Geist – Two Months Later (An interview with Philippa J. Ballantine)

Now that Geist has been out for a bit over two months, what have you taken away from the experience of a mass market release?

You can survive it!
Honestly, it is still a little surreal to see it out there, and to know people are buying it. The most surreal was seeing it featured on the iBook store, with the likes of Jim Butcher and Ian Banks. I had to take a screen shot of that for my digital scrapbook. I’ve learnt some marketing type things that I wouldn’t have known about had I not had this experience. These lessons learned will be used as the releases of Spectyr and Phoenix Rising loom closer. I hope I am getting smarter at all this!

I still see people commenting daily about Geist. I’ve yet to see anything negative. What has been your favorite comment to date from a review and where can we find it?

Well, when Felicia Day said she loved Geist, and couldn’t wait for the sequel I just about fainted… but my favourite review has to be from My Imagination Run Amok

Ballantine not only weaved a perfect magical world, she filled it with complex characters and monsters you might find in an Urban Fantasy novel. It deserves 5 stars for originality, 5 stars plot, and 5 stars for characters who start off a bit rough but end up shining like diamonds.  These things combined make it one of
the top Fantasy books I’ve read this year!

Spectyr can’t get here fast enough.
Oh and your lovely review too! [ed. HA!]

Two book deal turned into a four book deal! I know how happy this made me and can only imagine how happy this makes you. We all know that this deal was predicated on sales of Geist, but you had to have had ideas for where this world would take you. Did the publisher request outlines for book three and four or is that left up to the author to make it happen?

I was hoping for another book from Ace, and had a vague outline of where that would take place and what would happen. When they asked for a fourth, I knew I could
round out the plot more to the eventual climax I had in mind. Of course, if they should come back for more after four, I have plansthere too. So the plot for Wrayth was a basic one page outline, while book four (which may or may not be called Harbinger) is more nebulous. I know the final scene, and the final outcomes for all
the characters.

Were there any subplots that you had to throw out of Geist early on that have refused to let go of your psyche?

Honestly there are so many places I want to go in the Empire, and so many areas of the characters psyche I want to explore that some will probably not be covered in four books. I have hinted at Merrick’s past, touched on Raed’s, but left Sorcha’s unexplored. Spectyr will give readers more of an insight into our Sensitive’s past, and round out more of the Young Pretenders. Sorcha’s will play a large part in the third book. Also, in the tradition of my books, one of the background characters will play an increasing part. Zofiya the sister of the Emperor, has turned out to be such fun to write, and her role will only get larger as the series continues. Still I know large
portions of the world will remain unexplored. So there will be plenty of room for sequels and spin-offs if the readers demand them. (I hope they do!)

I love your characters. There hasn’t been a published story you’ve written where I couldn’t relate to them in an almost visceral way. This is one of the reasons you’re at the top of my list of authors. What aspects of your own personality do you see cropping up in each of the three main characters in Geist?

Oh, the revealing question! Well, I guess I can be stubborn like Sorcha-though I hope I am a little more open to change than she is. Merrick lives in his head quite a bit, which I do as well; a danger when you are a writer or a Sensitive. And I think I have Raed’s sense of the ridiculous. Despite all the challenges in his life, he can still laugh and enjoy his friends. (Well, at least in Geist- no promises on the rest of the series…)

Looking back, how big an impact would you say finding an agent that believed in your talent has been? (Yes, I realize this is quite a leading question, but I want you’re take on it.)

Apart from the business aspect (which is huge, getting my work onto desks it would never have seen) it was also a massive bump in my confidence. In the first place telling me that my work was of an acceptable, professional standard. Secondly, I knew that no matter what happened my wonderful agent Laurie McLean would have my back. Just knowing that we are in this together as a team is a huge boost.

Would Sorcha ever try a pipe or is she strictly a cigar girl?

I think no one would want her to smoke a pipe, she’d be far too likely to hurl it at someone if she got particularly annoyed.

Looking back now, is there any story you’ve put out that you would really like back? If so, why? What would you do to it to satisfy your creative demons?

My demon/Muse is pretty sated right now. I’ve been happy with what I have put out there at the time it was put out. I could go back, but then part of me loves the challenge of the new. The only project I want to go back to (and I am going to do this) is Weather Child. I want to polish that up and get it on track for publication as well. [ed. Put me down for multiple copies now!]

Which character from Geist has surprised you the most in where they’ve gone or are going?

Merrick. He was originally the side-kick, the foil to Sorcha’s brash, prickly nature. But as Geist, and then Spectyr went along he began to come into his own. I see him as the quiet but determined guy. The kind that you might not notice as a party, but the one you’d want at your back in a fight. In Spectyr he has turned a corner, becoming more the person he wants to be, rather than just Sorcha’s partner. From the reviews I am seeing I can tell people are enjoying him as much as I am. He started off a good kid, and
he’s going to be quite the power to reckon with in future books.

I know that I personally am very happy that you are currently residing in the U.S. Has there been any shocks or have your many visits prepared you for our insanity?

After so many trips here I am pretty buffered against culture shock. However the one thing I will never understand, no matter how many visits I make is marshmallows on sweet potatoes. That will always leave me scratching my head.

Bonus Question: Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences – Eliza and Wellington have our collective imaginations piqued. Can you provide a brief character sketch for Eliza that you kept in mind while writing her?

Eliza is fun. She loves her job as an agent of the Ministry as it means she can have all the adventure, handsome men and intrigue she craves. She’s always ready to share her sense of humour with others, and with certain stuffy archivists this doesn’t go down well. Yet, through all this she has a good soul, a keen sense of justice and an eagle eye for a good time.

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