Category Archives: SF Books

Winner Jo Anderton’s New Book – Suited!

Jo says:

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

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

Jo Anderton talks about the darkness within all of us…

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

 

The story behind the suit

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

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

So what is the suit? And what inspired it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Supanova – Be there or be Square!

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

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

Plus there will be panels and a workshop.

Friday –

Isobelle Carmody Writing Masterclass in the Cosplay Theatre at 6.45pm

Saturday –

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

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

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

Sunday –

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

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

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

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

There's amazing costumes!

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

This is Jennifer Fallon and me signing books.

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

Meet Kim Falconer …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Waterhouse - The Siren

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

Visual yes, but it’s more than that.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Give-away Question:

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

 

Follow Kim on Twitter:  @KimFalconer

Catch up with Kim on Facebook.

See Kim’s Daily Astro Flash here.

Subscribe to Kim’s New Moon News Letter.

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

Meet Jo Anderton …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Give-away Question:

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

 

 Follow Jo on Twitter:  @joanneanderton

Catch up with Jo on GoodReads

Catch up with Jo on Facebook.

See Jo’s Blog

Free fiction from Jo.

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

Meet Rebecca Moesta …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Which she is willing to send anywhere in the world!

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

 

 

 

Follow Rebecca on Twitter:  @RebeccaMoesta

Rebecca’s Blog.

Rebecca on Facebook.

Catch up with Rebecca on GoodReads.

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

Meet Kate Elliot …

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No.

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

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

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

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

In essentials? No.

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

But it might be possible to quantify some weighted differences.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Into a future with medical advances and space travel.

Give-away Question:

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

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

 

 

Follow Kate on Twitter: @KateElliottSFF

Catch up with Kate’s blog.

Catch up with  Kate Elliot on GoodReads.

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

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