Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Feature: Interview with Mur Lafferty

Every Tuesday, I'll have an interview posted.

Mur Lafferty is the author of Playing for Keeps and Tricks of the Podcasting Masters. She has published fiction with the podcast Escape Pod, Scrybe Press, Murky Depths and Hub Magazine. She currently maintains the podcasts Heaven, I Should Be Writing, and The Takeover.

Thanks for agreeing to do the interview and congrats with finding a publisher for Playing for Keeps. Let's focus first on your upcoming novel. For unfamiliar readers, can you tell us what the book is about?

Playing For Keeps is a story about people with lame superpowers who are manipulated by heroes and villains. The heroes are brave, shining, and fighting for good, but they're jerks and bullies. The villains are clearly bad guys, but they're much nicer. Our protagonists have to figure out who to support when all their lives they've been told that their powers are worthless. Keepsie Branson is the heroine, with the power to keep anything that is given to her; no one can take it away. it's a passive power that no one has respected until one of the supervillains gives her something that the heroes want.

What about you or the book in your opinion caught the attention of Swarm Press? How does it feel to have your novel finally picked up by a publisher after a long time sending it out to agents?

They liked the book, of course, but they also respected my ability to gather a large audience for the book on my own. Small presses don't have a lot of marketing dollars, and they like authors who are willing to work. I'd already proved that I am just that.

This isn't limited to Playing for Keeps but what made you decide to podcast your unpublished novels (as opposed to simply uploading the text on your blog ala John Scalzi)? As one of the first wave of podcast authors who are finally getting published in print, do you think podcasting is a viable method for new writers to break into the industry?

I've loved podcasting since 2004, and when Scott Sigler and Tee Morris showed what could be done with the medium, I saw it as first an experimental place to try out episodic fiction (with Heaven) and then as a place to put my novel that I couldn't find publishing for.

You're previously made the Playing for Keeps PDF available for download and you're going to re-release the PDF before the book's release date. What are some of the bonuses you're planning to include in the Ultra Mega Mega PDF? How do you think making your novel freely available as a downloadable PDF promotes Playing for Keeps?

The Ultra Mega Mega PDF will include the whole book, all of the original artwork done by Jared Axelrod, Natalie Metzger and JC Hutchins, then an original short story bridging the first and second book in the series, called "Parasite Awakens".

Aside from the podcast and the PDF, what are some of your other plans in promoting the novel? How can fans/readers help support/promote the book?

I'm running a video contest for the Playing For Keeps song, details are at playingforkeepsnovel.com. I'm have asked for other podcasters and writers to contribute content to revive the fancast, Stories of the Third Wave, which launched August 1. Fans can help out by spreading the word, blogging, reviewing and tagging on Amazon, and buying on the 25th. I also have a street team at thirdwave.ning.com where I assign more specific tasks.

I hope you don't take offense at this question but do you think you'd ever get your novel published if it weren't for the fact that you're Mur Lafferty, podcasting goddess, and that you already have an established fan base?

You have to remember that Podcasting is a small niche of Internet content. And SF podcasting is even smaller. Sure, I have a fan base, but it's wee compared to mainstream lit, or even SF lit. So I'd like to hope that it's based on the content, cause I'm bringing something to the table, but it's still pretty minor compared to other Internet celebs.

What's the appeal of podcasts for you?

As a listener? I like having content delivered to me. It's such a simple thing, and yet it's revolutionized internet content.

As a podcaster? It's a new playground that has plenty of room for experimentation. We still have explored all the possibilities of this medium.

What gave you the idea to start podcasting?

A friend told me he was interested in podcasting, I started listening, wondered what I could bring to the space, and I had all these essays lying around that I could sell, so I started podcasting them.

I love your I Should Be Writing podcast and you obviously do a lot of podcasting, everything from podcasting your novels to reading other author's short stories for other shows. What are some of the challenges you run into when tackling that particular medium?

I dislike audio editing. It's like dishes- it rarely takes as long as I fear it will, but I still dread doing it the next time. And when I read other peoples' work, especially fantasies, I often run into impossible pronunciations. When the author isn't me, or isn't there, I just have to wing it.

Do you think there's a short story or novel out there that simply doesn't translate well to podcasts? How about a short story or novel that gets better when it gets podcasted?

I think a story or novel with computer slang, images such as handwritten letters, purposeful misspellings, anything with visual clues are very hard to bring out in audio. On the other hand, stories that are dialogue heavy or description-rich can benefit from a talented narrator, and I think first person tales work best in audio.

In your opinion, is there a significant difference between reading a text as opposed to hearing a text?

When you're listening, you can do other things. Drive, clean, garden, exercise. When you're reading, you really can't concentrate on much else. But when yo'ure reading, it's a lot easier to skip around the book to find something you've already read, or re-read a passage, or make notes, whatever. There are trade-offs.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I think I was 12 or 13 at the time. It was before high school, I know that.

What are some of your favorite books or who are some of your favorite authors?

I love Connie Willis, Neil Gaiman, Minister Faust, Ursula K Le Guin. I think Willis and Gaiman are my biggest influences, though.

How did you get your start in the fantasy/science fiction field?

Escape Pod bought my first story, and I've always written stuff that's closer to SF than "literature", so I knew I'd always be into SFF.

Some of your early work involves writing for gaming companies and magazines. How did you break into that industry?

I had a friend who was getting out of writing for White Wolf, and he recommended me to a colleague of his. I got my first job that way, and then moved on to write in several other RPGs. As for computer gaming, I just interviewed for a job as a webmaster.

I heard in some of the gaming podcasts that interviewed you that lately, you don't have much time for games but what were some of your favorite games back when you had the time to play them?

I don't have time for RPGs, but back in the day it was D&D, Shadow Run and World of Warcraft. Board gaming I still do, and I like Arkham Horror, Puerto Rico, Too Many Cooks, and most anything designed by James Ernest (Cheapass Games).

How has your game writing credits aided you in your writing career? Do you think it's a natural transition to move from RPG writing to novel writing?

Yes and no. Yes in that it teaches you writing skills, grammar skills and respect for deadlines. No, because RPG writing is not always respected outside of gaming, and it doesn't really teach you how to plot. An RPG writer's job is to introduce storylines, write backstories, or at the most creative fiction scenes, but never the beginning, middle and end to a story. Our job was to put the spark of an idea into a GM's mind and let THEM run the story as they see fit. I think the stigma about RPG writers is that every book we write will come out sounding like a typical D&D adventure.

What advice do you have for people hoping to break into the gaming industry?

That question has too many answers! First what kind of gaming, then what do they want to do? For computer gaming, if you want to do art or engineering, you need a degree. For QA, you need diligence and attention to details and patience - play in a bunch of beta tests. For design, you need to be a good writer and have taken some games that allow for level design and design some levels.

In RPGs, run games at cons, get to know the people who work the booth at your favorite company, and run more games.

For board games? I have no idea!

How about advice for people hoping to start podcasting?

Get a mic and do it. Listen to some good ones, pick up some books (I recommend Tricks of the Podcasting Masters, by Robert Walch and Mur Lafferty), and start playing. That's how a lot of us got started.

Advice for aspiring writers aside from listening to your wonderful podcast, I Should Be Writing?

My new bit of Important Advice is- if you want to do this professionally (and if you want to get paid, you want to do it professionally), act like a pro. Confident, nice, respectful. If you find yourself talking to a junior editor, or an assistant, don't blow them off - they're your best ally in getting to the editor or agent. Just be nice.

Anything else you'd like to plug?

I do have an audio drama I'm working on writing called The Takeover. It's six episodes into a 10 episode season, and can be found at zombinc.net. It's about corporate zombies (literal corporate zombies).

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