Q: Can you tell us a bit about your current projects?
A: I have several projects in progress right now. I've sold thefourth book set in the Matrin universe, _Vincalis the Agitator_,to Betsy Mitchell at Warner Aspect. It will be a stand-alonenovel that precedes the SECRET TEXTS trilogy (_Diplomacy ofWolves_, _Vengeance of Dragons_, and _Courage of Falcons_) by athousand years. Briefly, at the height of an era in which magicdrives incredible technologies and makes the every wish ofsociety's elite a reality, and when the bodies and souls of thepoor and the weak are the fuel for that magic, Vincalis -- arebellious boy from the slums, and Solander -- destined tobecome chief among the wizards in his father's footsteps, becomeunlikely friends and over the years, allies in a fight to throwthe wizards from power, break the chains of the wizards'enslaving magic, and reshape the world.
Things don't work out as the two of them plan, of course.
I've also just sold three stand-alone books in the new_Sentinels_ universe to Jennifer Brehl at Avon Eos. Each ofthese will be set partly in a tiny town in North Carolina andpartly in the alternate universes that connect to it throughcarefully guarded gates -- the stories will be about theSentinels, regular small-town friends and neighbors who alsobelong the secretive, hereditary order of guardians who havewatched over the flow of magic between universes since the gateswere first discovered, and about the world-threatening magicthat comes through those gates.
In the first book, _Sentinels of Cat Creek_, Lauren, the young,widowed mother of a two-year-old son discovers that her parentswere Sentinels, that they were murdered by other Sentinels, andthat her memories of her childhood have been magicallysuppressed by her parents for reasons that she now mustdiscover, or die.
I'm also working, as most writers do, I imagine, on somethingbig, different and on-spec. My current on-spec project is ahuge high-fantasy world with highly localized magic, amysterious order that requires the annual sacrifice of youngtown rebels from each of the hundreds of towns and villagesunder its dominion, and a young woman who dares to infiltratethe order.
Q: Of your own works which one is your favorite?
A: That's a brutal question -- which of a parent's kids does helove the most?
Having now made the obligatory protest, I'll say that I think Ihave told my most compelling and deepest story in the just-completed SECRET TEXTS trilogy -- I had the opportunity toexplore the question "What would happen if a long-awaited saviorwas reborn into his world to great celebration, then immediatelyremoved from the equation, thus nullifying a thousand years ofprophecy, throwing at least one religion into chaos and leavingthe forces he was supposed to oppose at large, in control, andbent on enslaving everyone?"
The trilogy explores the power of hope, issues of duty versuslove, what it means to be human and who qualifies, and thequestion of how much any of us owes to the other human beingswho share the world with us. I got a chance to work with acomplex, powerful magical system; I ended up with charactersthat in some places moved me to tears; and I learned things fromthe writing of the trilogy that changed the way I see the world.
The only other book that had a similar impact on me as I waswriting it was _Sympathy for the Devil_, an outwardly comiccontemporary fantasy novel that on a deeper level allowed me toask and find an acceptable answer the question, If there is aGod and he or she claims to love us, how can this deitycountenance the existence of Hell, or permit the eternal tortureof the damned? This was always a big issue for me -- the answerthat I discovered completely changed my views on God (for thebetter, I'll add, though I still avoid all forms of organizedreligion), and from fan letters I've received, I've heard thatit has had the same effect on quite a few readers.
Q: What are you usually inspired by when writing a book?
A: I'm driven to find the answer to the question Why? No onecould ever answer it to my satisfaction when I was a kid, andfinding its multifaceted answer now fuels every book that Iwrite. Why do evil people prosper? Why do good people suffer?Why do we die? Why are we here in the first place? Why aren'tthere more headhunters in fiction?
Things like that.
As for calling it inspiration -- I wouldn't do that. I wasquite serious when I said I was driven; the difference to mebetween a good day and a bad day is a thousand wordssuccessfully placed on the page, (a quote I've stolen andmodified from Lynn Abbey, who isn't happy unless she'd donefifteen hundred.) The day when I really don't want to write israre indeed, and is usually preceded by the flu.
Inspiration seems to me to be a fickle thing. I'd hate to haveto rely on it to make a living.
Q: Do you find that fantasy writing is ignored compared toscience fiction, or taken less seriously?
A: Depends on the reader. Fantasy is certainly taken lessseriously by readers of hard SF, but they aren't the fantasyaudience. Fantasy currently is selling better than hard SFoverall, though of course there are individuals in both fieldswho do quite well, and those writers, as well, who are hangingonto the bottom edge of the cliff with teeth and claws andpraying the rock doesn't crumble. So I wouldn't say fantasywriters are ignored compared to SF -- perhaps simply ignored bythe hardcore center of SF fans, both readers and writers.
And not even always that. I routinely get letters which begin,"I don't read fantasy -- ever. I only read SF. But my (wife,husband, best friend, annoying neighbor) beat me over the headwith your books until I finally read one, and I'm writing now totell you how much I liked it." So even some hardcore SF fansread and like some fantasy.
Q: How much research do you put into your novels?
A: I'm obsessive. I do massive worldbuilding, starting withmaps of the globe, maps of the region, maps of the relevantcity, maps of specific houses or ships or neighborhoods. Idevelop languages and grammars and word sets. I have a medicalbackground -- I read a lot of science books and magazines andwas an RN for ten years before I quit nursing to write fulltime, and the science in my books matters to me. I work out thephysics of the planet, the rules of magic as if they wereextensions of the physics. I develop races and cultures for thepeople, do a serious back history for the region about which I'mwriting and a broader overview of the history of the entireplanet. I design costumes and name the costume parts for thedifferent cultures. I figure out the religions of the regionand how they interact with each other, the rivalries of variousgroups and the alliances, too. I develop flora and fauna sets,starting from the tiny little things that get eaten, and workingup to the big things that eat them. Then I start writing, and Icontinue to add to the worldbuilding as I go.
I use very little of the actual background that I build, butknowing that it's there gives me a way to throw in casualreferences to places, people, or things and make sure that thenext time I refer to them, they'll be in the same place, andused in the same context. I have a crappy memory, so I makesure I put it all on paper first.
Q: Do you follow a strict outline when you write, or does thestory "flow"?
A: I submit an outline when I sell the book. The finished novelrarely bears a great deal of resemblence to the outline, but Itry to hit all the key points in some fashion, and I _will_stick to the overall theme and story arc. I look at it this way-- I had a good idea when I pitched the book; if, in progress, Ifigure out a way to make it better while still making sure thepublisher gets the book he paid for, then we both win.
Q: What has the Internet meant for you as an author?
A: Wow. A wonderful place to meet people. An amazing timesink. The best source of reference material I've ever found. Anew market -- I recently put together an e-book on writing,_Mugging the Muse: Writing Fiction for Love AND Money_, whichhas turned out to be the Number 4 bestseller atWritersMarket.com and a big seller at Booklocker.com too. Andfinally, a way to pay forward.
When I got started writing, Stephen Leigh, who was my Writer'sDigest writing course teacher, taught me the basics of puttingtogether a salable piece of fiction -- Show, don't tell; saywhat you want to say and not almost what you want to say; startin the middle; pay attention to details and get them right;leave out wimpy adjectives; tell a story worth telling. He alsoencouraged me, letting me know when I was close and reassuringme that selling fiction wasn't just a pipe dream. MercedesLackey taught me the rules of working as a professional -- Hityour daily page limit; remember your readers and write for them;treat the people which whom you work well; meet your deadlines;remember your promises. (In my case, by writing them down.)And pay forward, because you can't pay back.
I cannot repay either Stephen or Misty for their help andencouragement, but I _can_ and do pay forward, helping otherwriters get started and avoid the pitfalls I've found. I'vedone this by creating and maintaining a huge and growing websitededicated to helping beginning and intermediate writers writesalable fiction and then sell it. I've added a free bi-weeklynewsletter recently, and am working now on acquiring a chatfacility, where I hope to offer live interviews with some of thepeople I know and work with, topical discussions, and a monthlyquestion-and-answer forum, as well as a place where beginnerscan meet and chat with each other when nothing else is going on.I hope to be able to bring that live in the next week or two.The site is Holly Lisle's FORWARD MOTION Writers' Pages, athttp://www.sff.net/people/holly.lisle/.
We as human beings matter to each other. We can help eachother, and if we cannot change the world, we can at leastimprove our small part of it. The Internet has helped me to dothat.