Welcome back for the continuation of our chat with Jean-Christophe Valtat, author of The Mysteries of New Venice series, which includes Aurorarama and the new sequel. Luminous Chaos
Part one can be read here.
AA: I was recently on a world building panel at a convention, talking with authors about their methods for their stories. What elements did you include so readers could feel the New Venice world and history?
JCV: First it’s in the Arctic, snow and ice are the best background for clear vision. Then New Venice is itself a kind of museum: its monuments are culled from world fairs and failed architecture projects. It is full of references, down to its very name, so it will appear oddly familiar instead of just foreign. I guess that’s one of the many reasons of steampunk’s currents success- it’s very visual simply because it’s easier to remember the past than the to envision the future.
AA: What items absolutely had to be in the story and what kinds of things were sadly edited out?
JCV: Everything that goes through my head has a right to be in the book: If you’re focused, or in the kind of right trance, it will necessarily have a link, conscious or unconscious, with the rest. It is the beauty of world building that is sufficiently elastic to accommodate all your whims – what would it be good for otherwise? I am also of the minority who thinks that products of the imagination are as real as ”real” events –they are actual mental events in a real brain, after all- so I hate to change what I wrote, because I feel that’s cheating with some sort of reality. So, in the end, there’s nothing much that’s edited out – some jokes, perhaps, that I fail to find funny after the umpteenth reading.
AA: What are some memorable fan reactions to both books which you’ve heard about?
JCV: My favorite comes from a bad review, about my female characters: “Where does he meet women like that ?”. I thought that was cute.
AA: What kind of attention has Aurorarama generated?
JCV: Writing in foreign language has this downside that you can’t really be sure of how it would appear to native readers. So I was somewhat worried about the critical reception and I was very relieved and happily surprised to find it mostly positive and supportive, be it in blogs or magazines. It was a great help in starting the second book. Regarding readers, Aurorarama started slowly, but managed to stick around to this day –which I also take as a good omen.
AA: Every author I’ve talked with has a different journey to seeing their works in print. What was your publishing experience like?
JCV: A dream come true. I had this French novella, 03 translated out of the blue by F,S & G, and so I suddenly had people to come out about my English writing. I was first very hesitant about sending it, because I did not want to look like a fool, but one morning I woke up and I finally took the chance. The next thing I hear about is that Meville House wants to publish it. As Ezra Pound says in substance – string a few words in an way that’s not too boring and marvelous things will happen, with no other explanations.
AA: For the aspiring writer, what lessons did you learn about having an agent and editor, their feedback, and your writing?
JCV: I have no agent –so what I learned is that you don’t always need one! Not being a native speaker, I desperately need editors to make sure that the English is spick and span and fluid and as visual as I want to make it. Beyond that point, I tend to be a little wary of suggestions. Any book is like Tom Riddle’s horcrux diary in Harry Potter. It’s your soul that is there and you don’t want people to mess too much with it.
AA: You seem to have done well with your books using an editor, and not having an agent to shop it around. If you weren’t a writer, what else would you be doing now?
JCV: Still trying to become one, I suppose.
AA: What have book tours and conventions been like, and the in-person fan reaction? Where did you go on this recent tour?
JCV: I have been to litquake in San Francisco, California, and then in Durham (N.H), Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle, Austin and New York for a few events. They were more or less successful, as these things are, but there’s always a chance to discuss a little with people- as this very conversation goes to prove. Steampunk conventions are always something special–they tend make me lose my bearings completely.
AA: (Laugh) Conventions cause many people to lose their bearing in all the activity! What do you do to keep a balance between writing, touring, and the rest of your life?
JCV: Nothing special. But then, balance has never been much of a concern for me. I’m lucky that way!
AA: Do you get to talk much with other writers and artists to compare notes, have constructive critique reviews, and brainstorm new ideas?
JCV: I sometimes exchange with close friends about their writing, or mine, but not really in any kind of professional or organized setting. Personally, I prefer not to show my books before they’re finished, as I’m not too sure I like advice. Writing is too deeply personal to trust others about it.
We’ll break here in our chat with Jean-Christophe Valtat.
Next time, he’ll talk about location, interests and his other works.
Keep up to date on his website and get your copy of Aurorarama and Luminous Chaos today.