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By Hobbit (2005-12-11)
Deborah J. Miller has been a published writer since her short story Dinosaur was shortlisted for the Ian St James Award in 1993. She is best known for her Last Clansman series (starting with Talisker in 2001, going on to Dark Thane in 2002 and ending with Lore Bringer in 2004). Her new book, Swarmthief’s Dance, has just been published by TOR UK.
Hobbit: Hello, Debbie – welcome to this area of SFFWorld!
DJM: Thanks, Hobbit – (looks around) - like what you’ve done with the place - very shee-shee. . .
Hobbit: LOL. Thank you. The colour matches my eyes. [grins]
Let’s look at the past first. Though your latest book, Swarmthief’s Dance, is published under your name of Deborah J Miller, you are not new to the fantasy genre. Please explain your previous existence!
DJM: Well, I chose Miller Lau at the start of my career, mainly because of my own genre prejudices – that is to say, I predominantly read male fantasy authors. I wanted readers to get past that vital three second decision on whether to actually pick up my books to read the back-cover blurb and I knew from my own preferences, that many simply would not pick up a female author. So, I invented Miller Lau to be deliberately androgynous for at least those few seconds. Of course, the moment anyone read my publisher’s note/biog inside, they would be aware of my gender, but hopefully, they would read the jacket first and be intrigued enough to buy.
I realized that almost all the writers I regard as formative influences were male because, genre fiction as a whole used to be a male territory – with few notable exceptions – of course, things have changed and are still changing but I maintain that some readers still believe that women authors "cannot do gritty."
Hobbit: Well, I would definitely disagree with that. Mary Gentle’s work, for example, definitely shows that women can ‘do gritty’. There are also events that happen in Swarmthief that are definitely gritty too!
DJM: Oh yes – much to my amusement my (then) publisher accidentally subverted my whole conceit by putting a large, pink cameo in the centre of the ‘Talisker’ cover art! LOL. I didn’t really mind because the artwork was fabulous (Mark Salwowski) but I did get a ribbing about it off some of my male friends.
Anyway, by the time I moved to TOR (six years later) I think there had been a shift in both my perceptions and the publishers. Perhaps I simply had more confidence in myself, but when my Editor said he wanted to put the books out under Deborah J. Miller, I found I didn’t really mind.
Hobbit: That’s a good point. What you’re saying then is that those prejudices that you envisaged when you started being published are not there now? Or that your perception of the situation has changed?
DJM: A bit of both really; it is incredibly difficult for women to survive in the genre and achieve a long-term career, but then of course, it’s difficult for men too.
I guess if anything (and this is purely an observation) women are not so great at promoting themselves. Diffidence and publishing/marketing are not natural bedfellows. You have to go out into the marketplace with at least a veneer of great confidence. Sadly, there’s a lot of hype these days and it’s all too easy to fall by the wayside as the next "big thing" comes along…
I’m not whinging by any means, all I’m saying is that you’ve got to be pretty tough.
Despite there being more women in the Fantasy genre now, I think my initial prejudices have been proven correct – for example, one reviewer felt duty–bound to comment on the relationships in Swarmthief’s Dance in a way that they would not if the author was male. People expect your gender to influence the work far more than it probably does. This holds doubly true for me as I write Fantasy of the ‘Epic’ variety, which necessitates a lot of entertaining fight scenes and big swords.
However, it is hopeful that things will continue to improve with the advent of the recent generation of brilliant women writers such as Susannah Clarke, Steph Swainston, Justina Robson, Gwyneth Jones – all amazing, although few have ventured into ‘Sword & Sorcery’ territory.