Monday, 12 January 2015

Author Promo Spotlight -- A.J. Ponder

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A.J. Ponder is the author of Wizard's Guide to Wellington as well as numerous short stories and plays. She lives in a hundred year old house overlooking Wellington harbour, so she can keep an eye on stray taniwha while not missing out on coffee.  

Awards include, Sir Julius Vogel Short Story Award 2012, with Frankie and the Netball Clone, runner up for Arc and The Tomorrow Project’s 2012 competition: The Future Always Wins, with Dying for the Record, and co-winner of the Northwrite 2014 Collaborative Writing Competition with Ahi Ka. Her latest story Lilly Lionheart and the Labyrinth of Doom (Part 1: Once Bitten) is now available for pre-order here at

You'd love to read some of A.J. Ponder's brilliant works, wouldn't you? Email us right away. Two lucky winners will win digital copies of her books.

Firstly I’d like to thank you for this opportunity, what a wonderful website for authors and readers.
• How does a typical book get written in your world - what do you start with?
I love writing, so a typical book starts with an idea and a character. Lilly Lionheart started as a girl genius fused with dangerous genetically designed animals Mastermind's Lair. The evil mastermind idea never quite panned out as the character decided to be pompous rather than clever, but the whole mad science angle was fun. On the other hand, Wizard's Guide to Wellington's inspiration was in a round-about way The Hobbit. Tolkien used the countryside of Britain to create a legend he felt Britain lacked, discovering a “forgotten” history. As New Zealand and specifically Wellington already had its own legends, it was a matter of discovering how the local landmarks and legends interacted to create a very magical and dangerous city. 

• How would you compare the protagonists of your books with yourself?
The difference between the protagonists and myself, are my protagonists are awesome. They're adventurous and fun, if a little bit flawed. I'm deeply flawed, and not particularly pro-active, more of a spider trying to pull bits of webs together to make some kind of glamour.

• How would you typically choose the names of your characters?

My characters tend to be rather bossy about their names. Mostly their names arrive as an inseparable part of the package, although some names are rather more difficult to find, as if the character is hiding them. Baby name books can be helpful, so can lists of "most popular names." For certain worlds the meaning of names is important, so searching the internet for names with particular meanings can be useful. But mostly these fail to find a character’s name (although they do often create new characters), and a walk along the beach is as likely to resolve the conundrum of a character’s name.

• What's that one Classic work that you wish had been written by you?
If you'd asked me this a few years ago, this would have been The Hobbit, hands down, but it pales in comparison to Verdigris Deep (Also known as Well Witch by Francis Hardinge. Verdigris Deep is a gorgeously written, beautifully plotted, modern fairy tale full of a rich darkness. It more than deserves a place as an instant classic. I would so love to write a book like this where every word is it pulls you into danger.

• How would you deal with reviews?

I've been very lucky with reviews, most have been positive and I'm so grateful to the reviewers. A bad review? Of course it would hurt, but a reader also brings themselves to a story, so as a writer it's probably best not to worry too much. And certainly to never comment. I suspect a walk on the beach with a good friend and a cup of coffee is the best way to cope with a bad review, also with a good one, because it puts the world back in perspective.

• What's your favourite writing location?

I like to generate ideas when I'm out and about, but I love to write in comfort, lolling on a couch, or in the swivelly chair in front of the computer.

• What awesome books and projects are you working in at the moment?

Fire Crow with Peter Friend: It's a secret project, so I can’t really say anything, except that it’s really exciting and I love working with Peter who is a master of the Science Fiction. His Voyage to the Moon, published in Asimov’s is amazing.
The Sylvalla trilogy: Written by a pompous old university lecturer, F. Fradherghast's Quest, Prophecy and Omens follow the adventures of Princess Sylvalla who desperately wants to be a hero. This series takes the tropes of fantasy and gently mocks them, while landing the protagonist in deeper and deeper trouble. I’d love for audiences to be able to read the trilogy on two very different levels, not unlike Winter of the Birds by Helen Cresswell. The idea is that it can be read as a straight adventure, but it can also be read at a deeper level, where things are not quite what they seem on the surface.

And finally I'm putting the bells and whistles on Miss Lionheart and the Labyrinth of Doom. It’s been the most crazy fun to write. …duck the gelignite, avoid the Acme fuses. Do whatever you need to, just make sure you don't miss out — it's more than your life is worth! Delayed by a run of bad health, Part One: Once Bitten will now be released on the 31st of Jan.

Guest Post by A.J. Ponder
I love writing, creating worlds and discovering new characters. On a good writing day the whole world seems to fade away. It’s as if someone is telling me the story, and I am just writing it down. Finding ideas is not so hard once you realise there are no new ideas, just new ways to write them, and nothing in this world that is so liberating, so fun, and so difficult all at the same time.
But no matter how fun and rewarding writing is, there’s adversity around every corner and dealing with adversity is something I’m qualified to talk about. Mostly because as the author, it’s my job to make my characters’ lives as demanding as possible. And also because I’ve faced just enough adversity to realise just how rubbish I am at dealing with it myself.
As far as I can see, there’s just one rule. “One step at a time.” It should be easy. Facing adversity is not like spelling, or grammar, where there are a hundred rules and they change every time you hop on a plane - or want to talk about last week – or tomorrow. One step at a time and you’ll make it out the other side. However crazy your life. However convoluted the plot. And the worse the stress, the more tricky the problem, the more I focus on, and even celebrate each footstep. Completing major sections like the first draft or the plot outline are exciting, but so too is discovering each character’s voice, a plot twist, and most important and difficult of all – simply opening the document. Yes, in the process of writing, opening the document, and putting pen to paper, or finger to keyboard is probably the hardest step of all.  And yet I’ve discovered that it can be done. Every day. Especially when you don’t think that you can.
Kev’s “Dear Santa,” was written when my boy was in hospital. It’s not even particularly sad – well, just a little bit, but it still makes me cry. I took my computer, knowing I had a deadline, but not thinking it would be possible to write under such awful conditions. But once the computer was out, the story wrote itself. “The Collector” (Published Disquiet 2014) was also written around that time. This time much of the adversity I faced was the story itself.  I’m sure every writer has these, the story you love that doesn’t quite work. On the surface it was a perfectly reasonable action piece, but the ending never quite worked, and editing wasn’t going to fix the problem.
Cue big important music and a Firefly quote – Tracey: “When you can't run, you crawl, and when you can't crawl - when you can't do that...” ZoĆ«: “You find someone to carry you.”
And much as this is inspirational quote is great for soldiers of fortune who’ve fallen on really tough times, it’s also not a bad fall-back for authors when they are stuck. So I brainstormed my dystopian thriller with some writer friends and rewrote from scratch. And step by step the story changed, until the next thing I knew I was no longer writing a dystopian thriller about a heist that goes wrong. The story now had a different setting, different protagonists, and the only thing that remained was the attempted heist.  It might seem like a lot of work for one short story. And yes, it was, I could have enjoyed reading several books in the time it took to get the one short story into shape. But for me, that is the joy of writing. It’s a little like life, sometimes it’s easy, and sometimes it’s hard, and sometimes when you start something, you’re never quite sure where you’ll end up - but you won’t know, until you take that first step.

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