New C. S. Friedman interview

After finishing Wings of Wrath (Canada, USA, Europe), I knew I needed to have a chat with Celia. To spice things up a bit, I asked her to elaborate on some issues we have been discussing in our email conversations. And I daresay we ended up with a very interesting Q&A that should please fans and newcomers alike.

Enjoy!

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- Without giving too much away, can you give us a taste of the tale that is WINGS OF WRATH?

Under a presumed death sentence by the Magisters for killing one of their own, Kamala heads off to the northlands in search of arcane knowledge that she can barter for her survival. There her path joins up with that of Rhys, half-brother to Queen Gwynofar, who has been sent on an expedition to investigate some anomalies in a neighboring (and hostile) Protectorate. The Wrath of the Gods, that magical barrier which holds the Souleaters at bay, appears to be failing, and those whose job it is to sustain it appear to have disappeared. Together, Rhys and Kamala will discover the devastating truth of what the Wrath really is, and the extent of the Souleater invasion. Meanwhile the monk Salvator has claimed his father's throne, still refusing to make an alliance with the Magisters. Among those trying to manipulate him is the Witch-Queen, who has now made an alliance with the enemies of mankind, in order to prolong her own life. The nature of that bargain will transform her into something other than human, but it will also give her the power to pursue her dream: vengeance against the Magisters who abandoned her in her hour of need. In the end, an company of unlikely allies must seek out an ancient artifact, which theoretically will awaken members of Gwynofar and Salvator's bloodline to their true magical potential, but the cost of that awakening may be the very faith that drives them.

Many story arcs will be concluded in Wings of Wrath -- I do believe that each novel should be a complete read unto itself -- but some will carry on into the next volume, titled (you heard it here first!) Legacy of Kings. And while some mysteries are revealed in Wings of Wrath, many more are coming...including a few really big ones. I think my readers will find both books compelling and rewarding.

- Will you be touring to promote WINGS OF WRATH this winter? If so, are there any appearances you would like your fans to know about?

No, I'm going to focus on writing volume III right now :-) As well as a LITTLE Coldfire surprise for my fans...yes, there is a short story coming, though "when" and "where" are questions yet to be decided.

Right now I have no cons planned before Darkover in November. But if I do plan any other personal appearances it will go on my web page so that everyone can find out about it...along with other announcements of interest to my readers.

- What can readers expect from the final volume of the series? Any tentative title at this point?

Probably a 2010 publication date. I'm hoping to write this one a lot faster than my previous books, but I had to take off a half-year to deal with some health issues (all good now), so that will add up to about the same wait, as far as fans are concerned. Sorry about that :-(

As for what to expect...the culminations of desperate hopes, doomed alliances, and tales of faith, determination, and sacrifice. Colivar's past will be revealed, along with the true origin of the Magisters, and enough mysteries will be unveiled at last to keep a reader's heart pounding. The threat of annihilation will bring together unlikely allies, and foster unexpected treachery. The Witch-Queen's story is central to this volume, as is Colivar's, and Kamala will play a key role in the campaign to destroy the Souleaters for once and for all, while drawing towards her own final confrontation with the Magisters and their Law. In the end, the only ones who can save the world will be those least willing to risk themselves to do so, and their journey to that point will be a dark and terrible one.

It will be one hell of a read, I promise you that. :-)

- Though the novel garnered a lot of positive reviews from critics and fans alike, FEAST OF SOULS appears to have flown under the radar of most SFF readers. Any idea as to why that's been the case?

Not really. The original cover certainly didn't help, which is why DAW changed it. But the SFF market is a quirky thing, and there aren't always reasons you can point to as to why one thing will get noticed and another won't. Needless to say I hope the next volume will do better, and that word of mouth is providing exposure for this one.

Feast of Souls did get excellent reviews from the mainstream trade journals, so clearly it was on their radar.

- Some readers seem to have had trouble with the supposedly "sexist" elements of FEAST OF SOULS. What do you say to that?

Feast of Souls has a lot of themes that deal with gender and sexuality, not as a political statement of mine but just because it's part of the story. Much of that simply derives from its medieval setting. The real Middle Ages were not a good time for women, and prostitution was rife. You can't write about a world like that without some characters having attitudes that are disturbing to modern sensitivities. I, personally, don't believe there is anything sexist in these books (although given characters are sexist) and I kind of shake my head in amazement when people try to extrapolate my own gender politics from the story. So here is my true philosophy:

Men and women are different. Their brains are so different in structure that a scientist who is given one, with no other information, can instantly tell which gender it belonged to. And that's not even beginning to address all the myriad biochemicals which act differently in male and female, or which act the same manner but differ in quantities, timing, or context.

In the 60's and 70's, we wanted to believe that men and women were inherently the same, and it was only cultural and environmental factors that made us appear different. If you could somehow manage to treat boys and girls equally, they would turn out to be pretty much the same, give or take a penis. A lot of genre fiction reflects this philosophy, because that is the kind of world that many readers would live in if they had the choice. Not to mention it is a great setting for fantasy heroines, who (of course) are equal to their men in nearly every way, save perhaps for upper body strength and the ability to pee their name into the snow.

Science no longer believes that, however, and nor do I. This does not mean that individuals must be constrained by their biology. There have always been female warriors, just as their have been male nursemaids, though many cultures don't make it easy on them. But on the average, and reflected in society as a whole, the behavior of each gender has been shaped by evolution to serve specific needs, that maximize that gender's chance of passing down its genes to a new generation. How much of that is nature, and how much is nurture, and how much those differences might affect the genders' aptitude for sorcery, or any other magical enterprise...well, there is a lot of mystery about this stuff in real life, and so there will be a lot of mystery in my novels.

But I certainly do not feel any obligation to make gender balance in my novels "fair." To quote William Goldman, "Life is not fair."

That said...there is actually a REASON why all the Magisters are male. A plot reason. It matters. It matters a lot. So if you haven't figured it out yet...trust me, will ya? A book without mysteries is boring, y'know?

Any time you hear my characters talking about where their power comes from, and why it works the way it does, you should not be asking yourself, "What was Celia thinking when she wrote this?" but "What if the characters are wrong?" Anyone who has read my books knows that a repeated theme -- and one of the primary themes of this particular trilogy -- is that history transforms over time, sometimes dramatically so. In Wings of Wrath, an ancient religion discovers the truth about its own origins, and that discovery shakes it to its very roots. Maybe when the Magisters discover their own origins, something similar will happen :-)

Now, on to a comment I've heard that Feast of Souls reflects my own alleged belief that "all men are bad."

Poppycock.

In societies where life is "nasty, brutish, and short", people tend to be crueler to each other than our society approves of. The Middle Ages was one of those times, but there are certainly enough places where it is true right now that you do not have to work hard to think up examples. And in societies where casual cruelty is common, abuse of women is especially common, sexually and politically. They are the weakest members of society, generally incapable of fighting back, and thus are the perfect victims. And history teaches us that men who are frustrated with their own powerlessness may turn upon their own women to enhance their sense of being "in control". Certainly world events right now teach us that when fanatics who seek total domination of a society begin the struggle for control, the first victims of their tyranny are often women.
So... in some times and places men treat women very badly, particularly where issues of power are involved. That doesn't mean all men are bad. But it does mean that in such places, the general tenor of society may be harsher than we are accustomed to, and women may often be at the receiving end of that harshness.

So does it make me sexist, to set a story in a world where that is the case? Of course not. Not until our modern age was the ideal of true gender equality refined, and we still have not managed to turn it into reality. Earlier ages -- not to mention many countries today -- are rife with sexual violence, and the physical and/or psychological bondage of women is a socially accepted norm. (A recent survey in Egypt revealed that 80% of women -- 80%`--reported being fondled or mauled by strange men while in public; there is a thriving market in long pins meant to fasten the hijab, which women can pull free to stab their attackers with). When women do not have protectors, in such a society, they are vulnerable targets. When I decided to use a medieval setting for the Magister Trilogy, I made a conscious decision to include such tensions in my story. In the upper classes they do not matter all that much. But in the world of poverty that Kamala comes from, they are an inescapable undercurrent, that helped shape the woman she ultimately became. So did her experience with prostitution, which -- like it or not -- is a common practice in such societies, at every socio-economic level.

So...bottom line...I tell stories...sometimes men are assholes in those stories and sometimes they are not... just like real life. It has no greater significance. Really :-)

- While discussing Ellen Kushner's THE PRIVILEGE OF THE SWORD last year, a number of feminist fantasy fans claimed that you were a female author who wrote like a man. Do you agree with this assessment?

No, I don't.

A well-rounded writer, who is master of his craft, can draw upon both "feminine" and "masculine" elements in his writing. Weaving them together, he creates a richer and more compelling work than he would get by focusing on either gender style alone. I attempt to be that kind of writer, and I pride myself on the fact that many readers in my early days (before my picture was available to fans) honestly could not tell guess whether I was male or female. (DAW deliberately avoided pronouns that would give it away, so we could watch that play out; guesses ran about 50/50.)

So, no, I am not a female author who writes like a man. I am a female author who writes like a damned good author. :-)

- In our last interview, I asked you what were your strength as a writer. By the same token, what would be your weaknesses, or aspects of your craft you feel you need to work on?

In terms of what I have actually published, I can't say I feel there is any weakness or flaw that runs through all my work. Each book has had elements that I thought were successful and elements I wish in hindsight I'd handled better, but they differ from work to work. In the writing process, however -- which readers don't see -- I'd have to say my nemesis is plotting. It takes me forever to come up with all the details, complexities, and quirks of action that a good plot requires, whereas I know that many other authors find that the easy part. I'm pleased with my final product, most of the time, but the path that leads there is sometimes torturous.

That's one reason that writing books takes so long, for me. The actual writing goes fairly quickly, once I know what I'm writing about. And I always know my ending before I start, so I know where I am headed. But figuring out how I am going to get there sometimes requires a lot of banging my head against a wall :-)

- How would you describe your work to someone who hadn’t tried your books before?

In the words of Locus magazine, A feast for those who like their fantasies dark, and as emotionally heady as a rich red wine.

- Do you have a different approach when it comes to writing fantasy or science fiction?

I have a different approach for every work, independent of genre :-) The first decision I make when I begin a book is what style it should be written in; epic fantasy demands a different tone than space opera. Then the structure has to be determined. Deciding who my main characters are, and how their viewpoints will impact the novel

I am a very POV (point of view) writer. Everything that takes place in my novels is viewed through the eyes of one of my characters. This lends great energy to my work, and it also means that all information should be suspect, since what you are hearing is what my characters believe...and they may not be right. One of my favorite themes is how the historical facts morph over time, and the relationship of myths and legends to the events which originally spawned them. The Magister Trilogy is especially focused upon this theme, as my characters must untangle the legends surrounding an ancient war in order to gain enough real information to fight the next one. Whole religions are focused around some of those legends...and the story of what happens to a man's faith when he learns that his religion was based upon wrongful assumptions is a powerful thread that runs through the Trilogy.

- You have been writing novels for over two decades. What has changed the most in the fantasy/science fiction genres since you began your career?

Well, when I began, science fiction was a field dominated by a strongly male readership. Many men would not read work by female authors at all (thus the choice by many authors to use their initials instead of names that would reveal a female source) and a book with a female main character was thus a big marketing risk. All that has changed now. Fantasy has become a larger field in its own right, and that readership is predominantly female. Both males and females, in both genres, are more open to stepping outside their comfort zone in search of a good story, but also more critical of bad ones. The field has so much drek in it that it's hard to get a book to stand out.

- The fact that there is a website dedicated to your work is an indication that interaction with your readers is important to you as an author. How special is it to have the chance to interact directly with your fans?

I really love to hear from fans, and I try to answer them all. I also love chatting with them at conventions. We're talking right now about setting up some kind of bloggy thing on my web page, to facilitate direct communication with my readers, so do watch for that!

- Many speculative fiction authors don't read much inside the genre. Is it the case with you?

I honestly don't have much time to read anymore, so no, not as much as I'd like. But not for want of interest :-)

- Have the plotlines diverged much while you wrote the Magister books, or did you have the entire plot more or less figured out from the very beginning? Were any characters added or further fleshed out beyond your original intention? Have you made any changes to your initial plans during the course of the writing of the series?

I always start off with knowledge of my world, my characters, the situation that will drag them into the plot, and the climax that story is headed towards. Sometimes a character that was meant to be minor turns out to have more potential than I expected, and will play a larger role -- Gwynofar in the Magister Trilogy is my best example of that -- and sometimes plot elements are added as I go along, to enrich the overall story, but the overall plan is usually pretty solid.

That said, I don't plan *everything* out in advance with a trilogy, because I know that as I write each book I will discover new avenues to explore, and I want the freedom to do so. Gwynofar is my best example of that. She entered into Feast of Souls because, well, a king needs a family. Which led me to the question, what kind of woman would Danton have chosen for a wife? How would she have survived the whitewater ride of his temper, his politics, his ambition? The answer was that she was a woman of quiet strength, who had served as his spiritual anchor for years, tempering his worst excesses; only when Kostas created a wedge between them was he able to manipulate Danton the way he wanted to. Once I had a handle on her inner strength, and how it had been shaped by royal protocol, I knew that she had the potential to become a kick-ass character, and I devoted a lot more of the trilogy's major story arc to her than I had originally intended. Not to mention she is one of the stars of Wings of Wrath.

But I should stress, that was all a very intellectual decision, regarding what was best for the trilogy. Never do I experience what some other authors talk about, moments when their characters "take on a life of their own" or "head somewhere unexpected." I was on a panel once where a fantasy author explained how her main character had appeared to her in a dream, and explained that he did not want the book to end in a fight scene, but rather a party. So she changed the ending of her book, and voila, it worked! Which of course begs the question, how strong could her plot have been if the climactic scene that she'd been building to for 400 pages could be removed so casually. So when my turn on the panel came, I said to the audience, very solemnly "If one of my characters ever refused to participate in my plot, I would kill him."

- As far as the Coldfire trilogy is concerned, given its popularity over the years, have you ever considered going back and write another tale set in that universe?

Wow, that reads just like you don't already know the answer! :-)

I am in fact preparing a short piece that I think will really excite my fans. I'm not going to say anything more here because the details are not finalized yet, but keep an eye on http://www.csfriedman.com/ for an announcement pretty soon!

- Given their reaction, do you get the feeling that many fans don't "get" the ending of CROWN OF SHADOWS?

I get some pretty strange questions about the end of that book, regarding things I thought were laid out pretty clearly. A number of people have written to ask me who Riven Forrest is, and what his relationship to Gerald Tarrant is. Some even ask me if he *is* Gerald Tarrant. Now, see, I thought that when Forrest raised up a glass (of blood) to toast a portrait of Tarrant, and referred to him as "Father", that kinda answered that question, but apparently it was not as clear as I thought. (Hint for anyone who needs one: He's Gerald Tarrant's offspring.) And not everyone figures out who "the stranger" is at the very end of the book, though, admittedly, the clues on that one are a little more obscure. Still, they get the big stuff, which is what really matters.

- Cover art has become a very hot topic of late. What are your thoughts pertaining to that facet of a novel, and what do you think of the covers that grace yo ur novels?

The cover sells the novel. Nothing is more important, outside of the text itself. If you look at a book and it does not interest you, you will not pick it up to find out anything else about it.

I consider myself especially blessed to have had Michael Whelan do my covers for many years. Some of his work brings tears to my eyes, as I see my visions being brought to life in ways I could not have imagined possible. Now he's moving on to other things than doing book covers, and Jon Palencar has taken over the covers for the Magister Trilogy. I could not possibly be happier with his work. I can't wait to see what he does with Volume III!

- More and more, authors/editors/publicists/agents are discovering the potential of all the SFF blogs/websites/message boards on the internet. Do you keep an eye on what's being discussed out there, especially if it concerns you? Or is it too much of a distraction?

Just don't have the time, honestly. Not if you all want me to write more books :-)

- What's next for C. S. Friedman when The Magister trilogy is done? Are there any projects in the works?

Yes, and I am VERY excited about the next one. It will be a fantasy series (haven't decided how many books yet) anchored in our own world, though it will involve other settings as well. As such it's a real departure for me; all my other books are set in alien worlds, or in other time periods. I really don't want to say much more about the concept this far in advance, save that it is one of the most exciting ideas I've ever had, and I think readers will love it.

As it is set in the modern world, there will be characters who are quite involved in being "connected", so expect me to be getting much more involved with online forums as I head into my research phase.

- Anything else you wish to share with your fans?

Only that they should watch my website for upcoming news, and that there's a link on the Contacts page if they want to drop me a line. I'd love to hear what people think of Wings of Wrath! And oh yeah, I am contributing a story to an anthology by this Pat guy, called Speculative Horizons, that will be coming out next year. Watch for it!

33 commentaires:

The Amazing Buttcrack said...

Great interview! Glad to hear Friedman has a lot more in store for us! And a new Coldfire story. That definitely made my evening.

Now what are the odds that Wheeler, VanderMeer, all those elitist pricks, Larry and the rest of the online SFF wankers will write posts singing the praise of the email interview format???

Unlike Glen Cook (love his books but man he came off as a total ass in the interview), C. S. Friedman actually made an effort to answer the questions with throughtful responses. See how great interviews can be when the author instead of being a jerk actually takes his or her time to come up with stuff fans are interested about.

I particularly liked the way she expounded on the sexist thing. In light of all the shit Bakker is getting on westeros in regards to his portrayal of women in his fantasy universe, it was fascinating to see a woman forced to do the same... Maybe this will spark a new discussion.

Keep up the good work, Pat. I'm surprised you don't lash out at the elitist wankers who take pleasure in pissing on you every chance they get. I know I would!

Larry said...

Dear Amazing Buttcrack (male or female ass, so I can know which personal pronoun to use in the future?):

I actually liked this interview. It was a bit more "personal" (as Pat said in the intro, he and Friedman had been in contact recently and it turned into a second interview...or is it a third?) and while Friedman did indeed do a great job with the answers, I also will give praise where it is due and note that Pat asked some different questions (due to this being a second interview, of course, but also due to prior discussions with Friedman) that I thought were good and which led to some interesting responses. I do much more than just critique others' faults; praise when merited I like to note as well.

But it is warming to see that I have worked my way onto your Prole Hate List or whatever it ought to be called. However, what I'm waiting for is for you to expound further upon your "original" commentaries there. I just want to see if you have more to say than just lashing out at people all the time.

LYLAS

etrangere said...

Pretty kickass interview, I agree, and some interesting news :)

Pat, given the part I took in that Priviledge discussion, I'm rather curious: can you link back to whatever comment where Friedman's writing was like a man? I'd like to see that in its context.

Cecrow said...

Haven't read the Colfire trilogy (soon though - on my shelf already) so I had to skip that question about how it ends, but I'm even more enthused about reading her stuff now. Thanks!

PeteC said...

Great interview.I'm a new fan who has only read Feast of Souls and loved it. Planning on checking out many of Friedman's other books this year. Thanks Pat!

Anonymous said...

I am a big fan of Mrs. Friedman's writing, although I feel that she has a bit of a problem with the endings.

I greatly enjoyed "The Feast of Souls" and was a bit perplexed that it didn't garner more attention than it did.

Nor was I in any way put off by Kamala's predicament as a child whore. In fact, I was amused that some people criticized it for "feminism".

However, I have to say this to all fantasy writers - you are not writing historical fiction. You are not writing about Middle Ages - all the supernatural elements you include and which were absent in RL history, ensure it.
Therefore you should carefully think through the ramifications of the changes you introduced.

In particular, you are not obligated to write women as (severely) oppressed, if you can (and wish to) plausibly avoid it.

You have already changed more than that about the world to allow your magic, your fantastical beasts, your world-ending threats, etc. to exist. This is a lesser thing by comparison.

I strongly suspect that current popularity of Urban Fantasy with female protagonists is in great part rooted in the fact that the world-building is less inherently misogynistic.

Colinhead said...

Wow, I really enjoyed that interview. CSF attempted to come up with thoughtful answers and I was especially intrigued by her take on gender differences (which were similar to mine). I do like your stock questions, as well, but I must echo the sentiment that it was nice to see a few new ones.
Also, I don't think you're an SFF wanker, Larry, but I do read your blog for different reasons than Pat's. Actually, just yesterday or the day before, someone took a jab at Pat on your blog that made me chuckle. You and Pat have different goals with your blogs, and I don't think anyone should be jabbing in either direction, unless they have a legitimate concern (I don't think either concern raised here was important).

Larry said...

Colin,

Who took a jab? Was it on the second or third page of posts? If so, I missed that, because believe it or not, I don't care for people to "take sides" or anything. Your comments are very reasonable and hey, I read Pat's blog for very different reasons than I have to writing my own posts, so it is nice to hear there there many others who enjoy both of our blogs.

Might have to write a post sometime soon to straighten a few people out who are commenting at my blog that thinking condemning Pat's approach is going to curry favor with me. I condemn shoddiness, not people, afterall :P

marina-bonomi said...

Interesting interview, although as someone with a keen interest in history I'd love to see, sometimes, 'the Middle Ages' portrayed a bit more accurately.

I'm not saying that there wasn't misery, violence and oppression in those times, I'm just saying that the Middle Ages lasted for a whole millennium and conditions were hardly the same all the time and everywhere.

For instance, there's no doubt that women were way better off in France in the 13th century (where they came of age at 14, could inherit, could have property in their names, be members of a guild and have their own businness) that they were from the 16th to the 19th century (when they couldn't do most of those thing and were wards of their fathers, husbands or sons for life) and this is just one of many examples.
... and before anyone mentions the witch hunts, the high-time of witch hunting were the 16th and 17th century, definitely not part of the 'Middle Ages'

Eddie Clark said...

The Amazing Buttcrack: Your pseudonym says everything that needs to be said about you.

On the interview itself - v interesting, and makes me want to check out Friedman's stuff, which I haven't read before.

I will, however, say that the "its in medieval times so of course people are sexist" excuse only works if you're writing a historical novel - medival europe analogue DOESN'T = medieval europe. If you want to make things different, you can. This isn't to say Friedman is sexist, as I say, I haven't read her books, but I don't think that it's a good excuse. Guess I'll have to read it and form my own opinions :).

*heads off to library*

Celia said...

Hi guys, just stopped by to take a look a the comments...today's work avoidance trick!...and thought I'd respond to Marina's note about the historical setting, in particular the comment that this series doens't reflect reality appropriately becuase in fact there were so many variants of culture in the real Middle Ages.

Uh... they're in this world too, y'know. :-)

Gwynofar can't take the throne herself, it is explained in Wings of Wrath, because that would not be accepted by the nobles she would have to rule. In other places (such as Sankara) women rule openly, and no one thinks twice about it. The thought of women being warriors is anathema in some cultures, tolerated uncomfortably in others, and even accepted by a few. Social customs, fashion and architecture, mercantile practices, guild membership, property and inheritance laws, and even racial prejudices differ from region to region in this series, and sometime from city to city. Just like they did in the real world. No, there's not gonna be a grand lecture on it anywhere, or a cultural glossary at the end of the book to point it out -- there shouldn't have to be -- but I assure you, the cultural complexity of our own Middle Ages was in fact the exact model for this world. It's just not the star of the story, so you may have to look for it :-) (And don't be misled by the common language, which Wings of Wrath reveals to be a recent phenomenon...or forget that thus far you have only seen one continent of this world.)

That said, I dare anyone to show me a culture anywhere in that time frame where being a poor, disenfranchised woman -- by which I mean without guild connections, inheritance, or family -- was not a pretty bad experience. Hell, in that era, disenfranchised men did not have an easy time of it either. I do believe that is pretty close to a universal experience, in that kind of setting. And yes, as a fantasy author I could just discard all that...but is a story where people are not oppressed necessarily a better reading experience than one where they are? The world of the Coldfire Trilogy was as close to an egalitarian fantasy as they get. This one isn't. The next work will be something else. You want variety from me, right, guys?

Lastly, let me note that my use of the terms "Middle Ages" and "Medieval" in this interview are shorthand, nothing more...there is a very specific time frame that served as the inspiration for this book, and it's not a generic thousand-year time span. But then we'd bog down in "Did you mean that year in France? Or in Italy? Northern or Southern Italy?" (Jeez, I hear Pat writing new interview questions as I speak...) So for now I'm going to stick with a generic "Middle Ages", unless questions get more specific, and trust that y'all are good with that :-)

marina-bonomi said...

First of all, thank you for commenting, ms. Friedman.

Mine wasn't a specific comment on the novels. It would be silly, I think, nitpick on history on books that aren't either history essays or historical novels.
What I doesn't particularly like is just the use of the generic 'Middle-Ages' short-hand, since, in general, it simply propagates the widespread view of the Middle-Ages on the whole as a brutish time, a view that has little base on reality.

I'd contend that the lot of a poor, unfranchised woman from the lower classes with no social net of support is one of the worst possible anywhere and in any time (including our own progressive and enlightened one).

It is a matter of personal preference, of course, but I'd much rather read something like 'the background is based on the 100-year war' or 'the mid-14th century Black Death in Southern France' or 'Dutch guild practices in the early 15th century' rather than a generic 'Middle-Ages' that tells me...well, exactly nothing.

Maria said...

Celia, I really loved "The Feast of Souls" (though I have grown wary of investing too strong emotions in as yet unfinished series) and don't suggest that you should have done anything differently.
You are the author, it is your choice.

What gets my goat, coming out of the somewhat heated discussion about another author, is the default assumption that if misogyny and oppression of women were present in the historical Middle Ages, then they _should_ be in a work of epic fantasy as well and anything else is unrealistic, tokenism, etc, etc.

Whereas having sexism in extreme form makes the series very realistic and gritty, no matter how many all-powerful sorcerers or supernatural races are fluttering around or how poorly their presence is integrated into some borrowed historical military campaign that the author recolored a bit for their use.

I hasten to add that IMHO supernatural elements in the "Feast" seemed to fit into the world-building well so far. I have questions about the Magisters, of course, but the series is yet young.

Nor do I see what "realism" has to do with it. Plausibility and cohesiveness are the things to look for, surely?

My point is, you fantasy writers are writing about secondary worlds. You borrow some stuff from RL history, sure, but in most cases your settings end up very differently.
So quoting historical Middle Ages just isn't a valid explanation for why you chose to include some element.
After all, you chose to _exclude_ a ton of equally fundamental elements and to change reality as we know it to fit your story. That's why it is fantasy.

Patrick said...

The Amazing Buttcrack: This just might be the best nick ever, you know!:p Glad you enjoyed the interview, my friend. As I mentioned countless times, I have very little to do with the way interviews turn out. I open doors to authors, and it's up to them to take the ball and roll with it. Celia did and Glen Cook didn't... There's nothing I can do about it, which is why you never see me take credit for a particularly interesting Q&A.

As far as lashing out at the elitist wankers, well I would have to bring myself to care first. Don't see that happening any time soon. I don't even follow what people are saying about me and the Hotlist. More often than not, a fan will email me to let me know that Andrew Wheeler said this, or another person said that. Many people seemed quite annoyed by the fact that so many people jumped up and down in glee when the Cook Q&A turned out the way it did. I'm not losing any sleep on this, so no one else should either.

As I told a few of you who got in touch with me, I think that the SFF elitist clique, or at least most of them, don't necessarily "hate" me per se. I think it's more a question of their resenting the fact that this blog is so popular with a dumbass like Yours Truly at the helm. And the Hotlist keeps growing in popularity. I get the feeling that most of these so-called elitist wankers have a hard time understanding why so many people actually waste time and energy to visit this blog so often. Doing this for 4 years made me realize one thing: 99% of SFF readers simply don't give a damn about online pissing contests and flame wars. They just want to read books. Considering my traffic, did you know that less than 1% of visitors actually write comments? The silent majority just want to read reviews and interviews and be on their way. They don't visit message boards, and they couldn't care less about the heated discussions about the quality of this or that author.

Knowing this, I'm aware that I could disappear today and the SFF community wouldn't be a much poorer place. Most fans don't give a fuck, and the elitist wankers should understand that.

As I mentioned in this post last year (http://fantasyhotlist.blogspot.com/2008/03/im-easyjet-or-southwest-airlines-of-sff.html), there is a place on the web for all sorts of blogs. If you want philosophical debates, essays, and other issues that make me want to open my veins, there are blogs that will cater to your needs. But the Hotlist will never be the venue for such posts. And I don't understand why some people are trying to "push" me toward that kind of stuff. That shit will never fly here.

I don't have time to visit the blogs I like once a week, so it defies comprehension that so many haters and detractors continue to come here on a daily basis and nitpick at everything I do. If you think I suck to such a degree, why the hell come here at all? Stick with the SFF blogs/websites/message boards you like and be happy. Life is too short to waste on the Hotlist if you don't like it.

Though it is mostly mental masturbation, I feel that those elitist wankers should understand that they are not really important in the greater scheme of things. More often than not they appear to put themselves above the work they are reviewing/discussing. I may have one of the most popular SFF blogs out there, but at least I know that in the end I'm just a punk with a blog.

Elitist wankers. . . Most seem to have a lot of pent-up anger and tension that needs to be released. Perhaps wanking for real would help them come to terms with all that negative stuff. They would still hate Pat's Fantasy Hotlist, but at least they would visit the blog with a silly ass grin on their faces!:p

As far as lashing out at them, that would give them the satisfaction of seeing that what they can get to me. And I just don't care, one way or the other.

Etrangère: That whole "fantasy chicklit" thing was pretty widespread across blogs, sites, and message boards. Can't quite recall where that was said, but it did shock me then. Celia and I discussed this via email, and I knew that this was going to be something that would be asked in any future interview I did with here.

Larry: Why would you write a post to straighten those who don't like me or condemn my approach to SFF blogging? Some people don't like me, and some people don't like you. That's life, you know! At least our hate for the Yeard will always unite us, even if we run vastly different blogs!:p

Celia: It's nice to see you post here!;-)

Okay, enough "populist wanking." It's gym time!

The Silent Majority said...

What Pat said.

Don't care much for wanking, elitist or otherwise.

Celia said...

Marina

Fair enough :-)

The Magister Trilogy takes place in a world on the cusp of its own Renaissance...literally, a "rebirth". Like Earth's own renaissance period, these pepole gaze look back upon earlier times and attempt to replicate their glory; but the destruction of those cultures was on a much greater scale than on Earth, and they have been gone for a much longer time, so the dynamic of that effort is markedly different.

Readers have asked me why the Dark Ages in this world lasted so long, claiming that is not "realistic", given that our own ancestors' recovery was considerably faster. TO which I can only answer...jeez, guys, have a little faith? There's a thing called "plot", y'know. :-) Yes, when mankind could have gotten back on his feet, culturally speaking, there were things that prevented him from doing so. For a long time. You don't know what they are yet. THat's why you should buy volume III :-)

Now, in my current story, the memory of that earlier age of prosperity has been glorified -- romanticized -- and those who are aware of history struggle to restore its splendor. Literally, a "renaissance."

So, it should not come as a surprise that the time period which inspired this tale was the cusp between the High Middle Ages and the Renaissance..which of course, if you know history, was not a particular date or event, but rather a cultural movement that spread slowly across Europe, over time. Its influence appears as much as two hundred years later in some places than others, and in some places it never appears at all. From a strict feudal system with a nascient "middle class", this world is beginning to evolve in other directions, and in some places that evolution is more marked than others. In some locations, isolated by happenstance or choice, not much is changing at all, and elements that we would associate with an earlier, more barbaric age still hold sway. Thus, as my characters travel, they will find cities on the main trade routes that are cosomopolitan in flavor, have a rising "middle class", and are rich in many elements that we associate with "advanced" culture. And as they travel through the backwoods, passing through towns that have little connection to the outside world, they will come upon places that look like snapshots from an earlier age, unchanged by time. I believe that this reflects how the process of cultural change really works, in the era when communication requires someone actualy travelling from point A to point B, and folks in the backwoods can't turn on CNN and get an update on "Renaissance Today." :-)

So, while it is arguable whether anything rightly called a "renaissance" ever happened on earth, there's no question that the term is appropriate here. This world had its entire higher civilization destroyed once, and is struggling to rebuild it. Now, on the cusp of reclaiming ancient glory, they are about to be thrust back into the Dark Ages again. I draw much inspiration from that cusp in our own history, but as the circumstances are different, I do not feel myself specifically bound to anything. Where the parallel is appropriate, I draw upon our historical dynamic, and images that are familiar to my readers. Where it is not, I try to present a solid enogh transition taht my readers move from "reality" to "fantasy" without tripping over the doorstop on the way.

Which brings us to my next comment.

There are two issues involved in deciding how much detail to "borrow" from actual time periods of history. The first is, that using images which are familiar to reader provides a rich vocabulary for the writer to draw upon. If we are in a world simliar enough to your own that you recognize it, there are a lot of things I don't have to explain. I write "king", and you know what i mean. I write "chiurgeon" and...okay, a lot of people have to look that up, but at least they can do that :-) That is a valuable tool for a writer, and in some stories it's the tool you want.

The other involves suspension of disbelief. Simply put, the less you ask your reader to set aside his understanding of what is real,t he more he is willing to do that. There is a direct and measureable benefit, therfore, in choosing *not* to add fantastic elements just because, well,
"it's a fantasy so you might as well." There is no line you cross, that once you are "writing fantasy", the reader's sense of reality no longer matters. If, for example, I am presenting the concept of powerful sorcerers that appear to have transcended mortality, and that is set in the context of a recognizable world where all the other rules of nature seem to be consistent with our own, the reader can ask himself, "wow, if that happened in my world, how would I react to it?" He can relate to that element better, because it is only one step removed from his own reality. He can ask himself if he woul dmake the same choices, because the context of those choices are familiar. Make it two steps, or three, or a hundred -- or an infinite number, "because it is fantasy anyway" -- and he might enjoy reading your book like he would a fairy tale, as a simple fantastic tale, but it is not going to have the same kind of emotional resonance.

However, all that said...everone needs to keep in mind that I've written 9 books now, and this is my first work that draws so directly from real life history. So there's nothing about this choice that speaks to a greater philosophy of "how fantasy settings should always be handled"...I just believed it was the right choice for this particular book :-)

Anonymous said...

Seeing as how I never write comments and visit message boards and all that stuff, I guess I'm also part of that silent majority.

But don't sell yourself short Pat. This is my almost daily and only fantasy and science fiction destination. Don't have time to surf the web for news and such, so I come here and always find everything I need. You've helped me discover some great writers and series and books along the way, so I'm grateful for the effort you put into this blog.

I don't even know who Wheeler, VanderMeer and all those "wankers" are and I've been reading fantasy and scifi books for more than 20 years. That probably doesn't speak well of me, but what the fuck? Keep up the good work!!!

Bryce

etrangere said...

Was it was any chance this thread, where I said:

And if we define a category of fiction by how much they catter to "female" tastes, then how could we define one which catters to "male" tastes? If there was one how would we define it?

I know once i did a review about Bakker's Prince of Nothing series, and one of my friend commented it sounded like a very macho book (which I admitted. I think Erikson, Stephen Brust and Scott Lynch also write with something we could call a "fanboy" aestheticism.

However you won't find a lot of people who would call their books "Boys Lit" in the same kind of dismissing way you find people calling books "Chick Lit".

Of course there's male writer who write books closer to the female aestheticism, and females who write books closer to the male aestheticism (I like to mention Guy Gavriel Kay, who has a lot of focus on characters and relationships, as well as a feeling of sadness penetrating his stories and a rather purple prose as "Chick Lit" like. On the other hand Mary Gentle, CS Friedman or KJ Parker all write in a rather macho way, with a focus on world building, plot, a realistic take on technology).

Me, I kind a like both the fanboy aestheticism and what's apparently called the "fangirl" ones, (and I like the well rounded ones too ^_^) so I think the whole thing rather absurd but I guess there's some sort of content behind it. I would rather people used other words than gender related ones to talk about those aestheticism, though.


I don't know, I was a bit weirded out to see what could very well be my thoughts being presented as "Celia Friedman writes like a man", especially in an interview of one of my favourite SFF writer :p
I'd appreciate if you were a little bit more rigorous in how you represent discussions and criticism done by other people in your blog to comment on them (or ask for other people to comment on them).

I see the discussion about the treatment of gender in Friedman's writing pretty interesting. I just read someone talking about Coldfire with the impression of a bad treatment of women, and someone brought up In Conquest Born as well... and it's funny because I think Friedman does pretty successfully in those books what Bakker said he was trying to do (and which I think he partially failed to do) which is to problematize the treatment of gender (among other things, In Conquest Born is also very efficient at problematizing things like racism and fascism and eugenism).
About Feast of Souls, I'd be wary of having a definite opinion one way or another since it is an unfinished trilogy. I was slightly annoyed by how women (main character excepted) were framed by many as incapable of the selfishness that being a Magister... but yeah, way too early to judge.

Larry said...

Pat,

Only reason I would consider writing such a thing is because I get spillover reactions on my blog. Sometimes, it's a commentary on differing opinions (which is mostly OK) and sometimes it's a bit personal (which I never care for). And yes, we have the Yeard to unite us? :P By the way, I recently reposted on the OF Blog that 2006 AFD "interview" with Tairy so it can be preserved whenever wotmania shuts down this summer.

Patrick said...

Etrangère: No, it wasn't you personally, though I can't recall who said that. And it's been too long anyway.I do remember telling you that you would burn in hell for saying Guy Gavriel Kay wrote fantasy chicklit, however!

I did mention it to Celia back then, and thought it would be nice to have her elaborate on the subject when we decided to do another interview when I finished reading WINGS OF WRATH.

Larry: Well, you do what you feel is right...

Bryce: Thanks for the kudos, but the truth is that I'm pretty much small fry in the end, no matter how popular the Hotlist has become. Glad you like the blog, though!

marina-bonomi said...

Celia, thank you very much for your in-depth answer,it is really appreciated, and now the Magister trilogy sounds even more tempting. I'll make sure to read the available books ASAP. :-)

The Amazing Buttcrack said...

Pat, you are a better man than I.:)

etrangere said...

Yeah, I remember that bit about GGKay, that was very funny :D

And yes, it was a fairly long time ago.

Larry said...

Pat,

I did...but it's for something completely different. I think you'll approve of the topic and the inclusion of true Canadian greatness, though ;)

Maria said...

Celia:

"There is a direct and measurable benefit, therefore, in choosing *not* to add fantastic elements just because, well, "it's a fantasy so you might as well."

I couldn't agree more. However, it is good to remember that things were as they were in RL history for a variety of reasons and that in your secondary world your are changing some of these reasons. So, shouldn't the outcomes change as well, logically speaking?

That's my main beef with many, many fantasy settings. If you add, say, reliable, controllable and reasonably widespread magic into a world, then plausible consequence shouldn't be some generic Dark Ages stuff with magic just providing fireworks and shortcuts to power for the protagonist. It should be something else.

I also find it sad that few writers can find their way towards an epic fantasy setting where misogyny is _plausibly_ and logically reduced/absent compared to RL examples.

Plausibility, cohesiveness, logic and consequence are IMHO much more important for secondary worlds than piece-meal haphazard borrowings from RL in the name of "realism".

I just suggest this as a food for thought. None of the above directly touches on the "Feast" that does pretty well in those respects, IMHO.

Etrangère :

Very much ditto re:

Friedman, Bakker and well-done problematization of the treatment of gender.

Celia said...

"I just read someone talking about Coldfire with the impression of a bad treatment of women,"

::Blinks::

Uh...could you give me more info on this one?

Part of the premise behind the Coldfire Trilogy is that a group of folks from a multi-racial, egalitarian culture came to Erna, got invovled in a struggle for their very lives, and for the next 1000 years had no time for the trappings of bigotry in any form. Gender spats and racist digs just aren't a priority when your house is being beleaguered by demons. This is as egalitarian a world as you can get. There are female warriors, one of two "pope" figures is female, a female pilot gets our heros safely from one volume to the next. I can't think of a single example of any gender-based prejudice anywhere in that culture. So...what's this about?

Is it because there is one character whose particular taste in evil is focused on women? Seriously, are we so PC that we can't handle a little heterosexual sadism as a character trait in one individual? Or is it because the rakh have marked sexual dimorphism? In which case...well, they're cats. Cats don't have Women's Lib.

Seriously, guys, of all the comments I *never* expected to see, this is tops on the list. Can someone get me some more details on this comment, just to satisfy my own curiosity?

etrangere said...

There's the link to that post.

I do think that Gerald is a little bit more than just a heterosexual sadist - I mean, I think he's a big sexist jerk with some fucked up issues about gender. Buuuuut, it's Gerald, he spent the last thousand years killing people (well, women) for fun and fae-fulfilled unlife, I don't take his words as gospel (pun intended :). So mostly, I disagreed with that post. The narrative does concentrate on our boys Damien and Gerald, with most women in between dying along the road... but I adore most of the female characters in Coldfire. Narilka's made of awesome, Jenseny breaks my heart, Hessieth is very kick ass, and Ciani's intelligent and resourceful even when mentally broken. I love how brave and strong they are and I didn't understand a lot of this poster's criticisms.

Celia said...

Thanks so much. That was...rather bizarre...I appreciate your comments.

The suggestion that when I created a character with a predatory attitude towards women, it was wrong because he did not have the same attitude toward men, is...wow, I don't even have words for that.

I guess you can append this to my interview answer about why I don't spend a lot of time reading blog discussions...though Pat's seems to have sucked me in for the moment :-)

PS. Most of the men who hook up with G and T die, too. I'm an equal opportunity murderer.

Patrick said...

«I'm an equal opportunity murderer.»

Gotta love that quote!;-)

etrangere said...

I do think the Hunter's characters, in a more complaisant and less skilled hands, could have been dodgy. It's a question of treatment.

And I do think the dead named male character to dead named female character is not in Coldfire's favour, although it's not enough to truly disturb me. And there are a lot of people who are, rightly or not, very twitchy about female characters dying to propel male characters' story.

And I think it's a good thing if those things are discussed freely about books, even when I disagree about what some people conclude, and even if that may surprise or upset the writers of those books.

Celia said...

Well here's the bottom line, IMHO

More women die than men in Coldfire, while two male protagonists get the spotlight.

The opposite is true in the Magister series (though the death count isn't finalized yet :-)) Three really strong female characters are among the central characters of the work, and a lot of men go down around them.

I honestly don't feel I need to worry about making things 50-50 in every story I write. Some stories are more about female characters. Some are more about males. Gwynofar lost a husband and two sons in Feast of Souls. That trauma is part of her story. Damien lost a number of women that he loved, and had sworn to protect, while hanging out with a guy whose mere existence was an offense to all women. That's part of his story. Each book has its own story arcs, and some of them are gonna be focused on guys, and some on gals, and I'm pretty sure that when my career is ended you will be able to tally up my books and see that the total count is pretty even...but that does not mean that in any given work, I worry about whether one gender is getting a better deal than the other.

I have no issue with readers finding some of my characters sexist. Some of them are. Sexual desire is one of the great driving forces of human existence and gender awareness rides on its coattails. I like to explore what it does to us as people. But does that make a *book* sexist, or me, as an author, sexist? I don't think so. But I leave my readers to judge. :-)

Anyway, thanks for all your notes, they have been really interesting for me to read!

etrangere said...

Yes, absolutely to all of this.

I'd never call a writer sexist judging only by their book, of course! And there's a lot of ways a character or a setting can be sexist in a way that writers a non-sexist or feminist narrative.

And thank you for the discussion. That was great :)

viotage said...

you all have a lot of very interesting and insightful things to say.

but...all i am really taking away from this right now is : HOLY CRAP theres gonna be another coldfire something?????

where have i been? wow. i am super excited. :) YAY!

ps. wonderful interview!