The dates of the original Q&A session were 10/17/06 through 10/23/06.

Author Kate Elliott recently visited the ARWZ Community Forums to answer questions from fans and ARWZ readers in an Interactive Q&A. The questions and conversations in this transcript are in no particular order, and may vary from the order in which they were originally asked.

Welcome to the forum!!! I'm one of the older readers on this forum. As such, the majority of my SF&F reading has been prior to the advent of the large multi-book series that now dominate the marketplace. As a writer, how do you feel about the series vs. the stand alone novel? Do you feel that the prevalence of long series is a market-driven phenomena? Reader or author driven?
Murray Graham

yes and no

There's no question that there are a substantial number of readers out there who prefer standalone novels. I was just talking to one tonight at Dark Carnival, the specialty sff/horror/mystery bookstore in Berkeley. At the same time, there's no question that many of the most successful books today belong to series. In other words, more readers seem to prefer coming back to a familiar landscape or set of characters. For myself, I like both standalone novels and series novels, having no preference for one over the other.

So, the success of series novels is clearly reader driven. But at the same time, seeing that series novels sell well drives writer and publisher expectations and calculations. For instance, if Writer X tells his agent that he has two novels he could write next, one the beginning of a high concept cool series and the other a nifty standalone sf novel, I guarantee you that unless the latter idea has some exceptional degree of current interest, the agent will advise the writer to write the first novel of the series. If Writer X has a mortgage to pay, he'll likely write the series book next and hope for the best.

That doesn't mean that every series will sell well, or that every standalone will sell poorly, but it does mean that writers who are trying to make a living have to include these considerations as they build their career. But I should note that series, or serial novels, have been around a very very very long time, so it isn't a new phenomenon after all—and also the serial is prevalent in tv and in manga and anime, so there is something appealing to readers and viewers about the form.

Two other quick things:

1) There is more than one kind of series.

There is what I call the installment series in which each installment stands alone (Tom Corbett has an adventure; a Star Trek Next Gen episode resets to default at the end of each 48 minute narrative; a mystery novel develops and solves a mystery in one volume).

There is also the multivolume novel, in which a larger narrative story is told over a number of volumes, none of which can really be read separately. Finite soap operas, such as those broadcast in Mexico or South Korea, are other versions of this (instead of ongoing years-long programming, the story may last 24 episodes and then finish).

2) As you may be able to tell by the length of this answer, some of us gravitate naturally to the multivolume novel form just because of the way our minds work. I'm working on a Twelve Step program to wean myself off of series.... Well, not really, although I do really want to write another standalone just to do one.

Thanks for your informative and entertaining answer. If I may explore the issue a bit further:

Do you feel that publishers are at all supportive of the stand alone? And are writers being forced to 'pad' books in order to be published? From my point of view as a consumer, the answer to the first question seems to be not at all and sadly, the answer to the second seems to be yes. I've read some very well known (in the fantasy genre, at least) authors, (present company excepted) who seem to be trying to make a novel's worth of story do the work of three. If you could comment on this?

Which brings me to another question: In the good ol' days of SF, there were a few editors that became reknowned as nurturers of talent, Jown. W. Campbell being the obvious example. Do you feel that there is a similiar figure in the world of fantasy writing today? And do you think there is too much or too little editorial direction in the field?
Murray Graham

Publishers are certainly supportive of the stand alone. But my understanding—and you may take this with a grain of salt since what I don’t know would fill the oceans—is that series fiction sells better than stand alones in sff and mysteries. This is not to say that individual stand alones can’t sell exceptionally well; they can and do. But overall, as I have been told recently, series fiction is maintaining sales while everything else is crashing.

Under such circumstances, it is remarkable, I suppose, that publishers publish any stand alone novels at all, but they continue to do so because, I think, most editors in the field still love great writing and storytelling, and want to do their best to promote it in whatever form, including standalones. And also because no one really knows why any particular book (or series) suddenly takes off. Promotion has less to do with it than you may think; word of mouth remains the driving force behind unexpected successes like the first two Harry Potter novels (the big publicity machine behind Potter came after the publisher realized that the first novel kept selling and selling and selling at a steady rate).

Periodically people will complain about series novels, framing their question as if publishers are forcing the series on the hapless readers (I’m not suggesting you are asking your question in this way; I’ve just heard the question asked in this way). But if these are the books that are selling, then publishers will continue to publish, and look for, series fiction.

What the reader can do to help standalones is to talk up the books you like and encourage other people to purchase and read them.

Padding fiction? I’m skeptical of the notion—one I’ve heard before, by the way—that editors are forcing writers to pad their novels. Writers of novels don't get paid by the word. There is no particular monetary benefit to writing long. A boring book is boring, and if there are three times as many words without purpose, then it's likely that the reader will put the book down.

Off hand I can think of three issues involved. There are plenty more where these came from; these are just the ones I can discuss right now.

One. Might an editor get a novel in and tell the writer, "Pad this out into a trilogy because trilogies sell better?" To be honest, I think this is unlikely. An already long book may be published in two or three volumes, but splitting a book usually has to do with profit margins and the high cost of paper. But every editor knows that a boring book is, well, a boring book. Extra words and tedious scenes do not help sales.

Two. A writer might write long or add episodes in an attempt to write a book that has a more epic feel. I think some writers do keep their eye on the market and try to balance the story against what they see is out there and selling. But again, if the story bogs down because it is simply padded out, then why should readers continue reading?

The thing is that for some readers the lengthy story-lines of fat fantasy novels are excruciatingly dull; for others, they are the best thing ever. What reads as padding to one reader may read as intriguing detail and complicated intrigue to another. So as a reader you have to decide whether you just don’t like the form because you prefer a different style of storytelling.

Three. You know that famous quote: “Sorry this letter is so long; I didn’t have time to write a short one.” In some ways it is easier to write a long novel than a short one. I hasten to add that I am not saying that all novels ought to be short; many novels need to be long, or even need to be unfolded in multiple volumes. However, when writers are writing in installments to deadlines (and for writers to make a living, they usually have to be writing to deadline), they may write long, or they may not have time to tighten up the prose as much as it needs. That's a different issue than deliberately padding out a work to capture a perceived benefit.

I might argue that the good old days of SF are also today, with writers like Kim Stanley Robinson, Ian McDonald, Paul McAuley, Vernor Vinge, Elizabeth Bear, Tricia Sullivan, and so many more that I can’t even begin to start naming them or I would run out of room. I mention the names above because I've read something by them recently.

In fantasy writing? I don't know the history of the field as well as I should. Certainly Donald Wollheim and Lester and Judy Lynn Del Rey were important a few decades ago in creating the marketing field currently known as fantasy. Tom Doherty and Jim Baen are two publishers who have had a lot to do with the look of the field today. There are a number of really good editors working in the field now, all of whom are looking for new talent and most of whom are willing to push them (given a minute to think about it, I can probably name a half dozen successful new writers that Laura Anne Gilman in her tenure at Roc brought onto the market, Tim Holman has done the same thing at Orbit in the UK, and I'm not even getting into publishers like DAW and Tor and the many other fine editors and publishers who have launched numerous careers in the last ten years much less the last thirty).

These days I also think there is a lot going on in the small press field to develop and give opportunity to new writers; in fact, I think there are more new writers and first novels being published than may be obvious—so much is being published that it's difficult to sort out one thing from another in the bookstore today. Also, while short fiction can still be a good way to get known in the field, it isn't the same as it was in the old days with crucial place of the magazines in fostering new talent. However, I don't feel that I really know enough about the short fiction market to give you a good answer.

Too much or too little editorial direction? I would need to have a better idea of what you mean by the question, as I'm not sure whether you mean it in a tactical sense, as it were, or a strategic one (small scale or large scale). I have been fortunate in having very good editors (Betsy Mitchell, Sheila Gilbert, James Frenkel) throughout my career so far, and there are plenty more out there.

Really? I remember reading somewhere that publishers DON'T prefer series because they're typically so long and, subsequently, expensive to produce. If the series stagnates and goes sour, then the publisher can be out of a lot of money.

No publisher has to publish an entire series if the series is selling poorly. They are under no obligation to do so, and no writer who isn't already a bestseller can sign a contract that obliges a publisher to stick it out to the bitter end even if a series starts stagnating and goes sour. And of course a bestseller whose books cease selling is no longer a bestseller.

So if a series continues to be published for a number of volumes, you can guess that readers are buying in sufficient numbers for the publisher to at least make a profit, however small.

As far as I can tell, the main reason you see so many series on the shelves these days is that they are known consistent sellers in a very tough marketplace.

Hi Kate! Thank you so much for posting with us!

What do you think up first when you're writing... environment (world, land, culture), characters, or situation? Is your answer the same for the first book in a series, as it is for subsequent books?

Do you think video games are changing how readers read, or writers write, fantasy? Are they increasing or decreasing the number of fantasy readers?

I've heard Jaran described as science fiction... but I think it's more fantasy, with some sci fi thrown in. Maybe a clash between a fantasy world and a sci fi universe. What do you think? Are you going back to the Jaran universe someday (please)?
Alicia GA

Alicia, I'm going to answer these these questions in separate posts, in large part because the first answer got so long. Not that I'm long-winded, or anything.

What do you think up first when you're writing... environment (world, land, culture), characters, or situation? Is your answer the same for the first book in a series, as it is for subsequent books?

This is such a good question, especially because of the second part.

The answer to the first part is "Yes." That is, I usually arrive first, or am first gifted with, a glimpse of an unfolding scene in which a character in a landscape encounters a situation. Then, as a writer, I have to develop the character (what does she want? where is she going? what conflicts impede her?) and the landscape (that’s the world-building part) and the situation (who? what? where? why? how? and how does the landscape influence and create repercussions within the situation?).

That's it, in a nutshell. Usually between the point I get my first glimmer of a scene to the point I actually start working seriously on the novel lies a gap of several years while the scene, characters, landscape, and unfolding situation percolate, change, grow mildew, alter, transform, and expand into what eventually becomes the story I write.

That's for the first book in a series.

After the first book, I am often constrained by the story. I have to figure out where I need to start and why. I often make several false starts, throw out pages I've written, begin again, reorder scenes, and tear out my hair until I finally figure out where I must start and why. So in later books in a series my choices are to some degree more limited and to some degree more calculated given where I need to go and how I want to nudge the reader's expectations.

As a for instance, using Crown of Stars with two examples:

1) the original scene out of which the entire Crown of Stars series blossomed is the scene where Alain, walking toward the monastery on the path over the Dragonback Ridge, walks into a storm and meets the Lady of Battles, who offers him a choice.

2) while writing the fourth volume, Child of Flame, I wrote a great deal of story about Ivar and his hapless companions. But at some point late in the book, I realized it was too much. I sliced out the entire story and pushed it into book five, where it now resides. Then I used Ivar and his friends as the frame story for the prologue and epilogue, which worked out well.

Using another for instance:

1) the first scene in Crossroads that came to me takes place about 65 years after the events in Spirit Gate. The original story that I developed is a trilogy set in that later time. But when I started writing a prologue to get in some of the back-story, it became so unwieldy that I realized I needed to write the prologue as its own complete narrative.

2) I'm currently struggling with the opening of book two, Shadow Gate. I had written about 300 pages, but have recently thrown out about 150 of those pages, including what was the opening 80 pages, because they weren’t working. I think I now have the right entry point, but it has taken me a number of false starts, and a fair bit of thinking about how I need to shape this particular volume, to find my starting point. This is a significantly different task than beginning a new story entirely. It’s part of the challenge of writing a multivolume series novel, in fact. And the challenge is part of what makes it so satisfying.

Do you think video games are changing how readers read, or writers write, fantasy? Are they increasing or decreasing the number of fantasy readers?

The received wisdom is that video games are decreasing the number of readers. It may be true. It seems feasible that children who spend time playing video games would be playing the games instead of reading. However, the discussion about video games doesn't take into account television viewing, which probably takes up as many if not more hours, and it doesn’t take into account how video games are cutting into television viewing. It also doesn’t take into account how many of these kids would have become serious readers anyway. By serious reader I mean a person who loves to read and reads reasonably frequently.

Historically, readers are the exception, not the rule, in the greater scheme of things. For a long time this was because of widespread illiteracy, of course, but even with the rise of the penny dreadfuls and the larger reading public in the Victorian Age, many people surely preferred other forms of entertainment, like boxing, theater, playing cards, drinking gin, and so on and so forth.

A lot of people aren't drawn by reading, and many of these when young will naturally be drawn to video games and that even more society-altering invention, television. What narrative fiction do we have most in common these days? How many of us can find that we’ve all read a specific book, or seen a specific tv show? In fact, we're more likely to talk about tv shows or movies than books in company, these days. So it may be that children who prefer video games and television to reading wouldn’t have liked to read much anyway in the days before those inventions became so widespread.

There is another way to look at the question, as you yourself ask:

If video games have provoked a change within fiction, and I haven't thought deeply about this so this answer is off-the-cuff and thereby suspect, I would guess it would be in emphasizing action at the expense of characterization and depth of landscape.

But having said that, and admitting that I'm really out of the loop in video gaming, I do think that this is a temporary aberration, or more likely a way-station along the road to the development of a new form of narrative.

For 20 years now I have figured that computers, the internet, hyperlinking, online interactive gaming like World of Warcraft, and the entire process of narrative interaction is bound to change because of the opportunities inherent in the new technologies. This change won't be fast, and the way it will settle out, the way new forms of narrative will look, is still not obvious to us. Old forms won’t die—we still have theater, after all, and poetry slams are a hot date these days—but new forms will emerge, and I do think that something will come out of video gaming that incorporates elements from gaming technology with more traditional forms of narrative. I hope I live long enough to see this emerge in a recognizable form.

I've heard Jaran described as science fiction... but I think it's more fantasy, with some sci fi thrown in. Maybe a clash between a fantasy world and a sci fi universe. What do you think? Are you going back to the Jaran universe someday (please)? Me, I call it all the Literature of the Fantastic, or speculative fiction. While science fiction and fantasy are considered different things from the marketing standpoint, I don't really consider them significantly different types of writing.

The speculative element in Jaran is cultural and anthropological, rather than technological or physics or another hard science. I think that gives the Jaran books their "softer" edge in comparison to what we often call "hard science fiction." In addition, the low technology world adds a fantasy flavor, although there are no magical or supernatural elements.

However, readers can call it anything they want. My job is to make the story compelling enough that you want to finish it.

In one way I have already gone back to the Jaran universe: Spirit Gate and its sequels are actually "historical fantasy" novels set on Rhui. As for writing the direct sequels to the first four Jaran novels (really there are only three Jaran novels, since the two part Sword of Heaven should count as one book), I do hope to return to them one day, when I can. I know much of the rest of the story, and I want to write it. When this will happen, I don't know.

A bit of everything from me then...

Characters: Have any of them ever changed without you wanting them to? In other words; did you start writing someone one way only for them to end up someone else entirely?

Worlds: How much work do you put into your worlds? Do you "only" detail those places that we, the readers "see", or do you have an overview in your head of other places that we never hear about. And (no matter what the answer) why?

I've had two novels in which minor characters walked out onto the stage with a set role to play and then refused to do what they were told, to the point of becoming major players in the story. In both cases they were males, so I'm afraid that my female characters behave better. I'm not sure why that would be.

Another thing I find is that my expectations for a character aren't always fulfilled. Stronghand (Fifth Son) started as a minor character but I got progressively more interested in what he was doing until he ended up as one of the crucial characters in the Crown of Stars series. As it happens, in hindsight, it makes perfect sense that he would do so because of his relationship to Alain, but when I started the series I had no idea he would become so important, and HOW he would become so important, and how much I would enjoy his scenes because he was able to say and do things that no one else in that world could do because of his alien perspective.

Another case in Crown of Stars is Ivar. He just refused to change, and in the end I had to accept that in some ways he was never really going to "grow up" and mature as much as most of the other characters were naturally doing.

I'm trying hard to think of a similar example with any of my female characters, but I can't. Either I understand them better from the get-go, or the changes that happen to them while I'm writing don't surprise me as much.

I do a lot of world-building, but it's never enough. I do a fair amount of research, but never enough to satisfy myself.

Having said that, I do try to know more about my world(s) than you, the reader, will ever see in the book. For instance, in Spirit Gate, maybe a tenth of what I know about that world at the moment (and I learn or invent or decide on new things every week) is even touched on in the book itself. More will be revealed later, where there is space and reason to do so.

Why? In our world we take for granted the history and culture that surround us. We react to things without thinking of why they provoke that reaction in us. We reach for foods that are familiar, or try something new to eat with a sense of excitement and apprehension.

To create a world that seems real, and not just a studio backdrop, the people in it have to have those same reactions to the everyday and unfamiliar things around them. They all share assumptions, a knowledge base, and expectations about how the world works. They have all heard the same stories, or prayed the same prayers, or eaten the same types of food—or they haven’t, which sets them apart.

By creating more depth than I can use actually in the text, I think I create a sense of depth within the text. I hope that makes sense!

I loved you answer on world building, as it pretty much set in stone how I feel about a few things. Thanks.

Oh, and by the way (and you did touch on it): how diffucult/easy do you find it to write members of the opposite sex? (I ask as I can't seem to write belivable woman to save my life)

I start with the premise that human beings are human beings first, and that gender takes a secondary place in their personality and their way of interacting with the world. In other words, I ask myself "what would a human being do or feel in this situation?" rather than "what would a male or female do or feel in this situation?" If I start with gender, then I have already lost much of the character’s humanity.

After trying to get a handle on the human element of the character and his or her emotions and reactions, I will then start to consider that character’s relationship to the world around her/him. I will consider how the character relates to society, for instance, is s/he a conformist or a rebel? Does s/he like the way things are, or chafe against them? Are their physical or cultural strictures or benefits to her/his position, and what is his/her attitude toward those? How do other people react to him/her?

Gender is only one of the elements that create our relationship to the society in which we live (and because humans are at origin band animals, we are social creatures). Age, ethnicity, strength (there are different kinds of strength, not just upper body strength), intelligence, common sense, personality type (morose, perky, even-tempered, volatile), class station or situation at birth, catastrophic changes in situation that impact where they are and what they can do, health and nutrition, whether s/he is part of the dominant culture group of the society or is a minority group—the list goes on and on.

The key is to take each person as an individual in which their gender is only part of the picture of who she or he is.

To follow up on characters in a sort of different way, but on a similar topic. Where do your characters come from? Are they people you know? Are they amalgams? How do you pick which characterization to use for a particular character?
Doug Gogerty

I don’t know that I can really answer where my characters come from except in the general sense of saying that they come from my observations of human behavior on a day-to-day basis.

However, the flip side of that answer is: where DON'T characterizations come from? We are most of us surrounded every day by other human beings. We interact daily with other human beings. We talk to each other, and about each other; we pass on the street, watch, examine, ignore, criticize, hate, and feel compassion for other human beings. Out of these interactions—out of our understanding of these interactions—grows any individual character.

With one exception, my characters are all themselves; they are, as it were, originals; they are unique, not to be mistaken for or confused with anyone else. For me, part of writing a novel involves getting to know the people I’m writing about. None of them spring fully formed from the head of the deity (that is, the author).

Most of the time I encounter a character within a landscape, in a situation. I have to ask myself questions about that character: what does she want? what is the obstacle he needs to overcome? what is the biggest emotion filling her life right now? what is he angry about? how does her perception of her position in society influence what she needs to do next? are there things he wouldn’t consider doing because of how he thinks about the world around him?

So, first of all, every character has to be situated within the landscape and society s/he lives in.

Then I try to meet each character by finding out what their dramatic need is.

This is a natural process with main characters, of course. In Crown of Stars, Liath is introduced as a girl who is a fugitive, who has been on the run with her father for half her life. Who is she running from? And, dramatically, the writer understands that what she’s running from will catch up to her relatively quickly in the context of the novel. Throw in a villain who has nefarious designs on her and her magical talent, and you've got your dramatic conflict laid out right at the beginning. How she then responds to the conflict tells you more about the kind of person she is.

I do not give main characters artificial quirks or traits—he's the one who listens to Taproot and hiccoughs when he gets under stress; she's the one who loves mystery novels and is afraid of trains. They may develop quirks as I get to know their character better, but I consider that different than assigning traits to create character.

I try to ask myself: What really drives people, anyway?

If I know what drives a character, and what s/he is afraid of, then I'm a good way to getting to know them for dramatic purposes. Much of the rest of it is leaving myself open as I write to letting the character "speak" out of my subconscious; if I do too much directing and controlling, my characters usually end up as limp, shallow imitations of a character.

I hasten to add that this is how I work. As we all know, the One True Secret of writing is that there is no One True Secret beyond this one: you have to write.

Secondary characters are trickier. More often, I will need a certain kind of character to fulfill a specific function at a certain point in the plot. I need, for example, a 'man at arms,' or a slave attendant. I need a camp follower who is a prostitute. I need a man who is part of an interrogation group in a prison. If I'm doing my job right, I can find some smaller thread through which the reader can connect to that minor character: anger over an injustice; grief at losing a loved one recently; pride over an accomplishment. I am more likely to give minor characters a specific and identifiable skill or personality trait that helps the reader remember them, but I never forget that I ought to be able, if needed, to write an entire story from that character’s point of view. Not that I do, because obviously then my books would be longer than they are even now, but it’s a matter of keeping in mind that every person in the world is a person, with a life, emotions, thoughts, a way of seeing the world that has developed according to the society they have grown up in and the situation they endure. If every character is only a step away from being the main character, in theory, then every character will seem to have weight within the world and the narrative rather than being a piece of movable furniture.

I do borrow personality types, physical features, moments of interaction I’ve observed, reactions I've experienced myself, all these things from the real world, to incorporate within characters as they are developing. Usually by the time I have finished writing a novel, however, I have forgotten what came from where because the character has pulled everything into herself seamlessly. Or in any case, that’s what I strive for.

The only character in my novels drawn from real life is Count Lavastine, in Crown of Stars. He is based on a very high powered specialist, a doctor, we saw several times when one of my sons was very young. He knew how important he was; he knew he was a world renowned specialist; he had fellows (medical doctors training in his speciality) running after him like servants. He struck me as an excellent model for a medieval nobleman. I couldn't resist using him as the model for my count.

You books are known for their complex and detailed characters. Who have been your personal favorite characters to write about over the years? Which of your characters have most captured your own imagination?

There are two answers to this question, the short answer and the long answer.

The short answer: Bakhtiian, of course.

The long and more accurate answer:

My favorite characters to write about aren’t always my favorite characters, if you see what I mean.

For instance, in Crown of Stars, Alain is in many ways my favorite character for many reasons, but he was often very difficult to write about. However, I really enjoyed writing Hugh and Antonia, two of the major villains.

Hugh, of course, is always a pleasure to write because he is a beautiful monster, because he is based on a recognizable and not uncommon human type that walks the earth in many places even as I type this. Antonia I have written as a point of view character, and I am often taken aback at how easy it is for me to fall into her point of view and how quickly I can embrace her twisted way of looking at the world.

As I said in my answer to another question here, the character in Crown of Stars who developed and changed and took on importance far out-weighing his original role in CoS was Stronghand. I found him increasingly interesting in his ambition and personality. Also he could say things that other characters couldn’t say. He comments on social and political situations in a way no one else in that world could.

However, I also do tend to fall in love with secondary and minor characters, ones you may only see for a short time. Such characters walk all over in the Jaran books and in Crown of Stars. I’m still to early in Crossroads to have had time for the secondary characters to make their move, except of course for the mysterious envoy of Ilu, the "slender man of mature years." And my other favorite who I can't mention here until you've all read Spirit Gate.

But in fact, overall, I would say that I have to love any character in order to make her or him “come alive” within the manuscript.

It might be easier to say that I get frustrated with certain characters because they aren’t changing or growing as much as they need to, to really turn into fully-rounded human beings. And that I am taken with characters who expand beyond what I expected. In the former category lies Ivar, from Crown of Stars. In the latter category we find Kyosti, from the Highroad Trilogy, Kirill in Jaran, Stronghand in Crown of Stars, and Zubaidit from Crossroads.

Finally, there are certain characters I consider "heart" characters; that is, they have a certain compassionate or generous nature that typifies, for me, a character who opens his or her heart to others. I’ll give a couple of examples: Alain from Crown of Stars; Yuri in Jaran, and his sister Sonia in the Jaran sequence; Mai in Spirit Gate. These characters form some kind of foundational core to each novel, and in that way can be considered ‘favorites’ of mine because of what they say about our need to form a human connection with others.

Was writing something that you always knew that you wanted to do or did you happen into it when you were an adult?
Saundra Kane

Saundra, I have been writing, drawing maps, making up languages and cultures and plots and characters and all of it since I was a child. I think in my case there's some form of odd hardwiring inside my skull.

Can you describe some of the methods you use to keep track of events, places and time in your stories? How do you prevent contradictions or deviations from previously stated facts?

The short answer is that I don’t prevent all contradictions and deviations from previously stated facts. I’m pretty sure that my work is riddled with them, large and small. But I do try.

Here are a couple of methods.

1) a calendar

1a - in Crown of Stars, I made a seven year calendar complete with all phases of the moon and position of the planets so that on any given day I could look up what a person would see in the heavens if it were a clear night. It took a long time to set up, but it was invaluable once I had it.

2a - with Spirit Gate, the phases of the moon are built into the local calendar, so that I always know by checking what day of the month it is, what phase of the moon it is. I did that on purpose for ease of use. However, I also have a calendar, rather like the wall calendar I hang in my kitchen to keep track of appointments; I write down who arrived where and when so when I have simultaneous events in different locations, I can make sure that coincidental meetings might actually take place.

2) a map

As a number of readers noted, my map for Crown of Stars was inadequate. What they didn’t know is that my own personal, for-my-own-use map was also inadequate. My map for the Jaran series was far better and more useful, as I could track where everyone was at any given time with reasonable accuracy.

For Crossroads (Spirit Gate) I made a much more accurate map on graph paper so that measuring distance is easy, and so that when I need regional maps with greater detail it will be easier to proportion them to the larger scale maps. The mistake I made with my personal map in this case was that I hadn’t aligned the map to north, so when it came time for a professional artist (Liz Danforth) to render a map for the endpapers in the actual novel, and she placed north to the top (where it should be for ease of use), I realized that there are a couple of places in the text where my directions are a bit off because I kept confusing the actual north on my personal map with what the actual north was (off at an angle). Oops. No fault of Liz's, I should note; she did a fabulous job.

What has been some of your favorite fiction of the last year? From recent books to film releases or television?

I have been rereading Diana Wynne Jones recently, the Chrestomanci books, and am currently reading her new Chrestomanci novel, The Pinhoe Egg. I love Jones because she makes it look so easy, and because she writes books that read as if they are light comedies but which also touch on real human struggle and emotion without sugar-coating anything.

This summer I read Katharine Kerr's The Gold Falcon, her most recent Deverry novel, and the next and as-yet-unpublished Deverry in manuscript (The Spirit Stone will be out next year). Deverry is in my opinion the most under-rated fantasy series out there, with excellent worldbuilding, a believable fantasy landscape whose verisumilitude, historical change, and cultural depth are rarely matched in other series (and I include my own). If you haven't read anything by her, start with Daggerspell.

Last last year, I loved Ian McDonald's River of Gods, a future India novel - just plain fantastic.


The Twilight Samurai, a Japanese movie that is not, in fact, a martial arts flick, is excellent.

I finally saw Whale Rider, which I loved because it is a thoughtfuland loving portrait of how a dying culture finds a way to revive and survive as it moves into the 21st century.

I've been trying to keep up with the new Battlestar Galactica, which I think is great, although I haven't seen the second half of season two yet, so please - no spoilers!

I know I saw some newly-released movies in the theaters this year but besides Something New, which I enjoyed, I can't recall what they were. I really really love filmic epics, but there aren't enough of those around that are done the way I like best.