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P. Anastasia On How To Create Compelling Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories

An Interview With Ian Benke

Spend time in nature and write down the different scents and sounds you experience. The more you see and do, the more believable your writing becomes. You probably can’t ride a dragon, but you can take horse-riding lessons and feel what it’s like to glide across the earth on a mount.

Science Fiction and Fantasy are hugely popular genres. What does it take for a writer today, to write compelling and successful Science Fiction and Fantasy stories? Authority Magazine started a new series called “How To Write Compelling Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories”. In this series we are talking to anyone who is a Science Fiction or Fantasy author, or an authority or expert on how to write compelling Science Fiction and Fantasy.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing P. Anastasia.

Kentucky author and voice talent P. Anastasia has written two children’s books and nine Young Adult novels, including Morning Puppa, Exile of the Sky God, the Fluorescence series, Fates Aflame, and Dark Diary.

Anastasia’s unique take on storytelling springs to life with mystery, charm, and a little bit of magic. She lends her voice talents to radio, television, and audiobooks. More information can be found at www.PAnastasia.com.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share a story about what first drew you to writing over other forms of storytelling?

I cannot remember a time in my life devoid of written stories. My parents read bedtime stories to me, ingraining a love of books in me at a young age. These varied in length and included everything from Native American myths to Aesop’s fables. I owned an extensive collection of Little Golden Books and a plethora of books on tape. The library was also an essential stop for me, and I visited it many afternoons on my walks home from school.

While perusing colorful spines at bookstores, I often focused on beautiful imagery across the pages. Illustrated stories resonated with me, and I was drawn to visual art. I have a good hand at many crafts, but the ability to conjure visual art in the forms I most appreciate has always escaped me. Words became my tool of choice, and I use them to bring scenes to life without a brush and paint.

Writing has always been a means of sharing inspiration, magic, and hope. Stories guided me through tough times, and it has always been my hope that my books might do the same for others.

You are a successful author. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

My top three requirements for success would be integrity, determination, and discipline.

Without integrity, everything falls apart. You must stand by what you write and write with your heart. People will relate to characters who seem real and make mistakes. Memorable heroes don’t always make the right decisions, and sometimes a reader may disagree with the choices they make, but imperfection is what makes characters believable. Writing with integrity is doing your best to minimize outside influence and expectations.

This approach doesn’t come easily to new writers, but over time, you learn to take accountability for your stories and the impact your characters’ choices have on the reader. Once words are on the page and in someone else’s hands, they aren’t yours anymore. The reader will use preconceived notions and personal experiences to shape your book and its morals. This is something we must accept to steel ourselves against regret.

The other two traits every author needs are determination and discipline. Without determination, you’ll never get anything written, and no books will ever get finished. Fight past the naysayers and remember that your best book is still waiting to be written. This is also where discipline comes in. Set goals. Follow them. When your muse isn’t there, go hunting for them. Great books are made by turning awful rough drafts into incredible manuscripts. You cannot edit a blank page.

Can you tell us a bit about the interesting or exciting projects you are working on or wish to create? What are your goals for these projects?

I’ve got a few irons in the fire at the moment. A new Young Adult novel series is in the works, this time with a younger cast than I’ve ever written about before, combined with a much darker storyline and setup. Another project I would like to see ongoing is my line of children’s picture books. During the lockdown at the beginning of the 2020 pandemic, picture books were an opportunity for me to remove some stress from the lengthy writing process and bring a little more color and joy to the art of storytelling. I have always wanted to write children’s books, and I am so glad I have finally made some connections that have made that possible. While I know I’ll always be compelled to write novels for tweens to adults, I hope to eventually have a sizable backlist of children’s picture books to share with young readers. It is a happy medium between my love of writing and poetry and my love of illustration. Not to mention how much fun it has been working with an illustrator.

Wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Let’s begin with a basic definition so that all of us are on the same page. How do you define sci-fi or fantasy? How is it different from speculative fiction?

As someone who has always been fascinated by science, biology, genetics, the idea of time travel, and more, I would define sci-fi as a look at what might be if science and technology were stretched beyond today’s limitations and understanding.

On the other hand, fantasy allows the author to run free without the constraints of reality. In fantasy, dragons can exist because the author deems it so or even if a fairy princess decides she wants them to. In science fiction, they would have either had to evolve from something else, were genetically modified or cloned, or brought to life by another means involving chemicals, robotics, ancient dormant creatures, or DNA altering processes (to name a few ideas).

While speculative fiction does exist without fantasy and sci-fi, fantasy and sci-fi rarely exist without being speculative. All of my current titles would fall into the speculative fiction category.

For example, in two of my series, I speculate how the world might be changed if vampires existed due to genetic mutations (Dark Diary) or how humans might gain special abilities because aliens decided to splice our DNA with their own (Fluorescence). My other series, Fates Aflame, speculates an alternate version of Earth far in the future, where the continents have reconnected, and magic and mythical creatures exist.

It seems that despite countless changes in media and communication technologies, novels and written fiction always survive, and as the rate of change increases with technology, written sci-fi becomes more popular. Why do you think that is?

Science is complicated, but written fiction allows writers and readers to dig deeper and flesh out a story with greater detail. When you watch a television show or movie, your mind has little opportunity to fill in the gaps you see on screen. A monster has a specific look and medium decided ahead of time and presented to the viewer. A hero or heroine’s costume is rendered to look the way the creators envisioned it.

Contrary to that, in written sci-fi, an author may choose to be hyper-descriptive when explaining how a complex idea or machine works. The author may also decide to let the reader’s imagination fill in the gaps. Written sci-fi offers more options to both the reader and the author.

In your opinion, what are the benefits to reading sci-fi, and how do they compare to watching sci-fi on film and television?

As I mentioned above, written words allow storytellers space to entertain an idea more thoroughly. Authors have the option to describe in great detail how a fantastical machine works or how a magical creature came to be.

For on-screen imagery, creators can build and display complex ideas to viewers in ways that may be more palatable for various audiences and ages. The viewer does not need to use imagination to see exactly what the creator envisioned.

What authors and artists, dead or alive, inspired you to write?

I have been inspired by film and illustration as much, if not more, than the written word. Fantasy films of the ’80s and ’90s fueled my imagination. Films like Ladyhawke, Indiana Jones, various iterations of Robin Hood, and animated Disney cartoons wove magic and adventure into my being as I grew up. In addition, the TV series Forever Knight and the Disney animated series, Gargoyles heavily inspired me.

I devoured the Animorphs books by K. A. Applegate when I was a kid. Her influence can be found in some of my works.

Today, authors like Neil Gaiman and the late Edgar Allan Poe continue to influence my view of dark gothic fantasy and the more mysterious and macabre side of life.

If you could ask your favourite Science Fiction and Fantasy author a question, what would it be?

I would ask Neil Gaiman: “What do you do when a character disagrees with you?”

We’d like to learn more about your writing. How would you describe yourself as an author? Can you please share a specific passage that you think exemplifies your style?

Something I stand by and the very words stated in the preface of Dark Diary are, “Tell your stories as only you can. Be brave.”

Telling a story the way it is meant to be told can hurt you and your reader, but that doesn’t mean it should happen any differently. Many readers remember that moment they felt betrayed by an author when a favorite character died or left the story in another way, but the author probably didn’t do that to spite that reader. It was most likely meant to be and will likely be why other, better things happen later in the story.

When used precisely, pain makes a story stick. Movies like All Dogs Go to Heaven and The NeverEnding Story taught kids that pain and loss shape you. While most people don’t enjoy reading all doom and gloom, I would describe myself as someone who writes fantasy sandwiched between layers of light and darkness. I love a happy ending as much as the next person, but the reality is that not all happy endings are, by some definitions, happy.

After stripping all the fantasy and sci-fi elements from my writing, I strive to leave readers with real people dealing with real problems. This has always been a core principle in my books.

Based on your own experience and success, what are the “Five Things You Need To Write Compelling Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories?” If you can, please share a story or example for each.

1. Research: Before starting to write ANYTHING, you must have done your research. It doesn’t matter if the subject is real or fictitious; great stories are born from facts. Set out to experience new things, ideas, smells, tastes, and sensations. Many will tell you to read a lot of books, but I will tell you to DO a lot of things. If you want to write a book containing a swordfight, take an introductory class in swordplay to get your feet wet and better grasp the sensations involved with the craft.

Spend time in nature and write down the different scents and sounds you experience. The more you see and do, the more believable your writing becomes. You probably can’t ride a dragon, but you can take horse-riding lessons and feel what it’s like to glide across the earth on a mount.

Do as much research as you can before and during your writing process. Look up diagrams and study photographs of the people, places, and topics you plan to cover.

2. Editor: Wherever you are in your writing journey, you must have an editor you can trust. Not just any editor will do. Everyone is different, and just as we are picky about dentists and doctors, we must also be picky about our editors. A good editor can make you or break you. They will push you to do your best, point out your flaws without belittling you, and help you grow so that you can tell a story the world needs to read. If you and your editor don’t click, get a new one. Find a professional editor who respects you and understands your vision.

3. Motive (or intention): If you don’t care about your story, neither will your readers. Your motives and intentions can be as hard-hitting as inspiring others to fight injustice, beat cancer, reject old stereotypes, or as mundane as giving someone a glimpse into a realm of imaginary creatures so that they might experience the joy of escapism. Whatever your motive is, you must have one and use it as your mantra as you write. Before you edit the work, recall your original intention and ensure the final piece reflects that. It’s okay if the intention changed or evolved along the way. What’s important is that it remains a consistent thread throughout the book and doesn’t only appear at the end.

4. Flawed Characters: No one is perfect. We certainly have our ideals, but even the most pristine characters have flaws. If they don’t, either the author or the character is lying to you. Imperfection makes us real and different. We all have our own human experiences to guide us on our paths, and we learn from them in our own ways. Some of the most memorable characters have tragic backstories, fear love, trust too much or too little, lack a funny bone, or use humor to hide insecurities. These “flaws” make us love them and help us relate.

5. Experience: Your best book is on the horizon. Readers won’t always agree, but that is the truth. As you write, you grow, and so does your ability to tell better stories. Maybe not better because they are more beloved than previous works, but better because you have learned so much since the last piece.

Your editor taught you something, you’ve had new experiences or met new people, and you’ve encountered an entirely new cast of characters in your head. Keep writing. Keep telling stories. This is the only way we can become better writers. This isn’t to say that your most well-received book won’t be one from your past, but I believe it’s worthwhile to assume that your best work yet is still stirring in the depths of your mind, waiting to rise.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Entertainment, Business, VC funding, and Sports read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them :-)

There are many wonderful people out there I’d love to chat with, but when I step back and think about it, I’d have to say Jeff Goldblum.

I’ve seen numerous interviews with him, and he is an otherworldly force. I would love to engage in a rousing discussion about art or the state of the universe with him. He comes across as a very well-spoken old soul with so much knowledge and heart to give. He also focuses on his interviewers in a way that makes them appear like friends. I genuinely believe it would be a treat to have a profound conversation with Jeff Goldblum over lunch and tea.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Readers can find information on all of my books and upcoming events at www.PAnastasia.com

Social media links:

https://www.facebook.com/FluorescenceBooks

https://www.instagram.com/fluorescentones

I also have a bi-weekly newsletter featuring goodies and interesting tidbits I don’t post elsewhere. It can be joined by visiting: https://panastasia.com/#mailmunch-pop-1083970 or by going to my official website and clicking on “newsletter” in the “social” dropdown menu.

Thank you for these excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent. We wish you continued success.

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Ian Benke

Ian Benke

Writer, artist, origami enthusiast, and CEO and Co-Founder of Stray Books