Interview with PJ O'Brien

Published 2016-07-31.
Are the Sanctuary books a series of stories or one continuous narrative?
It could be considered either or both. The Sanctuary series began in 2001 as a spontaneous open-ended story told electronically to a very small group of people. It was meant to be soporific: a grown-up version of bedtime tales during a time of chronic insomnia-producing anxiety. I added to it for over ten years, weaving in requests and responses as any bedtime storyteller would. Over time, readership expanded beyond those I knew, and emailing new installments in response to requests was no longer practical. I experimented with a variety of ways for new readers to have access to what went on before and settled on dividing it into separate books when printed versions were still an option. But when I ultimately put the whole set of stories to bed years later, I tied all the major subplots together, so it could be considered an integrated narrative. I wouldn't try to read it all at once, though.
Are you trying to promote polyamory or group marriage?
This is the question I’m asked most often, along with a similar one: are you in a group marriage? The answer to both is no. The series was not intended to promote anything other than a good night’s sleep and ways to discuss divisive issues in a different way.

I heard frequent arguments about what a marriage or family should be when I was first telling the stories, so these questions became part of the culture and setting when mapping out how Sanctuary would be different from any other nation or culture that I knew of. Marriages of multiple spouses are uncommon, and those where both genders are represented with equal numbers and equal power are even more so. And while there are certainly cultural and economic pressures to marry in the modern world, I didn’t know of any location where there was a legal requirement to be married, with a forced assignment made to spouses if one refused. (Sadly, forced marriages probably do take place in some parts of the world even today, but I suspect it’s a cultural pressure and no longer in the legal code. I am open to learning more about that, however.) Once I had the bare outlines of a unique approach to marriage, I could see how it might under-gird a society where there were few resources, but a determination to maintain peace among people and their families.

The Sanctuary marriage model necessarily leads to family alliances and collaboration that shift over time. A lot of drama naturally emerges, but tenderness and comic relief do, too. Even if it doesn’t inspire musing as to why one’s cultures and perspectives evolved the way they did – and what the reader’s life might be like if things were totally different – my hope is that it might provide a distraction from everyday worries and entertain with something a little off the beaten path.
Does it matter where I start reading in the series?
The stories build upon each other, so most readers have started with Surviving Sanctuary and read in sequence. But I often took time off from writing and would provide occasional flashbacks and refreshers to readers when I picked up the story again, so one might do fine starting anywhere. However, if you ever wanted to go back to earlier ones, you’d have too many plot spoilers. If you have inadvertently purchased a later book by mistake and don’t want to read out of sequence, contact me via my Goodreads profile and I will send you a coupon for the earlier book(s). I also participate in Smashwords’ March and July giveaways, so you could wait and download them for free then.

I do encourage readers to skip ahead occasionally if they feel they don't need some of the flashbacks, background stories, or subplots. I would occasionally try to remove some of these when revising, but this inevitably led to complaints by those who liked them. I decided to leave everything in when finalizing the body of work. But I encourage anyone finding their interest flagging in a particular place in the series to simply skip ahead. You can always go back if you feel you’ve missed something important.
Is there an audio or print version of any of these stories?
Not right now. I stopped making printed versions of the story several years ago. Producing the entire body of work in either an audio or printed format would require a major rewrite to divide them into sections that would meet the maximum allowable page number for each binding, or a reasonable number of reading hours for a narrator. Because I have a day job, and I would want to keep the resulting series segments affordable to readers, I haven’t been able to attempt this.

The bound novel concept doesn’t quite fit the episodic nature of the series anyway. It was told gradually over a period of years, in fits and starts of time, and is most naturally read in the same way. To try to read too much at one time doesn’t seem practical or enjoyable, and a printed book may imply an expectation to do so. A podcast approach for audio might be possible in the future, but would also require some restructuring. In the meantime, the ebook format is the closest I can come to giving readers leeway of reading as much or as little as they want, without having to buy more than four volumes if they want it all.
Are you still writing episodes? Are you still incorporating readers’ suggestions and requests?
I consider the narrative finished for now. I do like to hear from readers though, and still welcome their ideas and suggestions. One never knows when the muse will strike again. Or perhaps someday there will be a role-playing game based upon it and your ideas would be perfect for it.
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