I Scored an Interview with Anne Bishop!

You know me. You know that I love Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels novels. There’s more to it than just loving the story and the characters and the world, though. I can honestly say that I wouldn’t be the same person without these books in my life. It’s thanks to them that I found a lot of courage to let my voice be heard and to not be cowed by people who saw me as weak. They helped give me the strength to not be as weak, and to find value in myself. It seems like a lot to credit these books with, but it really is true. When you read books filled with strong women, powerful women, people who are nurtured and encouraged to be the best they can be… When you spend time discussing the world of those books with those you love, when you role-play scenarios set in that world… It’s hard to not have some of that rub off on you.

Case in point, back when I could attend university, there was this guy who took the same bus as me, and no matter how much later he got to the bus stop than I did, would always deliberately make sure he got on the bus first. He had to be ahead of everybody. I would see the bus coming, and start walking to the curb, and he would always walk a little faster than me to get ahead of me. If we got there at the same time, he’d shift around and shuffle and eventually force me to take a step away to avoid him bumping into me, which gave him the opening to be first in line. It bothered me. I didn’t think he was being malicious or cruel. I just think that I was beneath his consideration, except as someone to overtake. A display of subtle dominance, a way of showing me that I was worth less than he was.

And one day, I’d had enough. Too many hours of reading the Black Jewels novels, too many evenings spent role-playing a Queen who knew damn well what she was worth and wasn’t the sort to be cowed by anything. Too much sense of sense-worth developing, too much confidence that I shouldn’t be overlooked and treated as insignificant. “Not today, puppy.” Just before the bus was due to arrive but before either of us saw it coming, I headed to the curb. Stood right at the edge. Waited patiently. By the time he saw the bus coming, he was left with three choices: stand out in the actual road in order to be ahead of me, push me out of the way, or wait his damn turn in a line like a polite human.

He chose the third option.

And he never tried that dominance shit with me again. Which makes me very sure it was a dominance thing to begin with.

Ridiculous to credit those books with my newly-emerging sense of self and value? No. Not really. Things affect us all in ways that we can’t always expect. I ended up taking some of the lessons of those books to heart. It changed me, for the better. I feel more able to not duck my head and be silent, because I so love a world where, were I there, I would be encouraged to hold it high and speak my mind.

So you might be able to understand why my jaw damn near hit the floor when I was approached with an offer of an interview with Anne Bishop, the author of these books that I hold so dear. No way in hell was I going to pass up that chance!

Now that I’m done setting the stage, let’s take a look at what she had to say in response to some of the more pressing questions on my mind.

  1. You’ve written a wide variety of characters in the Black Jewels novels, the good, the bad, and the terrible. Of all of them, who is your favourite to write? Similarly, who is or was your least favourite?

Pick one favorite? Really? Any day when I’m writing a scene with Daemon or Lucivar—or both—is a fun writing day. Or a sad writing day if one of them is in crisis. But scenes that have some zing in the dialogue are the best writing days. There is so much potential for getting the boyos in trouble, especially when they’re dealing with Witch or Karla. (Looking over the whole of the series, scenes with the High Lord were also good writing days.)

Least favorite to write? That’s easy. Dorothea and Hekatah.

  1. Daemonar steps up to the line and becomes a major player in The Queen’s Weapons. Back in the early days of the series, when you first wrote Daemonar as that little winged terror who shouldn’t be allowed in libraries, did you imagine him taking such a pivotal role in the series when he grew up?

I didn’t see him beyond who he was in each of the stories because that would have narrowed the possibilities of who he might be as he grew up. That said, Daemonar is his father’s son and his uncle’s nephew, so I had a feeling he would grow into a strong presence within the Blood’s society. And I’ve known from the beginning that Daemonar belongs to Witch in much the same way that Daemon and Lucivar belong to her. That has always had considerable influence in the shaping of who he would be.

But he still has some growing up to do, so he’s still a winged terror who boosts the adults’ blood pressure, just in a different way.

  1. Fans have long had many questions about various aspects of the lore in the Black Jewels novels, some of which have been answered in the books or the bonus stories on your website, but other things which go unaddressed as they weren’t pertinent to the story being told at the time. Could you ever see yourself writing supplemental material to answer some of these questions, in the same way that Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Quidditch Through the Ages did for the Harry Potter franchise?

I don’t know. There are some things I find more interesting because they are only hinted at, and other things add to the layers and textures of that world but don’t resonate strongly enough by themselves for me to want to invest the amount of time required to write a story. Then again, if the Muse grabs me and says “Write this!” I’ll write the story.

  1. It’s no secret that there are some truly terrible events that occur throughout the Black Jewels novels. What was the hardest scene for you to write?

There were a lot of scenes that hurt my heart, but the one that always occurs to me first is the scene in Queen of the Darkness when Daemon is in the sunken garden raging and grieving because he believes Jaenelle is gone.

  1. Follow-up to the previous question: which scene gave you the most joy to write?

Jaenelle and Daemon’s first wedding. The scene in The Queen’s Weapons where Daemon meets Zoey (and following that, the scene where Daemon is telling Witch about his meeting with Zoey). Any scene where Lucivar has to deal with the fact that his kids have inherited a fair amount of what makes him a pain in the butt for everyone else.

  1. I often find myself turning to rereads of the Black Jewels novels (and the Others novels) when I’m in need of a comfort read. What are your favourite comfort reads or rereads?

The Inspector Gamache/Three Pines series by Louise Penny and the Sebastian St. Cyr series by C.S. Harris are the two I go back to the most because I can read those stories when I’m doing first draft of my next book.

  1. I’m sure this has been asked a hundred and one times by now, but could you take me through a bit of your writing process? Are you a “glue your butt to a chair and write until you’ve hit a certain wordcount” sort of writer, or do you wait until the right inspiration has hit before you start, even if that means a more sporadic writing schedule?

I write five days a week, reporting to the writing desk at 9AM. If I’m drafting a new story, I aim for 1500 words a day because that’s what I need to do to produce the length of book I write in the timeframe I have. For second draft, copyedit review, and proofreading the page proofs, I divide the number of pages by the writing days I have until that particular deadline to get a daily page quota. Then I work until I meet the day’s quota. Sometimes that is four hours, sometime it’s six. Six hours is about my limit. After that, my brain is too tired to stay focused on creative work.

While those things are going on, I also have to make time for the brain to wander and look at this and that as my way of gathering ideas and material for potential stories in the future.

  1. Movie and TV tie-in novels can be interesting, and there are even a few book franchises that have multi-author collections of stories set in their worlds. Could you ever see a sort of “Tales of the Blood” anthology being made, or is that the sort of project that doesn’t hold much appeal?

I won’t say never. However, I have a border collie gene in my makeup, and relinquishing any control of a place that has been a part of my life for over thirty years would be very hard. And that’s not taking into consideration the amount of work that would be required to create a useful bible for someone else’s reference. A lot of what I know about the Blood and the Realms is intuitive, which wouldn’t be helpful to anyone else.

  1. A burning question on everyone’s minds (or at least it will be once The Queen’s Weapons releases): do kindred Black Widows have a snake tooth and venom sac? (Inquiring minds want to know!)

I’m one of those inquiring minds, but the kindred didn’t tell me. However, I would be careful around any kindred Black Widows whose race has claws. Just in case.

  1. Anything else you’d like to add before I stop pelting you with questions?

Stories are about conflict of one kind or another. If my story makes you laugh, makes you cry, makes you angry, makes you want to whack a character upside the head (or me for a particular scene, which is okay as long as we don’t live in the same state), then I’ve done my job because I felt all those things while I was writing the story. (Except the whack upside the head. I’m dedicated to my craft, not foolish.)

Thank you so very much for indulging this fan’s questions!

The newest novel in the Black Jewels series, The Queen’s Weapons, releases on March 9, and I highly recommend getting a copy of you’re a fan of the series. (If you haven’t checked out my review of the novel, it’s right here, along with purchase links.) Anne Bishop’s website can be found here, and contains bonus material not found in the books, which is well worth looking into!


Ken Liu’s The Grace of Kings hits the shelves today, and because he’s an awesome person, he was willing to do a short interview with me, answering a few questions I had about the book (my review of which will be live tomorrow, so stay tuned)!

1) One scene struck me fairly early on, and that was the scene with people trying to convince Erishi that a deer was a horse. That reminded me of a commonly-told meaning behind the Japanese characters for “idiot,” (written with the kanji for “horse” and “deer”), the story for which goes that it refers to someone so stupid they can’t tell the difference between a horse and a deer. Was it something similar that inspired that scene?

The Grace of Kings is a re-imagining of the history and legends surround the rise of the Han Dynasty in “silkpunk” epic fantasy form, and as such, I borrowed liberally from the source material when it suited my purposes. This particular scene is based on a real episode during the reign of the second emperor of the Qin Dynasty in Records of the Grand Historian, by Sima Qian. Sima’s history is the foundation for Chinese historiography, and this particular episode has become an often-used allusion in Chinese to describe those who would deliberately confuse truths with falsehoods.

2) What was the inspiration behind Mata Zyndu’s double pupils? (It was as a result of seeing this in The Grace of Kings that I discovered pupula duplex in the first place, so I’m really curious!)

In traditional Chinese physiognomy, the presence of the “double pupil” is supposed to be a sign that the person is destined for great things. Mata Zyndu is based on the historical figure of Xiang Yu, who was said to be double-pupiled. Ovid and other writers of classical Western antiquity also spoke of “pupula duplex” as a distinguishing mark (the Evil Eye), though it’s not clear exactly what physical condition the phrase referred to.

I chose to take the phrase literally, as this is, after all, a work of fantasy.

 3) From a writing standpoint, was it difficult to handle such a large cast of characters, especially when so much military strategy was involved?

My experience was with short stories, which could be kept all in the head during drafting. The biggest challenge for me as I shifted to the novel was keeping all the details about plot, timing, worldbuilding, and character traits straight. I ended up having to learn to keep a wiki for myself and essentially write a mini Wikipedia about Dara to be sure I recorded all my decisions.

4) Of them all, who was your favourite character to write?

This depends on the day you ask me the question! I’d say probably Gin Mazoti. She’s an interesting character who will develop further in the sequel, so giving her enough of a character arc in Book I to be satisfying was a challenge, but also instructive.

Thanks so much, Ken, for dropping by and agreeing toanswer questions about this amazing fantasy! (And I completely agree about Gin; she’s one of my favourite characters, and I can’t wait to see more of her in the sequel!)

Interview with Gwenda Bond

Last week, I reviewed Gwenda Bond’s debut novel, Blackwood (review here), and I thought that it would be a nice follow-up to get to know a little more about the woman behind the story, the mind that made the novel run. Happily, she agreed to be interviewed by me, and the answers she gave to my questions were quite interesting! So let’s get right down to it, and learn more about the talented Gwenda!

  1) I’m sure you get this all the time, but what was it that made you want write about such a well-known American mystery? What about that legend drew you to it?
I’ve always been fascinated by the story of the Lost Colony, and unsolved mysteries and legends. My husband and I have a bookcase or two’s worth of nonfiction titles about the unexplained (Blackwood’s prologue is a hat tip to those kind of books) and oddities of history, and so on. The Lost Colony is something that’s been rattling around in the back of my mind since I was a kid in history class and first heard about it, but I can’t really say what sparked the idea for the book. I know when I got it (on a road trip, when we saw a sign for Roanoke), but I don’t know why then. I think as writers we just fill our heads with everything and wait to see what bubbles up to the top out of our fascinations and interests.

2) Would you like to see more books that approach local legends as you did with Blackwood, adding a supernatural twist and making them resonate with the modern world?
I’ve come to realize that if there’s any pattern in the kind of story I’m attracted to as a writer, it’s somehow mixing and then exploring the clash between the past and present. I’m personally not interested in writing historical fiction (though I have the utmost admiration for people who pull it off), so I tend to bring some part of the past to now in one way or another and see what happens as a result. I do love reading stories where inspiration is drawn from legends or history or myths and am always down with a supernatural twist.

3) Miranda had a nice geekish streak to her, and it was really fun to see that in her character. What are your geeky interests?
Ah! So many! I’m a complete nerd, though in somewhat different ways than Miranda. Our tastes overlap in places, but others are purely hers. As I’ve already mentioned, I love anything esoteric; when I was Miranda’s age, my favorite section of the bookstore (besides fiction) was probably Sociology, because it was where all the weird, random books were. So books about cryptozoology or the history of circus freak shows or bizarre old (or new) scientific beliefs or wacky explorers, but I also read a ton of fiction. And I watch a lot of television; probably too much, except I get prickly when people are disdainful of TV.

4) What about guilty pleasures? Everyone’s got a good guilty pleasure!
I don’t really feel guilty about anything I enjoy, so this is tough. Well, maybe America’s Next Top Model. Not guilty, per se, but I recognize it’s probably not the 100 percent best use of my time and yet I can’t. stop. watching. No matter how bad it gets.

5) (SPOILER ALERT) One thing that thrilled me while I was reading Blackwood is that you didn’t decide to kill off Sidekick. So many books and movies will throw in an animal companion solely for the purpose of tugging at your heartstrings when they die. Does it bother you when this occurs in media? Or do you see it in a different light?
Yes, and I do have thought on this in a larger sense and specific to Blackwood. Sidekick is the only character in the book based on my real life; he was inspired by our beloved golden retriever George Rowe the Dog, Poster Boy for American Values, who passed away several years ago. So Sidekick is my way of memorializing George and giving him immortality, in a sense. There is NO WAY I would have killed him off. And, like you, I am often bothered by stories that use animal deaths in a manipulative way. It can be a dealbreaker, particularly if not done well. And I just don’t like reading stories with animal deaths (and I realize there’s a disconnect in that I have zero problem reading stories where murders of humans happen; it’s just different emotionally for me), so it has to be necessary to the story for me to not want to throw the book across the room. I don’t want to give too specific an example, because that’d be spoilery, but I will say one of the best stories I’ve read that features animal suffering is Katherine Applegate’s middle grade novel The One and Only Ivan. You will cry, but the emotion is earned by an ultimately hopeful story that deals with the exploitation of animals in an honest way.

6) Of course, I have to ask the question that every authors gets asked a million and one times in their career: what was it that really made you decide that writing was the path in life that you wanted to take? Did the writing bug bite you at an early age, or did it develop over time?
I have always wanted to be a writer, ever since I was a kid—before I could even read, I would cart around books and make up stories that went along with the pictures and do my best to make letters by randomly drawings swirls on paper. I took a detour after college and wrote scripts for a few years, before I had this epiphany that brought me back to my first love, books. And there were all these wonderful YA novels coming out (this was in the early to mid-2000s) and I felt like I finally understood what kind of stories I wanted to tell.

7) Do you think you’ll stick with YA novels instead of novels for an older age group?
I’d never say never to writing for adults or, for that matter, for younger children, but so far the stories I’ve wanted to tell have been firmly YA. It’s what I’ve been drawn to, and there’s so much freedom in YA to mix and match genres. It’s a fun and exciting literary landscape to be in right now. But, that said, if I had the right idea, I’d follow it wherever it was best suited. I’d love to have a strong middle grade story idea, but it hasn’t happened yet. I do believe that YA is for everyone, and not just teens.

8) Similar to the above question, what was it about writing for a YA audience that attracted you more than writing for an older audience?
Honestly, it really is just my natural voice—at least so far. But it has been amazing talking to teens who have read the book. I do think the reading experiences you have at those ages can be more profound and exciting, in many ways, than the ones you have as an adult, and that’s very appealing for a writer. And teen readers are so smart and take-no-b.s., and also open and enthusiastic about the things that resonate with them.

9) What kind of books do you enjoy reading in your spare time?
Everything! I read a fair amount of YA (and still review it for Locus), but also adult fantasy, mystery, (so-called) literary fiction, and romances. Nonfiction I now mostly read as research or to spark ideas. The bulk of my reading is fiction.

10) I see from your bio that you live in Kentucky? Having never been there myself, I have to ask: what do you like about living there? Would you choose Kentucky over any other place in the world to live, or is there somewhere else that you’d love to settle down in?
Well, I’m from Kentucky. I grew up in a very small town—one stoplight, which was 20 minutes from my house—and when I was there, all I wanted was to get away. I dreamed of having been born in a big city (and I do love big cities). And I’ve traveled quite a bit. But when I got older, I appreciated growing up where I did. Yes, there are problematic things about Kentucky, but—like the rest of the south—I also think that it is a far more complex place than impressions and depictions that come from outside make it out to be. I live now in a mid-sized city, Lexington, with my husband, also an author and from small-town Kentucky, and it’s a very progressive town with a lot of exciting things happening. We have a vibrant literary culture. Kentucky in general, I think, really values storytelling and writing, and there are many wonderful writers from here and fabulous bookstores. The cost of living is low; we have a great old house that we’d never have been able to afford in a bigger city, with a yard our two dogs can run around in. Our families are not that far away. That’s not to say we’ll never move or split our time between here and elsewhere, but we do have deep roots in Kentucky and are happy here.

11) What’s your own take on the idea of immortality? Is it something that you think we’ll eventually reach, or is it a pie-in-the-sky dream?
Interesting question. I don’t think we’ll ever reach it, at least not in a physical sense. I’m not current enough on the science to know how feasible it is that our consciousnesses could ever be preserved in some way electronically. But it seems to violate a fundamental law of nature, where the great constant is death. And I’m not sure I think we should want to. Would I like an extended life span or cures for debilitating conditions or slowed-down aging? Who wouldn’t? But immortality seems like it would ruin living in some ways. I side with Phillips on this one.

12) Lastly, can you give us any tantalizing tidbits about your next novel? I know I, at least, am looking forward to seeing what you’ll come out with next!
Yay, so lovely to hear it! My next book will be The Woken Gods, probably out next summer or fall (not quite sure) from Strange Chemistry. It’s an urban fantasy set in a near future where the gods of ancient mythology awoke, all around the world, ten years earlier. The story takes place in a transformed Washington, D.C., that has become the meeting ground for a no-longer-secret society headquartered in the Library of Congress and a council made up of the seven tricksters who are the gods’ main emissaries to humanity. A 17-year-old girl, Kyra Locke, gets pulled into political intrigue between all of the above. I’m excited about it, though also nervous, because as you can probably tell it’s a bit different than Blackwood.


Thank you once again forallowing me to interview you!

I’ve got to say, I think I’ll be all over that book when it’s released. Really, she’s hitting all the right buttons with me when it comes to that synopsis, and after reading Blackwood, I’m more than willing to give The Woken Gods a chance. (Especially seeing as how I mentioned on another blog recently that one thing I want to see more of in genre fiction is stuff where ancient gods awake and interact with the modern world. The timing on this couldn’t be better!)

Author Interview: Shawn McGuire

I have here today local author Shawn McGuire, author of The Shadow Thieves of Rouen and writer/podcaster for Mission Geek. Shawn was kind enough to allow me to interview him for Bibliotropic. And so without further ado, let’s get down to business and see what makes Shawn tick!

I know that The Shadow Thieves of Rouen is your first published novel. How long have you been writing in general, and what is it that first inspired you to go for broke and get your work published?

I’ve always enjoyed writing but I made my first focused attempt at writing something in grade 9. I wrote a fantasy novel but I kind of shelved it because I was a teenager and lazy. In grade 10 I had a short story due for english class and I hadn’t done anything the night before it was due. Again this was because of the lazy teenager thing. So instead of making something new I took the beginning of my book and the end of my book and mashed them together with some stuff in the middle and handed it in. My teacher, Mrs. Mary Marshall, loved it so much she called me in after school with my Mom and told me that I should get the short story published and finish the book. For the third time lazy teenager syndrome struck and I did nothing with it.

I guess that was my first inspiration but more recently I have been inspired by Brett Rounsaville and Andrew Mayne. Brett has always wanted to make a comic so he put up a kickstarter and raised the money to do it on his own. Andrew wanted to write sci-fi so he wrote it and published it on his own and has been very, very successful with it.

Self-published books such as yours tend to have mixed opinions about them. Some say that self-published books lack quality, while others promote self-publishing as a way to get your work out there without the wait-time of traditional channels. What was it that drew you to the idea of self-publishing in the first place?

I wrote my book in a very specific way so that people who are new to the fantasy genre would be able to get into it. It’s a novella. I think that makes it less daunting to get into. A 400,000 Robert Jordan tome is a hard pill to swallow for someones first foray into reading fantasy. I didn’t go deep into the magic system or the political machinations of the time because I didn’t want to scare off the new fantasy readers. Even the 99 cent price tag is meant to create a low barrier to entry.

These are things that I can only do because I’m self published. You yourself picked up on things that I did, specifically the length, and questions it. I recently had a book interview with Adam Curry and he picked up on the odd length as well (however, he dug the length). A traditional publisher would likely have forced me into making a full length novel and adding stuff I don’t want to add until book two or later.

Following up on that, what would you say to the naysayers who insist that traditional publishing channels are the only true way to go and who look down upon self-published works?

I look at self publishing as the independant live music of books. When you go see a local band play a live show you know there are going to be problems. The drummer is going to show up late from his job as a waiter, the sound guy is going to trip over a lead cord and unplug the bassist, etc… Despite all those issues you still go see them and have a great time because the music is awesome.

Self publishing a book is the same way. Sure the editing might not be the best or the formatting is weird or the cover is from a google image search with some words put on using Microsoft Paint but it’s still awesome because it has a good story.

I think writers have lost track of why they write. It isn’t about getting the big cash advance, it’s about producing something that people will dig.

I know that some of the characters in The Shadow Thieves of Rouen are heavily based on people you know, right down to the names. While it’s definitely far from uncommon for authors to do this, it can create snags when you want the characters to do something that the person wouldn’t, or vice versa. How difficult did you find working with these constraints?

I put people in there who helped me with the book as a form of payment. I had no idea if I’d ever sell any of these so I didn’t know if I could pay my editors and illustrators. This was my form of payment. I told them in advance though that I wasn’t going to keep them true to their real life counterparts. I had one character whose situation I was a little worried about writing but I spoke to the characters real life counterpart and sorted it out.

I didn’t really keep anyones personality intact, except for Grand General Nick Delony who is based off my best friend Nick DeLong. You know the person Melissa was based off of and she isn’t the same at all.

Which of the characters in The Shadow Thieves of Rouen was the most fun for you to write?

I started answering this question then realised I was basically listing off every charcter. It’s a hard question to answer because I only write fun characters. If I don’t like writing a character, I don’t include them in the book.

If I absolutely had to pin down one Character I’d say Chelsie. She is kind of a free character in that I can make her do anything I want. I suppose I can make any character to whatever I want but it just feels right when it’s Chelsie.

Interestingly enough, I enjoyed writing the females more than the males. I don’t know why but I did.

A lot of writers tend to be big readers. Is this true of you, too? Do you find what you’ve read in the past has had much impact on your writing now?

I almost exclusively listen to audio books but I listen to them all the time. So yes, I suppose I am a big reader. I don’t think any one author or book has influenced me in any significant way. There are things in my writing, such as my blow-by-blow fights, that have probably been impressed upon me by other authors but none in specific.

If there’s one novel, any novel (other than your own, of course) that you would recommend to just about anyone, which novel is it, and what makes it so great?

My recommendation is going to sound really pretentious but it’s such a good work I think everyone should read it. War and Peace. It’s a really daunting task but the payoff is immense.

And last but certainly not least, what advice have you got for the aspiring writers out there?

Get a good Editor. I don’t consider myself a very good writer but I do think I’m a good story teller. A good editor will turn a good story into a good book.

Thanks, Shawn, for taking the time to answer all of my questions. It was very much appreciated, and it’s great to have been able to make contact with a local fantasy author!

You can purchase The Shadow Thieves of Rouen for your Kindle from Amazon.com, or check out Shawn’s podcasts and articles on Mission Geek.

Author interview – Jo Walton

After reading Jo Walton’s Among Others, and loving it to death, I decided to take the plunge and write to Jo and tell her how much I enjoyed the book. And while I was at it, I did something completely new to me.

I asked if I could interview her for the blog.

And she said yes.

I won’t lie. I did a gleeful little happy dance when I found that out. And then agonized over what questions to ask. I wanted to ask things that would be interesting, both to find out the answer to and hopefully for her to actually answer. But my version of interesting differs from what other people consider interesting sometimes, so I was unsure.

Nevertheless, I asked what questions I could think of, and these are Jo Walton’s replies. For which I’m very grateful.

Me: First off, the one that every author gets asked at some point in their lives, what was it that made you really want to become an author?

Jo: I think I wanted to be one from the time I realised that they existed. I mean I’d always made up stories, but most of the books I had as a child were quite old and I hadn’t really worked out that somebody wrote them, they were just there. When I realised that people had written them, that the author name meant something, I immediately wanted to do that. I think I must have been about four.

But when I was about thirteen, I read Poul Anderson’s Guardians of Time and I can remember finishing it and thinking that I wanted to write a book just like that, and getting out a notebook and starting to write a book just like that, which I plugged away at until it was finished. I wrote a novel-length thing every year between the ages of fourteen and twenty-two when I quit, and didn’t start again until I was thirty-one.

Me: From reading Among Others, I noticed that Mori doesn’t seem to think very much of fantasy novels. What’s your opinion on them? Do you think that one sub-genre of speculative fiction is inherently superior to another, or is it entitely a matter of personal taste? (No accusation in that question, just curiosity.)

Jo: I think there are some wonderful fascinating things being done in fantasy, some amazing writers working in that field. Daniel Abraham, Steven Brust, Sarah Monette, Theodora Goss, Kelly Link, Susan Palwick — I could go on an on. I also think there’s a lot of tosh published as fantasy, and the problem is that the publishers put the same covers on all of them so it’s difficult to find the good ones.

I think it’s all personal taste though. What I’m calling tosh might be somebody else’s favourite thing, and that’s fine. I think personally I am prepared to put up with a lot more in science fiction, because it’s giving me something I want more. If I get spacestations and aliens, I will put up with sloppy plotting and thin characterisation that would cause me to abandon a fantasy novel because all it’s giving me is castles and elves. And I am even more picky with mainstream fiction — if you want me to read something set in a world I already know, the writing and characters and plot had better be really wonderful. As I said, all personal taste. My aunt would put this absolutely the other way around. And ask Michael Swanwick about this, if you ever get the chance.

Me: When somebody writes a bad review of one of your books, is it easy to shrug off, or does it hit home?

Jo: It depends. Sometimes a review that doesn’t like it will be very valuable. “I can fix that next time,” I think. If it’s a review by somebody who doesn’t get it, I can shrug it off. If it’s something that hates everything in a book at spluttering length, it can make me laugh. But when reviews misrepresent the book it can make me furious and want to argue. There was a review of Half a Crown in a well
known online magazine that just twlsted everything about it and was factually wrong, and that really stung, because I’m not allowed to argue — and I know it’s sensible that I don’t, because have you seen what happens when writers do? Sometimes the oddest things will hurt though — there’s a so-so review of Among Others on Amazon by somebody calling themselves “Quickbeam” and I was upset, because hey, an ent didn’t like it? Oh no! But I’ll laugh at the same time.

Me: The question I’m sure a lot of Canadian readers might be interested in: how does living in Canada compare to living in Wales?

Jo: So many things. What I always say in a bio is “the food and books are more varied” and that’s absolutely true, you can get more kinds of food and there are more bookshops and better bookshops. Also everything costs half as much, so our standard of living doubled when we moved here. Then there’s the much more exciting climate. Everybody worried about how I’d cope with the winter, and actually I love the winter, and it’s the humidity in the summer that flattens me and that I try to avoid. And then there are the reasons we moved — education is better here, there are more opportunities here, and politically it’s just so much better it isn’t funny — even with Harper. There’s this sense here that people can change things — it’s a completely different landscape, physically, politically, historically. There’s much less inertia against change here. And I’ll say this to Canadians, and they’ll say no, there is inertia, and give examples, and even their examples of inertia seem to me like examples of change. And corruption in government — the amazing thing is that when it happens it’s a scandal and there’s an inquiry and people pay attention to it and if affects the next election! It’s so much better than people shrugging and saying well, what can you expect?

Me: It’s known that a lot of writers also tend to be big readers. Do you think that good writing can come out of somebody who doesn’t read much, or do they always go hand-in-hand?

Jo: I really don’t know. I think the tendency is for writers to also be readers, but I expect there are counter-examples. The thing this immediately makes me think of is Orson Scott Card’s “Unaccompanied Sonata” about the boy genius who was kept from all music so his would be completely original. I don’t think art really works like that, I think art tends to be a conversation. But it’s also like building a house of cards, where everybody is carefully placing their card in response and the tower is growing and then every so often you get somebody doing something so unusual that it’s like a trumpet blast that flattens everything. But when I think of examples of that, the trumpet blast that becomes the flat rock everybody else starts building card houses on — Susannah Clarke, and Tolkien, and Keats, and Milton, and Catullus — they weren’t coming out of a vacuum. They’d been reading different things. Catullus could turn Latin poetry upside-down because he’d been reading Sappho. Tolkien was coming from reading Beowulf and a real grounding in early English and Norse literature, so he looked strange because he’d been ignoring the Victorians and the modernists. Keats had famously been reading Homer…

I think there’s a sad thing that happens sometimes when a writer is successful and they stop reading what everybody else is doing. So they have a grounding in what they read when they were young, and they keep writing but they stop reading, and then their own work tends to lack the vitality that comes from being part of the ongoing conversation.

Me: If you could recommend one novel, or even one author, which or who would it be, and why?

Jo: I can’t answer this question. It’s so limiting. Every time I think of an answer, I think of others that are just as compelling. If I have to recommend one novel or one author, I recommend finding yourself one at random. And if you want recommendations from me, read my Tor.com posts, where I talk about specific older books.

I can recommend things to specific people when I know their tastes. But I don’t think there’s any one book or author who is for everybody.

Me: Which of your books was the most fun to write?

Jo: Tooth and Claw. Because it was so much fun playing with the world and the voice. I laughed out loud when I titled a chapter “The dangers of consumption” and it was about being eaten by dragons.

Me: What do you have planned, in terms of writing, for the future? Any novels in planning, seeds of ideas for something new?

Jo: I’m writing something set in a kind of fantasy version of the French Revolution, with people who are part animal and others who are part magical. I’m having fun with it so far. I also have some very unproductive ideas for Among Others sequels, and various other seeds which will probably grow into something in time.

The next book I’m going to have out is a collection of my Tor.com essays. It’s called What Makes This Book So Great.

Those were indeed some awesome answers to those questions. Thanks so much, Jo, for indulging my curiosity and for taking the time to answer. You’ve definitely got me hooked on the idea of that fantasy version of the French Revolution!

Be sure to check out Jo Walton’s latest novel, Among Others, as well as seeing more of what she has to say on her LiveJournal and on Tor.com.