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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

KS Augustin, Interview

I met KS Augustin when she made a comment on internet tools over at Broad Universe. I was taken by her command of computers and their weirding ways. So I sent her a little note, asking for more information.

KS was so generous with her time and knowledge, I knew I'd like her right away. This began our long-distance correspondence and friendship.

What I didn't know then was how savvy and smart she was. This woman is phenomenal! KS lives in Singapore with a husband and two kids. Not only does she have a full time job, but she writes like a madwoman. Right now she has several works in progress going at once. Talk about multi-tasking! LOL. I am so jealous.

KS is also a martial arts expert --something I found particularly compelling. I can tell you right now that Asian martial arts is far different from the stuff they teach us in the states. Over there, it's a full contact, no holds barred sport. We're a little more wussy than that here. (grin) Having studied tae kwon do in the Western world, I'm glad it wasn't full contact. I kind of wanted to keep all my teeth.

I've read a couple of KS Augustin's books so far. Right now, I am reading THE COMMANDER'S SLAVE and I like it very, very much. It hits all my favorite things about SF and romance. And with this story still fresh in my memory, I had to ask if KS would be interested in letting me interview her.

Good friend that she is, she said YES! So without further ado, allow me to present, KS Augustin.

Was there a catalyst in your life that made you decide: "Yes, I'd like to write"? How long have you been writing?
I've been writing science-fiction since primary school, would you believe? My very first story was about an alien invasion of Earth. We beat them of course! LOL But I only became serious about writing fiction professionally in 2001. At that time, I was pregnant with our second child, throwing up every day, and I wanted something intellectually stimulating to distract me from four months of nausea and headaches. It was actually my husband, J, who suggested the writing, when he saw how miserable I was. He was one of my early readers, and encouraged me to find a publisher for my, up till then, private scribblings.

What part of the writing process do you like best?
Coming up with a title. That's the most fun. I know they can get changed (although that hasn't happened to me yet), but that's the most enjoyable for me. The rest is just sheer hard work -- the planning, structuring of the book, the writing itself. Oh, I also like the editing, believe it or not. It's nice to revise something that's already finished.

Where do you get your inspiration for your main characters in each story?
Mostly from 'what if' scenarios. What if an hermaphrodite landed on a two-gendered station and had to stay there for an extended period of time? (Prime Suspect) What could possibly motivate a martial artist who was determined to leave her past behind? (Combat!) I've got 2 SF wips at the moment and they pose questions too: how much would you overlook to pursue your dreams? (The Turk) And, what if you found love while masquerading as a murderer? (War Games)

You have an impressive martial arts background. The fight scenes in COMBAT! were often very quick. Do you mentally plan out the strikes and defenses in your head or will you try them out in real life to see if they would look good on paper?
Aw shucks, thank you ma'am. Yes, a real fight ends very quickly if you're good, and usually very messily, especially if you're not. It should not go on and on. For a start, you run out of fitness very quickly, as anyone who's been in a tournament can attest. Just watch a boxing match -- rounds of three minutes, with breaks, encouragement, wipe-downs and refreshments in between, and most of these superbly-trained athletes are reduced to quivering, sweating masses of muscle within three to five rounds.

It's tough. Everyone thinks they can go a round of three minutes, but get in the ring, with the adrenalin pumping, with someone totally focused on knocking your brains out, in a constrained space, fear driving every step, dodging, weaving, hitting, and you'll feel like fainting from exhaustion in 30 seconds. Guaranteed. Even an aerobics diva will flake out, because a different kind of fitness is required.

Martial arts is actually a very intellectual exercise. I have reams of notes on techniques from various styles, my own notebook on what personally works for me (one strategy does NOT suit all), as well as various physiological charts I ponder. Most times I can mentally plan sections of a fight scene out in my head, and I do this multiple times for each section before I set one word to paper. I don't really care how it looks on paper, as long as I've described it accurately.

Some of the moves (such as Ebony hopping onto the Catilian's back) I've actually done myself, albeit in a demonstration two-person set a long long time ago when fitness wasn't one of the f-words for me! :) I'm also very lucky in that J himself was a brown-belt in Judo. He trained at a European championship dojo. When I'm stuck, we'll break out a bottle of red wine and start discussing technique, counterstrikes, that kind of thing. Sometimes talk is enough, other times we'll run through some light-contact scenarios. It all depends.

Do you have any suggestions for writers trying to write hand to hand combat scenes? How can we make our scenes more realistic?
This one's a tough one to swallow, I know, especially when writers have so many other things eating up their time. However, nothing beats some practical footwork. Even signing up for one of those 6-week self-defence courses will give you an idea of what it feels like to have someone else breathing down your neck. If you're only going to write one action-packed book, then I can excuse the omission, but if you think you're going to write several action romances with literally kick-ass heroines, then I think it's the minimum necessary.

Personally, I don't like those short self-defence courses. I've seen friends go through them and come out with a greatly exaggerated sense of personal safety which, ironically, increases their vulnerability (the Dunning-Kruger effect. It even has its own name ... who knew?).

Additionally, I absolutely, thoroughly, and in every way, detest the kind of cop-out instructors who pair women with women. I mean, in any average attack scenario that you can dream up, who are you more liable to be confronted by? A giggling friend or a brutish drunken male? Think about it. But if you just want to get a feel for what it's like to square up with somebody and physically hold onto someone in a way that's other than pleasant *g*, I think self-defence courses have some value.
I have a heroine who is smaller than her attackers and has no weapons at her disposal. What kind of moves could a female protag use to get the upper hand with a bigger male opponent?
Oh, these are my favourite! Being a small person myself (157cm in the morning ... uh, 5' 2"), almost everyone I meet is taller and bulkier than me, so I've trained these scenarios a lot. And, in unskilled hands, weapons are more of a hindrance than a help, so no biggie not having them.

Without a complete picture of the opponent (and that's the first thing you should put together -- their height, build, major fighting method, strengths, weaknesses), I'd say uppercuts. You have someone small driving a hard fist straight up under someone's ribcage, or even into their genitalia (as van Damme did in the movie Bloodsport) and that's a good start. (As an aside, even hitting or kicking a woman in the groin hurts like hell. I know because it's happened to me. And no, I didn't collapse on the floor. When you know there's a follow-up strike coming -- and there was -- it's amazing how much pain you can absorb.)

All those moves you see on TV -- the overhand strikes, the elbows to the head, the flying head-kicks -- don't do diddly because angular momentum is not your friend at that height, and targeting is difficult; it's plain physics. You have to stay low and bring them down to your level, then start the serious stuff.
What kind of heroine do you like best?
I can tell you which heroines I dislike most! That's the doormat. I can understand someone who is victimised and eventually learns to fight back. But I don't like a person who remains a doormat no matter what life throws at them. And I don't like a person who vacillates between doormat and kick-ass just so we can move past a series of contrived plot points to pad out the wordage. Indecision is okay if there's a lot of conflict flying around, but intrinsic character flip-flops really turn me off. I like tough heroines, but I want them to be incomplete in some way, just like I want my heroes to be incomplete. I like it best when both people complement each other. In my only fantasy release to date, Ankoll (the tall, handsome hero) is strong, sensitive and out of touch with his world; Gamsin (the small thief heroine) is hard-bitten and cynical. She finds she needs his softness as a shield against what life's thrown at her; he realises that he needs her guidance and knowledge if he's to survive in the world. To me, that's the highest goal of romance: person and person as equal partners, complementing each other's skills and experiences, respecting the other's abilities and knowing when to cede control to their partner.

Where do your heroes come from? Are they an amalgamation of men you know?
I usually create the character from the scenario. Are there traits from men I've known? I'm sure there are. But I'm also equally likely to get inspiration from a character in a movie or an idle comment I overhear while shopping. Even movement can be important. There's one Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode I remember, featuring Gul Dukat. He walks out of a prison cell and it's just a split-second of movement, with his back to the camera. It was a wow moment for me! There was so much encapsulated in that step -- it was Marc Alaimo plus the uniform, plus the setting, plus the dialogue that had just gone before, plus the power implicit in him being able to walk out of that cell so nonchalantly. I became a fan of Cardassian men right there and then!

LOL Just one step .... So there's no consistent source for inspiration. It can come from anywhere.

You live and work in Singapore. How difficult is it to get the attention of English-language publishers? Has e-books made that a thing of the past?
I only have ebook releases, so I may not be the best person to ask! *g* I think, from various agent blogs I've read, living outside the two major English-language publishing regions of the USA and UK is an extra hurdle for writers. Kristin Nelson, for example, blogged recently about the tax law implications of taking on overseas writers. But for every agent that doesn't accept overseas submissions, there are several agents who don't have that as a hard prohibition. Having said that, ebook publishers have certainly made it much easier for me, so I'm very thankful to be able to write professionally at this point of technological advance.

What's next for you? Any new books down the pipe?
Definitely! All four wips I have on the cards for the next 6 months -- and I've mentioned two of them already -- are getting to category or full novel length. This is a change for me as, up till now, I've concentrated on novellas. I really agree with what you have on your blog page, Maria. Writing really is a "craft I work at every day". I think every writer has to strive for that if they're serious about the profession. I try not to physically plonk myself in front of the keyboard on weekends (as a wife and mother, I have other duties as well!), but I'm always thinking of writing. Always. Some of my best plotting has occurred to me while I've been in the shower! The last thing I go through at night and the first thing I think of in the morning are the next scenes in my current wip -- things like dialogue, describing the setting, choreographing the actors' actions. I think writing, and the exercises that lead to the actual writing, are things you have to constantly work at.

If you could write anything, regardless of genre or marketability, what would it be?
Would you believe, science-fiction romance and space opera? No, it's true! I don't want to be a one-book wonder. I'm in it for the long-haul. J and I make our long-term family plans based on the fact that I hope to still be writing (and selling, let's be honest here) in 10 or 20 years' time. While I can see some paranormal and contemporaries in my future, my first loves will always revolve around a science-fiction core. That's where the greatest inspiration comes from.

If you'd like to read more about KS Augustin and her books, here are some links for you to check out.