Two Spiritwalker Questions, Answered (Names, and Endings)

As promised, I’m working my way through all the Cold Steel Giveaway questions. If you asked one (here, on LJ, or on Tumblr), it will get answered.

Both these questions came from Tumblr.


pretendtofly asked: Were you completely satisfied with the end of the Spiritwalker Trilogy? Do you think there could be more to the story or did you choose to tie up all the loose ends so to speak?

The actual written ending is exactly the ending I was headed for, so I am completely satisfied with the end of the book.

As a writer I tend not to “tie up all loose ends” just because in my experience of life the big conflicts and drama and politics and so on aren’t neatly tied up, ever. I like endings in which some elements are well satisfied and others are left a bit open, just like in life.

Could there be more of the story?  SURE.

There is a lot left to write about in the Spiritwalker universe. In fact, as a medium term project I hope to write some short fiction set in the world (some prequels and some sequels to the trilogy) and publish it as a collection. This isn’t something that would come out soon, however, as I’m currently working on a YA fantasy (aka Little Women meets Count of Monte Cristo in a fantasy world inspired by Greco-Roman Egypt) and a new epic fantasy trilogy (not related to Spiritwalker).

However, the Secret Journal of Beatrice Hassi Barahal (with illustrations by Julie Dillon) is in production and I’m hoping will be available by mid to late August.


 sparklyslug asked: The names Beatrice and Catherine made me think of the two awesome heroines from Much Ado About Nothing and the Taming of the Shrew (because I’m a dork for Shakespeare, it’s true). Was that your intention in naming them? Did you have any specific idea behind giving them those particular names?

So you are quite correct.

The characters started life as Cat and Bee. I always knew that Cat’s name was Catherine and for a while Bee was Bianca because of The Taming of the Shrew.

However, one of the common etymologies of Bianca is that it derives from ‘blanca’ (‘white’) and that simply wouldn’t work for a girl of North African/Phoenician ancestry.

By contrast, two common etymologies for Beatrice are that it comes from “beatus” “happy” or “blessed” and/or from Viator which means a voyager. Those both seemed far more appropriate while still leaving Bee as her nickname.

Catherine is generally understood to come from a Greek root, meaning “pure,” but there is another etymology that suggests the name comes from the goddess Hecate who is, among other things, goddess of the crossroads (and thus someone who leads people to the afterlife).

For more about the inspirations for the trilogy, and how The Taming of the Shrew figures into it, read this post I wrote on “Inspirations and Influences” at review blog The Book Smugglers.

How do cold mages cook? (Q&A)



garputhefork asked: I can’t remember if this was addressed in book 1 (and I’ve been hoarding book 2 until the last book was released), but how the hell do cold mages cook anything? (Not that one would actually lower him/herself to take a turn in a kitchen…)

Thank you for the excellent question!

The kitchens of mage Houses are separate from the main part of the house where the cold mages live. House members who aren’t mages may work/live in areas heated directly by fireplaces and stoves, and they would certainly be assisted by servants (who would like do the scullery work, etc). These separate buildings are where the cooking is done (then transferred to the main house eating hall for meals). The hypocaust systems warm the main house (with the furnace sourced far enough away from the cold mages that their magic won’t put it out). Also, cold mages feel the cold less than non-mage people do, so they don’t need it quite as warm as you or I might.

This is addressed tangentially in book one and directly in book three.

Also, regarding cooking: I postulate that, based on my reading of cultural aspects, cooking is almost exclusively done by women and is a highly respected skill. A woman born into the House who has no mage ability but who is a good cook and a good “house administrator” (remember the mage Houses might have anywhere from 50 – 300+  members) would be respected and valued within the mage House and could attain additional status through her cooking and administration efforts. Again this is touched on tangentially in book three, and in book two as well (although in book two it’s not within the context of a mage House).


NOTE: When I held the Cold Steel Giveaway, I received many many questions, here on this WordPress site, on Livejournal, on Tumblr, and a few on goodreads. Over the next two months I’ll be answering the questions one or several (related ones) at a time, under the tag #Q&A

This question came from Tumblr and was originally answered there.

My Launch Day Book Siblings! (Spiritwalker Monday 0)

Here are some of the other books launching on Tuesday June 25:

Tessa Gratton THE LOST SUN: The United States of Asgard.

“Gratton sets up an alternate universe where Norse gods are juxtaposed with typical American life in this first novel in a new series. While Astrid dreams of apples and Soren battles the berserker rage inside, they forge new alliances and a bond of friendship that puts them squarely in the path of a cat-and-mouse game played by gods.” —Booklist


Kelly McCullough Blade Reforged (A Fallen Blades Novel)

“Filled with multifaceted characters, layered plots, and the type of quixotic scenarios that only the imagination of Kelly McCullough could possibly create. The author, once again, crosses genres…Stories by Kelly McCullough are one of a kind—just like him. I found Aral’s world to be compelling and highly addictive. Brilliant!”—Huntress Book Reviews


Judith Tarr The Lady of Han-Gilen (Volume II of Avaryan Rising)

Here’s the announcement for Volume I, which came out last month.

The king’s heir of Ianon is long lost, vanished into the south. Her father refuses to name his son heir in her place, though that son is a mighty warrior. Then one day a young wanderer arrives with news that both breaks and heals the king’s heart: his heir is dead, but before she died, she gave birth to a son. That child, now grown, has come to take her place. But the king’s son will not surrender his hope of kingship to a boy without a father, though he claims to be the son of a god.


Sarah Zettel Golden Girl (The American Fairy Trilogy Book 2)

Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 2013:“In this sparkling sequel to Dust Girl (2012), showcasing Callie’s cleverness versus the mystical glitterati, neither Callie’s persistence nor the trilogy’s pace flags.”


Kevin Hearne Hunted (The Iron Druid Chronicles #6)

“It may be possible that Hearne and Atticus are the logical heir to Butcher and Dresden.”―SFFWorld


Pamela Munoz Ryan School Rules (Tony Baloney)

*”Ryan’s exuberant story takes a fresh look at sibling dynamics . . . . Fotheringham’s hyperbolic digital illustrations counterbalance the slyly understated narrative, portraying Tony’s (and Dandelion’s) antics with humor.”-PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, starred review


Madeline Ashby iD (The Second Machine Dynasty)

Javier is a self-replicating humanoid on a journey of redemption.


Thank you to my readers (Spiritwalker Monday 1)

The official publication date of COLD STEEL is June 25 for both e-book and print editions in English, worldwide (as far as I know; there may be some regions where it comes out later and if so, please let me know).

I’m always anxious when a new book comes out. That anxiety is amplified when the book in question is the final book of a trilogy because naturally, being the writer, I want people to like it and to feel satisfied with the ending. As always, some will love it, some like it, some will be disappointed, and a few will be puzzled, but mostly most readers will have no idea the book is out because they haven’t heard of it. That’s the nature of the business (especially when you aren’t a bestseller, as I’m not).

So I want to take a moment this week to say:

THANK YOU to my readers

Some of you love all my books. Some like one series more than the others. Some have only read one series or even just one book. One or two have thrown a book I wrote across the room in disgust. Some are trying out my novels for the first time. Some of you write to me or show up at my book events. Some I will never know are out there reading. Some are my friends; most are strangers. And you guys live all over the world.

It’s not that my writing doesn’t exist without readers. It does, and writing exists and lives and breathes even if what is written is only ever seen by the person who wrote it.

To me what happens between a written work and a reader is a creative act all on its own, an interaction that usually takes place in privacy and in silence while being no less vivid and powerful for that. In these days of social media the discussion can range farther afield and reach more people than ever, which is both really cool and kind of daunting and scary. But it always comes back to what I put on the page and what you, the reader, take away from the page.

Thank you for meeting me halfway.

Also, you all are the best.

Writing a woman who eats what she wants without being shamed (Spiritwalker Monday 2)

The fourth giveaway winner is bee-ww-oh-bee. She asked:

Why did you choose to elaborate on Cat’s love of food? I thought it was interesting that we have a heroine who actually appreciates food. Was this in response to societies view on female bodies or did you just write it as part of her character?


Have a story: Continue reading

Cat & Bee’s love; writing what’s already been written; back to SF? (Spiritwalker Monday 3)

It’s June.

COLD STEEL comes out this month!


RT Book Reviews has given it a Top Pick (4.5 stars) review in RT Book Reviews: “the conclusion is delicious.”

Here’s your weekly reminder that I’ll be doing events in San Francisco (June 27), San Diego (June 29), New York City (July 2), Seattle (July 8), and Portland (July 9).

The COLD STEEL giveaway is over (winners picked by random number generator), and now I have to start answering the amazing questions people asked.

I’m starting with three questions from winners Rima, Elodie (needs an accent mark above the first E), and Eve. No spoilers involved.


Rima Z asked:

My question is: where did your initial idea to make the primary focus of the novel about the relationship between Cat and Bea come from? Most people are either ‘plot driven’ or ‘character driven’, but I find that you have a really excellent mix of both, which means that at points the plot is independent of relationships (in particular, Vei and Cat), but still finds ways to bring together the importance of most of all the characters introduced.



Thank you for your kind words. I do try to balance plot and character (and setting) because that is what I love best to read. A central concern for me as a writer is in how people’s relationships inform and influence the choices they make. I always try to take into consideration and to develop who people are and where they come from in terms of how they fit into a family structure, a lineage, a society.

The story of Cold Magic came to me originally as an image of two young women in an 18th/19th century style setting who are sitting together in a classroom and looking out over a courtyard as a carriage drives into the courtyard with a mysterious visitor. In that image I knew already that the two girls were sisters (or cousins) who loved each other deeply and whose central relationship was with each other. From initial conception through final volume, the steadfast love Cat and Bee have for each other has always been the emotional core of the Spiritwalker books.

As well, I was eager to write a book in which female friendship/sisterly love was central, not secondary. I love books that treasure and foreground this kind of relationship and I’m always excited to read (and write) more of it.


Elodie asked:

Did you ever feel like a story you were writing (or parts of it) had already been written before by someone else, but without knowing if it was true or just a feeling (or which book it could come from )? If yes, how did you react?


I think that everything we read and experience gets churned into the clay out of which we shape our stories (or art or music or however we express our creative selves). Story doesn’t spring fully formed from the head of Zeus. It’s all linked up and bound in to everything else.

So if I write a love story I know that I am writing a story that in some ways may be like all other love stories or that may be influenced by specific love stories I have read, but I also know that my unique take on the story and characters I tell is something only I can bring to it. In terms of creating it’s worth remembering (in my opinion) that as a creator you are unique. No one else can bring the perspective you bring even to a story type that seems to have been told a thousand times before.

In a specific sense: Have I ever thought I was inadvertently paraphrasing or rewriting an actual book I had read, and yet wasn’t fully aware of what I was doing?

When I was young and learning how to write I at times modeled what I was writing on things I had read. It’s not quite full-blown imitation; I think it’s a normal part of the learning process in writing. [aka “I loved Lord of the Rings so I’m going to write a world with noble elves in it . . . and then there will be a handsome elf lord who falls in love with a human girl . . . ” No, I did not start writing that story when i was 16, what could you possibly be thinking?]

I continue to be influenced by what I read in ways I can’t always consciously process. So I do occasionally have to stop and look very carefully at something I’ve written.



Eve N asked:

Early in your career, you wrote SF; your later work (to the best of my knowledge!) is all fantasy. Do you envision going back to SF at some point?


Answer: I would love to write SF again and hope to do so in the future. I have far more ideas I’m super excited about than I could ever write in one lifetime, and because I make my living from writing I do at times have to prioritize those ideas according to how whether I think they can make me a living wage (I don’t write fast enough to toss off side projects, and in fact at the moment I’ve so heavily booked up that I don’t have time for side projects regardless).

I do see a resurgence of science fiction in the YA field right now, and I’m hopeful that may open up sf in book form again (SF is pretty standard on tv and in film and gaming now; it’s basically gone mainstream in the visual media.)


“Is it ever difficult *not* to fall into writing that caters to male gaze?” (Spiritwalker Monday 4)

Over the next few months I will be answering, a few at a time and probably more than once a week, the many excellent questions (and they are all excellent questions) asked as part of the Cold Steel giveaway.

However before I start doing that I am going to answer a few questions still in the queue that are unrelated to the giveaway. I do read all email and questions I get and I try to respond to it all; it just sometimes takes me a while in which the “while” may extend to weeks, months, or in a few embarrassing cases years.

In the wake of my September 2012 post The Omniscient Breasts, girljanitor asked:

I was wondering, is it ever difficult *not* to fall into writing that caters to male gaze? A lot of the time I find myself writing in a way that is reactionary without being subversive.

I’m not going to define “male gaze” here. If needed, read the above linked post where I do so. And I’m going to answer the question not specifically by discussing the male heterosexual gaze that sexualizes women (which is what I focus on in the post) but to define it in the larger sense of the default cultural gaze, the one that surrounded me as I grew up in the USA and which is still heavily dominant in so much of the USA media and narrative and casual talk.

My answer is that it is ALWAYS difficult for me NOT to fall into writing that caters to the default cultural gaze.

The default gaze is easy. Like the One Ring, it wants to be found.

The received wisdom I heard over and over again as a child about how women are, how men are, how society is (in the largest sense including any sort of discussion about gender, race, nationalism, history, ethnicity, heteronormativity, and so on) continually rises out of my backbrain and insinuates its way into my stories.


I am involved in a constant struggle to pick apart those assumptions and not perpetrate them in my stories.

Sometimes I grab that bull by the horns right out in the open and confront the stereotype or old default head on as I’m writing. Sometimes I write a scene and only later realize how I catered to the old lies and then have to sort out where I slid and figure out in revisions how I really want to deal with the situation. Sometimes I don’t catch some reactionary interaction or plot choice until I see the book in print by which time it is too late to change. And other times I don’t see it at all and only realize defaults I fell into after they are pointed out in a review. And it lurks in all my writing still.

I’m wracking my brains for a few concrete examples from my work of which there are many because they reach back into the entire drafting process for each book. For example, the relationship between Anji and Mai in Crossroads was easy to write because it is based in a traditional male/female gender split. I think I did a good job with that story (and torqued it in a specific way meant to counter-examine that story) but that doesn’t negate that it was a piece of cake to write exactly because it so heavily skewed to comfortable old gender roles. Meanwhile, in my current WIP, I am having to constantly remind myself to build ways in which my young heroine (there is also an old heroine but her story has different inherent difficulties) can act rather than be acted upon because the initial iteration of her story involved her being acted upon but in fact it does not have to be written with her as a passive bystander thrown into a raging current of story; she can decide to jump into that river of her own volition.

I don’t expect to be perfect. I expect to make mistakes. I expect to fail sometimes. I expect to be human. Therefore I try to be aware and to learn something each time and do better.

An apt analogy might be picking apart embroidery. I have to cut it stitch by stitch and pull it out of the fabric in order to re-do it. This stuff goes deep.

In other words:

Part of my writing process is unlearning.

News and plenty of it (Spiritwalker Monday 5)

Cold Steel (Spiritwalker Trilogy #3) to be published in 25 June 2013. It is possible that print copies will show up in bookstores before that day so keep an eye out.

I will be doing events in San Francisco (June 27), San Diego (June 29), New York City (July 2), Seattle (July 8), and Portland (July 9) in conjunction with publication. Information here.




My essay “The Omniscient Breasts” is in Speculative Fiction 2012 edited by Justin Landon and Jared Shurin.

Speculative Fiction 2012


Speculative Fiction celebrates the best in online non-fiction – the top book reviews, essays and commentary of the year. This first volume, edited by bloggers Justin Landon (Staffer’s Musings – US) and Jared Shurin (Pornokitsch – UK), collects over fifty pieces from science fiction and fantasy’s top authors, bloggers and critics.



My short story “leaf and branch and grass and vine” appears in in the anthology Fearsome Journeys, edited by Jonathan Strahan.

Publication date: 28 May 2013 (S&S/Solaris)

The Fearsome Journeys, The New Solaris Book of Fantasy


An amazing array of the most popular and exciting names in epic fantasy are set to appear in the first in a brand new series of anthologies from the celebrated master anthologist Jonathan Strahan. Featuring original fiction authors such as Trudi Canavan, Daniel Abraham, Saladin Ahmed, Elizabeth Bear, Glen Cook, and Scott Lynch, many more exciting names will appear in this collection. From dragons to quests, cut-throats to warriors, battles and magic, the entire range of the fantastic is set to appear on this first Fearsome Journey!



Chapbook “The Secret History of Beatrice Hassi Barahal” in collaboration with artist Julie Dillon and publishing collective Crab Tank: In production. Publication date: June/July 2013



Audio book company Recorded Books is doing an audio book version of the Spiritwalker Trilogy. This will be my first audio book. They’re recording Cold Magic as we speak! No release date yet.

The four Jaran volumes will appear in e-book format in late summer 2013 through Open Road Media. No date yet.

The Highroad Trilogy and The Labyrinth Gate (my first four novels) will also appear in e-book format through Open Road Media but there is no date set.

As I announced earlier this year, all 7 volumes of Crown of Stars are available as e-books in the UK region, published by Orbit UK.

The first three volumes of Crown of Stars are available in USA and World regions (I have not been given a date for release of volumes 4 – 7 of the series in e-book format in the USA/World regions but feel free to write to DAW Books and ask them).



I have some short stories in progress and some announcements to come about my next novel projects, but not this week.

I keep meaning to set up a quarterly newsletter like people do but I haven’t managed it yet (it always seems more important to spend my time writing fiction and alas I have no personal assistant).

Finally, a fully updated web site, soon.

COLD STEEL events (readings/signings)(Spiritwalker Monday 6)

To support the release of the third and final volume of the Spiritwalker Trilogy I will be at the following bookstores/events:

Borderlands Books, San Francisco, CA: Thursday June 27 at 7 pm

with Katharine Kerr who will also have a new book out.


Mysterious Galaxy San Diego, Saturday June 29 at 2 pm

with Andy Duncan and Clarion students (should be fun AND educational).


New York CIty: NYRSF reading Tuesday July 2 (with E. C. Ambrose) at 7 pm


University Bookstore, Seattle, WA: Monday July 8 at 7 pm


Powells Beaverton, Portland OR: Tuesday July 9 at 7 pm

With Lilith Saintcrow!


All events will include reading from Cold Steel, from my forthcoming YA fantasy, and maybe even from the epic fantasy trilogy I’m currently working on, or possibly I will read a short story instead although that might necessitate you believing I can actually write a short story. Which I can. I totally can.

PLUS Q&A (you have to bring the Qs).

AND I will either have print copies of The Secret Journal of Beatrice Hassi Barahal available (art by the awesome Julie Dillon!!!!) OR if it is not yet finished I will have a rough version with some of the illustrations to display and a place to sign up with your email/address to get notification when the print and e-book versions are ready for purchase.


Please know that I would love to see you. Yes, you! Especially YOU!

And your friends, family, or indeed any passers-by you can snag off the street. If I’m not coming to a city near you, send friends or family who do live in the area. The more the merrier. If enough people come I will sing OR demonstrate how to paddle an outrigger canoe and punch sharks.

I plan to attend the Sirens Conference in Oregon in October (it’s a wonderful small conference — come if you can!) but besides that the events listed above will be my only appearances in public venues/conventions this year (as far as I know).


A note on bookstore events: I’m signing at four well regarded and valued independent bookstores. You may bring personal books from home for me to sign. It is not required to buy (for example) Cold Steel or any book from the bookstore but it is always a strong show of support for independent bookstores if you can and do buy a copy of my newest book or, indeed, any book while you’re there (whether or not it is one of mine).

If you’re not able to make the event, I do always sign stock at each bookstore so you can order a signed copy afterward. If you contact any of the bookstores IN ADVANCE you can reserve a book and get it signed to you at the event (by me! not some random book signing gnome).

I have some thoughts on epic fantasy (Spiritwalker Monday 7)

In July and August 2011 the excellent Clarkesworld ran a massive two part series on Epic Fantasy (Part One here and Part Two here) in which the intrepid Jeremy L. C. Jones heroically interviewed a ton (at least) of writers of epic fantasy and then collated these reams of material into two huge amazing sets of reflections on the genre.

The answers were there divided by question rather than author, so here today (because I once again have a couple of half written posts that I’m not yet done with but meanwhile I need to make my Monday deadline) I’m excerpting my answers all in one place for your delectation. Bear in mind that the answers are a snapshot from two years ago. Yet many of these issues and discussions are ongoing and not, perhaps, much altered even though two years on.


—What is at the heart (or core) of epic fantasy?

I think every writer is going bring a different perspective to epic fantasy.

I’m not personally much into definitions; they can get awfully constraining. Often a definition seems either needlessly prescriptive or it seems to express the needs, desires, and prejudices of the person doing the defining. I don’t necessarily mean that in a bad way; we all have our views and opinions but we also have our blind spots and unexamined assumptions and expectations.

I can tell you what I enjoy most about epic fantasy. I like the sense that you’re getting a wide lens view of a world, one that is punctuated by closeups and medium shots. The word I would probably use to describe what I’m looking for in an epic is “sweep,” defined in my American Heritage Dictionary as (variously) “to move or unbalance emotionally; to cause to depart, remove or destroy; to traverse with speed or intensity; to extend gracefully or majestically.”

What that means is that for me the heart of epic fantasy is the emotional response it engenders in the reader. That emotional response is going to be something different for each reader rather than a static characteristic required for all. For me it’s a teenage girl standing on a wind-swept promontory overlooking a vast landscape and distant ocean; she’s got a bow and arrows slung over her back and a falcata at her hip, a faithful dog and horse at her side, sturdy boots and a cloak, and a long journey ahead of her. By which I don’t mean that any story–not even mine–has to have that scene in it to be epic fantasy. I mean that when I read epic fantasy, I want to feel a sense of discovery and adventure and anticipation and vista.

—And why do you write it?

I was an outdoor, athletic child: I preferred to play physically active imagination games outdoors. But, against that, the cultural norms of the day reminded me constantly that the things I loved to do were appropriate for boys, not for girls. Sometimes people forget this.

So in the beginning, as it were, fantasy novels were a way for me to escape the rigid constraints put on girls. More importantly, I could write my own stories and build my own worlds. If you’ve not grown up being told you shouldn’t be who you are, I’m not sure you can quite understand why world-building and writing epic fantasy is so attractive and in its way a form of chain-breaking. But it was, and it is.

As an adult, I’ve become fascinated by cultural change, cultures in conflict, and the rise and collapse of complex societies, with a special place in my heart for the life cycle of empire. Epic fantasy allows the scope to really dig into these questions; the form creates an expectation that the reader will venture through layers and enjoy a certain level of complication, so I find it appealing for that reason.

I also love tracking multiple characters through a changing landscape. I don’t say that to suggest other genres and subgenres can’t do exactly the same things, just that those are some reasons I write epic fantasy.

I am not, by the way, a monarchist nor do I yearn for the halcyon days of yore with a secret reactionary bent to my heart. The idea that epic fantasy is by nature a “conservative” subgenre is, I think, based not only on an incomplete reading of the texts but also on an understanding of the medieval or early modern eras that comes from outdated historiography.

I don’t doubt specific works can be reactionary or conservative (depending on how you define those words), but more often than not I suspect–although I can’t prove–that if a work defaults to ideas about social order that map to what I call the Victorian Middle Ages or the Hollywood Middle Ages, it has more to do with sloppy world-building in the sense of using unexamined and outmoded assumptions about “the past” as a guide. I really think that to characterize the subgenre so generally is to not understand the variety seen within the form and to not understand that the simplistic and popular views of how people “were” and “thought” in the past are often at best provisional and incomplete and at worst outright wrong.

Historian Judith Bennett calls this the “Wretched Abyss” Theory, the idea that the European Middle Ages were a wretched abyss from which we modern women/people have luckily escaped. It’s one of the founding myths of modern feminism as well as the modern world. Me, I want to live now, with internet, antibiotics, and that nice intensive care nursery that saved my premature twins. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t also responsible to depict a more nuanced and accurate representation of “a past” as it was lived and experienced as a dynamic and changing span.

—What is the relationship between characters and settings in epic fantasy?

People exist in a cultural context. Characters live within their landscape both in the ecological and the societal sense. The society/societies the characters come from will inform how they see the world, approach the conflicts they struggle with, and interact with others.

As a writer, I do not see character and setting as separate; I see them as intertwined in exactly the way my own character and person is intertwined with the world I live in. I write from that place, so even though it’s also true that my approach, and thus the plot and character decisions I make, are necessarily informed by my own experience of the world, I must always attempt to see their world from their immersion in it.

—At what point is it necessary to kill off a recurring (and perhaps much loved) character?

When they die.

I may be interpreting the question in a way it’s not intended, but I don’t find it to be “necessary” to kill off a character except at the confluence of events and setting where that character ends up dead. Characters have lives and things happen for any number of reasons, and sometimes what happens is that they die. I don’t write series in the sense that I have recurring characters from book to book; I write a single novel in multiple volumes and when it’s done, it’s done. So any given character will either survive to the end, or won’t.

—How have you kept your series fresh and lively?

By finishing and moving on.

—Do you have any advice on dealing with violence when writing Epic fantasy?

I think writers shouldn’t flinch from writing violence. One has to be cautious, though, about using violence as the only way to build stakes, tension, conflict, and emotional reaction. It can get boring. Vary your palette.

I would wish writers to be honest about the degree of violence war inflicts on the actual combatants, and I particularly would wish writers to be honest about the degree of violence that war, empire, and political, religious, and economic conflict inflict on non-combatants and on the fabric of societies. We don’t need to look to the past for examples of this; we need only look at the news today.

Yet at the same time, violence needs to be seen as part of a larger picture. To use one example, I’ve read/heard both writers and readers comment that epic fantasy isn’t really about, doesn’t really “include,” female lives unless they’re rape victims, sex workers, mothers of heroes, or nubile young women waiting to be married off for dynastic or economic alliances–in other words, purely about sex, which frankly to me suggests a failure to understand the profound and far-reaching effects war and the various sorts of destabilizing conflicts have on the societies they touch as well as ignorance about the lives women actually led in the past in world history.

The way history was approached and written in decades past rendered many lives virtually invisible, but that does not mean those lives weren’t woven into the fabric of the events of their day or that people we may think of as passive, ignorant bystanders to the history of Men did not have a measure of agency and wit or even a great deal more than that in terms of economic or political clout if they were in the right social group.

There is, for instance, an entire subgenre of little stories written in the European Middle Ages in which clever women fend off the unwanted attentions of strong, armed men by wit and intelligent argument alone. The famous Aristotle, so very respected and influential and of course strikingly sexist in his view that women were literally physically, intellectually, and spiritually inferior to men, was also mocked and reviled in the Middle Ages, not least for what was recognized by some at that time as his misogyny–and this by clerical writers who were themselves part of a misogynistic culture.

Cultures wrestle with their own cognitive dissonances; they are not monolithic, static, and unchanging. Indeed, they contain multitudes.

—Any parting words?

To be honest, I find that too much of epic fantasy and concomitant opinions about how societies of the pre-modern era function is based on historiography that is 30 years old.

For instance, depictions of European medieval-like women and indeed of many medieval-like societies in some fantasy is woefully outdated. This outmoded historiography does not just pertain to women, it pertains to gender, it pertains to the church, and–because I’ve been focusing my comments on the European Middle Ages–it pertains very much to non-Christian and non-European cultures which were and are societies just as complex and advanced and layered as the European template so much fantasy defaults to.

We can tell new, interesting, and exciting stories if we extricate ourselves from old and increasingly tired assumptions and expectations about life in the past, and if we expand our horizons. I would still love to see more ethnic and cultural variety. And I would hope writers are giving thought as to whether their books pass the Bechdel Test.

Having said that, I think there are a lot of compelling and fascinatingly diverse writers working in the genre today; it’s an exceptionally rich and rewarding time to be reading epic fantasy.