A very special episode of the Writers of Fantasy podcast! I interviewed Juliet E McKenna about her brand new book, The Green Man’s Heir. It is a modern day fantasy novel that delves into folk tales and stories against the backdrop of the Peak District countryside.
Juliet talks about the experience of moving from traditional epic fantasy and towards something new. We delve into the treatment of female characters in both epic and modern fantasy, and also dip into police procedurals a bit. It’s a great interview. Check it out!
Our latest interview for the Writers of Fantasy podcast is with Lucy Houndsom. She is the author of the Worldmaker series as well as a co-host of the amazing podcast Breaking the Glass Slipper.
There were some technical difficulties with my microphone, but Lucy’s is fine and that’s what matters. We talked about representation of disabilities in fantasy, feminism, bookselling, and a huge range of issues. Lucy is an amazing writer and her advice is great to hear for any aspiring authors or even established ones.
I first met Anna on a panel at FantasyCon2015. I believe it was gender and sexuality representation Sci-Fi and Fantasy. I remember a point being made that we hope to one day not have these panels because the issue will have become accepted as representation begets representation.
But we still do get them – I did one at BristolCon this year. We talk about what Anna thinks of the progress that’s been made since and how we may have taken backwards steps recently.
We also delve into the Court of Broken Knives as Anna gives us insights into how she wrote it and where her characters came from.
For this week’s episode of the Writers of Fantasy Podcast, I got to talk to Victoria Schwab, aka V.E. Schwab. She is an American fantasy author best known for her 2013 novel Vicious, the Shades of Magic series, and her children’s and young adult fiction.
We had a really good, long talk about world building, characters, writing, and gender issues in science fiction and fantasy. Listen here, and there are some key quotes! Check it out!
I started out when I was quite young, and I wrote my first book when I was nineteen. The Near Witch was the second book I’d ever written, and I was twenty-one! And I’m now thirty! There’s some growth that happens, I’ve not got thirteen books published, and obviously you grow and change as a person.
I get asked often ‘do you go back and look at your previous work and think of things you would do differently?’ The honest truth is that I kind of look at each and every one of my books as a time capsule of who I was and what I was capable of doing. So, I never want to change any of them, as The Near Witch is a capsule of who I was in college and what I was studying and what excited me.
Whereas The Shades of Magic series and The Monsters of Verity series are just as much time capsules of who I was and what I was going through while doing a Masters Degree on depictions of monstrosity. And I was travelling a lot. So, they’re precious to me in different ways.
Monsters and Villains
Certainly with something like Vicious, which is about villains, and villainy. About the arbitrary labels that we apply to heroes and villains. It’s a book about personal vendettas, and who is a hero and who is a villain. Is it determined by where they fall on opposite sides of this argument? In that book, specifically, I wanted to play with the idea [of villains].
I sat down and thought ‘wouldn’t it be a fun challenge to write a book without heroes?’ Could I write a book without heroes and make the reader strongly root for one of the villains? It was a craft exercise in learning it’s not what our characters do, it’s not what we do as people, but why we do it. Motivation Vs action.
Sometimes I do sit down and think. There’s always a seed. I gather ingredients for a story until I have enough to make a meal. But I think there’s always that one ingredient that’s the core, bonding thing.
The Thirteenth Doctor has arrived. Change, my dear, and it seems not a moment too soon. Jodie Whittaker is the Doctor, whether you like it or not.
Regeneration isn’t just about the Doctor extending their life. It’s about getting to experience everything afresh, with new eyes, and a new perspective. The Doctor has spent 12 (or 13, depending on how you count it) lifetimes in the body of a man. Now the Doctor will be a woman, giving them a new perspective, a fresh pair of eyes with which to consider the universe.
“It’s all waiting out there, and it’s brand new to me. All those planets, and creatures and horizons. I haven’t seem them yet! Not with these eyes. And it is going to be fantastic.”
– 10th Doctor, The Christmas Invasion
Doctor Who always changes. That’s how it stays around, and stays interesting. It changes its main character, changes its supporting characters, and changes its production team. Every new set of people brings a new approach, a new perspective, and a new focus. It has its peaks and troughs, good times and bad. At its base, it’s a fun, sci-fi/fantasy adventure for family audiences. But there are lots of ways it can and has been interpreted.
For example, in the early days it was envisioned as an educational show to teach children about history and science. Then, it became more about speculative fiction, high concept sci-fi. Then, more of a swashbuckling adventure. Then gothic horror inspired. Later it became more drama oriented. And so on.
Doctor Who changes its format. That’s how it survives.
The Doctor is a catalyst for much of this change, and is a window for the audience. Each new Doctor comes at it from different angle, spreading light in new and interesting angles, even on a familiar scene.
So, what can we expect from Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor? Having watched the teaser clip a few times now, there is one thing I’ve zeroed in on as a sign of hope. As the TARDIS materialises and we see her face for the first time, the Thirteenth Doctor gets a look of wonder on her face. It is a brief smile that says a lot. She looks hopeful, she looks almost in mild awed anticipation of what’s to come.
That sense of wonder has been lacking in Doctor Who of late. If it had been a constant presence I’m sure we’d all be bored of it by now, but I’ve missed it. Bringing back the heartache and the promise of adventure might be the shot in the arm the series needs.
Jodie Whittaker has a wonderful adventure ahead of her. Let’s join her, shall we?
The Legend of Korra is back! We spoke to Irene Koh, the artist behind Turf Wars, the upcoming graphic novel trilogy. The first graphic novel trilogy continuing the series, written by co-creator Michael Dante DiMartino, is coming out this month.
Irene Koh is an illustrator from Seoul, now living in Los angeles. She received her BFA in illustration from the Rhode Island School of Design and has worked for Dark Horse, DC, Marvel, IDW, Oni Press, and Stela.
If you read Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or Batgirl, you might have seen her work before.
But we are here to talk about Korra! So let’s get started! Spirits, elements, martial arts, and maybe a bit of Korrasami?
– For those who might not have heard yet, can you tell us a little bit about how you got the job on the Korra comics?
I’d been joking for years that I’d be a perfect fit for the comic, as a bisexual Asian martial artist and avid Avatar fan. After Brittney Williams dropped out of the project, a friend of mine was offered the gig, to which she referred me instead.
I drew a few test pages, and now here I am, almost done drawing Part Two.
– There have been a lot of artists who have worked on both Avatar and Korra, do you have any favourites that informed your own style?
The key art people on staff (or at least the ones whose work I can readily find on the Internet) have been great to look at. Not necessarily for style’s sake, since I was asked to draw the book in my own style, but for movement.
Animation folks have totally different way of approaching movement and character acting, and there’s a lot of great tricks I picked up just studying their work. Specifically, I looked at Steve Ahn’s work for action, and Ki Hyun Ryu’s amazing, expressive faces.
A new series of the Writers of Fantasy Podcast from Scifi-fantasy network!
Joel Cornah talks to Foz Meadows, author of An Accident of Stars! Foz is a genderqueer author, blogger, essayist, reviewer and poet.
In 2014, she was nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer for her blog, Shattersnipe; she is also a contributing writer for The Huffington Post and Black Gate, and a contributing reviewer for A Dribble of Ink, Strange Horizons and Tor.com.
Give the episode a listen here, or on iTunes! There’s a transcript below.
“Alien is a big old puppet show” says Kowal. She talks the Glamourist Histories, theatre and more. Mary Robinette Kowal interview for writers of fantasy.
Mary Robinette Kowal is a multi-award winning author, best known for the Glamourist Histories series, as well as being a professional puppeteer. She talked about her writing process, about puppetree, and how even some of your favourite sci-fi movies, like Alien, are big old puppet shows.
Take a listen here, and there is a breakdown of key quotes below for those who can’t listen right away.
On performing arts, puppetry, and writing;
“It absolutely affects everything I do because I spent twenty plus years in live theatre. It’s very easy for people to think about puppetry and theatre as being two different things. We jokingly call actors who do not use puppets ‘fleshies’ or ‘meat actors’.”
“The thing about puppetry is much like what happens with science fiction and fantasy. People tend to think of it as something other than literature. That it’s somehow ‘lesser’. We’ve all experienced that when we’ve been telling someone what it is that we like to read. So, for me, one of the things that it has done in terms of influencing the way that I write, that I approach fiction, is that my job is to approach an audience. That’s what I did in theatre, that’s what I’m doing as a writer.”
“If there’s an audience where they don’t like the thing that I do, I try to find a gateway. Rather than trying to convince them that ‘oh no, this is really good’ or being embarrassed about it. You know, a lot of people will pre-appologise for what it is that they love… And that gives people permission to laugh at you.
“Whereas, with puppetry, when people say ‘what do you do?’ and if I say it very matter of factly, I’ve found the same thing is true of my writing. And if I present it as ‘this is the thing, they have to accept it at that point as something that grownups do, because I am, in fact, an adult.”
“They usually respond with ‘oh I used to love that when I was a kid’. I ask them what it is that they like now and then suggest something that they might like that is in my field. That is adjacent to what I like. So, for instance, if someone says ‘I used to love puppets when I was a kid, but now horror is really more my thing.’ I say ‘Have you tried Alien? Because, that’s a big old puppet show.'”
“Have you tried Alien? Because, that’s a big old puppet show.”
“In science fiction and fantasy it’s much the same. If someone tells me they are a romance reader, I am not going to immediately suggest that they read Ender’s Game. That would be a bad fit.”
Becky Chambers Wayfarers series continues to be the kind of science fiction I wish I was reading all the time. The tone, depth, and complexities of the worlds and societies she has built, coupled with a crisp, clear breath of optimism and hope make this a perfect read for these dark days.
I interviewed Becky Chambers earlier this year and you can check that out here.
The main focus of A Closed and Common Orbit is on an Artificial Intelligence (AI) system called LoveLace, (or Sidra as she prefers), and a young mechanic named Pepper (or Jane23) and their seemingly distant lives. The book draws their stories together, revealing, slowly, the ties that bind them, the common threads that make them alike, and make them different. There are a lot of themes revolving around identity, personhood, and trauma. The pace can be slow at times as Chambers takes her time putting the reader (and the characters) through periods of self and social discovery. This can feel like a bit of an info-dump at times, but the information being dumped is still intriguing and builds your understanding of each character’s context.
Ideas like personhood are nothing new to the science fiction genre, and having an AI be the catalyst for such discussions and explorations are fairly common. But where Chambers takes a relatively lesser trod path is that much of the perspective on this is from that very AI, and how she navigates questions like ‘am I a person?’ Which feels very different to people asking ‘is that a person?’ in the more abstract. To make this a very personal journey, to put our eyes in that of a computer, does make the reader much more likely to empathise and to connect.
It is by no means a simple task. This isn’t Pinocchio who wants to be a real boy. Sidra isn’t even sure she wants to be a person for a long time. She is filled with guilt, with uncertainty, and with a lack of purpose. These struggles leave her desiring her old life as a ship’s computer, back when she knew what her existence meant, and knew what her purpose was. But as she grows, she doesn’t solve these issues, but gradually tries to embrace them as part of what it means to be a person.
What I particularly enjoyed was the fact that Sidra discovers her personhood through platonic relationships, through found family, and friendships. So often, in stories of robots or AIs where they are perceived as female it ends with them engaging in a sexual relationship with a – usually male – human. That was not the case here. Sidra develops close familial and platonic bonds with humans and aliens and through their shared experiences and love for one another, she grows. She gets to know her own personhood through her love and friendship, and it is not tied to sex, and perhaps it’s my ace side making me biased, but I really thought that was a stroke of genius.
The other half of the book, running parallel, is the story of Pepper, who also faced her own struggle with identity and personhood. She escapes a factory where she had spent most of her life sorting scrap and flees into the wastelands and eventually is rescued by the AI of a small shuttle. This AI, named Owl, is a caring and nurturing force in Pepper’s life, raising her, teaching her, and guiding her through the skills that will help her survive and thrive once they escape the planet they are trapped on.
Pepper’s life is shaped by her experience being raised by an AI, and so when Sidra comes into her life, we get a real sense of why it is so important to her that she looks after her. It is Pepper’s way of saying thank you. It is her way of sorting out her feelings, her way of reconnecting with the only real parental figure she ever knew.
Chambers’ writing style shifts between Pepper and Sidra. Especially when Pepper is younger, as the 10 year old factory kid has a simpler vocabulary, so does the narrator in these parts. She gets right into her head, describing the strange world in ways a young person with limited experience would understand. Big feelings. Bad things. This switch really hammers home how Pepper / Jane23 feels and really brings the reader into the moment.
Now, I won’t give away the ending, but I will say it was not what I anticipated. This is a good thing, I hasten to point out. Much like in The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, Chambers is an optimist, and the ending very much subverts what you might expect from a genre that is filled with the grim, and the horrorful. In an age of pessimism, optimism is a revolutionary act.
I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Patricia Rodriguez. It was a stellar performance (pun intended), though the moments where an online style text conversation is described tended to be a little tedious as the narrator had to read out every single identifying line, every single timestamp, and so on. Other than that, it was great.
This week’s interview on Writers of Fantasy is with Juliet E McKenna, author of The Tales of Einarinn, The Aldabreshin Compass, The Hadrumal Crisis and the upcoming Shadow Histories of the River Kingdom, which launched at BristolCon this October!
Juliet is an incredibly thoughtful and talented writer with countless books under her belt. We talked about the changing landscape of fantasy fiction, the rise of eBooks, politics, feminism, Doctor Who, and of course some good old fashioned writers’ advice. Take a listen below! You’ll also find some key quotes under the player for those who can’t listen right away.
On the new editions of The Alderbreshin Compass and working with Wizards Tower Press.
“Ah, the cover art by Ben Baldwin [on The Aldabreshin Compass] is absolutely fantastic! Those are the covers I’ve wanted for those books since I first wrote them!”
“This is one of the things that happens when you’re a writer who’s been around for quite a long time. When The Tales of Einarinn and The Aldabreshin Compass were written there was no mention of eBooks in my contracts. eBooks weren’t a thing. … So, basically, I retained all those rights. And, unsurprisingly, publishers have come along in recent years and said ‘Do let us do eBooks for you and we’ll give you a whole, oh, 15%!’ to which my response was ‘Thank you, but no!’ Because the returns on something like an eBook edition if you do it independently, obviously if you’re a writer, are very much higher. The trick is, of course, that you need somebody to do all the tech stuff!”
On working with Independent publishers vs bigger publishers.
“When it is one person working with one person on one specific project, we can have an exchange of emails in a morning and get umpteen things sorted out. An editor in a big publishing house is dealing with who knows how many writers, who knows how many books at different stages of publication … Again, a lot of people have to be involved in discussions and decisions and that inevitably builds a time lag into the process.”