Interview with Steve Rossiter: Possessing Freedom blog tour

Friday, October 26, 2012

Steve Rossiter runs Writing Teen Novels and the Australian Literature Review blogs, and is the editor and one of the contributors to Possessing Freedom, an integrated YA short story collection, set in Melbourne in 2026. Rhiannon Hart, author of Blood Song and Blood Storm, is also a contributor, as well as Beau Hillier and Belinda Dorio. We discussed how authors should promote themselves online, collaborative writing, and supernatural thrillers!

In Possessing Freedom, your stories alternate with two of Belinda Dorio's stories, and both your characters interact in a psych ward. Do you enjoy co-writing like this? Is it more challenging than writing alone, or is it easier, creatively-speaking, to have another writer and their ideas to interact with?
Co-writing like this was enjoyable, and it is not necessarily any more or less difficult than writing alone. We had group discussions to hammer out the details and arrive at a common understanding of things like the characters, the setting and the story-world.

Since the stories had to match up and progress the larger novel-length story, there were some limitations on what could be written in each story but these limitations were useful starting points for ideas. We were able to bounce ideas off one another then run with the ideas we liked and build on them

Possessing Freedom is set in 2026, and the Life and Times of Chester Lewis charts one-hundred years, from the 1930s to the 2030s, and you have an upcoming novel set in 1939 - how (and how much) do you research?
Possessing Freedom was largely based on what we knew going into the project, with the future setting providing more of an opportunity for playing around with the Melbourne setting than predicting what we thought Melbourne would be like in 2026. I had previous knowledge about hospitals and medical professionals from my experience as a simulated patient for medical school exams (where I would act as a patient and my character would be diagnosed, assessed or be explained something by the medical student).  
My approach to the research for the novel is very different. My aim is to create a novel which will be both entertaining for teen readers and a serious historical novel for adult readers.

Set in western Poland in 1939, at the time of the German invasion and occupation that marked the beginning of World War 2, I want it to be a realistic depiction of my characters' lives. I had read books and watched documentaries on WW2 covering the invasion of Poland, and read some novels and watched some films set in WW2 Poland, prior to deciding to write the novel. However, many of these focused on military and political strategy in the larger context of WW2, were focused on Warsaw rather than western Poland, or were focused on the plight of Jewish people in WW2. My research involves learning more about the local area where my novel is set; what daily life was like for the locals before the invasion, during the invasion and during German occupation; the day-to-day events of the invasion and occupation which impact on my story; and the details of specific locations which feature in the novel.

I read guides to Poland with lots of photos and maps, I read books on the German occupation of Poland, I read books on Polish customs and folklore, I have a Polish cook book to help me familiarise myself with Polish food, I watch relevant documentaries (and ones with archival fottage from the time are particularly useful), I watch relevant YouTube videos, I research online, I read novels and watch films (and listen DVD commentaries from the filmmakers) to get ideas for further research, I am in touch with numerous novelists who have set novels in WW2 Poland and Germany (which may be useful later) and I am thinking of taking a reasearch trip to Poland.

Is there anything in particular you do in order to generate ideas? Were there any specific inspirations for Possessing Freedom?
I like to generate ideas by experiencing a diverse range of stories and learning in diverse areas. Making connections other people would not make and bringing things together in a way other people would not think to, is a recipe for an original story. A well-rounded knowledge also avoids the trap of falling in with a particular crowd and just advance the same ideas as them.

The inspiration for Possessing Freedom emerged from collaborative discussons. At our first meeting, I put it to everyone that the most common writing interest amongst the group was Young Adult pranormal/fantasy and everyone agreed. We all agreed that things like vampires and werewolves had been done a lot in recent years and we wanted something something that was not so overdone. Ghosts were suggested and the idea of our own version of ghosts  appealed to everyone. Belinda brought a rough draft along to the following meeting about Alice, a 17 year old girl called in a psych ward, and that became a catalyst for developing the rest of the book.
Possessing Freedom is a supernatural thriller. What are your favourite stories or novels in this genre?
In a recent interview, I was asked for an "X meets Y" description of Possessing Freedom and I suggested The Sixth Sense meets Heart and SoulsThe Sixth Sense fits the description of supernatural thriller whereas Heart and Souls is more of a supernatural comedy. The Sixth Sense works well as the story of the boy who sees ghosts and as the story of the psychiatrist who is trying to help him.

Some supernatural thrillers I like which come to mind are Stephen King's supernatural novels, the Blade movies (which are about vampires, but before vampire stories were everywhere), the novels of Maria V Snyder (who also workshopped a version of the first story from Possessing Freedom during her tour of Australia and New Zealand in 2011), the short story collection Fear (published by International Thriller Writers/Random House and edited by RL Stine) and Edgar Allen Poe's short stories. I have also described Possessing Freedom as paranormal suspense and it has been described as horror.
What is your opinion on the YA market being flooded with vampire romance titles? Are you a fan?
Generally, I prefer realistic stories over fantasy stories and stories where romance is a minor element instead over stories where romance is the major element. However, there are exceptions. When it comes to fantasy and romance (and other genres, but particularly these ones), two big factors which separate good stories from the not-so-good are originality and knowledge of the subject matter. Fantasy and romance are genres which draw a lot of writers who think those are genres they can write and have succes in without a lot of knowledge and research. This positives and negatives. Since these are considered by many to be the low-knowledge, low-research genres they attract lots of readers who want to become published novelists, which boosts book slaes, which in turn helps novelists have the resources to develop their writing skills (or not). However, most books of these genres are less likely to be taken seriously by people who appreciate high-knowledge, high-research novels.

Broadly, I am not a fan of flooding the market with vampire romance titles because many of them are generic/derivative and I, along with many other readers, appreciate originality. That does not mean that a great, original vampire romance won't come along but I would recommend writing about something else until the fad dies down and vampire romance is not seen as jumping on the generic bandwagon.
What advice would you give to authors (particularly YA writers) when promoting themselves online?
First of all, a few things to avoid:
Don't post ads on other people's facebook walls.
Don't post ads as comments on other people's blogs.
Don't be a salesperson delivering advertising copy.
Don't write over-the-top third person descriptions of yourself.
Now, things which will help:
Aim for quality over quantity.
Have at least one social media profile/page where people can follow you, and preferrably also an author website/blog.
Group blogs are a good way for each author to a greater range of readers than they would individually.
Provide content which will be useful and interesting to other people.
Write a quality piece of work you are proud of and happy to discuss with other people.
Find activities which you enjoy and which work for you.
Don't follow the crowd. Separate yourself from the crowd and stand out to the people who would enjoy your fiction.
The number of followers/friends someone has on social media sites is not necessarily an indication of how many people read their updates or click through to their website/blog and read the content there. It is easy to get thousands of followers who are not interested in your writing. Several hundred, or even several, who are interested in your writing are of much more benefit to you as a writer than the illusion of a lot of supporters. (If people on Twitter stop following you because you don't follow them, they are not a genuine follower and unlikely to become one. If they are chasing follow-backs they also probably have a Twitter stream so cluttered with updates they are unlikely see many of yours.)
What is your writing process like? Are writing first drafts quick and easy, and rewriting painful? Is editing your favourite part?
Ideally, I like to become thoroughly familiar with my subject matter, generate a great story concept, research the fine points of the subject matter while developing a reasonably detailed plan, write the first draft in an intensive writing period, refine that draft, get feedback from a few readers (from editors or publishers and/or general readers), and add the finishing touches.

With this method, a lot of the structural editing is done before the actual writing begins and the writing is done with a depth of knowledge and a clear plan to guide the writing process, making the editing a matter of fine-tuning details.
Imagining you could travel back in time and meet yourself without tearing the fabric of the universe, what advice would you give your younger self (say, as a teenager) about writing and life?
I would advise my younger self: Do what you enjoy and find a way to cover your living expenses from doing what you enjoy. Then you will truly have the opportunity to achieve great things.


(And here's the blurb for the book, if you're curious...)

If you can’t see yourself, how do you know you exist?
Melbourne, Australia: 2026
Alice Travers, 17, is stuck in a psych ward. When she discovers her imaginary friends are ghosts, and that some of them are not so friendly, things get complicated.
Told in 12 short stories by four authors, Possessing Freedom plays out a supernatural thriller for Young Adult readers through 6 interlinked point of view characters.
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