Geist! an interview with Philippa J. Ballantine

Philippa Ballantine is an award nominated and winning, podcaster and writer, from Wellington, New Zealand. You can find out more about her at Her books Geist, is coming out with Ace books October 26th 2010. You can find out more about this world, listen to podcasts, and read a sample chapter at She is also a good friend and the author of some of my favorite works of podiofiction. So, when she announced she was making herself available for interviews in preparation for the release of her novel Geist, due to be in fine bookstores everywhere October, 2010, I jumped at the opportunity. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to ask Pip some of the questions that had been on my mind. And here, as her first stop on her blog and podcast release tour, are her answers!

VFV: What is a “geist” and how did this story come about? What was your motivation?

PB: A geist is a creature of the Otherside, but is also used to describe the soul of a human that after death has been corrupted by the Otherside. There are many different kinds—some who like to try and influence humanity, others who just want to exist. Basically anything that goes bump in the night would be considered a geist.

The inspiration for the story… well that is always the hardest question. I don’t recall any particular dream, but gradually and organically I began to think of a fantasy story that revolved around a buddy cop relationship. The Order of the Eye and the Fist evolved from that. I knew they were tasked with protecting the world. And I knew I wanted to incorporate some of the supernatural, bone chilling stories—but make them very grounded and accepted. It’s not like our world—the supernatural is simply an accepted fact.

My other idea was to write a fantasy story where the characters have the same difficulties we do. Relationships in Geist are complicated, just as they are in our world. Deacon Sorcha Faris has the problems; dead marriage, issues at work, and stuck with a younger partner—but then she also has these geists to deal with also. I had just read too many fantasies where the lovers in a fantasy world, got together, ride off into the sunset and are happy forever. For some people they are lucky enough for that to happen, but for most of us things are more tangled than that. I wanted to write a book that reflected that.

VFV: We’ve heard about (and some of us have joined) the order. Can you give us a snapshot into what the order is, how it is structured and where you would want to be placed in this world?

PB: The Order of the Eye and the Fist started off as a religious order in the dark days, but like many things it turned away from religion when the supernatural began to break through. After all if your world was invaded by otherworldly creatures, and no matter how much you prayed they still kept coming—many would think reconsider religion. Though there are still some that do hold on.

The Order does keep the organization, buildings and many of the strictures of a religious order. There are Deacons, Priors and Abbotts.

Every Deacon partnership is made up of a pair, and Active (who wields runes of destruction) and a Sensitive (who sees and directs their Active.)

VFV: You’ve written books that are all over the speculative fiction market and that can be placed in a variety of genres. What is your favorite genre to read? To write?

PB: I pretty much write what I like to read. Mostly what I have written are forms of historical fantasy—with Digital Magic being the only real exception. The steampunk Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series I co-wrote with Tee Morris, is steampunk, but is deep in the history of the Victorian period. Even Geist, which is supernatural fantasy has its roots in history—the Empire of Arykam is similar to Tsarist Russia, and I drew a lot of inspiration from there.

So I guess you could say my love of history is a consistent thread in my writing.

VFV: Geist is the first book you will have published with a large New York publishing house. Can you share a little about the road you’ve taken to get here? You’ve been a successful podcasting author and small press novelist for some time, but what do you believe made the difference in getting Geist picked up?

PB: In two words. Laurie McLean. OK two more. My agent. I feel almost guilty about how I landed on my feet getting her to pick me up. The manuscript I sent her was a good story, but in no way as polished as it should have been. I was just damn lucky she was able to see through that, and gave me a chance.

I feel like with her we are business partners—and our business is getting my work sold.

As for the road to New York. Well, the story Laurie picked me up for didn’t sell (though in the future that might change) but she still believed in me enough to keep plugging away for eighteen months. Then when I handed Geist to her, things really began to move. She had the contacts to get it in the right hands, and six months after I gave it to Laurie, it had sold to Ace.

VFV: In your writing, do you find yourself basing characters off of individuals in your life, or are they amalgamations or completely original creations?

PB: I have both, but I mostly tend towards amalgamation. Even those who are based on people I know, are never exactly the same. I tend to tweak everyone.

VFV: We’ve seen you tweet about Sorcha, Raed and Merrick. Why do we want to know them? What about them might make us want to befriend them? Or, alternatively, why would we really love to hate them?

PB: I’m not one to drop people’s name into fiction—mostly because I write fantasy! But I do like to put in little hat tips to people, usually special people. Mostly people don’t notice them, but they make me chuckle a little.

Sorcha is a little prickly. Bought up solely in the Order she’s never really had to develop many of the social skills that smooth everyone else’s path in life. However, when you are her friend she is intensely loyal and brave, and she will follow you to the end of the world—or even into the Otherside. She’s also rather funny in her own slightly snarky way.

Merrick is a natural observor—which he uses in his role of Sensitive—but works wonderfully as a friend took. His sense of humor is a little lighter than Sorcha’s. He’s a kind person, but in his own way as stubborn and strong willed as his partner.

Raed is the kind of person you feel immediately drawn to. He loves a good drink and spending time with his friends. He’s the most sociable of the three, but because of the particular curse he bears, and the things that happened in his past, he actually manages to keep people at bay with that jovial, joking nature. He’d share a beer with you, but he would take a long time to tell you his secrets.

My aim is for you to love all three—certainly not hate them. Of course that doesn’t mean that they won’t make mistakes…

VFV: Not long ago (or maybe an eternity), you gave up your day job as a librarian to become a full time writer. How has this made a difference in your productivity?

PB: Gosh, it does feels like an eternity! But I also know it was the right choice—though it felt terribly scary at the time. And it sure has made a difference. I just would not have been able to write a new novel, edit another, and market Geist and have a full time job. There just wouldn’t have been enough time in the day.

It also feels right. In January 2009 I went part-time at my library job, and then in May I signed with Ace. This year I gave up completely in April and then this May, Tee and I signed with HarperCollins. So far it’s working out—but I am curious to see what May 2011 has in store!

VFV: You’re not nice to your characters. In fact, I think it would be safe to say you can be downright punitive. Which character would you least enjoy being in one of your novels?

PB: Without a doubt I would hate to be my main female characters. I usually feel a little sorry for the hero, but the women I keep pounding. But that is how you get conflict and interest into your story. If I let them have a life where they are sitting on a balcony eating grapes and enjoying the view it wouldn’t be very interesting, now would it!

However I do like to have hope in the story, and some of my heroines do get what they want. I like to believe they appreciate it more because they had to run through the fire to get it!

VFV: You have two more novels that you have written or co-written being released within the next 12 months. Other than Geist, what are they and when are they scheduled to be released? How do you have time to fit in anything else?

PB: The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences: Phoenix Rising is the one I co-wrote with Tee and we sold to Eos. We’re expecting that one in early summer 2011—the exact date has yet to be confirmed. Depends a little on how the edits pan out. The 2nd book of that series hasn’t got a confirmed date yet, but I would imagine it would be 12 months later.

The sequel to Geist, Spectyr should be coming in July 2011, and I am hoping to write another 2 books in the Geist universe after that. (Depending on how the 1st two go of course)

As for fitting anything else in… no, I think until July 2011 I should be kept busy and out of trouble. Though that doesn’t mean I don’t have a few other ideas knocking around in the back of my head. Still three books in one year is quite sufficient for now.

VFV: Even with this schedule, you’re still incredibly giving of yourself and of your time. Have you had to say “no” to anything that you would have preferred to say yes to?

PB: You know, I can’t think of anything. I really do believe in community, and whatever I can do to help fellow podcasters and writers I like to do. That being said, I know until July 2011 I will have to watch myself like a hawk so not as to be overcommitted—but damn it is hard.

VFV: There are many podcasts out there and you’ve been in more than a few. If you were going to recommend a story for a brand new podiofiction subscriber, what would recommend? (Regardless of genre or personal involvement.)

PB: If they were into fantasy, I would go for the Gearheart—something I have no involvement with, but all the same a great production 😉

If you want something to make you think and you don’t mind the adult subject matter ‘Down From Ten’.

And if you want something fun, and science fiction ‘Space Casey’ can’t be beat.

VFV: Published or non published, which of your books or stories mean something special to you? Why?

PB: Hrmmm Odin… I think this might be a leading question! It is of course Weather Child, not only because it is totally set in New Zealand, but also because it is embroidered with my family’s history. It is currently unpublished, but that doesn’t mean it will stay that way….

VFV: Jason Chan. First time you saw your cover for Geist. What went through your head?

PB: I have to admit those were a tense few seconds before I opened the attachment. My first relieved thoughts were ‘Oh thank goodness—she looks like I imagined her!’ He got the details of Sorcha down, and not just the physical ones—the look in her eye. Then I noticed the cat (not going to tell you about that particular character) and the background cathedral ruins could have leapt from a particular scene in the book. You can buy the print for your wall ( I did!)

VFV: What has been one life experience that you have been able to draw on as a writer?

PB: I have to say coming from a family of strong (in New Zealand we might call them stroppy) women has affected how I write female characters. The heroine of Weather Child was based on my Great-Aunt Ruth who has passed on now, but remains one of the people I want to be. Her strength was not that of a sword-wielder, but of an intense kindness and generosity that the world needs more of.

VFV: What little known fact about yourself do you still consider to be one of your defining characteristics or a part of your character makeup?

PB: I am pretty stubborn. This is a vital characteristic for a writer. It can make the rest of life difficult sometimes, but is very, very useful in a career that can take years to come to fruition and is surrounded by rejection.

I can only speak for myself, but I am more than a little excited for the release of this book. In fact, I’ve been waiting since the first time I heard mention of it, which has now been over a year. If you are a fan of Pip’s work, call up your local brick and mortar book store to verify they will be stocking it on the release date, and then go buy a copy. Or five.

[update] The official Geist Trailer has been uploaded to YouTube, but you don’t need to go that far! Click below and experience the world of Geist!dv

For more information concerning the Geist blog tour, including datesgo, to

For more information concerning the world of Geist and it’s sequel(s) go to

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