I made an arrangement to swap critiques with a US author, J. Tullos Hennig, whose novel, Wyldingwode, is the final book in a Robin Hood trilogy. I am really enjoying the read!
Awww, what the heck. Here’s the whole thing:
Fantastic Beasts interview: Susan Forest
One of my fellow SFWA members and bundle buddies, Susan Forest, has a novel, Bursts of Fire, in the bundle. Bursts of Fire is the first book in a planned seven-book series, so here’s your chance to not only get a great bunch of books from established pros, but start yourself on a brand new series.
Susan Forest is a writer of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, and a four-time Prix Aurora Award finalist for her short fiction. Her epic fantasy, Bursts of Fire, came out in 2019 from Laksa Media, to be followed by Flights of Marigolds this summer.
She has published over 25 short stories which have appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, among others. Susan has co-edited three anthologies (Aurora Award-winning Strangers Among Us and The Sum of Us, and finalist, Shades Within Us) on social issue-related themes with Lucas K. Law. Susan is past Secretary for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA).
She loves travel and has been known to dictate novels from the back of her husband’s motorcycle. Below is my interview with Susan. Enjoy! And please check out the Fantastic Beasts ebook bundle.
You’re an established pro at short fiction, but Burst of Fire is your debut novel. What prompted you to move to the longer form?
I’ve always considered myself a fantasy novelist and actually began in the long form (check my bottom drawer), but branched into short story writing as a means to hone my craft by working with complete story arcs. The first few I submitted to my critique groups came back with the comment: “This is great! But it’s Chapter 1 of a new novel.”
Nevertheless I persisted, and started publishing short stories in 2005. I also branched out from fantasy into science fiction, horror, and even comedy. But fantasy, and long form, has always been my first love, so I’m thrilled that Laksa Media took me on for the Addicted to Heaven series.
What was it about the Addicted to Heaven story that attracted you to commit to writing seven books?
I love the world, the people, the ideas, the magic—to me the stories almost seem to exist in some real alternate time and place, and I am privileged to peer into that world and follow the characters as they confront the events in their lives.
Addicted to Heaven is not my only sandbox, though; I have a historical fantasy set in an alternate 1635 on submission at DAW, and have researched a fantasy thriller set in 1942, in northern France. I love all my worlds, probably because I get so immersed in them.
Did you know you were starting a series when you began writing Bursts of Fire?
No, I began with a single story, which now forms the series backbone. This means there will be exactly seven books, not more.
But there were just too many stories in my world to ignore, so I had to bring them to life. I’ve written about a third to a half of each of them, so the series will deliver on schedule (baring COVID and Acts of God). Each is intended as a stand-alone book, though some characters do appear in all or most of them.
How much of the overall story arc of the Addicted to Heaven Saga did you have worked out before you began Bursts of Fire?
Like a lot of first books, the Addicted to Heaven series was a long time in gestation, and as such, spawned multiple threads as I worked through the world implications, character backstories and relationships, and structures.
However, I am a planner at heart, and so when I structured each book, I did so by working out the key elements prior to writing.
This makes the actual writing of the books fairly exciting: it simply pours onto the page with very few hiccoughs. I tend not to get bogged down in plot logic problems at the 2/3 mark, as I have the chain of logic and character motivations worked out ahead of time.
What was the most engaging or immersive part of writing the Addicted to Heaven series? Do you have a favorite bit?
This is a tough question because I really love both the drafting and revision aspects of the writing. My favorite bit is usually the bit in my head, either because I’ve just written it or because I’m about to.
I’ve had to take a break from crafting Book 4 (Shivers of Ivy) because I’m waiting for some feedback on Book 3 (Scents of Slavery) before I do the final revision. So while I wait, I’m playing the antagonist character, Mescut, in a game of DnD. One of the other players said to me recently, “Mescut’s the bad guy? But he’s so nice!”
Of course he’s nice. He believes he’s the hero of the story, and he only wants what is best for everyone. Playing him is one way for me to get to know him better before I put together the plot of that book. So, right now, Mescut is my favorite bit!
If readers love Bursts of Fire, when will they be able to read Flights of Marigold, the next book in the series? And the next? And the next?
Fights of Marigold is out August 11, 2020 (available now for pre-order), and of course my launch is all being re-planned for an online event. I have two book videos for Bursts of Fire, and hope to have three more for the August launch, to help celebrate.
The next five books don’t have a publishing schedule yet, but in talks with my publisher, we are discussing delaying Scents of Slavery until all of the books are complete, then put them out on an accelerated schedule so people don’t have to wait to finish the series.
Aside from the Addicted to Heaven series, where else can readers find your fiction?
Writing seven novels has certainly put a crimp into my short fiction writing, so I don’t have any upcoming short stories, but my past short stories are all (or mostly all) available either in my collection, Immunity To Strange Tales (Five Rivers, 2012) or on Curious Fictions.
You’re an established pro and have won and been a finalist for several awards, both as a writer and editor. You’re a member and have been an officer in SFWA, who curated the Fantastic Beasts bundle. What advice would you give writers starting out in the field of speculative fiction?
Network. You hear all the advice about how important it is to read, study, write, practice, and hone your craft, so I’m going to take it as a given that new authors know they have to work hard and be the best they can be. Writing is a marathon, a profession, and a calling, so writers need to be committed to the work and to excellence.
But what is hard to do is pursue the business side of the career. We are writers because we love writing, and as much as it can be difficult or frustrating, we always come back to the writing because we can’t stay away.
Networking and making contacts in the industry and building social media are easy to avoid. But there are so many people out there in the SFF world who are friendly, knowledgeable, and experienced, and my career really started once I began taking advantage of the amazing resource that is the SFF writing community.
Thanks, Susan! Good luck with Bursts of Fire and the entire Addicted to Heaven series.
I hope you all enjoyed this interview and will check out the Fantastic Beasts ebook bundle before it disappears. It runs to June 18, and then it’s gone.
Today I have a special treat: an interview with Douglas Smith, author of The Wolf at the End of the World, one of the books in SFWA’s Fantastic Beasts bundle. Interested in reading this book, or one of the others in the bundle? Check it out in the next 16 days, before the bundle is gone!
Hi, Doug. Thanks for agreeing to answer a few questions about The Wolf at the End of the World. Your book explores Cree and Ojibwe legends. What was it about this material that attracted you?
It started with my shapeshifter species, the Heroka. I wanted to create something different from a standard werewolf. For one thing, I wanted the Heroka to include all animals, not just wolves. And I wanted my Heroka to be believable.
Well, okay—as believable as shapeshifters can be. For one thing, I wanted to downplay the shapeshifter element. I wanted the primary characteristic of the Heroka to be the bond they hold with their totem species, and to have that bond be complete—physical, mental, and spiritual. I wanted the very vitality of a Heroka to be tied to the vitality of their totem.
Because the bigger message, the theme of the book, is a warning call about what we’re doing to our environment, to our natural resources, to the wilderness that once defined this land—the wilderness the animal species that call this country home depend upon for survival.
So to confront the environmental exploitation and animal habitat destruction by modern Western society, I needed a contrasting cultural view, one founded on an abiding respect for the relationship between humans and nature, humans and animals—a relationship that our modern society has forgotten and forsaken. I wanted a belief system diametrically opposed to the European view that places humans at the top of the pyramid of life on Earth.
I wanted a very different (and better) world view.
And I found it in the stories of our First Nations. The Cree spirit Wisakejack is the voice for those stories in this book, and if I could choose just one of his tales to demonstrate the dichotomy between the traditional beliefs of native people and modern society, and why the beliefs of the Cree and Anishinabe fit so perfectly with the Heroka and the theme of the book, it would be his story of the creation of the world that he relates to the boy Zach in Chapter 10.
First, Kitche Manitou created the four elements—earth, water, fire, and air—and from them made the world—the Sun, stars, Moon, and Earth. Then he created the orders of life. First plants, which need the sun, air, water, and earth. Then the plant eaters, which need the plants. Then the meat eaters, which need the plant eaters. And finally, he created humans. We came last, because we need everything that Kitche Manitou created before us. Air, water, earth, sun, plants, animals. We are the most dependent of all of creation—the weakest of all orders of life, not the strongest.
My Heroka understand that relationship. They understand that—as Wisakejack tells Zach—everything’s connected. Western society has forgotten that. We’ve forgotten we’re dependent on the land. Forgetting our connection, we’ve lost it, too.
The stories I chose for the book do not encompass all of aboriginal culture. First Nations people are diverse and express their beliefs in varied ways, plus a large number today are also urban dwellers. But many First Nations stories speak of the connection between humans and animals and the land, and I believe those stories continue to have relevance.
Do you have specific background in Native culture?
In terms of my own heritage, no, I do not. Which leads to the very valid fear I had about writing The Wolf at the End of the World. I’m a white male of European descent (English, Welsh, Irish) who is writing about Cree and Ojibwe culture, traditions, and beliefs. Any author who writes about a current culture other than their own risks being accused of cultural appropriation.
That risk is even greater if the writer belongs to the majority that has traditionally held power in their society and is writing about a minority group in that society. It becomes greater still when that majority has oppressed that minority for nearly a quarter of a millennium, as the Europeans have oppressed the First Nations people since arriving. My ancestors stole their land, broke treaty after treaty, and introduced programs and policies designed to destroy their rich and unique culture and way of life.
Perhaps the most egregious wrong perpetrated against our First Nations was the residential school system mentioned in the book, in which the Canadian government and our churches engaged in a premeditated program of cultural genocide. The publicly stated goal was to assimilate the “Indian” into Canadian society (meaning white European culture), but the program was designed (in a federal minister’s own words in the 1920’s) “to kill the Indian in the child.”
The residential school system involved forced removal of First Nations children as young as six years old from their parents, and their mandatory and permanent residence at boarding schools funded by the federal government and run by various Christian churches including the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, United, and Presbyterian. The abuses perpetrated in residential schools have been documented by the survivors of the system—thousands of cases of horrific physical, mental, and sexual abuse. The system began in 1892 and didn’t end until over a century later when the last school run by the federal government closed in 1996.
Amazingly and thankfully, despite the sad history of residential schools and continued government and cultural oppression, our indigenous people have persevered in finding ways to carry on their traditions and to bring their rich heritage to new generations, refusing to have their culture relegated to the past.
If readers would like to learn more about this shameful chapter in Canada’s history, I’d recommend Basil H. Johnston’s book, Indian School Days, which relates his experiences in a residential school. Johnston is an Ojibwe writer, storyteller, language teacher, and scholar, and has received the Order of Ontario and Honorary Doctorates from the University of Toronto. His other books were also a wonderful research source for this novel. I’d also recommend the “Truth and Reconciliation” website.
What was your research process like?
Because of these concerns, I knew I had to do as much research as possible. I read as much as I could about the ceremonies, beliefs, traditions, and histories of the Cree and Ojibwe. And I read the stories. Ever so many stories. Because, as Wisakejack also tells Jack, that’s how the People taught their children. I came to understand and appreciate how the stories both entertained and educated, taught children about the dangerous harsh environment they lived in, where starvation was only one bad hunt or one greedy hunter away.
I did more research. I stayed at an Ojibwe First Nations Reserve in Chapleau, Ontario. I interviewed the chief and her mother. I visited three different reserve communities and talked to as many First Nations people as I could. I read more.
In short, I tried to do my homework as best as I could. The book and my website include a bibliography of reference sources I used. If you’re interested, I heartily recommend you check them out and read the stories yourself, both to enjoy and to learn more about the culture.
Finally, I’ve treated the Cree and Ojibwe culture with reverence and respect wherever I’ve used it in this book. That wasn’t hard to do. The more I learned of the culture, the more I held it in reverence and respect.
In short, I fell in love with the stories and the culture, and found in them the same core truth that is the theme of the book and the same vitality that drive the Heroka. I did my very best to make sure I got things right and as accurate as possible. And I treated that culture with respect.
First Nations readers have told me how much they enjoyed the book. If you’re Cree or Anishinabe or of any other First Nation, and you read The Wolf at the End of the World, I’d love to hear from you. Tell me what I got right. Tell me what I got wrong. Tell me what you thought.
What was the most engaging or immersive part of writing The Wolf at the End of the World? Do you have a favorite bit?
My favourite parts are the traditional stories the spirit Wisakejack tells the young Cree boy, Zach, to both educate Zach on his heritage and to warn him (cryptically) of coming dangers.
Certainly, one of the delights of researching this book came from these Cree and Anishinabe stories. But the stories also caused me some worry. I’d read one story, say of Wisakejack and the flood and the recreation of the world, and then read another version that differed significantly in events and details. In some versions, his wolf brother lives, in others he dies, while others don’t even mention him.
So back to my fear. I wanted to get the facts and stories right. How could I do that if every version of a story was different? Which version was the “right” one?
Finally, I realized these stories were transcribed from what people remembered being told when they were young or used to tell to their children. Storytelling was always an oral tradition, and each storyteller told their own version of traditional tales. So every version would naturally vary as the storytellers varied. Or as we learn about Ed’s storytelling class:
He never read to the kids from the books. Storytelling was an oral tradition, not a written one. Reading the stories didn’t let him change them, adding something each time around to give a slightly different meaning to the story from the last time he told it.
Besides, he liked his versions better.
In the end, I think it’s as Wisakejack tells Zach, “a story is true if its meaning is true,” and I’ve tried to stay true to the meaning of all the stories.
If readers love The Wolf at the End of the World, where would you direct them to more of your work? Is this novel part of a larger series?
The Wolf is the sequel to my very first short story (written and sold), “Spirit Dance,” which won the Aurora Award. The Wolf picks up events and the lives of characters from “Spirit Dance” five years later. You don’t need to read “Spirit Dance” to fully enjoy The Wolf, but if you want to read more about the shapeshifting Heroka, you might enjoy that story, along with the two others I’ve written, “A Bird in the Hand” and “Dream Flight.” All these stories are available as individual ebooks from your favourite retailer and on my online store.
After The Wolf, I started writing an urban fantasy trilogy (more on that below). A writer friend, the master of urban fantasy, Charles de Lint, strongly recommended that I write all three novels in the trilogy before publishing any of them. That’s proven to be excellent advice, as I’ve been free to make changes to the earlier novels as the series story arc evolves and mutates.
I’m finishing up book 3, but it’s meant I haven’t had any new titles come out for a while. So if readers want to read more of my work, for now, I’ll direct them to my two collections, Impossibilia (an Aurora Award finalist) and Chimerascope (a finalist for the Aurora, Sunburst, and CBC Bookies awards).
You are a member of several important writing organizations (such as SFWA, who curated the Fantastic Beasts bundle), won and been finalist for a number of awards, and had your work translated into multiple languages. What advice to you have for writers starting out in the field of speculative fiction?
I still recommend to new writers to start with short fiction. Short stories let you learn the craft of fiction in more manageable chunks and provide a built-in measure of how your craft is progressing, via when you start to sell your stories. You can try out ever so many genres, story structures, voice styles, and so much more in 100,000 words of short fiction than you can in a single 100,000-word novel. Your craft will advance faster if you start with short stories.
There are a lot of other advantages to starting with short fiction, and I discuss them all (and much more) in my writer’s guide, Playing the Short Game: How to Market & Sell Short Fiction. I wrote that book to try to make it easier for beginning writers to understand the business side of short fiction, and as my way of paying-it-forward.
What do you have upcoming?
Right now, I’m working on book 3 of an urban fantasy trilogy with a working title of THE DREAM RIDER SAGA, which involves astral projection, a comic book superhero who actually exists, dream walking, body swapping, rune magic, lost jungle expeditions, mysterious ancient artifacts, secret societies, the multiverse, and the information paradox of black holes…with the continued existence of all of creation at stake. It’s been a lot of fun to write, and I hope to finish it shortly.
Wow. I’m not sure how this happened, but whoever put SFWA’s Fantastic Beasts bundle together chose Bursts of Fire as one of the 15 books on this promotion! I’m absolutely elated!
If you’ve never done a bundle before, it’s simple: 5 books are on offer for whatever you want to pay ($5 minimum), and you get 10 more if you pay $15 or more. Like, amazing deal. Deets here. You can get each book for only a dollar!
And look at the amazing group of books I’ve landed among: All Things Huge and Hideous, by G. Scott Huggins, Moonshadow by Thea Harrison, Cici and the Curator by S. J. Wynde, Whalemoon by Dustin Porta, and Bloodrush by Ben Galley (base group).
The additional 10 books are Eyrie by K. Vale Nagle, Sunset, She Fights by Tameri Etherton, Bursts of Fire by MEEE!, The Cursing Stones by Sonya Bateman, Night’s Favor by Richard Parry, Song of Shadow by Natalya Capello, Heritage of Power – The Complete Series Books 1-5 by Lindsay Buroker, Prince of Foxes by H. L. Macfarlane, The Wolf at the End of the World by Douglas Smith and Windsworn by Derek Alan Siddoway
SFWA has a blog about the StoryBundle here.
Bursts of Fire is on the 2020 ballot for Best YA Novel! I am so excited! Wish me luck!