Women of Science Fiction 002: Interview with Stephanie J. Pajonas

Women

Stephanie J. Pajonas is the author of the post-apocalyptic Japanese culture inspired science fiction series, The Nogiku Series. She has also written a number of other Japan-centric works across multiple genres. I read the entire Nogiku series in a week, that’s four books. I just couldn’t stop reading them! They’re that good. I’m thrilled to have Stephanie here with us today to talk about her work, her process, and the future of science fiction. To find out more about Stephanie visit her website and sign up for her newsletter. You’ll get a free book!

Pavarti K. Tyler: When did your fascination with Japan begin?

Stephanie J. Pajonas: A long time ago, in the 90s, when I saw Princess Mononoke in the theater and met a good friend of mine who had just spent many years living in Japan. A lot of my love for the country grew from there, and I have studied Japanese culture and language ever since.

PKT: Between September 2013 and May 2015, you wrote four full-length science fiction novels. How do you avoid sacrificing quality when you produce so much work so quickly? What’s your process?

SJP: Well, technically, I wrote them between early 2011 and 2015. I finished the first couple of drafts of Removed by November 2011 and went straight into writing the second book of the series, Released, while I looked for an agent. I did eventually find an agent I worked with for over a year. During the time we were on submission, I finished drafts of books 2 and 3, and had ideas for book 4. It seems that once the floodgates of ideas were open, I couldn’t stop them! It was in the spring of 2013 that I decided to part ways with my agent and self-publish, and the first book was published in September 2013. It took me a long time to write Removed in retrospect because I discovery-wrote it. The novel went through nine drafts before it made it to ebook! Nine. I now write faster and outline ahead of time which helps me produce quality work quicker.

PKT: Your Kami No Sekai stories all focus on the idea of inanimate objects playing a role in their owners lives. This reminds me a lot of some of the surrealism/magical realism fiction that came out of Japan in the 90s from authors such as Haruki Murakami and Banana Yoshimoto. Can you tell us what inspired this series?

SJP: First, I’m a huge fan of Murakami and Yoshimoto and have been reading them both for almost 15 years (In fact, I am re-reading Murakami’s The Wind-up Bird Chronicles right now! It’s one of my favorite books). I’m a big fan of the surrealist books and the way that the Shinto religion, Japan’s native religion, puts spirits into everything. It’s so fun and different from Western religions. Much more creative. But I actually got the idea for this series after reading a news story about Baymax, Big Hero Six, and how the Japanese don’t find robots at all frightening because they put a spirit in everything, from trees to rocks to toasters. That led me to believe that those spirits would talk to us and help us if they could, and my idea for the Kami No Sekai series was born! I got the idea for the first story, Rice Cooker Revenge, while cleaning my own rice cooker, and I got the idea for Washing Statue Wanderlust after watching an NHK special on the actual statue in Tokyo. I love writing those short stories and deciding which inanimate object is going to speak next.

PKT: What Japanese author would you recommend our readers check out?

SJP: I actually wrote about 8 Japanese Authors for Beginners on my own blog. But to boil it down, I definitely recommend Haruki Murakami and Banana Yoshimoto, which you have already mentioned here and also some classics like Yukio Mishima and Yasunari Kawabata. There are really so many to choose from. It would be a shame to miss out!

PKT: In the Nogiku series, the entire remaining population of Earth is living under a large, protective dome. How likely do you think it is that Earth will become inhospitable for human life?

SJP: I think it’s likely to happen but not for a thousand years, which is why I set my books so far into the future. I wish I could find the article I read a few years ago about how satellite images of Earth show that the desert has slowly been creeping in on every portion of land. That’s how I got the idea for this future Earth of the Nogiku series. I’m really not sure of the viability of dome living, but it makes for great sci-fi.

PKT: Strong female characters in science fiction are so exciting to find. Sanaa is an exceptional example of this. Is this character based on anyone in your life?

SJP: Nope. She is the opposite of everything I didn’t like about the YA heroines I had been reading at the time. I wanted someone strong (not just kick-ass and willing to wield a weapon), convicted, willing to accept other points of view, and use her brain. I also wanted her cultural dispositions to get in the way of her actions, so mixing Western and Japanese ways was a fun challenge. She is the kind of person I want as a friend, and she has become a fictional one to me over the years. Growing her personality over the course of the series, showing that she grew in some ways and others she did not, was the best part of writing this whole story.

PKT: Jiro is, in my opinion, pretty much the perfect man. He’s loyal, smart, respectful, and a little dangerous. He trusts Sanaa and supports her as an equal. Was this done on purpose?

SJP: Of course! He is also the opposite of everything I hate about the alpha men I see so often in romance. I wanted him strong but smart. Dominating but lenient and respectful. And yes, a little dangerous. I’m not sure there’ll ever be anyone I love in my writing as much as Jiro. I wish I could write him forever. Maybe I’ll have to write Jiro short stories. Hmmmm. That’s a thought!

PKT: Space travel is another topic you touch on in your science fiction work. How likely do you think it is that humanity will travel the stars?

SJP: Sigh. I really hope we make it off this earth someday. It’s a dream of mine to go into space, and I gravitate towards all the sci-fi out there that touches on space travel or colonization. How likely do I think it is? I know the Mars program is starting up, but I honestly don’t think I’ll see it in my lifetime. Maybe my kids will, but we’ll need a big push to get out there. In the meantime, I keep on dreaming and writing!

PKT: On your blog you write a “Full Moon Report.” How much of a role does astrology play in your writing?

SJP: Astrology is actually at the core of everything I write. Sanaa is a Capricorn and Jiro is a Scorpio (a perfect match). I know the signs of everyone in the series. Then in my contemporary romance, Laura is a Sagittarius and Lee is a Libra (Face Time), and Isa is a Virgo and Masa is a Pisces (Summer Haikus). In general, when I get the idea for a new book, I think about how I want the character to be and pinpoint their biggest flaw, then I find the astrological sign they most align with. I work through their strengths and weaknesses from there. When I have signs that clash, it’s even more fun to see how they act towards each other. I’m thinking about astrology for a brand-new book I’m outlining! Astrological signs are the first things I research when I start a new project.

Quick Five

Would you rather live in Feudal times or Future times?

SJP: Definitely future. I’m all for baths, cars, and hopefully replicators that’ll make dinner for me. Lol.

Which would you do: travel through space or travel through dimensions?

SJP: Travel through space. I’m more interested in what lies “out there” than around the corner.

Would you rather live in a world where everyone sings or where objects talk to you?

SJP: Objects talk to me! I find singing to be grating, especially when I want silence. Just ask my kids.

Your webcam just turned on! What don’t you want us to see?

SJP: A clean house. (I’m a Capricorn. I like everything orderly and neat.)

Which scares you, tentacles or bugs?

SJP: I guess tentacles if I had to choose between these two. They are a little creepy. Bugs don’t bother me. I’m actually very afraid of snakes, to the point of a severe phobia. I can’t even look at photos of them. Ugh. I hate running across them on Facebook. I have muted several friends for posting photos of snakes. It is very uncool in my book!

About the Author:

SJPajonas_headshot_2014Stephanie (S. J.) is a writer, knitter, amateur astrologer, Capricorn, and Japanophile. She loves foxes, owls, sushi, yoga pants, Evernote, and black tea. When she’s not writing, she’s thinking about writing or spending time outside, unless it’s winter. She hates winter. Someday she’ll own a house in both hemispheres so she can avoid the season entirely. She’s a mom to two great kids and lives with her husband and family outside NYC. They have no pets. Yet. When it comes to her work, expect the unexpected. She doesn’t write anything typical. Find her online at spajonas.com.

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A mini-kōsalogy of flash fiction stories

Featuring PK Tyler, Woelf Dietrich, Jessica West, and M. J. Kelley

Their home world is gone, their planet cut from existence. They traveled eons searching for a new home. But their new home, Earth, was already taken. From quiet stories of longing and love to tales of tragic nuclear war and brutal inter-species conflict, these narratives portray sometimes startling snapshots of a new universe with the intensity and delicacy that only flash fiction can convey. Each author's unique stories enrich the shared, singular vision of a science fiction saga that is just beginning.

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