Interview with Teresa Edgerton

We recently had the opportunity of interviewing fantasy author Teresa Edgerton. Ms. Edgerton is the author of the Green Lion and the Kingdoms of Celydonn series and the novel The Queen’s Necklace, and is also the author of the Rune of Unmaking series under the pen name Madeline Howard. Recently, Ms. Edgerton has reprinted her popular novel Goblin Moon in print, audio and e-book formats through Lulu and Kindle, which will be followed by a reprint of the novel’s sequel, The Gnome’s Engine.

SFFWorld: Hello Teresa, thank you for sitting down with us and talking about Goblin Moon and the upcoming re-print of its sequel: The Gnome’s Engine.

I’d like to start by thanking you for re-printing Goblin Moon.  I found it a fascinating read and would have not discovered it, if you had not re-printed.  It was also nice to discover that you have quite a few books available.  What made you decide to reprint these two?

Edgerton: I’d thought about reprinting some of my OP books for some time, just so they wouldn’t fade away in ancient yellowing paperbacks.  When I finally made the decision, Goblin Moon seemed the natural place to start. While the style is unusual and not to everyone’s taste, it’s gained a large following over the years, and those who do love the book seem to love it more than any of my other books. I’ve heard from many, many readers who have read their copies until the spines were broken and the pages falling out.  I knew they’d be glad to learn there was a new edition.

But also, readers are becoming more adventurous now.  It’s not all Epic Fantasy.  They’re willing to try stories in new settings, with original plots, and extraordinary characters.  I decided it was the right time for Goblin Moon.

SFFWorld: Goblin Moon is a story filled with familiar, yet startling, creatures and characters.  Your world building is astounding and I found myself enchanted by the dress and fashions of the book.  You are (or were) active in Renaissance reenactments and festivals.  Is that where you drew a lot of your inspiration for all the interesting details of your world?

Edgerton: I’ve always loved historical novels.  In fact, I failed two classes in high school (ironically, History and English), sitting at the back of the room, reading my favorite books, when I should have been paying attention to what the teacher was saying.  But, yes, the Renaissance Faire and other re-enactments probably inspired my love of historical detail, a desire to know how people actually lived … which until very, very recently happened to include a worldview that was largely based on what we would call magic.  I began writing books in a Medieval setting but I was always intrigued by the 18th century, as well.  They call it the Age of Reason, but it was also a period when science and magic were still encompassed under the heading “natural philosophy,” a time when Mesmer and others were making experiments with “animal magnetism.”  It was a period of secret societies, extravagant costumes, and also a time when people were hungry for new knowledge, the esoteric along with the worldly.  And out of all that came a taste for the fantastic and the outlandish.  The more I learned, the more excited I became about using that period as the basis for my worldbuilding.

And even though I was writing about an imaginary world, I wanted that world to have depth and texture, as though readers could actually reach out and touch it while they were there.

SFFWorld: The story in Goblin Moon begins with two men plying a dubious trade as river scavengers, and they find a coffin.  A deliciously wicked beginning.  And though we get to see these two often throughout the book, I was a little disappointed they are not the main characters of the book.  As a matter of fact, there doesn’t seem to be main characters.  Sera, the young cynical maiden, and Skelbrooke, the vigilante, loom large, but I found myself torn between Jed’s story, the Duchess’s story, and Jenk’s and Caleb’s story.  In other words, all your characters are worthy of a book for themselves!  Would you say that it’s not so much a character driven book (though it is that, too), but a book driven by the detailed world you created?

Edgerton: It’s interesting you should say so, because I just read a review that said Goblin Moon was principally a character-driven story.  I think you have a better idea of what I was trying to accomplish.  I do believe that people are influenced more than they realize by the time they live in.  It’s hard to see these things when we’re too close to them, but when we look back we can see how typical our ancestors were of the periods they lived in, and I think that people will think the same when they look back at us and our era.  And I don’t want my characters to simply be modern people dressed up in costumes.  Whether my characters are Medieval peasants, or Renaissance noblemen, or ladies dressed in eighteenth century ballgowns, I don’t want the clothes they wear, or anything else about them, to be mere trappings, I want them to live in their  clothes.  I want them to breathe the air of another world and think the thoughts of another time. That, to me, is what fantasy is about.  Against that kind of background our similarities stand out, the universals of the human experience, but at the same time, we can marvel at the incredible diversity of what the human beings have thought and done and created over the centuries.  You know, we really are a fascinating species!

So, yes, the setting is an integral part of the story.  I don’t believe that I could have written this particular story in any other setting.

SFFWorld: Yes, a sense of place is often critical to a story, and I find that is very much the case in Goblin Moon.  I definitely got a sense of the city of Thornburg, so much so that I felt I could taste it.  Since you mentioned the unusual writing style, I’d like to touch a little on that point.  I think some might find the writing in Goblin Moon particular and, even, prudish.  That may be true, but I found that the style set the scene and story just as much as the place.  And without it, some of the shocking events wouldn’t be shocking if it weren’t for the mood that the writing evokes.  I mean, now-a-days, many readers have read descriptions of someone dying in an infinite number of ways.  It seems that writers have to go out of their way to come up with a new way or more vivid way to describe how someone dies.  But the plain truth of it is that shooting someone at point-blank range is pretty shocking, and I found it doubly so in your book because of the language.  Did you do that on purpose?

Edgerton: For Goblin Moon, I was trying to tell a certain type of story, the kind of historical adventure written by authors like Rafael Sabatini, Russell Thorndike, Robert Louis Stevenson — with, of course, the addition of fantasy elements.  In a sense, I was a twentieth century writer trying to sound like I was a nineteenth century writer writing about the eighteenth century.  Complicated, I know, but these were the classic stories that many of us devoured when we were growing up, and I wanted everything to contribute to the impression that this was a story that could have been written at the same time those classics were.  The language, of the narration, the chapter titles, and the characters was a big part of it.  And it wasn’t a heavy task, because I also had a lot of fun doing it.  It allowed me a little affectionate humor at the expense of certain characters, and a considerably less gentle humor where other characters were concerned.  Besides, I had already, to a certain extent, assimilated a not so different writing style into all my writing.  I simply allowed myself to carry it a little further, in order to achieve the effect that I wanted.

At the time I wrote it, the violence in fantasy hadn’t escalated to the point you see now.  It was much less sensational.  If a story starts out with something egregiously violent then what do you for an encore?  You have to keep up that level of violence at regular intervals.  Eventually it ceases to have the same impact.

On the other hand, people tend to forget that in a society where “Society” is everything, where there are many rules, many restrictions, there are also many dangers, and very harsh penalties.  And no one tell me that being ostracized is not a dire penalty, because it’s one of the things we, as a race, fear the most.  The desire to fit in is immense, and peer pressure is still very strong.  So in a culture where a few small slips can ruin you, there is a constant tension.  Particularly for a poor girl like Sera, who lives on the sufferance of relatives, the social perils are many. Sera, of course is headstrong and outspoken, but not as a modern girl would be either of those things. What would happen if everyone were to ignore the conventions? The world would totter (or so most everyone would believe).  In the case of one of my characters, ignoring the conventions usually means an explosion of some sort.  Shooting someone at point-blank range is definitely against the conventions.  Not so much the shooting part, but people of the same class absolutely demand fair play.

And even I was shocked by some of the things he (Francis Skelbrooke) did, because I never imagined he would do any of them until the situation presented itself.  It was interesting writing about a protagonist who was so absolutely ruthless, and yet so determined to do good. 

SFFWorld: Parts of the story may be shocking, but there’s also a lot of play going on.  Can you tell us a little bit more about what it was like writing a story like Goblin Moon?

Edgerton: Goblin Moon was tremendous fun to write, and I hope that readers will take a similar pleasure in reading it.  It was written at a time in my life when it was easier, I think, for me to be clever and whimsical and … I hope … witty, and yet deal with darker things, too.  Unlike my previous books,Goblin Moon takes place in an amoral universe, where your intentions matter not at all, and the only thing that does matter is the consequences of your actions — those, of course, can never be avoided.  And yet, the people in this story do find ways to amuse themselves and to be amusing.

I wanted to write a book with adventure, magic, and romance; disguises, revenges, schemes, and subterfuges; about Gunpowder and Alchemy instead of Sword and Sorcery.  I hope I succeeded.

SFFWorld: Some of the characters are mixed-race or mixed-species; that is, part human and troll, or part human and fairy.  These mixed species seem to occupy the more dangerous elements.  Is that just the way it came out, or is there a hidden message in there?

Edgerton: There is some question about whether trolls are a separate species, or humans genetically altered (of course they wouldn’t think of it in those terms) by magic.  The question is never resolved.  For a troll and a human to produce children – that’s an interesting thought, but one that I never explore.  We hear of people who metaphorically eat their own young ….

There are two human/fairy crosses identified in the book (another will be hinted at later), and one is benevolent and the other very much the reverse — at least in this particular story.  I’ve always thought that in other circumstances she could as easily be the “good fairy.” In that case, I think she would make a somewhat disconcerting fairy godmother.

But humans and fairies are not just different species, they have different biological and psychological imperatives.  The Fee, especially, live by a different morality, and when this runs counter to the morality of human beings, then someone is going to suffer. Mixed blood or full-blood, they are a perilous race, as dangerous to themselves as to anyone else.  As a general rule they have little to do with humans, which is why we only see the Duchess.  Because she is part human, she is actually less dangerous than she would otherwise be. At one point she even grows weary of her own plots, her own machinations, but she can’t stop herself; the Fee blood is too strong.

What some of the other races want, what they need, is closer to what humans require, socially and morally, so they can live together in harmony.  There is even mention of an impending marriage between a dwarf and a human, and no one is shocked, though the situation is unusual.

So, no, there’s no message there.

SFFWorld: We also get to visit other parts of your world where Dwarves once ruled, and the culture is not like that in Thornburg.  The quest in The Gnome’s Engine is to raise an island using a complicated contraption that will meld science and magic.  The description of the contraption conjured images of a time machine or lightning catcher.  What was the inspiration for that machine?

Edgerton: Calliope, where most of the characters end up in The Gnome’s Engine, is essentially analogous to the New World: America during the Colonial period.  It hasn’t been settled for more than a century or two at the time of the story, and it does seem like more dwarves and gnomes have migrated there than humans have, doesn’t it.  At the same time, there are a few mysterious relics indicating that the land was occupied in the distant past, by a lost civilization.

The inspiration for the machine was definitely the earliest manifestations of Steampunk as a genre, back when Steampunk was not exclusively Victorian, and was closer to its roots.  The engine is meant to represent the products of a time when function didn’t exclude ornamentation.  Everything crafted had to be made with love and attention.  So I wanted it to have some graces and flourishes as well as mechanical parts.  The fact that it is also a magical engine enforces that idea, of course.  They are working against time, but if the result isn’t symbolically correct it won’t work, regardless of the mechanics.

SFFWorld: Yes, you use symbolism a lot in both books, and now that I think of the style of writing you are trying to re-create, I can see all the pieces of the puzzle clicking – nice!  How much research did you do for these books?  Do you invest the same amount of research for all your books?

Edgerton: Well, it depends.  With some books I already know the setting pretty well.  When I was writing the Green Lion books and the later trilogy, I had already researched alchemy pretty extensively.  I was familiar with the medieval period, and only had to read up on a few subjects.  With Goblin Moon and it’s sequel, I wanted to do more research, but it was more difficult finding books on that particular period … or at least, I didn’t know how to find them.

By the time I was writing The Queen’s Necklace (TQN) I did know how to find them, and where my research notes for Goblin Moon filled up three or four steno-pads, I filled up binder after binder with research for TQN, and was going to libraries thirty miles away to find the books that I wanted.  Only a small fraction of that research made it into the book, of course. But it will be there when I want it.

For the Rune of Unmaking books, where my characters spend a lot of their time traveling, then I had to read about weather and geography, and what plants could be expected in the high mountains, and what life might be found in the deep places of the ocean, and things like that.  Again, a lot of it never makes it into the books.  For the latest book in the series, I’ve had to research mines and deserts.

SFFWorld: Do you plan to re-print any of your other previously published works, or are you working on something new?

Edgerton: Yes and yes.  That is, I intend to re-print all of my backlist eventually, and I am halfway through writing The Winds that Move the Worlds, which will be the final book in the Rune of Unmaking trilogy.  I hope to finish that by late spring.  In terms of reprints, the next should be The Gnome’s Engine, sometime before the end of summer.  I’ll be combining that in an omnibus edition with some shorter fiction, and retitling it Hobgoblin Night — so that will be the name to look for.  As soon as I finish Winds, my plan as of now is to begin a sequel to The Queen’s Necklace.   I wouldn’t want all of that research to go to waste! But all of this depends on several factors, including my work as a developmental editor, which can be quite time-consuming when I have a project.  I plan to cut back on that after January, but we’ll have to wait and see.

SFFWorld: Thank you.  It’s been a pleasure discussing your books with you, Ms. Edgerton, and we wish you the best of luck with all your writing adventures.

Nila E White, SFFWorld

One Comment

  1. aravis says:

    Can’t wait for the reprint of The Gnome’s Engine, since I can’t find it in used book stores and I’ve been looking for more than a decade now (since I refuse to order online).

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