Trudi Canavan and Jennifer Fallon in conversation

by Nalini Haynes

Trudi Canavan and Jennifer Fallon talked in a panel session about writing, their careers, interviews and more. Jenny opened the session by talking about how she and Ian Irvine were on a panel together, and had agreed to disagree with everything the other said in order to make the session interesting. Apparently this back-fired because they would start each response by saying, ‘I disagree da-da-da… but in this instance I actually agree…’ Jenny said it was quite boring, but as an introduction to this session was very entertaining.

After writing her first trilogy, Jenny was approached with a request for a synopsis of another, related series. This phone call came about lunch time one day, with assurances that the interested party wasn’t going to buy it, they just wanted to know if it was available. Jenny asked how long she had to put this synopsis together, to which the response was ‘by 5 o’clock’. Aack! Well, Jenny wondered how she could do that in an afternoon. Having been assured it wasn’t for sales purposes, and with so little time available, Jenny decided to work on a prequel series. Her reasoning was that she knew her stories so well that she could put that together in that short space of time. A couple of weeks later Jenny received a phone call asking for deadlines.

‘Deadlines for what?’ Production deadlines for that trilogy synopsis Jenny had been assured wasn’t actually for sales purposes. The following months were a nightmare where Jenny had to re-read her books until she practically knew them by heart, just to ensure that continuity. Jenny says her upcoming prequel will be different because it will be coming hot on the heels of the original, with the original being written with the prequel in mind. Or so she tells herself now.

Jenny told readers to follow her on Facebook as she previously raffled off the opportunity to put a name in one of her books in order to raise money for the bushfires; she is thinking of doing something similar again.

Relationships with fans are interesting and, at times, challenging. Trudi said she doesn’t read fanfiction but she doesn’t object to people writing fanfic based on her work. However, there are limits. Trudi had one fan who didn’t like a trilogy so he rewrote the entire three books! Even more bizarre, he then emailed her a scene and asked for an explanation. Apparently fans even approach Trudi telling her what they want to see in her work, like, for example, who gets involved with whom. Trudi says that telling her this is a really baaaaad idea; Trudi is contrary! If you tell Trudi what you want to see, then Trudi thinks that’s too obvious or not original enough, so she won’t do it on principle! Be warned!

Jenny told the tale of a producer at a convention being cornered in an elevator by a fan with a story idea. A similar story was already in production, and when it was released the fan sued. Fortunately the company could prove that production was already underway and the story wasn’t plagiarised. However, Jenny says she doesn’t read much fiction because of her fear of being accused of plagiarism. When Jenny wants to relax she’s more likely to watch a movie.

Jenny recommends aspiring writers refrain from writing fanfic. There are three key skills to writing a novel: building a world, characterisation and storytelling. A fanfic writer only develops one out of three key skills. This is a real loss to the overall skill set.

Joss Whedon’s reputation for killing off key characters creates a sense of trepidation but also expectation in the audience. I asked Trudi and Jenny how they felt about possibly being a female Joss. Both said they don’t strive to kill off key characters (don’t usually strive to, in Jenny’s case). While Trudi found it to be liberating to break a convention in her first trilogy, she’s done it now and feels no need to continue. Even so, she appreciates fans reading her books with an element of trepidation and respect rather than making the assumption that all will be well. Jenny has found killing off of key characters to be liberating but likewise doesn’t feel the need to continue – except where she had to make a prequel fit the original books. This experience probably dealt with any homicidal tendencies remaining for Jenny!

Trudi told a tale of the development of her first trilogy. One night she had a dream where she was being herded out of a city like the poorer citizens in her novel, and in the dream the drovers became magicians. Normally her dreams don’t make good story ideas in the light of day, but in this case the idea took root and grew over time. Later the end of the story came to Trudi, so she knew how the story ended before she wrote the middle! Evil woman. Trudi engaged in quite a dance during this session trying so hard not to reveal the end whilst also talking about the death of a key character. Her novels have a habit of ending abruptly after the climax, for which Trudi has received criticism from her editor or publisher. In response to this criticism, Trudi wrote an additional segment for one book in which she mentioned that an elderly character died in the years following the story. Apparently this also received criticism, but this time from distressed fans. Trudi found being an author who kills off a key character to be liberating, liberating her from normal conventions and creating a different relationship with fans who read subsequent books with trepidation. However, having been liberated, Trudi feels free to take her characters where she wishes, or to follow her characters where they will. Trudi does not feel a compulsive need to kill off characters in every novel.

Jenny told some interesting stories with regards to killing off of characters. Judy Nunn (another author) was in a café talking to someone and apparently said that someone had to die. The police showed up shortly afterwards. Seriously.

When writing the prequel trilogy mentioned before, a feat Jenny swore never to do again, Jenny had a list of characters with one-liner histories from the original books. As one liners, these back stories were fine. However, creating a prequel trilogy consistent with the original story full of one liners was a major headache. Jenny said she’d never write a prequel again because she had to read those books too many times to determine the history and positioning of characters, as well as developing a whole new cast of characters who needed to disappear before the time of the original books. Plus she had to justify never mentioning those characters in the original story. Wow. Tall order. Jenny had a board in her office with a list of ‘People who must die’ and as she killed them off she crossed them off her list. When her air conditioner broke down, the air con guys came to repair the unit. They saw her list. They gave her numerous and repeated assurances that they’d do a really good job.

Jenny told us ‘What passes for an interview with Jennifer Fallon’ included the worst interview question ever. Jennifer said we should google ‘what passes for an interview with Jennifer Fallon’ so that is exactly what I did, more than half expecting that the publication would have removed or the title changed after all the flack, but no, it’s still there!

The worst interview question according to Jenny is:

Interviewer: Do you think your writing has improved with each book and continues to do so or do you think you have plateaued?

Jennifer: No, I think it’s gotten worse each book and it continues to deteriorate. I may soon have to kill myself from the despair of it all.

Later Jenny explained her answer…

Jennifer: …this question pretty much ranks as the most awful I’ve been asked in a long time. You’re essentially asking an author to announce to the world they are either in need of improvement or this is as good as it gets. How many authors would actually answer that question honestly (and not have their publicist string them up if the answer was anything less than visions of rainbows and fluffy white bunnies)? The only way this could have been made more difficult to answer was to add “or are you getting worse?” to the end of it.
Apparently the interviewer had read Jenny’s books, picked his favourites, and decided that nothing else was as good. Way to go, interviewing someone while ‘knowing’ the answers! He shouldn’t have bothered asking the questions…

Jenny told us not to ask ‘Where do your ideas from?’, but also told us the answer was everywhere, that way everything is tax deductible! She also said her daughter’s vetinary degree should be tax deductible because Jenny’s daughter has been very helpful with gory descriptions and ideas for Jenny’s books. As have friends including a former police officer and a pathologist.

Trudi made a flippant comment about using post-it notes, which I followed up by asking for more information. Trudi doesn’t really use post-its, but she does have a pin board in front of her computer as well as maps and charting information or development using various techniques, including her computer. Jenny on the other hand tends to make a few important notes but keeps the rest in her head. Jenny said if she wrote it down, she would have it out of her head and forget it. If she doesn’t write it down, she’ll remember it.

On the subject of maps, Trudi and Jenny differ greatly. As a former cartographer, Trudi wants total control over her maps. Jenny, on the other hand, gave her early maps over to someone who decided to have fun. In Jenny’s early books there were lots of ‘blank’ spaces in the map, which she was firmly told needed to be filled. Jenny’s attitude was if they’re not going there, it doesn’t matter. This dispute was resolved by Jenny graciously allowing another to complete her maps. Later this proved to be a mistake. When Jenny went looking at her maps for locations at which her characters could stop, she discovered towns with names like ‘Basset’ and ‘Beagle’, all named for dogs and cats. Jenny told us to look over the early maps with a magnifier to examine the place names. I had the impression she found this both hilarious and horrifying.

Trudi commented that her latest trilogy, that is currently being released, focuses on a younger hero. She’s found the older characters who were established in the previous trilogy are now middle aged and cranky. These characters tend to want to shoulder their way into the action and seize control of the story, dominating it and taking the focus from the younger hero. Trudi has been having a tug of war with these characters to keep the balance that has been her goal.

Generally neither author re-reads after publication because they’ll find errors as soon as they open their book.

Much more was said, but while I’m trying to remember it all slips away. Trudi can be quiet, possibly appearing shy, which is a misconception. When Trudi has something to say she is forthright, expressing herself well and with character. It is a pleasure to see her light up and almost comically inform fans that she is contrary, a statement Trudi repeated a number of times. Be warned, don’t give Trudi suggestions, or be prepared to be disappointed!

Jenny is anything but quiet. Jenny appears confident, not the kind to talk just to fill the silence nor to compensate. Like Trudi, Jenny had an interesting and intelligent contribution make to the conversation. In twenty years time Jenny will probably ‘wear purple with a red hat that just doesn’t go’, my hero and role model. Never having read one of Jenny’s books I made the ultimate confession. I am now inspired to read Jenny’s work. Reviews will follow in latter issues of Dark Matter!

I think I’ve read everything Trudi has published, with the exception of Rogue, which is sitting waiting for me…

 

This article was previously published in Dark Matter issue 3, April 2011, and predated on this website to reflect the original publication date.