Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Interview with Andrea Phillips and review of Revision - April 28, 2015

Please welcome Andrea Phillips to The Qwillery as part of the 2015 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Revision will be published on May 5th by Fireside Fiction.

TQ:  Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

Andrea:  Hello, and thank you for having me! I've been writing since at least the third grade — back then it was stories about being kidnapped by an alien civilization. By eighth grade I wrote a ton of what I know realize was the worst kind of self-insertion fanfic for ElfQuest. I'm a lucky one who always had supportive family and teachers telling me, "Andrea, when you grow up, you should be a writer."

TQ:  Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Andrea:  When I wrote Revision, I was a pantser. Basically I wrote interesting scenes and chapters as they came to me, and then tried to put them into something like a causation order. Frankly all the worst problems in the book are a result of this. There are some structural hiccups I couldn't smooth out entirely; reviewers have said the first couple of chapters are a leeeetle too slow, and they're 100% right — because I wound up with four chapters that all wanted to go third for pacing!

Since then I've done more writing from a detailed outline, and I love it. It's faster for me, and comforting to be certain where it's all headed. I'm not sure I'll ever go back!

TQ:  What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Andrea:  The single most challenging thing is just… doing the work at all. Putting the hours in, day in and day out, no matter how I feel or what else I have going on. Isn't that the hardest part for everyone?!

TQ:  Who are some of your literary influences? Favorite authors?

Andrea:  My #1 literary influence is probably Naomi Alderman, because she's a dear friend and we've spent so much time talking about the mechanics of writing over the years. If you happen to have the opportunity to befriend a highly acclaimed literary author and talk about writing over the course of years, I recommend it; your writing cannot fail to improve.

The whole world influences me and how I approach writing. Elizabeth Bear and Jennifer Crusie write about writing on their blogs, and I learn from them constantly. I read Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass many years ago and finally understood pacing and tension for the first time.

And then there's the stuff you learn from by way of example: Sean Stewart, Tim Powers, Roger Zelazny for showing me how magic can be hidden in the now, and not just long-ago and far-away. Anne McCaffrey and Marion Zimmer Bradley for showing me that you can write SF/F about women and women's concerns. Not just literature, either — the game Ultima IV showed me what moral ambiguity is and how to use it, for example. The whole world is constantly teaching you how to be a better writer, the trick is learning how to see it.

TQ:  Describe Revision in 140 characters or less.

Andrea:  Revision is about a wiki where your edits come true. Also snark, startup culture, and bad relationships.

TQ:  Tell us something about Revision that is not in the book description.

Andrea:  One of my goals with Revision was to write a book from a decidedly feminine point of view, that is also unquestionably science fiction. Alas some readers may be put off by the first couple of chapters because of this, because yeah, it feels like chick-lit. Not going to lie, that's a little scary, because "chick-lit" means a bunch of things that we tend to think are the exact opposite of "serious science fiction." So there's the terror that people won't take the book seriously purely because of tone.

But the truth is, it's a book I would love to read, and I can't be alone. So I'm trying to shrug off that reflexive sense of shame. And c'mon, let's be real — if I get a fraction of the readership of a Marian Keyes or Helen Fielding, I'll be selling beyond my wildest dreams.

TQ:   What inspired you to write Revision? What do you hope that readers will take away from Revision?

Andrea:  The intersection between magic and technology has fascinated me since I was a kid playing Trinity (the Infocom game), and first came across that famous Arthur C. Clarke quote: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." That comes out in my writing in lots of ways; AIs that do spellcraft, for example, or ghosts that send email.

Along those lines, I'm fascinated by the process by which technologies slowly accrete a sense of magic. We have ghost ships and ghost trains; mirrors that show the truth or take you somewhere else; phone calls from the dead; dolls that take on a life of their own. But it takes a while for a technology to reach that eerie tipping point, and some technologies never really become magical at all. Who writes about ghost ATMs, or light bulbs? Has anyone ever written about a magical blender or flush toilet? We have endless stories about books where their contents come true; so why not… a wiki instead?

TQ:  What sort of research did you do for Revision?

Andrea:  I'm not typically much of a researcher, honestly. I'm more likely to draw from the well of things I already know in the heat of writing.

There's one thing, though, I researched exhaustively — data center disaster recovery systems, building codes, water sprinklers, halon. For the most part, Verity technology in the book is what I say it is and I can wave my hands and tap-dance until it works the way I want. But for this one particular scene, if I got it completely wrong, I knew someone would be annoyed. And who wants to annoy their readers?

TQ:  Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Andrea:  The easiest character was Mira herself. Which is a good thing, since the book is first person! Since I spent so much time in her head, I developed a really solid sense of what she's like and how she thinks: she has generally low expectations for herself and for the world, she's a little too self-centered, she has a bunch of principles but isn't great at living up to them. She's very human, I think.

It was much harder to write Benji, though, Mira's boyfriend. He's meant to be a bad boyfriend — patronizing and kind of douchey, but with enough heat and magnetism that you see why Mira would stay with him. It's funny, because people cling to bad relationships allllll the time in real life, but in fiction you have to work hard to make a character's terrible life choices seem plausible.

TQ:  Which question about Revision do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!


Q: Wait, your book has a content note? What's that all about?

A: You know how some people don't want to read a book if it has a pet die in it, that kind of thing? No animals are hurt in Revision, but there are some things that happen in the book that might be upsetting to some readers, and the publisher and I thought it would be kind to provide some sort of warning. We felt it was the right thing to do, and so we did it!

TQ:  Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery lines from Revision.

Andrea:  In terms of sheer lyricism, I love this one the most:

I found myself craving the earthy flavor of truthful words.

TQ:  What's next?

Andrea:  Right now I'm writing a YA novel about the Luckiest Girl in the World (literally), which has a mythology involving luck-eating magicians, the Ancient and Honorable Order of Turtles, and attempted human sacrifice. If things go according to plan I should be done writing it this summer, and then… I'll try to sell it, I suppose!

After that I have an experimental story I want to do called Attachment Study. It'll be told in emails and text messages to the reader in real time. One of the characters will fall in love with the reader over the course of the story. Speaking as an artist, that's a very interesting emotional dynamic, and you can only really explore it in a work that feels interactive.

TQ:  Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Andrea:  Thank you so much for having me! Eeee! This has been a delight.

Author:  Andrea Phillips
Publisher:  Fireside Fiction Company, May 5, 2015
Format:  Trade Paperback and eBook, 230 pages
List Price:   $14.99 (print);  $6.99 (digital)
ISBN:  9780986104015 (print)
Review Copy:  Provided by the Publisher

Mira is a trust fund baby playing at making it on her own as a Brooklyn barista. When Benji, her tech startup boyfriend, dumps her out of the blue, she decides a little revenge vandalism is in order. Mira updates his entry on Verity, Benji’s Wikipedia-style news aggregator, to say the two have become engaged. Hours later, he shows up at her place with an engagement ring. Chalk it up to coincidence, right?

Soon after, Benji’s long-vanished co-founder Chandra shows up asking for Mira’s help. She claims Verity can nudge unlikely events into really happening — even change someone’s mind. And Chandra insists that Verity — and Mira’s newly minted fiance — can’t be trusted.

Amazon print edition, Barnes and Noble ebook, and iTunes ebook will be available May 5th

Melanie's Review

Mira does what every heart broken girl does when her boyfriend says the fateful words 'its over'. She cries her eyes out, looks in the freezer for the largest tub of ice cream available, drinks too much and then hits social media with a declaration of the scoundrel's undying love and imminent engagement. No one is more surprised than Mira when the very recently ex-Ben turns up on her doorstep on bended knee to propose. Pure coincidence or something more sinister? Mira soon learns that Verity, the news aggregating software Ben's company has developed can turn statement into fact. Science or magic? Is it good or evil? Is Ben involved? Mira is about to find out.

Revision is Phillips' debut novel and she does an admirable job of setting the scene and further chain of events that lead Mira on her journey to discover the truth. The plot is punchy and the dialogue is witty, especially Mira's inner dialogue. Phillips carefully builds the plot and leaves the reader so many breadcrumbs that its not difficult to figure out what the Verity software is capable of and what Ben's role in it really is. It is therefore, quite surprising that Mira seems almost the last to know or should I say, last to believe the truth that is practically slapping her in the face. When Chandra, the former Verity employee that everyone thinks is dead shows up and tries to convince Mira that all is not as it seems she is still reluctant to believe. After a near fatal car accident of a dear friend and the death of a loathed one Mira is forced to face the facts of what Verity can do and what Ben is capable of.

As much as I enjoyed Revision and thought that Phillips had created an interesting concept with Verity I didn't warm to Mira. The trust fund heiress slumming it as a barista in a boutique coffee shop did not ring true. Mira comes across as being on the world's longest pity party and apart from a demanding mother I couldn't really see why she she disliked everything about her former life. She also lacking in empathy or true remorse. There is a whole series of events from her best friend almost dying to her witnessing the death of someone she knows from childhood, yet Mira shows very little in the way of feeling. She even makes a comment about her fiance almost killing her best friend and then continues on with her self involved life. As much as I think that her dialogue was, in parts, extremely funny she just isn't the heroine for me.

I like Revision and think it could have been an 'I love it' book had I liked Mira a bit more. Well done though to Phillips' on creating a great plot for her debut novel.

About Andrea

Andrea Phillips is an award-winning transmedia writer, game designer and author. She has worked on projects such as iOS fitness games Zombies, Run! and The Walk, The Maester's Path for HBO's Game of Thrones, human rights game America 2049, and the independent commercial ARG Perplex City. Her projects have variously won the Prix Jeunesse Interactivity Prize, a Broadband Digital award, a Canadian Screen Award, a BIMA, the Origins Vanguard Innovation Award, and others. Her book A Creator's Guide to Transmedia Storytelling is used to teach digital storytelling at universities around the world.

Her independent work includes the Kickstarted serial The Daring Adventures of Captain Lucy Smokeheart and The McKinnon Account, a short story that unfolds in your email inbox. Her debut novel Revision is out on May 5from Fireside Fiction Co. and her short fiction has been published in Escape Pod and the Jews vs. Aliens anthology.

You can find Andrea on Twitter at @andrhia. I mean, if you like that sort of thing.


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