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Today's Chat with Sarah features Jude Austin author of Project Tau as well as Homecoming.
To view the author's page on the bookshelves, click here.
1. Did you always want to be an author? If not, what was your dream job when you were younger?
It always amazes me that people think I had a choice in writing. Like I sat down one day and thought, "Right, I want to try being a writer." I've never not been writing, so it wasn't so much a "I want to be an author!" as "I'm a writer and I'll always be a writer."
That said, I was as impressionable as a ball of wax when I was a child, so my thoughts changed with the wind. If we got back from the dentist, I wanted to be a dentist. I had to have surgery on both my legs as a child to help me walk properly, so after that, I wanted to be a nurse. Most of these were just me being me I have always had a fascination with medical science, though, so maybe that had something to do with it.
2. What other authors have influenced your writing?
Hard to say, but probably Terry Pratchett.
3. Describe a typical day of writing for you.
That's hard. Well, no, it's very simple; it's just hard to make interesting. I get up, I go downstairs and fend off the cat's attempts to kill my evil feet, sit down on the couch, turn on Netflix and write. That's basically it. I don't eat breakfast and I often don't bother with lunch, so there's nothing to get in the way of the writing.
4. What's the most challenging part of writing?
Besides sneak attacks from a cat when I'm halfway through a sentence? I'm not sure, really. Getting the word out and getting people to know about your book is a huge challenge.
5. What's the best part of writing?
It's hard to pin down one moment. My personal best moment (overlapping with a huge amount of SQUEE! from my direction) was seeing my name against Favorite Author on a couple of profiles on this board.
6. How many books are in your head waiting to be written? Can you tell us about one?
Too many! Amy Saunders proved so popular as a character that she's getting her own spin-off series of spy novels, but that's for the future. I also want to start on that fantasy series as well at some point.
However, the one I'm really looking forward to writing is Projects Book 4 (working title The Worlds We Know). Book 3 – which I'm working on now – deals with the final remaining enemies from Project Tau and Homecoming and Book 4 starts a completely new arc with the characters. It drastically changes the universe of the Projects books and everything the characters know or think they know about their civilizations. Backstories shall be revealed! Revelations shall be made! Plots shall be twisted! And for those of you who have read Homecoming and are curious, the mystery of what happened to Sigma will also finally be revealed
7. Can you tell us a bit more about the publishing process? What do you like and hate about it?
For me, the best part is the cover design. I run a contest for designers via 99designs, and I love seeing what people come up with.
Hate has to be Kindle Unlimited. (laughs) Authors get very, very little in the way of royalties from KU compared to people buying books directly. Unfortunately, if I want a big piece of the royalty pie (70% vs. 35%) for a book, I have to enroll it in KDP Select, and that automatically means I have to enroll in KU.
I don't know about publishing audiobooks; Project Tau is due to be released as an audiobook, probably later this year, but I'm very new to that process, so we'll see how it goes.
8. Tell us about some literary criticism you've gotten and how you handle it.
Ooh, can I? Can I really? Okay, but you might want to get comfortable; this is going to be a long one, even by my standards.
One criticism I get occasionally is that of sexism. This ranges from "the main characters in Project Tau are all male" (true) to "women are in stereotypical women's roles" (not true; at least, not unless you count a female James Bond – Amy – an extremely qualified and high-ranking scientist – Lin – a scientist who's acknowledged to be very talented – Jones – and the head of security and immigration for an entire planet – Samara – as "stereotypical women's roles." ) to "this author obviously thinks that women in the future won't have the same kinds of job opportunities as men and that gender equality will take a huge step backwards" (definitely not true and blatantly contradicted by the presence in-book of the two female scientists, one of whom is the only person who calls Dennison out on his treatment of the Projects. There are no babies in Project Tau either, but just because they're not in that particular lab doesn't mean that they don't exist).
The other one is that I make pop culture references to movies, which – for some reason – is seen as a bad thing. There's a very simple reason for this, and it's called the Library of Congress National Film Preservation Board. Taken from the site: "Established by the National Film Preservation Act of 1988, the National Film Preservation Board works to ensure the survival, conservation and increased public availability of America's film heritage." With the exception of Aliens and Rain Man – which I took the liberty of thinking would be added in the future – all the references Kata makes are to movies which were selected for preservation. When people went on what we know was a one-way trip to settle a new planet (Akkhen) they took copies of these selected movies with them, since it would be a while before they could get down to the business of making movies of their own. Simple Same goes for the fact that they use dollars: it never specifies US dollars anywhere in the book, and it's just the name they use for their currency, even if they put different faces on the bills, and very few people understand where the word originally came from.
There was also one reviewer on Amazon who seemed to think that I wrote Project Tau purely as an allegory for the treatment of African-Americans (with special reference to the slave trade) and knocked off two stars because of "a lack of historical analysis and the inability to bridge the gap between fiction and reality." I remember reading it and thinking, "Wow, where on earth did you get that idea from?" (laughs)
Seriously, I want to clear this up right now: Project Tau is not, nor should it be automatically taken as any kind of allegory, or even a "this is the same story retold in the future, look how history repeats itself" book. It's just a story about human cloning in the future, and how it could be open to abuse. I can truthfully and categorically say that none of the inspiration behind Project Tau and the Projects universe had anything to do with history, much less that part of history, and that historical comparisons/allegories never once crossed my mind while I was writing it. I'm not American, and my knowledge of the African-American slave trade in that country is far too limited for me to even attempt a straight story about it, let alone an allegory.
While Project Tau has garnered a few negative reviews, that was the only one that struck me as unfairly harsh, since I was being penalized for not doing something that I'd never had any intentions of doing, in a book that's never been any kind of allegory. Just because Fictional Character A's situation has some similarities with Historical Figure B's, it doesn't automatically mean that the author's intention was to link the two
So yeah. I won't lie; it does kind of bug/baffle me when people take flying leaps of logic and then treat those leaps as though they're proven facts instead of an opinion or assumption. To be fair, it's not just reviewers: my beta reader does it too. We're working on Projects 3 (no title yet!) and in one of the Tau chapters, she said, "Oh, I see what you did there! Yeah, nice; you got in a little bit of a conservationist message!" or "Ooh, sneaky; you got in a dig at social media and Twitter! I like it!" and my response to both of those was basically, "What the frell are you talking about?"
At the end of the day, I'm just a writer. I do love it when readers say that my books stay with them and make them think, but it's more important to me that people enjoy them and let the stories be what they are: just stories written to entertain, with no agenda, or allegory, or any kind of social commentary behind them That's not to say that the issues raised shouldn't be taken seriously; just that they exist as a part of the story and not the reason behind it.
As to how I handle criticism, I have a set of rules that I call FCO (Follow, Consider, Overrule).
FOLLOW: If it's valid criticism, such as I misspelled a word, or a continuity error, or – in the case of Homecoming – a sentence somehow duplicated itself (I swear I have no idea how that happened!) then I edit the book and republish the corrected version.
CONSIDER: This is when the reviewer picks up on something that isn't an error, but could be made better. The best example of this is the use of the phrase, "put paid to something." Where I grew up, it was a very common expression meaning, "put an end to/put a stop to" but quite a few reviewers flagged it up as an error. Basically, if only one or two people comment on it, it's not worth editing. If a lot of people are pointing it out, then I'll consider rewriting it.
OVERRULE: I ignore the criticism completely and get on with my life
Generally speaking, I don't dwell on negative reviews. One lesson I learned very early is that you're never going to please everyone in this business, so I aim to please the majority instead.
9. How many bookshelves are in your house?
Containing actual books? Two. I need to buy another one. In my first apartment, one wall of my bedroom was literally floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, but I've moved about so much since then that most of my books are now electronic. I have a third one, but it's full of DVDs, which I rarely watch anymore thanks to my new smart-TV.
10. Are you on social media? How can your readers interact with you?
My Ask the Author thread right here on OBC is the best way. As an author, I can't comment on reviews or send any PMs, so Ask the Author is the easiest way to touch base with me. Ask me anything, or just stop by to say Hi. Don't worry; I'm friendly
I'm also on Twitter at JudeAustin18, and I have an official newsletter which you can sign up for at my website: Issues come out at the beginning of every month, so if you want to keep tabs on my writing progress and get sneak peeks at future books, that's the best way.
A few more fun questions:
11. Would you rather be in a room full of snakes or spiders?
If I had to pick, probably snakes. I'm fine with spiders if I can see them – I adopted a house spider, who I called Rufus, when I was in the UK – but overall, I much prefer snakes.
12. Coke or Pepsi?
Coke. Actually, Dr. Pepper, but that's not an option, so I'll go with Coke
13. Can you share a link to your favorite song?
I can, but it's in Japanese. I found an English-subbed version, but the video quality's pretty low. Still, here you go!
-Louisa May Alcott
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Great interview, thanks.
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