Beth Bernobich is a writer whose Work I Love, and we’re just going to NNGHHHH about the work we love. So whip out your TBR lists and get adding. (All book covers lead to a goodreads page, for ease of finding a store)
Welcome Beth, and let’s get started in the misty past, and talk a little about influence.
Beth: So you asked me about writers I love who do that combination of complex characters and magic and intrigue. And I have names! But seeing as I’m a contrary sort of person, my first name is an author who wrote historical fiction, not fantasy or SF. Patrick O’Brian wrote a twenty-book series set during Napoleonic Wars. There’s Jack Aubrey, captain in the British Navy, and Stephen Maturin, an Irish physician, natural philosopher, and multi-lingual spy. I could probably go on for days about why I love these books so much. The sweeping action of historical events, the multi-layered characterization, the goddamned beautiful prose. Also, the sloth. (You really need to read the scene with the sloth.)
Cat: Sloths and goddamned beautiful prose. I am, as they say, sold.
When I was a wee thing, most of my reading tended towards the Gemmel/Feist/Donaldson type stuff, but then a friend’s father handed me a copy of Mervyn Peake‘s Gormenghast, which has forever changed my view of fantasy. (I remember seeing Titus Groan in the sff section of my library before this, and dismissing it for having a “stupid title”. To be fair, I was a bratty teenager at the time.)
For me Gormenghast is utterly magical without being overtly magical and I think it set the tone, in that sense, for a lot of the fantasy I love now. I still adore the magical trappings of fantasy, but I am far more interested in characters and how they react to each other. Lush description and playful language are major added bonuses. All the elves and spells and monsters in the world won’t make a book interesting for me if it is not, at its heart, about the relationships between people. Those things are just there to make it richer.
So, from the past and on to the now – is there a writer working now whose work you love? I think we both know that those are often the books that influence our own writing the most, but in ways no reader could see. What they do is make us go, “OH YES, I want to be able to make a reader feel that too.” and we are once again inspired.
Beth: There are so MANY authors whose works I love, so picking just one is hard. *closes eyes, spins around, and plucks a name from the list*
Nicola Griffith. It feels presumptuous to say her works influence my writing. Let’s go with I love her books with the white hot passion of a thousand suns.
The first book of hers I read was Slow River, and it just devastated me in all the right ways. The prose, oh how I love Griffith’s prose. Exquisite, graceful prose. The characters, who are complex and layered. The story told through three interweaving threads, from past to present. Griffith is a master of technique. She can veer from past tense to present, from one timeline to another, all the while weaving an absolutely riveting story. She’s also not afraid to show her characters doing ugly things, sometimes out of necessity, sometimes because they are deeply flawed people. At the same time, it’s not ugliness for the sake of ugliness. Those flaws can be heartbreaking, and there’s a thread of compassion running through her books, whether she’s writing a near future SF like Slow River, or a historical novel like Hild, or a noire mystery like Stay.
What about you? What books have colored your writing?
Cat: I have only read Hild, but that was amazing, so I need to go dig up her other works. This conversation is going to be hell on my bank balance *grins*
There’s one (to me) very clear influence on my writing, though whether or not that comes across to other people, I have no idea.
Tanith Lee. Okay, a disclaimer: not everything of hers is brilliant, but when she hits the mark, she hits it ohgodsohard. Her writing is lush, dark, strange; her characters are never innocents, whatever side they seem to be on. For me it’s the fluidity of gender, the scheming, the betrayals, the gods and magics and darkness of her work that I fell in love with. I remember as a teen reading When the Lights Go Out over and over, and thinking, “This this this, this is fantasy, this is how I want it to be.”
In that sense, although our work is dissimilar, her influence shows in the way I treat gender and love. I don’t think love is perfect or beautiful – there’s an underlying ugliness to it, an obsession; and obsession drives people to do terrible things. It’s overcoming that obsession, slipping between the cracks and flaws to find the bright hearts, that’s what I want to see.
Her fantasy tends to veer to more modern settings, and quite often in fantastically re-imagined European cities – her books of Paradys are stories scattered through a timeline all linked by the city of Paris. I don’t write faux-medieval settings with knights and princess who need saving, and her work has definitely influenced me setting-wise.
She’s *just* released a new book – A Different City, which I need to get my paws on.
Okay, so we’ve done past and present, so let’s look to the future. This is less about influence and more about what exciting new worlds are going to be opening up to us.
Are there any newer writers who you hope to see great things from?
Beth: Yeah, my to-be-read list just grew that much longer as well.
As for newer writers? The first name that comes to mind is John Chu. John’s an amazing writer, who has already won a Hugo for his story “The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere”. Go, read this story now. In fact, read all John’s stories. You will be happy you did. His craftsmanship is superb. His characters are vibrant and real. I’m always delighted when I hear about a new story from him.
Shveta Thakrar is another new writer who is getting some well deserved buzz. Her short story “Krishna Blue” made the NPR Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Books of 2014 and 2014 Locus Recommended Reading lists, and I’m excited to hear that she’s working on a couple novels as well. The best way to describe her stories is to use her own words: “stories about spider silk and shadows, magic and marauders, and courageous girls illuminated by dancing rainbow flames.”
One last author I want to mention is Aliette de Bodard. Aliette has already collected an impressive number of awards for her short stories, including a couple Nebulas. The minute you read one of her stories, you’ll see why. She uses her lovely, sharp prose like a scalpel that cuts deep into her characters. Unflinching is the word that comes to mind. You can imagine my excitement when I found out that she has a novel coming out this August. It’s called The House of Shattered Wings and the description is “a devastated Belle Epoque Paris split between quasi-feudal Houses, addictive magic, dragons–and entirely too many dead bodies!” My first reaction was a giant YES!!!
Cat: OH. That was lovely.
Both names heading to my Rather Immense and Scary reading list. Funnily enough, I was also going to talk about Aliette, so *grin* Pipped to the post….
I’m always seeing new names doing interesting things, often coming up through short stories, and then there are names who have been around for a while writing short stories and novellas and winning things so it’s not as if they are *new* writers, but certainly ones who I think are going to go from strength to strength.
However, there are writers who are not famous, or well-known outside of South Africa, who I think are amazing, and I really want to see what else they’re going to do: one of those is Rachel Zadok, who has been drifting closer and closer to specfic, and her novel Sister-Sister is a beautiful, dark, twisted ghost story set in a South African near-future.
Another not-that-new writer who I think is going to become more and more interesting with time is Laura Lam, who writes gender-playing fantasy with circus-bright trappings.
And that’s a wrap!