Interview with Sara Douglass

Sara Douglass is one of the hottest new names in Fantasy. Well that is only true in the United States. She has been published for some time in her native land of Australia, having received the Aurealis Award and being recognized as Australia’s best selling writer. Her books have been published for a number of years in Europe and Canada. In 2001, the US was able to read her work for the first time with TOR books publication of the first book in her world of Tencendor, with the US title of The Wayfarer Redemption. Recently, the third book in the series, Starman was just published. Sara takes some time to answer questions drawn from the forum members of SFFWorld.

1) How did you come up with the names of the characters?

For the Tencendor books I used a number of names from the Medieval epic, “The Song of Roland”, others I just made up, Rivkah I pinched from the credits of a soap. Generally they come from just about anywhere.

 

2) Have any of your fans given you negative feedback for how you’ve ended either of the trilogies, either StarMan or the final of the six books, Crusader?

Frustrated, not negative, and mainly regarding the ending of Crusader, which is the final book in the Tencendor series. I was tossing up when writing it whether or not to continue on with the series (I didn’t really mean to, I wanted to move on to something new) so I made it so there’s a major unresolved bit with one of the major characters (OK, so it is StarDrifter, who I always thought had huge potential as a character but which I’d never fully developed). For the past 4 or so years I’ve been inundated with requests to continue the series, to tell what happened with StarDrifter, and there’s a book there, and I’ll write it one day … but not just yet. If I do it, it will be the last thing I ever write.

 

3) Did that influence writing the second trilogy?

I’d already signed for the second trilogy by the time I was writing (or completing) StarMan so naturally that influenced how the book progressed. I’d always meant the original 3 books to be 4 books anyway (but my publisher said only trilogies sold) so there was always going to be scope to expand.

 

4) The relationships portrayed in the series were often controversial to say the least. (the incestuous nature of the Icarii for example). What made you decide to have this as such a prominent feature of their race?

Because it made them interesting, because I was very tired of fantasy that was tentative and non-adult, because I love to challenge people, because it is ‘taboo’ and because I love to walk right on up and slap taboos in the face. Doesn’t everyone have fantasies about going to bed with their grandfather or grandmother? *much laughter*

5) How did the general public respond to this?

Perhaps surprisingly, I’ve never had much response about it. Most readers seem to have enjoyed it (hmmm, those fantasies must be widespread!), enjoyed the ‘daring’ of it, I guess, and not one of my publishers have ever commented on it (although they cut out scenes where Axis or Faraday head off to relieve themselves behind bushes because that was too ‘yucky’ and readers would never stand for it *what a giggle*). The only time I can remember being challenged about it was at a packed literary festival in Melbourne Australia. Someone stood up and asked me why I was so taken with incest, and had so many characters involved in incestuous relationships. I gave much the same response there as above … and later noticed the people heading off with an interesting alacrity to the bookshop to buy the books.

It seems odd, but writers can get away with some very odd things in sexual relationships, and yet publishers (and readers) can be upset by something I would consider far more trifling (can’t mention toilet breaks, for example!).

I have a series coming out in Australia and the UK at the moment (The Crucible) which, I think, has something far more profoundly shocking and controversial in it. (This is slated for publication in the USA sometime within the next 2 or 3 years.) It is a complete (and highly heretical!) reworking of the entire Jesus Christ story. I keep waiting for the Roman Catholic Church to take affront, but they’re taking their own sweet time about it. *grin* What can I say? I enjoy challenging people’s perceptions of what is good and bad. Both in the Tencendor books and in The Crucible I like to look at what people perceive as evil, or morally wrong, and turn it on its head. I like to investigate evil. Fascinating. (I’m a very mild person. An utter lamb. Really.)I was actually mildly surprised Tor purchased The Crucible, as it had been suggested that it could never be published in the USA.

 

6) Are there are Australian elements in the book, for instance, in your writing style, perhaps there are certain things typical for Aussie writers.

No, not in the sense that you mean, although in the Tencendor books there are some very personal place names: Gundealga Ford was the farm on which I was born and raised; Jervois Landing is where my father was born (and my family operated the ferry there for many years); Ilfracoombe is a place where my great grandfather once lived. But that’s just personal stuff. I don’t think there is any ‘Australianism’ is my writing at all.

 

7) How important was it for you to get published in the United States?

It was very gratifying, but it wasn’t ‘important’ and I wasn’t at all stressed about it (it took about 5 years to be picked up, and I think my agent was way more stressed than I ever was!). I was earning very well from the Australian market (enough to enable me to write full time), and American publication is the (thick) dollop of icing on the cake.

8) What recent fantasy or science-fiction authors, either Australian or non-Australian have been reading?

None. *grin* I do not read fantasy or science fiction at all. Science fiction because I have never liked it and just cannot read it, and I’m not a huge fantasy fan either. I adore crime (Elizabeth George, Michael Connelly, Laurie R King). Fantasy for me is ‘work’ and I avoid it for not only that reason (at the end of the day the very last thing I would ever want to read is what I’ve been working on all day), but because I don’t want to be influenced by what other fantasy writers are doing … and I also don’t want to be put in a situation where I unconsciously plagiarize someone, which is very easy to do if you’re reading in the genre that you also write in). Many authors, not just fantasy, do not read in their own genre. I remember sitting on a panel with 2 internationally huge authors, and we were asked what the current trends in fantasy were, and none of us could answer the question because none of us ever read fantasy.

On the other hand, I do read fantasy occasionally if I am asked to write a blurb for someone. The last fantasy novel I read for this purpose was Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart which I thought was racy, sophisticated, and gratifyingly distant from traditional heroic fantasy. (If you thought my incest was bad, you should read Carey to be truly shocked!!)

I used to read fantasy (about 20 years ago), but I found very little that I liked, thus I started to write what I couldn’t buy.

 

9) How long did it take you to complete the first novel in the series?

Ten working days. I’ve never ever managed that again! Generally it takes me about 6 -8 weeks now to write a book, although research and editing add on about 7 months to that.

 

10) 10 working days? That’s pretty fast. Was that because you had most of it mapped out in your head?

It was because I was desperate. I was in a job that I hated and which stressed me big time – and the absolute only escape I had was writing (sex, drugs and rock’n'roll having failed abysmally), escaping into the book. BattleAxe (as it is named everywhere else bar America!) was my escape valve. The time it took me to write indicates the degree of stress I was under at the time. Eventually, of course, it gave me what I needed to escape that damn job altogether!

 

11) Did you have the events, such as the ending or who would be surviving, mapped out in your head?

Yes, I always know how a series will end, and the basic framework of events, who will live, who will die, who will be happy, who won’t be. I generally plan out in great detail, writing out wall charts, scene cards etc. When I plan out a book I plan it around between 3-5 major scenes.

 

Visit Sara Douglass’ Web site at: http://www.saradouglass.com

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