What happens when two writers from different genres come together to talk about science fiction, fantasy, and story crafting? Find out in part two of our SFF interview swap between Rachel Bach and Elizabeth Moon!
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, or you can start at the beginning with OATH OF FEALTY.
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.
Rachel: First off, let me say what an amazing honor it is to get to do anything with Elizabeth Moon. I’ve been a fan of yours since my early teens when I took my mom’s DEED OF PAKSENARRION omnibus to school and nearly flunked out of 8th grade due to the constant class skipping reading sessions. In defense of my juvenile delinquency, I’d never encountered anything like Paks before. Her adventures, and the fact that she was the one having them, completely overturned my ideas of what was possible in Fantasy, and it’s hard for me to overstate the influence your books had on my writing. I can draw a straight line from my own stories, especially my Devi books, right back to Paks, and so my first question for you is, was that ever in your mind? While writing Paks, did you ever think ‘I’m writing a strong female character that young women will look up to,’ or was she just who she was?
Elizabeth: (First I dig my toe in the dirt, writhe a bit, and blush, muttering ‘Oh, shucks.’ Followed by ‘Wait – you skipped class in 8th grade? I never dared do that, and I hated most of 8th grade.’ OK, now that’s out of the way . . . )
The short answer is: ‘Not really.’ Like many first books, Paks was partly rebellion against books that didn’t give me what I wanted as a reader . . . including women who were more like real women I knew: women with agency, with intelligence and drive, with both physical and moral courage, and with interests beyond home and sex. And as someone who’d been fascinated with military history since childhood (legacy of WWII vets, including women vets) and a veteran myself, I wanted more realistic women in science fiction and fantasy military stories.
With the exception of Joe Haldeman’s THE FOREVER WAR, male writers who depicted female soldiers at all depicted them as cartoonish cigar-smoking butch lesbians with no military ability except looking butch and acting mean. (To be fair, a lot of the male soldier characters were equally cartoonish.) Female writers were writing women warriors by then, some of them with obvious knowledge of sword-fighting (for instance) but the female characters seemed always outsiders – not integrated into a military organization from recruit to commander, with characters of both sexes showing a range of skills. Yet in real history, some women had fought alongside men without being detected as women until badly wounded or dead. Others were known to be women and also fought well. I wanted to explore ‘the natural soldier’ as a woman. And it was mostly for my own satisfaction, though as my alpha-readers began to respond, it was also for them.
Paks cooperated by being who she was like a laser beam . . . through good times and bad, she was (and remains) one of the most purely focused characters I ever had to deal with, the easiest to write until the end of the book when she . . . rode away and hasn’t come back as a viewpoint character. It wasn’t until later, when I first got feedback from young women, that I realized what she might mean to them.