Kristen Britain is a new author in the science fiction/fantasy field. Ms. Britain works for the National Park Service and currently resides in Maine. Click here for a full author profile.
Recently, FutureFiction had the good fortune to correspond with Kristen Britain, a new author in the Fantasy field. Her first book, Green Rider, has been quite successful, attaining the #5 position in the Best First Novel (SF/fantasy) category of the Locus Poll 1998 Recommended Reading List and becoming a finalist for the Compton Crook/Stephen Tall Memorial Award for Best First Novel of 1998. We found our conversations with Ms. Britain to be quite interesting and informative, so naturally we asked if she would agree to be the first interviewee for our new Author Spotlight page. Much to our pleasure, Ms. Britain agreed! The interview appears below. Our thanks to her for her support and insight.
FutureFiction: How did a degree in film production lead to work as a National Park Service ranger and SF/fantasy writing?
Kristen Britain: Desperation led me to work as a National Park Service ranger! After I graduated from college, I was sort of at a loss. What does one do with a film degree, after all? I was not particularly interested in going to Hollywood, and I wasn't having much luck with my job search otherwise (though I did get my picture taken with movie star Sean Connery in Scotland!). I did consider grad school, and was very interested in animation, but then one day my mom and I took a ride over to Women's Rights National Historical Park which commemorates the first ever women's rights convention held in 1848, and is believed to be the first public call for women's suffrage. At any rate, we talked with the ranger who seemed to enjoy her job very much, and I thought, here's an interesting job! I started volunteering there, and applying to various parks. That summer I got my first seasonal ranger job at Clara Barton National Historic Site in Maryland. I have since worked at six different National Park Service areas over the past eleven-plus years.
Despite not becoming a big time movie director or screenwriter or animator, my degree in film production has not been a loss. Making films in college allowed me to try story telling in an entirely different way, and I believe it influences the way I "see" the stories that I write, in regards to light and shadows (photography means "writing" with light, and cinematography is "writing" with motion), as well as editing, and visual imagery. Another advantage of the film production major was that it was highly technical. Learning to operate motion picture cameras, flatbed editors, and projectors got me over most of my fear of technology, perhaps preparing me for my future close relationship with the computer. And how many people can say that they know what a best boy grip is?!
My first love has always been writing, but there was no creative writing major at my college (I did have a writing minor), and I had been interested in communications, so the film production major seemed a creative and interesting way to go.
Were you interested in SF/F or writing as a child? If not, when did you become interested?
My first "novel" was begun in the fourth grade. It was an undersea fantasy featuring my friends and me. I think it got to be 200 pages long before I became embarrassed by it and shredded it! I didn't recognize it as fantasy at the time. I was largely interested in reading horse stories and mysteries, and if a friend of mine hadn't made me read THE LORD OF THE RINGS when I was 12 or 13, I wonder if I might have become a mystery novelist. After reading TLotR, there was no turning back for me, and about that time I started writing another fantasy "novel" from which the world and spirit of GREEN RIDER arose much later.
What are your plans from here? Will we see more of Karigan and her world after the upcoming sequel, Mirror of the Moon?
I try not to plan too far ahead. My strategy is to focus on the here and now, which is the sequel I'm currently writing. However, if all goes well, I expect there will be further adventures of Karigan and the Green Riders. Because things can change a lot during the editing and revising phases, I cannot say much about what will be in the novel(s). Even the title "Mirror of the Moon" is subject to change. It is a working title only.
Speaking of sequels, has a publication date been set yet?
No publication date has been set, and I know people have been anxious for the sequel. I'm working on it! But life can throw one unexpected curve balls which can totally derail one's progress.
Do you think you might try your hand at writing SF, as opposed to fantasies like Green Rider?
This is an interesting question. I do like to read the occasional SF. I even recall reading Asimov's I, ROBOT when I was in the sixth grade. Most of the SF I read these days is very character-driven, such as the Mageworld series by Debra Doyle and James D. MacDonald or the Honor Harrington series by David Weber. I have also enjoyed the work of David Brin. As for writing it? I don't know -- I like fantasy for its pastoralness and legendlike, archetypal qualities. But, I wouldn't rule out anything. There are many other types of writing I enjoy.
Are there any particular SF/F authors that have influenced or inspired you over the years?
JRR Tolkien, Anne McCaffrey, and Lloyd Alexander were early influences on my fantasy writing.
Each author seems to find a different aspect of writing to be challenging. For some it's character development, for another plotting, for others it's research or self-discipline. What is the most difficult part of writing for you? Which is the easiest?
The hardest aspect for me is definitely plotting. Plotting is the mathematics of the novel, as writing a score is the mathematics of music. I am awful at math, and even did poorly in a beginner's music class in college, even though I've played guitar since the age of 7, and the banjo since about the age of 10. It's a logic thing. I have recently discovered the joy of outlining. Get the story/plot down first, then when it comes to crafting the novel, you don't get stopped after every scene trying to decide where the story is going next, which hinders all the other elements of the craft. It's like a road map with a route highlighted by the AAA. The easiest aspect? Characters and visualizing scenes.
Could you give some advice to fledgling authors? Once they have a story written, how should they go about getting it published? How long did it take you to get Green Rider published?
My advice would be nothing new: read and write, read and write, and get out now and then to experience life. Then revise, revise, revise. Enjoy the process -- I think it's a requirement of being successful. As for getting published, the first thing is to make sure that the novel is the best it can be. Then I would start by reading about getting published in resource books such as SCIENCE FICTION WRITER'S MARKETPLACE AND SOURCEBOOK and THE CAREER NOVELIST by agent Donald Maass, visiting sfwa.org, etc. There is an organization here in Maine that sponsors writing workshops (mainewriters.org), some of which have included publishing hints and topics, which were useful to me. Maybe other states have such organizations, as well. If one lives in the boonies like I do, a group like the Science Fiction and Fantasy Workshop might prove supportive (sff.net/people/Dalton-Woodbury/sffw.htp ). I also recommend Holly Lisle's Forward Motion website (sff.net/people/holly.lisle/) for accurate, hardnosed information about getting published. The next step is to decide whether or not one wants to get an agent first, or go straight to a publisher. A couple of authors I know strongly suggest getting an agent first. Other people suggest going the publisher route. I don't know the best answer, but going via publisher first will take a long, long, long time, because they want you to submit to them one at a time. Then they may take a year or longer to read your submission, only to send you a rejection slip. In contrast, you can query multiple agents simultaneously. Only submit what the publisher or agent requests, whether it's sample chapters, the whole manuscript, or just a query letter. You would have learned their desires by reading the sourcebook mentioned above, or finding submission guidelines at publishers' individual websites. How do you target agents? Read the acknowledgments in books you've enjoyed. Sometimes the author will mention that agent's name. Read Locus Magazine or SF Chronicle to find out what agent sold what story to which publisher. It is important to target a specific agent or editor when writing them. It is also useful to know what writers these people may have handled, especially if it's a writer whose work you've enjoyed. Look at the books on your shelves -- who published them? Is there one publisher that appears more than others? It may be a product of some publishers putting out more books than others, or perhaps you are seeing a trend. I do not think it's by accident that my book was published by DAW Books -- I have a large quantity of their books sitting on my shelves. It may indicate that the editors and I share similar tastes. Do you need writing credits, like F/SF short stories, to get the attention of a publishing professional? Credits help, but are not necessary. Bestselling author Terry Goodkind had never published before his hit WIZARD'S FIRST RULE came out. Same with my friend, John Marco, whose THE JACKAL OF NAR has done very, very well. And finally, I cannot stress enough, approach publishing professionals in a professional manner. Polish that query letter until it shines -- don't write it in crayon to stand out. It will stand out all right, enough so it will be immediately sent back to you with a rejection slip. Publishing is a business, and you will be expected to conduct yourself in a businesslike manner.
I started writing GREEN RIDER in 1992, and after four years of revision and sending it out to publishers and agents, it was purchased by DAW in 1996, and published in 1998. All good things take time.
I believe you're still working for the National Park Service. How hard is it to juggle a full time job with writing? And what do you do to relax?
Once upon a time, I had this vision of The Novelist sitting serenely in a comfortable sunlit office tapping happily away at the keyboard… Hah! Reality has set in.
Yes, I am still working full time for the National Park Service. It is sometimes very hard and dispiriting to juggle two careers, but the truth about getting published, even when your book is successful, is that it's often impossible to leave the day career. A fledgling writing career is just too iffy financially, and last time I checked, my cats haven't offered to take jobs in order to support me! I wish they'd at least vacuum or do the dishes! I am afraid the two careers leave me little time for some of my favorite relaxing activities, such as canoeing or hiking. Last summer, I put the canoe in only ONCE! That's criminal, but no one said a writing career would be easy! Is it worth it? I have asked myself this question time and again, and truthfully, my life is much richer for having pursued -- and achieved -- a lifelong dream.
Ms. Britain is one of the friendliest individuals we have come across in a long time. Be sure to check out her official web site: Green Rider. After reading her book, be sure to e-mail her (e-mail address can be found on her web site) and tell her what you thought of it. I'm sure she would love to hear from you.
Search Amazon.com for that special book
Copyright © 1999-2001 Futurefiction.com. All rights reserved worldwide.