Tracey O’Hara – Author interview

You are an urban fantasy author. Could you describe, for people who are not familiar, what an urban fantasy author is and how you personally approach urban fantasy?

These days urban fantasy is a term that used to describe a range of genres. But what is most common is that it is a fantasy story in a city setting, be it contemporary, alternate history, futuristic or other worldly, as long as it is in an urban environment. Usually these stories are rather dark and gritty. Some television series that would fit the mould would be Being Human, Supernatural and True Blood based on Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire series.

Most UF these days have a heavy paranormal, supernatural or fantasy element to the story. Quite a few have a female protagonist and are quite often told in first person. Sometimes UF and paranormal romance are mixed up as the crossover can be quite blurred—the difference is an often-debated topic. There are also UF series out there with male protagonists – some examples of these are The Dresden Files based on the wizard PI, Harry Dresden, by Jim Butcher and Sandman Slim – the hard boiled hitman from hell by Richard Kadrey.

How would I describe myself though? I’m an author who is heavily influenced by horror and fantasy, being that Stephen King, George RR Martin and Raymond E Feist are right up there on my favourite authors list. Night’s Cold Kiss is a paranormal thriller/mystery with some Sci-Fi and romantic elements thrown in. I describe myself as a UF author as I like to write darker stories, and I think as this series goes along it is only going to get even darker.

You have written a novel, Night’s Cold Kiss, with a short story, Dante Rising: Birth of a Venator, as a prequel. Your upcoming novel, Death’s Sweet Embrace will also have a short story that is a prequel. What is the key to tying a short story and novel together well as a combination?

For me it happened a bit by accident. Dante Rising started out as a prologue to NCK that ended up being cut because it didn’t really add to the novel. But when I was going over some files, I came across it and still really liked it. While it wasn’t essential to the story of NCK – I thought it gave some good insight into Antoinette’s motivation and attitude.  So with some revisions and enhancements, I turned it into a short story.

It‘s been very popular. When I start a story I usually write some back-story elements that invariably end up being cut because it doesn’t really add to the overall piece, but it’s my “getting to know the characters” process. Writing a short story – even a tie in story – is a different to writing a novel. They require different skills. You don’t tend to go into the same character and story growth like you do with a full manuscript.

To me – writing these short tie-in stories is almost like glancing at a sales display in a store window. You see a snippet of the store. The window has a beginning, middle and end. You can tell what kind of store it is from what appears in the window, but you have no idea of the full richness of what is on offer until you actually enter the store itself.

Fantasy and science fiction short stories are often released in anthologies. What is the key to a great short story anthology, or at least what do you think works well in anthologies you have enjoyed?

Wow – this is a hard question, but one day I aspire to be in one <grin>. I was never really into writing short. Actually I’ve only ever written 4 short stories. I also haven’t had that much to do with anthologies apart from being a reader, so can really only respond from that point of view. For me, as I said before, it’s like window shopping. I will pick one up to see what a particular author or authors’ voice is like, especially if they are new and if I’ve been thinking of reading them.

I like an anthology to have a theme. I have a couple of Aussie dark fantasies anthologies which are great – there are some really excellent voices here. I also have a few US urban fantasy author anthologies. I usually buy them to see what is going on in the market and these days, a lot the stories are also tie-ins to a current series.

Australia has a range of urban fantasy writers such as Keri Arthur and Tansy Rayner Roberts. Do you read much Australian urban fantasy and do you have some favourites?

I have read Keri Arthur, not only her Riley Jenson series but her Ripple Creek werewolf series (which I absolutely loved) and I have started the first in her new Myth and Magic series. I know Keri quite well and recently my mother has become a big fan. Keri has some exciting books coming out in the future. The great thing about the Riley Jenson series is that it is set in Melbourne. Another great series set is Melbourne is the Shadow Faye series written by Aussie UF author, Erica Hayes.

I just happened to pick up Tansy’s Power and Majesty the other day and am looking forward to reading it as well as Nicole Murphy’s Secret Ones due for release next month. Jason Nahrung’s The Darkness Within is another Aussie I have on my list. Most of my UF reading though has been from the US market, but it is great to see it coming out here.

Is there any specific type of fiction you would like to see more of in Australia?

Since I write mainly for an international genre market, most of my reading comes from there. And I would love to see more genre fiction being published here. The speculative fiction and the romance community are very tight knit groups of writers. We have so many great authors and voices here in Australia; it would be good to see their work on the shelf.

What makes a great first chapter for a novel, or what is an example of a great first chapter and why does it stand out for you?

A stand out first chapter for me is one that grips me from the opening line. Editors and agents say if they aren’t engaged by the first two pages, then they are just not interested. I tend to be a bit like that myself. I just don’t have the time to read the way I used too.  And a really great opening paragraph to suck me in helps too—something clever and unexpected.

What is the most important piece of advice you would like to give to new writers?

Keep writing and don’t give up. Try not to let the rejection and criticism get you down – you should view it as a chance to improve your craft. Never stop learning and honing your craft. I am still such a newbie at all this and have so much to learn, I don’t think it will ever stop.

And one last thing I would say is write for yourself, write the story you want to tell. If you try to write to a market trend, by the time you have finished, the trend is almost always over or the market is so flooded it is hard to break in. Having said that, if you have a brilliant idea for a vampire book, then write it, if you have a brilliant idea for a sci-fi space opera, then write it. But be true to yourself and your voice. 

Your upcoming novel, Death’s Sweet Embrace, will be published January 25, 2011. What can you tell us about that?

Death’s Sweet Embrace is the second Dark Brethren novel. It continues on from the first with a new protagonist — Kathryn “Kitt” Jordan, a parahuman medical examiner and a snow leopard shifter (Animalian). She has just lost her brother, the only family she’s had in the last 20 years, to a psychopathic killer and had her whole world turned completely upside down.

Now a sadistic killer is murdering young Animalians but cutting out their still beating hearts while they are alive. Kitt must join forces with a team lead by her brother’s closest friend to help solve this mystery. Problem is, her ex-lover who she hasn’t seen for many years is also part of his team.

We also get to follow some of the characters from the first book, especially Oberon and Antoinette and are introduced to some new ones as well. There is a glossary of terms on my website to explain some of the terms I use such as Animalian 

What do you see for the future of your fiction writing beyond Death’s Sweet Embrace?

I’m currently working on third Dark Brethren novel, which at this stage is called Sin’s Dark Caress.  I am very excited about this book and am having a lot of fun writing it. I hope to go on and write more Dark Brethren books – I have lots of ideas, including Mer terrorists and Elven drug-lords. I also have the twinkling of an idea for a possible stories as well.

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You can find more about Tracey and her writing at www.traceyohara.com.

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The Australian Literature Review

www.auslit.net

Night's Cold Kiss: A Dark Brethren Novel

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