Interview: Paula Weston, urban fantasy author


Back in February last year, Kim posted about upcoming Aussie releases in 2013. It drew my attention to an Aussie urban fantasy author I hadn’t previously encountered, Paula Weston. Since then I’ve read her first two books, Shadows and Haze–which I LOVED–and I’ve preordered the next one, Shimmer, which comes out in July.

All of this is a round about way to tell you that I’m as happy as my puppy when he sees his lead, because I got to interview the fabulous Paula.

*leaps into the air*

*straighens clothes and pretends to be professional*

PaulaWeston_books

Although the story in Shadows—and more so in Haze—takes the characters all around the world, Australia features heavily as a destination. A lot of Australian spec fic writers shy away from setting their stories here. Did you ever consider setting the books overseas?

When I started writing Shadows, it was purely for fun, so I didn’t worry about what I should or shouldn’t be doing and just went for it. (I explain why further down.) I already had the Australian setting and tone in my mind, and it seemed a good fit when I wrote that first scene where Gaby is running in the rainforest. I liked the idea of having supernatural beings in a recognisable Australian landscape, and I wanted to see how this type of story would work in a sunny coastal environment.

It also gave me the chance to bring a few ‘blokey’ Australian characters into the mix. The Butlers (the blue-singlet-wearing dope growers) are a lot of fun to write – especially how they react to being caught up in an epic battle involving demons, angels and half-angels.

Interestingly, the Australian setting is one of things readers in the UK and North America say they love about the series. Given how many angel stories are out there (and believe me, I had no idea how many when I wrote Shadows), it provides an interesting of difference.

Despite how broken she is in some ways, Gaby is an incredibly strong main character. Was it important to you that she be a self-rescuing princess (so to speak)?

Absolutely. I wanted Gaby to be vulnerable and a little broken, but I didn’t want her to be a victim. Her life is thrown into chaos when she realises she’s not who she thinks she is, and it’s a tricky balance to have her face her fears but also not suddenly turn into a badass warrior. I wanted her to find courage and strength before she fully realises what she’s physically capable of, and even then have her make mistakes and still get knocked down. But – and this, I think, is most important for me in writing her – she takes responsibility for her mistakes and keeps fighting to protect the people she cares about. I want to her be strong, but also flawed and fallible.

Music plays a strong part in Gaby’s memories of her twin brother, Jude. I know you’ve got playlists for the books, but is there one song that you think sums up Gaby’s story?

Well, you’ve no doubt picked up my mild obsession with the Foo Fighters. 🙂 If I had to pick one of their songs to summarise her story (particularly in Shadows) it would be ‘All My Life’. The opening lyrics especially:

All my life I’ve been searching for something
Something never comes never leads to nothing
Nothing satisfies but I’m getting close
Closer to the prize at the end of the rope
All night long I dream of the day
When it comes around and it’s taken away
Leaves me with the feeling that I feel the most
Feel it come to life when I see your ghost

(Plus it’s such an awesome chest-thumping rock song)

PaulaWestonJude is such a strong presence throughout both books that I had a crush on him by halfway through Haze. How did you make him so three dimensional given his absence from the page?

Thank you. 🙂 I’m quite fond of him too.

I’ve tried to introduce readers to Jude in a couple of ways. The first is through Gaby’s memories of him. Even though they’re not real, they give a hint of who he might have been, especially when the Rephaim confirm her memories are not that removed from the ‘real’ Jude. And those memories/dreams always leave Gaby hollow with grief, which shows how strongly she and her brother were connected to each other. The second is the way everyone else reacts when they talk about it him, how they remember him. All of it hopefully helps build a picture of this guy everyone misses so much.

Let’s talk about Rafa. So sexy and yet so frustrating, so tough and yet so vulnerable. How did you go about getting inside his head?

For whatever reason, Rafa came to me almost much fully formed. I knew he was an exceptional fighter and super confident, but also that much of his hot-headedness and impatience was a defence mechanism. I wanted him to have layers, and I wanted there to be reasons why he acts the way he does. Even though he’s a brutally efficient warrior and frequent smart-ass, he’s also completely adrift when it comes to interacting with the Gaby he finds in Pan Beach (as opposed to the Gabe he used to know). So he’s constantly caught between who she was then and who she is now, and it frustrates the hell out of him – and also catches him off guard enough that I can occasionally show what’s really going on underneath.

Are you a plotter or a pantster? How many hours a day do you devote to writing?

I’m a bit of both. Writing a four-book series with several layers of plot (and mystery) means I need a strong idea of where I’m going. With this series I’m bringing together things that happened in the pasts, things that are happening now, and things that will happen in the future when everything is revealed. I definitely need a thorough understanding of my world building and know when the major reveals should happen and to keep pacing on track. But, once I start writing, I let the characters drive the story as much as possible. Sometimes this means I need to tweak some plot aspects – and usually for the better – but mostly the process of writing helps flesh out all the other nuances in the plot as I go.

I still have a day job, so I mostly write late afternoon, evenings and weekends. I try to write at least two hours a day if I can, more on weekends. I have the some frustrations as most writers: finding the time to write!

How long have you been writing? Was Shadows your first novel?

I’ve been writing for 18 years. Shadows was my first published novel. Before my contract with Text Publishing in Australia, I had written five other full-length manuscripts over 16 years. So I had a lot of experience with rejection! I was signed by my literary agent three years before we landed the deal with Text, and she picked me up on the strength of a completely different fantasy series I was working on. It was after coming very close to a deal with that series – and falling short – that I started writing Shadows for fun. Fortunately my agent loved Shadows and so did Text when she pitched it to them. There’s a lesson there, I suspect…

Your series could be described as either adult or new adult fiction. What are your thoughts on the new adult trend?

Interesting question! There are varying – and disparate – definitions of what makes a book ‘new adult’. For some, it’s a license to write graphic sex with teen/post-teen characters; for others, it simply means the protagonist/s are out of high school but not quite ‘adults’.

For me, I didn’t consciously set out to write adult, new adult or young adult. I just knew I wanted my characters to be out of school and dealing with the day-to-day issues of having jobs, paying bills etc. Even though I’m writing about angels, half-angels and demons, I always wanted the story to be grounded as much as possible in reality.

When I first started hearing the term a few years ago, I wondered if the new category was a way for people to distinguish between younger teen fiction and novels that have strong crossover appeal. I’ve noticed the term has had far more traction in the US than it does in Australia. I suspect it’s because our young adult fiction tends to push the boundaries a lot more than much of its equivalent in the US, so the new category helped signal when something more challenging was happening in the narrative. But then, it also seems a lot of ‘new adult’ tags seem to appear in speculative fiction (especially paranormal romance and urban fantasy), which seems be linked to sexual content.

And, of course, as soon as you start talking about a tag like ‘new adult’, it raises the debate of how to define it (as has been the case for ‘young adult’ for years): is it the age of narrator; the nature of their story; the complexity of themes tackled? Long-winded answer, sorry!

Can you give us any clues as to what might be in store in the next book, Shimmer?

Hmmm…lots of tricky stuff for Gaby because she’s now caught between the Sanctuary Rephaim and the Outcasts, when all she cares about is rescuing a certain someone from Gatekeeper demons. (Can’t say too much in case your readers haven’t read Haze!). There’s more action and more plot twists and Shimmer has a couple of scenes I’ve been looking forward to writing since I started the series. 🙂

Quick questions:

What book are you reading now? Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor (the third and final instalment in the excellent Daughter of Smoke and Bone series).

If you had a superpower, what would it be? I love the idea of being able to travel anywhere in the world in the blink of an eye (as the Rephaim can). Great for getting out of sticky situations, and for no-cost world travel!

What secret talents do you have? I make a mean ginger ice-cream (from scratch).

What was your favourite toy as a child? A tatty sheep-dog that doubled as a pyjama bag. I still have her and she’s still missing one eye, but I love that dog. I still cuddle her occasionally.

Thanks for stopping by, Paula!

Cassandra Page is an urban fantasy writer and member of Team Jude. Or Team Rafa. Either would do. *fans self*

Cassandra Page

4 Comments

  1. Reblogged this on Cassandra Page and commented:

    On Tuesday at Aussie Owned and Read, I interviewed Paula Weston, author of “Shadow” and “Haze” – the first two awesome books in a an urban fantasy about angels in Australia. What is not to like about this?!

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  2. I’d still love to know if Paula went with adult or young adult when she submitted this for publishing. In Australia when you submit your manuscript, there is only a YA or Adult path to take. My book also sits in the NA group range, but it’s probably more YA than Adult. Interesting…

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