backdrop to a much less dark story. But it’s what’s done to people and how that effects everyone that gives the darkness. And my Empress. She’s a true baddy.

But, you know, grimdark’s in, so maybe I got lucky! I think if people like character led books they will find it interesting. I tend to have a lot of people on the edge of madness in my stories because, actually, none of us are as straightforward as we seem.

Alex:
I think that’s a much more interesting angle for a story. Tell me more about the Empress, I love a good antagonist….

Jo:
The Empress is the protagonist’s mother from hell. She rules using a blend of mind powers, charisma, and cruelty. She must have a blood heir for the empire and can’t have any more children. And she’s not happy when Kare, the protagonist, refuses her, knowing how she plans to use him.

It was fun having a female antagonist, actually. Especially a mother. Something different.

Alex:
Absolutely, it’s good to step away from some of those tried-and-true tropes. It also places a human story many people will be able to identify with at the heart of the action.

Jo:
Yeah – a lot of fantasy readers are enjoying it because it’s not just about the setting, even though I have lots of fun space opera stuff in it like spaceships and sexy pilots and hip-slung blasters. but the psi powers give it a cross over to fantasy.

Does your telepathy have a sf origin?

Alex:
Pretty much, I’ve just written a prequel story which establishes all that. Hopefully that should be on the Tickety Boo Press website soon.

Jo:
Ooh, cool. Is that a short? I do like a nice background story.

Alex:
Yeah, just a couple of thousand words, but will play into the series a fair bit. Not essential to read to get on with the book, but the aim is that it will add something

Jo:
So, it must be a big world you’re creating. Which came first, the world or the story?

Alex:
The world really, but you’re right that it does leave scope. I’m planning to put together a few shorts within the same setting to go ‘around’ each book. I’ve got one written which fits between book 1 and 2, but will be keeping that one back for a bit yet!!

Jo:
Yes, I’m hoping to do a few of those, too. I have a couple up of early back story but hope to take some events between book one and two and pop those up during the summer. If I can find time! I’d also love to write more about the world if it did well. I always find one thing in a story spirals into the next, especially when there is the epic scope in the world to begin with.

Alex:
That’s exactly it, and if the world and characters and flavour chime with readers it seems that series can run for years and years.

Jo:
Ha! The big if! I’ll keep fingers crossed for both of us.

Alex:
Absolutely – it sounds like Abendau has already made a great start. When can we expect to see Book 2 in the series?

Jo:
Hopefully by October – I have a place waiting for me at an event over Hallow’een that we’re aiming for. It’s written but needs editing, but I’m a fast rewriter. I have a few early readers asking when so that’s a good sign!

And I hope everything goes well with the launch and you find some time to enjoy it amongst the madness! Will there be a formal launch party? With cake?

Alex:
Hopefully – still putting the finishing touches to Edge-Lit, but would hate to let it pass by without at least a signing of some kind. I’m also booking lots of dates for later in the year under the working title of ‘The Last War on Tour’

Jo:
Fab! I’m waiting to announce something coming up in September that will be fun and a couple of signing events and what not. It’s been great to get so many opportunities, and forcing me out, blinking, into the big wide writing world!

Alex:
It can feel like you”re a badger emerging from their sett for sure..

Jo:
White hairs and all! Good stuff, and thank you. Book sounds fab!

Alex:
Cheers Jo – looking forward to Abendau too…