Category Archives: Characterisation

Meet Kate Elliot …

As the next of my series featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) I’ve invited the prolific and cross-genre author, the talented  Kate Elliott to drop by.

Watch out for the give-away question at the end of the interview.

Q: We met at World Con in Melbourne in 2010. This was only the fourth time a World Con has been to Australia since 1975. As you are based in Hawaii do you miss out on a lot of conventions, or do you make the effort to get to them?

Since moving to Hawaii in 2002, I do not have the opportunity to attend many conventions. The closest is a 5 + hour flight, and flights to and from Hawaii are not cheap. So these days I am likely to attend only one convention a year, if that. Conventionally speaking, my isolation in the middle of the Pacific Ocean has worked in my favor in one way, however: Going to Australia was relatively “close” so I jumped at the chance to attend AussieCon in Melbourne and am glad I did.

Q: I have to ask this question. You had four books published under  Alis A Rasmussen  – The Labyrinth Gate, a ‘through the tarot cards to another world’ fantasy and the Highroad Trilogy, which looks like a fun space opera. Why did you change to the Kate Elliot name?

I was asked to take a pen name to launch a new series (Jaran 1992) with a new publisher. Three years later, Robin Hobb was born when Megan Lindholm was asked to do the same thing. Launching a new series and what publishers often call a “new brand” is now relatively commonplace, although readers aren’t necessarily aware of it. It’s a way to create a new identity in a different genre, or to get out from under a series that did not sell well and try to make a bigger splash with a new series. This worked well 15 years ago before the explosion of social media. Now I think it is much more difficult to pull off a new public writing identity.


Q:  I see you have a page dedicated to  The Writing Life on your web site, with lots of useful information for aspiring writers. Do you run workshops and get involved with developing writers?

I recall clearly the long lonely road I took in my early years of writing. I think many aspiring writers don’t have access to writing groups or workshops because there aren’t any writing groups near by, they may not be able to afford the time or money to attend a workshop, or they simply don’t know how to connect up with such groups. I write my articles on writing for those people, who may be working in what feels to them like isolation. I want them to know there are many writers out here, and we all face many of the same problems.

I’ve never run a workshop myself. I don’t really have the personality to be a teacher, as I find it very exhausting. While I have personally helped a few developing writers, these days I don’t do so except in rare cases because I simply do not have time.

Q: Your first series was  Novels of Jaran, and it was SF, but somehow the book made it onto Locus’s Recommended List for SF, Fantasy and Horror. How did this come about?

I’m not sure! The first book is set almost exclusively on an interdicted planet with low technology cultures, and the heroine and the people she is traveling with ride horses, so perhaps there was a sense that it “felt like” a fantasy novel even though it is clearly science fiction.

Q: There are four books in the series. I like your description of the series: ‘It’s about people, mostly, and about the historical process: what happens when two cultures come into contact — and conflict. It’s about consequences.’ I see the protagonist in the fourth book, The Law of Becoming, was 16. Is the series YA?

Jaran is not a YA series, although teenagers can certainly read it and many have. In fact, my current editor at Orbit Books, Devi Pillai, read Jaran when she was 13.

The protagonist of Jaran (the first novel) is 22 and has just graduated from university. The subsequent books add additional protagonists, some of whom are younger and some older, but certainly the character of Ilyana in book 4 is the youngest of all the point of view characters in the series as a whole.

Q: In 1996 you co-wrote  The Golden Key with Melanie Rawn and Jennifer Roberson. The book was a World Fantasy Finalist. Can you tell us a little about the collaboration process? I always find this fascinating.

After we agreed to collaborate, the two most important issues were how we would handle 1) the world-building and 2) the actual blending of writing.

We met for a long weekend for an initial world-building sessions in which we hammered out the main elements of the world, culture, main characters, and plot. It was a really fabulous three days. What I remember most is that we came up with things out of the synergy of the three of us bouncing ideas off each other in a way we couldn’t have done if we had each been working separately and alone. It was a great experience.

For the other, we decided not to try to write a braided novel with three points of view moving in and out of the tale. Instead we deliberately went for a generational saga, so that we would each write one generation’s story. That way we used all the same world building and the overarching plot we had come up with together, but we each wrote a separate “novella” (actually, a short novel in length each) that was complete in itself. That way we avoided trampling on each other’s toes during the writing process.

I’m very proud of The Golden Key. It was truly a collaboration: It is the book it is because the three of us, working together, came up with something bigger than any one of us would have managed alone.

Q: With  The Crown of Stars, book one: King’s Dragon was a Nebula Finalist. This series is set in an alternate Europe. Did you let your inner history buff out to play?

I did a lot of research. I’m not sure I’m a history buff as much as I was very aware of how much scholars know about the medieval period and how little I do. I didn’t want to screw up too much so I worked hard at making sure as much of the bigger picture as well as the details had a degree of authenticity even though the books are not set in our medieval Europe. Certainly, however, almost everything in the books is directly borrowed from history and from scholarship I read that illuminated that history for me. Translations into English of works from that time were invaluable as I tried to get a handle on ways people would look at the world differently than we do. I think that is at the heart of writing good fantasy: That the people in your books live the way they live in their world, not the way you live in your world.

Q: This is a seven book series. While you were writing it, did you have a flow chart that showed who was related to who and where they were over the years that the books cover? How do you keep it all straight?

There is a lot I simply kept in my head. However, I did create a calendar on which I wrote events on the day and month and year they happened. It spans the same timeline as the story, which takes place over seven years. I also made an index of character names and their associations, because there were so many characters that if I needed to know the name of the attendant of one of the nobles, say, it was far less time consuming if I had a place I could look it up than if I had to flip through the books looking for a reference to that character.

Other than that, I mostly have multiple file folders of scrawled notes in no particular order except by categories, things like astronomy, architecture, and so on, and many many academic articles on various subjects in folders by topic.

I actually did a better job creating a reference notebook for the Crossroads Trilogy, with tabbed dividers with subjects like Calendar, Language, Guardians and Eagles, Geography. What I learned from my less organized work in Crown of Stars was that the better organized my reference notebook was, the easier it was to look up details when I needed them rather than relying on my memory.

Q:  The Crossroads Series is described as High Fantasy. I love the covers on these in both editions. Do you get much say in the look of your covers?


With the USA cover for Spirit Gate, I did specifically mention two things, however, although technically these were merely requests because in fact I don’t have any say over covers. I wrote up a description of how the reeves are harnessed to the eagles, and the artist clearly used my description rather than having the reeve riding atop the eagle as a person rides a horse. The other request was that the woman depicted as a reeve on Spirit Gate be a woman of color, not blonde or white, as there is only a single white-skinned, blonde character in the land known as the Hundred, where most of the action takes place.

Q: The  Spiritwalker Trilogy. With a description like this: ‘An Afro-Celtic post-Roman icepunk Regency fantasy adventure with airships, Phoenician spies, the intelligent descendents of troodons, and a dash of steampunk whose gas lamps can be easily doused by the touch of a powerful cold mage.’ Who could resist this series? Do you find that publishers are more open to cross genre now than they used to be when you were first writing?

I think publishers reflect the times in that sense. The entire artistic genre of mash-ups is a product of the new media and very much a part of the new century. I think that books that have a mashed-up quality therefore fit right into the new artistic sensibilities. Publishers, writers, and readers all seem more interested in cross genre and mash-ups. I don’t think they’re at all unusual any more.

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy is a bit of a boy’s club. Do you think there’s a difference in the way males and females write fantasy?

In essentials? No.

I think there are differences in the way individuals write fantasy, and then in our culture those differences tend to get mapped onto a gender axis because our culture is comfortable defining and patterning things along the gender axis as if differences between genders are more important than differences between individuals.

But it might be possible to quantify some weighted differences.

As far as I know, no one has done a study of the last 30 or 40 years of the science fiction and fantasy fields in which they analyze something as simple as character presence in fantasy fiction. Do male writers mostly write about male protagonists? How about female writers? And what about the percentages of secondary characters? Do male writers disproportionately populate their worlds with male characters (including protagonists and minor characters) overall, in a way not consistent with the actual presence of people in the world? That is, rather than showing a world in which there is an approximate 50/50 split of male to female characters, do these worlds foreground and give speaking roles to far more male characters than female? And if female characters are represented, are they represented in only a few limited types of roles, and how do they function both within the society and within the story? What about female writers? Do they tend to have more female characters throughout their books? In a wider variety of roles, with more agency and importance? Or not?

I think a lot of the idea that males and females “write fantasy differently” has more to do with emphasis. And I personally don’t believe the emphasis has much to do with an biologically quantifiable essentialist differences; even if there were some, it would be practically impossible to tease out what those were from the morass of cultural expectations and assumptions that tend to bury everything else.

Because in addition to the quantifiable issue of character presence, there is also the issue of what actions, events, details, and experiences are emphasised. Emphasis and “worthiness” can be culturally influenced by unexamined assumptions about what matters enough to be written about or noticed. So in that sense, it’s a little difficult to say that men write differently than women BECAUSE of their gender rather than because of what culture tells us about gender. It’s a subtle difference, but if we’re talking about “real” potential differences in writing, I think it is the crucial one.

I think we carry exceedingly strong cultural expectations about gender and about the past, and especially about ideas about “how” the past “was” that often ignore or deem unimportant entire swathes of human existence. I think we still assume that a male point of view combined with the male gaze (seeing things from a particular set of assumptions about what is important and worthy) is the norm. So it is perfectly possible to pick up an epic fantasy novel in which almost all the characters are male, and women practically invisible, and somehow think there is nothing exceptional or even wrong about a depiction of a world in which women barely figure. To me these are flawed depictions and bad world building. They’re not “male” or “female.”

And anyway, what is “male” and “female?“ If I want to write about clothes or sewing, then am I “writing female” even though tailoring was and is a male occupation in many societies? Or are our ideas that this must be gendered-writing cultural? If I want to write two women talking to each other about something other than a man (see also The Bechdel Test for films), does that make my writing “girly?” Are male writers more likely to have only one or a handful of female characters, few of whom ever talk to each other or relate in a meaningful way? Are female writers more likely to emphasise female relationships within a story? Again, I would call this cultural, not biological.

Until we have actual data on such questions rather than anecdotal information or suppositions based on “what everyone knows” or our assumptions about how things must be or the last two books we read, I think we can’t draw any firm conclusions.

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?

Probably to the extent that I’m more cautious, when reading a male writer, because I’m less certain there will be as wide a variety of characters in the story, and I’m more likely to fear that people like me won’t be included and more surprised and pleased when they are. Because personally, as a reader, I get tired of feeling excluded in stories.

Two of the best examples of men writing women I’ve read recently have come from outside the field and were written decades ago in the 20th century: Minty Alley by C.L.R. James and God’s Bits of Wood by Ousmane Sembene. Frankly, many a fantasy writer could take a lesson in how to truly incorporate women in what could have been a solely male-centered story from Sembene’s masterpiece about a railroad strike in West Africa in the late 1940s.


 Q: And here’s the fun question. If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?

Into a future with medical advances and space travel.

Give-away Question:

What is a favorite “guilty pleasure” character type, the one you know you probably shouldn’t enjoy reading about so much but really love anyway?

One of mine (I have more than one!) is the arrogant jerk who falls in love despite himself (Darcy in Pride and Prejudice is a classic example of this type).



Follow Kate on Twitter: @KateElliottSFF

Catch up with Kate’s blog.

Catch up with  Kate Elliot on GoodReads.

If you are trying to keep Kate’s vast list of books straight in your mind,  here’s her bibliography.


Filed under Book Giveaway, Characterisation, Collaboration, Covers, creativity, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Gender Issues, Publishing Industry, Readers, SF Books, Steampunk

Gender, that Elephant in the Room

Cross posted to the Mad Genius Club blog.

There’s been quite a bit of commentary recently on the blogs about gender – talk of how there are too few books for boys in the YA market, talk of the number of books by female authors that get reviewed as compared to books by male authors and talk of the roles that females are typically given in fantasy books. Over on the Bad Reputation blog, Juliet McKenna did a post on the topic. She made this point:

‘When the importance of great men is taken for granted, that’s where the historian’s focus will be. If women are not deemed important, why bother writing about them except where they impinge on the main subject’s life or deeds? They will inevitably end up absent from the narrative that emerges.

Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. That was then, and this is now. Since the first emergence of women’s studies as a discipline in the 1960s, a wealth of historical research has explored the role of women in all levels of society. Women’s influence and significance is now apparent, even when they were effectively denied financial and political power by the cultures of their day.’

But only if you do your research and look for it. has anybody seen the movie Priest? It looks like exactly what it is –  a movie made by someone who grew up on computer games. (Not that it isn’t fun). Where I teach the students are asked to write a film treatment and many of these treatments are set in fantasy worlds. I can tell when the students are regurgitating what they have come across in computer games or seen on TV, without reading a fantasy book. But even if they do read fantasy, how many of them read books like History of Private Life Vol 11: Revelations of the Medieval World?  If the closest they have ever come to research is watching Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings (don’t get me wrong I really enjoyed these movies), they could be forgiven for thinking that women played a very small role in the medieval world, whereas in some instances a woman could take over running the family business if her husband died. (Note – obviously, the role of women changed from place to place and from era to era).

So if a writer wanted to create well rounded characters, male or female, they need to research the era they are basing their fantasy world society on. I find it is the interesting quirky things that stick in my mind. This is a bit off track for medieval settings but I came across the description of a New Guinea tribe where, when a member of the family died, the female relatives cut off the joint of a finger. If they lived to become old women they ended up with only nubs on their hands.

Juliet goes on to say:

‘… somewhat paradoxically, the representation of women in fantasy must still include women leading circumscribed, subordinated lives, to remind all of us reading, male and female, why our grandmothers, mothers and aunts campaigned for the vote and marched for equal rights. To remind us what women’s lives are like today in so much of the world where their human rights are curtailed by culture and poverty. And of course, so many similar arguments apply when we consider the equally problematic question of characters of colour in fantasy fiction.’

In the comments there were many suggestions of authors, both male and female who do create interesting female characters. Amongst those comments was this one from Elizabeth Moon:

‘Judging by both audience and speaker comments at a convention this spring, and email received from readers or would-be readers, there’s still quite a bit of resistance to accepting women writers or women protagonists (in either traditional or nontraditional roles.) One man told me at a convention that a story with a woman protagonist “just wouldn’t interest me.” (others in the audience were nodding.) A fellow panelist made the pronouncement that women don’t write epic fantasy. (Um…yes, we do. Though I’ve found pronouncements by women who don’t approve of epic fantasy, as a “patriarchal” form, that women either don’t, or shouldn’t, write it.) Another told me in email that he can stand to read only three women writers (I think I was supposed to be flattered to be one of them) and won’t even try books by other women anymore. A woman at a booksigning told me proudly that her sons would not read books by women or with girl characters–as she was providing their reading material, it was clear that she approved and probably created their attitude.’

I wonder if a male reader like the one mentioned above would find it hard to identify with a female character because of her limited life choices. Why would he be interested in reading about someone who is not in control of their own destiny? If it’s not a problem he has ever had to face, then perhaps he can’t empathise with a character who has.

And sometimes even the writer can slip into the gender-divide mindset. Over on the ROR blog, Lara Morgan, YA writer was talking about gender and YA when she said:

‘I write YA with a female protagonist and it is marketed for girls, though when I was writing it I didn’t think about who the reader would be, just what the story was. Now I have been delightfully surprised when people have told me their son read it and loved it, because I didn’t think boys would.  That fact I am surprised a boy read it shows I am also guilty of putting that boy in a ‘he won’t read that’ box.  You see how this mindset is everywhere?’

Meanwhile, Andrea K Host has been talking about the differences magic can make when world-building, specifically when working out the role of women in the fantasy world society. She says, for one thing, magic of some kind can be used as birth control. Immediately women have the freedom to limit the size of their families.  I used this in my first trilogy, which explored a clash between a rigid patriarchal society and a society that leant towards equality. The birth control herb was just one small thing, but when the priests from the patriarchal society discovered that the women of the other society controlled their fertility with a herb, they set out to destroy all these herbs because it was unnatural. To them a woman’s place was to bear children.

Andrea K Host also talks about the power imbalance which exists because, on average, women are physically weaker than men.If these imbalances were removed what how would a society evolve?  Andrea asks:

‘The society which forms around women who can overcome inferiority of strength with an equalizer such as guardian spirits will not necessarily be any less inclined to call them chattel.  But the odds are better, and when you’re putting your world together, and you decide how your magic works, you have to ask: if women can do THIS, why do they allow THAT?’

I ask this very question in my new trilogy The Outcast Chronicles which will be published next year. The T’En are mystics and, while the males are physically stronger, the females are more gifted. This changes the male-female dynamic. It isn’t the core question of the trilogy, but it influences the characters’ interactions, just as the imbalance of power influences our interactions every day.

Exploring gender and our perception of how gender defines us is a rich field for writers. The fantasy and science fiction genres give us the freedom to create our own worlds to explore this question. But because this is the real world and not ‘the best of all possible worlds’, it appears there will be some readers who refuse to read a book because of the gender of the author and/or the main protagonist.

I can’t say that the gender of the author influences me. I look for story. And the gender of the main protagonist never worries me either. They have to be an interesting person with an interesting problem.


Filed under Characterisation, creativity, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Gender Issues, Genre, Readers, Writing craft

Winners Sean Williams Give-away!

Sean is such a softie! He says:

To the question,

“if the Tardis appeared in your living room and Dr Who stepped out, which of the Doctors would you like it to be and why?”

There’s no correct answer, just answers I like better than the others, for wildly irrational and impulsive reasons, and I’m back to tell you which ones they are.

My favourite Doctor will always be Jon Pertwee. (There’s always a special place for your first Doctor, even if it was Colin Baker.) The Third Doctor would be a bit crap to hang out with because the TARDIS was mostly just furniture during his tenure, but you can’t beat frills and a frock coat, so Richard Stein and Brendan Podger are automatic winners.

Another automatic prize goes to James Decker for picking Matt Smith, my new tip for the best Doctor ever (shame about those mad years, Tom), and Lynne Lunsden Green also gets a gong for picking Troughton (yay Jamie). I’m glad people are noticing the deep fannishness of Matt Smith’s performance (many have tried to channel earlier Doctors but few have succeeded) and I hope it’ll lead some of the show’s fresh new audience to look back and marvel at what came before.

So there you have it. Thanks for all your suggestions. If I could, I’d give you all a prize for sharing my love for the best show in the whole world! But I can only pick four, and if you drop me a line at mail (at) seanwilliams (dot) com I’ll give you a list of books to choose from.

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Filed under Australian Writers, Book Giveaway, Characterisation, Fun Stuff, Genre, Movies & TV Shows, Readers

Meet Dave Freer …

Today I’m interviewing Dave Freer because, for one thing he is a wonderful writer, and also I thought I’d ask him the same questions I’ve asked the female writers about fantasy writing and gender, to get his perspective as a male fantasy writer.

Look out for the give-away at the end of the interview.

Q: You quote Lewis Carroll, the Hunting of the Snark, on your blog. This is entirely suitable as you are something of a Beamish Boy.  Was the work of Lewis Carroll your first introduction to satire, whimsy and the fantastical?

Good grief, no. I was the most obnoxious little boy (I haven’t changed much) who started reading before school, and didn’t like fiction. My only tolerance for it was Kipling’s Just So Stories, which, as I was the third child, my dad had read so often he could recite. Those, to a brat who ‘knew’ the real answers, were delightful and whimsical. My first brush with sf/fantasy was satire was L. Sprague de Camp’s “Lest Darkness Fall” when I was nine. I remember it well, because I tried to ‘make’ all the inventions our inadvertent time traveller did. It did not end well. Like my attempts at parachuting with a beach umbrella off a 3 story building, it stands as proof that evolution-in-action fails quite spectacularly at eliminating idiots from the gene-pool. Perhaps we’re selecting for blind luck. The curious thing about that book was that at that age, I didn’t realise it was satire. It was just adventure, the triumph of ingenuity over brute force. I still have that very battered 1949 copy. It’s curious, in the gender debates that dominance of male sf/fantasy authors (particularly from my 1970’s childhood and before) that I came to sf via my mother, who started reading it from pulps left behind American servicemen working on the Naval guns on Robben Island, where she was a gunner. If there was a major gender stereotype of the time that shaped my perception, it was that only girls had ‘weird’ names.  Boys were Matthew, Mark, Luke and John etc. Girls had started getting Marzipan, Autumn and Galadriel, but patriarchal society had boys still being spared Moon-unit and Wobbegong. So Rudyard… was female. Sprague… was female. Andre (Norton) was male. I got Zenna Henderson and Ursula LeGuin right.

Q: You currently live in an island off the coast of Tasmania, but you are originally from South Africa. Do you think growing up in South Africa gave you a particular mind-set that has influenced the way you write?

Put it this way there is no reason why growing up in say Seapoint  or Rondebosch (wealthy formerly all-white suburbs) in South Africa (as a ‘white’ woman, anyway – men went to the army as conscripts) should be materially different to growing up in a wealthy suburb of Brisbane or Boston, except you probably had more chance of someone cleaning your home without having to be quite as wealthy. Having been ‘a South African’ is no guarantee of a better understanding of the poisonous effects of privilege and division than being say a white-bread American. Being born into my family made South Africa formative, though.  So did conscription.

My mother was a De la Rey, one of the Lion of the West’s nieces, part of the hard core of Boer ‘Bittereinde’ (bitter end) Guerrilla fighters.  She married the grandson of a British Army Boer War Surgeon General, in a time when the wounds of that war were still very raw (it took years before either family came around to it. Some of them never did.) My father–given his rather bizarre childhood, spoke and thought in Sotho more naturally than English—and was I think more at home with black South Africans than white ones. His work and I suppose my parents political and religious beliefs saw us mixing with people most white South Africans didn’t know much about. So I grew up tossed between cultures and learning people were human and rather alike even if they were lifelong traditional foes. Yes, it is one of the reasons I take mickey out of tradition a lot, although I believe in its tested strengths.

I was seventeen, very idealistic, and very wild, when I was conscripted. I was sent to the Medical Corps. I wasn’t eighteen before I saw my first man die. I grew up very fast and learned to be responsible, and saw things that haunt and shape me to this day.  What shapes you, shapes your writing.

Q: You’ve been in Australia a couple of years now. Just recently your son got married here (congratulations!).  In a post on ROR you said:  ‘it becomes very important to me know not just what ‘a squatter’ or ‘a bogan’ is but what implications there are in calling a character one. Knowing the baggage carried by a word and using that baggage can subtly make you a much more powerful and effective writer.’ Do you feel that you have a handle on the Ozzie mind-set now? Or do you still feel like a Stranger in a Strange Land?

Oh my word. It’s  complex. You don’t learn a culture in a week or even two years. I’m very much in love with Australia, especially our Island, and, oddly especially the nearest it has to an indigenous people (the island had its pre-European settlement population die off in the last ice age. The sealers who settled on Island took (or traded) wives from the Tasmanian North East Aboriginal population. Like the Bounty mutineers, the Straitsmen had a culture and traditions of their own. It must have been a tough, stark life, and yet it produced a very close-knit solid people. There’s a strong affinity (particularly with the older people) to the land and sea and to living off it, with which I identify and find I can fit into.  But know it and understand properly? No. Love it, want to learn about it, try to fit into it, yes.

Q: In 2008 your book, Slow Train to Arcturus, won the Best SF &F novel in the Preditors & Editors Poll. I heard you read from this book at Worldcon in 2010.  It struck me as a traditional premise told in an irreverent way. Were you surprised when the book won this award?

(Chuckle) According to my agent that book either had to win every award or be buried in soft peat by the industry. They chose the latter, but the book has a cult following so it got nominated in a reader-voted poll. To be honest I am at best ambivalent about most awards. They’re too much of a ‘cool kids club’ where if you’re ‘in’, you will at least be nominated. Some of those are very books of course,  BUT If you’re ‘out’, it doesn’t matter how popular or good you are, it’s not going to happen until the book/s are so wildly successful that the ‘Cool kids gang’ are starting to look bloody stupid. Look no further than Sir Terry Pratchett for an example, where his DARK SIDE OF THE SUN should have won every award (and his CARPET PEOPLE – originally written IIRC when he was 17, every juvenile award)… and it took another 20 years and about a 100 million sales for Cool Kids to admit he was alive. I’m too much of a loose cannon, too socially maladroit, and far too politically incorrect for most awards.

Yes, Slow Train took an old trope – a slower than light generation ship taking colonists to the stars (which has been out of fashion for many years) and another old trope ‘humans meet aliens’ and turned both on their heads and made them spin and whistle waltzing Matilda out of every orifice. It also was one of the very rarest combinations in our genre – Hard SF and social satire.

Look, the reason that generation ships fell out of fashion (besides that hard sf is hard to write, and our genre is fashion-driven) is three-fold.

1)    They really are slow. Interstellar war and trade – the life-stuff of our genre are hard across hundreds of years. And ‘colonisation’ is a nasty un-PC word (despite the fact that every human on earth is a colonist or descended from one. As Douglas Adams said, we’re not proud of our ancestors, and never invite them around to dinner.) .

2)    When you get there (after hundreds of years), the place sucks. It’s either not habitable or worse, the locals don’t really want colonists. Or from a modern ecologist’s point of view, you’ll destroy a unique alien ecosystem.

3)    We’ve never kept a closed ecosystem going for any worthwhile period of time. Generations is so far off plausible as to be silly.

So I set about finding solutions to all three… and limiting our scenario to present or already theoretically possible and plausible science. And then, just because I have a theory of ordinariness  (or orneryness, at times) I set about making a set of novel hard science ideas just parts of the background, that neither the characters (because they live with them and it’s an everyday situation) nor the reader are overwhelmed by flashing-light bling ‘science’.  And yes, I am a manipulative son-of-bitch with an ulterior motive.  Bling and flashing lights we accept as, well, fun-but-a-fantasy.   Ordinary – Which both Heinlein and Asimov did well—becomes, quite rapidly ‘normal and expected’.  And then the world moves to catch up. I don’t think social engineering via PC-speak works very well. I think it probably loses more readers than it changes minds. But if you’re subtle and clever about it (whether I am either is another matter, but I understand the need) you can shift perspectives. Of course it takes more effort and ability than PC-rote, but who said idealism should be easy? And yes, I believe we need interstellar travel, and that we should colonise space. I’ll explain why, as an ecologist, I believe this a little further on.

The solutions to problem 1) and 2)  are relatively simple when you think about it (but like Columbus sailing West, no one seemed to). More than 2/3 of travel times at speeds we can presently attain… are used in acceleration or deceleration.  What’s worse, is that those two phases take a vast amount of energy.  Once the ship accelerates to its cruising speed (a process which would take about 20 years) that momentum must be conserved.  Let’s put it this way – at 1/3 of light-speed cruise speed (theoretically possible now) accelerating and decelerating at ever star, a ship could perhaps cover 30 light years in 320 years.  If it never decelerated, but dropped modules at each passing star, which did slow down,  then a 100 light years becomes plausible. There are a lot of stars within 100 light years of Earth.  Think of the ship as a train, dropping off the last carriage to slow down at each passing star. And that of course is the second feature: the humans no longer colonise planets. They don’t even care if there are planets. They colonise space. There is a habitable zone – and all the materials you would need – around nearly every star.  It’s an idea that has been suggested for our solar system, just not for interstellar colonisation. To the best of my knowledge neither solution has been suggested anywhere else in sf.  It does mean, that as an ecologist I can heartily support space colonisation. It will increase the variation of life in an area that supports none.  The third issue of course is that bio-viability. Dyson spheres – the space habitat I suggest, are old hat.  They’re big hollow bubbles with spin to provide pseudo-gravity on the inner wall by centripetal force.  Which makes sense to an engineer, or a physicist… but not to biologist or a chemist.  A biologist will tell you that the viability of a habitat is determined by size… multiplied by complexity—or in other words, by surface area. A chemist will tell you that almost all reactions are affected by… surface area. Your lungs only work, because, although they fit in your chest, their surface area is about that of a tennis court.  So the insides of our space habitats are very complex spiral layers, making the surface area vast.  Big and complex is far more stable, and these have another advantage. Like islands (but in space) they are largely isolated, but can draw from a resource pool, and act as reservoirs for each other.  It’s good science, and it’s different, and, oddly, could work.

So then I introduced some more elements to it. Who colonises? Yes, it’s usually your refugees, your outcasts, your ne’er-do-wells, your convicts, your poor, your adventurers, your odd sects. The scaff and the raff?  Maybe.  Or are they something human society needs? Each of the habitats has a different set of migrants in it, off on a one-way, isolated multi-generational trip, which, especially viewed through alien eyes, is an interesting environment for social satire. Into this I added the reverse of Rendesvoux with Rama. I had an alien species, like but unlike us, meet the ship 300 years out from Earth. The aliens –who are principal point of view characters–provide an unusual outsider’s view of humans, and the weirdness that is our heterosexual species and the mores derived from this. They are de facto unisexual, starting as smaller mobile, risk-taking males, and, when they reach a certain size becoming near sessile, very conservative and territorial females (an arrangement that makes good biological sense, but is wholly unlike ours). Basically the hero is a bisexual male who comes from a matriarchal society.

And then, to finish putting my money where my big mouth is, I went along with one of my objections to the PC tokenism in science fiction. I took as his co-hero and companion, and later friend, the character who is NEVER allowed to be hero. Howard is one of the Bretheren – a fundamentalist Christian sect somewhere between the Quakers and the Amish, who practice traditional agriculture and, yes, are ‘white’.

So, yes, just a slight twist on the usual.

Q: You indulge in what others might call Danger Sports, like rock climbing and scuba diving. You once told me that we writers have very little control over our books. We can write a wonderful book and then we send it off. Even if a publisher publishes it, we have no control over the cover, distribution or how long the book stays on the shop shelves and that taking part in dangerous sports was your way of achieving something you did have control over.   With the changes happening in publishing (See Dave’s post on the Mad Genius Club blog), do you feel now that you have more options? And would you go down the self publishing route?

Yes, and am doing so. As all of us who have been through the proposal route of selling books know, it’s a very damaging process—you build hard and then have drop a book you are now deeply involved in. And then pick it up again, often midway through an unrelated book. You also shape proposals around your agent and the target – which is a publishing house, not the important target, the reader. It’s not good for writers, and it’s not good for readers. It’s convenient for publishers. I keep saying to O’Mike (my agent, Mike Kabongo) that I’ve written my last proposal. And he talks another out of me. But I am determined to stop. A few publishers have various rights of first refusal, but I am rapidly approaching take it now or I will continue writing it.

Q: You’ve collaborated with Eric Flint and Mercedes Lackey. Writing is a very individual experiences and you are a very individual individual. How did the collaborations work specifically?

I write a first draft – sometimes only sketching scenes I want Eric or Misty to write. Eric does a structural edit, positing add-in chapters and scenes (there are few cuts) We divide the new scenes up, do a round robin edit, and submit. Collaborations take a degree of tolerance and egalitarianism from all parties. If that exists, they can work. If one person is inflexible, they don’t.

Q: I discovered the Witches of Karres books by James H Schmitz over thirty years ago and loved them. Now you’ve continued the series with Sorceress of Karres. Was it daunting knowing that you were writing in a much loved world using much loved characters?

I absolutely hated the idea. I knew I wasn’t good enough or able to write like Schmitz. I got talked into it by Eric.

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy is a bit of a boy’s club. Do you think there’s a difference in the way males and females write fantasy?

Sigh. As individuals there are female writers whose natural voice is rather like Robert A. Heinlein. There are male writers whose work shows derivation from Ursula Le Guin. I think you really, really, really need to judge a writer’s without the spectacles of a pre-conceived bias. My childhood assumption that Sprague was female and Andre was male, didn’t stop me loving both, and suggests that at base level readers don’t actually care, if the story is good for them. There may be gender differences in what is typically good for an average reader, but once again we wander onto generalizations to which there are many exceptions.  It’s important to emphasize that. Prejudgment is for fools.

What I do think (sadly) that we see is peer group conformity pressure, both in male and female authors. It’s peer pressure, remember, that allows female genital mutilation to continue, often at the hands of older women. And it’s not confined to some uneducated Somalis. It exists still everywhere, and needs to be fought at all levels of society.  I admit to feeling strongly about this, because of my mum. Look, there was never any woman less in need of ‘liberating’ – she was terrifyingly capable, and never let gender (or size–she was tiny) stop her doing anything she wanted to try–from driving 10 ton trucks (pre-synchromesh and pre-power steering) to carpentry. But she did. Once. She went off to university, the first woman of the family to ever do so, supposedly to train at a profession respectable for women: teaching junior school.  As her mother (widowed) had no idea what courses she had to do, mum managed to take subjects that were ‘inappropriate’–Chemistry and Geology–in her first year, as the only female student. Unfortunately her second year required a narrowing of subjects.  She broached the idea to her mother of… not teaching. Her mother simply said “no”. The head of the Geology Department actually came to call, to beg my grandmother to let his best student continue.  She would have been the first female geologist in South Africa, which would have suited her as a profession down to the ground, and below it. And my grandmother, silly old bat, (I’ve never forgiven her for this) said ‘no, it was not a suitable profession for a woman.’

So: No.  There is a difference in how individuals write. We do not write to group orders. Or at least we don’t have to.

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?

Good grief no. I’ve wised up enough to know that you do not write by sitting on the keyboard, so genitalia probably don’t matter. (Although the cover might change my expectations. Bare-chested males do for me what clinging big-boobed bimbos in bikinis do for the average feminist. When am I going to hear: “who put the Bimb-he on the cover of my book?”)?  Don’t ever judge a book by its author’s gender.  Yes, there are those written by people trying for female roles in Emily Bronte novels, but there are a few wet-lettuce males in that category too. Yes, there are female fantasy authors with far too much in the way of soft furnishings, fashions and angst for my taste. A few seconds of dispassionate assessment should tell you if you want to read it or not. While one is advised not to judge a book by its cover, publishers do use ‘types’ of cover to point readers in the right direction.  If you want equal consideration, don’t show me a bare male torso!

There is gender bias, of course.  And it’s as dumb as rocks. But I think we need to take great care not to assume it is ALL gender bias.  I’m going to be politically incorrect as usual but I suspect at least some of  ‘I’m a victim of gender bias’ is rather reminiscent of Lenny Henry’s satirical ‘It’s ‘cause I’m black, Innit?’

I, for example, battle to read an award winning vastly popular male writer. He reads like exactly what his background is: a cubicle dwelling desk-jockey in the computer arena. Which means to many readers, his books have appeal, because this is their experience too.  Unfortunately for me, as something of an outdoors nutter, I kept hitting parts of his books (the quasi-fantasy ones) where I wanted to mutter ‘write about something you know about.’ I assume no one is saying I ought to love his books, and I am discriminating because they’re not really my thing, any more than mine would be his? There are quite a few other male authors I feel the same way about.  Now, this is NOT something I feel when reading Lois Bujold, or Elizabeth Moon, or Courtney Schafer, or Stina Leicht . When you tell me men are not reading their books because they’re written by women, I’ll tell any male who makes such a statement what an idiot he is. However, I can think of two female ‘high’ fantasy (quasi-medieval set) authors whose work I also avoid with great care, because their experience of the rufty-tufty amenity-less world which makes for realistic medieval type settings… stems from a life experience of working in HR or the like, in a big city. And it shows (some people manage to make it not show). Just as in the case of the computer geek, this is the sum of life experience of a lot of their readers and I am sure they’re loved, but not by me.

Let’s be realistic about our society: the statistical probabilities are that more men than women are going hit their description of walking through the forest and TBAR the book saying ‘what a load of fetid dingo’s kidneys.’  And yes, I have heard both of these women complain about gender bias in their reviews and readership.  I’ve never known quite how to tactfully say: ‘actually, it’s NOT because you’re a woman. It’s because a horse is not a car, and you’ve never walked a hundred yards through bush, and it shows.’  What do you think they’d choose to believe if I said that?

We need to make sure that when we’re talking about gender bias, that we’re talking about irrational stupidity, not just “I don’t like your writing”. Because yes, men do not have the monopoly on fantasy that I think sucks. That’s equality: you too can show extreme suckitude.

Q: And here’s the fun question. If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?

The future—which is a vast exciting and exciting country–in which we may yet deal with the ills of the human condition. Sorry, the past was worse for nearly everyone. If I could go on holiday in the past I would come to my beautiful island before any humans did. I’m still a zoologist at heart, sometimes. If I had to move into the past, please, not before antibiotics and snake-bite serum. I’d have lost my wife, my children and my own life, without them.

David has a copy of Dagon’s Ring, a Much Fall of Blood, and a copy of The Sorceress of Karres to give-away. Here’s the question:

What sort of Dragon is Taboo?


Catch up with Dave on Facebook.

Catch up with Dave on Twitter. @davefreersf

Or at Dave

See the Dave Freer page on Baen


Filed under Australian Writers, Book Giveaway, Characterisation, Collaboration, creativity, Fantasy books, Fun Stuff, Publishing Industry, SF Books, The World in all its Absurdity, The Writing Fraternity, Writing craft

Meet Rhonda Roberts …

Q: First congratulations on the success of Gladiatrix. I feel like a proud big sister because I organised the pitching opportunity at the 2006 National SF Con, which led (eventually) to your sale. (Rhonda talks about this experience on the ROR blog). Since your sale what have you learnt about the publishing industry that you wish you could have told yourself back then?

Thanks Rowena, that pitching opportunity changed everything!

One key lesson is that you need to acquire publicity skills asap. In the standard contract you are legally required to help publicise the book. My experience has been that publishers try to work with you on this – so make choices now rather than later. Different publicity methods suit different books and, more importantly, different authors. The key thing is to go with your strong points.

If public speaking is your strength – then find ways to use that. Your publisher can help you make contacts and set up interviews etc. If, like many authors, you’d rather concentrate on the web – then work out which of the available options suit you and how you want to invest your non-writing time.

Whatever venues you choose, make sure you can sum up your book in 7, 30, and 100 words. That will save you a few uncomfortable silences while you try to compress your magnum opus into a bite size chunk and still do it an iota of justice.

Q: I like the look of your web site, Rhonda, very noir, very suitable for a time travelling detective. Do you have a background in graphic design?

That’s great to hear, thanks!

I do have a distant background in art but my husband, Richard Caladine, did all the artwork on the website, as well as the maps that go with the books. We work closely together on these projects, but he does the final images. He’s in the communication technology industry as well as being a talented artist with his own website.

I love all things noir and have spent a lot of time developing that kind of look and feel in the series. The second book, Hoodwink, is set in Hollywood in 1939 specifically because this is my hero’s first real case as a private investigator. So, of course, she had to go back to the era of The Maltese Falcon and the hard-boiled private eye.

If  you like the website now, check again towards the end of this year, Hoodwink comes out in January 2012 and there’ll be some changes and additions to celebrate the launch. J

Q: I see Gladiatrix was nominated for the Norma K Hemming Award. This award celebrates excellence in the exploration of race, gender, class and sexuality. This must have been a thrill. Did you set out to explore this themes, or did it just arise naturally?

Oh yeah, I certainly was thrilled to be nominated! Gladiatrix was my first book and I had no idea whether anyone would even read it. 🙂

Gladiatrix isn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, a sermon – it’s high adventure – but my politics tend to be inclusive rather than exclusive, so I guess they seep into everything.

Q: Gladiatrix was also nominated for the Davitt Award. This award is sponsored by the Sisters in Crime Australia for the best crime novel by an Australian woman. It looks like you are spanning at least two genres. Have you always been a fan of crime and mystery?

Sisters in Crime is such a wonderful organisation – I was absolutely thrilled they liked it.

Why did I venture across genres? Human history is full of deep dark mysteries and many of them involve unsolved crimes, so following a time travelling detective opens up adventures in any conceivable time or place. When you throw a slightly alternate past and present into the mix, then the adventure gets really exciting because anything can happen – and frequently does. J

Have I always been a fan of crime and mystery? On and off. Then one hot, sweaty summer – when I was bored and desperate for something new – I ended up in the crime section, where I discovered the V.I. Warshawski series by Sara Paretsky. V.I. is not only a smart, tough detective in the old school, noir tradition, but is also a compassionate modern woman. What a combination! I was hooked.

Since then I’ve discovered that noir female characters are very exciting people. You never quite know what they’re going to do next – but you can be damned sure you want to stick around and watch.

Q: Your main character, Kannon Dupree is described as feisty and bit impetuous but smart enough to get herself out of dangerous situations. Did you find that your background in martial arts helped you write realistic fight scenes?

Oh definitely. Especially the injuries incurred side of it. J (I’m rubbing my knee with one hand as I type with the other.)

Q: You PHD and work as an academic specialising in knowledge systems in different cultures and historical periods must help you create realistic settings when your main character travels through time. What advice could you give aspiring writers on research?

It depends on what kind of book you’re researching but if you’re writing about ‘a stranger in a strange land’, I’d suggest you start with what’s the same and what’s different? Then ask yourself why is it so?

Find out what your characters need to operate on a daily basis. Then go on to what belief system is dominant. Is it religious, scientific etc…? How does the power structure operate? Gender/class/ethnic relations? What does their technology look like and how does it fit into the socio-economy? Then the more psychological components come in. What is the family unit like? What are their greatest fears? How do they relax? And so forth…

Q: You grew up in Western Australia and spent your holidays rambling around the old gold rush ghost towns. Will there be a Kannon Dupree time travel mystery set against this background?

The series will regularly return to an Australian setting – that will definitely happen.

Choosing what era to visit next takes a bit of planning. There’s a particular arc going on with the main character that is suited to certain eras, so that has to be catered for. Plus some stories come roaring out of my filing cabinet and gleefully hijack the process…

Both of which happened with my second and third books. Hoodwink, (due out in January 2012) is set in Hollywood in 1939. So Kannon can put on her black trench coat and sunglasses, and slink around noir paradise.

The third book, which I’m now in the process of finishing, comes out later in 2012. I can’t tell you what it’s about yet, as my editor has a sniper ready to fire a warning shot if I mention it too soon. J

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy is a bit of a boy’s club. Do you think there’s a difference in the way males and females write fantasy?

Really? But what about J.K. Rowling, Ursula Le Guin, Anne Rice and the million other stunningly wonderful female writers over there? What’s going on?

Sure gender can influence writing choices, just as ethnicity, religion, class, age, breadth of life experience, political beliefs etc, etc, can too. But what’s wrong with that? Does anyone still seriously believe diversity isn’t a good thing? The point is on what basis worth is judged…what is valued, which voices are listened to and which ones are denigrated or dismissed.

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?

Like many fantasy authors, there’s always been a special place in my heart for books – whatever the genre, whoever the author – that show off the might of the human spirit and it’s awesome potential. We need more of those books not less…

At the moment I’m besotted by John Carlin’s book on Nelson Mandela. How Mandela overcame the shackles placed on him because of his colour and basically saved South Africa from genocide. Talk about a true-life fantasy story!

So, I will happily pick-up books with any gender combination of author and subject. But…I won’t buy misogynistic books or ones that treat their female characters like convenient wallpaper – whatever the author’s gender.

Q: And here’s the fun question. If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?

My two dogs are wondering why I’m laughing… There are so many possibilities! What was Joan of Arc really like? What secrets are encoded in the Voynich manuscript? What were Buddha’s last words? What was written on the Mayan codices destroyed by the Conquistadors?

But this month the answer is: to the VIP seats at the Rugby World Cup Final, Johannesburg, 1995, and in the limo that took President Mandela back home from the game.

This is the day (a fraction of which is portrayed in the film Invictus) that it became clear that Nelson Mandela had managed to divert the South African nation away from a bloody civil war – when blacks and whites alike celebrated the Springboks’ World Cup victory. I’d dearly love to watch Nelson Mandela’s face as he saw HIS people, the South African nation, share the same emotion at the same time – joy.

Give-away Question:  In the last Census there were 58,053 Jedi Knights listed in Australia. What new religion would you propose for the next one? Why? What would they do and wear? How would you spread it? (Get on to merchandising if you feel that is appropriate.)



Filed under Australian Writers, Awards, Book Giveaway, Characterisation, creativity, Dark Urban Fantasy, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Fun Stuff, Genre, Inspiring Art, Nourish the Writer, Paranormal_Crime, Pitching your book, Promoting Friend's Books, Promoting your Book, Publishing Industry

Meet Glenda Larke …

As the next of my series featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) I’ve invited the talented and perceptive Glenda Larke to drop by.

Watch out for the give-away question at the end of the interview.






Q: You come from Western Australia originally. That’s a long way culturally from Malaysia where you now live. As a child growing up, did you long for something different?

Yes and no. I was a farm kid and I loved – and still love – the Australian landscape. But I made up my mind very young that I was going to travel – a lot. It was more just wanting to get out there and have a look: I never dreamed that life would conspire to keep me away so long. But I am coming back, for good, next year. It’s time!

Q: You are in involved in rain forest conservation and you post some wonderful photos on your blog. Do you find aspects of this come through in your writing?

Well, my desert transport was inspired by the unlikely example of rainforest millipedes! Every book has a hundred different ideas and they are often inspired by my travels, not just in the rainforest. An understanding of ecology, of how things fit together and are reliant on one another, is an excellent guide to world-building.

Q: Your first series was The Isle of Glory. I remember stumbling across your first book, The Aware and being blown away by your fresh voice. Do you think you will be exploring this world again?

Probably not. I find that after three books I want to do something new: new magic, new characters, new world. I reckon if I start something brand new, then my writing stays fresh and I feel rejuvenated.

Although I’m not going back to the Isles of Glory, I am visiting  another island archipelago in the trilogy I have just started to write. The middle book will be set on a tropical island. With spices and buccaneers and birds of paradise and general skulduggery. I have not managed to sell it yet, though…

And I am keen to go back to the Havenstar world – because I only ever wrote one book in that world! There’s room for more.

Q: I discovered The Mirage Makers when I was doing my Masters. It was particularly good timing as I was looking for books that explored the theme of discrimination. Do you consciously set out to explore themes, or do they creep up on you while you’re writing?

I’ve had it happen both ways. With The Mirage Makers the theme started as a combination of the Disappeared Ones of Argentina – when parents were murdered and the children adopted by the murderers and brought up to despise their parents’ politics – and the lost generation of Australian children, where Aboriginal children were forcibly removed from both their parents and their culture. So that was very deliberate, right from the beginning.

In The Isles of Glory, I set out to write a fantasy adventure, but themes crept in along the way.

Q: Your most recent trilogy is Watergivers. Like you, I can remember a time when our water came from a water tank. And we were only allowed an inch of brown water in the bath to wash. This trilogy sounds wonderful. ‘Ancient water tunnels, moving red dunes, singing sands, salt pans, settlements in dry water courses, waterpaintings, precious water.’ Do you find your books grow organically, or do you plan them?

Both. If I write a synopsis, then I often end up changing it substantially as I go along, especially by the time I get to book three. I keep on having better ideas! However, I think it is essential to know where you are going. If you don’t have an ending in mind, how can you push the story forward?

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy is a bit of a boy’s club. Do you think there’s a difference in the way males and females write fantasy?

I do actually, although the moment you say something like that, someone else will find twenty different exceptions to the rule! However, let me take the plunge. I can’t imagine anyone but a male writer penning something like Joe Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself and the subsequent books set in that world. The level of violence and gore, the number and detail of the battles: it shrieks male author to me.

Women also write such scenes, but I think there is a subtle difference. In real life women tend to see victims as much as heroes when it comes to wars and fighting. And in fiction, the people who die are seen as more than just a body count to many (most?) female authors. Battle scenes written by a women always seem … sadder, more wrenching, and therefore less heroic, to me.

Women authors write epic fantasy just as well as men, but often differently, presenting more of the intimate and less of the big picture. Some male writers do this too, of course. In fact I’d say they do it more often than women write the more masculine heroic-scale story.

Have I said enough to earn myself a roasting in the comments yet?

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?

I think it does. And occasionally, of course, I am surprised. I’ve always been happy to read writers from any position along the gender spectrum, and it shocked me senseless when I was told that there were men who wouldn’t read women authors. I found it hard to believe that such extraordinary people existed. (I’m not kidding – I was absolutely astonished that there were men who happily wiped out half the human race from their reading. I guess I was once very naïve.)

Q: And here’s the fun question. If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?

One thing for sure, I’d never go too far into the future. I don’t want to know. And what if you transferred to 2100, for example – and the world had been wiped out by an asteroid in the meantime? And anyone who wants to go back in time ought to read Connie Willis to see all the things that can go wrong… Nah, no thanks.


Give-away Question:

What kind of fantasy (e.g. epic world-scale, rollicking adventure escapism, urban paranormal, romantic, historical, Havenstar world…) would you like me to write next and why?


Follow Glenda on Twitter:  @glendalarke

See Glenda’s Blog.

Find Glenda on GoodReads.

Find Glenda on Facebook.


Filed under Australian Writers, Book Giveaway, Characterisation, creativity, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Genre, Writing craft

Brain Fry!

There they are, the three covers of The Outcast Chronicles. Big thanks to Solaris and Clint Langley for producing such beautiful covers.

It is the end of May (I know there’s a couple of days left, but I go back to work on Monday, so I only have tomorrow). Now I have to hand in the trilogy. It’s been a long journey. I began the first draft almost ten years ago. There was a rewrite the year I did my Masters and took the first book to ROR. The books have evolved and grown, especially in the last year when I’ve been working on them every spare moment.

What does it feel like to hand in a trilogy that you’ve poured your heart and soul into?


My brain is officially fried. (See my 5 stages of writing a book on the Mad Genius Club Blog). I would need to put the trilogy away for at least month then read it from beginning to end before I could even contemplate doing anything more to it.  Since I could go on tweaking for ever and I have the end of May as my deadline it is now time to stop.

Take a deep breath, step away from the trilogy … and turn to face the new King Rolen’s Kin trilogy. What wonderful ideas I have for testing Byren, Orrie, Fyn and Piro!


Filed under Characterisation, Covers, creativity, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Fun Stuff, Genre, Inspiring Art, Writing craft

Meet Kate Forsyth …

As the next of my series featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) I’ve invited the talented and always engaging Kate Forsyth to drop by.

Watch out for the give-away at the end of the interview.

Q: Kate, tell us a little about your new book?

The Starkin Crown is a fantasy adventure for readers aged 12 and above, which tells the story of Prince Peregrine, a boy who must overcome treachery, heartache and his own secret weakness in order to find the lost spear of the Storm King.

With the blood of wildkin, hearthkin and starkin in his veins, Peregrine is heir to both the Erlqueen of Stormlinn and the starkin throne – except that the starkin crown was seized before his birth by his grandfather’s cruel cousin Vernisha. An ancient prophecy says that Peregrine will be the one who will at last break the starkin’s ruthless reign and bring peace to the land, but his parents fear the prophecies and try to keep him safe.

The arrival of a starkin girl with an urgent warning of an impending attack sees Peregrine and his faithful squire Jack flee Stormlinn Castle. Guided by a mysterious white owl, and with enemies on all sides, Peregrine soon realises that there is a traitor in their party … and that he must learn to trust his own heart.

Q: Your first series was The Witches of Eileanan, which took its inspiration from the Scottish witch trials of the 16th century. There are six books in the series. You must feel like the world and characters are old friends. Are you tempted to revisit it with a new series?

I get emails every week begging me to write more books set in Eileanan, and I always reply, “Maybe one day”. With the six books of ‘The Witches of Eileanan’ and the three books in the ‘Rhiannon’s Ride’ series, the books set in Eileanan took me ten years to write and constitute more than a million words. I loved writing them and I’m glad so many people have enjoyed them, but I had so many other ideas I wanted to bring to life!

Q: There is also Rhiannon’s Ride Series, with a ‘fierce satyricorn’ heroine. It looks like it could be YA cross-over. What age group was this written for?

‘Rhiannon’s Ride’ is a series of three books set in the world of Eileanan sixteen years after the end of the last book in ‘The Witches of Eileanan’. I always say the Eileanan books can be read by anyone sixteen years and older – there’s lots of battle scenes, cruel betrayals, traitors, necromancy, torture, love, despair, and ultimate triumph – not reading for the faint of heart!


Q: The Chronicles of Estelliana (The Starthorn tree, The Wildkin Curse and The Starkin Crown is for ages 12 and up). I see there is a girl heroine again. Is this a theme you like to explore?

Actually, in the three books set in Estelliana I always have two boys and two girls around 15 years of age, and the primary protagonist is always a boy. This is because I wrote these books for my eldest son, Ben, who loves fantasy fiction. The books are read by both boys and girls – I try and have all four of my heroes being vivid, interesting, and fully realised characters with their own strengths and weakness, and their own lessons to be learnt.

Q: I remember you were so excited when your children’s series The Chain of Charms won the Aurealis Award for its section in 2007. That must have been a real buzz. This series is set in the time of Oliver Cromwell. Did you have to do a lot of research?

It was wonderful! There are six books in ‘The Chain of Charms’ series, and five of them came out in 2007 so I was thrilled to have all five of them short-listed that year. You can imagine my excitement when all five of them ended up winning! It’s the first time that’s ever happened. And, yes, I had to do a great deal of research but then I do with every book I write. With the ‘Chain of Charms’ series, I read every book I could find on Oliver Cromwell and King Charles II, the English Civil War, life in the 17th century, and the language and culture of the Romanichal, or the English Gypsies. I also took my three children to England for a month, travelling in the footsteps of my two Gypsy children in their wild adventures in Kent, Surrey and Sussex. I even began to dress like a Gypsy, and Gypsy Stew became a favourite meal of our family.

Q: The Puzzle Ring was written for ages 10 and up. In this one you have a time travelling heroine who goes back to 16 century Scotland. Are you a big fan of Scottish history?

I was brought up on family stories about Scotland – my grandmother’s grandmother was Scottish on both my mother and my father’s side which meant as a child I heard many an old tale of bloody battles, murdered queens, fugitive princes, ancient curses, loch monsters, and one-eyed giants. I’ve always been interested in Scottish history and mythology as a result, and read a lot of books set in Scotland growing up. So when I was thinking about where to set ‘The Puzzle Ring’ –it seemed very right and natural that it should be set in Scotland and that I should draw upon some of the stories my grandmother and great-aunts told me.

Q: Ben and Tim’s Magical Misadventures series looks like it is meant for a younger reader again. And then there is a picture book titled I Am. Your books range from picture books, through the different primary age groups, through Young Adult to the grown up books?

Do you have to get into a certain mindset to write for a certain age group?

I always say that you can read my books from birth to death! Basically, ‘I Am’ and the three Magical Misadventures were written for my own children’s reading pleasure and I was thrilled when they were published and other children loved them too. I never have any problem writing for different age groups – I always know exactly who my audience is before I even write a word. I ‘see’ the whole narrative shape in my mind’s eye, and know who I want to read it.

Q: You originally worked as a journalist. (See here for a series of articles on Kate’s web site).Did you enjoy this and was it a big leap to writing fantasy?

I always wanted to be a novelist – working as a journalist was a way to pay the bills until I was ‘discovered’. I still write half a dozen articles a year for various publications, for no other reason than my own pleasure. I love to write in many different shapes and forms –it’s challenging to conquer the different styles, and I feel small projects like poetry, articles, picture books, and early readers are a way of refreshing my mind in between the big, long, complex novels I usually write.

 Q: My youngest son had a severe speech impediment. He didn’t have a recognisable (to others) word when he started school. I worked long and hard with him to help him overcome it. I believe you had a speech impediment as a child. Did you find the frustration of not being able to communicate your ideas shaped the person you are?

I had a severe stutter as a child, which meant many hours of speech therapy. My mother worked incredibly hard with me, just like you did with your son, to help me conquer my stutter. One of the things I was encouraged to do was read poetry and Shakespeare aloud, and I truly believe this had a profound effect on me, giving me a deep love of language and rhythm and rhyme. It also meant that I retreated into books, and read voraciously as a child, because I struggled to express myself at school and in unfamiliar situations. I still stutter when I’m tired or nervous or excited, but in general I think I’m quite fiercely articulate now and proud that I was able to overcome the great obstacle that was my stutter. (Read Kate’s article on stuttering).

Q: Tell us a little about the book you are working one now. Set in the time of Louis the 14th, involving a French noble woman, a young girl shut up in a tower, and a Venetian Courtesan, it sounds wonderful.

Thank you! I must admit it has been wonderful to write. Called ‘Bitter Greens’, it is a historical novel for adults which interweaves a retelling of the Rapunzel fairytale with the life of one of its first tellers, the scandalous 17th century French writer, Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force. Charlotte-Rose shocked the court of the Sun King with her love affairs and her dabbling in witchcraft, and so was banished to a convent in the country. In those days, enclosure was very strict and so Charlotte-Rose would not have stepped outside the high, stone wall of the convent or seen anyone apart from the nuns and their lay-sisters. She wrote the fairy tale ‘Persinette’ while imprisoned, which was later renamed ‘Rapunzel’ and bowdlerised by the Grimm brothers. Her life story was a gift for a novelist – I could not have made up a better story! The novel is told in three strands – Charlotte-Rose’s life in Paris and Versailles during the 17th century, the tale of the maiden in the tower, and then the story of the witch, who I have imagined as a 16th century Venetian courtesan who was Titian’s muse. I’m just back from a month in Europe, going to all the places described in my book – Paris, Versailles, Bordeaux, Venice and the Italian lakes!

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy is a bit of a boy’s club. Do you think there’s a difference in the way males and females write fantasy?

Certainly there’s a widely expressed view that men write fantasy full of battles, assassinations, murder and torture, while women write fantasy full of flowers and frocks. Although there is some truth that women’s fantasy fiction is sometimes softer and more romantic, some of the toughest, bloodiest fantasy is written by women such as Fiona McIntosh and Robin Hobb. I certainly love a good love scene, but then I also think battle scenes have their place. I have both in my books!

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?

No, not at all. I love fantasy fiction by both men and women. What I care about are the characters and the story and the quality of the writing, not the gender of the writer.

Q: And here’s the fun question. If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why? (16th Century Scotland? LOL)

16th century Scotland was a wild, dangerous place without hot running water! I think I’d be scared to go there. I’d need a big, strong Highlander with a big, sharp claymore to protect me! I would like to meet Mary, Queen of Scots, though, and I’d be very interested to know who really murdered her second husband! I have theories of my own, I’d like to know if I was right. I’d also really like to go to 16th century Venice at Carnivale time ….

Kate very kindly has offered a copy of The Starkin Crown as a give-away. Here’s the Give-away question:

What was your favourite fantasy book as a child?

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Meet Karen Miller …

As the next of my series featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) I’ve invited the prolific and talented Karen Miller to drop by.

Watch out for the give-away question at the end of the interview.

Q: I see you also write as KE Mills and are writing the Rogue Agent series under this name. Why would you write fantasy under two different names?

As Karen Miller,  I write epic/historical fantasy, in self-contained story arcs covering a finite number of ‘acts’ – so I’m telling the story across 2, 3 or soon 5 volumes. The historical influences I draw upon for these books range from ancient Mesopotamia right through to Rennaisance Europe. On the other hand, the Rogue Agent books are part of an open ended series, in which continuing characters have stand alone adventures – even though there are some story elements that carry through more than one book. Also, the historical influence is late Victorian/early Edwardian England. That means there is a distinctly different flavour/atmosphere between the kinds of fantasy I’m writing, so Voyager thought it would be a good idea to differentiate them.

Q: You write for Stargate. Are you a big fan? Was it a real buzz to get the chance to write these books? How did it come about?

I have indeed written media tie in books for the Stargate SG1 universe. I’m a fan of the show, and always will be – especially of the first 6 seasons. I had the best fun writing Alliances and Do No Harm! It’s such a privilege, being given the chance to play in a storytelling sandbox built by someone else, that’s given me enormous pleasure over the years. I got the chance because the people at Fandemonium, who have the Stargate tie in rights, read my Stargate SG1 fanfic (the Medical Considerations series) and thought I’d be a good fit. MGM were fine with it, and so I was paid the enormous compliment of being given the nod to write the books.

Q: Another fan-girl moment. You have also written a Star Wars book, The Clone Wars: Wild Space. How did you get the chance to write for Star Wars?

I’ve actually done 3 Star Wars novels – Wild Space, and then the two-part Clone Wars Gambit story, Stealth and Siege. Again, what an enormous privilege. I fell in love with Star Wars back in 1977, sitting in Hoyts cinema on George Street, watching the star destroyer roar over our heads. It sounds crazy, but the experience really did change my life. So many things have happened to me because of that film, and I will forever be in George Lucas’s debt. Probably I wouldn’t have the writing career I have now without him. Anyhow, I knew there were professionally published Star Wars novels, and I knew you had to be a professional writer to be considered. Once The Innocent Mage was published, I contacted the Star Wars editor at Del Rey and expressed an interest in writing for them, if ever they needed a new author. We had a lovely conversation but nothing came of it, so I just shrugged and got on my with my own original fiction. Then a couple of years later they  asked if I’d be interested in tag team writing some novels set in the Clone Wars. I’d been recommended by hugely popular Star Wars writer Karen Traviss, to whom I owe so very much. It took me about 2 seconds to say yes. *g* And that’s how I got one of the best gigs in the world of speculative fiction.

Q: You wrote the Kingmaker, Kingbreaker series, the Godspeaker series, as well as the Stargate books, the Star Wars book and the K E Mills books. When do you sleep? No, seriously, what’s your writing day schedule and how do you finish so many books?

In short, I put the rest of my life on hold to focus on pretty much nothing but the work. Looking back on the past 5 years, I consider that I’ve been serving my apprenticeship. In writing so much, in so many different worlds, I feel like I’ve been taking a crash course in storytelling. As a result, I think I’ve widened my skill set and honed my craft. Now, as I face the biggest challenge so far in my career, a huge 5 books historical/epic fantasy series, I feel slightly better equipped to get stuck in. There’s so much competition in the world of speculative fiction literature, I think it’s easy to get lost in the crowd when you’re starting out. So I made the conscious decision to write as much as I could, as well as I could, and establish myself as a presence on the book shelf. As I say, it meant putting most of the rest of my life on hold but for me, the choice was absolutely worth it. Now I can ease off the pressure a bit, and really focus on telling this new story as well as I possibly can.

Q: Your books have been finalists in the Aurealis Awards fantasy section three times, plus two of your books have been honoured in the James Tiptree Jr Award. That must have been a real buzz. Did attention from the James Tiptree Jr Award come as a surprise, since you write epic fantasy?

The Tiptree honour was a huge shock, because I had no idea the books had been entered! Sneaky Voyager.  It was an enormous compliment. All my short listings have been. With the Tiptree, with its focus on female characters in the genre, it was particularly pleasing. I love epic fantasy, but a lot of it is written from the male pov, with a male audience in mind, so it’s been fun to shake that up a bit and show that there can be epic fantasy showcasing the strengths of great women, too.

Q: I see you’ve signed a new deal with Orbit for a 5 book deal to write an epic fantasy saga called The Tarnished Crown Quintet. (Congratulations!)Will this be under Karen Miller of KE Mills?

Thanks! This is a Miller adventure. Hugely exciting, and even more terrifying. Biggest challenge of my life so far. Fingers crossed I’m up for it!

Q: I see you like to listen to music while you write. Do you make up a play-list for each series to get you in the right mood? If so, what’s you current play-list?

I don’t do play lists, as such, I just whack the cds into the player. I go by composers … Bear McCreary, Hans Zimmer, John Williams, James Horner, Alan Silvestri … anyone who writes powerfully emotional music that helps me access my own creative emotionality.

Q: You worked with horses when you lived in England and you used to breed, train and judge horses here in Australia, but have stopped now. Do you find your practical knowledge of horses really useful for writing fantasy?

I think so. Given that epic/historical fantasy is generally set in a time frame where horses are ubiquitous, it helps to have a feel for them, I think, as well as some basic understanding of the facts. Plus you can get some good plot points out of the whole horse business.

Q: You are involved in the Castle Hill Players, a local community theatre group. (I belonged to a children’s theatre group and loved it. I really do know what greasepaint smells like!). Do you find that performing on stage gives you a unique perspective for writing fantasy minstrels?

There’s certainly that aspect. Also, I find that writing is like being an actor in a one-woman show. I have to become all these different people as I’m writing them, so the experience of acting and directing really helps me get into their skins and bring them to life.

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy is a bit of a boy’s club. Do you think there’s a difference in the way males and females write fantasy?

I think there’s a difference between the way men and write, full stop. Men and women experience the same world very differently, for many many reasons, and I think those differences are inevitably reflected in our writing. In terms of the ‘boy’s club’ question, well, I think that’s more a case of the readership and the gatekeepers of the readership. When you’re talking urban fantasy, that’s a sub genre that’s dominated by the female voice. In many ways, UF is women’s answer to noir fiction. To me, at heart it’s about female empowerment – or at least, it seems to me that’s how it’s evolved. And then you’ve got the paranormal romance sub genre, which again is dominated by women’s voices. That has to be inevitable, I think, given that romance is pretty much a female genre, though there are men who read and enjoy romance fiction.

Then you’ve got the question of epic/historical fantasy. Until recently it’s been the default standard for fantasy fiction, and it arises directly out of the Tolkien school of literature, and the Dungeons and Dragons culture – both of which are traditionally male-centric. As a result, this (now sub) genre is traditionally male oriented. The biggest names writing it are male, and the loudest voices discussing it are male, and the writers getting the lion’s share of the spotlight are male. So yes, as a female writer, sometimes it does feel as though women epic fantasy novelists aren’t accorded the same amount of oxygen in the conversation. I look at the achievements of a writer like Kate Elliott, whose Crown of Stars series is easily as complicated and challenging and epic as Martin’s work, and she is not anywhere near as visible. I find that difficult to sit with. However, I’ll note that my publisher, Orbit, is a brilliant champion of women writing epic fantasy. From what I can see, the resistance tends to come from the gatekeepers of the epic fantasy sub genre. They’re predominantly male, and they consistently focus on male writers, and that means the women writing epic/historical fantasy often get short-changed. And when you get male reviewers openly disparaging female writers in high profile genre magazines, well, that doesn’t make the situation any easier.

Having said all that, though, I think it must also be said that many of the traditional elements associated with epic/historical fantasy are elements that don’t traditionally appeal to women, either as writers or readers. But that doesn’t mean that no women are interested in them, or that women aren’t capable of writing them with the same flair and authenticity as men. What’s happening, I think, is that some people are falling victim to gender biases and assumptions, which is unfortunate.

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?

I wish I could say no, but I think it does, to an extent. Epic fantasy written by men tends – and I say tends, it’s not a universal truth – to be heavier on action than emotion. Often there’s no romantic element to the storytelling and certainly a de-emphasis on female characters.  For whatever reasons, those are elements that I really want to see in the books I read. Patrick Rothfuss said on a panel recently that he’s encountered a lot of resistance to the notion of romance in fantasy. I think that’s sad, because I don’t believe for a moment that men don’t want and need love in their lives as much as any woman. And if there is a percentage of men who find romance in epic fantasy confronting, well, that’s no reason to eliminate it  – and by extension, women – from this sub genre of speculative fiction. Absolutely there is an important place for the male-centric story, the male bonding story, all that stuff. It’s as vital as the female empowerment of urban fantasy. But it shouldn’t exist at the expense of epic fantasy that presents are more gender-equal view of the world, where men and women fight the good fight side by side, sometimes falling in love along the way.

By the same token, if I pick up a fantasy novel written by a woman, I generally expect a softer, more emotion/character driven story. Often the focus isn’t on the miltary aspect of epic fantasy. But that doesn’t mean it’s all women can write, and it doesn’t mean that men can’t incorporate these more ‘feminine’ traits into their fiction with huge success. At the end of the day, we are all human beings who live and love and grieve and celebrate – and I think our stories should reflect that.

Ronald D Moore, the showrunner of the rejigged Battlestar Galactica, talks a lot about this on his dvd commentaries. He makes the point over and over that given the choice between losing a scene that’s all SFX and shoot’em up, and a scene that explores/reveals character, with emotion, he’ll lose the action sequence every time. To him, character is at the heart of storytelling. I’m rowing in his boat. That’s what I aim for in my writing, what I look for when enjoying someone else’s story, and what I think makes for the best story experience.

Q: And here’s the fun question. If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?

I’d go back to Elizabethan England, to the court of Elizabeth, so I could see her in person.

Karen has a copy of her latest book A Blight of Mages to give-away. Here’s Give-away Question: Would you rather live in the Stargate Universe or the StarWars Universe?


See Karen’s LJBlog.


Filed under Australian Writers, Book Giveaway, Characterisation, creativity, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Fun Stuff, Movies & TV Shows, Music and Writers, Promoting Friend's Books, Publishing Industry, The Writing Fraternity, Writing craft

Meet Alison Goodman …

As the next of my series featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) I’ve invited the award winning, multi-talented Alison Goodman to drop by.

Watch out for the give-away question at the end of the interview.

photo by

Q: Your first book published was Singing the Dogstar Blues (Great title). It won an Aurealis Award for Best YA novel, was listed as notable book in two other awards and was shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award. This is a time travel, science fiction story, which must have been a lot of fun to write. Are you tempted to go back into the Dogstar world and write more books with this premise?

I’ve already been back! I wrote a follow up short story called “The Real Thing” for Firebirds Rising, an anthology of original Science Fiction and Fantasy. I’ve always had the idea of returning to the Dogstar world at some point, so I wrote the short story as a kind of bridge between the first book, and what may, one day, become the second book in a series.

Q: Your latest book Eona will be released in April 2011. (A sample chapter is provided on this page). Looking at the covers on your website, they are all brilliant. You must be over the moon! (I think I have serious cover envy, here).  This new series is written for the adult market. Did you find writing for adults gave you more freedom?

Yes, I’ve been incredibly lucky with my covers and had some great artists working on them.

EON has been published around the world as both adult fiction and young adult fiction (YA) without a word of the novel being changed, so it is dead square in what is called the “crossover” market. I specifically wrote EON to be a crossover novel, and with that came decisions about how I explored some of the hot-points like sexuality and violence. I suppose my rule of thumb is to always write what is necessary for the story and then see if anyone yells foul! Then make decisions from there. I have pushed the sexuality and violence envelopes more in EONA, the sequel, because the storyline is about power and its abuse, and about awakening sexuality. However, as I wrote both novels, I was always aware that I have some younger readers and so strived to layer the novels so that if a reader does not have the world experience to understand some of the more adult themes, then they can read the books as rollicking good adventure stories.

Q: EONA is the sequel to The Two Pearls of Wisdom/EON, (depending on where you live). How do publishers come up with such disparate names?

My original titles for the books were EON and EONA. However, my UK and Australian publishers decided to market the book for a mainstream adult market and felt that these two titles were too fantasy genre specific, so they asked me to re-title. I came up with The Two Pearls of Wisdom and The Necklace of the Gods, which I think work well as titles for the novels, but confused some readers as they thought these were other books in the EON/EONA series. Now only my UK adult fiction publisher is going to release the sequel as The Necklace of the Gods. My Australian publishers have decided to return to the EON and EONA pairing, and recently re-released The Two Pearls of Wisdom as EON. Phew! No wonder some of my fans are a bit confused.

Q: About book one you say: ‘It has won awards, sold into 16 countries, but the clincher is the scene that brings together a young girl masquerading as a boy, a woman dressed as a man, and a eunuch taking a testosterone tea supplement’ Wow, with a scene like that I think I’ll have to rush out and buy a copy. Have you ever been tempted to write satire (as opposed to say, fantasy with a touch of humour)?

Believe it or not, that scene is actually a straight dramatic scene, albeit with a cast of very singular characters!

I’ve never been tempted to write a full-on satirical novel, although there are elements of comedy in my first two books. Singing the Dogstar Blues is a comedy thriller, and I think of Killing the Rabbit as a black comedy. Mind you, it is my own brand of very black comedy that, alas, is a hereditary weirdness passed through my mother’s side. Also, I did once write a spec episode of the TV comedy The Games with the wonderful Bryan Dawe (one half of the John Clarke and Bryan Dawe political satire team). We had a ball writing together and, although the episode was never made, I learned so much about the grammar of television and the rhythms of satire comedy.

Q: You have a page dedicated to research on your web site.  You say: ‘Alongside my reading, I also do empirical research to help me fully create my world using vivid sensory detail. That can mean anything from going to a local Tai Chi class, cooking a new Chinese dish, or travelling all the way to Japan to walk through the temples and gardens.’ You really went to Japan and walked through temple gardens. Was this the first time you’d been to Asia? Did it change the way you viewed Japanese culture and/or the way you approached the book?

My first contact with Japanese culture came through my Japanese aunt. She married into our family and brought tantalising glimpses of the Japanese culture into my very anglo existence, particularly through her wonderful food and conventions of hospitality. My research trip was the first time I had been in Japan for any length of time and it certainly impacted on my novels in terms of sensory description and the way space is used for living and working.

Q: Your adult crime/thriller Killing the Rabbit was shortlisted for the Davitt Award. (I note there was a slight SF element in this story). Are your publishers happy with you writing across age groups and genres, or do you they try and shoe-horn you into one genre? Following on from that, will you be writing more crime/thrillers?

So far my publishers haven’t mentioned any problem with me changing genre, probably because three of my four books have been published under a YA banner, which is considered a genre in itself. Also, my crime novel was picked-up by a different publishing house, so there was a separation of my adult crime fiction from my other genre work. My YA publishers would probably prefer that I settle into a genre and stay there, but I’m too restless for that. I go where the story goes, whether it be fantasy, crime, SF or whatever. When I’m developing a story, I like to mash genres together and play with the conventions; see if I can sneak in some surprises that mess around with the structures as well as story and character expectations. I particularly like the thriller form, so yes, I will be returning to it. In fact, my next project is going to be a thriller/urban fantasy duology (you heard it first here!).

Q: You said you returned to the Dogstar world in Firebirds Rising. Are you keen on the short story medium or do you find it difficult to keep within the word limit?

I studied Professional Writing at university and most of my training was in crafting the literary short story, so short is where I started. Writing short fiction is a great discipline – it teaches essential skills such as economy, layering of meaning and careful word choice – and I am always grateful for the excellent foundation I received from my teachers including the great Gerald Murnane. However, now that I have written four novels, I find the short story a bit unsatisfying to write. I enjoy building worlds and complex characters and that is not really the domain of the short story. Having said that, I do still write short stories, they are just quite a bit longer than they used to be.

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy is a bit of a boy’s club. Do you think there’s a difference in the way males and females write fantasy?

My gut says that there are just as many female authors writing fantasy as there are male, and that the perception of it being a boy’s club is bit out of date – perhaps a remnant of when publishing was a boy’s club and it was hard for women to get published in any genre.

As to whether there are differences in the way males and females write fantasy – that’s a toughie. I don’t think I’ve read a big enough cross-section of fantasy novels to make any kind of useful judgment about gender. In the end, though, if a writer is doing their job, the core of a novel should be touching on the universal questions that we all face, regardless of gender.

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?

I think my expectations of a book are more centered on the genre rather than the gender of the author. Also, I prefer to read a first person point of view, so when I pick up a book, I am looking for a genre that I like – fantasy, thriller, crime, SF – and the intimacy of that first person point of view.

Q: And here’s the fun question. If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?

A round trip – first I’d like to go back to Shakespeare’s England (with a plague vaccination, if possible) to find out who wrote the plays, and hang out with poet, playwright and spy, Christopher Marlowe. After that, I’d go on to the Regency period in London, with a gender change on the way because the Regency men had all the fun. After a bit of phaeton racing and louche behaviour, I’d journey on to the mid- 1920’s, as a woman again, with a bob and my Charleston dancing shoes. I’d finish up in the early 1960’s in the USA, first to check out the grassy knoll and book depository, and then a quick jump to Woodstock, in flared jeans, a halter-top and a flower in my hair.

Giveaway question for a signed copy the Australian edition of EONA: If you were a mythical creature, what would you be and why?

Alison’s website:

See Alison on a video interview.

Follow Alison on Twitter:  alisongoodman


Filed under Australian Writers, Book Giveaway, Characterisation, creativity, Dark Urban Fantasy, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Genre, Inspiring Art, Nourish the Writer, The Writing Fraternity