Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester of 65 James Street welcomes award-winning author Elizabeth Bear to our blog today! Bear, a Massachusetts resident and native New Englander, is a writer of fantasy and science fiction and is owned by a Giant Ridiculous Dog. She’s a multiple Hugo award winner as well as a rock climber. She’ll be visiting the store on Saturday, May 10 from 3PM-5PM celebrating the release of her newest book, Steles of the Sky, the conclusion to her first Eternal Sky trilogy.
Thank you very much for joining us , Elizabeth! For those who are not as familiar with your work, can you please tell us briefly a little about yourself and your writing?
I’m a bit little-c catholic in my writing, I’m afraid–I’ve written everything from historical mystery to high fantasy to hard science fiction to urban fantasy to supernatural thrillers. Basically, I would say that the common element in my work is that it all concerns people trying very hard to be decent in a difficult universe.
What kind of research went into writing this book? What is your favorite research story? What cool facts and findings didn’t make it into the book, but you loved discovering?
I wound up reading everything I could get my hands on on Central Asia and Eurasia in the 8th-14th centuries, with special focus on the Mongolian Khanates. These aren’t in any respect historical novels, although it’s not uncommon for reviewers to characterize them as such–but they bear the same relationship to Central Asian history and cultures as more typical American and British epic fantasy do to the history and cultures of Europe. Which is to say, an inspirational one.
I’m fortunate in that a whole bunch of the personal history of Genghis Khan is pretty well known now, due to a marvelous document known as The Secret History, which was written shortly after his death by an intimate of his family as a personal record of his life. I drew a great deal of inspiration from that.
My favorite story, though, involves finding out how you cook marmot in the field. In modern days, this involves a blowtorch, but two hundred years ago you would have buried the little critter in a bed of coals. Apparently marmot meat is very tasty, but very tough.
What character did you love or hate the most while writing? And why?
I have so much love for Hrahima, the Cho-tse. She’s a sort of anthropomorphic tiger warrior-monk who has lost her religion, even though she has an intense and personal connection with the Immanence that her species considers the creative force. It’s as if she doesn’t believe in God, and he drops by once a while for coffee so they can hash that out.
Also, she’s extremely sarcastic, and I very much enjoy writing characters who have a mouth on them.
What draws you to the particular genre or style that you write? What do you think draws readers to these kinds of books?
I’m a third-generation nerd on both sides of the family, so the literature of the fantastic is the literature I grew up with. One of my grandfathers was a Howard fan; the other loved Asimov. My dad adores Jack Vance and my mother loves Ursula K. Le Guin.
It would have been weird if I didn’t like science fiction and fantasy, with that background.
I can’t speak for all readers, but for me, the magic of speculative fiction is just that–the speculation, the what-if. The ability to play on big canvases, and the live-without-a-net aspect of having an entire world to explore and invent.
Awe, and the nuances of characterization in big-canvas scenarios. And aliens. And dragons. Which I guess is all three of those things rolled into one.
Later this year, my modern-day Las Vegas fantasy, One-Eyed Jack, will be out from Prime. I have also just handed in a Wild West steampunk novel featuring heroic parlor girls and an oft-misrepresented historical character, entitled Karen Memory, and Sarah Monette and I are hard at work on what is currently scheduled to be the final Iskryne novel, An Apprentice to Elves.
I’ve also just sold two big-idea space operas to Gollancz. The first, Ancestral Night, will be out in late 2016.
And I’ve sold three more Eternal Sky novels to Tor. The first of those will be out in 2017.
The current trilogy is a complete arc, though–it comes to an end, I promise! This isn’t one of those fantasy trilogies that just keeps getting longer.
I also did a script for the Zombies, Run! smartphone running game, which will be out a little later this year. (The game is available now, but my episode hasn’t “aired” yet.)
What is/are your passions when you’re not writing? How do you make time for your non-writing hobbies/things you love?
Rock climbing and cooking. Not necessarily in that order. I also run, but that’s more a necessary side effect of the second passion than a passion on its own. Ahem.
I’m fortunate to be a full-time writer, so in my case it’s more a factor of needing to find ways to not work all the time. The problem with being self-employed is that the job will expand to fill every bit of space if you let it, and that way lies madness, physical incapacity, and not having any friends.
What does your writing space look like? What do you need to have around you while writing or editing?
I’m actually pretty careful not to establish writing rituals. Because I travel so much–my partner lives in Wisconsin, and we commute–I need to be able to park it anyplace and get typing. But I do have a preference for airy rooms with good light and someplace I can sit with my feet elevated.
Also, wrist braces. If I have one piece of advice for anybody who’s going to be wearing out a keyboard every 18 months, it’s this: watch your ergonomics, and take care of your wrists.
Writers very often have furry or feathered or otherwise non-human companions to “help” them through their work. Do you? What do you have? How do they “help” (or, “not-help”) with your writing?
I have a Giant Ridiculous Dog. He’s an 8-year-old Briard, a retired show dog named Ace. He helps by barking out the window, making me go for frequent walks, and sighing heavily when I have been ignoring him for too long.
I also have a stepcat, who belongs to my partner, Scott. His name is Muse, and Scott calls him “the most ironically named cat in the world.” Muse enjoys drooling on me while I try to sleep, jingle balls, and racing around the house like a mad creature.
Do you have any favorite foods or drinks that must be in the vicinity (or must be avoided) while you’re writing or editing a piece of work?
Tea. My partner refers to me as “tea-powered.” He’s one hundred percent correct.
Where can people find your work? (Besides ABSW ;)–though they should totally check here first!)
As one of the world’s biggest fans of independent booksellers, [I suggest] they absolutely should check locally-owned bookstores first. By supporting stores like ABSW, readers aren’t just supporting a local business–they’re also making sure that their favorite writers are on shelves–and that makes it easier for new readers and new writers to find each other. Which means that the bookstores stay open, and that the writers can afford to keep writing new books. Also, local book stores are staffed by people who love books and read them and can make personalized suggestions of what’s awesome.
Ahem. Sorry. I know I’m preaching to the choir, but it’s one of those things where it’s easy to put a quarter in my slot and get a rant out, so to speak.
My current series, a central Asian themed epic fantasy collectively entitled the Eternal Sky, just completed with Steles of the Sky, is available at Fine Brick and Mortar Booksellers Everywhere in the US and also In The Internets and also at some selected international bookstores. I’m involved in a collaborative fiction project, Shadow Unit, which concerns the adventures of a group of unrealistically sexy FBI agents as they strive to protect humanity from the worst monsters imaginable. You can read that for free at http://www.shadowunit.org, or the episodes are available in ebook form through the usual sources.
How can we follow your work, share your awesomeness, or otherwise stalk you in a totally non-creepy way?
I’m all over the internet! I’m at http://www.elizabethbear.com, and I am username “matociquala” just about everywhere–twitter, tumblr, google plus, livejournal.
Thank you so much for the wonderful interview, Elizabeth! We look forward to having you at our store on Saturday, May 10, 2014 from 3PM-5PM to celebrate the release of Steles of the Sky!