A Conversation with Tamara Siler Jones

The March book for the Mindbridge Book Group was Tamara Siler Jones’ Ghosts in the Snow. Tammy was kind enough to answer questions for our group, and here’s the interview. Find out more about Tammy and her writing at her website.

1. How long have you been writing?

I’ve been writing professionally since I sold Ghosts in the Snow in 2003. However, I’ve been writing regularly since I was seven or eight, so that’d be about 1972, and wrote my first novel when I was 14 (1978 or 1979)

2. Tell us the story of how Dubric came to print.

I’ve had the universe Dubric exists in for a long, long time, maybe 25-30 years, and he was actually a pretty minor character in the whole epic thing. Anyway, I got an idea that Dubric needed to solve a serial crime. Dubric has a rather long life, so then I decided that it needed to be during the courtship of Risley and Nella. That gave me the time and place and other characters present, as well as the political and socioeconomic realities in play. Once those things were settled. i just stated writing and the novel became its own force, its own entity. So here we are.

3. Are you planning any more Dubric Byerly mysteries?

Yes. I’m planing on about seven books in the series, total.

4. What sorts of stories are you working now?

A bunch! I have the fourth Dubric novel (Stain of Corruption) a SF Horror (SPORE), a couple of mainstream thrillers (as yet untitled) and a YA first person story with a working title of ‘Paul’ that will almost certainly be called something totally different. I have no idea where it’s going but I really like its voice and structure.

5. Can you tell us any details about the universe in which the Dubric mysteries take place?

Sure! The world itself is totally fictional, not based on any particular place or time, but the civilization progressed more-or-less how we would consider ‘normal’ until about the equivalent of 1865 in Earth years when the Mages rose up and wrestled control away from Science and Reason and ripped Lagiern from one working republic into scores of quarreling city-states, small dictatorships and rural fiefdoms. The Mages essentially dragged civilization back hundreds of years but bits and pieces of technology remain, especially in the south. There are glimpses of artifacts and technology of ‘the ancients’ in Dubric’s books as well as active and functional technology.

Anyway, after about 400 years of magical oppression, armies from the South led by the seven Royal families rose up and ultimately took back power returned Lagiern to a single country with several provinces/states. These are the Mage Wars Dubric often refers to. The land, people, and government still struggle to bring various groups and ideologies back onto a progressive track, but things are a good deal more ‘advanced’ in the South than in the North where Dubric is. Most of the Royal families were killed off during or shortly after the war, but a few individuals remain.

My books mostly center on the remaining Royals (Dubric, Lars, the Romlins, Nigel Brushgar, Bostra Hargrove) and their families and associates. I’d originally thought the series would be about the Romlins but my publisher had other plans.

The main government in Waterford is actually a parliamentary monarchy that still struggles with outlying areas – such as Dubric’s Faldorrah – remaining more feudalistic or oppressive in nature, partly because their educational and technological levels are so limited and strained, but also because Magic had a longer, tighter hold on the people and culture and there’s more resistance to overcome. Magic ability and items are highly regulated and illegal everywhere in part because the potential that the Mages could rise and take control again, but also because magic in Dubric’s world is vampiric in nature and must consume ‘life force’ in order to function.

Each of the different kinds of mages stole and consumed energy from the people under their control – there’s some detail on this in Valley of the Soul – and the people were helpless until a special magic-resistant alloy was created and soldiers and Mage Killers were identified and trained to seek out and exterminate Mages. Dubric hates Mages, viewing them as no better than rats. The Mages hate the Royals, blaming (and fearing) the Royal families for stealing power away from them. The battles of the war might be over, but the conflict continues and the country as a whole is going through a lot of growing pains as it becomes a cohesive whole.

6. Will you be setting any other stories there?
I hope so. I’m planning a spin off series featuring Lars and I’d really like to do something with Aswin Romlin who’s been mentioned several times in the books but has yet to appear since his struggles are on the opposite end of the continent from Dubric. I like Aswin a lot as a character. Someday folks will get to meet him.

7. Threads of Malice is very different than your other two books. How do you feel about the reception that book has received?

I have mixed feelings about it. I am VERY proud of the book – more so than the other two – because I faced a lot of personal demons while writing it, I tackled an incredibly difficult subject and stared it down, and I believe that the book it a very strong, very visceral and perhaps unforgettable read. However, many people didn’t want to look at the issues that the book stared at. Lots of folks don’t want to consider the various facets of having a sick, violent, homosexual pedophillic murderer on the loose, let alone doing his dirty work right there in front of their eyes.

From a personal standpoint it was important for me to write, but from a career standpoint it may have been a big mistake. i just don’t know. However, if given the option to do it again I would tell the same story, and I wouldn’t change a word of the book. I just wish it would have found its audience.

8. What sorts of books do you like to read?

Ah, a trick question! 🙂 I used to read ‘everything but Westerns’, mostly mystery/thrillers – and a lot of them, several books a week on average – but since selling my work I find it incredibly difficult to read any fiction at all. I analyze everything or want to red pen it or just get distracted with something, anything else. I don’t know how many books I’ve set down sometime in the first 50 pages or so and never picked up again. Hundreds, surely. Now I almost never read at all unless I absolutely have to, which is one of the WORST parts of being published, at least for me. I can”t remember the last book I read for pleasure cover to cover. Maybe Neil Gaiman’s American Gods clear back in 2003 or 2004?? Maybe? I just had to do a cover quote for a friend’s book and it took me more than a month to force myself through, page by page. I’m no longer a good reader and it sucks.

9. How important is research to your writing?

I do a lot of general research but very very little ever sees the page. Mostly it’s for background information so that I can understand how or why something works the way it does, how a certain type of criminal thinks, or what a particular thing looks like or is named. Mostly I make stuff up, to be perfectly honest, but I have a general working knowledge of what I’m going for when I set down to work, even if I don’t have the specifics nailed down.

When I do need some bit of specific information – like the name of a particular minute body part such as a feature on a bone or joint, or a kind of knot – then I’ll research and nail down that specific thing. I know a lot of writers who decide every little detail of every little person, place, thing, concept, belief, and article of clothing in their world (all cross referenced and color coded) but I’m not like that. I have a general often hazy concept of what I want and when I need to know the specifics, that’s when I nail them down. But, that said, I do do a lot of research mostly because it’s fun.

10. What advice would you give would-be writers?

Read a lot and write a lot and realize that there’s no one right way of doing things. Some of us are pre-planners with outlines and charts and cross-referenced tables of information all sorted across multiple novels and interconnecting short stories, while others don’t know anything at all until the words hit the page. Most writers are somewhere between and that’s just fine. Do what works for YOU, not for me or Stephen King or JK Rowling or Hemingway or Nora Roberts. Find your process and run with it.

Remember this is a job, not something that will make your troubles go away. It’s just a hard, lonely, JOB where the pay is craptastic and no matter what you do someone will love it, someone else will hate it, and you’ll always wonder if you ever did it good enough.

That said, if you really do want to get published, never ever give up on your dreams because, usually, the dreams are all that keep you going.

Author: Catherine Schaff-Stump

Catherine Schaff-Stump writes fiction for children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Vessel of Ra, is the first book in the Klaereon Scroll series. She is currently working on its sequel, as well as penning the middle grade adventures of Abigail Rath, monster hunter.

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