"New Worlds Are Our Oyster."
Jes Battis was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1979. In addition to writing fiction, he has also published two academic books and a variety of scholarly articles in the areas of fantasy, television, and queer studies.
He earned his PhD in English from Simon Fraser University in the Summer of 2007, and is currently a postdoctoral research fellow at the City University of New York, specializing in gay and lesbian teen literature.
An Interview with Jes Battis
Welcome, I’m excited to have the opportunity to talk with you about your OSI series and your writing.
PNR: Can you tell us a little about how you started writing; was it something you have always wanted to do?
Jes B.: I think I wrote my first book when I was seven or eight, and my dad was kind enough to bind it with denim and cardboard. It had something to do with a warlock. The short answer is that I don't really remember a time when I wasn't writing. I do remember having that thunderbolt moment—I was probably nine or ten at the time—in the parking lot of a grocery store. My mom had sent me to return our cart so that we could get our quarter back, and almost at the precise moment when the quarter popped out, I realized with perfect clarity that if I wanted to read about what I loved, I would have to write the book myself. And so I set out to do just that, and haven't really stopped yet. I nearly burnt out my parents' old dot matrix printer from printing off manuscripts.
PNR: Could you tell us about your writing routine, how do you balance writing and personal time?
Jes B.: The two are hopelessly intertwined. I'm a big people-watcher and eavesdropper, so every conversation becomes potential grist for the writing later. I tend to do the most solid writing in the evening, although, if I'm on deadline, I'll probably write from late-morning well into the evening. I'm working on something pretty much every day. I like to have 2 or 3 projects on the go all the time, and although I'm concentrating on fiction right now, I still do academic writing as well. I find that switching between modes and genres keeps me from burning out on fantasy and science fiction and/or critical academic writing.
PNR: Who or what has been the biggest influence on your writing? Who has been your biggest support?
Jes B.: My family has always been hugely supportive. I actually finished Night Child during a pretty dark, difficult time in my life, and my parents were kind enough to let me essentially move back home for 6 months and steal their food, electricity, hot water, etc., like a creative leech. In terms of literary influences, it's all over the board. As a kid, I was drawn to the work of Diane Duane, Michael Ende, Peter S. Beagle, David Eddings, Ursula Leguin, and other feminist SF/fantasy writers. I also like experimental fantasy, including the work of Anne Carson, Jeanette Winterson, and Nicole Bossard.
PNR: Most writers are avid readers, is this true for you? What titles would we see in your TBR pile?
Jes B.: That stack is very high and always threatening to bury me. At the moment, I'm reading A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers, as well as books on Viking and Mayan mythology for an upcoming project, and I've been nibbling at Proust's Swann's Way for what seems like an eternity. I'm also a big fan of graphic novels and zines, especially the work of Liz Baille (My Brain Hurts), Alison Bechdel (Fun Home), and Joe Sacco's Palestine. I want to re-read The Faerie Queene, and eventually I'm going to tackle Middlemarch and Anna Karenina. I always carry a copy of The Little Prince by Antoine St-de-Euxpery, everywhere I go.
PNR: What do you feel are the essential elements of a great story?
Jes B.: Some would say plot, but I think that if the characters are engaging and have that spark of life, then plot and diction will sort of fall into place around them. You can have a razor-sharp plot and/or beautiful, elegant writing, but if the characters don't set up camp in my brain and start acting like they're alive…it's not working for me. I always begin with an extended family of characters and then let the plot develop from there. In terms of SF and fantasy writing, I'd like to see more diversity: the protags shouldn't always be white, straight, and middle-class. I'd like to see more characters who identify as queer, or disabled, or mixed-race, or who don’t sound like runway models. Urban Fantasy covers are particularly bad for picturing tall, leggy, sexy women on their covers, often in a ridiculous pose, wearing micro-skirts and carrying crossbows. But you never see Harry Dresden from The Dresden Files in shorts and a tank-top. Enough with the creepy double standard/
PNR: Congratulations, readers are excited about the May 2008 release of NIGHT CHILD from Ace Books; this is the first book in your new Occult Special Investigator series. Could you tell us what inspired this dark urban fantasy series and a little about your vision for the project? What direction will the series be taking?
Jes B.: I originally wanted to tell a story about a young protagonist, not necessarily the most powerful witch or badass out there, who ends up having to essentially 'raise' and protect a teenage girl. I wanted Tess to have an extended family, a chosen family, and I wanted to show that her strongest connections and resources came from that family rather than from a shape-shifting power, or some mark of prophecy. It wasn't until halfway through the first draft that I decided to integrate the forensic analysis, and then I had to go back, do a lot of research, and rewrite the whole thing. But I do like the idea of an 'old-fashioned' witch who knows how to use a Scanning Electron Microscope, or a Gas Chromatograph. I kept thinking: what if Buffy Summers had to use science? How would that work? What if demons and vampires and warlocks had to get tried in a court of law, had to go to prison, had to pay alimony? What would that look like?
Night Child deals primarily with the evolving relationship between Tess, an OSI working in Vancouver, and Mia Polanski, a 13-year-old who finds herself in the middle of a political power-play between mages and vampires. Tess has to decide what's more important to her: being a good OSI and following the rules, or protecting Mia and risking both her job and her life. In the end, the only person she can really depend on unconditionally is her partner, Derrick Siegel, a telepath who 'reads' mystical crime scenes.
The sequel, Hextacy, takes readers further into Tess and Derrick's world, investigating their past and placing them both in the middle of a serial murder investigation involving drugs, magic, and a very dangerous, pureblood demon. If Night Child sets the stage, then Hextacy gives readers a more intense, detailed look at Tess's chosen family, which includes a psychic, a vampire, a necromancer, and a human flamethrower. We even get to meet her mother, who seems normal, but nothing is ever really what it seems.
The third book, which I'm working on currently, will explore the historical truce between mages, vampires, and necromancers, and Tess will find herself watching in horror as all the old rules and codes are broken. A new supernatural order is on the rise, and her only goal might just be to survive!
PNR: NIGHT CHILD centers on the CORE Crime Lab. Your book has been aptly described as “Buffy meets CSI”, and the forensics procedures ring very true. How much research is involved?
Jes B.: I read a lot. Then I read some more. Then I took a class on forensics. Then I read some more. Then I did experiments (don't ask). Then I watched and critiqued every episode of CSI: Las Vegas (some are good, some so-so, some terrible, science-wise). Then I reminded myself how to make forensics interesting to a general audience by re-reading Kathy Reichs, Patricia Cornwell, Mo Hayder, and Karen Slaughter. It was a long process, but I also love the subject, so it's always fun to keep abreast of new trends, new inventions and procedure. So much of it is based on intuition rather than hard science, which is what I love. You're looking through a microscope, but you're also thinking, what does this body tell me, how does it speak, what are my ethical responsibilities here? In a way, we're all just physical evidence.
PNR: Do you feel your writing is character driven or plot driven? How do you balance these two elements?
Jes B.: As I said before, I start with characters, try to make them live and breathe and argue and do stupid things and fall down and fall into bed with each other, etc. Then I try to let the plot develop around them. Often, they'll defy authorial convention and do something weird, but for the most part they do what 'feels right' for them. I usually write a lot of semi-connected scenes first, kind of loosely hinged-together little affective and dialogic moments, and then I inject the plot in later, like epoxy. Maybe I'm making storm-windows or sealing a leaky tub. I don't know. It's just what works for me.
PNR: Tess Corday is a complex character with a difficult past; could you tell us about her development?
Jes B.: I like Tess because she really starts from the ground up. She's just sort of ok at her job, a first-level agent, not really moving up, still learning the ropes. Then she gets thrown into these intense situations, and her grit and personality start to really flare out in what I think are interesting ways. I think what surprises Tess most is her unexpected maternal instinct. She has a complex relationship with her own mother, but her drive to protect Mia—and, really, to protect all of her friends and loved ones—is quite intense. I wanted to see this develop alongside her own powers, her tactics, and her training, so that it could become a different kind of resources. UF heroines are often loners with no real friends and family, and I wanted Tess to be the opposite. The second book really delves in to her attitudes as a potential parent, her model for having a family, and her struggle to balance the mundanities of life with the threats of the supernatural world.
PNR: Your supporting cast, particularly Derrick, is so well drawn. What was your inspiration for these characters? Who has been your favorite to write?
Jes B.: I think most writers identify with all of their characters, but I have to say that Tess and Derrick are really my personality 50/50. Derrick is my rational and analytical side, and Tess is my passionate, contradictory, sarcastic, and witchy side. The two compliment each other. I'd like to say that Lucian is my sexy side, but really, I'm not that sexy, and don't have any of Lucian's moves. Derrick is also my chance to have a well-developed, smart, and funny gay character who isn't just on the sidelines. The guy's not a receptionist or a wacky neighbor. He's Tess's partner, right there at every crime scene, and even though he doesn't have a lot of physical training, he's got wit and heart and he can probably melt your brain if he has to. And in Hextacy, he gets a definite love interest. Derrick was really my attempt to write a supporting character who didn't just make funny quips and then run away. He's really the closest to being 'normal' of anyone in the books—since he doesn't have a lot of power, at least not yet—but he's also surrounded by chaos all the time, so he becomes the voice of reason.
PNR: How would you describe the sensuality level of your books; how much of a role do romantic relationships play in your writing?
Jes B.: At first, I never really intended to have any sort of intense romantic storylines. But I do enjoy letting the relationship between Tess and Lucian develop to a physical level, and I'm excited to write about Derrick's love life as well. I tend to go for the metaphor instead of the down and dirty sex scene, I like the way language can tease and tempt us as readers and writers. But I also like the idea of writing honest, simple, funny sex-scenes that aren't all candles and music. Usually, if I'm having sex, it's on a messy bed, in a cluttered room, with the cat peeking her head in to say hey, what's going on, or wondering where I just put my cell phone, or discovering that I wore my ugly striped boxers because it's laundry day. Or, if I'm at someone else's place, I get totally enthralled by studying their apartments, trying to figure out why they have this or that thing, staring at their pictures, wanting to rifle through their stack of CDs, etc. So sex can be very unsexy for me, very funny, almost stupid at times. I like to portray that. I mean, we don't all have satin sheets and Pretty Woman tubs that we can lounge in post-coitus.
PNR: Urban fantasy is one of the fastest growing sub-genres of paranormal fiction. It seems everyone has their own definition of “Urban Fantasy”, how would you define this sub-genre? How does this differ from traditional fantasy?
Jes B.: I think the city has to be a main character. The goal is to take familiar places, locales, streets, blocks, and make them seem uncanny and weird and wonderful. New York might have a dimensional gateway in Grand Central Station—London might have a shadowy world underground. The city has to be mined for brilliance, and the city is what the story revolves around, not just the characters.
PNR: Could you tell us about your current projects, what can readers expect to see in the coming months?
Jes B.: Hextacy should be out June/09, and I've just started working on Book 3. I'm also working on a YA series that involves Norse and Mayan mythology and is set in Montreal. I have two forthcoming academic books: A Dragon Wrecked My Prom: Teen Wizards, Mutants, and Heroes, and Homofiles: Writing By LGBT Graduate Students, both volumes of essays with Lexington/Rowman & Littlefield. I'm also writing something for Strange Horizons.
PNR: Thank you, Jes, for taking time out to talk to us. Where can readers find out what’s new and how can they contact you?
Jes B.: You can check out my website (http://www.authorjesbattis.com), as well as my blog (http://www.jesbattis.blogspot.com), which I update pretty frequently. I'm always happy to answer emails from fans, and my email is jbattis AT gmail DOT com.
Thanks for the interview!
May 27, 2008
Occult Special Investigator: Book 1
For occult investigator Tess Corday, the evidence can be out of this world.
What would a vampire courtroom look like? How do you test a demon's DNA? Tess Corday answers these questions as an OSI (Occult Special Investigator) working in the city of Vancouver. Using a mixture of cutting-edge forensics technology and old-fashioned magic, Tess solves all manner of violent crimes within the supernatural community. If someone unlawfully kills a goblin or a warlock (and there are plenty in the seedier districts of town), she gets the call. But when a routine murder investigation leads Tess to a thirteen-year-old girl named Mia Polanski, her life is plunged into chaos. Mia is trapped in the middle of a turf-war between vampires and necromancers, and as she struggles to protect the innocent girl, Tess finds herself getting closer each second to a conspiracy that could rock the mystical world. All she has to do is stay alive. But first she needs to unravel the mystery of the NIGHT CHILD.
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