Interview with Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris – Part 2

Welcome back for the conclusion to our interview with Phillipa (Pip) Ballantine and Tee Morris, authors of Phoenix Rising, a Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences story.

Part 1 of the interview can be read here.


AA: Pip and Tee, last time we left off talking about how your other works differ from Phoenix Rising. Authors often talk about how elements of their own lives, the reality and the dreams, make their way into their stories. How did this play into Phoenix Rising?

TM: I grew up on James Bond films and Avengers reruns. As a kid, and as an adult, they are so much fun to watch. My numerous trips to Washington D.C.’s International Spy Museum also appeals to the thrill-seeker and actor in me. I love a good cloak-and-dagger kind of story, and I really wanted to write something like that. There is, now that I think about it, a device in the Spy Museum from the 19th century that is very steampunk — a ring pistol. It looks like a large ring, but it has, in fact, several barrels where small pellets could be fired. Could it stop an opponent? Probably not. Could it incapacitate them? Oh yeah. This fascination of spies, technology, and British manners, I think, all came to fruition here.


AA: Bond and the Avengers, among probably far too many other tv shows, are among my regular re-watching list. Every author I’ve talked with has a different journey to seeing their works in print. What was your publishing experience for Phoenix Rising like?

PB: An adrenalin rush. Pretty much this time last year, we were in the midst of a bidding war for the property. After that was over it was straight into edits, marketing and podcasting. I was blown away that we got a chance to have input into the cover. We both come from an independent press history so working with a publicist from Harper Voyager was a real breath of fresh air.


AA: Thinking about that independent press experience, for the aspiring writer, what lessons did you learn about having an agent and editor, their feedback, and your writing?

TM: You might think your words are gold, but you have to realize the agents and editors are out there not to “undermine your story” but make your book a better book. They may understand the market far better than you can. Bottom line — pick and choose your battles, carefully. Make certain that you are willing to give and take in some areas, and remain steadfast in others. A good example, I can recall, is when an interested party in Phoenix Rising wanted Eliza to be born and raised in England, not New Zealand. Pip and I refused to budge on that. When Harper Voyager told us, “We like the story, but we need more subplots…” we developed those which took a lot of time but well worth the efforts. So yes, know when you want to roll with the feedback, and when you want to make a stand.


AA: Sounds like publishing can be a challenge and it’s important to stick to those things you really believe in about your work. If you weren’t authors, what else would you be doing now?

PB: I’d most likely go back to being a librarian. I worked in the corporate librarian world for thirteen years. I loved doing it, but eventually I had to leave just to keep up with my writing.

TM: I would probably be delving more into teaching and public speaking, something I did freelance for years. However, to do that, I’d still be writing, so if I wasn’t a novelist I’d probably be writing more non-fiction works on Social Media.


AA: What have book tours and conventions been like, and the fan reaction?

PB: We’re just starting off on the convention circuit, but we’ve been welcomed at by all kinds of steampunk and fantasy fans. We filled a room at Balticon for our teaparty where I made New Zealand biscuits.


AA: What do you do to keep a balance between writing and appearances, and the rest of your life?

TM: It’s not easy. I’m also a dad, and when Pip heads back to New Zealand (only for a short bit) I’m a single dad at that. And I have a full time job. There are times I don’t feel I am striking a balance but the balance is more about priorities. Before my job, before my writing, my child comes first. I’m there for her and always will be. I want her to be happy, healthy, and experiencing the wonderful world around us. Then comes the job where I use my Social Media powers for good. Then writing. Then the stuff I love to do related to writing — podcasting and blogging. The balance is not easy, but you can make it. It’s all about the priorities.


AA: Do you get to talk much with other writers and artists to compare notes, have constructive critique reviews, and brainstorm new ideas?

PB: We’ve both been part of the podcast novelist community for quite a while now, and we have some marvelous friends and colleagues. They’re also seeing all kinds of success so we shoot the breeze with them. We also have a dedicated kernel of fans that provide all sorts of useful ideas and fact checking. In Phoenix Rising we have had people contribute things like Italian translations to weapon information.


AA: As you look back on what you’ve accomplished, how have you and your work grown and changed over time?

PB: I’ve become a much more confident writer- which is a good thing since I’ve been doing it for over ten years now. I think learning that you can actually finish a novel is a big first step. I also have found as I have matured so have my characters. Life experiences—even in fantasy writing—are very useful to draw from as a writer.

TM: I think I am better at keeping my narration tight. MOREVI got quite flowery and a bit melodramatic in some places. I am still proud of the book, but it needed an editor. I look at Phoenix Rising and my other works of fiction and see the growth. I just want to continue growing and challenging myself like this.


AA: Writer’s block happens to everyone and can be rather frustrating. What is your solution to overcoming it?

TM: Step away from the computer and exercise. It can be a run, a swim, Zumba, or martial arts, but Writer’s Block for me is my internal indicator telling me I’m working too damn hard and I need a break. So I take one. It can be an hour, two at most. If it’s on a deadline, I head right back in. Otherwise I may take the rest of the day off. If you’re not good to yourself, it can manifest itself in a number of ways. One of them is Writer’s Block.


AA: How are your different home cities for writing? How has distance affected your collaboration? Does location matter for resources, access, publicity, etc?

PB: I’m in Virginia with Tee right now, but Wellington is a very creative place, full of artists of all kinds. It’s also a very beautiful place that fires the imagination.

TM: The biggest blow for us when Pip relocated to the US was in production. When Pip was in New Zealand, we would be writing when each other was fast asleep, meaning we were producing words literally 24 hours at a time. The bad news was the small window we had to share and swap ideas and concepts. In the same room together, Pip and I brainstorm far easier and far more efficiently. I’d much rather have Pip here in order to catch real time reactions and feedback on ideas and directions.


AA: Most of the authors I’ve talked with have some type of day job and that writing is their other job. What has that situation been for you and how has it helped/hindered begin a published writer?

PB: I went full-time writing April 2010. Before that I was a corporate librarian.

TM: I am a Social Media Manager for a company in the identity theft prevention industry. Having the day job has hindered me a bit in that my window of time to write is now very, very narrow. When I was freelancing with public speaking and teaching, I had quite a few more hours to play with, but the steady paycheck with benefits that I’m getting now is nothing to sneeze at. One unexpected perk for my day job is the lunch hour where I can get in a run. When I run, I usually brainstorm a bit about characters, plot developments, and possible gadgets.


AA: Do people outside the regular reading, steampunk, and convention communities recognize you for Phoenix Rising or your other books? What kind of reactions have you received?

TM: That happened, of all places, here at my day job. Someone from IT was walking by my cubicle (which is decorated with a myriad of magnets) and recognized magnets from the card game “Skallywags.” He struck up a conversation with me, and then after a few minutes he looked at my cubicle’s nameplate. He did a double-take and asked “Wait a minute—are you the Tee Morris who does the free audio fiction? I’ve be a fan of yours for years!” That was a bit surreal, but I’m hoping Phoenix Rising will garner that sort of attention.


AA: Looking beyond steampunk, writing and working, what other interests fill your time?

PB: Writing has pretty much consumed my life at the moment, but I do love to travel.

TM: I’m with Pip on that. I love to travel, both in country and overseas. I would like to be able to continue doing that with Pip and my daughter. I’d also like to get back into the martial arts. It’s not only a good workout, it’s a good way to “enhance my calm” particularly around deadlines.


AA: How do those interests influence your work?

PB: Travel is a great way to get inspiration. It broadens your world view and exposes you to other cultures.

TM: Martial arts makes fight scenes a bit easier to write.


AA: It has been great chatting with both of you, hearing about the book and getting to know you a bit better. Do you have any final thoughts to share with our readers?

PB: I am enjoying writing in the steampunk universe, it has allowed me to meet some fantastically creative people.

TM: We’ve been having a blast the more we learn about steampunk, and we are still learning as other steampunk authors that we are defining a genre and have a lot of directions we can go with this. We hope you join us for what’s next.


Thanks again for joining us at Airship Ambassador.

Readers, please check out their website for more information and Ministry news.

Also, have a listen to the Tales from the Archives podcasts

And watch this trailer for Phoenix Rising

Published in: on June 26, 2011 at 7:34 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , ,

The URI to TrackBack this entry is:

RSS feed for comments on this post.

One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Phoenix Rising is such a fun read — thanks for making me laugh with the fast-pace and pop culture references.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: