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Kate Elliott's new novel, Buried Heart, is the conclusion to her latest YA fantasy trilogy that begins with Court of Fives. Elliott's fiction is sweeping and rich. The worlds she builds are created from the questions she asks about how people form cultures, societies, and relationships. Buried Heart is in the same vein, the closure to a story of colonization from the perspective of a young girl with a native mother and a colonial father who is torn between parts of herself.

Elliott has been writing, especially epic fantasy, since the late 1980s, but has never seen the massive success and popularity of contemporaries like George R. R. Martin. Her 2010 Spiritwalker series, that begins with Cold Magic, brought many readers, myself included, to her work, and was the first time many of us had heard of her. Elliott describes Cold Magic as "an Afro-Celtic post-Roman icepunk Regency novel with airships, Phoenician spies, and the intelligent descendants of troodons". It's unfortunate the Spiritwalker series, published and these days barely promoted by Orbit Books, suffers from white-washed covers, misrepresenting the fact that the majority of the characters in the world are people of color. Elliott often grapples with issues of racism, sexism, and classism in her writing at all levels, from slave to monarch, and has included people of color and women in prominent roles from her earliest works. Additionally, Elliott is a master of using the arc of history to enrich her novels. Her worlds have cultures that grow and change in explicit, perceivable ways.

She's created a lot of worlds, too. Buried Heart goes atop a back list more then twenty books deep, full of multiple fascinating epic fantasy and science fiction series. Elliott writes long books that reward the time spent inside their worlds and is doing some of the most cutting-edge world building and characterization in the whole genre.

I was lucky enough to get to interview Elliott about her writing, her career, Buried Heart, as well as about some books and writers she enjoys.

Renay: Your latest book, Buried Heart, is out now, closing out the Court of Fives series (everyone should read the whole series ASAP, obvs.). But I'm me and I was told by several people they'd know I was a doppelgänger if I didn't ask about the sequel to Black Wolves first thing. Please help me prove I'm not an evil clone! Now that you've Achieved YA Success with your first completed YA fantasy trilogy, is the Black Wolves sequel your next project? What can you share about it?

Kate Elliott: I’m just over a third of the way into a first draft of Dead Empire, although honestly I only just introduced all of the point of view characters so I guess that doesn’t bode well for length, since I’m trying to write a "short epic" of perhaps 200,000 words.

Dead Empire is a very different book from Black Wolves in terms of structure. With the exception of the prologue it contains no flashbacks; it’s a linear narrative of interwoven plot lines in which each character plot line will seem (as per my usual narrative multiple POV construction) to be trundling along without much relationship to the others but which will become drawn tightly together by the end of the novel. Sometimes I wonder if I could have made Black Wolves work as a standalone so the wait between books wouldn’t seem quite so onerous, but I originally set up the stages of the plot in trilogy form.

I’ve added a sixth point of view character to the five from Black Wolves (Dannarah, Kellas, Sarai, Gilaras, and Lifka). Zeviar is one of the first people you meet in the new book as you get a look into a whole new part of the world...the region, not so coincidentally, where Sarai ends up at the finish of Black Wolves.

Oh, here. Have an excerpt: skip to end of excerpt

Eighteen years serving in the personal retinue of Imperator Fael had left Zeviar attuned to any nuance that might get him into trouble, and there were many such nuances, as the scars on his back attested.

His required attendance at the Ritual of Sacrifice and Submission was the most dangerous of his duties. The ritual was held on the day after the Imperator’s arrival in a new city, as was the case today.

That morning Zeviar attended Vestarch Major Paath, who oversaw the local workmen. Although the vestarchs and citizens who lived in the bustling port of Trellan Harbor spoke Ri, the language used throughout the Imperiate, the subjects and slaves often did not. It was Zeviar’s job to interpret wherever he was needed. Today not one of the laborers doing the set up spoke Ri, so he was busier than usual translating Paath’s commands.

Set the Imperator’s chair exactly where the entry to the holy maze meets the pavement of true earth. Place firepots in front of the Imperator’s chair in three sets of three. Align two long trestle tables exactly perpendicular to chair and firepots, creating an aisle down which the local vestarchs must approach, one by one, to give submission to the Imperiate in the person of the Imperator.

Fael liked everything done in the traditional manner, with no deviation from the most ancient of customs. After many years combing through archives Zeviar had his doubts that any of this resembled how things had been done in the old days, before thieves stole the magic on whose threads the Imperiate had knit together its far-flung provinces.

Eventually the laborers were dismissed. Citizen soldiers from the Imperator’s Own Guard inspected every finger’s breadth of the arrangement, from the chair, the underside of the tables at which the Imperator’s entourage would sit, the flower arrangements, and every crease and crevice of the four ranks of tables where local vestarchs would eat a ceremonial meal before making their submission.

Paath called him over. "Good work today, Zeviar. This crab speech the Trellaners croak out of their mouths is impossibly ugly to the ears but of course your lips make it beautiful."

"Yes, Vestarch."

"Did you cut your hair recently, or just arrange it in a different fashion?"

He pretended not to see Paath’s coaxing smile. A quick sidestep to inspect the fold of a tablecloth moved him out of the way of her hand aimed for his thigh.

"I am the same as always, Vestarch. With your permission, if we are done here, I must retire to prepare for the ritual."

"I’m just going back to the safehold myself. I can accompany you," added Paath, pacing alongside him, matching her stride to his.

"My thanks, Vestarch."

She engaged him in desultory conversation about the poem he had sung four nights ago, a popular romantic story about a powerful vestarch and the slave the exalted vestarch had fallen in love with. Zeviar hated the story, which was why Imperator Fael enjoyed making him sing it over and over again. Paath wanted to discuss the various subterfuges by which the lovesick vestarch and the canny slave managed to meet in secret to assuage their sexual feelings.

After a grueling eternity of this offensive conversation they finally reached the safehold library, three rooms and a belfry one atop each other in a fortified tower. At its double doors Zeviar paused and said, in the soft voice he had perfected,

"I have further duties for the imperator I am commanded to finish before the ritual. You know how it is, Vestarch."

Her frown was relenting. "Yes, yes, the imperator is an exacting master and, between you and me, rather more fastidious than anyone needs to be about holding to the exact measure of outmoded traditions."

Zeviar touched right fist to heart to signify his obedience to the Imperiate. Paath sighed in disappointment and, with a nod, gave him permission to go. He escaped into the refuge of the library with its locked shelves and chests filled with books and scrolls and maps.

Rahsaane, the librarian on duty, glanced up as Zeviar entered. She brightened, and a smile made her pleasant face grow welcoming.

"You look downtrodden, Zeviar. How can that be?"

"Just thinking of someone who’s not here," he replied lightly.

The laugh lines on either side of her eyes crinkled with sympathy. "Thinking longingly of your wife at home? I miss my family too. It’s been six months for me, and I know much longer for you."

"I haven’t been home in seven years," he said, to throw her off the scent.

"What’s her name again? You told me once. Evria?"

Evria was his sister’s name, but he nodded with his courteous smile, the one everyone mistook for genuine because it had been years since he had felt the urge to genuinely smile in any safehold.

"You must miss her dreadfully, for I’ve caught you writing love poems more than once, haven’t I?"

Her compassionate laugh tugged at the deep strings of his heart, the ones he kept concealed.

"You have caught me more than once, it’s true."

Her eyelids flickered as a thought passed through her mind. "Speaking of being caught . . . . You’d better go up and get ready. I heard a whisper that the imperator is in a foul mood. The ritual bids fair to be grueling today."

He desperately wanted to be alone but something in her demeanor held him back. Rahsaane was a good-hearted citizen, never too proud to speak as an equal to a slave like him. He did not trust her, precisely; you couldn’t trust anyone in the imperator’s retinue. But he had learned through long and bitter practice with whom it was safe to trade scraps of information.

After a glance toward the various closed doors in the eight-sided chamber, he said, "He’s afraid. He tastes something on the air but he can’t find the source. Is it true what I heard last night in the Claw barracks? That the city of Himending killed all its vestarchs and raised a local tyrant to rule over them? That would be the third city this year to revolt against the Imperiate. No wonder the imperator sees blood behind every corner--"

Rahsaane coughed, cutting him off. Her gaze slid to the right and she tilted her head toward the steel-framed door that linked the library to the imperator’s suite.

"Since you’re friends with them, best you remind the Claws they shouldn’t be gossiping."

"Of course. If you will, Citizen."

When she nodded permission, he retreated to the inner staircase and took the steps two at a time past the second floor landing and its locked door into the financial archives and up to the third floor with its locked and chained door into the chamber where military and intelligence records were kept. From here, the staircase narrowed and steepened to become a ladder up to the old belfry under the eaves. The bells of ancient days were gone, replaced by a signal system of gongs and trumpets in sentry towers.

Many people in the imperator’s retinue thought Zeviar was being punished by being forced to sleep in the disused belfry, but he preferred it to sharing a comfortable chamber with the other interpreters. With its low eaves and high railing all the way around, he could stand concealed from the sight of most and gaze beyond the tiered walls of the safehold. He could fill his heart with the hills, the harbor, and the sea.

The hills grew thick with vegetation, the scent of life everywhere in the air in this warm, wet climate. Ships crowded the wharves, shirtless stevedores loading and unloading cargo from around the Inner Sea. He scanned the flags but saw no ship of Tandi origin, not a single one, which was odd enough that he scratched his head. His fingers brushed against the horns, short nubs half hidden by his curly hair, that served as a constant reminder of why he was a slave.

His gaze drifted to the horizon, that beckoning vista. Three islets guarded the entrance to the bay. Beyond the rocky nub of Bird Isle the restless waters of the Inner Sea gleamed under the midday sun like a heart glowing under the gaze of an ardent lover.

He must not think of her. It had been two years since he had seen her. What if that rendezvous had been their last, and he hadn’t known it, and thus had squandered any least moment he could have gloried in her presence? What if his days were now to be reduced to the heart-dulling grind of routine, each horrible day after the next, every act known and every emotion plumbed by the invasive gaze of the imperator?

He jumped, caught the edge of a beam, and did pull ups until his arms ached and he could do no more. Then he hooked his legs over the beam and, hanging upside-down, rolled himself up and down to bring elbows up to knees until he was shaking and his abdomen hurt. He would have run up and down the stairs a hundred times but that would have alerted Rahsaane, and no matter if she meant well: Whispers of his agitation would get back to the imperator. Everything always got back to the imperator, unless you locked it in a mental box, and even then it wasn’t safe. The imperators ruled because they could peel away the veils that hid a person’s thoughts as easily as an orange is peeled. No secret was safe from them.


R: Dead Empire seems very long (note: this is not a complaint, please feel free to challenge Brandon Sanderson for the title of longest single volume in a fantasy series), but you just came off a YA series. That series is notably shorter than your adult work, even though it still deals with similar themes and situations as your adult fantasy. How does writing a YA trilogy compare to writing an adult trilogy?

KE: This question is challenging. I’ve run into readers of adult fiction who have preconceptions about what YA is and what can be in it, even the suggestion that it is basically bowdlerized or simplistic versions of adult fiction. But many of the things I’ve heard aren’t allowed in YA—sex, violence, multiple points-of-view, swearing, hard complex questions about injustice or inequality, etc—can be found in YA titles.

So far my experience is based on writing a single YA trilogy versus multiple adult SFF series, so bear that in mind. If I write a second YA book or series (as I definitely would not mind doing since I have two ideas that would work really well in that genre) I might have an entirely different experience. By the way: I worked with two phenomenal editors, Deirdre Jones and Andrea Spooner, and learned so much from them; they were so professional and so good.

Here is what I did notice.

As anyone who has read me knows, I love world building. I don’t know why. I just do. It’s one of my favorite things about writing SFF and one of the main reasons the genre attracts me both as a writer and as a reader: to explore unknown territory. There is certainly plenty of YA SFF/H out there with interesting, intriguing world building. For example, the messy political dynamics (and I mean that as a compliment) of Susan Dennard’s Truthwitch series capture the messiness of the real world. Cindy Pon’s Serpentine/Sacrifice duology feels entirely lived in and solid and edible (the food!). Philip Reeves’ Railhead SF series has the kind of no-holds-barred world building that is a joy to read (although the story is not without its grim elements).

For me, I did have to cut back on the amount of detail and background in the Court of Fives books. While the world building is, of course, central to the story, in story terms it had to support the plot and the character journey; it wasn’t a third aspect (like a third leg on a three legged stool) of itself. That was challenging for me as a writer, and for that reason incredibly useful.

I do maybe sometimes pack in a few too many details. I think for some of my readers that bit of lack of discipline (as it were) is one of the appeals of my work. It sprawls; it’s a tad overstuffed. I don’t say that as a good or bad thing, just as a thing. For some people a feature, for others a bug. So while writing the YA, and especially book one, I continually had to cut away details and interactions I would have left in an adult fantasy novel. It taught me how to identify what each core world building piece was, the one that is necessary to anchor the world or a scene or a piece of character business. I got better at it with each book but still had to cut asides and tangents that didn’t frame the forward motion of the Jes’s journey. I don’t think the book is less rich, and I am sure that probably this more targeted worldbuilding is what I ought to have been doing all along…oh, wait, never mind. Cold Magic and its sequels are overstuffed with asides and tangents and I think had they had the streamlined speed of Court of Fives they would be different books. Not worse or better, just different. Interestingly, given the character of Jes, and her competitiveness, and her goals, having the story around her be streamlined in that way reflects her character as well.

And it has been a way to further build, adapt, and refine my own writing skills. Tastes and aesthetics change, so learning to hone for the 21st century market has been a good lesson for me as a writer.

R: Well, speaking of being a writer in the 21st century—you've been writing novels since the 1980s. You've spent a similar amount of time as an author before the internet exploded versus after it exploded. What's your favorite thing about writing and publishing books ~in the future~ versus before the turn of the century?

KE: Easy: I can reach so many more people than before, both colleagues and readers. I can have real-time conversations with people from all over the world.

In fairness I should point out that I’ve been online since 1990, back in the days of bulletin boards and USENET, on GEnie or later on sff.net and Livejournal. Twitter (and Facebook and Tumblr, etc) have amplified that early connectivity. WIth the arrival of the world wide web and easy blogging the entire field of reviewing shifted from a rather closed gatekeeping shop to a wild landscape of voices (albeit some louder and more visible than others). I consider this expansion of reader and reviewer voices a definite positive change.

With that has come sometimes frustrating new demands on authors to create publicity and marketing for their own books. Of course some writers love the opportunity to figure out and implement marketing campaigns; I’m not one of them (I find it stressful to "sell myself") but I adore listening to people like Rachel Aaron/Bach and Gail Carriger talk about statistics and audiences and how and where they amplify their presence. Overall, however, the web has been a boon, offering better means to reach people and more diverse options to create visibility for writers, artists, reviewers, and readers who in ancient days were often scarcely seen and frequently ignored and marginalized.

So basically: I know more people in the genre because of social media, and it’s more feasible (and less expensive) to maintain connections with them than ever before. Because I value connection, this is my favorite thing about the 21st century world of publishing.

R: The internet creates an avenue for reviewers and critics to connect and discuss books, but it's also removed the wall between that group and authors (and other creators in different fields). How do you navigate interactions with fans given our separation is so porous and often, in some cases, non-existent?

KE: Treat them as I would want to be treated?

I’m a reader too. I know what it’s like to love a book, or hate a book, or be indifferent to a story others have strong feelings about. Back in the day as a reader, and especially as a reader of SFF, I used to feel fairly isolated. So the fact there is a great large sharing space where people can now talk about books with each other and find the people who love the same things they do is really cool and makes my life better and, I suspect, all our lives better for the most part (we can all figure out the exceptions).

As for fans, for me personally I don’t really know how to treat people in any other way except by treating them as people who, like me, are people. I don’t feel special or elevated, although of course I am gratified and flattered and thrilled when someone tells me they’ve loved one or more of my books. In terms of interacting, I do like social media because it allows me to be friendly (as I like to be) with that bit of barrier (the internet). The reality is that I can’t (and am not interested in) being friends with everyone. People I’m more comfortable with I will interact with more; people I’m less comfortable with I will interact with less and create more of a polite wall between me and them. That’s how I deal with anyone in my life.

When it comes to reviews I always recall the important statement; Reviews are for readers, not for authors.

R: You mention that back in the day you were more isolated as a reader. Were you also isolated as a writer? How has the expansive and intimate nature of social media changed how you interact with colleagues and the field? How has it changed how you create stories?

KE: I knew very little about the SFF community before I landed an agent and she got me a book deal. She told me I needed to attend SFF conventions for publicity; I’d done a few fighting demonstrations at gaming conventions but had never heard of SFF conventions. Naturally I dutifully went to several local conventions and slowly began to meet people.

I’ve never been convinced that attending conventions is that helpful for actual large-scale book sales. Then, as now, publisher push and visibility in contexts outside the con circuit are the best indicator of potential success. But what cons are good for is networking within the industry and genre, and for meeting people with the same interests and concerns. Back in the day they were even more important for that reason.

My first novel was published in December 1988. So while I did start attending cons as a writer before social media fully developed its Borg-like tendrils, I got online (as I mention above) in 1990. Frankly, my network of acquaintances and friends in the field is in large part due to people I first interacted with online. Having exchanged words with people in virtual space helped me work up the courage to engage with people I hadn’t met before offline. It also helped me with my decision, early on, to try to meet and speak with at least one new person every convention I attended. However I should also mention that I could not attend all that many conventions because we didn’t have much money in those early years, while my spouse was in graduate school, and because we had three small children.

So I guess what I’m saying is that online has always been a connection point for me. The difference with modern social media like Twitter and Facebook is the exponential expansion of reach and immediacy. For example, I can access a lot more feedback about my fiction now, which can be gratifying or disconcerting or debilitating. Before social media I certainly thought about my audience in the context of writing, but for me the presence of an audience looms much larger now. It’s far easier to search out (or stumble across) reader reactions to one’s work. How does one react to these reactions? How much do we need to write "for" an audience when the audience can make its feedback turn right back in our faces? I will always claim that I have to write the story that’s in me to write, and that my first "reader" is always myself and the story I want to tell, but I’d be lying if I claimed I’m never affected by reading online reaction. My awareness of audience is heightened, and also it’s easier for me to scan the field and its sub-genres and come up with theories and hopes about trends and fashions. Possibly it’s too easy to do that (and very easy to be mistaken or allow my own prejudices and filters to distort what I’m seeing) but nevertheless it’s almost as if I’m more aware that people ARE reading. So if I’m being honest that hyper-aware sense does impinge on me as I work. As a writer I always think about "does this work?" or "will the reader turn the page here?" Now it sometimes feels as if those questions are multiplied a hundred-fold and it’s almost too much to wade through until anxiety about how a story will be received can become an obstacle to creating that very story.

However, having said that, it’s also much more possible for me to reach out to writer friends on the spur of the moment or when I’ve fallen into a zone of angst. I have survived many a creative crisis through the calm, sympathetic support of friends. I hope I have been able to help friends through their own crises in the same way, because we can more effectively communicate across the physical distances that separate us. So I call that a win.

R: Indeed, winning is excellent. Speaking of winning: looking back over your career, what are three of your very best moments/career "wins" and why are those moments so important to you?

KE: This is such a good question, in part because I have literally never been asked this before.

  • After I lost faith in my first agent I worked up the courage to fire her and approach an agent I wasn’t sure I was "important" enough to be represented by. But in fact I was, and he took me on. I consider my career an ongoing project; having Russ Galen as my agent since 1994 has been a crucial component. He takes care of things I don’t want to do or wouldn’t be good at, can take a broader view of my situation than I often can, and has his own impressive skill set and knowledge base. In addition, we incorporate short, medium, and long term goals as part of planning. It’s a truism that no agent is better than a bad agent (and it is indeed true). Also, no single agent is right for everyone. But the agent who is right for YOU can be incredibly important in managing and sustaining a decades-long career.

  • Damon Knight (1922 - 2002) is best known as a writer, editor, and critic who co-founded the (now famous) Clarion Workshop, founded SFWA, and wrote pretty much every kind of thing one could do in the SF genre of the day. I knew him as an elder statesman. He had a reputation (from his years as a critic) of being a bit of a curmudgeon but in my experience he was also kind.

    I didn’t know him well. We interacted on GEnie (an early online bulletin board), and I met him a couple of times at SFF conventions. He and spouse Kate Wilhelm happened to live near my parents. At one point around the turn of the century when I was home visiting I went to take tea with him. He had the ability to listen without judgement, and was genuinely interested in the emergence and growth of newer writers. I was going through a crisis of confidence about whether I was writing the kind of thing I ought to be writing—should I be writing something "more important" or something that would be more "literary" or what have you. He considered my question seriously and answered, "We write what is in us to write."

    That kindly and honestly spoken statement reminded me, and continues to remind me, that each person is unique as an artist. We really do have to find the vision that is in us, not the one we think we ought to have or one that others think we ought to express. It’s our personal vision that is our contribution. I still struggle with confidence and feelings of inadequacy, wondering if I should be writing "something else" (although what that is never quite becomes clear). But that long-ago conversation with Damon Knight anchors me: We write what is in us to write.

    It also serves to remind me how important it is to maintain lines of connection between experienced writers and novice writers (regardless of age), and how we can each of us act to create a chain of support and influence that stretches from the past into the future.

  • Which reflection brings me to "win" three. I am not immune from the desire to hope that my work not only entertains people but maybe also supports and inspires them in some intangible way. With respect to support, I have over the years received mail from readers who tell me that my books have gotten them through a difficult time in one way or another, and that is both amazing and deeply humbling. Meanwhile, with respect to inspiration, I was myself inspired to write by reading certain works of fiction that strongly resonated with me. However, after publishing for so many years and watching a new generation of epic fantasy writers take the SFF genre by storm in a way that (to be honest) made me feel my work was invisible to them, I had to accept that maybe I hadn’t been an influential writer within the field, that I hadn’t inspired a new generation of writers…and then I wrote a YA novel and ventured into the YA world, with its different (if sometimes overlapping) population of writers from the adult SFF field. And over the last two years I have had multiple writers (all women) tell me I was an influence on them, or even that one of my series inspired them to try their hand at writing. Knowing that my work will reach into the next generation via the lines of influence and inspiration is maybe the biggest win of all. And I thank those writers for letting me know. Which reminds me: In this often brutal and exhausting world we live in, it is well worthwhile to thank people, compliment them, and just in general point out positives when the chance arises. That is a tide that lifts all boats.


R: I hope all those people apply to my Kate Elliott Fan Club (president: ME) one day. I'm not surprised; when I was first finding my footing in fantasy again in 2010 your name came up over and over and over. You have touched so many people without even knowing it. You're an important figure for those writers and readers, but who are the authors who fill that place for you, especially when you were younger?

KE: This is a fiction list only, in no particular order except roughly chronological (and I’m missing things that I forgot or don’t have in my library).
  • H. C. Andersen’s fairy tales (I’m Danish-American so I feel as if I’ve always known these by heart).
  • The Oz books by L. Frank Baum
  • J.R.R. Tolkien, specifically The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion
  • Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles
  • E. R. Eddison’s The Worm Ouroboros
  • William Shakespeare (while in junior high and high school I saw many of his plays performed at Ashland Shakespeare Festival)
  • Ursula K. Le Guin, specifically The Left Hand of Darkness, The Dispossessed, and The Tombs of Atuan
  • Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte
  • T. S. Eliot’s The Wasteland and The Four Quartets
  • Evangeline Walton’s Mabinogion quartet
  • Anne McCaffrey’s first Pern trilogy & the Harper Hall trilogy because while they have issues with respect to sexual & gender politics (and politics), women got to ride dragons
  • C.J. Cherryh’s early work (into the mid-80s); it was like nothing else I’d read
  • Vonda McIntyre, who was writing progressive social structures and complicated biological science into her SF long before it was "trendy" or widespread
  • Three DAW short fiction collections from the late 70s/early 80s: Tanith Lee’s collection Red as Blood and editor Jessica Amanda Salmonson’s Amazons and Amazons II anthologies
  • Following on from these a flood of women writers in the 1980s
  • Alan Garner’s The Weirdstone of Brisingamen & The Moon of Gomrath duology, for his brilliance and weirdness and sense of place and that claustrophobic tunnel scene, and for Angharad Goldenhand and Susan, oh Susan: "It was as though she was waking from a dream of a long yearning fulfilled to the cold morning of a world too empty to bear."


R: Fast-forwarding to the future, what 21st century SFF writers are inspiring you and creating books you love? How do you think their books are going to change the future of genre?

KE: I love the new writers who are emerging in the 21st century, and I can’t even scratch the surface because there are so many fabulous creators creating right now. Isabel Yap, Vida Cruz, Ken Liu, Naaman Gobert Tilahun, Aliette de Bodard, Alessa Hinlo, JY Yang (and fifty more I haven’t mentioned because of space reasons).

They are turning SFF inside out with the fresh perspectives that the genre needs to stay vivid and alive rather than stagnating like a pond with no inflow or drainage. Rose Lemberg, Cindy Pon, Malinda Lo, N.K. Jemisin, Ann Leckie, Tobias Buckell, Matt Wallace, Foz Meadows, Alyssa Wong, Daniel Heath Justice (and fifty more I haven’t mentioned because of space reasons).

I read more novels than anything, but SFF has become mainstream in short fiction, light novels, manga and comics, gaming, TV, and film as well, which is amazing to me considering how niche and slightly embarrassing the genre tropes were considered to be when I first discovered it as a teen. Taneka Stotts and Sara DuVall’s Deja Brew for its vertical imagination, Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda’s gory, complex vision in Monstress, Hayao Miyazaki (I know he doesn’t count but I don’t care I’m going to include him and Studio Ghibli anyway), my daughter Rhiannon Rasmussen-Silverstein (she inspires me tremendously with her weird and horror tinged imagination), Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie’s Aya of Yop City that got me through the worst two months of my life with its cheerful depiction of three friends getting along in a fictional 1970s West African city.

I still am most likely to be reading work coming out of the USA and the UK but I’m slowly trying to expand my field of vision as SFF is a worldwide phenomenon with writers and editors and creators. Victor Ocampo, Zen Cho, Tade Thompson, Mahvesh Murad, Usman Malik, Indrapramit Das, Karen Lord, Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, Charles Tan, and the glorious Mia S. I can’t even begin to list all the astonishing illustrators and artists.

The last four ARCs I read (all pushing at tropes from new directions) are by Dhonielle Clayton, Justina Ireland, Jeannette Ng, Fonda Lee, and I’m just starting ARCs by Sam Hawke and S.A. Chakraborty. Philip Reeve (Railhead, people: READ IT) squeaks in with a 2001 first publication date.

This question is stressful for me because for every name I list above I have left out too many writers in the SFF and YA fields whose work I think is creating change by existing and by pushing our envelope and expectations in small ways or in large ones. I’m sorry I can’t list everyone. I’m thinking of you, yes YOU. Please know that you are appreciated and important and that your voice is unique and that I for one am so excited by your presence in the field.

I just finished binge-reading Kaoru Mori’s A Bride’s Story (8 volumes so far) which is a gorgeously drawn slice of life observation of the lives of ordinary people in late 19th century Central Asia. When the news gets me down I remember what amazing art people are making now, the emerging creators and ALSO those of you who’ve been at this for a long while and are still working and expanding your imaginative palettes. Thank you, all of you. My life is richer for your presence.

R: With the publication of Buried Heart, you'll have completed your first YA fantasy trilogy. What inspired you to write this series? As it ends, what are the elements of it that you're most proud of?

KE: I know I mostly talk about the series as American Ninja Warrior meets Little Women in a fantasy setting inspired by Greco-Roman Egypt, and I like that description just fine. Let me expand on one aspect here.

As a girl the things I wanted to do and dreamed of doing were basically all labeled as "boy" stuff (or "man" stuff). As an outdoors oriented, active, sports-minded, tree-climbing girl, I absorbed the idea that I was in some manner fundamentally wrong. Otherwise why did I want to be something that society told me wasn’t feminine and female, which I, being a girl, ought to be (these being the days long before discussions of binary and non binary and trans and cis were part of any conversation I had ever heard).

I’m a stubborn sort so I plowed along mostly doing what I wanted to do (and, frankly, I was hugely fortunate in having a father who never insisted I be anyone or anything except who I was). But swimming against the tide took its toll. When I started writing I was determined to write women into the epic SFF stories that I loved, in all manner of roles.

When I got to work on Court of Fives I didn’t just want to make Jessamy an adversary playing at the Fives (I played sports in high school and am an athlete now, competing in outrigger canoe pacing). Her competitiveness and competence is crucial to who she is. She need never apologize for her skill, and her cockiness, while sometimes a flaw, is also an asset. I wanted to write that girl I wasn’t allowed to be back in the day, because I see those girls now playing sports (and excelling in other fields) and it is so gratifying to see their confidence. This book is my love letter to them.

In Buried Heart I’m particularly proud of what I think is a seamless blend of fast-paced action and powerful emotional impact.

R: What's next for you other than Dead Empire? What can we all look forward to from you in 2019 and beyond?

KE:
  • A major project I can’t announce yet but which I’m hoping I can discuss soon.

  • I’m in the early stages of planning to release a collection of at least 12 short fiction pieces set in the Spiritwalker world (some originals and some reprints including the Secret Journal of Beatrice Hassi Barahal) with additional new art. No target date set yet. Not sure whether it will be self published (not my preference) or small press.

  • I want to re-launch my weekly world building series, if possible. I would love to do a podcast but I suspect that is too time consuming & the learning curve would be too steep for the moment.

  • Stop me now before I tell you about the other 5 projects I have in mind including a Jaran novella (Jaran 5), a "light novel" style free serial (written for fun and not edited), and a YA project that’s not yet off the ground. The cascade never ends.


Kate Elliott is an avid fan of outrigger canoe paddling, American Ninja Warrior, and lifting people behind her as she climbs. She's the author of 20+ science fiction and fantasy novels, including Cold Magic, Jaran, King's Dragon, and the recently released Buried Heart. She's on Twitter at [twitter.com profile] KateElliottSFF.
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