Category Archives: SF Books

Dynamic Duo run National SF Con (Conflux 9)and have new books out…

I have been featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) but this has morphed into interesting people in the speculative fiction world. Today I’ve invited the Dynamic Duo, Donna Hanson and Nicole Murphy who are co-chairs of the Australian National SF Convention, Conflux 9 and who both happen to have a book coming out this year. They are proof that you can be creative and successful, and give back to your community.

 

Donna and Nicole

Donna and Nicole

Q: Both of you have work and families, you are part of a writing group (the Canberra SF Guild and part of Fantasy Writers on Retreat), you’re published and you both have books coming out this year (more later), on top of all this, you put your hands up to be co-chairs of Conflux 9. Tell me honestly, when you came home from that meeting and told your significant others that you’d volunteered to run the Nat Con, what did they say? (From the photo it looks like you might have had one glass to many).

Donna

Well that photo on the website was my birthday shot ( a High Tea)  so I’m not sure we’d dived into the champers at that time. We think we’re insane and I think our partners know it. Matthew (Farrer) my partner has this wide-eyed stare every time we talk Conflux 9. The worried frown sort of says-‘she’s going to rope me in?’ And just last weekend I did too, do a couple of panels. It’s the power of the inevitable. However, this is definitely my last con.

 

Nicole

I dreaded telling my husband, Tim, cause he really didn’t like the time it took from me when I chaired Conflux 4. But the fact that a) it was with Donna, so the workload wouldn’t be as bad and b) I love doing this meant he was fine with it. However, we’re both swearing that this will be the last time we organise a con and hoping our partners will keep us to that. Not that that means it’s the last thing we’ll do for the community. We have ideas. One that keeps popping up in particular (you know what I mean, Donna).

 

Donna

Nicole do not go there. Do not pass go and do not collect $200. Think of the work involved. You’re insane.

cropped-9512-header2

Q: Not only are you doing all of the above, but Nicole, you’re teaching Year of the Novel with the QLD Writing Centre and the ACT Writers Centre, and Donna you are doing a Masters in Creative Writing, and a course in Millinery (hat making). Is there a point where you think, I can’t take on one more thing? Or is your philosophy, the more I take on the stimulating life is and it’s just as well I’m really good at juggling?

 

Donna

I have my limits. Like if I sold a trilogy I’d probably have massive brain melt. But that’s not going to happen in the next 3 months. I’d like it but you know gee a girl can only do so much. Ironically, I do find the more I have on the more productive I get. RSI stymies me a little. I guess it’s a matter of stacking. Conflux is over at the end of April. Things are hotting up now with Conflux so I ease off on the writing. The Masters starts soon, but I’m taking all of April off to get the Conflux thing done and uni if needs me. Millinery if the course goes ahead (they need a minimum number) will be my time out. I have arthritis in the neck and one day I’m not going to be a happy camper so I do have this philosophy of doing as much as I can now rather than waiting until I retire or something. And to ease the pressure in my writing gears and cogs, I wrote two novels in the last half of 2012 and I just have to polish them and send them out this year. The pressure to write has eased a bit.

 

Nicole

There is no doubt in my mind that I am quite, quite mad. However, there’s nothing that annoys me more than being bored, and this year there’s little chance of that happening! The two Year of the Novel courses were important to me because I love teaching and helping people – I get as much satisfaction from seeing friends and those I’m mentored and taught succeed as I do from my own success. More, even, cause I don’t have to deal with the worry and fretting and constant fear of bad sales figures J And as Donna said Conflux is over is just over three months (eep, eep, eep!) and I’m going easy on myself on the writing front in order to keep things under control. That said – I’ve got two books coming out between now and then, one of which I’m editing and publishing, so… Back to the comment about being mad.

Marc Gascoigne

Marc Gascoigne

Q: You’ve been involved in running other Confluxes and other events like the World SF Con 2010. How did you get involved in running events? Was it overwhelming the first time? I know Conflux 9 is running a pitching opportunity with Marc Gascoigne from Angry Robot. Nalo Hopkins is the International writer GOH, Karen Miller is the Australian GOH writer and Kaaron Warren is the Special Guest writer, (see here for details), so you get to meet cool writers and editors. Are there other benefits to running a Con and is it something you’d recommend to people wanting to become writers? (For information on the pitching opportunity see here).

 

Nalo Hopkins (Photo David Findlay, 2007)

Nalo Hopkins (Photo David Findlay, 2007)

Donna

Nicole will tell you I roped her in. I’ll blame Maxine McArthur because I’d never heard of SF cons (well I had been to a Star Trek convention and knew about those but not fan run lit cons). I ended up being the Chair of Conflux (number 1) but I was just helping out on the committee (cough because Maxine gave me strong hints that I should) and then I ended up being the chair. I did the next one and then scaled down my activities to focus on writing.

I did make a lot of contacts and made many friends as a result. In those early days I was very enthusiastic and networked a lot and I guess brought in other writers to the fan scene. The rest is history. For that first con though I had 10 months off work and I didn’t write much either. I think I did other things like edit anthologies.

I do recommend getting involved with organising these conventions and helping out. It’s a good experience and you make great contacts. However, I do recommend a little balancing between your activities. I got invited to help out with worldcon because I got noticed doing the Conflux convention running. It can be addictive. Worldcons are great fun (going to them and being involved).

 

Karen Miller (Photo Mary CT Webber)

Karen Miller (Photo Mary CT Webber)

Kaaron Warren

Kaaron Warren

 

 

 

Nicole

Yes, it’s all Donna’s fault. She asked me to run the short story competition at the first Conflux. I wasn’t totally happy with my work on that, so I decided to work on the next convention to prove I could do it. And then the next convention. And then I chaired one. And then. And then…

And now, thanks to Conflux, I work full-time as a professional conference organiser. So yeah, I love them.

I’m not sure I’d recommend it to other writers, because it is very time consuming. That said, if you’re not good at networking (like me, I’m atrocious at it, unlike Donna who is an absolute marvel at it), then getting involved in convention organising is a great idea because you have to meet and interact with these people. I’ve not doubt that my work with Conflux helped me get my foot in the door with Harper Collins. Didn’t get me published – it was the fact the company loved the books that did that, but it helped.

So balance it up – the time it takes versus the fact it can be very beneficial. And fun. And you get to meet the coolest people, and often they’ll stay friends for a long time after.

rayessa-and-the-space-pirates_cvr

Q: Donna your book Rayessa the Space Pirate is available from Escape Publishing. You edited the Australian Speculative Fiction: Genre Overview, which was published in 2005. You’ve had a lot of short stories published which range from fantasy, through erotic horror, to SF (is this right?), yet Rayessa the Space Pirate is a rollicking Space Opera, which doesn’t take itself too seriously. Was it a relief to let your hair down and write for the fun of it?

AustralianSpeculativeFiction

Donna

I had fun writing Rayessa and the Space Pirates. I wrote it a long time ago, when I was a fairly new writer. Even though it’s been revised, I stayed true to the character during those rewrites. She’s fun, the story is fun. But when you take in my other work, it is surely different and not what you’d expect from me. I’m very proud of it because of its lightness, its vibrancy and like you said rollicking space opera.

Many of my short stories are me flexing my writing muscles. I evolved from just writing a story to experimenting with styles and content. I do tend to go a bit dark at times. ‘Heat’ was a bit like that with the split narrative (it’s in my free fiction section on my blog-warning adult content) and in the last couple of years I’d been writing short paranormal too, just to see if I could. I’m a bit astounded that I really like writing happy ever afters just as much as the soul sucking endings. I write what is in my head, pursue ideas and go with it. Who knows what I’m going to do next.

3 books.axd

Q: Nicole you’ve had numerous short stories published, and an Urban Fantasy trilogy set in Australia called The Gadda (Harper Collins). The tag-line on your blog is: Where Fantasy and Romance Collide. So your next book’s genre is a step sideway, but not that far. Arranged to Love is written under your pseudonym, Elizabeth Dunk. (For a taste of Elizabeth Dunk’s writing style see here, Claudine’s New Adventure). What was the genesis of Nicole the fantasy writer evolving  to include Elizabeth the romance writer?

claudine-clrsml

Nicole

It all started way back when I was originally writing the first lot of Gadda books. I’d been thinking I was a straight fantasy/SF writer, but I had one of those blinding moments of inspiration where I realised I kept putting romance in as a sub-plot and I’d probably be better off pulling it to the forefront. That was the genesis of writing the Gadda books and when they were done, I kept having ideas for contemporary romances as well.

In 2011 I was at home, writing full-time, and I needed to do something apart from the Gadda books to challenge myself. So yes, I took a step sideways – a small one, but definitely still a step. My aim was to write a Mills and Boon category style romance. The only way Arranged to Love matches that is in length – otherwise it fails. But it’s a great story and it had a checkered road to publication but I’m so happy it’s there.

I’d always intended to use a pseudonym, but to be open about it because some people read only genre, some people read an author. So there will be people who will read anything I publish and there will be romance readers who won’t touch the Gadda books with a barge pole and vice versa. Here’s hoping it works.

 

donna-corset

Q: I understand there is a Steampunk High Tea is planned for Conflux 9 on the Thursday afternoon at 3pm.  (For the full program, see here). I’m guessing this mean we all get to dress up in really cool steampunk gear, sip tea and nibble cucumber sandwiches. Do you have any fashion advice for the event?

 

Donna

I think people should go with that they feel comfortable with. I’m dressing up because: hey I made a dress so I must wear it. But people can come with a bow tie, or goggles or a gun or just in day clothes. I bought Matthew a Nerf Gun. I expect him to paint it and make it look all steampunky. My son gave me a steampunk necklace for Christmas. I’m almost kitted up.

It’s a bit of fun. People can do traditional Victorian or make it up with whatever they like. I’ve seen men and women in corsets, kilts, junk, jodhpurs and google, top hats, parasols. Any and all. Just come for the fun and the high tea. I believe we get lovely sparkling wine too. Try googling steampunk clothing and you’ll be amazed at what is out there. Mind bogglingly awesome. There are some very talented and creative people out there. Just remember you have to book and pay for the high tea as it is an extra event.

 

Nicole

Can I just add – cucumber sandwiches are awesome! Honestly, you read about them and think, how old fashioned, how silly, making sandwiches with cucumber only, what a strange thing to do. But they’re great. I prefer them with a yoghurt dressing, rather than cream cheese. Take note, Rydges!

JAFA2013-small

Q: You are also staging a Regency Banquet. Does this involved getting dressed up like Elizabeth and Mr Darcy? What can people expect at a Regency banquet?

 

Donna

Yes, if you want. We ran a Regency Banquet a few years ago and we had a great turn out. A lot of people love the period and went all out. Some had period costumes, some people adapted modern wear to make it look period, some of those were very effective.

The menu for the banquet is taken from the Conflux cookbook, Five Historical Feasts, by Gillian Polack. We are re-running that. The menu was researched and put together by Gillian, who is our very own historian (she’s a Dr), with the help of a bunch of us who tested and tasted the recipes. The food was really good to eat. Not good for my waistline.

This year to spice things up we have entertainment from Earthly Delights. They are the group that run the Jane Austen Festival in Canberra the week before Conflux. (they always get TV coverage of the event). John Gardiner, his wife Aylwen Gardiner-Garden will be organising the impromptu dancing and also music. John has agreed to do a 3 hour workshop on Regency Dance and Manners on the Friday. I’m so going to that. ($45 for members) and Aylwen is bringing items of costume to do a hands on workshop on costume design ($10 for members), so we are getting into the Regency thing. I hope we get takers because the dance workshop needs 16 people to work.

 

Lewis Morely and Marilyn Pride Conflux 5 (Photo Cat Sparks)

Lewis Morely and Marilyn Pride Conflux 5 (Photo Cat Sparks)

Nicole

The original Regency banquet was run during my conference, Conflux 4 and I may be biased, but I think it was the best of the lot. Everyone really went all out with the costuming and the whole place looked wonderful. The food was overwhelming – there was very little desert eaten because it was so rich we were already full. A fabulous night.

Note that while we’ve cut a lot of allergens out of the menu (eg there’s no fish/shellfish, no nuts), there’s one thing we can’t avoid – dairy. The Regency folks were nuts for it. And butter, so forget your diet! But if you’re lactose intolerant, there’s so little food available for you that you’ve got to seriously consider if it’s worth your while.

 

Donna Hanson, Cat Sparks, Alisa Krasnostein  Conflux 4 (Photo by Cat Sparks)

Donna Hanson, Cat Sparks, Alisa Krasnostein, Conflux 5 (Photo by Cat Sparks)

 

Q: Do you have any tips for first time convention goers who are planning to come to Conflux 9? (For membership information see here)

Donna

Be prepared to meet people, have fun, be entertained, learn things, network (drink). Be prepared to be thoroughly knackered. Come to our Meet the newbie session in the bar after the steampunk high tea. You’ll get to meet seasoned con goers to find out how to make the best of your convention.

 

Adam Browne and Keith Stevenson (Photo Claire McKenna)

Adam Browne and Keith Stevenson (Photo Claire McKenna)

Nicole

Don’t be afraid to approach your favourite writer. One of the great things about our industry is that we’ve all been in the same boat – having to greet our hero for the first time. A lot of the time, we made complete and utter fools of ourselves but we’ve always survived. Australia’s SF industry is wonderfully supportive, encouraging and fabulous and generally we only bite if asked to.

If you’re coming as a writer, intending to network with editors, agents and publishers – be cool about it. For professionals, conventions are part work, part fun and hanging with friends. So be aware of the circumstances and if you are going to approach them for a chat about your work, be polite and understand if they ask you to come back another time.

And whatever you do – don’t do what some shmuck did to poor Stephen King at a convention and chase a writer/editor/agent/publisher into the toilet with your manuscript and fling it under the door to them!

That said, a lot of us are very bribable. I drink red wine :-)

 

 

Rowena thanks for the interview. You’ve done heaps of research. It is much appreciated.

 

Donna Hanson

Donna Hanson

Catch up with Donna on GoodReads

Donna’s blog

Follow Donna on Twitter  @DonnaMHanson

 

 

 

 

Nicole Murphy

Nicole Murphy

Catch up with Nicole on GoodReads

Nicole’s Blog

Catch up with Nicole on Facebook

Follow Nicole on Twitter  @nicole_r_murphy  

 

7 Comments

Filed under Australian Artists, Australian Writers, Conferences and Conventions, Conventions, creativity, Dark Urban Fantasy, Fandom, Fantasy books, Fun Stuff, Indy Press, Pitching your book, Promoting your Book, Publishing Industry, SF Books, Specialist Bookshops, Steampunk, The Writing Fraternity, Tips for Developing Artists, Tips for Developing Writers, Workshop/s, Writing craft, Writing Groups

Winner Jo Anderton’s book give-away!

(My original post announcing the winner of Jo’s book went missing, so here it is again).

“This was a tough choice! Damion mentioned Samus Aran’s powersuit, which I loved. And I felt Brendan really got what the suit itself is all about. But I have to go with Scott’s answer, because the Transmogrifier from Calvin and Hobbs really is the coolest machine ever. And I want to see it deployed in an ultimate battle against an ultimate bad guy.”

 

So Scott contact Jo:  joanne(at)joanneanderton.com

Leave a Comment

Filed under Australian Writers, Book Giveaway, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, SF Books

Jo Anderton talks about the darkness within all of us…

Following on from the success of her debut novel, Debris, Jo Anderton‘s new book Suited has been released into the wilds. She’s dropped by today to talk about ‘the suit’ which inspired the book.

 

The story behind the suit

The first time Tanyana saw a debris collecting suit, she mistook it for jewellery. It was, after all, a thick silver bracelet, intricately inscribed with arcane symbols and glowing faintly. That was before one was forcefully drilled into her body, of course. Before she learned that there was much more to it than the bright silver bands — attached to her ankles, wrists, waist and neck — and that it went deep beneath her skin, bound to her nervous system and anchored in her bones.

This debris collecting suit was the catalyst for everything that happened to Tanyana in Debris. And, as you might have guessed from the title and the cover image, it becomes even more important in book two, Suited.

So what is the suit? And what inspired it?

Tanyana’s world is full of pions — semi-sentient sub atomic particles that can be persuaded to rearrange matter. The better you are at directing them, the more powerful you can become. Before the accident that stripped Tanyana of her powers in the beginning of Debris, she was a highly skilled binder and architect, able to command vast numbers of pions. Everything in her world is built with these particles, from something as mundane as a sewerage system, to the might of the military machine. But all this power comes at a cost. Pion manipulation generates a waste product — debris. The more you manipulate, the more debris you create. And debris can be a serious problem, because it destabilises pion systems and can, if left unchecked, completely undo their bonds. For a city built on pions, debris is a real threat.

This is where the debris collectors come in. You see, most people in this world can see and manipulate pions, but they wouldn’t know debris was there if it was floating right in front of their noses (as it tends to do…) Only people who have lost their pion-sight, or were never born with it, can see debris. They are recruited by the government, fitted with suits, and sent out to collect it. Buried within the suits’ six bands is a strong but malleable metal that can expand, and morph into any shape. From delicate tweezers to great shovels or, should the need arise, a sharpened blade.

But Tanyana’s suit is different. From the start, it’s more than just a tool. It has a tendency to move on its own, protecting Tanyana, or reacting even before she has thought to do so. Not only can she use it to shape tools or weapons, but Tanyana’s suit can also spread far enough to wrap around her body, head to toe. In fact, it seems to prefer that. Sometimes it feels almost sentient. It tugs at her bones and thrills down her nerves and whispers to her, inside her. Wouldn’t it be easier to do what it says, and just give in to it’s… violence?

There are times when it’s hard to tell who’s in control: Tanyana, or her suit. And this struggle is what Suited is all about.

So what inspired it? There are a lot of anime influences in these books, and the suit is probably the strongest example. Let’s see… It’s a powerful metallic creature with a mind of its own. It tends to save Tanyana and scare her in equal measure, and its origins are shrouded in secrecy and possible-dodgyness. Well, that’s Neon Genesis Evangelion right there. But don’t worry, the suit isn’t Tanyana’s mother, I can promise you that! Also, this story has absolutely nothing to do with the Dead Sea Scrolls.

What about Full Metal Alchemist? Have you guys seen that? If you have, think about Edward’s metallic arm for a minute. The way he uses his alchemy to morph it into any shape, often a sword. Now that’s exactly what Tanyana’s doing with her suit — except she’s using neural connections and muscle memory, not alchemy. If you haven’t seen FMA – do so, now. New series, old series, I don’t care (I liked the old one. Yes, even the ending).

But, you know, I think there’s more to the suit than just anime. Not that there’s anything wrong with that — seriously, I’m the last person to demand deep and meaningful. Give me a good story first and foremost, the rest is just in the telling. Anyway (sorry, getting sidetracked) the suit is also the darkness inside us. It’s a rebellious body, a part that can’t be controlled, something foreign taking you over. It’s an inner violence begging to be let out, growing harder and harder to deny. And this, really, is the point of Suited. The suit, initially forced on Tanyana, is now well and truly a part of her. Through the course of Debris, she learned to control it, she found its limits and its strengths and pushed them as far as they would go. In Suited, the suit starts to push back. But, as I said, it’s a part of her now, inside and out, physically and mentally, and growing more so every day. How can Tanyana fight herself? Where’s the line between Tanyana and suit, and how long will that remain? Is it still her body, if the suit controls more and more of her? How important are our bodies to our sense of identity, and how much do we change when they do?

And hey, guess what, that’s very anime too. Couldn’t you say the same things about Evangelion, Full Metal Alchemist, Ghost in the Shell, and so many more? Maybe that’s because it’s a fundamental human conflict, made physical through the suit, or the Eva, or alchemy? And that’s why we love sci-fi, isn’t it? Because that’s what science fiction is for.

Jo has a copy of Suited to give-away. Here’s the question:

Pretend you’re at the end-game, it’s the ultimate fight with the ultimate big-bad, what would you take with you? From any book, game, movie or tv series. Do you like an old-school magical sword, or would you prefer a giant mecha? Lightsaber, or a summon? What’s the coolest weapon ever?

10 Comments

Filed under Australian Writers, Book Giveaway, creativity, Nourish the Writer, Resonance, SF Books, Writers and Redearch

Supanova – Be there or be Square!

Okay, maybe not, but it will be heaps of fun. There’s a great line up of writers coming this weekend to Brisbane Supanova!

Isobelle Carmody( is going to launch The Sending), Marianne de Pierres, Tracey O’Hara, Keri Arthur, Ian Irvine, Kylie Chan and myself will be at the Dymocks bookstore if you’d like to stop by and get a book signed or just chat.

Plus there will be panels and a workshop.

Friday –

Isobelle Carmody Writing Masterclass in the Cosplay Theatre at 6.45pm

Saturday –

1pm – Isobelle Carmody’s booklaunch for The Sending in the Wrestling ring – launched by Min

2.30pm – Marianne and Rowena in the Supanvnova Seminar Room – Steps to Publication

3.30pm – Tracey and Keri in the Supanova Seminar room – Introduction to Paranormal

Sunday –

11.50am – Kylie in the Supanova seminar room – Journeying towards Trilogies

1pm – Official launch of Ian Irvine’s Vengence by Isobelle Carmody in the wrestling ring

2.20pm – Ian Irvine in the Supanova seminar room – Vengence unleased!

Here is a link to the official event guide. And here’s some pics from the other Supanovas I’ve been to.

There's amazing costumes!

There's amazing authors. This was Sydney or Melbourne with Kevin J Andersen, Rebecca Moesta, Jennifer Fallon, Alison Goodman, Kate Forsyth, Marianne de Pierres and me.

This is Jennifer Fallon and me signing books.

10 Comments

Filed under Australian Writers, Conferences and Conventions, Conventions, Dark Urban Fantasy, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Fun Stuff, Paranormal_Crime, Promoting Friend's Books, Readers, SF Books, Specialist Bookshops, The Writing Fraternity, Thrillers and Crime, Thrillers and Mysteries, Workshop/s

Meet Kim Falconer …

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

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

Thank you, Rowena, for inviting me here to chat. What a wonderful idea, fantastic female fantasy authors!

Q: In a post on Nicole Murphy’s blog, you talk about having a dream and realising your potential. Your dream was to be published. You list a series of questions starting with – Why do I want to be published? That culminated in the realisation that you wanted to ‘be of value’. This was a dream exercise from Jeanette Maw, the @goodvibecoach. Do you use exercises like this in your everyday life to understand what is motivating you?

Absolutely! I live by the old Delphi motto, (recently cited by the Oracle in The Matrix) Know Thyself. These are the two magic words for living an authentic life.

We always have a choice to either live by our ‘default’ – the cultural conditioning, expectations and assumptions – or to take time to really know our genuine core values (which may be wildly different than our cultures). Like writing a character in a book, when we know the motivation, we know what’s driving the action and when we know what’s driving the action, we know the destiny. At that point we can ask, is this what I want? If not, we can change course. We all have the power to be who we are and it begins always with know thyself.

Q: Your first trilogy, Quantum Enchantment, you splice DNA and travel between parallel worlds. It seems to be a mix of SF and fantasy. And your second trilogy, Quantum Encryption, picks up the threads again. With such complex story lines and time lines do you have a huge flow chart to keep track of everyone?

Much of my creation process takes place in my head but I do keep a little booklet for each series with pertinent data like my character’s sun signs and other relevant astrology, their histories (which may not appear in the book itself) and places, familiars, memories, dreams, appearance, and, most importantly, time lines. When you write time unfolding in both directions, it pays to keep a close watch on it or things can get away!

I ran into a bit of trouble in Arrows of Time, book #2 in the Quantum Enchantment series. For starters I found the English language lacked the words to express the meaning of symmetrical time (time flowing in both directions simultaneously). In a way Arrows was my answer to the hard problem of time at the ‘quantum’ level. It does go both ways and this books shows us what that might be like to live out.

You could say there was a flow chart for Arrows. For twelve months a whole sliding glass door next to my study was covered in it. Wild!

Q: In an interview on The Fringe you say: ‘People don’t realise writing is as challenging and complex as brain surgery. You have to work on the cadavers first, learn all the anatomy and physiology and bio-chem of prose and storytelling before you cut a live one! It takes practice. I mean, nonfiction is objective, intellectual but fiction asks for more. It asks for your whole heart.’ Writing from the heart, do you find yourself exploring similar themes in your books?

The themes in my books are multilayered. There is an adventure component which simply invites the reader to immerse and come along for the ride. There is also an intention to expand my readers’ consciousness through the experiences and conflicts they encounter. Some of the philosophies are heady, I am told. But the true essence of the books is the heart. Everything from the heart. I came from a nonfiction and academic publishing background and the whole enchantment for me in writing novels is to get out of my head and into my heart!

Q: You have your own astrology page, Falcon Astrology. You say astrology has always been a part of your life as your father used to ‘use horoscopes in conjunction with financial adventure and business management’. Your interest in astrology has taken a different path. You say you are interested in ‘ancient wisdom, mythology with mystical traditions, art and poetry’ and are ‘ever seeking the hidden worlds of the inner self’. I read somewhere that the constant connection to the internet (people in offices dipping into social networks on and off all day, people constantly using their phones to keep up with social networks), has led people away from connecting with their inner-selves. They live on the surface, never delving deep. This person recommended turning off all electrical devices for a weekend, every now and then, just to take the time to be in the present. Do you do this?

This is a good question. I don’t think superficiality and the internet are synonymous. I’m actually doing the Deepak Chopra Centre’s 21 day meditation challenge, and that of course, is online. It’s amazing. The meditations are wonderful and just knowing you are participating with hundreds of thousands of other mediators makes is quite a powerful collective exercise.

People will be connected or disconnected regardless of whether they have the internet or not. It’s a tool. It only matters how we use it.

For me, I’ve researched and written 7 books in four years and that’s pretty much an everyday dedication – me, a quiet room, my word processor, the internet. I do take time out daily to meditate, run on the beach, walk in nature, work on my rooftop garden  and be with friends, familiars and family. It’s all about creating balance, at least in my case (I can be a real workaholic!)

Q: In an interview on Beauty and Lace, while talking about growing up in the 60s and 70s you said: ‘I had to outgrow my cultural conditioning and adopt less biased beliefs to feel fully empowered. Having my son at age 29 was a huge turning point. When you have the creative force of Mother Earth flowing through you, it’s hard to feel like an underdog. Seriously enlightening transformation!

Currently being female brings to mind the Strength card in the deck of Tarot. Do you know the one? A woman is depicted with a lion, Ishtar’s beast. It’s an image of power and seduction, wisdom and instinct. I think that sums things up nicely.

Being a woman has also given me quite an edge writing these last six books. There are issues of gender that ring all the more true because they are written from direct experience.’ I notice you have strong female characters in ‘Journey by Night’. Was this something you set out to explore or did it just evolve as you wrote the book?

Journey by Night is the sixth and final book in the series and tells the story of Kreshkali and Nell, characters introduced in the very first book. Because of the incredible fortitude and strength of these two women already established, telling their story involved showing how they go that way, how they became the people readers know them to be. Already I have reports of a lot of tears and ah ha moments as some of those reasons behind their quirks, strengths, fears and magical inclinations are revealed. Very satisfying to read and write.

Did I plan them to be strong from the beginning? You bet!

I don’t know many women who really enjoy reading about victims that never find the wherewithal to beat their odds, at least, I don’t! My women are heroic, both vulnerable and hardened, smart and streetwise, loving and imaginative. . . you know. Women!

Q: The list of all the things you’ve studied is fascinating. ‘Alternative health, Jungian Psychology, art history, quantum physics theory, metaphysical philosophy, self-sufficiency farming, marine biology, veterinary nursing, dressage, animal husbandry, SCUBA diving, and nursing mothers counseling. I hold diplomas in herbal medicine, nutrition, vet nursing, farrier science, literature and am a board certified lactation consultant. I’ve also studied yoga, music (banjo, mandolin, guitar), mythology, tarot and of course, astrology’. You’ve been studying Iaido for seven years. I did five years Iaido. I loved it for the beauty of the movements and the philosophy behind it. Have you done other martial arts? (I also love yoga!).

I love that you found Iaido relaxing. I can see how, once the incredible awkwardness of the samurai sword is a little under control, it can be that way. But I had true warrior woman sensei and she was anything but relaxing! Having said that, my worlds, she was good and what I learned went well beyond the mechanics of the practice. Like you said, the philosophy and the heart of the sword –  so empowering and beautiful. I’ve done Aikido, Hop Kido, yoga, chi kung and archery. All very beautiful and centring disciplines. It’s the sword work that has supported my writing the most. I took it up so I could write authentic fight scenes!

Q: That’s a cool ‘time portal’ on the front page of your web page. Do you have a background in graphic design? (Reading on I discovered your son is an artist).

KimFalconer.com is a collaboration with my son. He’s the animator and graphic artist. I am the coder. I learned all the html/CSS in a  socio-technology degree through Open University Australia (another point for the internet – the course was offered at Curtin University on the other side of the continent!) I love web design. Having such a fabulous artist is a wonderful bonus!

John Waterhouse – The Siren

Q: John Waterhouse Painting, The Siren inspired your new trilogy Amassia.  It’s co-written with your cover artist/animator son, Aaron Briggs. (I love the Pre-Raphaelite artists and Waterhouse’s The Lady of Shalott is one of my all time favourites). I’ve discovered there are visual writers and aural writers. Aural writers like to play specific music while they write to get into the right frame of mind for each book. I’m guessing you are a visual writer?

Visual yes, but it’s more than that.

I’m really transcribing. The story plays out in front of my eyes. It’s like watching a film only I am fully immersed in all five senses. My only hope is that I can type fast enough to keep up with the action and the dialog!

I like silence and quietude. The more isolated I am, the more the inner world comes alive!

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 would probably have to read a few thousand more books to answer that with any authority but with my experience, I can give you a firm, yes and no. Yes when we think of stories with first person protagonists like Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stakchouse. A guy could write her (think of the men writing romance under pen names) but Charlaine’s perspective is very much a product of her society and very biased female. Just the way sookie stops to put on makeup (between vampire and were attacks), shave her legs and think about her sex life rings ‘female’. I don’t see Jim Butcher writing a woman that way. His Dresden, on the other hand, is American male. We see inside a man’s head, and it’s brilliant. (Same with China Mieville) In the case of these authors, you can feel the female vs. male style in the writing.

Then there are authors like David Eddings and Fiona McIntosh. They have both written fabulous fantasy tales and though there is a strong feeling of gender in the characters, you could swap author names and not know the difference in terms of being written by male or female.

As in any genre, the author brings themselves to the work and that means every book will be different, a unique expression which adds to the whole of the field.

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

Ah, not until I begin to read. As I said above, sometimes the gender of the author seems relevant and sometimes not so much so. It depend a lot on the tense it’s written (first person and male by a male author gives us some hints right ways – we are in a guy’s head!). Stories that are more epic where the politics of the worlds drive the plot, the focus is off the characters, to some degree, and more on the stakes. With new authors, and familiar, I like to leave my expectations behind and let them surprise me.

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?

That’s easy. I would go back to 575 BCE to ancient Mesopotamia and stand in front of the Ishtar Gate of Babylon. To walk into that city under the Ishtar Lions and visit the hanging gardens would be a trip of a thousand life times!

 Give-away Question:

If you were a young witch (male or female) training at Treeon Temple and about to meet your familiar – a creature you would be bonded with for life, in constant communion with and able at times to ‘trade places’ with, what would that creature be?

 

Follow Kim on Twitter:  @KimFalconer

Catch up with Kim on Facebook.

See Kim’s Daily Astro Flash here.

Subscribe to Kim’s New Moon News Letter.

56 Comments

Filed under Australian Writers, Book Giveaway, Characterisation, creativity, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Gender Issues, Inspiring Art, Nourish the Writer, SF Books, Writing craft

Meet Jo Anderton …

As the next of my series featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) I’ve invited the talented debut novelist Jo Anderton to drop by.

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

Q: You entered the 2008 Orbit/QWC Manuscript Development competition and your book was among the 10 selected for further development. This must have been a wonderful opportunity. Can you tell us a little about the experience?

The Orbit/QWC Manuscript Development program was absolutely amazing. The opportunity to meet a publisher from Orbit and get face-to-face feedback on my book was invaluable. We also got to spend a week in beautiful sunny Queensland, doing nothing but working on those novels, under the mentorship of the generous and wise Marianne de Pierres. The ten other writers were a great bunch, and we’ve kept in touch since. They’re like a support group and a cheering squad all in one! We even gave ourselves a name, we are the Orbiteers!

Even though I had the flu at the time and couldn’t quite make it to all the activities (sadly I did some lying in bed feeling sorry for myself while my fellow Orbiteers were learning and networking and being generally fabulous) it was still a defining experience for me. The book I took to the program didn’t end up selling, but the experience I gained, the things I learned and the people I met truly helped Debris get to where it is today.

Q: You have since gone on to sell this book, Debris, plus the sequel, Suited, to Angry Robot. Congratulations! Editor Marc Gascione says: ‘With the ever-increasing popularity of Japanese and Korean anime, manga and computer games, it’s been surprising that there hasn’t been more SF and fantasy showing its influence. Debris’s mix of SF and fantasy themes, exotic future-medieval settings, Dune-esque warring factions, and a fabulous kick-ass heroine is exactly the sort of on-trend science fiction Angry Robot was set up to publish. We’re damned pleased to have Jo on board.’ Are you a manga fan? Did you realise you were writing cutting edge SF?

Thank you! It’s still very exciting! And sometimes I find it hard to believe it’s real.

I’m a big fan of manga and anime, as well as video games. All three are definitely influences on Debris. Manga like Fullmetal Alchemist, anime like Planets, and pretty much every Japanese RPG I’ve ever played! I particularly love the mix of magic and technology in games like the Final Fantasy series.

I certainly didn’t set out to write cutting edge anything. I mean, I wanted to write something that felt different, but fun was always more important than different! I also wanted to play with that combination of magic and technology, and create a world where the lines between them are blurred.

 Q: Your debut novel Debris is described as ‘far future, where science is indistinguishable from magic’ and also as your ‘own unique vision of steampunk’. (For sample chapters see here).  Have you finished the second book and, if so, what project are you working on next?

It’s been really interesting seeing how other people describe the world in Debris. While it’s definitely got some steampunk elements, it’s also kind of futuristic and a little dystopian. As I was writing it I was quite firmly convinced it was fantasy, just a different kind of fantasy. I guess I’m seeing now that it’s a little bit of everything.

Yes indeed, the second book is finished. At the moment I’m working on something completely different! I call it a ‘post-apocalyptic romantic comedy, set in Sydney of the not too distant future, with ghosts’. It’s a world of fun!

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 the way they write? Not that I’ve noticed. A lot of blokes have influenced my addiction to genre. My Dad read Tolkien to me, I loved his old E.E. Doc Smith and Theodore Sturgeon, and I’ll never forget the day I found my first David Eddings book in the local library. But so did Julian May, and Marion Zimmer Bradley, and Katharine Kerr, and then Sara Douglass and Jennifer Fallon, and more! I’m still finding new addictions.

As I type this I’m trying to think what the differences might be? I wouldn’t say one is more bloodthirsty than the other. I don’t think one gender does more romance, or better romance. Or more politics, or better politics. Isn’t it interesting that those are the first ‘differences’ that occurred to me? Bloodthirstyness, romance, and politics.

But is there a difference in the way their books are marketed? And discussed? And awarded? I reckon that’s where the important differences lie.

It's a thrill the first time you see your book out there in the real world sitting on a bookshop shelf.

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

Ah no. I’d say my expectations are based more on the blurb on the back, the publisher (yes, I actually notice publishers and imprints! But that could be due to my day job), the endorsement quotes, recommendations from friends, stuff I’ve read on the internet… Cover image (I’m a sucker for a good cover, I can’t help it). The usual!

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 the future, definitely. I’d like it to be a Gene Roddenberry type future, with space travel, and exploration. I’m not so sure it would be. But I want to know how future generations will look back on us, what we did, what we could have done, and the kind of planet we bequeathed them.

Give-away Question:

One of the things I love about those Japanese RPGs is there’s always a bigger baddie. The evil-doers you think are the baddies aren’t the real deal, there’s always an ultimate enemy you don’t know about, usually hiding in plain sight. So, for the giveaway prize, who is your favourite ultimate baddie?

 

 Follow Jo on Twitter:  @joanneanderton

Catch up with Jo on GoodReads

Catch up with Jo on Facebook.

See Jo’s Blog

Free fiction from Jo.

18 Comments

Filed under Australian Writers, Book Giveaway, Comics/Graphic Novels, creativity, Dark Urban Fantasy, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Gender Issues, Genre, Movies & TV Shows, SF Books, Steampunk

Meet Rebecca Moesta …

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

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

Q: We met at the Brisbane Writers Festival a few years ago when you and Kevin (Kevin J Anderson, Rebecca’s husband and business partner) were in Australia and again this year when you both attended Supanova. As a writer who is trying to meet deadlines and run a business (WordFire) and attend fun (but exhausting) events, how do you balance your professional life?

I’ll have to let you know when I figure that balance thing out. It can be pretty tricky. I’m terrible at writing or editing while I’m on travel. I tend to bring only light projects with me, like reading or formatting, since I’m highly distractible. I tire easily, and I’m also a sucker for picking up any sort of local cold or flu as a souvenir when I’m on the road. It takes me days (if I’m lucky) or weeks to get back to normal after a trip. Knowing my weaknesses, I jealously guard my time at home to get brain-intensive work done. My best bet for balancing deadlines with travel is to limit the number of event invitations I accept in a given year and to give myself recovery time in between.

Q: The list of books that you’ve written is impressive. Let’s look at the Young Jedi Knights, Junior Jedi Knights. Working in an established world must be challenging. How much freedom do you have as a writer when working in the Star Wars universe?

When I was writing Young Jedi Knights, only a handful of other authors were writing in the Star Wars universe, so there was much more leeway to move around. I never felt that my creativity was being hampered. Whether you write a story set in 1960s San Francisco, in feudal Japan, or on Yavin 4, you have to know the climate, the culture, the language, the geography, etc. All of those worlds have intrinsic restrictions. Writing in them involves research and world building. For Star Wars, most of Kevin’s and my research came from watching the original three movies again and again. Every book had to be thoroughly outlined so it could be approved by a continuity committee at Lucasfilm, but that didn’t seem too restrictive to me. After all, I was playing in George Lucas’s sandbox with his toys.

Q: Then there are the Crystal Doors series. This is a young YA series (the protagonists are around 14 years of age). The Jedi books were also YA. Do you find you are most comfortable writing for the YA audience?

YA and middle grade fiction has been my favorite to read since I was about ten. Somehow, I never outgrew it. There’s a magic in YA: it’s the literature of transformation. Something essential always happens to the main characters. The journey from childhood to adulthood presents challenges and rites of passage that are social, emotional, physical, and moral. Our protagonists confront issues like first love, conflicting loyalties, losing a family member, false friends, uncertain values, leaving home, poverty or violence, idealism vs pragmatism. How could I not be fascinated by that? What is a mere murder mystery by comparison?

Q: You have a Masters Science degree, yet you seem to have written mainly Space Opera and fantasy. Are you ever tempted to write Hard SF?

My MS is in Business Administration. Even though I love science and gadgets, the nuts-and-bolts part of science fiction doesn’t come easily to me. First, there are gigantic gaps in my knowledge, so hard SF requires me to do lots of added research, and second, it gives me way too many more chances to goof up. For me, space, fantasy and science are backdrops against which I set my characters & plot. I prefer to use science as a spice for my story stew, rather than as the primary ingredient.

Q: You’ve written a Buffy book Little Things. Were you a big fan of the series? Was this why you ended up writing the book (with vampire fairies no less!)?

I was, in fact, a huge Buffy fan. One year, my husband Kevin was on a book-signing tour with Brian Herbert for one of their Dune novels, and I was along for the part of the tour.  Before the signing at Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore in San Diego, I chatted with the owners, Maryelizabeth Hart and Jeff Mariotte, and we got into a spirited discussion of what might happen in the next season of the show and what directions we hoped the show would take.

Jeff was already writing Buffy novels, and he and Maryelizabeth were also working on some of the nonfiction BtVS books.  Quickly realizing that I was a True Fan, one of them commented that I should write a Buffy YA novel, and I said it sounded fun.

I thought no more about it until I got an email a few days later from the then-editor of the Buffy line, Lisa Clancy, asking me to consider writing a BtVS novel for her.  (Apparently, Jeff had sneakily informed her that I was a fan and that she absolutely had to invite me to do one.)

Though surprised and flattered, I was intimidated. I’d never written horror before—even humorous horror like BtVS.  In fact, I seemed to lean much more toward fairies than vampires, so I asked my husband, “Do you suppose they’d let me do vampire fairies?”  Kevin thought the idea was different enough that it just might “fly,” so I suggested the idea to the editor, and the rest is history.

Q: You often collaborate with your husband Kevin. I’m fascinated to learn how you manage this? Does one of you plot the idea, then the other fleshes it out, or do you plot together, then write alternate chapters, then rewrite together?

In most cases, it starts with brainstorming. We talk over story ideas, jot down notes, arrange them and expand on them, we play up on each other’s ideas, and eventually write a detailed outline.  Then we break it down into chapters and decide who is best equipped to write the first draft of each particular chapter.  Kevin writes half of the chapters, I write the other half, then we edit and swap files and edit each other’s work.  It goes back and forth until we’ve got what we consider a finished version.  And the collaborative book that comes out is different and better than anything either of us could do individually.

Q: I see you and Kevin also script comics and graphic novels (The Gorn Crisis and Grumpy Old Monsters). Have comics always been one of your loves?

When I was growing up, my mom didn’t much approve of what she called “funny books,” so I didn’t read many. It was only after meeting Kevin that my appreciation for them developed. (My mom has been educated on the subject and now approves.) For a writer, there’s a exceptional joy that comes from seeing a story that I wrote come to life in illustrations.

 

Q: What’s next in the pipeline for you?

I’m doing quite a bit of epublishing at the moment, but I’d like to squeeze in a nonfiction book, as well as writing a few books for younger children (with illustration). I also have a new humorous science fiction project coming up that will be co-written with Kevin.

 

 

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?

It doesn’t seem politically correct to say it, but I do think that on average men and women construct fantasy using slightly different mental recipes.

When I was a teacher, I started with the assumption that all gender differences are a result of how the student was raised. I reluctantly came to accept that there are actual biological differences that affect the thought process. Later, when I had my son, I tried to raise him in a gender-neutral way, to revive my preferred theory of differences coming primarily from nurture rather than nature. I struck out. He was all boy from the start, and I gave up on my theory.

That said, I do think that there is a boys’ club that holds male fantasy writers in higher esteem than female writers, especially in epic fantasy. Writing styles vary widely, and some authors’ writing crosses the gender divide, but overall, books by male authors draw more respect from readers and are more valued by editors.

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

Unfortunately, yes. If I read a book whose author’s name is male, I expect a story that is idea-driven or plot focused, while with a female author I anticipate more emphasis on relationships, feelings, and personal development. I feel really guilty saying this—tell me I’m wrong!

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 visit Pompeii before Vesuvius erupted, to experience daily life there. I’ve always been fascinated by ancient cultures in Egypt, China, Greece, Italy, Persia, etc. How did the rich people live? What rights did the poor or enslaved have? What was the state of technology? How did they practice religion? What were their arts and entertainment?

I wouldn’t want to stay there longer than a few days, but I want to know how accurate modern historians really are in interpreting a culture 2000 years older than our own.


Rebecca has generously offered a Give-away book bundle of:

  • Crystal Doors trilogy in trade paperback
  • Jedi Shadow paperback (an omnibus of Young Jedi Knights books 1–3)
  •  BtVS: Little Things

Which she is willing to send anywhere in the world!

Give-away Question: Do you see yourself more comfortable living in Buffy’s world or the StarWars universe?

 

 

 

Follow Rebecca on Twitter:  @RebeccaMoesta

Rebecca’s Blog.

Rebecca on Facebook.

Catch up with Rebecca on GoodReads.

24 Comments

Filed under Book Giveaway, Children's Books, Collaboration, Comics/Graphic Novels, creativity, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Fun Stuff, Gender Issues, Movies & TV Shows, Readers, SF Books, The Writing Fraternity

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?

No.

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.

24 Comments

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

Meet Gareth Powell …

I have been running a series of  interviews with female fantasy writers to redress a perception I came across – that fantasy was a bit of a boy’s club. It really isn’t like that here in Australia. We have many wonderful fantasy writers who just happen to be female.

Today I’m interviewing Gareth Powell because he has a wonderful new book out, 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 writer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q: (Disclosure here) We’re both published with Solaris Press. Your latest book, The Recollection, was launched in August. It’s been compared to Iain M Banks and Alastair Reynolds. From the blurb it seems to contain a mystery, parallel worlds/time travel and political intrigue. What themes are you exploring?

A: There’s a lot going on in The Recollection. The main characters are all—in one way or another—torn from the comfort of their everyday lives and thrust into dangerously unfamiliar territory. They have to fight to survive; they have to adapt and make decisions they didn’t know they were capable of making. At its heart, though, I think it’s the relationships between these characters—and the significance those relationships hold when measured against vast swathes of time and distance—that drive the book.

Q: I see you are an interviewer and reviewer of CDs for Acoustic Magazine. Did you study an instrument? Did you belong to a band when you were in your teens? Are you one of those writers who makes up a different play-list for each book and uses it to get into ‘the zone’?

A: Although I appreciate music, I can’t lay claim to any inherent musical talent. As the old saying goes, I couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. Nonetheless, I do find that music plays an important role in the writing process, and I often listen to orchestral or instrumental music while working. The music screens out external distractions, and it helps with the rhythm of the sentences. While writing The Recollection, I listened to a lot of film soundtracks, especially the iconic Blade Runner soundtrack by Vangelis, and Clint Mansell’s haunting score for Moon.

Q:  You are also a prolific writer of short stories. (For a review of Gareth’s short stories see here).  You have a collection, The Last Reef.  Writing short stories is an art, especially with SF and F, when the writer has to set up the world as well as tell the story in less than five thousand words. Your short story Ack-Ack Macaque (try saying that fast five times!) won the Interzone Readers’ Poll for best short story in 2007.  Do you find the urge to write short stories interrupts the flow of your novel writing?

A: Short stories don’t so much interrupt the flow of my novel writing as plug the gaps between novels. They make a good playground within which to test new ideas and concepts; and their length makes them a refreshing change of pace after the long haul of a novel.

Q: Your previous title, Silver Sands, appears to be an SF mystery. The world sounds quite noir – ‘a world of political intrigue, espionage and subterfuge; a world of retired cops, digital ghosts and corporate assassins’. Are you a film noir fan?

A: I have long been a fan of films such as The Maltese Falcon and LA Confidential, and have dipped into the world of the hardboiled detective through short stories and novels by Raymond Chandler and the like. However, I think I owe my real love of “noir” to the “tech-noir” look and feel of films such as Blade Runner, The Terminator, and Aliens; and the literary worlds explored by the Cyberpunks in the late 1980s—especially William Gibson’s “Sprawl” series of novels and short stories, including Burning Chrome and Neuromancer.

Q: I see you work as a PR manager for a disabled children’s charity. What a wonderful job, to be able to do something really worthwhile! My aunt has lost three children to Cystic Fibrosis so we’ve lived with the routine of constantly treating and medicating a child. Did personal experience lead you to apply for this job?

A: The charity I work for offers specialist play sessions to babies and pre-school children with disabilities and additional complex needs. I came onboard because I had experience in marketing and PR, and they desperately needed someone to boost their visibility, in order to attract donations. I work for them two days per week, and my job is to get them in the local paper as often as possible.

After a decade spent in corporate software marketing, it feels good to be doing something that has a clear and immediate benefit. I know that the money I raise through my efforts goes to support local children and families who really need it.

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?

A: A few years ago, Aliette de Bodard and I collaborated on a ten thousand word novelette  for Shine, an anthology of optimistic science fiction from Solaris Books. We had a lot of fun writing it, but I can’t say I noticed any difference in our approaches. We were just two writers doing what we enjoyed doing.

Based on that experience—and on conversations with many other female authors—I don’t believe that there is a difference in the way that men and women approach the craft of writing genre fiction. If there is a difference between the sexes, it’s in the reception their writing receives. The latest figures I’ve seen seem to indicate that men and women are fairly evenly represented when it comes to the number of authors currently writing genre fiction; however, the male writers seem to get more reviews and more exposure than the females, which is obviously grossly unfair—especially in genre that prides itself on its open-mindedness—and the probable root of the false perception mentioned in your question: that fantasy is a boy’s club.

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

A: There may be many reasons for me to pick up a book, but none of them involve the sex or gender of the author.

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: Firstly, I’d go back to the late 1980s and spend the day with my father. He died when I was eighteen, and I never really got the chance to know him as an adult. Now I’m a father myself, I think we’d have a lot to talk about.

After that, I’d probably go further back. I quite fancy seeing Ancient Egypt and Ancient Greece in all their splendour. En route, I might stop for cocktails in New York in the 1920s, before the Wall Street Crash.

After that, I’d skip ahead a few centuries, then jump right to the end of the universe, to find out what happens—like flicking to the back page of a book, just to see how the story turns out.

 

Catch up with Gareth on Facebook.

Catch up with Gareth on GoodReads.

Catch up with Gareth on Google+.

See Gareth’s articles here.

Follow Gareth on Twitter. @garethlpowell

1 Comment

Filed under SF Books, Writing craft

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 Freer.com

See the Dave Freer page on Baen

15 Comments

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