Emerging Author Interview: Deborah Coates

Deborah Coates grew up on a farm in western New York. She has degrees in Animal Science and Agronomy and once helped plant a field of sugar beets in northern Ohio in the rain. She currently lives in central Iowa with a Rottweiler and a German Pinscher. Deb has published stories in Asimov’s, Strange Horizons, and SCIFICTION.  Her stories have been reprinted in Best American Fantasy 2008, Year’s Best Fantasy 6, and Best Paranormal Romance. She recently sold her first novels, the beginnings of a new contemporary rural fantasy series, to Tor. Find her on Twitter and Livejournal.

Recently, we chatted with Coates about her writing, her new series and her love genre fiction.

LS: WIDE OPEN is your debut novel, but you have published many short stories in various highly respected journals such as Strange Horizons, SCIFICTION, Best American Fantasy 2008, Year’s Best Fantasy 6, and Best Paranormal Romance. What made you shift from writing shorts into publishing a novel?

I do like writing short stories and, if I had time, I would love to write both novels and short stories, but there are a couple of reasons I shifted. One, though I know it’s unlikely, there is at least a possibility that I could be a full- or part-time writer of novels. There’s almost no possibility of that if I only wrote short stories. Second, there’s the opportunity to tell a larger store and to spend more time with the characters and the world. I love that I can look at one particular moment in a short story, but I also really like the scope that a novel allows me.

I don’t believe that I’ve given up short stories completely. I still get ideas for them. I hope I can carve out the time to write them again someday.

LS: Many writers struggle on their Writer’s Road. What was your journey to publication like?

My journey to publication was mostly long, with lots of pauses and resets along the way. I didn’t really understand editing, or that you could edit your writing, until I worked on my master’s thesis. That experience convinced me that I could write, instead of just making things up in my head. Then I had to learn to finish things. Then I had to send them out.

Eventually, I began to get acceptances. At which point, too soon for me, I think, I decided to work on a novel. I didn’t sell anything for five years. As I said, I have trouble working on stories and novels at the same time and that was discouraging. At the end of that five-year dry spell, however, I sold ‘Articles of a Personal Nature’ to SCIFICTION, which was crucial because Ellen made me revise the ending and doing that work, which involved revising no more than about two paragraphs and was HARD, I finally understood endings.

After that it was all free and easy! Wait…no it wasn’t. But, when I finally wrote WIDE OPEN and began to send it out, it was pretty straightforward. I like to think it was because I put in a LOT of work upfront. Let’s pretend that was the reason.

LS: Hallie is such a dynamic, “piss and wind” sort of character. She’s strong and doesn’t seem to really like being lied to or treated like she’s helpless. I love that about her. What was the genesis of her characterization?

The basic idea for WIDE OPEN began with an opening line about Hallie. That line is gone–I don’t even think it survived the first draft and it’s not quite who Hallie is anyway. But, in many ways, WIDE OPEN exists so that Hallie can be the character that she is. I don’t know if there’s any ‘genesis’ involved, about half the time when I write her I think, what would I NOT do in this situation?

LS: You seem to be very familiar with weaponry, farming life and weather. How much of your personal experience went into this novel and how much of it was research?

Thank you! Those were some of the things I hoped I’d gotten right or at least written believably. Lots of the farm life and the weather are from personal experience. I grew up on a farm in western New York State and I also have degrees in animal science and agronomy. I live in the Midwest now where we have Weather–tornadoes and hailstorms and twenty degree temperature drops. We had lots and lots of snow where I grew up in New York State, but in Iowa, the weather is both colder and hotter and it changes more rapidly. I find it fascinating and sometimes scary.

I have a friend who knows a lot about guns and was willing to help me out. I’d ask him all my questions and he helped me figure out what made sense and if what I was saying sounded right. I also did plenty of my own research on farms and South Dakota and other things, trying to make sure that what I thought I knew was right and also that it applied to western South Dakota.

LS: How did WIDE OPEN come about and how different was the final version from your initial idea for the story?

WIDE OPEN was a natural expansion of some of my short stories. Not that they take place in the same world, other than in the sense that all of them are basically our world. But ‘Chainsaw on Hand’ and ‘How to Hide Your Heart’ and ‘Cowgirls in Space’ are set on the High Plains or feature characters who grew up there. So, when I began to write a novel it seemed natural that it would be contemporary fantasy and that it would be set on the High Plains.

As to how different the final version is from the initial draft, here’s something I haven’t mentioned in other interviews–Dell was not originally Hallie’s sister. And, in fact, in the first draft, Dell died four years before the novel began. The problem was, those two things–the gap in time and Dell as Hallie’s friend, not her sister–drained a lot of the urgency out of the plot. A smart friend convinced me that if Dell and Hallie were sisters and Hallie was home on ten day’s leave for Dell’s funeral, everything else would fall into place. Which it did.

LS: We haven’t seen the last of Martin or Pete, have we?

Funny you should ask! That’s a question that does come up in book 2. Is Martin really gone? Or could he come back?

LS: Which character in WIDE OPEN did you find the easiest to write? Who was the most difficult?

I’d say in many ways Hallie was the easiest to write for some of the reasons I mentioned above. She opts for action over talking, which is handy if a scene threatens to bog down. And although she’s not always attuned to her feelings, she’s pretty direct, which also helps move things forward.

Her father might have been the most difficult to write. I did a lot of fine-tuning of his character. Because he’s kind of cranky and not much of a talker it was hard for me to find a balance where readers could understand him and where he was coming from, but not lose important facets of his character.

LS: I know that you’ve got two more books planned in the WIDE OPEN universe. Can you tell us anything about what Hallie and Boyd will be up to?

The second book is currently called DEEP DOWN. Hallie and Boyd are still in Taylor County and it begins not all that long after WIDE OPEN ends. They’re about to discover that there are some unexpected consequences from Martin’s earlier actions. Boyd will get a visit from someone out of his past. And Hallie’s trying to figure out how ghosts, South Dakota and Boyd fit into the life she thought she’d have.

LS: The scope of the publishing industry is changing. What is your opinion of the evolution of the e-book and self publishing and their impact on the industry?

I think e-books are terrific. I read a lot of e-books and I love carrying around an e-reader, particularly when I travel. I also listen to a lot of audiobooks–at least four a month. And I still read paper books. Each of those formats is useful to me and I hope they’re all around for a long time.

I also think that self-publishing and e-books are in a tremendous state of flux right now. I’m not going to predict how it will all turn out. I hope that in the end we have great books available and great ways to discover them. Discovery is going to be critical.

LS: What led you into writing SciFi and do you think you’d ever write outside of your genre?

I’ve read science fiction and fantasy all my life. I read mysteries and mainstream too, but A WRINKLE IN TIME and LORD OF THE RINGS were some of my first great reading loves and I think that sticks with you. I wouldn’t say, no, to writing in another genre or even something more mainstream. We’ll see. I’ve got lots of ideas. I need the time to write them!

LS: Thanks so much for answering my questions. I really enjoyed the book and am looking forward to the next installment!

Thanks so much for your questions! I enjoyed answering them.

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