Okay, I'll admit it: At least half of the author events I go to are for authors whose work I have yet to read. However, I doubt anyone has a problem with this (except maybe my friends who have
read said works and are annoyed I haven't yet) since I fill a seat for the bookstore, buy stuff most of the time for the author and the bookstore, and take rambly notes and pictures and videos for you, the lovely people of the internet. In this case, though I have not read any of her books I am very familiar with the author in question, Kate Elliott
, from her online presence. I've read a significant amount of articles, blog posts, and commentaries she's written on a number of topics and I follow her on Twitter. (her handle is @KateElliottSFF
) I find her to be extremely intelligent and well spoken (er, written) so I was curious to see what she would be like in person. After an introduction by a University Bookstore
employee, Elliott started the event off by reading from one of the two works in progress she has going. I am really sad I didn't video this particular one because I was basically rapt for the entirety of the excerpt. The author mentioned that some members of the audience (and therefore maybe also some readers of this blog post) might be familiar with aspects of the work but as a new fan, I wasn't. It will be the beginning of an adult epic fantasy trilogy for Orbit but sadly, not out until 2014. (or maybe 2015?) Either way, I will definitely
be reading it. The only thing I have written in my notes from the first reading is that the protagonist, Sarai, sounds a little bit like a few other fantasy heroines I've enjoyed--Katsa, Yelena, Ismae, etc.--but the series will be an adult one. The portion she read was about the primary character, who seemed to be a non-marriage material woman for one reason or another having to do with magic, going exploring up a nearby peak. I loved the atmospheric feel of her grappling up a cliffside to document the changes in a series of carvings/artwork that she and a relative have been tracking. There were people riding huge birds, exciting descriptions of the surrounding area and history, and a particularly compelling interaction with another woman on the peak who makes Sarai forget she even ventured out that afternoon. It sounds like the protagonist of this story will be a smart, scrappy woman who goes on many adventures and seriously, I can't wait to read it. The tentative title of the first work is The Black Wolves
The other project Elliott is working on is a YA trilogy for Little Brown Books for Young Readers. She said the quick sell for that one is that it is, "Little Women meets Count of Monte Cristo in a fantasy world inspired by Greco-Roman Egypt." There are so many things that interest me here. Let's make a list:
2. Edmond Dantès.
4. Prison breaks.
5. How much I loathe Amy March.
6. Why is Little Women the only instance I've ever heard of people saying "Marmee"?
7. How in the world can Little Women & Count of Monte Cristo be combined in a fantasy world? I can't wait for this.
8. Maybe one of the characters will be a writer like Jo?
9. If there is, please don't have her marry an old German dude.
Moving on, here is a video of Elliott reading an excerpt from the first book in that series. It is tentatively titled Mask and slated for release in 2015. Sorry for the heads and the quality, but I was on my iPhone in the second row:
The first audience question was where the author got her inspiration for the Spiritwalker Trilogy, the conclusion of which was the reason for the tour--Cold Steel
, which was released in late June. Elliott said that when her children were in high school, they asked if she wanted to world-build with them and the group just went wild with it. Originally the trilogy was not meant to be set in an alternate history but it just turned out that way. Another reader commented that she loves Elliott's handling of relationships and how they feel grounded and very real. The author said that she loves world building, in fact is a "world building dork," but that she wants readers to really be invested in characters and what happens to them and the best way to do that is not through world building, but instead through interactions. An author can tell us as much as she wants but we really do not get to know characters until they interact with each other and we can concentrate on the connectedness of it all. Speaking of characters, a few members of Elliott's extended family were in the audience and the author admitted to fashioning a few minor characters in the Spiritwalker books after two of her nieces. How fun it must be to be immortalized in a book!The next question was basically an inquiry as to whether each progressive book an author writes gets easier to finish. Elliott said no. Some aspects of writing she feels she has improved at, namely recognizing how to structure a book, how scenes work, how to spot the need for x or y, how to frame plots, etc. She knows that she likes to do a quick intro in her series books so readers can recall what happened earlier in the storyline, but she does not recap too much and the series books are meant to be read in order.
But along with the things she has learned and feels more confident about, she says the other side of the coin is that she is now much more adept at spotting flaws in her work. Whereas her favorite part of writing used to be the first draft and she was less excited about the editing, she's found that her opinion has changed and it is now quite the opposite.
At this point, the author spoke a bit about her first experience writing YA, after an audience member prompted a discussion. Elliott said it's been great and she was happy that when she turned in the manuscript to her editor, the aspects the editor was most excited about were also what Elliott cares most about, which was important...since the manuscript was a "mere 120,000 words." One thing Elliott knew was that she wanted to write strong women's roles. She mentioned a post she wrote for SF Signal
called "The Omniscient Breasts"
, about the portrayal of female characters from the male point of view in sci fi and fantasy. Evidently, one commenter went on about how there aren't many positive portrayals of female characters out and about doing amazing things in books set in certain historical periods because
the fact of the matter is that a miniscule number of women actually strayed far from the home and did anything interesting. They just got married, pregnant, did housework, and then died. (I just went to double check that comment and yes, that's what it says) The point of this mention is that because of that online conversation, she decided to write a compelling short story that is about a woman who does not stray far from home and does exactly those "boring" things. Boom, right? It's available in the Jonathan Strahan-edited anthology, Fearsome Journeys
. So when it came to writing a YA novel, she wanted to have strong female characters and in this case, she ended up writing four sisters. Elliott said she started her draft in third person but the story felt lifeless. First person, past tense just didn't feel right either. First person, present tense is very popular nowadays, especially in young adult novels, but she always thought it felt wrong and she never really enjoyed reading or writing in that style. In this case, though, it worked and she can see the sense of immediacy that particular narration style lends to a book, especially a YA novel.One reader said that Kate Elliott writes great characters but that unlike most authors, it seems to the audience member that Elliott almost enjoys writing side characters (not villains) that people sort of love to hate, and that it does not bother the author when readers dislike them. Elliott says that's probably accurate. She tries to make her main characters sympathetic but some of the secondary characters, "are like [her] on [her] bad days. Sometimes they just come out obnoxious."
The last question of the event was from yours truly. I am always curious what books other readers, bloggers, and authors recommend. The author said her all-time favorite series is the Deverry Cycle
by Katharine Kerr. If you think it might sound interesting to you, she and Aiden Moher over at A Dribble of Ink
recently did a readalong starting with the first book
in the series, Daggerspell
.Her other recommendation, I'm sure Catie will be happy to hear (she's a big fan!), is the Peter Grant series by Ben Aaronovitch.
Elliott said she read the first three books in three consecutive days and that Aaronovitch has the right blend of humor and that he writes fantastic women characters. The bookstore host mentioned that future editions of that series will only be published in the UK. I don't have a secondary source to confirm that but I did just check on Amazon US and no results showed up for the fourth book in the series, Broken Homes
, which will be released in the UK on July 25th. You can find out more about Kate Elliott's writing on her blog, or follow her on Twitter @KateElliottSFF.
For those of us who are Redditors (or if you are just interested and/or have a question for Kate!), she will be doing an AMA
on July 17th, 2013.
Two more books for me to read!