- - April 9th, 2014
What happens when two writers from different genres come together to talk about science fiction, fantasy, and story crafting? You’re about to find out!
Rachel Bach grew up wanting to be an author and a super villain. Unfortunately, super villainy proved surprisingly difficult to break into, so she stuck to writing and everything worked out great. Her current project, the Paradox series, is a high-octane SF adventure across many fascinating alien worlds. Look for the third novel, HEAVEN’S QUEEN (US | UK | AUS), online and in stores on April 22nd or start at the beginning with FORTUNE’S PAWN.
Elizabeth Moon has degrees in history and biology, and served as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Marine Corps. CROWN OF RENEWAL (UK | AUS) is the final installment of her Paladin’s Legacy series. This gripping epic should be on every fantasy reader’s To Read List. Expect it to be hitting bookshelves on May 27th.
Elizabeth: You’re well known as someone who can write very fast without loss of quality, and your recommendations for increasing speed–both in your blog and in your book–make good sense. (In fact, I’d been using only two legs of your “triangle” for years and after adding the third had such good days with a new story that it slowed me down in getting these questions ready.) I’ve had 10K word days in the past, but I’ve also experienced increasing physical difficulty–arthritis in my hands, neck, and back that limited how much I could write in a day. Have you considered expanding your advice to include the ergonomic issues arising from very fast writing? How to generalize the skills to using alternate input methods, such as using a speech input? (I’m waiting for the direct brain-to-page technology. Visualize the scene: boom, it’s in the file or on the page, ready for editing. Hear the conversation between characters: there it is, with all the uh, um, er…but nothing vital missed.
Rachel: I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to hear my writing triangle helped you have a good writing day! Best thing ever.
I’m not at all surprised to hear you’d already figured parts of the triangle out. I’ve heard the same thing from several experienced authors, and I’m starting to think that all I did here was put words to what’s actually a universal writing concept. Can’t stop the signal, Mal!
You’re also not the first person to mention the physical difficulty of writing ten thousand words a day. The most extreme example of this was when I did my an annual open Q&A on the NaNoWriMo forums. One of the writers I talked to had stared out as a professional musician, but she had to stop when she injured her hands through repeated stress caused by playing. This injury effected her writing as well. She wasn’t even able to type two thousand words a day before her hands gave out, much less ten. It’s an admittedly extreme example, but it highlights the fact that writing is much more of a physical activity than most people give it credit for, especially if you have a pre-existing injury or ailment, like arthritis.
So, yes, I think this is a very valid point and I will be updating my book and blog to include it. Even with my healthy hands, it is physically exhausting to type that much, and it would be very easy to seriously injure yourself if you’re not careful. That said, though, I don’t actually know what to recommend as a solution. Right now my best advice is to listen to your body and stop if something hurts. Likewise, you should pay attention to your writing position and invest in a keyboard that’s comfortable for your hands over long periords. Speech to text programs have also come a long way in recent history (prolific author Lynn Viehl swears by Dragon Speaking Naturally), but I’ve never personally used them as anything other than a novelty.
Anyway, long story short, you make a very good point and I will be definitely be amending my process to include this issue. After all, my hands might be good now, but I intend to be in this writing business for as long as I can, and at ten thousand words a day, I’ve got a lot of typing in my future.
When can we expect that brain to page interface, science?
Elizabeth: You decided on a writing career early, but then found an English degree not particularly helpful. Writing our kind of fiction demands skills–for worldbuilding, for inventing new technology, for creating invented cultures that “work” in story terms–not taught in English classes. Have you ever wished you majored in something else, and what do you think would be the perfect degree plan for a spec fic writer? What research sources do you like to use when creating the surrounding cultural environment and technology for your invented worlds? What’s been your favorite thing to research in each of your genres? What was hardest to find or understand? Have you had life experiences that you feel were particularly important in expanding your writing scope? Do you schedule specific time for research and general reading, or is it “grab it when you need it?” (Yes, I know, I packed too many questions into one. Pick one or a few…)
Rachel: Actually, I think all of these questions interrelate beautifully! Like a lot of writers, I already knew what I wanted to be when I went to college, and English Major seemed like the most logical choice. How better to learn about writing books than by studying how the best are put together?
The reality of my experience was very different. This is not to disparage the University of Georgia’s English program, which is actually very good, it just wasn’t what I wanted it to be. College English programs are excellent at teaching you how to be a good non-fiction writer: how to properly use sources and make solid arguments and write thoughtful essays. But fiction writing is a different beast all together, and even though I took several creative writing classes, they were all focused on literary short story writing, which is about as far from genre novels as it’s possible to get and still be called fiction. Even worse, I was in an environment that actively looked down on the sort of commercial books I enjoyed and wanted to write. So yeah, not a good choice for me in hind sight.
If I had it to do over again, I would have majored in something much broader, like history or sociology, or even Comparative Lit, which focuses on international fiction instead of the Western Euro-centric literary cannon. I would also have taken a lot more electives, because the most useful thing I’ve found as a novelist is having as wide and diverse a base of knowledge and interests as possible. The more you learn about the boarder human experience, the deeper the well of ideas you can draw from becomes.
As to the more specific of your questions about what research or experiences I’ve found most important or difficult, I’m afraid I couldn’t tell you. I’m not dodging the question, I just can’t remember the individual acts, because for me writing has always been a process of running the entire sum of my knowledge and experience through the grinder. The Paradox novels, for example, pull ideas from everything: books I’ve read, jobs I’ve worked, that essay on binary gender I wrote for my one sociology class, a picture I saw on Deviant Art, video games, a role playing game my husband ran in middle school ten years before I even met him. All of these seemingly unrelated experiences and influences get mashed together as I write, and I couldn’t separate them out again if you paid me.
People have actually asked me what degree or life experience they should get in order to become a genre writer before, and my answer to them has always been that writing genre stories makes you a genre writer, nothing else required. But if I had to recommend something, I’d say you’re best off studying whatever you find most interesting. Go wherever your passion leads, whether it’s in formal schooling, a challenging job, or just something you do for fun. Whatever you do, though, make sure you’re paying attention, because it’s these memorable, seemingly random notes of experience that you’re going be drawing from later as a writer. They’re the fuel that will keep your idea furnace blazing bright. All the other stuff—story structure, pacing, characterization, and so forth—is just a matter of practice.
Or, at least, that’s how it’s been for me. Every writer works differently, so your mileage may vary.
Elizabeth: You also commented in an interview that you feel your fantasy is informed by an SF sensibility. After reading Dr. James Gunn on writing science fiction, and the difference he sees between how SF and fantasy are approached differently, I realized that although the two genres feel different to me, I use much the same process in writing both. I want the deep logic in both to be similar–everything links together into one coherent system. What do you mean by having that SF sensibility in your fantasy? That leads to the impossible question of “Where do you see the difference between SF and fantasy?” and the closely related “Is there a line between worldbuilding everything but the “people” part of the story and worldbuilding the cultures the characters come from?” And if there is such a line, is that where the divide between science fiction and fantasy lives?
Rachel: I don’t think anyone has ever drawn a line between Science Fiction and Fantasy that we can all agree on. Take Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books. Are they Fantasy or SF? On the one hand, you have dragons with mystical psychic bonds to their riders who can blink through space and time, on the other, humans are only on Pern because of space colonization and the Thread they ride dragons to burn is itself a space born spore.
The easy way out of this is to just say “what does it matter? Pern is awesome!” but it does matter to readers. The F and SF parts of SFF attract different audiences with different expectations and tastes. That said, I absolutely agree with you that, from the perspective of a writer looking at her own books, the creation process for each is pretty much the same.
In my own case, I’m a systems oriented, logical sort of person, so when I sat down to write a fantasy series, I took a logical approach to it. I built an internally consistent magic system and a world to contain it, and then I worked out from that framework to determine out how everything else in the story would function. When the time came to write Paradox, I built its universe the same way, only on a much grander scale. Both times, however, I figured out the why of reality first, and then used that to derive the how, who, and what.
This is what I meant when I said I approached my Fantasy with a Science Fiction sensibility, because, as Dr. Gunn says, one of the fundamental elements of Science Fiction is the scientific idea that everything is ultimately knowable and explainable, even if we don’t understand it at the moment. For me, though, this is as true in a fantasy world with an active goddess figure who makes things happen on her whims as with a galaxy that formed by the accidents of nature. Everything is knowable, everything is explainable, everything happens for interlocking reasons, and discovering those reasons is often the whole point of the story.
So at the worldbuilding, story crafting level, I don’t actually think there is a line between Science Fiction and Fantasy, at least not for me. Even when you start talking about characters, both Fantasy and Science Fiction favor larger than life heroes who change the world through significant personal action and sacrifice, be it exploring a new planet and ending up the unlikely champion of the indigenous population against your own corrupt galactic government or journeying to throw the One Ring into Mount Doom. Even the window dressings are somewhat interchangeable, because I’ve read Fantasy with complex machines and written Science Fiction with magic. There are short, lightning paced Fantasies and glacially slow SF epics with thousands of characters. Even the relative perception of time is no guarantee when the most famous Science Fiction story of all time took place long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away.
Personally, I’m inclined to believe the only real, measurable line between Science Fiction and Fantasy is one of flavor and emphasis. Fantasy novels tend to emphasizes the fantastical elements—magic, monsters, fully developed secondary worlds, the sense of being in another place, etc.—while Science Fiction generally places its accent on the products of scientific achievement—gadgets, fast travel, galactic expansion, exploration in the vastness of space, and so forth. Otherwise, the two are so similar as to be almost interchangeable, as evidenced by how easily and often they get lumped together. Both genres tend to be deeply humanist, both reflect and comment on issues present in our own world, both provide a stage for the invention and exploration of alternate cultures, both are given to power fantasies, you get the idea. They’re both wonderful, delicious ice cream, and the only actual question here is which flavor do you prefer in your sundae.
Elizabeth: Thinking ahead, do you imagine yourself delving into each of the various subgenres of our big playground, or do you think you’ll settle into some favorite pair (or quartet) of niches? So far you’ve done witty, rollicking fantasy and hard-edged action-packed SF…what other areas intrigue you and set the writer-vibes going? SF mysteries? Epic fantasy?
Rachel: I freely admit that I’m an agent’s worst nightmare, because I write everything! In addition to my current roster of Fantasy and SF, I’ve finished the first in a near future Urban Fantasy series about dragons that I’ll be using as an experiment in self publishing this July. I also have an alt history mystery novel about magic in the Industrial Revolution set in Manchester complete with necromantic workhouses and a spell breaker detective that’s currently with my agent. And as if that weren’t enough, I’m also planning a darker military fantasy young adult book, another Paradox novel focusing on the secrets of the Sainted King, an epistolary series of shorts chronicling the tragically comedic and unavoidable fall of a Dark Lord called “Speeches to Orcs,” and about a thousand other things that I may or may not actually finish in 2014.
So yeah, you could say I’m running all over our genre playground like that one weird kid who always eats waaaaay too much sugar. But then, what’s the point of writing fast if you don’t also write far and wide?
Elizabeth: Thanks for being part of this–it’s been a lot of fun learning more about you and your work, and thinking about the questions you proposed.
Rachel: Thank you for taking the time and for talking with me! Again, I can’t stress enough what an honor and a delight it’s been to get the chance to talk with you. (When I told my mother I was doing this, her response was “You’re interviewing Elizabeth Moon? Can I touch you?!”) Thank you again, and I can’t wait to get my hands on The Crown of Renewal later this year!!
Rachel and Elizabeth will be back again soon, and next time the tables will be reversed! In the meantime, check out their novels and get ready for their upcoming releases!
- - April 2nd, 2014
“McClellan’s debut packs some serious heat.” — Kirkus Reviews on PROMISE OF BLOOD
It’s already been a year since the publication of Brian McClellan’s debut, PROMISE OF BLOOD (US | UK | AUS). Now we are one month away from the sequel, THE CRIMSON CAMPAIGN (US | UK | AUS), and I’m sure you’re all as eager as we are.
Field Marshal Tamas, Taniel Two-shot, Ka-Poel and the others have some tough battles ahead of them. I don’t want to spoil anything, but suffice to say, when you combine magic and black powder in an action-packed story, the result will be epic… and explosive! If you haven’t started the trilogy yet, now is the time to catch up. On April 8th, the paperback of PROMISE OF BLOOD will hitting shelves in the US and is already available in the UK and Australia.
Pre-order THE CRIMSON CAMPAIGN and you could be eligible to receive a free, signed bookplate. To enter: complete this form providing proof of purchase.
Glenda Larke’s exciting new epic fantasy novel, THE LASCAR’S DAGGER, came out just last week. It is a tale of spying, of action and adventure in an unfamiliar land.
I was 21 years old when I discovered what it was like to be an alien.
I had just landed in a strange country at night, then was driven along dark country roads with rubber trees meeting overhead. Near our village destination, a coconut tree had fallen across the power lines, so when I met my husband’s parents for the first time, along with his brother and five sisters, it was by the flickering light of tiny coconut-oil lamps.
I soon discovered that my meagre knowledge of formal, grammatical Malay was about as much use in his village as a meagre knowledge of Oxford English would be to someone hearing Geordie dialect for the first time. The matriarchal society that was my husband’s by birth still used the Sumatran dialect they’d brought with them from Indonesia centuries earlier. I barely understood a word. At that point, I was overwhelmed by the feeling of not belonging, of being way out of my comfort zone.
As lovely as my in-laws were, I learned then, and in the years that followed, how challenging it is to be the stranger, the outsider. And as if that first total immersion by lamplight wasn’t enough, I did it again, repeatedly — living for years not only in west Malaysia, but also in Austria, in Tunisia, in Borneo. I had to learn the same tough lesson over and over, which was this: those around me weren’t weird. I was. It’s always the stranger who’s the alien.
It might have been a challenge for me to adapt, but it was also wonderful — a fascinating learning curve that never ended. No wonder, then, that I am intrigued by protagonists who are flung into unfamiliar worlds they don’t quite understand . . .
Like the lascar, for example, one of the protagonists in my new epic fantasy novel, THE LASCAR’S DAGGER, Book One of The Forsaken Lands. He is friendless and alone, half a world away from the place of his birth, learning to survive in a country where people dismiss his half of the globe as “forsaken”, that is, forsaken even by God. Or like Saker, the priest, reluctantly thrust into life at a royal court when he’d much rather lead a life of action. Or Lady Mathilda, a royal who must marry a man she doesn’t know and move to a foreign land for reasons of State. Or Sorrel Redwing, on the run from the law, learning to live in disguise as a servant. All are characters way out of their comfort zone.
Of all of them, the lascar has the hardest task because he’s the furthest away from all that is familiar. But then, he also has a very special dagger, or kris . . .
My husband wore a Malay kris the day we were married, tucked into the waist of his national costume like the warriors of a bygone era. The traditional form of the kris, usually with a wavy blade, is crafted from iron and meteorite nickel. Part of its mythos is the belief in a presence of a spirit (whether for good or evil) within the blade. Just as the kris in legend often possesses supernatural power or ability, so it is with the lascar’s dagger of my novel. Just what it’s up to is quite another matter, and for that, you’ll have to read the book.
- - March 17th, 2014
Saker appears to be a simple priest, but in truth he’s a spy for the head of his faith. Wounded in the line of duty by a Lascar sailor’s blade, the weapon seems to follow him home. Unable to discard it, nor the sense of responsibility it brings, Saker can only follow its lead. The Lascar’s dagger demands a price, and that price will be paid in blood.
THE LASCAR’S DAGGER (US | UK | AUS) is the first book of an brand new trilogy by Glenda Larke. Get to know Glenda and find out what her new series is all about in the interview below.
1.) When did you first start writing?
I was still in elementary school when I discovered I could write stories and – better still – I could persuade other kids to listen to them. When a teacher asked us what we would like to be when we grew up, my reply was ‘an authoress’!
2.) What made you want to write fantasy?
My first novel (unpublished!) was actually not fantasy at all. It was a thriller with a strong dash of romance, set in Malaysia, where I was living at the time. I showed it to someone, and to my alarm discovered that she equated the main character’s views with mine simply because the main character was, like me, an Australian living in Malaysia. I figured that the book – if ever it was published – would get me into trouble with the community I was living in at the time, so I shelved it and turned instead to writing fantasy. After all, no one was going to equate me with a woman born in the Keeper Isles and living in a place called Gorthan Spit, were they? (It was no hardship switching genres, of course. I loved reading fantasy and it makes sense to write what you love.)
3.) Who are some of your major influences in the genre?
It’s hard to single out any particular book or writer. I suspect it was Susan Cooper’s ‘The Dark is Rising’ that started me reading fantasy in the first place. The authors I read in the 1980s as I was developing my skills as a writer of fantasy were people like Barbara Hambly, Janny Wurts, Guy Gavriel Kay, Raymond Feist and Ann McCaffrey.
4.) Where did the idea for The Lascar’s Dagger come from?
There’s never a single idea! If I had to sum up the sources for my inspiration, I’d say: the great port cities of the Netherlands and the U.K. in the time of sailing ships, my mother-in-law’s kitchen, the Malay dagger, my ancestor sailing around the world on Captain Cook’s ‘Endeavor’, the spice trade, my husband’s background, privateers, birds of paradise…
The Malay/Indonesian dagger, with its distinct wavy blade, is part of my husband’s culture. Called a kris, it is a traditional weapon of his people, and historically it was thought to contain a spirit or presence (which can be good or evil). Folk tales often tell stories of a kris with magical powers. What fantasy writer can resist the idea of that?
Most of the trilogy, though, is set in my version of Europe about to embark on colonial expansion and trade dominance of the East. There’s a bit of a twist on our history, though: in my books, the East has a novel way of fighting back…
- - February 13th, 2014
Next week we’re delighted to publish the paperback edition of BLOOD SONG, which in the UK was the bestselling epic fantasy debut of 2013.
Anthony’s Ryan’s powerful tale of high adventure and deadly intrigue clearly struck a chord with readers, as the critical acclaim that followed the novel’s release was nothing short of astounding. BLOOD SONG currently has over a thousand 5* reviews on Amazon and was selected as Amazon UK’s favourite SFF novel from last year.
With the hugely anticipated sequel, TOWER LORD (UK), looming on the horizon, now is the perfect time to read the epic fantasy blockbuster that took readers by storm last summer. You can find the first chapter here, and an interview with Anthony here.
And if that’s not quite convinced you, then here’s some of the praise that BLOOD SONG has received:
‘An utterly engrossing high-fantasy epic from a major new talent that explores themes of war, faith, and loyalty amidst incredible action scenes and artfully developed characters’
‘A top contender for most impressive debut of the year. . . A powerful epic’
‘This is epic fantasy at its best with action, rivalries, espionage, the promise of future revelations and ever-present twists’
‘Just impossible to put down . . . Fast-paced, action-packed and character-driven’ FANTASY BOOK CRITIC
‘An instant sensation . . . an excellent start to this series’
READ DREAM RELAX
‘Smartly-written . . . Compelling’
‘BLOOD SONG delighted me again and again’
‘Well wrought characters, a fascinating world, and crackling prose . . . Not to be missed’
KING OF THE NERDS
‘One of the next master storytellers’
FANTASY BOOK REVIEW
‘I still love – and want – that feeling of completely absorbing escapism that good fantasy can supply – and BLOOD SONG brings it in force’
‘The next epic fantasy book everybody should read’
Anthony Ryan lives in London and is a full time writer. You can find him online at his website and on Twitter.