I’ve been feeling a little guilty about this one. I’ve been talking to Justine for a little while now and I’ve been promising her this interview. Little did I know that it would take years to get it to this point. That said, it seems a case of the stars aligning as Justine is set to release her next book Mirror’s Hope, I talked to her about it, her previous series Crimson Winter, her writing process and the theatre.
Joshua Pantalleresco: When did you decide to become a writer?
Justine Alley Dowsett: It wasn’t really a decision so much as it’s always been my dream to be an author. I started writing seriously in high school. By seriously,I just mean all the time. I wrote a kids book series that will never see the light of day, but writing it taught me the discipline of writing every day, finishing what I start, and making sure to always improve my skills with each new project.
JD: I love science-fiction and fantasy equally. I’ve always been a big reader. The earliest ‘science-fiction’ I can remember reading are superhero novels. I was really into Spiderman as a kid and rather than reading comic books which I would go through too quickly I moved onto reading full length novels. The books and stories I was always most impressed with were those that rather cleverly combined Fantasy and Science Fiction. Where magic is science or science is magic. So you’ll generally find that I blend the lines of the two genres in my writing as well. Good examples of that are Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series or Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy.
JP: What’s your writing process like?
JD: Organic. I don’t plan, at least not on paper. I don’t decide the plot of the book or the ending before I write it, I just let it happen. I try to make my characters as real within their own worlds and circumstances as I can and I let them make all the decisions. I find this method really lets the characters have their own voice and develop in a way that feels natural given what faces them.
JP: Let’s talk about your first series Crimson Winter. What is it about?
JD: Crimson Winter is a science-fiction adventure about a young girl who gets transported to another world she doesn’t fully understand and finds herself stranded there. She has to struggle to survive on a war-ravaged planet while coming to terms with the idea that she may never go home and her personal journey teaches her the value of the relationships she forms along the way.
JP: I caught your stuff in Windsor, I noticed that you debuted with book one of a trilogy. Was it difficult to construct one? Would you do another series?
JD: Actually, I technically wrote Neo Central first. But that was a collaboration with Murandy Damodred and Lori Rule. My first book on my own was Crimson Winter: Ruins of Sapphire and honestly, I was never intending to publish it when I started writing it, it was just a way of getting the story down on paper and out of my head; it was an obsession. Once I wrote the first book, which only took three months if you can believe it, I had to continue with the second and then the third. The third took me the longest; nearly a year. It was well worth the effort, but when I was finished I swore I would never write another trilogy again. It consumed my life for a total of two years, maybe longer with all the editing as well.
Go figure that I broke that oath with the very next project I took on. Mirror’s Hope is the first in a proposed series of at least three, possibly five books. Just shows you how much I love to write, I guess; it seems that I don’t know how to stop.
JP: That impulse I can understand. Tell me about Neo Central.
JD: Neo Central is another science-fiction story. This one set in the future where the world has rebuilt itself after a terrible apocalypse that only left one city standing. It’s a what-if tale of a young boy and girl who live on the fringes of a futuristic society. Sixteen year old Equinox journeys to the city to find her long-lost father after her mother dies and her best friend, nine-year old Nano follows after her.
The story separates to follow both of them as they try to fit in to different aspects of society, Equinox to the privileged side of life, and Nano with the poor and disenfranchised revolutionaries who live underground. Eventually they are reunited but with the knowledge that trying to fit in and conform to society is a process that wil l leave them both changed forever.
JP: I read in your profile you like to do sword fights and in dress in costumes. Do you have any theatre training?
JD: Yes, I do. I attended the University of Windsor and have a BA in Dramatic Arts, but not for acting. My specific training was for everything behind the scenes from script writing to scene painting, costumes and lights. Originally I thought I would become a stage manager or technical director for the theatre, but life had other plans. These days I work with a small video game studio producing their title games and handling the business end of things. I find that my experience in theatre has taught me how to handle projects of all kinds and live with the philosophy that ‘whatever happens, the show must go on!
JP: What are the lessons you learned in writing the Crimson Winter trilogy that you took into Mirror’s Hope?
JD: That’s a tough question. The two are very different. Little things come to mind, like how I learned a lot about scene transitions. For example making scenes and chapters end and begin in ways that make you want to keep reading so you don’t put the book down. Also, how to effectively change perspectives and make clear the passage of time.
I have to say that the most helpful skill I learned from writing Crimson Winter is how to write engaging combat scenes and really escalate the tension as the story progresses. Mirror’s Hope doesn’t have the same kind of epic battle sequences as Crimson Winter, rather more personal conflicts, but I’ve endeavored to make them as intense and memorable as I can.
JP: What is Mirror’s Hope about?
JD: Glad you asked! Mirror’s Hope is a romance in a dark fantasy setting. Mirena Calanais lives in a world where common morality is reversed and she’s considered a social outcast for being a kind-hearted individual.
Her biggest wish is to change the world and make society see that there’s a better way and she’s given her chance when the prophesized ‘Avatar of the Light’ appears rather unexpectedly in her room in the middle of the night. Naturally, she falls for him, but when they plot to take on the tyrant who rules over the society, they find that they both have very different ideas of how change should brought about.
Tendro wants to take the honest approach and fight with the help of like-minded individuals, but for Mirena the stakes are personal and she decides to seduce the Panarch to get in close enough to take him down. Risking it all to get what she wants, Mirena realizes too late that everything has a price and sometimes that price is more than one person can pay alone.
JP: I really get the sense that Mirror’s Hope is a more personal story than Crimson Winter. Do you prefer writing about personal conflicts or more existential ones?
JD: Personal. I try to find the personal conflict in everything. A story is nothing to me if it doesn’t have the development of the characters that live through it. Mirror’s Hope is a romance, so by it’s nature the conflicts the heroine face are more personal ones, but even in Crimson Winter, which is an epic story spanning a whole planet and a whole cast of characters, Yukari’s tale is still very much her personal journey and coming of age story. She tells the story in the first person so you can really get a sense of how each conflict affects her. See, there I go… talking about Yukari like she’s the one telling the story instead of me. I can’t help it; the characters just become so real to me.
you can purchase the Crimson Winter Trilogy at Justine’s webstore at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/justinealleydowsett and Justine’s WordPress is located here at http://firstagestudios.wordpress.com where she talks about her video games as well. Her facebook is https://www.facebook.com/pages/First-Age-Studios-Publications/122837281113118 and you can follow her on twitter at @JustineADowsett. I want to thank Justine for her time and patience. Check out her works. You won’t be disappointed.