Jennifer Fallon bridges the traditional and the modern, mixing science fiction and fantasy. Interview by S.K. Slevinski
Australian fantasist Jennifer Fallon has proven over the last few years that fantasy needn't be unfamiliar to be innovative. Her first trilogy, the Demon Child books of her Hythrun Chronicles, was picked up for publication state-side by Tor. In a rare and welcome move, Fallon published an unrelated cross-genre trilogy, Second Sons, with Bantam Spectra before going on to continue her Hythrun Chronicles with the prequel trilogy, Wolfblade. Fallon's fantasy worlds will be familiar in construction to most fantasy fans, and to some science fiction readers, as well, but she eschews formulaic plotting at every turn in favor of character-driven storylines. This author proves that adventure stories about kings and warriors, magic and gods, needn't be cliché, and that her characters can will the story forward without an evil dark lord in sight! I was interested to ask Ms. Fallon about her opinions on genre, where traditionalism and experimentalism have their place, and when old ideas on genre boundaries can be thrown out the window.
S: I'd like to start with your most recent publication, your Hythrun Chronicles prequel trilogy. The first book, Wolfblade was published earlier this year, and the second novel, Warrior, according to your official website, is set to be released in September. When can Hythrun fans expect the third installment of this trilogy to be released? Do you feel at liberty to offer any teasers for the upcoming installments?
JF: I'd love to tell you when Warlord is due out in the US, but truth is, I don't know. It is a sad but sorry fact the often the author is the last to know. I'll probably find out off Amazon or Barnes and Noble's site before the publishers remember to let me know! My guess is around March next year, but I stress, this is only a guess.
As for the next series, I haven't a clue when it will be released in the US, but let's assume late next year or early 2008... Tor has bought the 4 book series and which is called the Tide Lords, but we haven't discussed dates yet.
S: You've told me a little about your current project, the upcoming Tide Lords series. What can fans expect from this series, both in terms of content and scope?
JF: Book 1, The Immortal Prince is set on a world where the magic is tidal, so it comes and goes for hundreds of years at a time. The story involves a group of immortal Tide Lords, some of whom are so worn down by immortality that they are seeking a way to end their lives. The series revolves around one of these Tide Lords in particular (The Immortal Prince of the title), the human woman who befriends him, and the man who leads the secret society trying to defend humanity and the Crasii—the blended human/animal species created by the Tide Lords—from their attempts to rule the world.
It is very complex and jumps between the current story and the vast back-story of the Tide Lords and their ten thousand years of history. It is on a much bigger scale than both the Hythrun Chronicles and Seconds Sons and poses the interesting question of how do you kill someone who truly is immortal? I'm having an absolute blast writing it and worry that if my publishers find out how much fun I'm having they may think they shouldn't have to pay me.
Happily, the Immoral Prince is finished and I have just started work on Book 2: The Gods of Amyrantha. The Australian publication is due out in March 2007.
S: How about future projects? Will there be more Hythrun trilogies in the near future? Do you hope to revisit the Second Sons world, characters or mythos? Or are you planning to move on to new worlds and new characters from now on?
JF: I would love to do the sequel to the Hythrun Chronicles and probably will as soon as I have a plot. I have lots of ideas of what ought to happen, but that's a long way from a sustainable story, so I will have to let the creative murk burble away in the back of my head for a little longer before I tackle the project.
I would love to do a follow-up to Second Sons, also, although it would probably tip over into sci-fi as anybody who has read the series will not be surprised to hear. Once again, it's a case of coming up a with a plot that will tie all my ideas together. That is the hurdle, and given I have another three books of about 200k words to write for the Tide Lords series before I dare think about another project, the sequels will be a little while on the back burner yet.
S: You've mentioned that, in the past, you've tried your hand at writing genres other than fantasy. When you decided to pursue writing as a serious career, however, you settled upon the fantasy genre. What was it that drew you to fantasy? What motivated you to work in this genre?
JF: My decision to write fantasy was influenced by three things.
Firstly, I love the genre. I love playing with societies and religions and philosophies, shaking them up and seeing how they settle.
Secondly, I live in the middle if nowhere and until recently had a house full of kids and responsibilities that meant I didn't have the time or the resources to take off for three months to the north of Scotland (or wherever) to research the area for my novel. By working in the fantasy genre, I wasn't limited by anything but my own imagination.
Thirdly, I'd actually rather write science fiction and my first novel, Medalon, in its original draft, was part science fiction, part fantasy. The publishers liked the book but thought it would be too hard to market in that format so they asked me to make it one or the other. I felt I was on safer ground with fantasy, certain that if I tried to write hard science fiction I'd make some monumental scientific blunder, and a complete git of myself while destroying the credibility of the whole series without even realizing I'd done it.
S: Were there any authors or books, specifically, that inspired you to become a writer? Have any influenced the direction or style of your writing specifically? Or did they simply put your imagination in motion?
JF: I don't think I was inspired to write by any particular book. I started writing stories in my head to escape the reality of my childhood which I didn't really want to be in, and by my mother, who was desperate to be published, but died before she got the chance.
I remember wanting to be Wilbur Smith when I was younger, but I've always been more a fan of particular stories rather than styles. I don't consciously try to emulate anybody, and think it's a dangerous thing to try. I'm more interested in finding "Jennifer Fallon's voice" the mimicking someone else's.
S: What has struck me in reading your two series, the Hythrun Chronicles and the Second Sons trilogy is simply how different they are. While both are fantasy, Hythrun abounds with magic in the tradition of classic high fantasy, which Second Sons is primarily a political fantasy, its otherworldliness created by the geological and astronomical environment. Why did you decide to turn from Hythrun to such a different type of fantasy? And considering they are such different books, what is the fabric that unites them as "fantasy"? In other words, what do you see is the essential or basic "soul" of the fantasy genre?
JF: The answer is twofold. The main reason is that Medalon was my first published book and therefore took the safe road as far as the genre goes. Initially, it was also a crossover between science fiction and fantasy but I was asked to change it by the first editor who read it, on the grounds it was too hard to market in that format. I erred on the side of fantasy because I could make my own rules and was less likely to make some monumental scientific faux pas.
The second reason is that Seconds Sons is what happens when you have a successful series under your belt and the editors aren’t nearly as nervous about publishing something a little less traditional. It isn’t really fantasy—it’s the publishers who tagged it that way, not me. Second Sons is the sci-fi writer in me pretending to write fantasy.
As for the "soul" of the genre, I'm not really sure what it is. I write to please myself, essentially. I never spared what I might be doing to the genre a thought, other than to try to avoid clichés where I can. I promise never to write a book about a goat-herder who is really a kidnapped prince...
S: Some commentaries on your Second Sons trilogy have, indeed, identified it as a genre crossover of science fiction and fantasy. Did you set out to write a crossover? Can you explain some of your thinking behind the conceptual world of Second Sons?
JF: I come from an extremely devout and religious family, and yet I managed to grow up in the middle of all that blind faith, prayer, pomp and ceremony, questioning the very existence of God from a very early age. (Or it could have been the result of being caned into a bloody pulp at the age of 5 by a nun so badly I was off school for a month... there’s a good chance I’m biased here.)
Anyway, I wanted to write a story about faith and the battle between science and religion. To do that, I felt I needed a low-tech setting, which is why it was then sold as fantasy by the marketing people. Unless you’re Frank Herbert, crossovers are notoriously difficult to get taken seriously. Even Joss Whedon had trouble selling space-ships and horses.
Seriously, though, my only intention was to examine the consequences of blind faith. The crossover factor never occurred to me because until I sent it in, I had no idea they would whack a nice cover on it and sell it as fantasy.
S: Traditionally, many science fiction and fantasy worlds have been based upon real historical cultures. Do you find inspiration for your fictional worlds in real life history? If so, what sort of research do you conduct in the process of writing your novels?
I research them for levels of technology, but I consciously try NOT to copy them. Societies are complex things, shaped by any number of factors including climate, religion and the ethnicity of the population. To just lift someone else's culture into your own and call it by another name is just being lazy.
S: Like many modern fantasists, your stories are large in scope, demanding more than one novel's worth of storytelling. However, you have thus far written stories in self-contained trilogies, avoiding one current trend in fantasy toward endless epics. Even your multi-volume Hythrun Chronicles are conceived as self-contained, trilogy-long stories. Is this a conscious effort on your part? A reaction against the "endless epic" trend?
I would love to be part of the "endless epic" trend... just can’t find a publisher willing to offer me an open ended contract and the blank cheque that goes with it.
Seriously, though, I always have an ending in sight when I'm planning a series so dragging it out when there is a clear path to get there bores me to tears, I wouldn’t want to inflict that on a reader.
S: What other trends do you see emerging in the current fantasy climate? Which trends do you find most promising? Which are apt to continue? Which trends seem to be — or do you hope to see — nearing their end?
I fear the trend emerging is that the cliché is king and it's the Harry Potter-ish waving wands without consequences type of story that sells. I don’t want to get into specifics, but it's the "cornflower-blue eyed girl off to magician school on the back of her pet dragon" type fantasy that's getting the big money these days. This is a pity, because there is some really original, interesting stuff out there, (Glenda Larke, for instance) that doesn’t get a look in.
S: How, in your opinion, has fantasy as a genre changed in the last ten to fifteen years? How do you see it changing in the next decade or so? Are there any particular authors you would credit with effecting recent change? Which seem poised to do so in the near future?
I think as the publishing houses get bigger, they'll want to take less risks and so the more traditional fantasy will win, not because of the quality, but because it's safe, in much the same way Hollywood keeps pumping out sequels and remakes rather than risk their money on something new and different. The authors I blame: Dan Brown and JK Rowling. Their success affects the thinking of every publishing house CFO and that will eventually filter down to the buying public.
S: Any closing comments?
Only to say that it's been fun and your questions have really made me think!
S.K. Slevinski is senior editor for ARWZ Literary Magazine and a long time reader of alternative reality fiction. She is currently a graduate student, specializing in folklore.