Q & A With J. R. Frontera

Halloween profile picWe’re going to try something new this week.

Firstly, be sure to go check out the current battle, The Clash of Curses and get your comments and votes in.

Now on to the new stuff.

It is our policy here at the arena that authors should not respond to comments on their own stories. WeΒ believe the works of writing in our battles should stand on their own without the authors providing any additional insight or explanation. If they want the readers to experience something, they should put it into the text. Actually that’s sound advice for all authors…

At any rate, we also realize that some readers and some authors very much want to chat and mingle and exchange ideas. In the age of the internet this is only natural.

So here’s what we’re going to do.

We are opening up this thread to allow you to submit whatever questions you want to for J. R. Frontera, the author of last week’s winner “A.N.G.E.L.s.

Go ahead and drop your questions in the comments and she will pop in later in the day when she has some time to give you all some answers.

Have fun and ask away!

(Oh and keep in mind that this is a test-run for this concept so we’re notΒ entirely sure how it will all work, but we decided it was worth testing even without all the kinks figured out. Feedback is welcome.)

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  1. Hello J. R.! Thanks for coming back to chat with us.

    I was wondering what your next project is. Are you working on a novel or short story or something top secret?

    • Thanks for letting me come back and be a guinea pig for this new feature! I know I love the idea, so hopefully lots of other people will too!

      As for your question, I actually have a few projects I’m working on simultaneously. I completed the rough draft of a sci-fi novel (entitled PRIMUS for now) in January, so the next step will be editing. I’ll start that for Camp NaNoWriMo in April, and want to have it in query/submission shape by June 2015.

      Meantime, I’m about 1/3 of the way through a top secret novella, and about 1/4 of the way through a collection of related short stories of mine I’d classify as something like space adventure with a dash of paranormal and steampunk. Both of those will be self-published when complete and polished.

      Aside from these main projects, I regularly attempt to participate in challenges, prompts, or contests such as the Arena itself offers, and my aim for 2015 is to submit a short story to an SFWA-approved market every month!

      So lots and lots in the air, as usual. Thanks for the question! πŸ™‚

  2. Short stories vs novels. Which do you prefer as a writer? a reader? why?


    • Oh, excellent question! Wow.

      I think you’ll love my answer! Because the answer is … BOTH! πŸ˜‰ It’s the truth, though. Short stories and novels each have their pros and cons.

      It’s tempting to say as a writer and reader I prefer short stories. Because writing short stories requires much less time than a novel. And sometimes as a writer it’s really nice to sit down and hammer out an ENTIRE story in a few hours vs (at least for me) over a year. With short stories, there’s no unfinished manuscript hanging over your head day after day. You just sit down, write it, and it’s done. Sure, there’s editing and maybe some revision, but it’s still a FRACTION of the time and effort it takes to pen an entire novel. Especially my kind of novels, which seem to always reach across the 100,000 word mark no matter what I do.

      Same reason short stories are great as a reader. The time commitment to read and enjoy them is minimal. And the really great short stories still stick with you when you’ve finished them, even if they only took you five minutes to read. I LOVE a short story that can surprise me at the end and leave me pondering for weeks afterward. I greatly admire the authors who can accomplish this, and strive to be one of them.

      Which is why I’ve taken to writing more short stories over the last two years. I used to consider myself a failure at short stories. But I think I’m getting better at them after all this practice. Because of the very fact you have to delicately weight the balance of length vs information vs characterization vs plot vs emotional impact on the reader. It takes more finesse as a writer to write an effective short story, in my opinion. And that’s why I need all the practice and feedback I can get, and I’m so happy to have this Q and A!

      On the other hand … novels. Inevitably, every time I write a short story, the novel encompassing that short story comes to mind. And that’s why novels are awesome to write: because they are long. And involved. And you can build ENTIRE WORLDS. And you can explore character motivations and change in great depth. And as a reader you can really get invested in a novel. You can really escape to that other world in a much deeper sense than with a short story, even a well written one. So, it really depends what you’re in the mood for!

      Personally, I enjoy both for their own reasons, and choose what to read or write at any given time based on how much energy or time I have at the moment! (And that was probably a MUCH longer answer than you anticipated!) Thanks for the great question!

  3. Hi JR! On reading A.N.G.E.L.s, I was a little thrown by the lack of voice for the male character.

    Was this a conscious choice or just how the character turned up on the page? (Just to unpack that, was he intended to be a kind of archetypal strong silent warrior?)

    • Another good point! And question!

      Short answer, that’s how the character turned up on the page. While writing the story, I didn’t think much about his voice, I wrote him down how he was in my head. How he sounded, how he thought, what he would say in those situations, etc. The part of the story where he talks about not really feeling anything wasn’t planned, I just realized while writing all of that that he DIDN’T feel anything there where I thought he should. But he just didn’t. So rather than forcing him to do or say or be something that felt unnatural to him, I went with it.

      When I read your comment on the story thread, I realized you were totally right about his voice. Then when I thought on it more, I came to the conclusion it wouldn’t be any other way regardless.

      Jonathan is a secondary character in one of my WIP novels, so sometimes I write short stories of his past to explore his character more for myself, since it’s a rather complex one. This story veered off from what really happened/happens to him, but his central character is still the same. And your comment really made me realize how messed up he is! πŸ˜› But he would be after the life he’s had. He is, essentially, “cored” (and I love that way of describing it). Hopefully that didn’t make him come off as a flat character, especially in such a short story.

      That’s why I wanted to be sure the reader knew he had a severe lack of feelings, so they would know why he was like that. And while such a character is hard to pull off long-term because it’s hard for readers to empathize with him (and this is why I couldn’t get into Dexter, btw), I think such a character is also tragic, and hoped readers would feel at least a bit of sorrow for him, and wonder what could have happened to him to make him this way, and wonder if he might have any chance at redemption … at least until he’s blown up. πŸ˜› And then once he’s blown up, wonder if that regret he felt came only because his actions led to his own death, or if it might have gone deeper than that.

      Does that make sense? So I guess maybe he was intended to be the strong silent warrior … just not out of the notion that he wants to protect others or himself, it’s just because he honestly doesn’t care about anything but the job.

  4. J.R., great story. Was wondering if you could explain how you got into writing Sci-Fi and if you have ever tried to write any other genres?

    • Thanks Ian! Glad you enjoyed! And more good questions!

      It’s hard to define exactly how I got into writing sci-fi. Going back as far as I can remember, there were three things I prominently enjoyed: horses, dinosaurs, and anything to do with outer space. As a child, all the books I read related to animals in some form or another … until I found a stash of old sci-fi books owned by my late grandfather. I think that’s what really started me on the sci-fi track. Reading those old sci-fi books, which I loved (October the First is Too Late, Earthborn, the original Dune trilogy, etc), and then having a father who was mildly into Star Trek and Star Wars. Watching the original Star Wars trilogy all the way through as a pre-teen sealed the deal. Plus, ya know, in science fiction you can bring back the dinosaurs if you want!

      So that’s how it started, I think. Sci-fi is what I loved more than any other genre, pretty much, (aside from the Black Stallion series!) and what I was most familiar with when I began writing my own stories (excluding my very first stories, crudely drawn instead of written — these also were all about horses … or Elmo). So it was naturally the genre I wanted to play in myself.

      I had little tolerance at the time for reading any genre but sci-fi or fantasy. This could have been because of the AP Lit classes I took all through highschool. We read a lot of great books, and some terribly boring ones, but of course none within my favorite genres. So maybe it was also an act of rebellion?

      In any event, I prefer SFF because of the massive potential of those genres. Entire planets, worlds, cultures, aliens, politics, ecosystems, social constructs can be created. You can take a technology and run with it, explore it to its potential end (such as in Jurassic Park – cloning – or Prey – nanotechnology) for bad or good. The possibilities are just endless and I can’t resist exploring them. πŸ™‚

      Have I tried to write any other genres? Hrmmmm. *thinks really hard* I once wrote a 500 word essay on a childhood memory that got me accepted into the Institute for Children’s Literature! But I think that’s it, honestly. I do have three novel ideas which are contemporary, no sci-fi or fantasy in sight! Two dealing with family and self-identity issues and one dealing with the small business office life, but I haven’t started a word of them yet. So to date, I haven’t really written anything except science fiction and fantasy, unless it’s poetry or that one essay (and a pitiful attempt at horror with one short story).

      I HAVE, however, issued a self-challenge to myself to write something in every genre before I die. So there’s that. πŸ˜€

  5. Thank you for your kind comments on us as judges. And thanks for a fascinating story.

    You created such a vivid alternative reality. I was curious about where you find your inspiration.

    What writers fuel you up as an author? Who would you love to appear with in an anthology? Do you draw inspiration from places outside of the written word (e.g., music, nature)?

    • I loved the judge comments on my story! You did a great job of really breaking it down and thinking about it in-depth. Thanks for putting so much thought and effort into rendering a judgment! πŸ™‚

      Since my comments are beginning to look like books themselves, I’ll try to keep this a bit shorter! Hopefully …

      The short answer to where I find inspirations is: everywhere! I even did a whole blog post about this, because that answer is sometimes frustrating to hear, lol. (https://jrfrontera.wordpress.com/2014/03/08/how-to-get-more-story-ideas/)

      But yes, I do most definitely draw inspiration from places outside of the written word. So-called “epic” music drives a whole lot of my fiction (you can find fantastic mixes on YouTube, simply search for “epic music mix”). Nothing I love more than writing a dramatic scene to some blaring epic music! Also, most definitely nature. I save to my computer any beautiful, scary, or desolate nature pictures to use an inspiration for fictional settings. I write using Scrivener, so I load those pics into my Research folder within Scrivener to look at while writing any particular scene in a similar environment. And people, too. Love to people-watch. Love to delve into our weird psychological issues and how our brain works to make characters react in realistic ways and give them realistic baggage. And movies and videogames, too, can offer inspiration in their own ways. (ie, watching LotR or Harry Potter again can newly-inspire me to get back to work on my fantasy novel, etc.)

      Writers that fuel me … I hate to sound old-fashioned or anything, but Isaac Asimov and Frank Herbert had a large impact on me. Tolkien as well. More modern authors: Michael Crichton – I loved how he explored possible ends to technology especially. Love or hate him, Stephen King (specifically The Dark Tower series, big impact on me as well). Elizabeth Peters – her characters are fabulous! This might be unconventional, but Russell T. Davies’ run on Doctor Who – his take on the drama aspect was addictive, and I’d love to do something of the same in my own fiction. πŸ™‚

      Anthology authors … sheesh! Well I’d be tickled pink to be featured alongside anyone well-respected in the industry, even if they aren’t my personal favorite! GRRM, Kevin J. Anderson, any of the above mentioned … I’m sure there’s many I’m forgetting too, but great question!

  6. Hi J.R. Really liked the ending. Much more violent (and fitting, even though that probably sounds evil lol) than I anticipated. You KNOW something’s coming, and it’s not going to be a little thing after the build-up of Lynn’s character and past, which I really enjoyed and think you did well. Reminded me of some of the characters Angelina Jolie has played, which only adds to the confidence in Lynn’s potential, and in my opinion, gives the reader reason to not underestimate her. Which Jonathan knows not to do, but he still does, because he simply can’t comprehend how thoroughly her mind works, especially when it comes to anticipating his moves. Ha, kinda like Mr. Smith does over and over in that film. Hope you don’t mind the comparison.

    Anyway, I was excited to learn this might be part of a bigger story (with Jonathan as a secondary cog in a larger machine). Unfortunately this was his last adventure! Or was it? You said in an earlier post this veered off from “what really happened to him,” so now did this become an alternate reality, or is he now dead in any sequel to your WIP? And thus making your current WIP a prequel to this story? πŸ™‚

    • Hello Rod! Sorry for the delay in getting to your question, I was away all weekend nerding out at Planet Comicon, but you knew that already!

      I don’t mind the comparison to Mr. and Mrs. Smith, no. I enjoyed that film and it is an interesting concept I wanted to explore myself, yes. The story of Lynn and Jonathan does echo that in a way, definitely.

      Good question about the sequel/prequel and how Jonathan might fair in them! While writing this one, I planned for it to be an alternate reality. Just something to explore for fun for this particular challenge. But now that you mention it, the WIP could indeed be a prequel to this story. Mostly. There might be a few details that don’t fit, but I won’t really know until that WIP is complete, really.

      So for now, this will remain an alternate reality. I did not originally intend for Jonathan to die in the novel version, honestly. But I’m not wholly against it, either. So we’ll just have to see what happens when I finally complete that one! πŸ™‚

      Thanks for the question!

  7. J.R., I’m curious about Jonathan’s fighting techniques. How did you research for those? Do you know those techniques from personal experience?

    I enjoyed the definite ending… or was it definite?

    You write so well! It was a pleasure to read your story! What kind of experience or training has prepared you for this endeavor?

    • Another good question! πŸ™‚

      I researched Jonathan’s fight moves from YouTube! I had a general idea of what I wanted him to accomplish, then looked it up to be sure it could actually be done and to make sure I had body movements correct and wasn’t explaining something that wasn’t physically possible.

      Unfortunately I do not know many moves personally (although I did rope the hubby into helping me practice one so I could make sure a woman character in my novel could properly throw the much larger male character), though for a long while now I’ve wanted to take some kind of class, mostly just to use as a resource for my stories!

      Watching MMA fights is another good way to pick up fighting moves, and I do that, too. There is a difference though in the MMA kind of fighting and street-fighting, so I try to be conscious of that and reflect it in the stories too, depending on who is fighting and the specific situation.

      The ending! Haha. For now, it is a definite ending. But the phrasing is vague enough I could see Jonathan coming back someday if needed …. πŸ˜‰

      I’m so glad you enjoyed this story and happy you like my writing style! As far as “endeavor”, do you mean this particular short story challenge? Or writing in general? Either way the answer is really the same: in order to write well, you must write a whole lot. I went to a panel at our local convention this weekend on writing and I loved one of the points they made: “Writing is the only endeavor in which we think our practice should be perfect. We need to get out of that mindset.” Basically, if we were to go learn pottery, or painting, or carpentry, we wouldn’t expect our first try to come out beautiful and perfect and get sold to a museum for millions of dollars! But for some reason writers have a hard time realizing that ALL the writing they do is essentially PRACTICE. They expect every piece to come out perfect and be loved by the world. But that’s impossible and just won’t happen. The more you practice, the better you get. The more crap you write, the better you’ll become.

      Write a lot, get the crap out the way so that the writing gets better and people actually start wanting to read it, acquire it, buy it, etc, that’s my motto! And I’ve been writing for about 16 years now, so that amounts to a lot of crap! πŸ˜‰

      I’ve only been practicing at short stories for about two years now, and in that time not written all that many. But I can already tell they are getting better, slowly and surely. I’m happy that people seemed to really like this one. Gives me hope that I can keep improving! Thanks again!

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