Sharon Joss Interview


Sharon Joss

By Carl Slaughter: It’s been a busy few months for Sharon Joss. At the August WorldCon, she sat with Robert Sawyer as a first time panelist discussing biology hard sci-fi, moderated a panel on lab stories, sat with Mike Resnick for a reading/signing of her Galaxy’s Edge story “Ides of Neveh-Neveh,” and attended her first SFWA business meeting.  Also in August, Mystic Jive, the fourth in her Hand of Fate series, was released. In September, her SFWA membership card arrived. In November, she was at OryCon in Portland, OR sitting on five panels and moderating one of them. She’s hard at work wrapping the current Hand of Fate storyline with book #5. Joss is a WOTF Golden Pen Award winner.

CARL SLAUGHTER: Is Mattie, the main character in your Hand of Fate series, an eager heroine or a reluctant heroine?

SHARON JOSS: In Destiny Blues (Book 1 in the Hand of Fate Series), Mattie Blackman is most definitely a reluctant heroine.

CS: What makes Mattie tick?  Does she want to go to college, get married, have children, launch a career?  Hang out with friends, read a novel, go mountain climbing, help out at the soup kitchen?

SJ: Mattie suffered through years of neglect by her mother, and was raised primarily by her older half-brother. Growing up in a small town, she idolized the police officer father of a friend who lived in the neighborhood.  Because of this, she identifies strongly with victims, and yearns to some day protect and serve her community as a police officer. As an officer of the law, she believes she will finally have the respect and social acceptance she so craves. Until that day arrives, she’s working as a parking control officer.

CS: How does Mattie evolve over the course of the series?

SJ: As the daughter of a notorious (and not in a good way) family, Mattie has always yearned for respectability with an eye for upholding the law–her fondest dream has always been to join the ranks of law enforcement.  Everything she does is orchestrated to keep her reputation and her current job as a parking control officer intact–often with ridiculous results.  As the series evolves, circumstances force Mattie to continually choose between her desire for social acceptance and a normal life, and what she has vowed to do as the Hand of Fate for the goddess, Morta.

CS: What effect do the events in Mystic Jive have on Mattie?

SJ: Without giving anything away in Mystic Jive, Mattie is forced to come to terms with what the Hand of Fate really is, and that in order to stop a sorcerer’s cult from preying on the living and undead citizens of Shore Haven, she must invoke Morta’s gifts and take the law into her own hands. By doing so, she risks the lives of the people she loves and everyone in Shore Haven.

CS: Who would be ideally cast as Mattie in a screen version?

SJ: Hard to say. In my mind, Mattie is a little like Stephanie Plum meets Lucy Ricardo meets Anne Osborne (the district attorney in the 1986 film, The Big Easy) meets Anita Blake meets Indiana Jones.  I was disappointed in actress selected for the film adaptation of the first Stephanie Plum book; whoever plays Mattie would be athletic, dark-haired, and a bit exotic-looking.  She’d also be a bit repressed, scatter-brained, and ditsy.

CS: How long will the series continue?

SJ: It really depends on the readers! I am planning on wrapping up the current story line in Book 5, which I am working on now.


CS: What exactly is the Golden Pen Award?

SJ: The Writers of the Future (WOTF) is a quarterly speculative fiction contest, open to authors who have no, or few, professional publications. Manuscripts are judged with the authors’ names deleted, and are separated out in quarterfinal and semifinal award rounds by the Coordinating Judge (currently, David Farland).  Eight finalists are sent to a panel of professional science fiction writers, who determine the top three awards. At the end of the contest year, a week-long workshop (taught by some of the biggest author names in Science Fiction and Fantasy) is held for all the quarterly winners, and the four quarterly first place stories compete for a separate annual grand prize, known as the “Golden Pen Award,” and a check for $5000, as well as paid publication in the annual Writers of the Future anthology.  Previous Writers of the Future winners include Sean Williams, Ken Liu, Patrick Rothfuss, Jay Lake, Diana Rowland,  and Nnedi Okorafor.

CS: How difficult is it to qualify for SFWA membership?

SJ: Speaking for myself, I have found the process to be both challenging and rewarding.  After four years of writing full-time, I made my first pro-rate sale in 2013 (yay!).  However, it was not a SWFA-qualified market (rats!). I have made several sales since then, but the only sales I’ve made to SWFA-qualified markets were my Writers of the Future anthology science fiction story, “Stars That Make Dark Heaven Light” (which was also a finalist for the 2015 Canopus Award) and a post-apocalyptic short story sale to Galaxy’s Edge, called ‘The Ides of Nevah-Nevah’.  Over the past seven years, I’ve written seven novels, but I’m still chasing that third sale for full membership (and eagerly looking forward to the day!).

CS: Why is SFWA membership important?

SJ: For me, SFWA membership is a goal. It means I’ve joined the ranks of other professionals.  Membership is a marker along the way to being a self-supporting, full-time author, recognized by other professionals as a ‘real’ writer.  SFWA is the professional society of science fiction and fantasy authors.  Formed in 1965, SWFA has been going for more than 50 years, and now that it has become a charitable organization, I am proud to be part of a professional group of authors that informs, supports, and advocates for authors in a variety of ways.

CS: What topics did you speak about in Kansas City, who was on the same panels, and what did you and the others say?

SJ: MidAmeriCon II was my first WoldCon as a panelist, and I was wowed by number of attendees in the panels I participated in.  I was part of a group reading for Mike Resnick’s Galaxy’s Edge magazine, and read an excerpt of my post apocalyptic short story, “The Ides of Nevah-Nevah”.  Mike Resnick, Alex Schvartsman, Marina J. Lostetter, and Tina Gower also read their stories as published by Galaxy’s Edge. I was quite moved, when, after the reading when several attendees brought me their copies of the magazine so I could sign my story.

I also moderated a panel, “The Real Lab” with Dr. Helen Pennington, Dr. Ronald Taylor, Donald Douglas Fratz, and Benjamin C. Kinney, where the panelists recalled some of their greatest highs and lows in the research lab, including a hilarious story from Dr. Pennington about an incident involving superglue and anatomically suggestive cactus. In “Biology: The New Hard SF”, I joined S. B. Divya, Dr. Tom Easton, and others in discussing the latest biological advances and how they might impact the future of SF storytelling. This was a lively session and the room was packed!  I also attended the “Legends and Myths in Urban Fantasy” session (with Dana Cameron, Yanni Kuznia, Chelsea Mueller, and Randy Henderson), the SFWA Business meeting (the first one I’d ever attended!), and “Science That Inspired Science Fiction Authors,” with Paul Dale Anderson, Matthew Hughes, and Bradley Denton, in a standing room-only crowd.

CS: Same questions for Portland.

SJ: OryCon is always fun for me.

  • “Fantasy vs. Science Fiction” with David Dvorkin, Ann Gimpel, Peter Jones, Deborah Ross, Sharon Joss. The answer was a resounding ‘yes’ to both!
  • “Paranormal Romance” with Peter ‘Frog” Jones, Laura Whitcomb, Sharon Joss. We debated the differences between Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance
  • ” If You Could Talk to the Animals… ” With Laura Anne Giman and Sara Mueller. We all love animals, and both Sara and Laura are experienced horsewomen, while I’m a falconer. We discussed how best to research animal behavior in order to avoid ‘humanizing’ animal characters.
  • Endings: Cuddling with the Reader with Dean Wells, Deborah Ross and Mike Shepherd. This great fun, and we talked about how different authors view endings in short stories, novels, and multi-novel series.
  • Structurally Speaking with John C. Bunnell, Erika Satifka, David Boop. (I was the moderator for this one).  I really enjoyed this panel; we discussed Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, non-linear storytelling, unconventional  narratives, and even explored how structure interacts with theme, plot, and characterization.

CS: What’s on the horizon for Sharon Joss?

SJ: I’m hard at work on Book 5 of the Hand of Fate series. I’ve also got two solicited short stories to write for two different science fiction anthologies (due in February), and I’m developing ideas/outlines for my next series. That should keep me busy for the next few months!


Wilburn and Joss Awarded SLF Older Writers Grants

Career counselor Debra Wilburn and Oregon writer Sharon Joss have received 2016 Older Writers Grants from the Speculative Literature Foundation (SLF). The $500 awards support any purpose that the recipients choose to benefit their work.

The Speculative Literature Foundation created the Older Writers Grants to support writers who are 50 years of age or older at the time of their application, and who are just beginning to professionally publish their work. The awards are intended to aid older writers in overcoming barriers to writing speculative fiction professionally.

Currently a career counselor, Debra Wilburn describes herself as a former “pond-swimming, horseback-riding, tornado-chasing, discipline-dodging farm girl.” She is a graduate of Cornell University and also received the Achievement Award in Writing from the National Council of Teachers of English. She has held many roles in newspapers, from advertising sales to artist and writer, and has also worked as a freelance illustrator and director of development for public radio. An avid reader of current speculative fiction, Debra’s story submitted for the award, “I Ain’t No Biscuit Baker,” combined animal and insect attributes, and was inspired by being bitten several times by a tabanus atratus (horse fly) leading to a trip to the emergency room. Debra’s stories feature “sassy, metaphor-brandishing” narrators, and she is inspired to write more speculative fiction after receiving the SLF Older Writers Grant.

Sharon Joss began writing her first novel at age 55 in 2009. Four years later, she celebrated her first professional short story sale. She has now written six additional novels and dozens of short stories. Inspired by the novels of Rudyard Kipling, Andre Norton and Ray Bradbury, Sharon’s interest in speculative fiction began at an early age. She most enjoys writing fantasy, science fiction and horror — each infused with a dash of wry humor. Often, her work features “ordinary characters placed in extraordinary circumstances.” She is a full-time writer who lives in Oregon.

The Foundation also awarded honorable mentions to Jean Butterfield, Holly Schofield, and Thaddeus Howze. More than 180 applications were received for the awards this year.

SLF is led by Mary Anne Mohanraj and 30 other committed volunteers. The Foundation maintains a comprehensive website offering information for those interested in speculative fiction, and makes four awards annually to writers: the Older Writers Grants, Gulliver Travel Research Grant, Diverse Writers/Worlds Grant, and the Working Class Writers Grant.