As long as you have a pronunciation that’s easy for you, I’m happy. But I wrote it as NIGH-uh. Ny as in dye. Uh as in, well, uh.
What gave you the idea for The Pain Merchants?
It was a long process. I first had the idea of shifting pain about five or six years ago. I wrote up a bunch of notes, realized the story was terrible, and stuffed them in a file. Then two years ago I was at the Surrey International Writers Conference and the presenters were stressing originality. I was pitching my first real novel, a prophecy quest story that was not very original. I came back all fired up and started digging through my old ideas to see if anything would work. I came across those old notes, still thought the story was terrible, but the idea of pain shifting stayed with me. Somewhere the idea of buying and selling pain developed (I honestly can’t say how) and I started world building. I wanted to know how a society that bought and sold pain would work. That led to the Healer’s League and how healing worked and the world came together.
Then one day, I was watching TV and came across a rerun of the TV show Firefly. Part of that show’s backstory is that the heroes were on the losing end of a civil war. I loved that idea and knew right away Geveg had lost a war for independence, and that my hero was an orphan of that war. It all started to fall into place then. After that, it was just your basic, who is my hero? What problem do they face? What’s the worst that can happen? brainstorming to develop the plot.
I read that one of your favourite books as a kid was The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I love that book! What were your other favourite books/authors as a middle grader? What are your favourites today?
I was a huge fan of The Black Stallion series by Walter Farley. Nancy Drew’s were big. I read every Judy Blume, Paula Danzinger and Lois Duncan I could get my hands on. I also read a lot of the old classic sci fi, like Asimov, Pohl, Niven, etc. My father was a big fan and I borrowed his books a lot. Recent favorites are Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls series, Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series, Susan Beth Pfieffer’s Life As We Knew It, Jay Asher’s 13 Reasons Why, Kathleen Duey’s Resurrection of Magic series. I just started Joseph Delaney’s The Last Apprentice series (on book two now) but I’m loving it. (I think some of those are YA though)
Hemingway reportedly called his six-word story ("For sale: baby shoes, never worn") his best work. What can you tell us about your book in six words? (They don't have to be your best six.)
Eek, six words? Hmmm… “My sister’s in trouble, Gotta run.”
When did you write your first novel?
I was eight. It was a four-book series about dog archaeologists called “Dog City.” (So original.) My first real book (written with the intent to try and sell it) was about ten years or so ago, but I’ve always written.
Apart from your main character, who's your favourite character in your book?
Oooo that’s a toughy. I think Jeatar, because I haven’t figured him out yet. He’s hiding depths and tragedy under that cool exterior and I want to know what they are.
What was your reaction when you found out you'd sold your book?
SQUUEEEEEEE!!!!!!! Over and over. Lots of happy dancing and giggling. And jumping up and down.
You've got heaps of events coming up to promote your new release! Are there any in particular that we online lurkers should keep an eye out for?
Let’s see, on the 6th I’ll be over at John Scalzi’s Whatever talking about the Big Idea for the book. Interviews over at YA Highway next week, The Enchanted Inkpot on the 21st, First Novels Club also on the 6th, and Sierra Godfrey’s blog on the 7th. Guest blogs on Tall Tales and Short Stories later this month with a contest for a signed book. There’s also an interview in the November issue of Writer’s Digest. I think that’s it, though there are a few others still in the works.
If your readers take one thing away from this book, what would you want them to take away?
What a great story. I write to tell tales, so as long as folks enjoy it, I’m happy.
You talk a lot about writing issues and how to overcome them on your storyflip blog! What was a writing issue you had while writing The Pain Merchants?
You might not believe me, but this book was the easiest thing I ever wrote. It just felt out of my head onto the page, and I don’t really remember any of it being tough. Of course, book two is making up for that (which everyone tells me is perfectly normal). I had not written a sequel before this, and it’s been challenging trying to balance telling the second part without rehashing the first. Backstory issues, really. You want the book to stand alone, yet there’s all this stuff that influences or had influenced what happens. Maintaining the “why should I care?” factor has also been rough. It’s easy to just dive in and throw stuff at Nya, but unless she has the same level of personal need and stakes, it falls flat. I can’t just say, “Well, they liked her in book one, so that’ll carry over no matter what I have her doing.” Not true. Readers want just as good a story if not better, and I have to deliver on that. It’s getting there, and I have faith readers will be happy with it in the end, but it’s definitely taking more work than book one.
There's heaps of world-building in this - while you don't describe anything in extreme detail, I always had a very clear sense of what the scene was and what the surroundings were, not to mention the history of the world (which I think is fascinating - it seems a lot more "real" than a lot of other fantasy worlds, with more genuine problems). Did you plan out your world beforehand, or did you make it up as you went along?
Thanks! World building came first. A lot of the problems and issues in a story come from just living in that world, so I like to get a solid foundation under me before I start writing. It makes it a lot easier for me to let the story unfold naturally. There’s always some stuff that comes up as I write, and I add that in so everything ties together, but the basic socio-economic-geographic structure is there before I do anything.
So I can guess who Nya ends up with romantically. Are we going to see any of the other characters getting a bit friendlier with each other? I love it when the sidekicks get some romance as well.
I do have another romance brewing, though that won’t fully develop until book three. No more hints on that though!
I really liked the two other strong girl characters in the book - Tali and Aylin. So often, there's the heroine, and then a whole lotta boys all vying for her attention! So I thought it was great in this that there were two other strong, likeable, brave girl characters. I guess that isn't really a question, but I just wanted to say.
Thanks! I’ve always loved strong female characters, so I just naturally added a bunch. I try to make everyone strong and weak in their own way though, because people are like that.
Yeah, and I think all of the characters definitely do have their weak spots as well as their strong. Will there be more main characters in the next book, or are we sticking with the crew from the first book? Will all of the characters come back in the next book? I want to see more of Jeatar (and Lanelle, but for a different reason). Will we ever meet the Duke?
Yes, all the main characters will be back, and you’ll meet some new ones. Lanelle I can’t promise, since she pops in and out depending on the revision. (there’s a subplot that comes and goes) We haven’t seen the last of her though, so if she doesn’t make it into two, she’ll be back in three. You’ll definitely meet the Duke, but I won’t say when.
If I'm going to be honest, I'll admit that if I ever met Grannyma in person, I'd have to be restrained from throttling her. Are we going to hear many of her wise sayings in Book Two?
Throttling? Oh no! (grin) She’s Nya’s conscience in a way, so yes, more sayings from her.
I love the current opening sequence - it's one of the things that made me decide I had to buy this book, when I read it online. (I noticed when I got the book, that the back cover promised to "have fantasy fans hooked from the first sentence". I thought, cynically: Yeah, right! and turned to the first page, where I read the first sentence: "Stealing eggs is a lot harder than stealing the whole chicken." Well... I wasn't hooked necessarily, but that's a great opening sentence in a scene which gives a really good insight into Nya.) Did you play with a lot of story openings? What were other scenes you thought of starting with?
Thanks so much! I spend a ton of time on first lines because I feel they set the tone for the novel and need to be just right. I also have trouble going forward until I get the right line, so I play with it in my head for days or weeks before I start writing. For Nya’s opening scene, I knew I wanted to show her in her everyday world, show how hard it was for her to survive, reveal her shifting ability, show she was a good person even if she did bad things, and make people care about her. Her stealing food to survive did that, and by stealing eggs, it showed that she wanted to eat, but not steal someone else’s livelihood or ability to eat. It also showed that even if she did steal, she must not do it often if it was still hard for her. I also tried to get in a sense of who she is so you got to know her right away.
Is good luck generally easy to find in an empty pail?
That line makes me laugh. When I first wrote it, it really fit the tone for the book (it was the very first Grannyma saying), but when you think about it, if the pail is empty, there wouldn’t be anything in it, would there? But it just felt right for Nya to say so I kept it. Metaphorically it works, right? If there was nothing else there, you’d be able to find good luck? We use sayings every day that don’t make sense when you think about them, so why can’t Nya!