Author Interview with Philippa Ballantine & Tee Morris

Philippa (Pip) Ballantine and Tee Morris have graciously accepted my invitation to be interviewed. Pip and Tee are the dynamic duo behind the steampunk series – Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences. Pip most recent release is the fantasy novel Kindred and Wings (a Shifted World Novel)Tee is an Parsec award winning and nominated podcaster with numerous fiction and non-fiction publications to his name.  They reside in Virginia and will be guests at the 2013 Annual James River Writers Conference October 19-20, 2013 at the Richmond Convention Center.

Without further ado, let’s begin.

What drew you both to the genres you write in?

Pip: I love the sheer scope of the speculative fiction genres. You can travel to the limits of outer space, ride on the backs of dragons, or delve into the inner terrors of the human mind. I don’t know of any other genre that allows that kind of freedom to the imagination. As long as you make solid boundaries to your science, fantasy or horror, the reader will follow you anywhere.

Tee: My father raised me on late night reruns of Star Trek, and the adventures of Captain Kirk and Mister Spock really inspired me. I was all about Science Fiction, especially around the time Star Wars first hit the theaters, but when a friend introduced me to Terry Brooks, I started to feel the lure of Fantasy. These are genres that are so much fun to play in, and work with people wh are just as real and as relatable as people in the real world.

Who or what has influenced your writing styles?

Pip: My early indoctrination by my father into the fantastical. I was feed a diet of Tolkien, CS Lewis, and Watership Down. Once I was past the being read to stage, I became a voracious reader, and quickly devoured all of my father’s books. My favourite authors from that time were CJ Cherryh, Anne McCaffrey, and Andre Norton. After that I quickly found Tad Williams, Raymond Feist, and Janny Wurts. About the same time I was delving into TV shows like Doctor Who, Blake’s Seven, and Robin of Sherwood. I came to love a good action scene from those influences.

Tee: For the epic settings of Fantasy, I drew a lot from Terry Brooks’ original Shannara series. Then when I started reading Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I felt the influence of a sense of humor. Then there’s Neil Gaiman’s work in the Sandman series. There’s a reason why that comic book series won the World Fantasy Award. The plotlines and dialogue were all rock solid and so intricate. My biggest influence, though, comes from my theater background. You get a sense of what good dialogue when you’re working with another playwright’s words, and I know that history of working with good and bad scripts has affected how I handle dialogue.

What got you both interested in Steampunk and all the madness that goes with it? And, what is your favorite aspect of it?

Pip: I have always love history in all its shapes and forms. My first traditionally published book was set in Tudor England, and so it was a very short jump from there to Victorian England. Then when I started to play with it, adding gadgets and gizmos I really began to fall in love. Then when I began to become involved in the community and I discovered the amazingly creative and diverse people who share my own love for twisted history, I was hooked. It has a spirit of adventure mixed with the darker side of history.

Tee: I first heard of steampunk from two friends of ours, Jared Axelrod and J.R. Blackwell, who were doing photo shoots and some prop making. The more I found out about steampunk, the more I wanted to write in the genre. A viewing of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen followed by a nostalgic re-watch of Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea lit a few creative fires for me, and then Pip and I started brainstorming about the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences. As for my favorite aspect of it — I think ti’s the imagination behind the technology. The actual inventions of the time were trying to solve problems and conquer challenges in what seemed to be practical ways, but with ridiculous style and execution. With steampunk, we take that eccentric creativity to a new level.

What books are on your nightstand or reading app?

Pip: Right now I am in the midst of blurbing a few books. I am reading Chris Lester’s latest Metamor City novel, Things Unseen. It’s a combination of magic and science fiction that I really enjoy.

Tee: I need to get back into my reading habits, but it’s been a tad difficult with my writing in July, editing and laying out stories in August. The book I was reading in June though was a bit of non-fiction: The Secret History of MI-6 by Keith Jeffery. A really fascinating read.

Can you share a bit about your most recent releases?

Pip: Kindred and Wings was the second Shifted World book, set in a world of constant change, and it’s very inspired by New Zealand. I also just released the final Book of the Order, Harbinger. It’s the end of a four book series, and I am still coming to terms with the fact it is done.

Tee: I was recently tapped by Kindle Worlds to write some novellas for Valiant Comics’ Bloodshot and Harbinger series. Those should be out very soon. Pip and I just finished the edits and layout for MINISTRY PROTOCOL: Thrilling Tales of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences. This is an anthology that will serve as a bridge between The Janus Affair and our next book in the series, Dawn’s Early Light. We also have a role playing game coming from Galileo Games in the next month or so. Yes, September and October are going to be particularly busy months for us.

How does podcasting fit into your grand plan of world publishing domination?

Pip: To us podcasting is a portion of our social media plan. We have the Shared Desk which is our fun, almost variety podcast, and then we are committed to doing our short story series Tales from the Archives which is set in the world of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences. We get people who find the novels through our free podcasts, but then they also work as add-ons for those who have already read the books. Everyone loves free content, that is for sure!

Tee: Podcasting, as Pip says, is part of a larger marketing machine. We blog, We tweet. We offer images and fun teasers on Pinterest and Facebook. Podcasting fits in there as our free introduction of the Ministry universe for anyone curious about what Wellington, Eliza, and the Ministry stand for. For readers of the novels, the podcast offers back stories and easter eggs for the novels, so people can listen to some of the sort fiction and go “Hey, hold on, I remember them talking about that!” We try to make the books a more immersive experience at ministryofpeculiaroccurrences.com, and considering we just won a Parsec award for Tales from the Archives, we must be doing something right. We just hope people enjoy listening to our podcasts as much as we enjoy producing them.

Visit the James River Writers speaker preview for more about Pip & Tee’s processes for collaboration. Pip & Tee, thank you for taking the time to be interviewed. We look forward to seeing you at the JRW conference in October.

James River Writers will host Twitter Chats with these two authors on the following dates:

  • Tee Morris (@TeeMonster) on October 8, 2013 at 7pm
  • Philippa Ballantine (@PhilippaJane) on October 15, 2013 at 7pm
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