By Jacob Donley
I first heard of author Philippa Ballantine, Pip, on the Dead Robots’ Society podcast when she was a guest on an episode about steampunk. Her and her husband Tee Morris, coauthor in the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series, had a great and humorous conversation the DRS crew. Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of listening to Pip and Tee’s own podcast, the Shared Desk. They are riot and I couldn’t resist asking Pip for an interview.
[FFQ] Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
[PB] I am a fantasy and steampunk writer born and bred in Wellington, New Zealand, but now married to my co-author Tee Morris and living in Manassas, Virginia. Before becoming a full time writer in 2010, I was a librarian for thirteen years. So I am addicted to the smell of old books. Oh yes, and we have a clower of four cats who try to sleep on my keyboard when I am writing.
[FFQ] When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
[PB] As soon as I finished reading all the books my Dad had, I knew I had set about writing my own. That was when I was thirteen, and one of my old school mates who I recently reconnected with on Facebook told me she remembers me hauling around this green hardback journal which I was always scribbling in. It did pay off in the end though!
[FFQ] What inspired you to write your first book?
[PB] Just a love of story, and a desire to see what I could do. Fantasy is full of some many wondrous possibilities! All sorts of writers like Tolkien, Andre Norton, Anne McCaffrey and C J Cherryh inspired me to try it myself.
[FFQ] Can you share a little of your current work with us?
[PB] I just handed in Harbinger which is the fourth (and final) book in the Books of the Orders. It is a series set in a fantasy world where the unliving are constantly trying to attack humanity, and the Deacons of the Order are the only ones who can stop them. Now that's done I'll be turning to edits on the second book in the Shifted World series, Kindred and Wings. It's also epic fantasy, but in quite a different world. It's about redemption, and how far you can fall before you can come back.
[FFQ] What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
[PB] Editing is always a surprising process. I've learned to love it—though my very first professional edit I broke down in tears! Editors I've found usually tell you the flaws in your story that you already know where there. In that way it's a bit like having a Jiminy Cricket on your shoulder. Usually they end up telling you flaws in your writing that you already kind of knew deep down.
[FFQ] Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?
[PB] Just it took awhile. I secured my agent, Laurie McLean in 2006, and together we worked on the book (which got eventually published this year, Hunter and Fox). The interesting thing is that it wasn't that book that sold, but the second one I wrote in another series. Geist was written in 2007 and published in 2010. I'm not a person that is usually patient, but I have had to learn to be in this business.
[FFQ] How do you market your work? What avenues have you found to work best for your genre?
[PB] I'm a podcaster. I have podcast in their entirety four books, and I've been doing that since 2006. Over the years I have added other social media to my arsenal. I have a group page on Facebook, and Tee Morris and I recently started a Facebook page for the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences steampunk series. I tweet at PhilippaJane, and our main characters from the Ministry tweet as BooksandBraun. We also blog on our website for the Ministry at MinistryofPeculiarOccurrences.com and I have my personal blog at pjballantine.com
[FFQ] Who designed the covers?
[PB] I've been very lucky with my covers. The books with Ace covers were all done by the awesome Jason Chan http://jasonchanart.com/ . I've just seen the cover of the last book Harbinger, and he's done his best work I think. The covers I've had for Pyr have also been beautiful pieces of art. Cynthia Sheppard really captures the beauty of my scary horse, and in the second book my scary dragon! http://sheppard-arts.com/ Finally, the Ministry book covers were all done in house by their art team. My particular favorite is the Janus Affair.
[FFQ] Can you tell us about any upcoming titles?
[PB] 2013 is going to be busy. I have Kindred and Wings, coming out with Pyr in the summer, but also Harbinger with Ace, and a novella in a steampunk anthology Clockwork Fairytales; A Collection of Steampunk Fables. The third book of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences we don't yet have a firm publication date on, but we are hoping the end of 2013.
[FFQ] Are there any new authors that have caught your interest?
[PB] I just finished a novel by Ripley Patton. It was a really good YA title about a girl who can pick pocket people's souls. It's called Ghost Hand . I really enjoyed her main character, and she had a really good grasp of life inside a teenagers head. Highly recommended for her fast pace and interesting.
[FFQ] Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
[PB] Do not give up. Every word you write, every criticism you receive, every rejection that comes your way is making you a better writer. The more words you write the better you are going to get. Just know if you want to be a professional writer then you have to know it is going to be more of a marathon than a sprint.
[FFQ] Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
[PB] If you've never given steampunk a chance, I hope you'll join us at the Ministry. Or if fantasy is not your thing, let me show you a couple of complex, powerful women who might change your mind in Geist and Hunter and Fox.
Author: Geist, Spectyr , Wrayth and Harbinger (2013) from Ace Books and Hunter and Fox and Kindred and Wings (2013) from Pyr Books
Co-author (with Tee Morris) of Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences — an Airship Award winning steampunk series. Novels: Phoenix Rising and the Janus Affair . Also includes digital short stories and a free award winning podcast series .