Mary Robinette Kowal Interview Writers of Fantasy

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“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;

kowal-370“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.”

[Full interview]

A Closed and Common Orbit – Review

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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.

closedThe 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.

beckyThe 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.

long-wayNow, 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.

Related:

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Becky Chambers Interview

 

Juliet E McKenna Interview – Writers of Fantasy

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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.

[Listen Here]

southern-fire-small-200x300On 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.”

[Continue reading…]

Kelly Robson Interview – Writers of Fantasy

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This week’s interview in our Writers of Fantasy series is with Kelly Robson, author of Waters of Versailles, which won the Prix Aurora Award and was a finalist for the World Fantasy Award and the Nebula Award.

We had a really great conversation about the ins and outs of writing, the life of a writer, and how the industry is changing its attitudes. Take a listen, or check out the key quotes below if you can’t listen right now.

[Listen here]

Aliette De Bodard Interview – Writers of Fantasy

house-of-shattered-wings-uk-resizedThis week’s interview in the Writers of Fantasy series is with Aliette De Bodard! She is best known for her incredible historical fantasy novel The House of Shattered Wings.

She is a master of both short fiction and long novels, with a number of historical fantasy settings that have kept readers hooked for years.

We talked about her development as a writer, comparing her short stories to novels, the writing process, character building and much, much more.

Take a listen! There are key quotes below.

[Listen here]

“The first book in English that I bought with my own money… and it turned out to be Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea Quartet. I didn’t know anything about her at the time, but all I knew was that it looks thick… and it has dragons on the cover! I mean, hey bring it on, right?”

“I made my way through [Earthsea] with a dictionary because it was so bloody hard!”

“I picked up a book titled ‘How to Write Fantasy and Science Fiction’ and I read it and I was like ‘You can DO this?’ I never really thought about this because an awful lot of French literary canon is people who have been dead for quite a bit!”

“I actually started by writing novels. They were these epic, like, 200,000 word novels. The kind of thing you can use as a weapon against other people. Obviously at this length it’s difficult to find readers for them, especially when the quality is not great. So I had this brilliant idea, I thought ‘I’m going to write short stories so it’s going to be easier for people to give me feedback and then I can work on my craft!’”

“Writing a novel and writing a short story are actually not very much alike, so for the first five to six years I was writing a lot of short stories and I was getting better and better at writing short stories. But when I decided I was going to write a novel I suddenly discovered that I might know how to write short stories but novels were different and in particular pacing was a big problem.”

“My very first draft, my husband read through it and said, ‘I think I have one major comment before we get around to any of the other stuff like logical points and character development and so on and so forth… You realise that your characters have not slept or eaten for at least four or five days.’”

“Ever since I’ve been very careful to give the characters lunch breaks.”

FULL INTERVIEW HERE

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A M Dellamonica Interview

This week in our Writers of Fantasy series is our 91c2t4kdfrlinterview with A. M. Dellamonica, author of Child of a Hidden Sea, A Daughter of No Nation, and over thirty short stories.

She writes science fiction, fantasy, and alternate history.

We talked about how she has changed in her craft over the years, what it takes to build characters and worlds, her theatre background, and the importance of representation and diversity.

KEY QUOTES;

“It was an inspiration story in the sense that the concept kind of hit like a bolt of lightning. That’s always really pleasant. I think that’s something that happens more when you’re new because you haven’t built up the infrastructure in your mind for simply generating good stories weather inspiration strikes or not.”

“When I came to write The Hidden Sea Tales, I wanted to write about someone who was markedly different from me. So I looked at the people in my life who from my more button down point of view are – sort of – over sharing all the time. So I started there.”

ON DIVERSITY AND REPRESENTATION:

“There’s been a long, ongoing effort by a lot of writers to broaden the palette. Those of us who are gay in some variation have always included those characters, but I think we also tended to make more compromises to make more characters that a more general audience would grasp onto.

So the gay characters might be tucked in at the side or the people of colour would be secondary. They wouldn’t necessarily be as integral to the story. And that’s a sad thing, but it just seems to be slowly becoming the case that you can pick characters from the full range of options available and it doesn’t necessarily tank your chances of selling a novel.”

“I’m still honestly surprised when I see things that reflect my life on TV.”

ON CREATING HIDDEN SEA TALES

“I just started making this enormously long list of everything that I think is cool or fun and delightful.”

“I included court proceedings, because I’m a huge nerd. (Like all science fiction writers).”

[Listen here]

JOEL CORNAH – THE SKY SLAYER | Small but Mighty SFF World

I was featured on SFF World’s ‘Small but Mighty’ series about my new book, The Sky Slayer! Check it out HERE. And here’s a little excerpt to take up some space on this blog posts and maybe get you to click on to their website and give them a sense that yes, some people do read my books.

SMALL BUT MIGHTY – JOEL CORNAH’S ‘THE SKY SLAYER

joel-cornah-author-003This week’s Small but Mighty attention turns to Kristell Ink whose publications are finding their way to award shortlists.  The Sky Slayer is Joel Cornah’s fourth publication to be released by Kristell Ink  and is the sequel to The Sea-Stone Sword.

Welcome to SFFWorld Joel! Can you tell us a little about The Sky Slayer without quoting the publisher’s blurb?

Where The Sea-Stone Sword was influenced by Jason and the Argonauts, The Sky Slayer has much more of a Blake’s 7 feel. The cast of seven fugitives fleeing an empire on a ship unlike any other, a hero who is more curse than cure, and a dry, sardonic second-in-command who has all the best lines. But I wanted to tackle some drastically different themes than Terry Nation’s classic series, and eventually subvert expectations in the process.

There is a boy who could have been a hero. To some, he is a hero. He killed the great and malicious Air King. But Rob Sardan was cursed with nightmares that will haunt him forever. He can break the curse by finding a Sky Slayer’s pendant. The only problem is he’s been locked in a prison of ice and crystal at the South Pole. A prison run by pengs (sort of human-penguin hybrids).

The story revolves around Rob and his gang of rebels as they escape to the high seas. There is Alya, the strategist with a sharp tongue and boundless wits, Gorm the chef with her deep wisdom and superior strength, Vann the thief with his ridiculous puns, and Ilma the doctor with her world-weary but shrewd observations.

They flee across the grinding ice and head to the Tomb of the Dead God, perused by the chaotic pirate Skagra, who seeks the ending of the world.

It’s action, adventure, philosophy, and puns all rolled into one amazing story!

Tell us a little about Rob Sardan, your protagonist?

Rob Sardan has all the makings of your average brooding anti-hero with a dark past. Pain, loss, and isolation – not to mention a supernatural curse – plague him and in so many fantasy novels we would see such a figure become bitter, full of pessimism and bleak of humour. I didn’t want that. I wanted Rob to defy the universe, to defy fate, and the gods themselves by being… optimistic.

His mother was a hero, a famous pirate who did incredible and terrible things. He wants to make his own legacy, to forge his own legend in the world.

[Read More]