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Friday, January 24, 2020

Cate Glass interview (interviewed by Łukasz Przywóski)

Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Before we start, tell us a little bit about yourself. Feel free to brag. 

I am a former software engineer and a longtime reader who was hooked into writing as a hobby by a coworker. I then discovered that it was the career passion I had always been looking for. Though I enjoy reading every genre of fiction, writing fantasy is my first love. As Ursula Leguin once said, “Fantasy is the great canvas upon which every human story can be told.” Since my first novel was published in 2000, I have also discovered a love for teaching writing at writers conferences, speaking on panels and meeting readers at fantasy/science-fiction conventions, and spending multiple week-sized chunks of time per year with other writers on mountain writing retreats. My books have won a number of awards, including the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature and multiple Colorado Book Awards. I live in Colorado with my Exceptional Spouse and have three sons who are now putting together exceptional lives for themselves. 

When and why have you decided to become an author? 

I never planned it. I started writing fiction on the prompt of a friend from the software engineering lab where I worked. We shared a lot of books and talked about them over lunch. One day she confessed to me that she had always wanted to be a writer and coerced me into exchanging email letters “in character”. It was So Much Fun. After a year, we had each written thirty-two long letters (including dialogue and dramatization, of course) and had a complete story. The writing was pretty awful, but I was entirely hooked. Even then, I didn’t think of myself as an author. I never imagined anyone would want to read what I was writing, so I gave no thought to editors or agents. Only after about eight years, when I all of a sudden felt like I understood exactly what the narrator of my newest story was feeling, did I start to think that maybe I was onto something. A year later, I sold three books to an editor at Penguin who heard me read the opening of Transformation at a writers’ conference. She, and then her successor at Penguin, bought my first fifteen novels. 

How old were you when you first sat down to write a fantasy story or novel? 

I wrote one fantasy short story in a tenth grade English class. Even got an A on it. But I didn’t sit down to begin a story again for 25 years. Too much else to do. A math degree. Husband and three kids. A computer science degree. A software engineering career. And LOTS of reading. 

As Carol Berg, you’re an award-winning and bestselling author of fifteen fantasy novels, and half a dozen novellas and short stories. We know the publishing industry can be brutal and staying published isn’t a given. Can you tell us why have you decided to write under a pen name? Did it work? 

After my fifteenth book came out in December of 2015, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next. My mom was in her late nineties and in a steep decline. My last release had been rocky due to a dispute between Penguin and Amazon which resulted in the book being unavailable for two of its first three weeks. And I was a bit burnt from delivering fifteen books in sixteen years. I took some time off and wrote some short fiction for several anthologies – a new thing for me. Then I had a smattering of an idea for a new series. 

Rather than a large over-arching story broken into several volumes, this would be an episodic series of fantasy “heist” adventures with a strong mythic foundation and an ensemble cast of characters. I noodled over it for about a year and wrote the first adventure. It was really short compared to my earlier work. I decided I ought to write a second one, just to prove I could. In November 2017 my agent got after me and told me to send her what I had. I did. She loved it. Told me to write up a proposal. I did. She did a broad submission in January, and Tor (the fantasy/SF imprint of MacMillan) pounced immediately. Before I knew it I had a three-book deal. 

On my first call with my new editor – after the contract was signed – she asked if I would consider an open pseudonym. She felt like my series would get more attention as a Tor debut, than as an epic fantasy author moving to a new publisher with a new kind of series. It would open up some marketing programs and expand my audience, while still allowing my current readers to know that it was new work from me. I knew other writers who had done this kind of thing. I talked to my agent, and she agreed that it could be a good thing. So I jumped. 

For those who haven’t yet read any of your work, where should they start? 

It depends. Many people feel that Transformation is the best entry to my work. Though it is the first of three books, it is also a complete story unto itself. Some who prefer a shorter, faster, episodic adventure might prefer to start with Cate’s Chimera books, and then move on to Carol’s longer ones. Other readers like the mythic quality of the Lighthouse books—Flesh and Spirit and Breath and Bone. They start out a little slower as the duology is really one big book split into two. (The Sanctuary books—Dust and Light and Ash and Silver—are set in the same world over the same time period, but with wholly different characters.) Others like to start with the Collegia Magica books because they are set in my version of the Age of Reason—the time like that of Newton and Galileo, but where were the conflict between science and magic shapes the background of a murder mystery. Yeah...I really love them all. 

Serious writing takes not only a story to tell, but the craft of writing to tell it well—can you comment on your journey as a writer? 

Over that eight years between the time I started writing fiction and the day I first felt like I knew what I was doing, I would talk with my friend and let her read my work. My sister gave me a subscription to Writers Digest. I would read an article on point of view or openings. If the article made sense to me, I would go back and revise all my earlier manuscripts to see if it made any difference. I tried to figure out what was special about the books on my shelf that I loved and reread. Mmm – complex characters. Intimacy. Emotion. Prose that was rhythmic and flowing and easy to read aloud. In essence, I gave myself an eight-year self-directed writing course. 

Tell us a little bit about your writing process. When and where do you write? Do you start with a character, an image, or an idea? Talk a little bit about how a novel “grows” for you. 

You hit on the word that I think describes my storytelling better than many others. Grow. Some people would call me a pantser because I don’t develop an outline before I write. But to me the word pantser implies that you sit down with a blank page with no end in mind except the end of the book. Instead of that, I start with a seed: a character and a setting, and I have a destination in mind. It might be a short-term destination: to get the slave back to the prince’s house; to get Portier into the king’s service to investigate a murder; to take Anne to see where her sister was found dead. Whatever. Then I start writing. As I write I set the event in motion and think – at that moment – how does this character react to this event? What does that reaction tell me about that character? Who else is there and why? As I write the scene, I decide what else I need to include in this setting to make the scene more sensory. More vivid. And then, how do those details inform the world that includes the setting? Etc. Etc. That isn’t flying by the seat of your pants. That is growing new things from known things. 

As to when and where: I write every day for as long as it takes me to feel I have moved forward – even if that movement involves refining existing chapters or writing out pieces of world mythology or figuring out why three female characters are all turning out to be exactly the same. Most often write in a chair in my office where I can see out the window, but I have been known to write in a tent while camping or on a bike trip, on my deck looking out at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, in a car, on an airplane or ferry. Once my favorite alternate venues is a funky little hotel in central Colorado at 10 thousand feet with several other writer friends. 

Do you give yourself mini-deadlines (e.g. must have chapters x-y written by January 1st) or do you progress with an ultimate deadline in mind? 

I try to give myself small deadlines, but I’m not at all good at meeting them. So I keep my eye on the end point—the deadline I’ve agreed to in my contract. That isn’t the most efficient or even the best for productivity. But it seems to work for the most part. I also have a critique group. We have been together for about fifteen years. We meet twice a month and they read all my world. That gives me intermediate deadlines while I’m working on a new book. I always want to have one or two chapters ready to hand out each time. 

What was your initial inspiration for the Chimera series? 

The notion came to me when I happened upon an old episode of Mission Impossible, the (pre-Tom Cruise TV series). I enjoyed the series at the time – corny though it could be. And it came to me that I had never written a true ensemble adventure. I had enjoyed transferring my love for a murder mystery/double-agent spy thrillers to my own fantasy world in the Collegia Magica books, and thought it could be fun to transfer another favorite genre – the ensemble spy/caper series to a fantasy world as well. The first thing I had to do was to decide on the ensemble. MI had its muscle guy, its techie guy, its brains-of-the-outfit, and the actor/actress impersonators as its mainstays. You could do almost any kind of mission with those skills. So then I came up with magical talents that would give my people a similar range. Before I knew it, I had four very interesting people to fill those roles. Then I had to create a world where their adventures could be of civic importance. I like paralleling particular times in our history, so I settled on Renaissance Italy- where great cities were states of their own, and where there was lots of skullduggery! 

Please, tell our readers what do your characters have to overcome in the Chimera series? What challenges did you set before them? 

Because the talents that make my four players unique are magical, I didn’t want such skills to be common or freely available. Thus I started with a society of forbidden magic – severely forbidden. Most children born with any signs of sorcery are drowned at birth. Those who survive to adulthood spend their lives hiding what they can do, as well as striving to avoid notice. So that is the biggest obstacle. 

Each of my four also has a personal history that creates obstacles. Romy was sold to a procurer at age ten and then bought by a very rich man as a courtesan, so her life took a very different course than her brother Neri, who grew up in poverty and ignorance with parents who didn’t drown him, but were terrified of him. Placidio has a murky background, wreathed in secrets—but is a professional duelist, who has to stay in the middle ranks of his profession, lest someone take notice of the particular skills he brings to a fight. Dumond the metalsmith has a wife and children. He believes in using his talents, but is constantly aware of the danger he is to his family. Poverty, civic strife, violence, and the other, more ordinary difficulties of life in a society just finding its way are also present. 

What unique challenges did this book pose for you, if any? 

For Illusion, it was transforming a long novella into a novel! I wanted to get readers invested in the characters from the beginning, telling the story of who they are and how they came to work together. So I started out writing the story of these four people and how they started doing what they do. Then I wrote them into their first adventure. When I got finished, I loved it, but what was it? Novel, novella, backstory? Fortunately, my editor at Tor loved it too and gave me some wonderful prompts as to where to expand. So the first volume took a slightly different shape from the other two volumes in the series where we get into the mission early on. I discovered that being a spymaster is not easy! 

An Illusion of Thieves is an engaging and entertaining book with plenty of twists, reveals and cool ideas. Tell us about magic and why is it feared/hated in this world? 

First of all, thank you for that! 

Because I wanted my version of the Renaissance to spawn some different issues for my characters – and more difficulties, if course! – I devised a mythology that speaks of a Great War at the Creation. The war resulted in the gods retiring into oblivion (they are now known as the Unseeable Gods) but not before they raised a great beast from the sea to sweep their Enemy, Dragonis, from the sky and bury him under the earth. Volcanoes and earthquakes are a constant reminder of the imprisoned monster. Sorcerers are considered to be descendants of Dragonis’s ravaging of the human population. If sorcerers are allowed to live, it is believed that they will find a way to set Dragonis free to send the world back to chaos. Thus sorcerers must be exterminated. There is no evidence that sorcery run in families – Romy and Neri are the only two of their parents’ thirteen children who possess what the world calls the demon taint. But oftentimes whole families are destroyed when one is determined to be a sorcerer. 

Many people like Romy have embraced more modern ideas, dismissing the notion of imprisoned monsters and vanished gods. But then, things happen along the way...

What new challenges can we expect in A Conjuring of Assassins? 

Politics. Foreign ambassadors with very unusual inclinations. Assassins (of course.) Vendettas. Burial tunnels. A mysterious stranger that Romy saves from drowning in the river. Some personally scary incidents with magic for our heroine. A mission that seems simple, but gets more and more convoluted when investigations yield wholly unexpected results. 

I think many readers enjoy reading about Placidio, a mysterious and battered swordsman with secrets. Would you consider giving us a glimpse of his thinking process? 

Placidio is an expert swordsman who earns his living as a professional duelist. Throughout the Costa Drago, dueling is an accepted practice of settling disputes. It is strictly regulated. Referees maintain a Dueling List in each of the nine independencies, including Cantagna. Those higher on the list, ie. those who win more, can charge higher fees. Placidio cannot let himself win as often as his skills might allow, lest referees or clients start noticing that he has other skills than just swordsmanship. Which means he is not very well off and gets terribly depressed. So he drinks a lot. But as Romy and her brother Neri learn, he has a wide variety of experiences...and knows people a middling duelist has no reason to know...and in Conjuring we will see some other areas where he seems to know more than one might think. But I can’t really say anymore. 

Can we expect a sort of overarching plot/meta throughout the series or will it remain episodic? 

I see the mythos plot—the truth of magic and the Creation stories—as the series arc. Both the second and third books will delve into such matters. Is there really a monster under the earth—or is there something else going on? 

Would you say that the Chimera series follows tropes or kicks them? 

There are a lot of tropes that I love, just as many people do—a story or character elements that we find throughout all literature (not just fantasy) because of the satisfaction we get from seeing them unravel. Tropes ill-used become cliches, and I don’t want that. So I take the ones I want and try to turn them on their heads. If that’s kicking them, then I guess that’s what I do. 

What’s your publishing Schedule for 2020/2021? 

The second Chimera book, A Conjuring of Assassins, will be published on February 4, 2020. Beyond that is yet to be determined. 

Do you have any other authorial goals that you are striving towards that you want to talk about? 

I have more stories I want to write. Stories that I want to revive. Some short fiction I’ve written, I would love to find a home for. 

Finally, can you tell us a couple of fun facts about yourself that are not already available on the internet? 

I had a very brief career as a bike racer. OK, I was a silver medalist in the Pikes Peak Area Corporate Cup women’s criterium back in the late 80s. I rode the one race and retired immediately after, saying I’d never do THAT again. I also rode the Hardscrabble Century bicycle ride – note this was a ride, not a race - in southern Colorado in three different years. My times are lost in the fog of beautiful, but painful memory. A few years later, I was the only woman ever to complete a BSA Scout Troop 93 High Adventure trip - a 400+ mile bike ride through the San Juan Islands. That is the entirety of my sports career. 

Thank you so much for agreeing to this conversation, Carol/Cate! We greatly appreciate your time and thoughts. 



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