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Lee Murray's Speculative Fiction Show - Deryn Pittar

Welcome to Lee Murray’s New Zealand Speculative Fiction Show, an interview series featuring star acts from NZ’s science fiction, fantasy and horror community, including news, insights, and sneak-peeks of their latest performances.

Today my guest is award-winning speculative writer, Deryn Pittar. Welcome, Deryn!

Congratulations on your recent release, Lutapolli, a YA adventure novel published by Junction Publishing. Can you tell us about the book? What was your inspiration for the story?

I wrote the first chapter for a Sci-Fi site. The premise was: “a bullied dragon flies south and gets caught by the winter. Did he survive? If so, how?” I wrote the first chapter and the site managers wanted to know more, so I kept writing. The site closed and by then I had written three more chapters. I had fallen in love with my dragon and his ladies and had to continue their story.

An Amazon reviewer described Lutapolii as “a true underdog story”. What’s your reaction to this description? Did you set out to write a feel-good story?

I had his insecurities in mind and how he felt about life, coupled with his acceptance that his bad-tempered mother didn’t love him. As he grew into magnificence so his confidence grew and he blossomed. His personality took over. This story is written by him, possibly a first - a book about dragons, written by a dragon. It is also a story that adults enjoy.

Unlike other genres where fads come and go, fantasy stories featuring dragon mythology never seems to go out of fashion. Any thoughts on why that might be?

I think most people love the strength of dragons and their ability to fly. Perhaps we are all envious? Fantasy takes us out of our mundane lives into the realm of magic and magic fascinates all ages.

Lutapolli is an interesting moniker. How do you select names for your characters?

I had free reign with this in the original chapter and having named Lutapolii I decided his ladies’ names would all end in a double i. In the Finnish language this is sounded as an E, like the end of happy and the Finnish name Liisa. I probably should have called him Fred or Henry but Lutapolii he became and it suited him or Luta for short when his lady dragons speak of him.

You recently wrote a collaborative novella with Sheryl Buchanan, another very talented New Zealand writer for young adults. Can you tell us about the work and in particular your collaborative process?

We decided to try and write a horror together and ended up writing a black comedy. It is a fantasy featuring an angel and a soldier. I had a short story we used as a basic premise and added a lead in. We included most of the short story and continued on from there. We listed ideas and swapped writing chapters, each developing scenes we were enthusiastic about and could see in our minds. We sent the work back and forth linking the chapters more smoothly where necessary, happy for each other to edit, add, cut and fiddle with the prose and dialogue before returning it for the other’s approval and another chapter to be added. Luckily we must write in a similar way because it’s not obvious where each author takes over, yet some chapters are wholly written by each of us. We approached four readers who read it and commented. They insisted on more! There’s nothing worse than an unsatisfied reader, so we obliged and added another 3,500 words to the end. We think it’s a complete at 28,500 words.

Does it make writing easier or harder, working with Sheryl?

It was amazingly quick and enjoyable. I’d do it again in a flash, but first we have to find a home for ‘Angelfire’. Then depending on our work load and Angelfire’s reception we might write a sequel. We have some nebulous ideas where to go with the plot and the characters. There are lots of characters within the story that we can develop and I bet there are a whole heap of them standing in the wings just waiting to burst forth..

Any unexpected outcomes?

Sheryl and I learned that we can’t write horror but we seem pretty slick at black comedy.
The situations our characters found themselves in required a small dose of comedy to relieve the tension. This is a very human reaction to tension with either a smart remark or turning something into a joke - hence the nervous laugh we all give when under stress. When writing I think we expressed this with quick dialogue, an action to break the tension or an inner thought expressed.

When can readers expect to see that collaborative work released? Any other collaborative work planned?

We have submitted our novella to our publisher and are waiting for their response. Yes, we have a sequel vaguely plotted and when we write it no doubt it will take on a life of its own, as did this one. Perhaps our publisher will insist on a sequel. Wouldn’t that be great?

You’ve had your work, including your women’s speculative fiction (written under a pen name) published with a number of small presses, but you recently moved to Junction. What has been your experience with small presses? Pros and cons? How is Junction different?

I have found small presses to be very personal and supportive. Unfortunately the publisher of my paranormal romances closed a couple of years ago. I have recently had a piece accepted for an anthology by Roane Publishers and they too have been great.
Junction Publishing, based in Waihi and the U.K. are fantastic. They are professional and supportive, with a talented team behind them. They are experienced in social media marketing and have P.A.s who support their authors. I’ve learned to do many things in the last six months, with their assistance and encouragement. Nothing is too much trouble. I am extremely proud to be one of their authors. They have accepted my paranormals and will republish them in June/July as a complete series.

You’re a big advocate of writing for competitions. How helpful have these been to you in advancing your writing, and your writing career?

I guess basically I’m lazy. I use competitions to ‘kick butt’ and make my brain solve a problem, upgrade a story or create a new idea. A short time frame is also an incentive. Even if I don’t win it doesn’t matter because I end up with a kernel of an idea that I can develop at a later date. I have turned several short stories into novels and have a few still lurking in my files. I recently entered the NYC Midnight competition – an eight day challenge with a character, an action and a genre. I’m waiting to see if I make the next round. It was a great challenge for which I had to do research once I had a nebulous idea.

What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

For the above contest I had to spend a couple of hours researching locations and where rare gems can be found, but usually I pop out and ask ‘Aunty Google’ if I need to know something. One of the reasons I write Sci-Fi or fantasy is I can use my imagination and don’t have to ensure I have my facts right. For this reason you will never see me writing a historical novel.

Tell us about how an odd idea has turned into a concept for a scene of book.

Once, when watching people pull the latest hard suitcases along in their upright position I imagined how these suitcases could in the future be attached to the owner by an electronic signal and could therefore trundle along behind each passenger like a faithful pet. Then I added how they could squeal if they fell over (people hate babies crying) or if someone tried to steal them. I had to write an airport scene in one of my paranormals just to use these futuristic suitcases. Now I get people saying “I want one of those suitcases” and “Have you patented the idea?” I really enjoyed writing that scene.

You’re trapped on top of a mountain waiting for a dragon to swoop in and rescue you. What books do you hope are in your backpack to help you pass the time?

I’m an eclectic reader but I do enjoy a good thriller as well as books written by Iain Banks, Ian McEwan, Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling), Jane Smiley, Charles Stross - and there are two great scifi-fantasy books by Daniel O’Malley called The Rook and Silhouette that I could read again and again.

As well as being an active member of SpecFicNZ, you’re active in the Romance Writers’ Group. I’ve read your work, and much of it has a romantic element to it, either in your theme, or in the imagery you’ve employed. Would you agree with this statement? How important is romance as an underpinning aspect to your work?

I don’t think I conform to the public perception of a romance writer. Often romances are written to a formula and I can’t stick to any formula for longer than two chapters before I go off on a tangent. Yes, most of my stories have a romantic element tucked in somewhere, but then most literary or popular contemporary novels contain a degree of romance. Just like Lee Child always has a female in there somewhere for Reacher to bed.
I think love is one of the strongest emotions we have so I guess it creeps into my work unintentionally. Suddenly, there it is, and I use it to ease the story along and drive the plot. I rarely set out to write a romance.

Chocolate, vanilla, or lemon?

Lemon – a bite to balance the sweetness.

What projects are on the horizon for you?

I will need to promote my paranormal series when it’s republished and I might begin the sequel to ‘Angelfire’. It’s always good to have two books in a series to publish close together. Sheryl will give me feedback. She is busy with her YA series currently being published. I have several short pieces I can develop. There’s a futuristic dystopian I have written six chapters of and lost interest in. I could restart that – or tomorrow I may get a brilliant idea and be off like a train, pounding out a new idea. Then again I could always write some poetry, which I have neglected to do for the past three years.

Thank you for stopping by, Deryn. Please check out some of Deryn's work, Lupitolii, Luck be a Lady, and A Taste of Gold, and her fantastic web series for writers (links below).

Bio: I write for pleasure and for the joy of playing with words and lining them up into an entertaining order. If someone reads my work and enjoys it, that's a bonus. I also enjoy helping new writers to achieve their goal with some gentle comments and encouragement.


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