Corridors of Communication

Several updates ago I reviewed Waking in Dreamland, a fantasy novel by Jody Lynn Nye. Now I have the privilege to present the interview I've done with the author since then!
Maybe you've read some of her work. She's collaborated with Anne McCaffrey on four novels worked on two illustrated guides, one to Anne McCaffrey's Pern and one to Piers Anthony's Xanth. However, she's also done a lot of solo work, and Waking in Dreamland is only her latest.
Sadly, I'm having trouble locating any of her "solo" fiction. For some reason, the bookstores in Hawai'i don't often carry her works. although I found the aforementioned novel right away. I've recently found two more of her solo works, but it remains to be seen if I'll ever find the rest of them, and I really, really want to!
The interview that follows comes from e-mail messages sent back and forth between myself and Ms. Nye. I've filtered the interview down somewhat, but all with her approval. Enjoy!--XS
Note: images depicted here are copyrighted by Ms. Nye and posted here only with her approval.

XS=Xerxes Starfire, JN=Jody Lynn Nye

XS: We might as well start at the beginning. Is "Jody Lynn Nye" your real name?

JN: It's my full, real name.

XS: Ever thought about using a pen name?

JN: I haven't used a pen name yet, but some day I might. I've even got one picked out, but I'll just keep it to myself for now.

XS: Please tell me what it is!

JN: Let me surprise you when the day comes.

XS: Hmph. Fine. Do you think a pen name is a good thing?

JN: Pen names can be a good thing, unless they are forced upon a writer. But in the case of two or more writers working together, there is a prejudice in marketing circles against having a multiple byline, so if the writers don't mind submerging their personal trademark, a pen name is useful.

XS: Are there any other times you'd consider "good"?

JN: Well, a pseudonym also helps if a writer wants to try something far outside his/her usual realm of writing to which they don't want to accidentally drag along their usual readership, such as a children's novelist producing a hard-bitten political book.

XS: Ouch. I can imagine the chaos. What was your family life like as you were growing up?

JN: I'm the eldest of four children, and the only girl. The brother closest to me in age, Jeffrey, and I were very close growing up. My best friend, Diane, lived around the corner until we moved when I was nine (we kept in touch and now we live close again). I had a childhood rich in make-believe. Our bicycles were our horses, and they carried us to all kinds of exciting places that you would never know were in our neighborhood by looking at it.

XS: Aha! I see where Cruiser and the others came from!

JN: My grandmother had a costume and bridal rental shop. She would make me any costume I could describe to her, and taught me to sew so I could make them myself. My mother is an artist and my father is a musician--not their professions, but their avocations--so those were two more ways we learned to express ourselves. My grandfather taught me to play the flute. I went to a sleepover theater camp in Wisconsin for six years. Understanding the stage has helped me to be a more visual writer, I think.

XS: It certainly has. The images you paint with your words are as vivid as the book's cover.

JN: Thanks...I think.

XS: Who was the biggest influence on your life as you grew up?

JN: My family. My aunts, uncles, and cousins are all very close. I rely on that warm family feeling for security. I also thought a great deal of my English and Language Arts teachers who were often more friends than educators.

XS: Since we're on the subject, what level of education did you complete?

JN: I was graduated from Loyola University of Chicago in 1979. I don't have any advanced degrees. I've often regretted that, but I'm too busy at present to pursue one.

XS: What are your views on education?

JN: I think it's vital for anyone trying to get along in today's work culture to get the level of education necessary for their goals. Not everyone will require college, but it's hard to advance if you don't have it. Writers should go to college, if only to be exposed to greater realms of literature and thought than they might encounter on their own.

XS: Did you always plan on being a writer, or was there a prior ambition that held your interest?

JN: When I was in school I wanted to be a filmmaker. Like every film student, I wanted to direct! I still think I'd like to write for TV or films. The field for SF/fantasy mass media that was opened up by Star Trek in 1966 has been wonderfully expanded over the years.

XS: What other occupations have you had?

JN: I've been a file clerk, an accounting assistant, costume maker, technical operator, and technical operations manager for a television station, and all the other kinds of jobs one does on the way to a career. I've written technical articles for a magazine, been a roving photog at trade shows, calligraphed wedding invitations, and made jewelry for a friend's business. I'm sure I'm missing some jobs. All of this is grist to the word-processing mill, by the way.

XS: That's still a lot! Wow! Okay, are you married?

JN: I am married to Bill Fawcett. He's also a writer, a book packager, and an award-winning game designer ("Empire Builder," Mayfair Games).

XS: Where is home for you?

JLN: We live in the Chicago area. I've lived here all my life, except for college, camp, and travel.

XS: How important is success to you?

JN: Success to me is affirmation that people like my work, and having my books stay in print. Things like the Nobel Prize or the Pulitzer would be nice, but more than anything I want to tell the stories I want to tell, try new things, and have them accepted. I like to make people laugh. I want to entertain, and make the world a little brighter than it was when I started. There's so much dark, angry, hopeless material out there. I think the leavening of humor is necessary for mental health. I want to enjoy doing what I'm doing.

XS: Well, you've achieved success, because I definitely like your work! Okay, here's a totally irrelevant questions: what episode in life do you most want to relive or change?

JN: Doesn't everyone have a whole bunch of embarrassing or sorry things they wish they hadn't done? I wish I hadn't broken the stone in one of my favorite rings by reaching out the window to stop my rental car sliding into a rough stone wall years ago. I took the parking brake off the car, a stick shift drive, and before I could pop it into gear, it rolled backward. My imagination filled in the coming CRUNCH, and I saw my collision damage waiver deposit vanishing. Without thinking, I just thrust out my hand. Istead of CRUNCH, I heard a heartbreaking CRACK! In retrospect, I should have let the car roll.

XS: I think you're lucky you didn't break your arm in the process. Are there any other things in your life you'd do differently if you could?

JN: I might wish I'd taken the summer job on a small film set a fellow student offered me after my first year in college, but I can say that I refused it to fulfill an obligation I had made to someone else. I'm really not sorry I made that choice, since the next year I met the person who introduced me to almost the entirety of my future. I sometimes wonder if I would have had a film career, had I stayed.

XS: Well, one way or the other, you've found success. What is your greatest goal or dream in life?

JN: I haven't got a greatest goal yet.

XS: Then how about your worst fear?

JN: That I might die before I write the stories that are in my heart.

XS: I think that's any writer's worst fear. Now, what kind of topics do you prefer writing about? Fantasy and sci-fi, obviously, but anything else?

JN: I love writing fantasy and sci-fi. I want to write mysteries, too. I've got some ideas that have been on the back burner for a long time. I've also got a series of mainstream novels that I think will be fun to do one day. Heaven only knows when I'll get to them.

XS: When is the easiest time for you to write and why?

JN: Best time for me is early in the morning before anything else is happening, or any other interruptions. Sometimes very early. If I'm writing something complex I can be distracted at the drop of a hat ("oh, look! A hat on the floor! I must study this for more than an hour."), so it's better if it's just me, the cats, and the birds outside. I frequently wake up and think of something that pertains to my current project, and shortly it will fling me out of bed toward my computer.

XS: Is there a special place you like to write in?

JN: Best place to write is anywhere I'm comfortable. I can write on a lined pad on an airplane, if no one is kicking me; on the couch or in the window seat with cats fighting my laptop for space on my lap; at the kitchen table; at a bookstore signing if things are going slowly; in the back yard. I haven't written much in the bedroom.

XS: I know writing requires a lot of research, even fantasy. Do you find it tedious?

JN: I do a tremendous amount of research. Everything is better for a little. I love it, even when I'm having trouble finding what I want. I'm a library junkie. If I start wandering the stacks, who knows what I'll find? One of the things that makes research fun is how much marvelous cooperation I get from personal sources. People spend all their college years and training time learning to do something, and afterwards, no one ever asks them what they know. They just want them to DO it. I want to know what they know, and people have responded wonderfully. I've talked with chiropractors, farmers, doctors, scientists, librarians, teachers, lawyers, computer programmers, children and teenagers (you forget so much of what it was like when you grow up), older people (so much has changed in such a short time, their perspective is valuable), jewelers, woodworkers, engineers, pilots, and astronomers, to name a few.

XS: A few?

JN: A few.

XS: I see. Do you have any favorite authors?

JN: I have lots of favorites. My first love was Mark Twain, followed by (not in order) Charles Dickens, Dorothy L. Sayers, Rex Stout, Anne McCaffrey, Arthur Conan Doyle, Terry Pratchett, Joseph Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Ngaio Marsh, Margery Allingham, L. Sprague deCamp and Fletcher Pratt.

XS: That's quite a list. So is the list of your works. Is there anything missing from your website's list?

JN: I don't think anything is missing from the bibliography except the articles I published for a technical magazine in the early '80's.

XS: Has there ever been a work you regretted submitting?

JN: If I don't like something while I'm writing it, I rewrite it or trash it.

XS: I usually do the same thing with all my writing assignments. That reminds me: did you take any writing courses while you were in college?

JN: One. Along the way, while in college, I thought I needed a class to help me learn to write, so I took a creative writing course. I don't think it helped much, except for making me actually put something on paper. The teacher derided genre fiction and said he prefered "day in the life" stories, but when the grades came out, the only A's he gave were to me and my two buddies, for a mystery, an SF story, and a military thriller. Mine was the mystery.

XS: A strange instructor story, but I understand what you mean. Writing classes force you to produce. Has writing become easier or more difficult for you since you started writing?

JN: In a way it is harder, because I am more critical of what I do. I know more, and expect more of myself. It's easier in that I am better at organizing my thoughts, and judging whether something will make a good story or not, or even a story at all.

XS: What's the easiest thing about writing?

JN: Coming up with ideas. If I live long enough to write every idea I've ever had, I will never die.

XS: What's the most difficult thing?

JN: The hardest thing is being edited. I hate going over the edit copy for corrections. Anyone who tells you that they're not emotionally involved in their work is lying.

XS: Is it easier or more difficult to collaborate on works?

JN: I find it more difficult. Probably because, so far, I've been doing it at such incredible distances: Florida, Ireland, New Orleans. It works wonderfully when you and the other writer or writers have close to the same vision about the project at hand, and where you are able to respect one another's expertise, but it becomes a drag when there is a dominance battle. I had very successful collaborations with Anne and Piers because I acknowledged that they were in charge (no ego problem for me--great on-the-job training!), and they liked what I did. I know plenty of people who have collaborated at sword's point because they didn't give one another enough room or respect. Collaboration is a marriage sanctioned by publishers instead of civil law. It can be heaven or hell. My ideal collaborator is someone who has the same kind of sense of humor I do, but divergent realms of experience, and lives close enough to be face-to-face with me on a regular basis.

XS: What advice would you offer to anyone thinking about becoming a writer?

JN: One, don't wait for permission; start writing. Write a lot. Practice. Read a lot. Two, learn your craft. Grammar counts; so do spelling and punctuation. It is not true that if your story is wonderful the editors will be happy to correct all your errors. If you intend to become a pro, show your work to people you trust, and listen to them. If you haven't got anyone in your family or circle of friends who can read critically (or is interested in your genre), join a writers' workshop or take a course. If you can't take editing, you are not going to be published. Three, be a professional. The moment you put an envelope in the mail to a magazine or a book publisher, you are accepting all the rules that they set down, and that includes patience and courtesy. It is a buyer's market and always will be.

XS: All of that makes perfect sense. Now, let's get to the really good stuff: the book! Where did you come up with the idea for the novel? Surely you didn't just say, "I'm going to write about a world that's always magically changing according to the whims of some sleeping mind," did you?

JN: Actually, it did come out of the notion that things are always changing in dreams. I can recall my dreams fairly well--at least when I first wake up. Some I continue to recall years later, like the falling dream of Chapter One. The plot itself came along gradually once I had a notion for the world itself. I wanted to write a fantasy that wasn't like anything else I'd read. The 'rules' for the Dreamland evolved gradually, although I found that I'd been obeying them all along, when I went back to check.

XS: It's hard for me to imagine what would be truly evil in a world where dreams and nightmares are reality. It's similarly difficult for me to picture what the greatest hardship to a land constantly in turmoil. Yet, you come up with the most logical threat of all. Could you talk about it and how you came up with it?

JN: If we do make all the people, things and places we dream, then logically the greatest threat to them is if we cease to dream them. I realized that when I dream, the landscape frequently seems familiar. That may be a function of my mind insisting that it is, whether or not it really is. It provides a stable basis for my dreams, and by extensions, the dreams of everyone else whose minds travel to that place. Hence, the Seven Sleepers, who provide the basic terrain.

XS: I'm following, go on.

JN: Dreams ARE the way we clear our minds while we sleep, so it seemed logical that in a cooperative universe, the people in our dreams probably know they're being dreamed. I am sure some of them resent it, but mostly they would be honored to serve their creators. They, like us, would be afraid to die or change beyond recognition, so they would fear Changeover, when the Sleeper dreaming a province goes away and another comes. I had to leave some facets of the people the same so the readers would not be confused. I chose name, personality, and control of their surroundings, a.k.a. influence. Height, weight, color, species, animate or inanimate, solid, liquid or gaseous, all could vary depending on the circumstances in which they found themselves, but the being inside all that would be the same. As a result, the kind of person who would stand out was one who defied all those rules. I wanted Roan to be able to have access to where events occured and the authority to control his own movements, so the job of King's Investigator suggested itself.

XS: I...think I understood that.

JN: Also, remember that villains never see themselves as villains. They always justify their actions in a way that satisifies them. Each villain will have reasons why he or she (or they) does what s/he does, and why s/he doesn't want to be thwarted.

XS: Let's try another approach. Where did the bookstore come from?

JN: The bookstore is a hyperextension of how I feel about bookstores. I can't pass one without getting sucked in. So, in the town of Reverie, people get sucked helplessly into the bookstore.

XS: You know, I can't resist going in myself. How is it you managed to work so many comic elements into the story?

JN: Because dreams are funny. They represent the juxtaposition of the expected with the unexpected. The mind naturally makes puns out of what it hears but does not understand.

XS: Okay, enough about the Dreamland. Let's talk characters. Was it easy or difficult to create your characters? The main characters were stable enough, but what about the supporting cast, like Bergold? How did you establish him without stabilizing the character into a single form?

JN: As I said above, I left the personality intact when I changed the body. Even in the Waking World we can fail to recognize others that we know well, if they have undergone a distinct physical change, saw weight loss, or a change in hair style, hair color, sex change, or even location. Haven't you ever run into your mailman in the grocery and can't place who he is?

XS: Can't say that I have.

JN: Well, in the Dreamland, the body will often reflect the personality. People without sufficient control of their reality will be changed more drastically more often. Bergold could control his shape more than he does, but he allows it to happen because he is very secure. A few of the characters, like the princess, represent more than one dreaming mind. Because of her position, she is more archetypal than individual, although she develops over the course of the book. She was a little harder to construct than the others. Sometimes, my unconscious makes happy chemistry out of the personalities I've designed. In the beginning, Colenna and Spar were only traveling together. I had no intentions at the start of having them fall in love. It just happened.

XS: I like Roan. Considering how much care and effort went into him, I assume you like him, too.

JN: I do like Roan. He is my hero and main character, as well as being the central reference character for the reader. Who among us has not felt like the only petunia in an onion patch? It doesn't help his situation that he is very much aware of how he strikes people. Human beings--and they are the source of most of the dreams in Dreamland--are afraid of change, of anything that is different than they are. Roan knows it, and is sensitive enough that their response can hurt him.

XS: Why doesn't Roan change?

I made Roan changeless so he would stand out. His immutability is also an advantage in going about his job.

XS: What were the hardest and easiest things about writing this novel?

JN: Hardest was keeping the continuity intact. Easiest was telling a story about characters I liked. I also had moments when I laughed out loud because something struck me as funny (such as Glinn becoming an arm), and I got to put it in.

XS: How did it feel to have your very first novel--not this one, but your very first--in print?

JN: Exciting. Glorious. Humbled. Happy. Nervous. Eager to do it again. Twenty books later, it still feels the same.

XS: What are your plans now in general?

JN: I just turned in a book, so I am going to clean my house. I want to write more humor, try a new genre or two, and figure out how to disable the paragraphing feature of Word 7.0. I prefer to hit my own indent key.

XS: What are you currently working on, and may we have a sneak peek at it?

JN: I just sent in The School of Light, book two of The Dreamland. Let me look it over and figure out an excerpt.

XS: Are you where you want to be in life?

JN: I love doing what I'm doing. I always wish I could get more done. There's always dozens of ideas knocking at my mind wanting out. I'm sure I have higher aspirations, but they haven't really crystalized.

XS: Any parting comments?

JN: Please keep reading my books. I will do my best to make it worth the trip.

Well, you heard her. Please read her books, and I assure you: they are well worth the trip. Visit her site at Jody Lynn Nye Home Page for more information about her and a full bibliography of her published works.

Comments? Suggestions? Just click here to send me e-mail.
Also, if this interview prompted you to read Waking in Dreamland or some of Jody Lynn Nye's other works, then let me know. I appreciate knowing I made a difference in somebody's life.

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