Today I welcome author Tracy M. Joyce to my blog to discuss Altaica – the first book in her Chronicles of Altaica series.
Where were you born and where do you call home?
I grew up on a farm in Glenburn, a small rural community in Victoria, Australia. Like all farm kids we worked hard, but had the kind of adventures you can only have if you grow up in the country. I suspect many of them make it into my writing. Certainly the horses I’ve owned over the years have made an appearance in my books! Currently I live in Melbourne, with my husband, two cats and two very lazy greyhounds.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Probably from about the age of 12, or at least that’s when I knew I wanted to write. I’d always loved writing stories and creating my own worlds. I can remember at about that age being asked what I wanted to be and I answered, “A writer.” The reply to this was, “You can be a journalist.” When it was explained to me what a journalist did, I replied, “No, I want to write books.” I was also then told that I’d need to get a real job!
How much of yourself, your personality or your experiences, is in your books?
Who we are and how we think is based on the sum total of our experiences, so I think it is inescapable that our experiences come into our writing. I’ve been told that a great deal of myself is in two of my characters, Asha and Isaura, but that wasn’t deliberate. Writers are huge observers of people and their behavior; it’s only natural that what we see is used to construct our characters. Certainly some of my “baddies” are based on people I know. In terms of other experiences and skills I’ve gained throughout life – absolutely they feature in my books: I owned and rode horses for 25 years and practice traditional archery – both of which are in my books.
Have you started your next project? If so, can you share a little bit about your next book?
Yes, There are plans for four more books in The Chronicles of Altaica . The next book, entitled Asena Blessed, is almost a third complete. It continues Isaura’s tale and after what she has endured in Altaica, she is a vastly different young woman. If anything this book has a faster pace, more character upsets and a few extra surprises. It will end the duology dealing with Altaica’s current main protagonist – Isaura. A following duology is planned, which takes place approximately 20 years after the first one. However there will be a standalone book in between these two sets which fills in some important details in the land Isaura came from.
Do you write full-time? If so, what is your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
Yes, I write almost full time. Three days a week I write all day and I set daily word limits and the days in between I either write, edit or work on marketing. I also tutor a select group of secondary students in English. When I write all day, I find I have to go to the library otherwise I just faff about at home and don’t get enough done.
What fuels you as an author to continue to write?
I can’t shut my imagination down and ideas and visuals of stories just keep recurring to me. I have to write them down. I also love creating worlds and putting a lot of what I observe in the real world into my fictional characters. Despite the fact that it’s fantasy, real life provides much of the inspiration behind my writing. For me writing is like spending all day watching your favourite movie! And I love it when my readers feel the same way.
How do you conceive your plot ideas?
It sounds clichéd but Altaica began with a dream. I dreamt one scene from what will be book four. That scene wouldn’t leave me. I felt compelled to write it down and within days an outline for most of book four emerged. I then said to myself, “Well this is just the middle of something. How do they (the characters) get here.” From that and a lot of hard work, came Altaica and what will be Asena Blessed. History, myth, hobbies and names and their meanings all provide inspiration.
Do you outline your books or just start writing?
I’m definitely a mixture in this regard. I know my beginning and ending point in a story in regard to my character outcomes. I also know critical points for my characters that must be reached throughout the plot – in between I “wing” it.
However, nothing is “carved in stone” for me. The precise events at those “critical” junctures may alter as I write and think of an even more horrendous thing to befall my characters, but the end goal in their development is usually set.
Notice I wrote, usually. Sometimes inspiration takes me in a slightly different direction and that character I was going to make the baddie or kill, changes in some way – usually because I enjoy the twist more.
When it comes to writing a sequel I find I am planning a bit more. I have to make sure that all the threads I’ve started in the first book are picked up and continued in the second book. Of course some of these threads go for more than two books.
The last thing I want to do is forget to pick up and continue these threads. I would hate to disappoint my readers in that way!
My main concern in all this – whether I plan or not, is to produce a novel I am happy with, but moreover to not disappoint my fans. Even though the divide between planning and “winging” it is fairly fluid for me, if a bit more planning helps me to write a better book then fine!
Please tell us about your current release.
Altaica is a fast paced epic fantasy that deals with themes of identity and belonging, racism, superstition, and the true nature of friendship. It examines the fragility of human nature when pitted against the desire for survival and personal gain. I love stories with strong female protagonists – there is no swooning for my leading ladies.
Altaica’s leading lady, Isaura, is a child of refugees raised within a community that fears her kind. She has few friends and those she treasures. All her life she has faced challenges, but nothing compared to what she will face when she and her friends flee before an invading army. The journey they undertake will show her who her real friends are, she has to make incredibly difficult, life changing, moral choices, and deal with threats from quarters she never expected.
How did you come up with the title?
My research for my world building covered a wide variety of cultures and periods of history. I have combined various favoured bits of history to create the world in which Altaica is set. However I kept coming back to the weapons of the Ottomans and Mughals as I loved their beauty and reputation, so they feature heavily in the story. I also read about the Turkish myth of the Asena which fitted into my story arc beautifully. I came across the word Altaic used to describe the grouping of the Turkish, Mongol and Tungus languages. Thinking I was being clever I added an “a” onto the word to make Altaica – it had a nice sound to it. (It is actually a Latin word and my Latin teacher would be most displeased to know I didn’t realize this.) It seemed appropriate to use Altaica as the title for a fantasy world and novel, since so much inspiration came from the myth of the Asena and from the pictures of beautiful Ottoman weapons.
What kind of research did you do for this book?
My research encompassed everything from weaponry, armour, castle building (eastern and western), religion types, boats and sailing, herbology, different types of sword fighting techniques, staff fighting, hand to hand fighting, surgery, cavalry training (Roman). I read up on the Ottomans, Saracens, Moors, Mules…It’s a big stack of books! Fortunately my husband is a military historian so I could raid his library and get his advice planning battles. I didn’t have to research the horses as I rode and owned horses for 25 years and practice traditional archery as a hobby. (Though I did research historic archery accoutrements – whoops that’s book two!)
Did you base any of your characters on real people?
Some of the personality quirks of people around me have definitely made it into my characters, particularly Hugo and Elena.
If you could be one of the characters from any of your books, who would it be and why?
I can’t choose between Isaura and Asha. They are both independent, feisty, outdoors riding horses doing archery, and they don’t need approval from others to validate their lives.
Is there a specific place in the house (or out of the house) that you like to write?
There are several places, upstairs in my office, in a comfy chair, on a recliner outside on a sunny day, or in our State Library (which is wonderfully atmospheric!). The most important thing is that I have my noise cancelling headphones on and my music playing.
Do you have a specific snack that you have with you when you write?
Tea (all sorts, but generally Assam and gen mai cha). Gluten free choc chip cookies (Leda brand here), and any dark chocolate!
Do you have an all time favorite book?
A Long Way From Verona by Jane Gardam. I read this in secondary school and loved it. The young protagonist wants to be a writer and the story had a big impact on me. I’ve still got the book.
What book are you reading right now?
I’m currently reading Brooklyn by Colm Toibin. It’s very good, but not my usual kind of book. I’m reading it because one of the students I tutor is studying it and I’ll be glad when I’ve finished it.
Isaura – little is known about her race, but much is whispered. Born to refugees, she grows up enduring racism and superstition within a community that fears her. She has few friends, and those she treasures. Trapped, she longs for escape to a different life.
Escape is only the beginning of her troubles. Having fled an invading army with her friends, Isaura is faced with heinous choices in order to survive. Secrets from her past emerge to torment her and threaten to destroy all she holds dear. Her struggles forge a bond with an ancient power – a power which may transform or consume her. Old hatreds and superstitions are renewed and at her most vulnerable she learns the true nature of those around her.
Her only hope lies in a foreign land – a land rich in tradition; ruled by three powerful clans. A land with a history marked by warfare; where magic as we know it does not exist. Instead what is here, in abundance, is a more primal power.
Survival carries a high price.
Welcome to Altaica.
About the Author
Tracy M Joyce is an Australian author of speculative fiction. Her debut novel, Altaica: Book I in The Chronicles of Altaica, is published by Odyssey Books. Tracy has long been a fan of the fantasy genre, but particularly likes novels that deal with deep characterisations and that don’t flinch from the gritty realities of life. This and her fascination with the notions of “moral greyness”, that “good people can do bad things” and that we cannot escape our past provide the inspiration for her writing. Combine that with her love of history, horses and archery and you have Altaica.
She grew up on a farm in rural Victoria, in a picturesque dot on the map known as Glenburn. She spent half of her childhood riding horses and the other half trying to stay out of trouble – the only way she did that was by reading books and writing stories. She now lives in Melbourne with her husband, two cats and two (very) lazy greyhounds.
Tracy holds a BA (Hons) from Monash University, spent many years in a variety of administrative roles and fortunately never gave up on her childhood dream to become a writer. In her spare time she tutors a select and unlucky group of students in English.