Tag Archives: Characterisation

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.


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 Robin Hobb …

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

Robin at Supanova with Cinderella

Q: It was great to meet you at Supanova. As a best-selling fantasy author you must get invited to a lot of conventions. How do you juggle writing to meet deadlines with the pressure to attend these events?

Truthfully?  Usually, I just say, “No, thank you, I’ve a deadline.”

This year, I didn’t.  I went to Supanova and absolutely loved it.  I havenever seen a pop culture festival that treats its professional guests so well and with such thoughtfulness. And then I went on, to Trolls&Legendes in Belgium, and Imaginales in Epinal, France and to Etonnants Voyageurs in France.  And I had a wonderful time and met many people, but now I’m behind on a deadline.  So.  I think I need to go back to saying “No, thank you” to most of the invitations, and staying home and getting the books written.

Q: You started out writing as Megan Lindholm and even though your Robin Hobb books are really popular, you’ve continued to write under your original name. Have you come across readers who only read Robin or Megan’s books?

Most definitely.  The two pseudonyms have vastly different writing styles and also differ in choice of subject matter.  So I’m now getting notes from people who enjoyed one and not the other, or seeing posts about it on-line. And such letters and posts very much validate my decision to write under two different names. Readers do want to know what they are riding into when they open a book. On the other hand, I also hear from readers who enjoy the contrast and have enjoyed both sets of stories.  My best experience was with my French translator, Arnaud Mousnier-Lompre.  He was delighted with the Lindholm stories and told me that it was like translating a completely different writer.

Q: With two names and numerous trilogies/series under each name, (Robin Hobb: The Farseer Trilogy, The Liveship Trilogy, The Tawny Man Trilogy, Soldier Son trilogy, The Rain Wild Chronicles. Megan Lindholm: The Ki and Vandien Quartest, Tillu and Kerlew, as well as stand alone books), how do you keep all the worlds, characters and narrative threads straight in your mind? Do you have a giant cork board with flow charts? Do you only work on one series at a time?

OH, do I have to admit this?  When I re-read some of my earlier work, it’s like someone else wrote it.  Often I encounter minor characters I’ve forgotten completely, or plot twists that I don’t recognize as my own. I think that one book just crowds out what has gone before.  When I’m writing on a long book, or series of books, as I am now, I do have glossaries of characters and place names and even timelines for books that run for years and years.

My greatest fear is that I will contradict myself on some key point.

Q: In an interview at Shades of Sentience when asked how you create such believable minor characters you said: I try to remember that no one is a minor character in his or her own life. I love this sentiment. It made me laugh when I read it. Do you find your characters take on a life of their own?

Inevitably. And sometime a minor character, such as the Fool, refuses to take a back seat but jumps up into a major position. Then there are lesser characters, such as Hands, who really had his life twisted by events so far outside his control that I still feel bad about his very last encounter with Fitz.  Not that I could have done anything to change it.  He reacted as he did because he is Hands, and that was how Hands would have reacted. And that is the best part of characters taking on a life of their own. In some ways they make the writing easier.  In others, when they insist on doing something that is contrary to the outline . . . well, that is when the writing gets very interesting.

Q: In an interview  on Pat’s Hot List you talk about how you start out with one intention for the book and by the time you’ve written it, the book has veered in a different direction. Can I take it from this you are more of a Pantser than a Plotter? (For non-writers Pantsers just sit down and write, while Plotters plan).

Definitely flying through Story by the seat of my pants, with only a glance or two at the instruments and charts from time to time.  I get to land in some very interesting places that way, and sometimes I’m in completely uncharted territory, and wondering just as much as the reader might about exactly where I am bound.

Q: We’re around the same age. In an interview you speak of reading Fritz Lieber and learning from the terrible things he did to his characters. (He was one of my great inspirations when I first discovered fantasy). How do you feel the genre has changed since the 70s?

Oh, my Fritz Leiber.  How I loved that man’s characters and writing, and still do.

Since the 70’s, I think Fantasy has changed by finally being allowed the page space we need to fully enjoy plot, setting and characters.  I am still amazed at the talent of those writers who conveyed such strange settings and unique characters within such a tight word restriction.

Nowadays, too, there are far fewer restrictions on what we can write in terms of sex scenes, gender identity, race, violence and, well any other former taboo you can think of. And that isn’t always good, at least in my opinion.  Just because you can shock or brutalize the reader and get it published doesn’t mean that you should.  But in the stories that require it, where it’s there for a reason, we suddenly get fantasy and SF with great emotional depth to 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?

I think there’s a difference between any two writers who write fantasy or sf or romance or poetry, and that that difference is far greater than can ever be explained by gender. In my opinion, yes, there are differences between

male and female writers.  But the spectrum of sexuality is so broad that it’s impossible to make any generalized statement about it.  “Men write about sex and women write about romance.”  That’s the sort of thing I hear, and I think it’s just silly. Which men, what woman?

And I really don’t understand the idea that fantasy is dominated by writers of one sex or the other. If you look at the book racks, I’d almost say there are more women writers of fantasy right now than men.  I don’t think I’ve ever made the sex of the writer part of the criteria for choosing a book in any genre.  When I was a younger reader, I could seldom tell you the name of the author of a book I’d just read.  I didn’t care about the author, only the story.

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

Oh, I think I accidentally already answered that!

If you look back through the history of our genre, you will see that yes, there were women who used men’s names or only initials as a way to conceal their gender. And at one time, doubtless it was harder for a woman to be published in SF.  But I think that barrier fell so long ago that it’s scarcely worth worrying about any more.

Now with that said, I’ll add that when I chose my pseudonym, Robin Hobb, I deliberately chose an androgynous name.  I knew I’d be writing at least the first three books from the first person view point of a young male, and so I chose to lower the threshold for ‘suspension of disbelief’ by using a name that left the gender of the writer in doubt.  But if I’d been writing a story told from the POV of an ultra-feminine woman, I’d probably have been tempted to choose a name that reflected that, as well.

I’d never want anyone to choose one of my books on the sole basis that I was female.  I’d feel really insulted if that was the only reason a reader picked up my book.

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

I’d go home.  I’d want to be dropped off in the late 60’s by the mailbox on Davis Road, in December about 8 at night, when the darkness in Fairbanks, Alaska is absolute.  I’d want to walk down the lane with the snow crunching and squeaking under my boots and the birches arched down over it with the weight of snow on their bare branches. I’d want to see the lights through the trees and then finally see that log house again.  And all my dogs would start barking and they come racing through the snow to challenge me. And then they’d recognize me, and I’d get hit in the chest with 120 pounds of malemute and I’d be with my best friends ever again.

Follow Robin on Twitter: @robinhobb

Follow Robin on GoodReads.

See an interview with Robin Hobb on You Tube.


Filed under Characterisation, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Nourish the Writer, The Writing Fraternity, Writing craft

Meet Kate Elliot …

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

In essentials? No.

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

But it might be possible to quantify some weighted differences.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Into a future with medical advances and space travel.

Give-away Question:

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

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



Follow Kate on Twitter: @KateElliottSFF

Catch up with Kate’s blog.

Catch up with  Kate Elliot on GoodReads.

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


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

Gender, that Elephant in the Room

Cross posted to the Mad Genius Club blog.

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

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

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

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

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

Juliet goes on to say:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Meet Juliet McKenna …

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

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

Q: Wow, Juliet, looking at your list of published books takes my breath away. Tell me, do you sleep 3 hours a night?

Well, I have been doing this for a while now. My first novel, The Thief’s Gamble came out in January 1999, so I’ve written a book a year since then. I’m also lucky enough to write full time, as far as any wife and mother can do that. So I work from around 8.30 in the morning when my husband and teenage sons have left for work, college and school, until about 5 in the afternoon.

That’s writing the current book in progress along with doing fun things like this, blogging, reviewing, getting involved in conventions and other events and the much less exciting but equally necessary stuff like the accounts and other administrivia.

Q: You have five series out now with a 3 – 5 books in each series. There’s The Tales of Einarinn, The Aldabreshin Compass, The Lescari Revolution, and your news series, The Hadrumal Crisis. You have an invented world and where you have set stories in different places (and at different times?), with some characters crossing over into different series. Tell me, do you have a huge map on the wall with a flow chart of events and timelines for different families and kingdoms? How do you keep it all straight in your head?

I have a lovely big map. One of the smartest moves I ever made, in hindsight, was marrying a design engineer who trained as a draughtsman. He drew that map for me and it’s fantastic. I used to keep a card index with details of every character noted down but that got harder and harder to keep up to date at the same time as computers made searching for individual characters in the text of a book so much easier. So that’s how I keep track of the details now.

That said, preparing for this new series, I did have to go back and re-read my first nine books, making notes as I went, since I’m picking up a lot of threads from those earlier tales. I have always drawn up timelines for each book, with notes on what each character’s doing and where they are. I’m one of those writers who does a lot of planning ahead before I ever type ‘Chapter One’. Every book has its own working note book and so I can also refer back to those when whatever I’m currently writing draws on what’s happened before.

On the other hand, I work very hard to make sure that each series is a fresh start, so that readers don’t have to go all the way through my backlist for the new story to make sense. That does lighten the burden of what’s gone before for me as a writer. I only have to include essential back story, in the same way as any author creating rounded, realistic characters does with any book.

Q: Reading the information on your web site, your books come across as very down to earth stories about real people, set in a world where magic happens to be normal. Where … ‘there are developments in science and technology, philosophy and literature, quite independently of whatever it is that has wizards and princes running round in circles?’ Would describe yourself as a very grounded person, who just happens to have an imagination that won’t let her sleep?

Words that often come up when people are describing me are ‘practical’ and ‘organised’ and yes, I imagine ‘grounded’ is in there too. That said, I think what I’ve always read and enjoyed has more influence on what I write than my personal character. I’ve always loved books that feel ‘real’ and I’ve always read right across the speculative genre and on into folklore and myth and then onwards into history.

They’re all colours in the same spectrum as far as I am concerned, and how can anyone read this wonderful stuff without their own imagination catching light? I’ve made up stories for as long as I can remember. I was one of those kids who could spend a whole afternoon spinning some fantastic yarn with a couple of toy animals, some building bricks and a cardboard box.

As to the depth and breadth of the worlds I create now, knowing so much history, I really cannot be doing with fantasy worlds where nothing changes in a thousand years (unless that’s part of the point the writer is making). I think how much change my grandmother saw in her 95 years!

Q: In an interview on SFFWorld, you mention that you do aikido. (This is one of the martial arts I studied for 5 years. I found it helped me when writing fight scenes). Do you do other martial arts and did you find that they help you give verisimilitude to your fight scenes?

I have nearly thirty years of aikido under my (black) belt now, including sword and staff fighting techniques, and yes, that’s a fantastic help when I’m writing fight scenes. I don’t do any other martial arts but I do swap notes with those studying other disciplines. Shotokan Karate blackbelt and author John Meaney and I did a hands-on panel on fight scenes at a recent convention and that was a fascinating exercise in compare and contrast.

I also did some Live Action Role Playing as a student and that’s also very useful. Table top gaming just isn’t the same. Get out in some woods at night for real and you really won’t have a clue what cunning plan the wizard ten feet behind you is hatching when all you’re looking at is the orc who’s trying to cut your head off!

That said, as an author, I have to be aware of readers’ expectations, particularly the way those have been shaped by what they see on film and TV, where fights are long, drawn-out, full of ups and downs, will our hero win or won’t he? Whereas real fights, when at least one person knows what they’re doing, tend to be very short and to the point. Also, when you’re watching a fight, it’s clear who’s doing what. Describing a fight so the reader can visualize it can be tricky. So, as with any other aspect of writing, crafting a fight scene that’s both realistic and rewarding for the reader is a challenge. But hey, if it was easy, it wouldn’t be nearly so much fun.

Q: You are one of the founding members of The Write Fantastic , (TWF), an organisation established in 2004 to promote the fantasy genre. On your TWF site, you say: ‘Nowadays  … Bestsellers thrive, while writers seen as ‘mid-list’, and those in genre fiction, suffer. Browsing used to be the route by which such authors picked up new readers. But now people popping into a bookshop ‘for something to read’ get no further than the 3 for 2 deals. So authors face a choice between grousing into their beer or looking for alternate ways to contact potential readers and bring them in past the discount tables and the bestseller charts.’ Do you think TWF has helped fantasy writers connect with new readers?

Definitely. The feedback we get tells us that time and again. The publishing world, from that first idea in your head to the finished book on the shelf in the shop, has changed enormously in the past ten years. What hasn’t changed, and what never seems to change though, is what really sells books is word of mouth recommendation.

Readers are always eager to hear about new books and these days, there are so many books that it can be a challenge to keep up to date with the new voices, never mind hearing about other people’s established favourites which you might not have tried. Hearing writers talk, about what they’re writing and what they’re reading is always a good way to find out if something’s likely to be on your particular wavelength.

Q: I see that TWF has successfully applied for grants. I’m thinking that is what my ROR group should do. One of the things that holds us back here in Australia is that the literary festivals expect to be contacted by the publishers who want to promote their authors. If an author contacts a literary festival, more often than not, they ignore the author. I’m guessing you haven’t had this problem in the UK?

Well, we have had success in the past… That kind of grant money dried up a few years ago. Then last year, as soon as the current government was elected here in the UK, the library funding for author visits was drastically cut back, so we lost a lot of those events. This year, so far, I’m hearing of literary festivals being cancelled or put on hiatus, so we’re looking at alternatives for TWF gigs, not least running a day event or two ourselves.

Literary festivals vary enormously. The really big ones, sponsored by our national newspapers, certainly aren’t much interested in dealing with anyone outside the best-seller lists, whose publisher will be paying to promote them, and where the author is expected to turn up and do their thing and be grateful for ‘the prestige’. It’s actually the smaller, more local events that are open to approaches from groups like TWF and will often work harder to pay writers for their time.

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?

This idea that fantasy is for men, written by men, does persist and it baffles me for several reasons. I mean, don’t people look at the shelves? There are so many women writing superb fantasy these days, in the UK, the US and elsewhere. Perhaps it’s another knock-on effect of those front-of-store promotions. The mega-sellers of late have been written by men and so they have much greater visibility, certainly for people who don’t know much about our genre. I’m not sure what we women can do beyond write the best books we can and hope they reach that readership tipping point to get us to the front of the bookstore. But of course, we are already writing the best books we can…

Do we write differently to the men? That’s hard to say. I’m sure for any generalisation that I might make, someone will be able to point to a book where that simply doesn’t apply. For instance if I said, women writers focus more on the emotional responses of female characters with a higher profile overall within the story. Or if I said, male writers get far more down and dirty with the vicious and brutal.

I really do think it’s a problem of perception rather than reality and we all need to challenge it if it’s ever going to change.

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

No, it really doesn’t. What grabs me is the back cover copy and then the first page. It’s all about the story and the characters for 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?

Ancient Rome, in the last days of the Republic. I studied this period at university and actually being there, seeing what really happened would be fantastic. Of course, I would need some kind of access all areas pass or Doctor Who’s psychic paper so I didn’t just end up wandering round the Forum. Though that would be pretty cool as well.

Or… a hundred years into the future, where I would want to spend a week just soaking up the atmosphere, the news media, the day to day life, to see how far we had come as humanity, and what hadn’t really changed, for better or for worse.

Find Juliet’s blog here.

For a video interview of Juliet McKenna see here.

Hear the Ghost in the Machine Podcast with Juliet McKenna.

Juliet on Facebook 

Juliet is happy to give away a copy of one of her books, depending on which one you need to fill the gap in your collection. Here’s the give-away question:

Every fantasy fan I know is waiting breathlessly for HBO’s adaptation of George RR Martin’s A Game of Thrones – even those who haven’t read the books. Which fantasy book/world would you like to see turned into a television series and why?



Filed under Book Giveaway, creativity, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Genre, Promoting Friend's Books, Story Arc, Writing craft

Meet Tansy Rayner Roberts

As the next of my series featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) I’ve invited the sweet but sharp Tansy Rayner Roberts to drop by.

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

Q: Your story  Siren Beat published by Twelfth Planet Press won the Washington Association Small Press Short Fiction Award. This must have come as a delightful surprise. Can you tell us a little about Siren Beat, and Twelfth Planet Press which has taken the unusual step of publishing back-to-back novellas?

The win was absolutely wonderful and completely out of the blue.  I’m only sorry I wasn’t able to collect the prize in person.  Siren Beat came from me wanting to create an urban fantasy which wasn’t just Australian in tone but uniquely Tasmanian.  We have a very different landscape in Hobart to anywhere else in the country, and I wanted to steer away from more common monsters from the genre such as vampires and werewolves.  Which is how I ended up with my guardian, Nancy Napoleon, whose job it is to guard her city against creatures from water mythology.  It occurred to me that, in a world where each culture’s unique myths and legends were real, the ocean itself would be one hell of a chaotic melting pot.  Siren Beat was the first Nancy adventure, and I’m going to be continuing her story in novel form.

As for Twelfth Planet Press, they picked up my story (which was orphaned from an anthology that didn’t come to pass) and paired it with a fantastic piece by World Fantasy Award winner (and Doctor Who writer) Rob Shearman, which completely delighted me.  I really like slender volumes, there’s something quite enticing about them, and Twelfth Planet have turned the old ‘Ace Doubles’ format into a shiny 21st Century product.

Q: You’re not a newcomer to winning awards, having started your career by winning the George Turner award with a book that you wrote when you were 19, Splashdance Silver. I believe the rights have reverted to you. Are you going to release this book and its sequel Liquid Gold as an e-book? (I read an article saying you’d be crazy not to make your back-list work for you by selling books from your web site).

Whoever wrote that article must have a lot more spare time than I do!

I think about this from time to time, as I still get emails from readers who have come across the Mocklore books (not sure how, libraries maybe?) and while the market for humorous fantasy is no better than it was ten years ago, Splashdance Silver and its sequels have a girlie YA sensibility that I think could probably find an audience.  Most of the fanmail I receive from those books is from teenage girls, then and now!  But my heart sinks a little at the thought of it, too.  I have so much in my life to juggle, between writing, running a small business, raising two small girls, and publicising the current books I have out.  Do I really want to set myself up as a self-publisher?  Even without printing overheads I’d have to think about editing, proofing, figuring out how to produce an e-book that doesn’t look like hell (harder than you think!) and it just makes me tired to think about it.

There’s also the thing where this is old work – and while I still have strong affection for Mocklore, it’s not anything like what I’m writing now.  I’m not saying never ever, but right now I’d far rather look to the future than delve back into my past.

Q: Galactic Suburbia is a series of podcasts to quote: ‘Alisa, Alex and Tansy bring you speculative fiction news, reading notes and chat from the galactic suburbs of Australia.’ You seem to be having a lot of fun with this. How did you get started doing podcasts?

I started listening to podcasts about two years ago and it honestly changed my life.  It happened around the time that I was becoming completely disillusioned with radio, and I was delighted to find that I could download a whole bunch of cool people (from all over the world) talking about subjects that I actually care about (mostly spec fic publishing, Doctor Who and Arsenal football, if you’re interested!).  I was also fascinated by the communities that emerged from groups of similarly themed podcasts – the Doctor Who podcasting community is brilliant for this, they are all so supportive of and interested in each other, and it reminded me of what I love about the SF community and the blogoverse.

Then Sofanauts ended, which made me so sad!  This was a side project by Tony C Smith of Starship Sofa in which he and several interesting people would sit around and chat about publishing, science fiction, and the spec fic “scene.”  I loved it, and got several other people addicted to it.  Tony did say that if anyone else wanted to take up the Sofanauts brand, he’d be happy to see that happen, and I talked about it with Alisa and Alex.  We seriously considered becoming the New Sofanauts (like the old Sofanauts but in mod 70’s funky gear) but decided that anything we did would be so different that it might as well be a different show.  So we made it our own!

Galactic Suburbia has just celebrated its first birthday, and we love it.  It’s so cool having a chance to talk to Alisa and Alex about books, publishing, science fiction and feminism every fortnight.  I don’t feel nearly as far away from everyone, and it’s been utterly squeeful to have so many people listening, commenting and becoming invested in what we have to say.  The really exciting thing is that the last year has seen a bunch of other Australian SF podcasts starting up, many of them crediting us with inspiring them, and so we have a community of back-and-forth, all covering different (but often overlapping) areas of interest.

Q: Your Creature Court Trilogy is being published by Harper Collins, Voyager.   I’ve read Power and Majesty and loved it. Now Shattered City (book Two) will be released. The premise for this series is really interesting. It combines ancient Rome with the 1920s in a dark urban fantasy with shapeshifters. What led you to combine these two elements?

It wasn’t quite that organised, actually!  I just started writing, and poured in lots of things that I love.  The Ancient Roman calendar of festivals has been deeply buried in my subconscious since I did my Honours degree on women in Roman religion, and I’ve wanted to write a story about dressmaking in the 1920’s since… well, since The House of Elliot did it first, and the shapechangers pretty much just leapt off the page and started talking to me.  When I was teaching creative writing I would often advise students to create a ‘list of awesome’ – basically a list of things they love and are interested in or obsessed by, to fuel their stories.  I never did that for Creature Court, and yet somehow it’s packed with many of my favourite things.

Q: Central to the trilogy is the friendship of three women. This is unusual in the urban fantasy genre, which tends to have strong female ‘kick-butt’ characters. Your characters aren’t the stereotypical urban fantasy types, one is a dressmaker, another makes garlands and the third is a florister. (Their city has a lot of festivals, LOL). Did you set out to write a story about the friendships that are central to women’s lives, or did it just evolve?

The friendship of those three was an integral part of the story –  Velody, Delphine and Rhian are craftswomen because I love to sew and make things, but also because having a craft was historically a way for women to acquire independence.  It was really important to me that my protagonist have a job, and one she cared about, to balance out the crazy I was about to hurl into her life.  So much fantasy puts the heroes in the position where saving the world is their job, and I wanted to address the idea that this wasn’t an overly healthy situation to be in.  Velody’s friends are what she has instead of a family, and I love the complex relationship that these three women have woven around themselves.  They are very supportive of each other, but there are fractures there if you poke at it (which of course I do, repeatedly) – they are quite enabling of bad habits in each other as well as being supportive when the chips are down.

I love myself a kick butt heroine in the mould of Ripley or Starbuck or Parrish Plessis but for this particular book I was interested in the juxtaposition of giving superpowers to someone who wasn’t at all cut out for violence or leadership.  I also wanted a mature female protagonist – and it’s kind of sad that Velody would count as mature, being 26, but I’ve written teen girl and early twenties girl protagonists, and I was interested in exploring someone who was a bit more adult and settled and experienced before she starts having to deal with power and naked cat people falling out of the sky.  Buffy is a great hero of our age, but I can’t help thinking she had it easy in many ways because she discovered her destiny when she was young enough to adapt.  Having to explain to your friends that you’re busy saving the world is a bit more embarrassing when you’re an adult!

Q: Following on from that last question, your book contains descriptions of gorgeous clothes which, I should add, are pertinent to the story. Have you thought of teaming up with a fashion designer to release a line of romantic-sexy clothes for males and females? Do you design and make clothes?

Ohhh Rowena this is not the first time you have put this to me, and I would adore to do such a project.  Sadly I don’t know anyone who is into fashion design who might take it on!

I love fabrics, and I love to sew, though dressmaking is not my superpower.  I work in quilting and textile arts mostly.  I even have a Creature Court crazy quilt I have been working on and really need to get back to…  I love and admire beautiful clothing, but my inability to sew a straight seam is somewhat embarrassing.  I am also allergic to sewing machines (though not, strange to say, quilting machines which are big and shiny and go vROOOOM)

Q:  Of course The Shattered City isn’t the only book release you have coming out this year.  Tell me about Love and Romanpunk.

This is a book that I am immensely proud of, published by Twelfth Planet Press as one of their ‘Twelve Planets’ short story quartets by twelve Australian women writers.  It’s a very exciting and challenging project to be part of.  My book will be released in May.

Love and Romanpunk is a set of stories set in what I like to call the ‘Agrippinaverse,’ an alternate version of our world in which the Caesars were a family cursed by all manner of strange mythological beasts, Mary Wollstonecraft the younger ran off with a far more dangerous poet than Percy Shelley, Australia built their own replica Roman city in the middle of the bush, and Caligula’s daughter turned out to be a two hundred year old monster-hunting bloke in a funny hat.

I’m well aware that adding -punk to anything as a label for a literary movement is well past its sell by date, but did we have to get bored of the concept before we got to Romanpunk?  It started out as a fun challenge to people – if you’re going to add -punk to everything, why not something that *I’m* interested in?  I asked the universe for Romanpunk and no one wrote it for me, so of course I had to write it myself.  The term also happens to sum up the squirmy discomfort I feel as a classicist from taking real history, smashing it to bits, and adding manticores.  I have always loved the idea of future societies which are obsessed with different parts of history than we are – and in my perfect future, everyone is as obsessed with Ancient Rome as I am!
Q: You live in Tasmania with your partner and ‘two alarming’ little girls. <grin> You have a PHD in the classics. You’ve edited for ASIM, New Ceres, and Shiny. Plus you sell the Deeping Dolls. How do you fit everything in?

See my seams? They are bursting!  The small press work had to go, and did round about the time that I sold Power and Majesty.  I enjoy editing but it’s not my grand passion – and it takes too many of the same brain cells that I need for the novel writing.  It would have to be a hugely enticing project to lure me back in that direction.  The PhD is over now, and you’ll notice the extreme lack of fiction publications during the 7 years it took me to complete?  These days, I am just juggling three or so jobs, which suits me just fine!

I work from home, I get some daycare hours, and I juggle madly.  I learned not to be precious about when and where and how to write.  I learned to write faster.  My daughters have learned that Mummy’s laptop is with her at all times!  I also get great support from my parents, who free up a few precious half days each week for me.  It’s frustrating that I used to write slow like a snail back when I had no other real commitments, and now I KNOW I could write three books in a year I actually have to settle for far less than that because of the cute little baby doing things like learning to roar like a lion, which is utterly distracting, and should be.

I’m terribly lucky to have what I do, and the opportunities I have, but I’m no superwoman.  I’ve learned not to be too hard on myself and to let things go that are too much – recognising how much is too much is a vital skill!  I’ve had to suck it up and sacrifice my pride to ask for deadline extensions, and to be realistic about what I can manage.

I have a secret horror that once my second child is in school, I will have forgotten how to deal with having days to myself, and will just mooch around playing games and watching DVDs instead of WRITE WRITE WRITE.

Q: You review a lot of YA fiction. Are you planning to write a YA series?

Always planning!  I have a YA fairy book that I am still in love with that I have been planning to write for the last 4 years or so, and never quite getting to.  I have co-written a mainstream soccer novel with a friend in Sweden which has been stuck in rewrite hell for about a year and a half because of lack of time on my part – I’ve had deadline after deadline basically since I had my baby, who just turned 18 months.  Lots of other ideas – so yes, I’d love to, at some point.  I also long to sit down and write a middle grade series about girl superheroes which has been steaming away at the back of my head for a while.


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 always blink madly at that because as you know, in Australia fantasy has so many successful female authors, and there is a perception here that women rule the fantasy roost, though I get cranky when people suggest it’s unreasonably dominated by women.  There are plenty of successful male authors here too!  Likewise, I’m always a bit bewildered when people start listing fantasy writers and mostly come up with men.  It does seem like the Big Name authors from the US and UK are just that bit big nameyer than the women – and I have certainly heard that men get better advances, etc.  How much does that suck?

I think a big part of it is about which end of the audience you respect.  It’s a shame that publishers do tend to get tunnel vision at times and point their books firmly at one gender or another (which may or may not be the same as the gender of the author – more often than not, I’d say) but it’s incredibly hard to market books universally – to find covers that appeal to women without alienating men, or vice versa.  Some areas of the genre are certainly more attuned to one gender or another – or more precisely to what a couple of guys in suits THINK one gender or another wants to read – and sometimes that’s going to be good for sales and sometimes bad.  There are plenty of women who turn about face if they perceive anything remotely “girly” on a book cover, just as there are plenty of male readers who are going to roll their eyes at a gritty militaristic cover.

Hmm and I just totally answered the question as if it was about marketing and not writing, didn’t I!

I remember being floored once when a man told me to my face that he wouldn’t read by book because he wouldn’t read books by women.  It was about twelve years ago and when I hear it, my head explodes all over again.  Having said that, I have mostly assumed that my recent books would appeal more to a female audience than a male – because, you know, clothes, and girl cooties, and slashy smut in between all the adventures and world-saving.  I’ve never been more pleased to be wrong in my life – I have lots of male readers, and not just people I know.   Hooray!

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

I tend to read more fantasy by women because I perceive it as being more likely to have elements I enjoy – and if pressed I would say things like multiple female characters, and the female gaze, and a more complex attitude towards romance and sexuality, and a greater focus on social rather than military concerns.  I am not saying that women can’t write action packed gore fests or that men can’t write sensitive court politics – some of my best writers are men, you know! – but I have been reading and analysing my own reading for a really long time and statistically I know I’m more likely to enjoy a book by a female author.

Partly because of this, I am far more likely to pick up a book by a new author if she is a woman, and it takes a lot more to make me pick up books by men, especially in the fantasy field.  But I am well aware of my biases and I do like to challenge them from time to time.  I do work quite hard to make female-authored fantasy visible, through reading and blogging and podcasting, because it seems to me that when it comes to criticism, awards and other recognition, it’s often women’s books that get forgotten about.  But mostly I do it because I love to share books that I enjoy.

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?

Need you ask?  Ancient Rome!  The actual year is a tricky one, though, as I might have to choose between finding Agrippina’s lost autobiography and attending the wedding of Augustus and Livia.  No, wait.  I know the exact night that I want!  It would have to be the party at Caesar’s house, when Publius Clodius dressed up as a flute girl to gate-crash the rites of the Bona Dea.  If he could make it past their slack security in a frock and a bad wig, I can certainly make it over the threshold, and not only could I meet Aurelia (whom I named my daughter after), I could find out what they used the snakes and honey for!
Catch up with Tansy on Twitter @tansyrr

Tansy’s Writing Blog – http://tansyrr.com
Crunchy SF Feminist Podcast – http://www.galacticsuburbia.com
Pendlerook Designs, Tasmanian Hand-painted Dolls – www.pendlerook.com

Steampunk costumes are very popular. In the Creature Court series tansy combines fashions of the 1920s with Ancient Rome, here’s the give-away question:

What’s your favourite time period for fashion and why?


Filed under Australian Writers, Book Giveaway, Book trailers, Characterisation, creativity, Dark Urban Fantasy, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Fun Stuff, Indy Press, Promoting Friend's Books, The Writing Fraternity, Writing craft

Meet Mary Victoria …

As the next of my series featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) I’ve invited the talented Mary Victoria to drop by. Mary’s first book in the Chronicles of the Tree trilogy, ‘Tymon’s Flight’, was nominated for three different sections of the Gemmel Awards, Morningstar (new talent), Legend (best fantasy) and Ravenheart (best cover). Mary’s latest book, ‘Samiha’s Song’ has just been released. Watch out for the give-away question at the end of the interview.

Q: Samiha’s Song is book two of The Chronicles of the Tree (Book One – Tymon’s Flight). From the blurb there seems to be a ‘World Tree’ did you kick yourself when Avatar came out, or did you figure lots of stories feature trees, going right back to Norse mythology, and Avatar could only help sales of your book? (If you’d like to browse inside Samiha’s Song see here).

No, I did not kick myself. <grin> I’d written the story long before ‘Avatar’ came out, and really the World Tree in ‘Tymon’s Flight’ is quite different to the hometree in Cameron’s film. It’s far larger, for one thing, the size of the Himalayan mountain range. Don’t think ‘big oak or elm’, but rather a huge and tangled agglomeration of branches, trunk and foliage, a messy continent of vegetation extending over hundreds of miles. In fact, my World Tree concept is probably closer to the one in Kaaron Warren’s wonderful ‘Walking the Tree’, also published in 2010 with Angry Robot. (I have since had the joy corresponding with Kaaron regarding our mutual Tree obsession and parallel stories of publication – one of those odd coincidences where people come up with similar ideas independently. I highly recommend ‘Walking the Tree’, by the way!)

Comparisons with Norse myth are apt, and Yggdrasil was one of the main inspirations for the Tree in ‘Tymon’s Flight’. I wanted an environment that could conceivably contain a world – or at least, what human beings might think of as ‘the world’ at a certain point in their development (remember, for a medieval peasant in Europe, ‘the world’ wasn’t much bigger than the lands adjoining the Mediterranean sea.) Again, you could compare the World Tree to a small, isolated continent with a self-contained culture just on the cusp of technological growth. For most people in that culture, the Tree contains everything, from human civilization in the middle canopies to heaven in the highest branches, and hell at its roots.

It’s a very belief-bound universe. Science is mistrusted and free thinkers are labelled heretics.

Q: When I read the cover blurb I had the feeling you were writing Young Adult, but it didn’t say this anywhere. Then I read in an interview that, while book one was written for YA, your editor asked you to write the second book for adults. Did you enjoy the freedom this gave you to go darker and deal with more confronting themes?

I did start out writing the Chronicles of the Tree for a YA-crossover audience – that is, aimed at ages 12+. The books were always meant to appeal to an adult audience as well, however, and I based my idea of ‘12+’ on the books I was reading at that age – works of Tolkien, Ursula Le Guin, David Eddings, Anne Mc Caffrey. Those books are all now classified as adult fantasy, so I am not too surprised Voyager decided to market COT as they did!

Creatively, the decision to market to adults freed me up in many ways. I was able to darken up the mood and depart from the ‘coming of age’ format in the second book, tackling themes I might have avoided had the book been geared to a younger audience (I tend to give 15 as a minimum age guide now, though every reader develops at a different rate so that’s not a hard and fast rule.) There is no explicit content, per se, but in terms of plot ‘Samiha’s Song’ has definitely moved beyond the teenage narrative to step firmly into adulthood. Injustice, slavery, torture – these things are unfortunately a part of Tymon’s world, and the story doesn’t shy away from them.

Q: You say that Samiha’s Song is about the main character’s idealism and how it gets her into trouble. Would you like to expand on this?

‘Samiha’s Song’, despite the title, is still Tymon’s story – but he does share a fair amount of the limelight with Samiha, whose emotional journey, whether seen from her own point of view or those of the people surrounding her, remains the driving force of this book. She is the central mystery around which Tymon and others revolve. She is also a mystery to herself, to begin with, which makes this story essentially one of self-discovery.

As we meet her in ‘Tymon’s Flight’, Samiha is a defiant idealist, very much concerned with the plight of her people, the Nurians. In ‘Samiha’s Song’, however, her outlook on issues of freedom and responsibility both broadens and deepens. She advocates a non-violent approach to change – an attitude that gets her into trouble with both the colonial authorities and the Nurian rebels, for different reasons. Mostly, her contemporaries are annoyed with her because they can’t control her. No one quite grasps what makes Samiha tick – except perhaps Tymon, who stands by her to the very end.

Q: I see you’ve lived all over the world and finally settled in New Zealand with your husband and daughter, after working on The Lord of the Rings movies. First of all, let me say how jealous I am. Working on LOTR must have been a wonderful experience. You worked as an animator. Is this 2D or 3D? Plus can you tell us a little about your experiences while working on LOTR? (I confess I’ve watched all the special features on the extended version of the DVDs. Yes, I am a nerd).

Nerds rule! Working on LOTR was indeed a dream job for me, as I was a huge fan of the books. I was a 3D animator – in other words, I worked with a model in a computer, rather than drawing cells by hand. It’s quite similar in many ways to animating stop motion. I pursued that line of work for almost ten years, from 1994 to the end of ROTK in 2003. At that point I abruptly changed gears.

It’s odd, transferring careers. Most people who knew me as an animator aren’t aware I now write books. And most people who read my books aren’t aware I once was an animator. But I can confidently say both lines of work are painstaking, all-engrossing affairs. Neither career permits half-measures. You know the adage – creativity is 5% inspiration, 95% perspiration. I threw myself heart and soul into being an animator; that same energy now goes into my writing.

By far my favourite aspect of working on LOTR were the occasional glimpses I had of the live-action shoot. There’s something very special about that, particularly to someone used to toiling away in the background, behind a computer screen. I loved visiting the different sets, meeting actors, smelling the burnt dust smell on the lighting. That sort of thing sends my geekmeter soaring.

Q: I see that you had your latest book was launched in Wellington. (See launch here). Did a lot of talented creative people end up living in New Zealand because Peter Jackson filmed LOTR there? (Mary knows some talented artists and is lucky enough to have had them do illustrations for her stories. See here).

Certainly the Jackson films have drawn a pool of international creatives to Wellington. But there was already a core group of determined Kiwi artists in this town, without whom the LOTR projects would never have taken off. I’m thinking of the local designers, sculptors and craftsmen at Weta Workshop, as well as the largely Kiwi shooting crew on the films. The project really was the home-grown affair it is made out to be. Where there was a much larger pool of international participants was in post-production, at Weta Digital. Many people like myself came to work there on a temporary visa ten years ago, and went on to gain residency and stay in New Zealand.

Tymon's Flight

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?

No! If you were to read me a passage from a good fantasy book without telling me the name of the author, I would be hard-pressed to guess the sex of the person who wrote it. But there seems, from what you have told me, to be a difference in the way genre fiction written by men and women is perceived by some members of the reading public.

Fantasy is certainly not a boy’s club – there are scores of successful women in the field. Long-established US and UK names that spring to mind are Robin Hobb, C.J. Cherryh, Lois McMaster Bujold, Ursula K. Le Guin, Nalo Hopkinson, Ellen Kushner, Elisabeth Moon, Glenda Larke, Jennifer Fallon, Anne McCaffrey, Diana Wynne-Jones and Karen Miller. I’ve mentioned traditional or ‘epic fantasy’ authors, but there are countless others; Urban fantasy and YA fantasy sub-genres are practically overrun by women. The US/UK adult fantasy scene has additionally seen an influx of excellent new women writers in recent years: Catherynne Valente, N.K. Jemesin, Nnedi Okorafor, Helen Lowe, Susanna Clarke and yourself, to name only a few. (My examples include some Australian and New Zealand writers who publish in the US or UK, but there are of course many more wonderful voices from the antipodes: Fiona McIntosh, Kim Falconer, Philippa Ballantine, Kylie Chan, Trudi Canavan, Pamela Freeman, Traci Harding… the list goes on and on.)

So why are these talented women not registering on peoples’ radars? Are women writers of genre more ‘invisible’ than their male counterparts in the UK and US? Do people ‘forget’ female names when thinking of their favourite fantasy authors? …I don’t know the answers, I’m just asking the questions.

Part of the problem might be the same one that affects midlist writers of any variety, genre or mainstream. Most bookstores run on the chain store model only actively promote a few bestselling titles. These are the ones that are placed in eye-catching displays, the ones bookstore reps often read and hand-sell, the ones reviewed, promoted and discussed. Many slightly less well known but good quality titles tend to be overlooked. Could midlist female fantasy writers in the UK and US be falling into the ‘overlooked’ category, perhaps?

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

Again, not in the least. I do have some unavoidable expectations to do with the genre of a book: I expect romance from the romance writers, invented worlds from the fantasy writers and brain-teasing ‘what if’ speculations from the science fiction writers. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Personally I love it when people mix things up, turn my expectations on their heads, mash genres together and, quite simply, write well. How they do that is in no way related to their gender.

More lovely art from Mary's friends

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?

Is your time machine equipped with a singularity survival kit? I’ve always wanted to check out the interior of a collapsing star. That, and visiting a Big Bang moment (I like the theory that there are many Big Bangs, multiple moments of creation.) But I guess I’d skew the whole ‘singularity’ thing just by being there, and being me – ie., not infinitely small, hot, and dense. (Alright, maybe I could do the dense bit.)

Why would I visit such a time and place? It’s the lure of the absolute, I guess – creation and annihilation, those two Janus faces of existence. Also, there’s a ridiculous attractiveness to infinity. It’s an impossible quest: my brain wouldn’t be able to process such an event, even if there was a way to survive it. Give me a god-brain, or at the very least one of Iain M. Banks’ machine Minds – a brain capable of processing infinity – and we’ll talk.

When I was a kid I’d lie on the ground staring up at the night sky, imagining what life might be up there, circling the stars. It always pleased me that I was looking up at a picture of the very distant past, gazing at something that might no longer exist. In that way, we are all time travellers, every single night, staring at a light that once was, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

Give-away Question:

If you could have played any character in the Lord of the Rings Movie, who would it have been, and why?

(We’ll keep the give-away open for a week, then let you know who Mary chooses as the winner).


Filed under Book Giveaway, Characterisation, creativity, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Fun Stuff, Genre, Inspiring Art, Nourish the Writer, Promoting Friend's Books, The Writing Fraternity, Writing craft

King Rolen’s Kin Book 4

I’d like to thank all the people who’ve contacted me about the fourth book in the Chronicles of King Rolen’s Kin. A writer spends years developing the world of a series. They dedicate themselves to the characters. They devote themselves to the plot. And then they send their books out into the world, hoping someone will get as much of a buzz from the stories as they do.

It makes my day, when readers come looking for KRK 4.

The good news is that I have heaps of ideas for another three books. The bad news for KRK readers is that I have to hand in a new fantasy series – The Outcast Chronicles –  before I can tackle the new KRK books.

But once I have handed the new series in to my publisher, I’ll be free to take a journey to Rolencia and find out what happens to Byren, Piro and Fyn.


Filed under Characterisation, creativity, Fantasy books, Nourish the Writer

Prejudice is alive and well …

Book one of King Rolen’s Kin has been given a one-star review on Amazon because it has a gay character in it. Orrie is loyal and smart and one of my favourite characters.

Here’s the link.

I feel honoured.  Now if I can only get the book banned!


Filed under Characterisation, creativity, Fantasy books, The World in all its Absurdity

Currently watching …

When I heard they were doing a contemporary Sherlock Holmes I thought, Oh dear …

But I was wrong. Delightfully, wrong.

Apart from Sherlock looking like he’s twelve (sigh, why does everyone look so young now days?), the show is a delight.

My favourite line so far would have to be in episode one where someone accuses Holmes of being a killer and he says, ‘Nonsense, I’m a high functioning sociopath.’ Or words to that effect.

The show had just the right tone for me. Haven’t laughed so much in ages!

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Filed under Characterisation, Fun Stuff, Genre, Movies & TV Shows