Fantasy

AN ACCIDENT OF STARS: An Interview with Foz Meadows

We've all had that experience--you follow a complete stranger into another world, you fight against an oppressive, otherworldly government . . . no? Just me? Well, don't worry, I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Foz Meadows, who wrote just the sort of thing you need in your life. AN ACCIDENT OF STARS releases from Angry Robot on August 2nd in the U.S. and ebook, and August 4th in the U.K.

The interview

SG- Where did you come up with the title--AN ACCIDENT OF STARS? 

FM - I wanted something that combined the macro and micro aspects of the story: the idea of a multiverse is something huge and wonderful, but stumbling into it by mistake is terrifyingly personal. And thus An Accident of Stars, which is deliberately evocative of an embarrassment of riches, juxtaposing (to use a horribly high school English word) an intimate emotion with a bigger, more beautiful concept.       

SG- What can you tell us about those creatures on the cover? 

FM - They’re called roa, and they’re friendly – there are still horses in Kena, but in the cities, roa are more common. They’re also something I originally dreamt up as a kid – I used to draw pictures of them, and when I was writing the book, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to include such an old creation in a new story: a sort of homage to my younger self. 

SG- Portal fantasy has been around for a while, going back to Alice in Wonderland and The Chronicles of Narnia. Where do you see the status of the subgenre and can we expect more from you in that vein? 

FM - I think that, for a long time, portal fantasy has been viewed as either naff or childish, due largely to the traditional safeties it extends to the protagonists. Alice in Wonderland, Narnia and The Wizard of Oz, to give the obvious examples, are all what we’d term middle-grade stories if they were written now, and while we quite rightly consider them classics, accessible to and intended for whoever wants to read them, that more youthful, protected aspect of their storytelling has nonetheless defined how we think of the subgenre as a whole.  

The darker elements in portal fantasies have largely come from fairy tales – the idea of a world inverted or an era stolen, a child lost in the woods or a goblin bride snatched at market. With An Accident of Stars, I wanted to tell a different kind of portal story, one where the consequences of the protagonist’s absence from Earth are present in the narrative. As a kid, it always bugged me that characters like Alice and Dorothy and Susan could visit these other worlds and never really question wanting to come home again, or that home would still mean the same thing to them when they got there. It felt cheap, somehow, as though everything they learned and felt in the other world was somehow erased by leaving it, and I wanted to write a story where that didn’t happen.    

SG- Who is Saffron Coulter and how does she end up in the world of Kena? 

FM - Saffron is a teenage girl who’s struggling to make sense of the distress she feels at school; someone so hungry for meaning that she accidentally follows a stranger into another world. As a character, she began as a comic self-insert I wrote in my teens, a girl who was rescued from maths class to go on adventures, though back then, I wasn’t self-reflective or inventive enough to make her a discreet entity.  

That being so, it was fun to develop her in ways that my younger self would never have considered. Like me, she’s bisexual, compartmentalised and fed up with high school, but otherwise, she’s a work of pure fiction. Though I will say that the harassing incident she experiences in class at the start of the first chapter is closely based on my own teenage experiences. I’d like to think that girls in high school now don’t have to put up with that sort of bullshit on a regular basis, but by all accounts, it’s something that hasn’t changed, and my hope is that readers will recognise that, and related to it.      

SG- AN ACCIDENT OF STARS could be compared to the work of fellow Angry Robot author, Kameron Hurley, and a few others. Who do you consider to be your influences? 

FM - As a kid, one of my favourite films was Return to Oz, which starts out with Dorothy Gale, returned to Kansas from her first trip to Oz, being institutionalised for talking about what happened to her there. It had a big impact on my concept of what portal fantasies could do, and for all its flaws, I owe a lot to it. In terms of worldbuilding, I think Kameron and I are writing in parallel to each other, having grown up being inspired by a similar pool of inventive, feminist authors – in my case, Kate Elliott, Robin Hobb, Katharine Kerr and Tamora Pierce.   

SG- Favorite scene from AN ACCIDENT OF STARS? 

FM - I certainly have one, but I can’t really talk about it here because Spoilers! 

SG- Favorite SFF archetype? 

FM - One that’s cleverly subverted.

 

From the cover:

Book I of the Manifold Worlds from Hugo-nominated author Foz Meadows.

When Saffron Coulter stumbles through a hole in reality, she finds herself trapped in Kena, a magical realm on the brink of civil war. 

There, her fate becomes intertwined with that of three very different women: Zech, the fast-thinking acolyte of a cunning, powerful exile; Viya, the spoiled, runaway consort of the empire-building ruler, Vex Leoden; and Gwen, an Earth-born worldwalker whose greatest regret is putting Leoden on the throne. But Leoden has allies, too, chief among them the Vex'Mara Kadeja, a dangerous ex-priestess who shares his dreams of conquest. 

Pursued by Leoden and aided by the Shavaktiin, a secretive order of storytellers and mystics, the rebels flee to Veksh, a neighboring matriarchy ruled by the fearsome Council of Queens. Saffron is out of her world and out of her depth, but the further she travels, the more she finds herself bound to her friends with ties of blood and magic. 

Can one girl - an accidental worldwalker - really be the key to saving Kena? Or will she just die trying?

Preorder now at Amazon, B&N, Kobo, or Google.

City of Blades: An Interview with Robert Jackson Bennett

Robert Jackson Bennett has picked up a lot of steam in the world of SFF, snagging a handful of awards in the process. He also lives in one of the coolest cities on the planet, Austin, Texas, and has a golden voice that would make Don LaFontaine swoon. Lucky bastard.

His sixth book, City of Blades, releases from Broadway Books January 26th, 2016, and is the highly-anticipated sequel to City of Stairs. RJB was kind enough to field a few questions about this upcoming release.

-The Interview-

SG: CITY OF BLADES introduces us to a new city, Voortyashtan. What differences between it and Bulikov can readers look forward to?

RJB: Bulikov was a city that, in the old days, was shared by all the Divinities - it was the capital city of the Continent, belonging to everyone and no one. For the new book, I thought it'd be fun to visit a site that had originally been the main city of one Divinity, and thus would have been shaped by that individual Divinity's characteristics and domains - and it seemed like a city founded upon war, death, and domination would be fascinating to see. So Voortyashtan, the city of the goddess Voortya, was the natural choice.

Voortyashtan is much more remote than Bulikov was, and much more savage and barren. It's a tough place, the sort of city you try very hard to avoid if you can manage it, and very hard to leave if you can't. But it's also interesting to see the juxtaposition going on: the city used to be glorious, but its glory was founded upon mass murder and slavery. The current citizens wish to pay fealty to that glory, perhaps recapture it - but there's an unspoken general knowledge that it's tainted. They're not quite sure how to move forward.

SG: Did you base these settings on any modern day cities?

RJB: Not modern day. Bulikov was partially inspired by medieval Constantinople. It's fascinating to read accounts by French knights and such who journeyed to the city, which was far, far more advanced and decadent than anything they'd ever witnessed. Though some people these days tend to think of the medieval era in terms of grandeur, to Constantinople, medieval Europe was essentially a land of ignorant country bumpkins. 

Voortyashtan is mostly a military outpost at the beginning of CITY OF BLADES, built around a massive fort that Saypur constructed to keep an eye on the most dreaded of all the Continental cities. It's that aspect of a remote, beleaguered, and undermanned outpost that I found interesting. When you're all along together on the edge of the world, surrounded by unfriendly wilderness and unfriendlier locals, what do you do?

SG: This time, the story follows General Turyin Mulaghesh, who's been exiled to Voortyashtan. What inspired you to follow this foul-mouthed general?

RJB: Mulaghesh was something of an inspiration in CITY OF STAIRS. I had originally intended Mulaghesh to be a man, a sort of blustering old officer that Shara could dupe to her plans, not unlike Lestrade in Sherlock Holmes, but I found that dull - yet when I changed her to a competent, crudely practical, upper-middle aged woman that Shara needed to get on her side, suddenly her character came to life. 

It made sense to make her the main character of the second book, because Shara's story is largely over at the end of CITY OF STAIRS. She's made up her mind about who she is and what she needs to do, and she sets out to do those things. And as Shara had always been skilled at being a puppetmaster behind the scenes of everything, her natural evolution was to step behind the scenes of the larger story, steering the actions of the other characters. 

Mulaghesh, however, was going to be plunged into a state of doubt by the events of CITY OF STAIRS. As someone who's military through and through, someone whose outlook and character were forged during the hard days of Continental conquest, Mulaghesh - and Saypur itself - is now being asked a lot of questions about the future. Does she want to keep being an old warrior? Can she ever come to terms with what she's done in the past? And if she does want to change, is change even possible at this point? And of course, she has to figure all this out in a city heavy with brutal, martial history. 

SG: Many readers loved Sigrud in CITY OF STAIRS. Any chance we'll see more of him?

RJB: Definitely. Sigrud's daughter is a main character in CITY OF BLADES, and the man himself shows up and stays on scene not too long into the story. He will also be the main character of the third book, CITY OF MIRACLES. 

SG: CITY OF BLADES is your sixth published book. How many had you written before MR. SHIVERS, and what was your journey to getting published?

RJB: I wrote three books before I wrote MR. SHIVERS, and all of them were sort of an effort to find my voice as a writer. I was throwing things at the wall, and trying to see what would stick. In all honesty, I think I hadn't really found it by the time I wrote MR. SHIVERS, or maybe even the book after that, THE COMPANY MAN. I think I started to really figure out what I wanted to do by my third book, THE TROUPE.

As far as the journey to publication goes, the simple answer is - I got lucky. I think, really, luck is what it always comes down to, getting the right person to see the right stuff of yours at the right time. There are just ways you can make luck more likely: one is by persistence, trying over and over again, and the other is by adjusting what you're doing, changing your process or even what you're submitting. But at the end of the day, it's still chance and luck.

SG: Favorite moment from CITY OF BLADES you can share?

RJB: Probably when Mulaghesh fires an extremely large minigun, discharging several hundred pounds of hot lead over about thirty seconds.

SG: Favorite fantasy archetype?

RJB: Oh, ancient buried horror, certainly.

You can pre-order CITY OF BLADES from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Google Books, or your local independent books seller.

City of Blades

A triumphant return to the world of City of Stairs.
 
A generation ago, the city of Voortyashtan was the stronghold of the god of war and death, the birthplace of fearsome supernatural sentinels who killed and subjugated millions. 
 
Now, the city’s god is dead. The city itself lies in ruins. And to its new military occupiers, the once-powerful capital is a wasteland of sectarian violence and bloody uprisings.
 
So it makes perfect sense that General Turyin Mulaghesh— foul-mouthed hero of the battle of Bulikov, rumored war criminal, ally of an embattled Prime Minister—has been exiled there to count down the days until she can draw her pension and be forgotten.  
 
At least, it makes the perfect cover story. 
 
The truth is that the general has been pressed into service one last time, dispatched to investigate a discovery with the potential to change the world--or destroy it. 
 
The trouble is that this old soldier isn't sure she's still got what it takes to be the hero.

(From Robert's website)