September 8, 2010

Women writers: SF edition

Filed under: links,recommended reading — Tags: , — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 9:11 am

A friend of mine was recently disappointed to find that almost all the staff-recommended books listed in well-known London SF book store Forbidden Planet were by men. She has blogged about this herself here: Elevating women writers. She asked me and some other friends to make suggestions of female authors of SF to propose to the staff of Forbidden Planet and this is what we came up with.

(The list is the same as on frax’s journal, but I’ve alphabetised it for my own convenience.)

Lois McMaster Bujold – Vorkosigan saga
Octavia Butler – the Parable of the Talents/Lilith’s Brood
Trudi Cannavan – The Black Magician series
Susanna Clarke – Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell
Barbara Hambly – Darwath/Dragonsbane
Elizabeth Haydon – Rhapsody series
Robin Hobb – The Tawny Man trilogy/The Liveship Traders series
Gwyneth Jones – The Aleutian Series
Katherine Kerr – Palace series/Deverry series
Mercedes Lackey – The Last Herald Mage trilogy
Tanith Lee – Tales from the Flat Earth/The Silver Metal Lover/Drinking Sapphire Wine
Ursula Le Guin – The Earthsea Trilogy/ The Left Hand of Darkness/The Dispossessed
R. A. MacAvoy – The Lens of the World series/ Tea with the Black Dragon
Julian May – Saga of the Exiles
Patricia McKillip – The Riddle Master Trilogy/ Fool’s Run
Robin McKinley – The Blue Sword/The Hero and the Crown
Elizabeth Moon – The Sheepfarmer’s Daughter
Andre Norton – Witch World series/Red Hart Magic
Naomi Novik – Temeraire series
Mary Doria Russell – The Sparrow/Children of God
Felicity Savage – Humility Garden/Delta City
Sheri S Tepper – The Gate to Women’s Country/The Margarets/Beauty.
James Tiptree – Writes SF short stories, all of them are recommended.
Joan D. Vinge – The Snow Queen Cycle/ Cat
Michelle West – The Sacred Hunt and The Sun Sword series

Does anyone have further suggestions of SF women writers to add?

August 23, 2010

57 varieties of writers

Filed under: Advice for writers,bloggery — Tags: , , , — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 1:24 pm

About once a month someone in my extended friendship group asks me for advice on writing and/or getting published. While I’m happy to share my few nuggets of wisdom (which have almost invariably been ignored by the questioner!) often there’s no advice I can give because the questioner is asking about a completely different part of the field.

I’ve been asked twice now to give advice to aspiring travel writers. Madness! I barely leave my writer’s garret, I know nothing about travel, nothing about engaging travel writing, have no contacts of any kind in the business. My total sum of my knowledge in this area is that I own most of Bill Bryson’s books.

Last week a very lovely person asked if she could drop by for advice about how to write a graphic novel. I had to tell her that as far as I’m aware it’s a completely different industry from mine. Even the publishing companies are different (at least with the travel writing thing the big firms overlap). If I had any idea how to write a graphic novel I would have written one.

I’ve been asked about short stories more than any other kind of writing. Hah! I’ve only ever written four short stories, two of which were on commission for anthologies. In theory I know you need to pitch to magazines but Google would give you better advice than I can.

Likewise picturebooks, another popular topic. Weirdly enough I get asked a lot about how to break into illustration, another topic I don’t know anything about except that it’s a tough field. I’ve never written a picturebook and from watching Mary Hoffman at work I know that it’s a challenging discipline, a rigorous closely-written artform in which not one word can be wasted. I’ve written thousands and thousands of words, but limit me to 28 double-page spreads and a total word count of a single side of A4 and I’ll run screaming from the pressure!

Adult fiction I know something about but children’s authors don’t always find it straightforward to move into the adult market. I could maybe give some advice to the genre authors but it’s not going to be as useful as advice given by an actual author of adult fiction. Come back and ask me again in 20 years time, eh?

So my advice to you would-be-authors out there is to find the right type of author to ask advice of before you even ask your first question. Oh and remember that the answer to “can you help me get published?” is invariably a resounding “NO!” Writers are too busy trying to get published themselves. Agents are the people to help you get published and even they can’t help everyone.

August 11, 2010

The Naming of People

Filed under: Advice for writers — Tags: , , , , — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 10:15 am

The naming of people is a delicate art in any book but is particularly important in speculative fiction. Citizens of a galactic empire or subjects of a fantasy king are made credible by the resonance of their names for things, including themselves. Authors adopt different strategies of naming, according to their preferences and what style they think will work for a particular novel.

The Recluce Method
This is one of the easiest, but no less effective for that. L.E. Modesitt adopts this in his Saga of Recluce. Characters have names that are almost but not quite like familiar ones with a scattering of more familiar ones thrown in. The Magic of Recluce has a hero named Lerris with contemporaries called Wrynn, Tamra, Krystal, Dorthae, Mryten and Sammel. He acquires a teacher named Justen, an admirer named Deirdre and an enemy named Antonin.

This method works pretty well. It tends to use a few more Ys than modern English, possibly a result of celtic influence, but generally hangs together pretty well. It’s not my favourite because I think the results are a bit haphazard. I can care about a character called Tamra because I like the way it sounds but Lerris is just a noise to me and Krystal a bit confusing in a fantasy milleu.

The name of ‘Recluce’ itself, the island from which all plot emanates is a classic example of this. It acquires the meaning of ‘recluse’ with a fantasy edge. My favourite name in this series is the white city of Fairhaven, later destroyed by evil magic and renamed Frven.

Other authors who use a similar method include David Eddings and Melanie Rawn.

The Celtic Method
Celtic names are so popular in fantasy they deserve a citation of their own. The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander is a good example of this. Taran the Assistant Pig-Keeper grows up in Caer Dallben. He longs to be a hero like Prince Gwydion and accidentally has an adventure that pits him against the Horned King and the Enchantress Achren. Along the way he acquires the friendship of Princess Eilonwy, a sword named Dyrnwyn and a bard named Fflewddur Fflam. The books are loosely based on the Mabinogion.

This strategy works. It’s one of the least adventurous of the options but it gets the job done – Alexander is particularly good at creating colourful and memorable names. The main problem is that Celtic influence is overused in fantasy. Pronunciation issues could also be a barrier.

The Phonetic Method
This is one of my least favourite strategies. It’s typically encountered in fantasy but I recently ran into an example in science fiction. David Weber’s Safehold series has a heroine named Nimue (from another world and background) who is attempting to uplift the characters of Safehold against the will of their corrupt church.

She befriends King Haarahld and Prince Cayleb and sets herself against the forces of Archbishop Erayk. There are a lot of characters in this series and the author has listed them alphabetically in the back of the book, so I’ll just list a few to give you the flavour:

Zherald Ahdymsyn
Nahrmahn Baytz
Ellys Brownyng
Zhaspyr Clyntahn
Ahrnahld Falkan
Charlz Gahrdaner
Gorj Haarpar
Ahlbyrt Harys
Ernyst Lynkyn
Rholynd Mahlry

I could go on since I’m only halfway through the alphabet but I can’t bear to. This is one of my least favourite methods. The author is trying to suggest some linguistic drift (there’s a rationale for this in the background) but since the book is written in English there’s a perversity in expecting the reader to struggle through these names. It interupts the plot for me as I try to work out what these names would have been before being garblerised like this. And I find it hard to believe in the linguistic drift concerned and feel instead that there’s something tortuous about a construction that can produce Zhaspyr Clyntahn for Jasper Clinton. And there are too many Ys. Fantasy authors of the world, lay down your Ys, they do not do you any good!

The Could Be A Name Method
This is the strategy of author Chris Wooding and I’ve not seen it employed by anyone else with the same conviction and authority. I first encountered it in his The Haunting Of Alaizabel Cray, the title itself being an example of the method. Wooding takes familiar names like Eliza and Isabel and slides them into each other to create a new and, to me, intrinsically believable name. Other characters in the same book include Thaniel Fox, Cathaline Bennett, Priscena Weston, Curien Blake and Mammon Pyke.

Wooding uses the same method in Retribution Falls, an unconnected adult novel. The hero is Darian Frey, Captain of the Ketty Jay. His crew includes Grayther Crake, Jezibeth Kyte, Jandrew Harkins among others. He is being hunted by Captain Trinica Dracken.

I really like this method. I think it has a fantasy flavour while preserving the credibility of a believable naming system. Wooding is good at it – so good I was surprised to encounter a book by him that doesn’t use this method and I was disappointed not get the name convention of naming.

And more…
There are other methods too, of course. More than I can enumerate in one post.

My own preferred style is Names As Things which you see in Hex with characters called Raven, Wraith and Revenge, in Rights of Passage with Charm and Ciren, in Waking Dream‘s Poppy and Bad Blood‘s Fox. I might be growing out of it though. There’s barely a name of a thing in my most recent book.

What name styles do you use and how do you employ them?

This was originally posted at my blog and then syndicated elsewhere. If you see the syndicated post, please comment on my blog.

June 2, 2010

My favourite authors: Diana Wynne Jones

Filed under: bloggery,growing up,my favourite authors,recommended reading — Tags: , — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 4:08 pm

Each book is an experiment, an attempt to write the ideal book, the book my children would like, the book I didn’t have as a child myself. I have still not, after twenty-odd books, written that book. – Diana Wynne Jones

I’ve been reading about Diana Wynne Jones on her official website, prompted by the sad news in Ansible that her oncologist fears she “has ‘months rather than years’”. I have loved Diana’s work for years. I still vividly remember reading Howl’s Moving Castle at age ten and laughing myself silly but even that wasn’t the first DWJ book I’d read. I’d found Witch Week a couple of years earlier but hadn’t made the connection. From age eleven I was following her work compulsively. My mother and I both loved Fire and Hemlock but I was particular found of her more sf titles: A Tale of Time City and The Homeward Bounders. I’ve recently been re-reading my collection of her books for the umpteenth time and noticed that the more I read it the better I like The Time of the Ghost and how clear it is to me as an adult and a writer myself how much of her own childhood experience she puts into her work.

There are so many of her books I love. For sheer hilarity and imagination I don’t think books come much better than Archer’s Goon. I think overall I prefer the novels where she uses her own vast store of creativity to imagine beings who are mysteriously magical to the ones in which she draws on mythic themes and resonances. (Eight Days of Luke employed the norse gods, Hexwood an assortment of mythic figures and Fire and Hemlock and  Enchanted Glass the seelie court.) I do appreciate a good mythic reimagining but Diana can create powerful characters and strong ideas of her own without relying on borrowed power.  In her Chrestomanci series she created a central character, a surrounding world and an expansive multiverse which is iconic in the fantasy genre and has doubtless influenced a number of other YA writers.

My own writing has definitely been influenced by Diana’s work. The relationships and dysfunctions of families is a strong theme in her work and has become so in mine. I’ve also endeavoured to emulate her smooth transitions between the magical and the mundane: in settings, plotting and the way my characters think.

Having read Diana’s words quoted above about her attempts to write the ideal book – the one she wanted as a child – I feel a strong empathy with that impulse. I also have not yet written my ideal book although I feel that I am getting closer to it. But my conception of what the ideal book is comes from Diana Wynne Jones’s work. She and Margaret Mahy have set the standard I aspire to and drawn the map of of the fictional landscape I inhabit.

I have never met Diana but I feel as though I know her through how much of herself she has given to her readers. My thoughts are with her and her family in this difficult time and I hope very much that she will surprise the medical profession. With all that she has given us, she still has more to give. Meanwhile I’m returning to reread the rest of my collection and to fill in the astounding gap. I think there are two whole novels of hers I inaccountably don’t possess.

March 2, 2010

Things I read on the internet

The Guardian asked writers for their ten rules for writing (part one and part two available here). I like lots of bit and pieces of advice and might take one rule from each author. But overall I liked this advice the best:

Ian Rankin

1 Read lots.
2 Write lots.
3 Learn to be self-critical.
4 Learn what criticism to accept.
5 Be persistent.
6 Have a story worth telling.
7 Don’t give up.
8 Know the market.
9 Get lucky.
10 Stay lucky.

Other things I read on the internet suggest a couple of addendums:

Additional rule a) If a reviewer critiques your book don’t take it personally. Especially don’t declare internet war on the reviewer, abuse them by email and in comments to forums and create sock puppets to praise your book and star rate it. That makes you look crazy – and desperate.

Additional rule b) Even if your dad is a rock star that doesn’t mean you can trace the art from other people’s manga and publish it under your own name without the entire fannish interwebs calling you out on it. And then CNN will notice. That makes you look stupid – and a plagiarist.

November 17, 2009

Second Polish interview

Filed under: Bad Blood,interview,Poland,Q&A — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 2:22 pm

Here’s a link to the interview I did with Polish website Carpe Noctem. There’s also to be a competition to win some of my books in Polish coming up soon.

And here’s the text for English readers:

Even though “Bad Blood” is your latest book, it was the first one that has been published in Poland. Can you say something about your other works? Which one would you recommend for someone who liked “Bad Blood”?

I write in a wide range of genres. My first books were science fiction but since then I’ve written fantasy, horror and contemporary fiction novels. Readers who liked Bad Blood might also enjoy Waking Dream, a tale of three cousins who enter a landscape of dreams, or my series that starts with Borderland, about a group of teenagers who travel between worlds.

In 2011 my next horror novel will be published in the UK and perhaps in Poland as well. It is called Ghost of a Chance and is a ghost story and detective story set in an English country house.

Why did you decide to write literature for children and young adults?

I fell into writing almost accidentally. I was writing stories for years before I realised I was a writer.  I wrote the kind of books I wanted to read and fortunately for me there were publishers who liked them as well. It wasn’t until I’d written several books that I started to write more deliberately for young adults. I still write for the kind of reader I was as a teenager and the kind of reader I am now. I like stories about change and becoming and identity: all themes that are very appropriate for teenagers.

What was it like to send a sample of your first book, “Hex”, to your mother’s agent as a seventeen years old girl and later get it accepted for publishing? How did you feel while waiting for the feedback? Were you confident or rather nervous and hopeless?

I was sending material to my mother’s agent for advice about whether to try submitting professionally, so I was hopeful that she’d find something to like. I don’t know what I expected but it came as a HUGE surprise when she offered to represent me. Then, later, Douglas Hill suggested I send my book to his editor Marion Lloyd. She was the first editor it was sent to so I wasn’t expecting much – most books have to be submitted to lots of publishers. It was wonderful when Macmillan took the book and gave me a contract for a second book as well. I had just started at university so I was very young to get a first contract straight away like that.

Did your mother encourage you to write and was she helpful? Did she give you any advice on writing?

My mother has always been very helpful and supportive. We talk to each other about our ideas and discuss tricky bits of narrative. She also gives me advice about the industry and we discuss what ideas are popular and what might be new and exciting.

Why did you decide to turn to darker fiction and write “Bad Blood”?

I like to move forward in my writing and experiment with new ideas and new styles. Bad Blood was a challenge for me. I wanted to see if I could write something frightening and bring a darker atmosphere into my work.

Is there anything particular that inspired you to write “Bad Blood”?

I went to stay in a house in the Lake District in England and was inspired by the architecture and ambiance of the house as well as by the surrounding scenery. I was staying with my family which might have inspired my use of a family as the central characters in the book.

I was really impressed by the way you used the abandoned house and eerie dolls to create dark atmosphere in “Bad Blood”. Have you ever thought about writing a full-blooded horror for adults?

I would like to write an adult novel, which might have horror elements, but I haven’t had quite the right idea yet. I have lots of notes and some text fragments for an adult novel but right now I’m having too many young adult novel ideas to work on!

Who are your favourite writers and did their works have influence on your writing?

I have definitely been inspired by Diana Wynne Jones (A Tale of Time City, Fire and Hemlock and others) and Margaret Mahy (The Changeover and The Tricksters). Another favourite author is Ursula Le Guin.  I’ve also been influenced by Alan Garner, Annie Dalton, and John Wyndam. I read so much and enjoy so many different authors that I could list hundreds of books here, so I’d better leave it at that for now. If anyone would like to know more about my influences and the writers I admire, I sometimes recommend books on my blog which can be found on my website:


November 15, 2009

A penny for your thoughts

Filed under: links,living in the future,Q&A — Tags: , — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 3:54 pm

A friend linked me to the discussion that’s been going on in writerly circles about donation buttons, direct selling to your readers and whether it’s possible to make money from online publication. Here are the posts I’ve been reading:

  • Steven Brust on begging for alms
  • Bill Ward on patronage and an online audience
  • Cory Doctorow in Locus about creative commons licenses and other ways of gaining attention for your books
  • Paul Raven in a Futurismic blog post about how to make money from fiction in the internet age
  • Since plenty of bright people will be putting forward their two cents of thoughts into the discussion I’m not claiming mine are the ultimate answer. Here’s where I stand on some of the questions that have been asked.

    Steven Brust asked what people thought about him putting a donation button on his website to help him with his finances because he is “bad at money management”.

    To this I’d say he’s perfectly free to put such a button on his site just as visitors are free to ignore it. I personally wouldn’t use it to donate to him. While it’s true that the author gets a pretty pitiful percentage of the cover price, this is how conventional publishing works. Very few people make large amounts of money from their writing – most writers do not make enough to support themselves, let alone their family. I’m not saying this is how things should be – but I’d rather look at solutions that affect the whole system and donating to Brust wouldn’t be a solution to anything other than gaining him a bit more cash.

    I donate to Brust by buying every last one of his Dragaera books, regardless of quality, typically in hardback. I then later buy again in paperback and donate the hardback to charity. If he’d like to make some extra cash from me then offering me something that would appeal to me as a fan of the novels would be a better way to persuade me. But again, I personally would prefer to donate extra content to my fans – hoping to persuade them into buying more books.

    I also don’t think being bad at money management is a good enough reason for a “moderately successful novelist” to ask for money. I can understand his problem, I can share his pain (I too am Not Good at money management) but I think you shouldn’t ask dedicated fans (who have already bought the product, see below on those who haven’t) to pay something for nothing.

    Paul Raven asked “leaving aside dead-tree or digital books bought in the traditional manner, where do you pay to read fiction, if anywhere? What does it take to get you to pay, and what amount seems reasonable to you for what you’re getting – if anything?”

    The answer to this, for me, is I don’t pay for fiction except from booksellers. I gain my reading matter either from a bookshop or online seller, for free as a review copy or gift, for cheap from a second-hand shop or (occasionally, but not often) borrow them from a library. I do pay for some online services (generally the ad free version or premium version of a site I use) but I have never donated money to an author or paid an author directly for their product. It would take a lot for me to be persuaded to. If Ursula Le Guin was in some sort of extremis (in danger of being without shelter or food) then I would donate to her and if she produced a book that was only available to be be bought direct from her website, I would buy that book. But she is my favourite author.

    I think I might make more of an exception for physical book objects or book-relate objects sold at promotional events. If I went to a book fair and found an author signing copies of their books and a table of books to be bought, assuming that I liked that author’s work in the first place and the prices of the objects seemed reasonable, I might then buy a self-published book by that author. As for what constitutes a reasonable amount, I wouldn’t pay anything higher than publishing company prices (between £4,99 and £14.99) and I’d be less likely to buy something at the high end.

    Cory Doctorow asked
    a) Will people donate to support a free book? How much? Will they donate more to support an audiobook or a print edition?
    b) How much work does it take to replicate a professional publisher’s contribution to publicizing and distributing your book?
    c) How much demand is there for premium editions, and what characteristics make those premium editions more valuable?

    My replies are:

    a) If you’re donating in order to gain a copy of a book, how is that book free? I would describe this as buying a book. I personally prefer physical book objects because they are easier on the eye and I can read them in the bath.

    b) Publicity and distribution are THE main things a professional contract gets you. (Also good editing if you’re lucky enough to have an editor who you work well with, but that’s not a given.) Even when the marketing of a book is effectively zero, you’re still benefiting from the name of the publishing company, a listing in their catalogue, and the kudos of professional publication. A known name like Macmillan is worth a lot to an author, especially when compared to a smaller lesser known publisher or a self-published title. I don’t think it’s possible to replicate this sort of distribution or publicity. Self-published books have to find a different method of distribution and a different kind of marketing. Viral marketing and word-of-mouth marketing are good for this type of title but very difficult to create yourself.

    c) A premium edition would have to press a quality of specialness that I actually wanted.

    JKR’s special charity editions of her tie-in Harry Potter title were handwritten by the author. I personally don’t give a damn about having a personal handwritten edition, I like print. It pains me to think of an author I cared about wasting their time laboriously copying out their words when they could be getting on with a new book. I wouldn’t want to support them in doing this for fear it would become popular.

    When it comes to books I don’t want or need them to have lots of bells and whistles. I barely remember to read the ‘Forward by Famous Person’ sections and when I do I find them so full of lushing up and soft soap I don’t care for them. I don’t need more artwork or a free CD or a special bookmark. I just want the words.

    I wish it was easier for authors to make money from their writing. But right now I don’t see a way to achieve that.

    November 8, 2009

    Interviews with Polish websites

    Filed under: Bad Blood,interview,Poland,Q&A — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 2:37 pm

    A couple of weeks ago I did an essay piece and an interview with Polish website Crime in the Library.
    Essay is here
    Interview is here

    I’ve since also been interviewed by another Polish website called Carpe Noctem. I’ll publish the details when I have them. It’s great that Bad Blood (Wykreślone imię in Polish) seems to be doing so well. This is the first time I’ve been published in Poland. If you’re a Polish visitor to my blog or website let me hear from you.

    Here’s the short essay and the questions I was asked, in English, for English readers who’d like to see them.

    How I wrote Bad Blood

    I was staying in the Lake District in a house that belonged to a friend of the family. It was an old house with narrow staircases leading up to attic rooms with sloping walls and everywhere, against every wall and piled up in the corner of the staircases, were books. There was also a door that led into an unexpectedly large playroom. I started thinking about story ideas with hidden rooms and long buried secrets.

    The story is about a blended family, two children from the mother’s side and two from the father’s. I was trying to think of names for them and came up with very similar names for the two girls: Catriona and Katherine. I thought I would have to change one of those names because readers might be confused and then I realised that in a real family there might be exactly the same confusion, especially if the two girls had very similar nicknames: Cat and Kat. I’d already been thinking about names in a more sinister context and this idea made the family dynamics come to life for me.


    This is a book about the power of the imagination and about the ways in which your own mind can trick you. Each of the characters has cause to doubt themselves and to doubt each other. One is afraid she might lose her mind, another is afraid of losing her place in the family. Roland, the oldest boy, is trying to find some kind of balance for himself in a tempestuous quarrelsome group of people. Romance also plays a part in my story but I wanted to show that romantic idealism can be more romantic in the imagination than when it comes to life in reality and that love and obsession are very different emotions.

    Bad Blood is a multi-layered narrative. It draws from fiction and myth and the landscape of imagination but also from a contemporary situation, modern experiences and real emotions. It’s about make-believe games but also about the beliefs we make true.

    It took about two years for me to write and it wasn’t an easy book for me. There was so much I wanted to put into it and so many ways to tell the stories I wanted to tell. I think that it’s the book that’s come the closest to my ambition for it, to expressing the story I wanted to tell. It has some of the magical realism of my fantasy novels but is rooted in a real place like my contemporary fiction. Ultimately I was very pleased with how it turned out and with the critical reception it has received.


    Questions and answers

    Your mother is a writer. Did she make you write too?

    Both my parents read to me and talked about books for as long as I can remember. Having a mother who is a writer certainly made me aware of the life of a professional writer but it wasn’t just because my mother is a writer that made me a writer too. I have two sisters and one is an architect and the other works in the theatre and although we’re all interested in books we’re not all writers.

    You were very young when your first novel “Hex” was published. When did you decide to become a writer? And why?

    I was just starting at university when Hex was accepted for publication. At that time I wasn’t planning to be a writer. I wrote because I enjoyed it and I submitted the book for publication because I thought it might be good enough to get published. I didn’t actually decide to be a writer until I’d been writing for over a decade – by then I couldn’t deny that I was a writer.

    You live and work in Oxford. Is this town a good place for writers?

    Oxford is a wonderful place to live. It’s a small city so I’m near to the countryside and it has a strong cultural, political and social life. I have friends here and my current publishing company, Oxford University Press, has offices here. There are lots of active writing and writers groups, schools and libraries to visit and two universities.

    But I think that any place is good for writers. I have been inspired by all sorts of places. Bad Blood is set in the Lake District and the book is full of imagery inspired by the place I stayed and places I visited there.

    You’re the author of many books (9 novels?). But we know only “Bad Blood”. Could you tell us shortly about your novels and short stories, please.

    My first books were the Hex trilogy, that’s a science-fiction series about humans with a mutant ability to interface with computers. It’s a very action-based trilogy with gun fights, kidnappings, political protests and dramatic chases and escapes. In these books the hero is a young girl called Raven who is isolated from other people because of her abilities and her personality which makes her reluctant to trust anyone.

    Since those books, I’ve written several different kinds of novels. My Rights of Passage series (Borderland, Outland and Shadowland) is a blend of science-fiction and fantasy about a group of teenagers who find a way to travel to other worlds. It’s in some ways a response to C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series because my characters are much less honourable and self-sacrificing. Many of them see other worlds as opportunities to be exploited.

    I’ve also written a magical realism novel called Waking Dream about three cousins who enter the landscape of dreams and are called on a mysterious quest which, like much of what happens in dreams, isn’t quite what it seems.

    I’ve written one very contemporary fiction novel called Roundabout, set in a Traveller community which is threatened by the local government’s plans to build a roundabout where they live.

    I’ve also written two shorter novels for younger readers (Super Zeroes and Super Zeroes on Planet X) about the children of a team of superheroes – and super villains. In these books the children are the real secret heroes, solving problems behind the back of their more glamorous parents.

    I’ve had three short stories published in anthologies, the third anthology was Lines in the Sand: New Writing on War and Peace, a collection I co-edited with my mother Mary Hoffman. I’ve also written a non-fiction book about the supernatural.

    Why do you write books for young readers? Is it more difficult to write for them than for adults?

    I write the books I want to write. They’re mostly sold as young adult titles because that’s the age of the characters but I write for anyone who enjoys reading. Adults also read my books and tell me how much they’ve enjoyed them. I remember what it was like to be a teenager and I don’t think I’ve changed all that much so it’s not too difficult for me to imagine stories from the point of view of a child or teenager and to think about what might appeal to a reader that age.

    I’ve not yet written a novel aimed primarily at adult readers or with completely adult characters. I’m sure I will someday, but I have to find the right story first. I don’t want to write just another book – I want to find something new to write about.

    You are a professional writer now. Could you describe how is your workday looking like? Do you work every day? How long? Etc.

    I currently have another job as well as writing and that’s changed the shape of my working day. But there are certain days I set aside to write. I have my own study room which I designed myself and that’s where I’m sitting now and answering these questions.

    When I’m writing there are no strict rules. I might write for a couple of hours or all day and into the night. When I’m inspired with an idea it’s hard to stop writing but sometimes I don’t feel as inspired and then I might stare at a blank page of my notebook or at an empty screen for a long time, trying to find the right words.

    As a writer do you have any habits/rituals? (e.g. a glass of wine for the end of work?)

    I have some little rituals. One is that I always start a new novel in a different font – one that feels right for the kind of book. So sci-fi novels have sans serif fonts and fantasy ones have serif fonts. I know that sounds a little strange.

    I enjoy a glass of wine at the end of a working day! I also like to phone my friends or my mother and discuss ideas with them.

    What’s the quality most important to your success as a writer?

    I think that what has made my books successful is that I try very hard to write characters who behave like real people, who talk to their friends or their families in a believable way. My characters aren’t natural heroes, they have doubts and fears, When they succeed it’s as much in spire of themselves as because of the qualities they possess. I think that makes them feel more real.

    Do you like it when your readers are scared?

    If the book is supposed to be frightening then I’m pleased that readers are scared. It’s a wonderful and terrible power to be able to frighten people with a story you’ve invented. I like it when my words achieve what I intend.

    How did you get the idea for “Bad Blood”?

    It was a combination of visiting an old house in the Lake District which was full of books and the surrounding scenery of the hills and fields that started me thinking of a story. I think of story ideas all the time but this one kept growing the more I thought about it.

    What do you think are the basic ingredients of this story?

    It’s a story about families and about identity, about claiming your own name and your own vision of yourself. It’s also a story about books and about imagination and ideas that you can get carried away with, frightening thoughts and nightmares that you can’t let go of.

    Do you like the cover of “Bad Blood”?

    I do. I think it’s a very dark strong cover that makes people want to find out more about the book.

    What do you like to read? What is your favorite genre? What are your favorite books? Which authors dominate your bookshelves?

    I will read almost anything but my favorite genre is science fiction. I like writing which stretches the imagination and explores the boundaries of possibility. One of my favorite books is The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin. It’s a complex story of science and politics and war told in an unusual way. I admire Le Guin very much and have lots of her books. I also enjoy Diana Wynne Jones and own almost all the books she’s written. A Tale of Time City is one of my favorites; it’s full of imagination and humor and drama all at once. I have many books by Isaac Asimov, Stephen Brust, Alan Garner, Tanith Lee, Terry Pratchett, Melanie Rawn, Neal Stephenson, Joan D. Vinge and Vernor Vinge and John Wyndam.

    I list books I own on the website Library Thing. You can see more about my favorite authors and how I’ve rated books there.

    What type of reading inspires you to write?

    I probably admire really good literary fiction (of any genre) the most. I’ve been inspired by books like The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy and Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.

    What are you working on now? What’s your writers plan?

    I’m revising a book called Ghost of a Chance, a ghost story for Oxford University Press and I’m deciding what type of book to work on next. I have ideas for a book about an ecological community and for one about princesses.

    What do you do when you don’t write?

    When I’m not writing I like to read! I also play computer games: everything from The Sims to Unreal Tournament.

    Do you like to meet with readers of yours books? Does reader feedback help you?

    Of course! I love to hear from readers. People can contact me through my web page, my Facebook or on other social network sites. I like to know what people thought of my books and the particular parts they enjoyed. I find criticism helpful too when it comes from someone who has really thought about the book.

    When will you arrive to Poland? ;)

    When I’m invited! I’d love to visit Poland and perhaps if I’m lucky my publishing company will be able to organize a visit.


    July 29, 2009

    Reference works

    Filed under: Advice for writers,LibraryThing,recommended reading — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 5:07 pm

    In my home office I have several book shelves. The one closest to my desk is my reference works shelf. This is where I keep my standard reference works (those I often refer to) and specific works I have consulted while writing particular books. This is a short piece about the reference works I have. All links are to LibraryThing and by visiting my reference works collection page on LibraryThing you can find out more about each book.

    This is what my shelf looks like: (from 3 photographs photoshopped together)
    reference works

    On the right hand side are the more standard reference works. You can see the Collins dictionary of the English language, the The Penguin Dictionary of First Names (useful for naming characters), The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, Roget’s Thesaurus, and various other useful tomes. It’s not all serious stuff. I have Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss and Red Herrings And White Elephants by Albert Jack. I also have The New Oxford Book of English Verse which is strictly speaking a poetry collection and should really be with my other poetry books. But this is a really useful reference to have if your characters are given to quotation. I suppose I could keep my collected Shakespeare here as well but it’s a pretty big book and the shelf is not infinite. I do have The Penguin Dictionary of Quotations to hand.

    To the left of those you can probably spot the Italian dictionary and the book of French sayings. My other French books are at work where I last left them after taking some classes in French. My modern languages are not very good but that’s what the reference works are for. I would advise that you don’t attempt creating a character who speaks a foreign language fluently unless you’ve got a pretty good grasp of that language yourself though!

    The Marketing Genius book is for my other job (in Marketing and Communications) but is also useful for an aspiring writer. More specifically for writers are How Not to Write a Novel by David Armstrong and Research for Writers by Ann Hoffmann (no relation). Every writer should have a copy of the Writers and Artists Yearbook but I’ve either lent or given my most recent copy to someone else. Nonetheless it’s a big yellow book and you will need one.

    I’ve also got some books about culture and society here. I have Communities in Cyberspace, Tomorrow’s People: How 21st Century Technology is Changing the Way We Think and Feel, Former Child Stars: The Story of America’s Least Wanted, and Why Do People Hate America?. These are some of my particular choices which relate to my interests and my writing but there are some I particularly recommend for everyone. For example Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum, a really excellent introduction to some of the issues, perceptions and false perceptions that cluster around the concepts of race, identity, division and alliance. I also have two books by Terri Apter, someone I know personally and whose work I particularly admire. The two books I have are psychological studies of friendships between girls and relationships between girls and their mothers.

    Because I am primarily a science fiction and fantasy author, I have a number of books about writing in that genre as well as a lot of reference works you can see on the far left of the shelf: the Dictionary of Imaginary Places, the New Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, the The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction by Edward James and The History of Science Fiction by Adam Roberts.

    I have been recommending for years How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card. It’s a very good intro to the basics of effective plotting in an alien world. I have a lot of other books in a similar vein and I recommend scrolling through the list on LibraryThing. Deconstructing the Starships by Gwyneth Jones is advanced reading, in that it expects you to be familiar with certain genre classics. The Tough Guide to Fantasyland also expects a certain familiarity of fantasy tropes and serves as a humorous guide to genre clichés.

    The other books currently on these shelves either relate to Roundabout, a contempory teenage fiction novel about travellers I published with Macmillan a few years ago, or to Ghost of a Chance, my forthcoming teenage supernatural thriller for Oxford University Press. If you’re interested in the kind of books I read as research, these are pretty good examples. For example, the collection I’ve amassed for Ghost of a Chance includes: Life in the English Country House: A Social and Architectural History, A Country House at Work: Three Centuries of Dunham Massey, What the Butler Saw: Two Hundred and Fifty Years of the Servant Problem, The Big House: The Story of a Country House and Its Family, Keeping Their Place: Domestic Service in the Country House, The Music Room and Truly Weird: Real-Life Cases Of The Paranormal. As you can see, I am referring to information about history, architecture, social history, servant culture, aristocratic culture and one book about the paranormal. I have also written a book about the paranormal for which there were an earlier set of reference works, now shelved elsewhere, which is why there’s only one book of this type although the novel will be a lot more supernatural in tone and subject. Handle with Care: An Investigation into the Care System is a reference work for another potential novel, as is The Parenting Puzzle: How to Get the Best Out of Family Life.

    There are currently 61 reference works on this shelf and this does not include those sitting on my too read pile or the four new books that arrived through the post today. If you’re viewing the library thing page in a couple of months you may see a shift in what’s collected here.

    At a later date I’ll write about how I use fiction for reference, but for that we’ll need to explore and catalogue the 10 shelves of my science fiction and fantasy collection and I’ve not yet listed them all on LibraryThing.

    I hope that’s been useful and interesting as a tour through one writer’s collection of reference works. If you’d like to explore what else I’ve catalogued online with LibraryThing or to link to me there, please feel free. Some books have my ratings and comments attached and you can also use my tags to find out what books I have in certain categories or genres. Start by visiting my reference works collection page on LibraryThing and then explore from there.

    July 28, 2009

    Literary Geek quiz, from Facebook

    Filed under: Q&A,quiz — Rhiannon Lassiter @ 7:54 pm

    1) What author do you own the most books by?
    Ursula LeGuin or Steven Brust. That’s a close call.

    2) What book do you own the most copies of?
    Peter Pan

    3) Did it bother you that both those questions ended with prepositions?
    No. But that question got a bit meta, didn’t it?

    4) What fictional character are you secretly in love with?
    It won’t be secret if I tell you!
    I used to be not-so-secretly in love with Howl from Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, also with Armand from Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice and with Andry from Melanie Rawn’s DragonStar.

    5) What book have you read the most times in your life?
    The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin.

    6) What was your favorite book when you were ten years old?
    The Changeover by Margaret Mahy (probably).

    7) What is the worst book you’ve read in the past year?
    Worst? As in the one I liked the least, right? This is a terrible value judgement question. I honestly don’t think I’ve read any books in the past year I really disliked. But I didn’t like the latest John Grisham. I think I’m burned out on Grisham. I’m giving all my Grishams to Oxfam. Oh, and I hated We Need To Talk About Kevein by Lionel Shriver but I read that last year.

    8 ) What is the best book you’ve read in the past year?
    Not counting re-reads or the Arthur C. Clarke award list it’s probably Old Man’s War by John Scalzi. Alternatively The Female Man by Joanna Russ. Both very different books.

    9) If you could force everyone you tagged to read one book, what would it be?
    Bad Blood by Rhiannon Lassiter. Oh, you mean by someone else? Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.

    10) Who deserves to win the next Nobel Prize for literature?
    I don’t know who’s in the running.

    11) What book would you most like to see made into a movie?
    Tanglewreak by Jeanette Winterson.

    12) What book would you least like to see made into a movie?
    The Left Hand of Darkness by LeGuin. It would be butchered by any studio that took it on.

    13) Describe your weirdest dream involving a writer, book, or literary character.
    I was Morgan in The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley and I was at the court of King Arthur engaged in a political power battle with Vivian who was also someone I know in real life.

    14) What is the most lowbrow book you’ve read as an adult?
    I’m not wild about how this question is loaded. I will read anything from the back of a cereal packet to Shakespeare. I have read Jackie Collins novels and Freya North – are those low brow enough for this question?

    15) What is the most difficult book you’ve ever read?
    Difficult? Anathem was very long. The longest single volume book I’ve read, I think. But Incandesence was very short and involved some really complicated concepts. How about The Sparrow. That was very painful to read. If this question is looking for something high-brow(TM) how about Ulysses by James Joyce?

    16) What is the most obscure Shakespeare play you’ve seen?
    According to my father, A Winter’s Tale.

    17) Do you prefer the French or the Russians?
    French poets, Russian authors.

    18) Roth or Updike?

    19) David Sedaris or Dave Eggers?

    20) Shakespeare, Milton, or Chaucer?
    Shakespeare, but I’d rather pick Webster.

    21) Austen or Eliot?
    Eliot – although I do enjoy Austen.

    22) What is the biggest or most embarrassing gap in your reading?
    Not enough world literature, all very Euro-centric.

    23) What is your favorite novel?
    The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin.

    24) Play?
    The Applecart -  George Bernard Shaw.

    25) Poem?
    Lay Your Sleeping Head, My Love – Auden

    26) Essay?
    Macbeth and the Metaphysic of Evil – G. Wilson Knight

    27) Short story?
    The Nine Billion Names of God – Arthur C. Clarke

    28) Work of non-fiction?
    Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being – Ted Hughes

    29) Who is your favorite writer?
    Ursule Le Guin. Big surprise, right?

    30) Who is the most overrated writer alive today?
    There are some really negative questions in this quiz but this one is particularly hard to judge. Rated by whom? Overrated how? Probably JKR or Shakespeare because of the sheer weight of people who believe that theirs is the best writing ever. But that’s an answer by the numbers. It’s hard to think of an honest answer that isn’t prejudiced or offensive.

    31) What is your desert island book?
    Something very long with lots of ideas to think about. I’m prepared to take nominations. The Complete Works of Shakespeare until I think of something better.

    32) And … what are you reading right now?
    Just finished Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel. About to read a non-fiction book abut an EcoHouse.

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