Between the Lines: Interviews with Authors

Between the Lines: Cecelia Holland

Posted on March 2, 2015

After a bit of a hiatus, SF in SF reappeared at the exquisite Book Club of California on Sutter Street. I was in the mood to get my SF on, so I went over to listen to the inexhaustible Kim Stanley Robinson, author of 2312 the Red Mars series and Cecelia Holland, an equally prolific speculative fiction writer. I’ll fess up right now and say that I’d never read anything by either before settling myself into a chair to listen, so I had no idea what to expect. My eyes closed like the rest of the audience – the better to see your story, my dear –Cecelia’s gripping excerpt about a cunning dragon stole my heart.

I found the excerpt from her newest novel mesmerizing. She really knows how to spin a tale, and for those of you who were there that evening you will recognize that I am letting you in on an inside joke about the central premise of the story. I promptly went home and began to read – now engrossed in The Soul Thief.  Holland’s ability to create scenes and characters from every nook and corner of the world is breathtaking.

And now, she has dipped her toe more fully into fantasy with DRAGON HEART, her newest book which will be available in September 2015. She was kind enough to chat with me about that and other topics as a guest of Between the Lines.

Thanks Cecelia!

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  1.   Tell us about Dragon Heart. The little bit I heard at SF in SF was very enticing. I couldn’t stop thinking about the dragon for several days!

When I was about 12 I read a story of Geoffrey household’s called “the spanish cave” in which a boy finds a sea-faring dinosaur in a cave on the asturian coast. The story has always stayed with me, and when Gardner Dozois asked me to write a dragon story I turned the dinosaur into a dragon. The story has almost nothing to do with the original household story, except there are some weirdly common scenes. What happened as I wrote it was the idea of telling stories (as she tells stories to the dragon) to shape the world, and then the whole book arose out of that.

  1. Margaret Atwood recently opined in the Wall Street Journal about resisting the urge to be categorized. Do you consider yourself to be a writer of a certain genre?

I’m just a writer. I don’t think the idea of genres is useful.  I do a lot of different things and I don’t like repeating myself.

  1. You’re on the tale end of a long career as a writer, what’s the biggest change you’ve noticed over the years or if you’d prefer: what is the one aspect of the business that stays the same?

I’m glad it’s the tale end and not a tail end. The entire publishing business has changed almost from the ground up. when I started, publishers used their big sellers to fund the midlist, and published books they liked. Now publishers only like books that will make a lot of money (they think). And now the internet gives any writer a way to publish at no cost, in 5 minutes.

  1. One look at the best-seller lists shows a growing interest in all manner of speculative fiction. Could you have imagined how mainstream it’s gotten when you first started?

That’s one of the interesting things about the literary marketplace now. It’s gotten more pulpy as it’s gotten more democratized.

  1. Do you have any advice for emerging women writers?

Write a lot.

  1. When can readers expect to see Dragon Heart? Is it eBook only?

It’s coming from Tor next fall, there will likely be a hardcover, a paperback and an ebook.

  1. Do you consider Dragon Heart your first fantasy novel?

The first one that’s any good.

  1. If you could pick a time period to go back to, when would it be?

I like now, for 3 good reasons: fleas, lice and intestinal parasites. Almost every previous time abounded in them.

  1. What was it like working with George RR Martin on The Dragon Book?

GRRM is a great editor. In many ways the conversion of the original story into DRAGON HEART uses things I picked up from him—the names all sound like “normal” names, not outlandish concoctions, so the reader grasps them easily; the intense elemental conflict at the center of the plot to ground a personal struggle in something cosmic. I like the way he deals with his 100’s of characters. I didn’t do that, but I admire it nonetheless.

  1. SF in SF was packed to the rafters the night I attended. Any parting words on why this kind of writing is so popular?

SF in SF is a great program, Rina and Terry and Jason all deserve huge credit for that, and for surviving the collapse of the previous venue: the big turnout was a real tribute to them. Speculative fiction is very popular now because all the boundaries  have gotten vague, in life, in art and in the imagination. The world and the culture are wide open right now, and all sorts of powerful forces are flooding through.

Take a look at some of Cecelia’s other work and find her complete works on Goodreads.

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Between the Lines: Kelli Stanley

Posted on February 3, 2015

I’m excited to present the second author interview in Between the Lines (BTL).  I’m almost a little too excited because my guest is Kelli Stanley, the talented writer behind the Miranda Corbie Mysteries. 

I discovered Kelli after the Wall Street Journal reviewed City of Ghosts. I sent her a congratulatory tweet and picked up a copy at Green Apple Books, and BAM, just like one of the hop-heads who inhabit her novels, I was hooked on Miranda, a complicated female gumshoe intent on justice.

I must admit I’m pretty sweet on Kelli, too. A former comic book storeowner, actress and historian, she exhibits the kind of intense intellectual curiosity that I find irresistible in a person.  She graciously granted me a lengthy phone interview in advance of sending her some questions and I found myself nodding in agreement repeatedly as we discussed her path to writing and some of her heroes and role models such as Raymond Chandler and Martha Gelhorn.

In Miranda, Kelli has created a brilliant but flawed, chain-smoking heroine.  Raw with anger and pain over her damaged life, she demands to be taken seriously, on her own terms.  In short – the perfect character for a dame like me.  I hope you enjoy the interview with Kelli. I know I did!

Kelli Stanley Bio

 

1. I liked Miranda, she’s flawed in a way that speaks to me and her different habits caught my attention. Why the Lifesavers?

When we first meet Miranda Corbie, in CITY OF DRAGONS, she’s suffering from what we would now call PTSD. She’s embittered, anxious and a compulsive smoker—someone who is trying to rebuild her life—struggling, in fact, to rebuild a desire to live.

She finds cause and reason in the case she takes on: a chance to pursue justice for the forgotten, something her lover Johnny would have done.

One of the major themes of the series is about Miranda learning to value herself … not just as an attractive woman, not just as her dead lover’s soul mate, and not just as a PI crusader for the flotsam and jetsam cast aside by a racist, classist and sexist culture.

By the second book—CITY OF SECRETS—she’s made tentative steps toward embracing herself and her life, and part of this change is shown by her consciously trying to cut down on cigarettes (San Francisco hills, after all). Lifesavers instead of Chesterfields? Works for Miranda. The candy may actually live up to its name! 😉

  1. As a Mills Graduate (1990) I was curious about Miranda’s time there. Why that school?

Mills just felt right. As the oldest woman’s college west of the Rockies, it has enjoyed a progressive reputation for a very long time. Given Miranda’s harrowing, abusive childhood (unfortunately all too realistic for millions of her generation of Americans), it made sense that she’d be drawn to the relative “safety” of a woman’s college. Plus, she was an English major, at a time when she still wanted to try to win her father’s approval, and Mills was the perfect place for her.

  1. I noticed that some reviewers disliked her smoking, but it’s a very realistic habit for the time. When you work on your characters do you ever worry about “going too far” or making them unlikeable?

Here’s the thing: I write psychological realism, not two-dimensional shadow plays. Miranda is complex: like most people, what is on the surface can be very different than what is under it.  Unfortunately, a segment of our society reads only to see what they want to see, and that’s what entertains them … a reflection of their own biases and limitations. They don’t want to be challenged; they don’t want realistic protagonists; they want to skim the surface and find comfort and affirmation for their own specific set of mores.  For such readers, Miranda could be termed “unlikable” – though I would be willing to bet that, for the same readers, a male protagonist with identical characteristics would not be so considered.

She drinks—she smokes—she uses profanity. Like Ava Gardner (as noted in a recently published memoir), Miranda swears like the proverbial sailor partly in order to keep off “the gaze”—unwanted sexual attention from the various men she encounters in life and on her cases.

She is also my attempt to write a “femme fatale” as a hardboiled protagonist, thus turning noir’s misogynistic conventions inside out.

For the record, I write what I write and live up to my own literary and personal integrity. I try to make people aware of the nature of my books by posting reviews, synopses, questions, interviews, videos, et. al. on my website. If someone wants to read and live in a G-rated world, more power to them—just don’t read my work.

Miranda Corbie is a damaged soul, a broken idealist, a woman who is trying to find something to live for. Her actions betray a compassionate heart empathetic to the plight of the underdog and the downtrodden. What’s so unlikeable about that?

  1. Do you read your reviews?

Yes, though I honestly try not to read Amazon comments. The Internet has fostered a subculture of people desperate to be heard … symptomatic of the concomitant powerlessness behind a global society. We are all linked through information access, so some people find ego, power and identity from proliferating their opinions as personal attacks and abuse.

As an author and a person, I am grateful to all the readers who write me and who leave thoughtful reviews online, whether positive or negative; unfortunately, no published writer remains unscathed from the bullies, and—given that Miranda rocks the boat for many of them—I have been subject to the same vitriol as everyone else.

On the other hand, I’ve been blessed with some reviews that are, themselves, beautifully written … and which, on a hard day, I may find myself re-reading. Everyone needs encouragement, particularly authors on a deadline!

  1. People often assume Olivia the sword-wielding heroine of my books is based on me… Do people ask you how much of yourself exists in Miranda?

Sometimes. Friends know that Miranda’s zeal for social justice is reflective of my values, as is her general impatience and intolerance for hypocrisy. I don’t smoke, I do use profanity, and I occasionally throw back a bourbon (never rye). 😉

  1. Would you go back and live in the 1940’s?

Never. I witnessed racism as a young child in Florida in the 1970s (we spent a year there); my parents were quiet crusaders against the blights of racism and sexism as far back as I can remember. The experience affected me profoundly.

As much as I love the beauty and elegance and camaraderie of the late ‘30s and early ‘40s—the Art Deco design, the craftsmanship, the music, the films, the formality, the  unity of a more outgoing and social generation—I would not willingly live in a time when freedom was a hypocritical myth for so many Americans. I’d like to visit, however—and buy a copy of Detective Comics 27 for my collection! (The first appearance of Batman).

  1. As a student of history, any observations about human behavior that you’re repeatedly drawn to in your writing?

We haven’t changed much in the last couple of thousand years. As a species, we’ve not yet learned how to handle the mass media inventions of the last century, and now here we are, confronted with a global culture fueled by over-consumption and mega-corporations. My biggest worry is that our short-sightedness as a species is imperiling all life on this planet. Profit before responsibility, fear before reason, mine before yours, all are age-old hazards of the human race—but if we don’t learn to embrace empathy, understanding and reason, our tenure on Earth is limited.

  1. For better or worse, the world has been focused on Paris. And before that we had the Sony hacking incident. Any thoughts on the state of self-expression in the world today?

When a group or political/cultural entity is bent on silencing any opposition or criticism, that group or entity is not only oppressive, it is weak. True strength stems from facing and listening to the opposition. But then again, terrorism isn’t about discourse; it’s about wanting power and murdering people in order to gain it.

For the record, I do not excuse the denial of basic human rights for any reason, be it religious, cultural or political. Free speech is one such right, period, whether it’s in Paris or Staten Island or Saudi Arabia, and we need to be united in supporting those suffering on behalf of it, like Raif Badawi.

As for Sony, I do think news outlets stepped outside privacy laws by publishing private emails. So Hollywood can be narcissistic, tantrum-throwing and spoiled … that hardly qualifies as news. 😉

  1. Obviously you adore San Francisco, care to name a favorite place?

Tough question! Chinatown is one of Miranda’s favorite hangouts, and mine, too. I was heartbroken when Sam Wo’s closed down a few years ago, and now the Empress of China is gone. But Li Po is still around, as are a few other favorite spots. I love Aquatic Park and the Hyde Street Pier; Gumps any time, but particularly at the holidays; John’s Grill on Ellis, Telegraph Hill, Fisherman’s No. 9 and the unhipsterized remains of the Mission, West Portal, the Cliff House, Sutro Park and Land’s End and Louie’s, the Legion of Honor and the Shakespeare Garden, and … well, the list is getting too long!

  1. Ok, best place to throw back a drink in SF?

Other than the previously mentioned Li Po on Grant Avenue, I’m still partial to Bourbon and Branch, host of my first book launch party. I love a good speakeasy!

  1. Can you tell us about your next project?

I’m currently finishing up CITY OF SHARKS, the next book in the Miranda Corbie series. It takes place in September, 1940, and Miranda is preparing to ship out to Britain—right in the middle of the Blitz. First, though, she’s been hired to investigate a couple of attempted murders— in the publishing business! Settings include Alcatraz and Playland, and, as always, real people, real places (with actual phone numbers) and real history layer the novel.

Thanks for the questions, Evette—it’s been a pleasure!

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Between the Lines: Interviews with Authors

Posted on January 20, 2015

MIRA GRANT

New Year’s Resolutions are fraught with peril…can anyone really promise to do something for an entire year? Instead, let’s say I’ve decided to fulfill a long-standing wish to broaden my connections to other writers I admire. And so, voila!  Between the Lines: Interviews with Authors.

Let’s face it; writers are a solitary lot. It takes a lot of “alone time” to create a novel, socializing is something we usually do after the deadline has been met – if at all. BTL is an attempt to break out, make some new friends and introduce you to some writers whose work is worth checking out.

First up for 2015 and known, according to her Goodreads profile to keep a machete under her bed, is Mira Grant, also known as Seanan McGuire. I discovered Mira and her Newsflesh Trilogy, which combines several things I like in a story: zombies, politics, blogging, and a kick-ass female protagonist. What’s not to like about a woman who can outride a mob of the undead on a dirt bike? Her attention to detail and scene setup of a Bay Area (and world) ravaged by a deadly virus was truly riveting.

Seanan is a prolific writer, with many titles and accolades to her name. Which makes her agreeing to take time out to answer our questions for BTL all the more gratifying! Thanks again Seanan for helping us kick-off the column.

Mira

 

1. As a woman in a male-dominated genre, what lessons have you learned and what advice do you pass on to other women in the genre?

You have to remember that this isn’t a zero-sum game—your success is not my failure, and vice versa.  You have to keep from turning bitter when men are rewarded for things that will get you criticized.  And most of all, you have to be kind.  I don’t ask people to be nice.  Nice is often artificial.  But you have to, have to be kind.

2. In your Symbiont, Dr. Cale reminds me of the scientist, Delia Surridge, from V for Vendetta and fans of Feed have drawn parallels to Walking Dead; how do graphic novels inform your personal writing style? 

They don’t, really.  I write comics, with my first title—The Best Thing—coming from Thrillbent later this year, but I don’t read comics and think “oh, this needs to be in my novel.”  They’re very different mediums.

3. What are your favorite comics/graphic novels?

I’m really into The Wicked & The Divine, and I adore all things X-Men. I am an unrepentant Marvel girl.

4. In a Reddit AMA from 2013, you say about the characters of Parasite, “I just wrote the people I know.” How do the real people in your life inform and inspire your fictional characters? Who/what helped inspire Sal?

I was referring to the diversity of my casts, not the specific characters.  None of my protagonists are based on anyone else.  They are fictional constructs.

5. Do you have a favorite fictional female character? What would a conversation between her and Sal look like?

Yes, I do, and it would be very awkward.  Sal doesn’t do small talk with strangers.

6. Which authors did you read growing up? What about their stories appealed to you?

Everything.  I read the Pleasant Hill California library’s fiction section.  I read everything.  And what appealed to me was that they were books.  I mean, there were authors I sought out more than others, but honestly, I didn’t learn to have discriminating tastes until I was in my late twenties.  I just wanted to read.

7. You have several albums out and have won awards for your songwriting. How is writing music different than writing a novel?

Length…?  Also, I don’t usually set my novels to music.

8. You’ve mentioned in other interviews that among your favorite places are Disneyland and haunted houses. If you had a choice, which one would your teenage-self prefer to work at and why?

Neither.  My teenage self, given a choice, would stay home and play Mage: The Ascension with her friends, and watch a lot of anime and horror movies.  My teenage self was not into crowds.  Neither is my adult self, honestly.

9. Both of us have found time to work professionally and be an author. What challenges have come from trying to do both and how did you overcome them?

I overcame the challenges—exhaustion, illness, lack of personal time—by quitting my day job the second it was feasible, and never looking back.  I needed to sleep.

10. What is the goriest, nastiest, most repulsive thing you’ve ever seen in person?

I signed a bunch of NDAs that sadly mean I cannot tell you.

 

If you haven’t had a chance, add the following Mira Grant to your Goodreads To-Read shelf and drop me a line to share your thoughts! Stay tuned for our next post when we get in touch with San Francisco’s prominent crime novelist and mastermind behind the Miranda Corbie Series, Kelli Stanley.

The Newsflesh Trilogy:

NewFlesh

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Parasitology Series:

Parasite

Symbiont

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For more Seanan, visit her website at www.seananmcguire.com.

Flesh and Bone

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