Interviews: Arrrr! A Chat with Jason Fry!

Welcome to Views from the Tesseract’s very first author interview!  Author Jason Fry was nice enough to be my first try at an interview, and I believe we both enjoyed the experience! You check out my review of his latest book,   The Jupiter Pirates: The Hunt for the Hydra  right here.  

 Brief Bio: Jason Fry is the author of The Jupiter Pirates: The Hunt for the Hydra, published by HarperCollins, as well as nearly two dozen books set in the Star Wars galaxy. A longtime writer, editor and journalist, he lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., with his wife, son, and about a metric ton of Star Wars and baseball stuff. For more about Jupiter Pirates, visit www.jupiterpirates.com.

So without further ado, let’s welcome Jason, and get to those questions!  

Q: I’m always interested in finding out if science fiction writers were also science fiction readers when they were kids.  Did you have a favorite science fiction story or author when you were growing up?

A: I devoured both science fiction and fantasy as a kid — I read Robert Heinlein, Roger Zelazny, J. R. R. Tolkien, Ursula K. Le Guin, Anne McCaffrey, Fritz Leiber, Poul Anderson, Brian Daley, and Tanith Lee, to name just a few. My favorite sci-fi/fantasy author is Jack Vance — it’s just criminal that Vance isn’t more widely known and celebrated. But I didn’t really discover Vance until I was an adult, and his style is so different from mine that I can’t call him an influence. (Though there’s a scene in the second Jupiter Pirates book that’s a deliberate homage to him.)

The science-fiction author I read most avidly as a kid was Arthur C. Clarke — I loved the sweep of his visions, and the way he mixed science fiction with spirituality, or butted them against each other. I loved Childhood’s End, and 2001: A Space Odyssey (more than the movie), and the short stories too. “The Nine Billion Names of God” is a slow burn of a story that’s all setup for a killer final line that leaves you going, “Wait, what?”

Q: Curious bloggers want to know: were you a Treasure Island fan as a kid?  What were the first pirate stories you read that left an impression you?

A: Actually, no — I didn’t read a lot of pirate fiction as a kid. Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin books were a much bigger influence on the shipboard scenes than Treasure Island. (Though don’t get me wrong — Treasure Island is awesome.)

When I wrote Hunt for the Hydra, I didn’t research pirates or piracy at first, but just used my imagination, and let myself be guided by the pirate lore I’d absorbed from a lifetime of being an avid reader. Which can be an effective way of unearthing and isolating the iconic stuff about a genre that sticks in the mind. It’s like if you and I sat down to brainstorm a Western — without doing research or reading a bunch of, say, Larry McMurtry and Louis L’Amour, we’d probably come up with robbing stagecoaches and gunfights at high noon and men in black and mysterious strangers and clinking spurs and cow skulls in the desert and things like that. That would only be the starting point of good storytelling, of course — you’d want to invert the cliches and play with the material in a hopefully interesting way. But it’s not a bad way of boiling the material down to its iconic elements.

From that starting point I did do research. I needed to know some specifics, like ship’s bells and watches and how privateers and prize law worked. And I did a lot of general research into pirates and piracy for the rest of the series — there’s an interesting parallel between Tycho and a key figure in pirate history that will be apparent when the series is finished. But in the beginning, I was winging it, and I did so deliberately. I think that was a good move — it kept Jupiter Pirates from parroting (ahem) the historical reality of piracy too closely.

Q: You mentioned that in the Star Wars books you worked on that prose took a back seat to getting the art and design right.  With your own books, you get a chance to really focus on the prose-what challenges did that bring with it? What was the best part about creating your own story and universe?  What was the hardest part?

A: With Star Wars it depends on the book. Adapting Clone Wars scripts into a novel works the other way, probably — you can take the reader into the characters’ minds in a way that a TV show’s director and writers can’t, so the prose is really important there. But yes, integrating prose with art and design is an interesting challenge. I think I’ve learned from that as a writer. For instance, there’s an art to setting up the structure of a page so the eye follows the storytelling in the way you want, and you can borrow those techniques for prose. Similarly, I’ve learned a lot about writing from movies, and often think about key scenes visually. You can write in a way that speeds the reader up or slows him or her down, change points of view rapidly, use paragraph breaks to make the reader wait, and otherwise try to recreate some of the effects of visual storytelling on the page. I think every form of storytelling has lessons, regardless of the medium you work in.

The best part of creating my own story and universe? Simply put, it’s that it’s mine. I really love Star Wars and hope I’ll get to tell stories in that setting for a long time to come, but by its nature Star Wars is someone else’s vision — ultimately it’s all derived from George Lucas’s experiences and attitudes and hopes and fears. The Jupiter Pirates comes from me — the storytelling and the themes are shaped by how I see myself, my family and friends, and the world. So that’s been very rewarding to explore.

The biggest challenge? Surprisingly, it’s been continuity. I say surprisingly because I’m known among Star Wars fans as having a good grasp of continuity — I’ve delved into everything from galactic geography to starship classifications. With Jupiter Pirates, I’ve had to keep going back to recheck aspects of the world-building to make sure I’ve been consistent, and I’m mildly terrified that errors have crept in somewhere. How long did I say the kids serve their apprenticeship belowdecks? Which asteroids does Earth claim? And so on. Honestly, it’s pretty funny — it’s like I need the other Jason Fry to focus on that stuff, since apparently he’s good at it. But as a fan, it’s definitely made me have more sympathy for creators. The world-building always serves the storytelling, and sometimes you’re going so fast on the latter that the former gets a little blurry.

Q: The Hashoone family has quite a collection of unusual names.  Can you give us any insight into how and why you picked those names?

A: Some of them are mined from my own family tree — 18th and 19th century names have a nice archaic feeling without seeming invented, and a pet peeve of mine as a reader is “spacey” names so littered with apostrophes and what-not that nobody can pronounce them.

Tycho’s name was originally Herschel Hashoone, but I decided — to HarperCollins’ relief, by the way — that didn’t sound heroic enough. I’d taken Herschel from the astronomer William Herschel, so when I needed a new name I turned to another astronomer — Tycho Brahe, best known for losing his nose in a duel.

Sometimes I pick names as placeholders and return at the end of a draft to brainstorm replacements — a brutish character might initially be called Thud Brick or something. This can get me in trouble, though — with the second Jupiter Pirates book I sent off the manuscript with a note that I was still working on a couple of the names, but my editor liked the placeholders and I couldn’t think of anything better, so they stayed in. When I look at those names now I still get this funny shiver — they still feel unfinished to me.

Q: One of the more unusual aspects of Jupiter Pirates is that family is such a central aspect of the story. Can you discuss what prompted you to make this one of the main themes of the story?

A: We all have families, or if we don’t we create them — they’re a source of fundamental love and conflict that we’re all familiar with. That’s universal, in a way that being a space pirate or serving aboard a starship or living on a moon of Jupiter obviously is not.

And because families are so central to our experiences, they’re the foundation for exploring all the human themes that emerge from them. And that can be really valuable. I get impatient with the term “escapism” for fantasy or science fiction. The adventures and the setting are part of the fun, absolutely. But fantasy and science fiction and other supposedly escapist genres are also a way to explore universal themes, and the fantastic trappings make it easier for both readers and authors to engage with those themes. You learn a lot about family legacies from Star Wars, about loyalty from Harry Potter, about the morality of power from Earthsea, but those stories are also really fun. You’ll get those kind of explorations from Jupiter Pirates too, but there are also space battles and tattooed pirates and unironic utterances of “Arrrr.”

Q: Adding on to the above question, did you have siblings growing up? Did those memories help to shape the sibling rivalry aboard the Shadow Comet?

A: I’m an only child. But I’m lucky enough to have close male friends who could qualify as “brothers from another mother,” and a circle of younger female friends whom I adore and consider honorary little sisters. Yana was originally two years younger than Tycho, but I aged her up — she has some adventures later in the series that felt a little implausible if she was 10 at the beginning. Those relationships definitely shaped the sibling bonds and rivalries among the three Hashoone kids.

Q: What can you tell us about the next title in the Jupiter Pirates series: Curse of the Iris?  We’re all ears!

A: Oh, thank you! The next book comes out Dec. 16, though I’ll have sneak peeks and other good stuff on jupiterpirates.com before then. (Come visit!) The premise of Curse of the Iris is that the Hashoone kids discover a clue to the location of a pirate treasure that’s been lost for nearly a century. But as they investigate, they discover the treasure’s history is bound up with that of their own family, and some of that family history isn’t quite to their liking. Family secrets, like treasures, tend not to stay buried….

Thank you, Jason!  Can’t wait to read what you have in store!

Here’s a peek at the cover for  Curse of the Iris . . .

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For more on Jason Fry check out the links below:

Hope you enjoyed my first interview! Comments welcome!

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About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on March 1, 2014, in General Posts, Interviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

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