Worlds Next Door has landed!

Well, two advance copies have arrived at least! They look lovely (just like real books!), the cover is beautiful, the internal pages are perfect, and I’m delighted. Looking forward to having boxes of them in the house in a few weeks!

Interview with Lisa Mantchev

Next up in the Nebula Awards interviews I did earlier this year is Lisa Mantchev. I noticed Lisa’s book a long time before the Nebula shortlists because of its stunning cover, and am really looking forward to reading the next instalment of the series!

Interviewed by Tehani Wessely on April 08 2010 – originally published at the Nebula Awards website.

Lisa Mantchev is nominated for the Andrew Norton Award for her novel Eyes Like Stars.

Congratulations on your shortlisting for the Andre Norton Award! Eyes Like Stars has received a very positive response. As a first-time novelist, that must be extremely gratifying – can you describe what it has been like to see your baby be so well received?

It’s been thrilling… very much like standing on a stage and receiving applause at the end of an Opening Night performance. No actor is ever quite certain how an audience is going to receive a play, and I think it’s the same for writers. No one wants the curtain to come down for their to be only cricket noises… or worse yet, booing!

There’s a big focus on the theatre and Shakespeare in the novel – where does this interest come from? What made you pour so much of this interest into the book (and presumably the books that will follow), but in a fantasy setting? What challenges did this present?

I started doing community theater when I was seven years old, as well as writing scripts for class performances. That continued through high school, when I got a scholarship to study drama at the University of California, Irvine. At the time, I was far more interested in acting than writing, but I switched gears my senior year during an intensive playwriting course.

I’d been writing and publishing short stories for nearly seven years, and I was incredibly intimidated by the idea of writing something that was novel-length. When I decided to tackle something longer than five thousand words, I knew it would help to make it a very familiar world (to me) so I could concentrate more on the process of writing than the research. It’s that old adage of “write what you know”!

I know a lot of writers rarely write shorts after they become novelists, due to both time restrictions and the different requirements of the forms. Are you still finding the time and inclination to write short stories, or has novel writing taken precedence?

I haven’t actually found a lot of time for writing short stories lately, both as a result from the novel-writing and from Real Life getting progressively crazier. I did manage a really fun collaboration of James A. Grant called “As Recorded on Brass Cylinders: Adagio for Two Dancers” which will be appearing in the steampunk-themed issue of Weird Tales and is also slated for reprint in the Vandermeers’ upcoming anthology Steampunk Reloaded.

Speaking of the series, is there anything you can tell desperate readers about the rest of the books?

Perchance To Dream will be out at the end of May, and it picks up where Eyes Like Stars left off *spoiler alert!* with Bertie, her fairy friends, and Ariel on the road, heading out to rescue Nate from the clutches of the Sea Goddess. I got to introduce several new characters in PtD, and I’m very excited to see how the theater readership feels about them.

Have you any more novel ideas percolating when you’re finished with these books? Anything on the drawing board you can tell us about?

In between revisions for Theater Book Three, tentatively titled So Silver Bright, I am revising a long-time-in-the-works steampunk novel (which I jokingly refer to as “retrofuturistic NeoVictorian.”) At the moment, it is in decided need of more grime and grit to balance out all the schmancy costuming and gadgetry.

Eyes Like Stars has a gorgeous cover, but recently there has been quite a lot of controversy over book covers not accurately representing race and culture of the characters contained in the novel. How do you feel about your cover, and what are your thoughts on this issue?

I fell madly in love with Jason’s artwork the moment I saw it, and there isn’t a single thing I would change about the cover for ELS. He perfectly captured Bertie, the fairies, and the feeling of lurking backstage with the lights just out of reach.

The whitewashing issue is an extremely troubling one, and I’ve been exceptionally happy to see that publishers are listening when the blogging community calls them on their mistakes. Given the pervasiveness of the issue, however, I think it would be sensible of the publishers to discuss such things with the authors BEFORE art is commissioned or licensed.

It’s also important to remember that it’s not just an issue of race and culture, but one of body image as well… I see far too many covers of extraordinarily thin girls when the protagonists are dealing with weight issues as well.

It might be said that authors of young adult books have a big responsibility regarding the issues they examine in their writing, because of the nature of their readership. Do you agree with this? What do you think are the most important elements for the success of a young adult novel?

It’s the responsibility of any author to tell the story honestly, however dark and deep and ugly that story might be. Both my short stories and the novels tend to explore some dark areas of the soul, but I didn’t go into writing ELS thinking, “I need to be careful with this, because SOMEONE needs to think of the CHILDREN!” I wasn’t thinking about marketing slots when drafting it, and honestly I think “YA” is more a marketing tool, a place to set the book on the shelf in the store and a label under which to file it in an online store, than it is anything else. Younger readers do not want authors writing down to them, and they will call an author out faster than anyone on the planet for doing so.

As for success, there’s too many ways to define that! There’s the success that comes with busting out on the bestselling lists (which seems to require massive PR campaigns and hype/buzz) and there’s the success that comes with being an award winner, and there’s the success of taking an idea, putting it on paper, and then holding a finished book in your hands, with your name on the cover, two years after the whole crazy notion came into your head.

Lisa Mantchev is the author of Eyes Like Stars and the forthcoming Perchance To Dream, the first two novels in the Théâtre Illuminata series. She has also published numerous short stories in venues including Strange Horizons, Fantasy, Clarkesworld, and Weird Tales. She lives on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington state with her husband, daughter, and hairy miscreant dogs. You can read more about it at

Interview with Malinda Lo

The second of my interviews with Andre Norton Award nominees brings us Malinda Lo, whose book (with its gorgeous cover) is now on the shelves in my school library, and I wasn’t even the one to purchase it!

Interviewed by Tehani Wessely on April 02 2010 – first published at the Nebula Awards website.

Malinda Lo is nominated for the Andrew Norton Award for her novel Ash.

Ash, a lesbian retelling of Cinderella, has been shortlisted for a whole BUNCH of awards and recommended reading lists and it’s only your first (published) novel! Have you been surprised by the reception for the book? What can you tell us about where the story came from and how it has been received by the general public?

Have I been surprised? Absolutely, totally surprised—and overjoyed, obviously!

Before Ash was published, I worked in the LGBT media, reporting on the representations of lesbians and bisexual women in TV, film, music, and books. Books in general are loads more progressive than Hollywood, so I hoped that Ash might be well-received, but at the same time, I am very well aware of mainstream beliefs about LGBT people. Young adult fiction has seen an increasing number of books about LGBTQ teens in recent years, but not so many in fantasy.

So, you know, it was within this context—which I was aware of—that Ash was published. I think that many readers have responded incredibly positively to the fact that being gay is totally normal in Ash’sworld. Many queer teens I’ve spoken to have especially liked this. I’m also happy that Ash has found so many straight (heterosexual) fans. That was something I was worried about; I did want Ash to be accessible to everyone, straight or queer.

Where do you go after such success? Huntress is the forthcoming companion novel to Ash. Can you tell us a bit about the new book?

Well, luckily I wrote the first two drafts of Huntress before Ash was published. Otherwise, I think I would have been totally blocked by fear of failure. In fact, writing the third draft of Huntress was extremely difficult at first, because I was doing that while I was promoting Ash. That experience, though, really forced me to separate my identity as a writer from the accolades that Ash has gotten. Obviously, I’m so happy that Ash has been so well-received. But it’s only my first published novel. I do hope that Huntress is better. I hope that I continue to write better books. The only way to do that is to put my nose to the grindstone and work.

Huntress is a book I love so much. In Ash, hunting is a major sport; each hunt is led by a Huntress. The novel Huntress, which is set several centuries before Ash in the same world, is about the firstHuntress in that Kingdom. It’s a heroine’s quest about the power of love and loss. And there are weapons and monsters and magic and lesbians!

We’ll definitely be looking out for Huntress! Have you any other projects in the works you can tell us about?

I’m superstitious, so, um, no. smile

You posted on your blog that while you personally identify your characters Ash and Kaisa as Asian, you don’t feel that Ash is necessarily identifiable as a book with characters of colour. Obviously though, sexuality, another aspect of mainstream literature that is often defaulted to a certain type of “normal”, is a big part of the book. What are your feelings about the importance of how these two issues are being represented in mainstream literature, and particularly in Young Adult literature?

I’d like to clarify that I see Ash and Kaisa as looking Asian in appearance, not as Asian in descent, because there is no Asia in Ash‘s world.

I think that the recent discussion in the YA blogosphere about the representation of people of color in YA fiction has been incredibly stimulating and useful. I think there are books being published with people of color as main characters, but often they fall through the cracks. The advantage of having this ongoing discussion is that it highlights some of these books and gets readers thinking about their own reading habits.

As for the queer stuff … YA has increasingly included LGBTQ characters over the past few years. There are still more books about gay boys than gay girls, and I’d like to see that balanced out. There is a giant need for more books about transgender teens. In general, though, I think things are moving in the right direction, and I’m very excited to be part of that movement.

There’s a growing understanding among publishers, libraries, schools and the reading world in general that it is absolutely essential for there to be realistic portrayals of race other than white, and sexuality other than straight, in young adult fiction. What are your thoughts on this?

I think that including diversity in all forms of media (adult as well as young adult fiction, TV, film, etc.) is very important, and it’s great that more gatekeepers are aware of this these days.

Have you come across any fallout among parents or librarians because of the sexuality portrayed in this YA novel?

I’d say 98% of the reactions I’ve heard about have been positive. (I don’t google myself, though.) I have read a couple of reviews in which the reader was obviously uncomfortable with the lesbian story line, but that’s to be expected.

However, two things have happened that remind me that some people are still not OK with gay folks.

At one library event a teacher told me that she was unable to bring several of her students because their parents objected to my biography. I think she meant the copy on the book flap that says I was awarded the Sarah Pettit Memorial Prize for Excellence in LGBT Journalism—that’s the only thing I can think of that might have raised a flag, because it has the term “LGBT” in it. The cover copy of Ash itself does not trumpet the fact that Ash falls in love with a woman.

I was really shocked, actually, to hear this—probably because the teacher was so blunt about it. I am happy that she came and brought other students (oddly, younger ones) whose parents did not object to my bio.

I also had an amusing experience last fall. The Pacific Sun, a local newspaper, did a cover story aboutAsh and illustrated it with an image of two Disney princesses dancing together. (You can see it here: Many parents wrote into the newspaper to object to that image, saying it was inappropriate for their children to see two girls dancing together. So, it wasn’t about Ash at all, but about a perception of sexuality where frankly there was none. In response to these parents’ letters, many other people wrote in and defended the image.

In 2010, there seems to be an expectation on authors that they play a big role in the online marketing of their books through blogs and other social media. What are your thoughts on this? You have a background in blogging; do you think this gives you an advantage in this area?

I think that every author should do what she can handle and what she’s comfortable with, while knowing that there is a limit to how much you can do on your own. Also, it’s much more important to write your next book than spend all your time promoting your last one.

I do think my background in working online helped me figure out what I wanted to do, but actually, the fact that my background was in online journalism helped even more. I came to this knowing enough about how the media works that I think I had realistic expectations of the kind of coverage I could get for Ash. And, honestly, I had some contacts in the media who helped me out. The fact that I worked in gay media was even better, because Ash has gay content. So, in a way I was perfectly prepared to promote Ash online.

On the other hand, I had never been a “young adult author” before, so I had no idea what that truly entailed. Figuring out what that means has also affected the way I view blogging and promotion. Basically, I’ve learned that writing has to come first, before any promoting, because I plan to be in this for the long haul.

Malinda Lo is the author of Ash (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers), which is a nominee for the Andre Norton Award, was a finalist for the 2010 William C. Morris Award, and was a Kirkus Best Young Adult Novel of 2009. Formerly, she was an entertainment reporter, and was awarded the 2006 Sarah Pettit Memorial Award for Excellence in LGBT Journalism by the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association. She is a graduate of Wellesley College and has master’s degrees from Harvard and Stanford universities. She has lived in Colorado, Boston, New York, London, Beijing, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, but now lives in a small town in Northern California with her partner and their dog.

Interview with John Scalzi

Earlier this year I was lucky enough to interview some of the 2010 Nebula Award nominees, specifically those who were shortlisted in the Andre Norton (Young Adult) category. It was a big thrill for me to do this, and I had a lot of fun researching the authors, reading their books, and asking them questions. I’ve been given the okay to reproduce those interviews here (thanks Charles Tan!), and will post them over the next few weeks. First up, multi-award nominee John Scalzi. I read John’s “Old Man’s War” books a couple of years ago, and have since foisted them onto a number of friends because they are so brilliant.

Interviewed by Tehani Wessely on March 18 2010 – originally published at the Nebula Awards website.

John Scalzi was nominee for the novella The God Engines and the Andre Norton Award for Zoe’s Tale.

Zoe’s Tale, a Young Adult novel which retells the events of The Last Colony (the third book in the Old Man’s War series) from the perspective of Zoe, was shortlisted for the Hugos last year and now it’s up for the Andre Norton Award, with your novella “The God Engines” also on the Nebula ballot. Would you please tell us how Zoe’s Tale came to be? And is it always exciting for your work to be recognised this way?

I wrote Zoe’s Tale partly because Tor, my publisher, was interested in me trying to write something that they could put into school libraries. This had coincided with my own interest in trying to write a story from Zoe’s point of view, which was convenient, so I went ahead and tried my hand at writing from the point of view of a teenage girl, which, if you are a late 30-something dude trying that stunt for the first time, as I was, is really a lot harder than it looks.

Getting award nominations for your work, whether from your writing peers (as in the case of the Nebulas) or from fans (in the case of the Hugos) is always a kick; to quote Sally Field, it means they like you! They really like you! And in the case of Zoe, it’s especially nice for me because it means I did a creditable job of bringing the character of Zoe to life, which as a writer was a challenge for me.

You say you struggled with Zoe’s point of view – what were some of the biggest hurdles in that journey? And have you had any feedback from young adults on the book and the character? Anything particularly special?

The biggest hurdle was simply that I had never been a teenage girl at any point in my life, so I had to work on making sure that when I wrote one, she didn’t sound like me in teenage girl drag (and I apologize for putting that image into your head). I ended up running early chapters past my wife and some female friends, including Mary Robinette Kowal, who gave me some excellent criticism when I needed it most. The end result has been pretty good; I do get a lot of “I can’t believe this book was written by a man” comments about it, which I take as a compliment.

You started out as a non-fiction writer, and your blog, Whatever, has a very high profile out there in Internet-land. I know you make use of a variety of social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, as well. How much do you think your online presence has influenced your success as a writer? What do you think about social networking as a whole, as a tool for other authors out there?

I think in my case it’s pretty clear that online presence has helped my fiction career—after all, I sold my first novel because I posted it on my site! And I think social networks can help keep authors connected to fans, especially during those period where the author is between major works, and keeping in touch with your readers is always a good thing.

That said, at the end of the day, if you’re not writing fiction worth reading, it won’t matter how many Facebook friends or Twitter followers or blog readers you have. The work has to be there, and it has to be good, in order for any of this social networking stuff to be useful in one’s career. None of the online stuff means anything for one’s career otherwise.

You’ve had two books compiled from your blog writings, with the most recent, Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded: A Decade of Whatever 1998 – 2008, winning the Hugo for Best Related Book in 2009. Are there plans for any more books from the blog? Or other non-fiction?

No current plan for more books from the blog, but remember that Hate Mail covered a whole decade. So perhaps in 2018 it’ll be time again. I do definitely have plans for more non-fiction, however—I like writing non-fiction because it uses other parts of my brain than the fiction writing, and that helps keep me from burnout.

You are running for President of SFWA. Why did you decide to take this challenge, and what changes do you hope to achieve for the organisation if you are elected?

I’m running in no small part because the current administration has a number of things in process—including reincorporation, new bylaws and other things fundamental to the well-being of the organization—that may not be entirely finished by the end of June, and thus may have to be seen to their conclusion. In a general sense I’ve supported these initiatives, so by running and by running with a slate of candidates who are also interested in seeing these processes to their conclusion, I’m helping to make sure these things get done. So in one sense this particular election isn’t about “changing” SFWA in a new way as it is about finishing the changes that are already underway.

Beyond this, however, I think one of the things I would very much like to do is help to bring in new members. I think the previous administration has done a good job in revitalizing SFWA’s reputation and appearance with non-members, and in particular with writers who could be members but are not. I’d like to help bring some of those writers into the fold in the next year—not only to give the organization a jolt of new blood but (and very importantly) to let these newer writers benefit from the experience and knowledge base that our current members have and can share. It’s an “everyone wins” scenario, in my opinion.

Is the novel The High Castle (set in the same world as The Android’s Dream) still in your sights? Fans of Harry need to know! Can you tell us a little about the journey you’ve taken with this novel?

I do still plan to write The High Castle although at the moment there’s no set schedule for it. The reason for its delay (it was originally meant to be out in 2009) is pretty simple: I was writing it, and it wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be, and I have strong quality standards. So I put it aside and worked on some other things instead. I have a good story for High Castle in my head, but if it’s not coming out in the writing I’ll wait until it does.

You recently became the creative consultant for Stargate Universe. What does your role on the show involve and what made you make this leap into the world of television? Would your career to continue in this direction, or is this somewhat of a sidestep?

My role is to read the scripts of the show and offer notes on what’s been written—often on science-related things, but also on characters and the overall arc of the show. I should note that my role is not to get the science 100% right—there’s always an element of speculation—but to make sure that we get right what we already know, and that what we speculate on doesn’t throw people out of the episode. I took the gig because the producers asked me, and it seemed like a fun and interesting way to explore the world of television. And it is. Will it lead to other things? I don’t know, and I’m not too worried about that. At the moment I’m having fun.

John Scalzi is the author of seven science fiction novels; he lives in Ohio with his family and pets. This is the first time he’s been nominated for the Nebula or the Norton. He’s very excited.

Judging a book by its cover

I’m fortunate to have the wonderful, award-winning Amanda Rainey designing book covers for FableCroft. The cover for Worlds Next Door is fabulous and has received some great feedback already. We think a lot about covers and there’s been lots of cover discussions in the blog-o-sphere in recent times too. From the very cool YouTube clip of the creation of a Gail Carriger cover to the issues with representative covers, people clearly care a lot about covers.

It’s one of the oldest sayings around: “Don’t judge a book by its cover!” – a great adage to remember when dealing with people, but to be honest, I’ve never understood it in relation to books! As a teacher librarian, I can tell you that the cover of a book is possibly the most important thing required to “sell” a book to a reluctant reader. Or even a great one. We are visual creatures – if it doesn’t look good, we are less likely to pick it up. The artwork and design of a book cover are its primary selling point, in a library and a bookshop – if the design doesn’t appeal, it is harder to sell, especially an unknown or newish author.

And it’s not just about being eye-catching. There has been quite a lot of discussion about the diversity of book covers. Controversy recently raged over Justine Larbalestier’s book Liar (released in Australia with an attention-getting and completely inoffensive cover, pictured). This book was originally slated for a North American release with a light-skinned cover model, despite it being clear in the book that the protagonist is African-American. Larbalestier used the power of the Internet to let her publisher know this was an unacceptable whitewashing of her cover, and, with the support of her fans and outraged supporters, managed to get the cover changed. This storm was followed by a second (from the same publisher) over Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore, which also resulted in the cover being changed. Looking at book covers over time shows us that the portrayal of women and other-than-white cultures has not been a shining light of publishing history, but it has now become an issue that readers are beginning to have a real say about, and be heard by publishers.

It’s true though that many readers do not notice these politically correct or otherwise portrayals on covers – they simply notice what appeals to them. Orbit Books released a clip showing how a book design comes together which has had over 90,000 hits on YouTube, demonstrating that book covers are fascinating to many of us. Publishers are also quick to pick up on popular covers and duplicate them for other books. See, for example, the new HarperCollins versions of Wuthering Heights, which imitate Twilight. UK author Brett Weeks also talks about this in relation to his own books, saying, “… you want people who enjoyed the Night Angel books but can’t even remember my name to be able to identify that these new books are Brent Weeks books. At the same time, you want to let people know that this is a new series, that the feel of these books is new and different, and basically … appeal to the greatest audience possible. This is made harder if every Tom, Dick, and Harry now has a cover with a hooded man with a sword. (Orbit appears to have started a small trend with my last covers.)”. This was illustrated to me when I saw the covers of Aussie author Rowena Cory Daniells’ new trilogy “King Rolen’s Kin” (due out as monthly releases this year) – there are obvious similarities to the covers of Weeks’ first trilogy, and I love them! Peter V Brett’s covers are also reminiscent of the Weeks ones, so it’s a definite trend!

For my mind, book covers should reflect the contents, theme or ideas of the book they are representing, in a way that is evocative, beautiful, striking or arresting in some way – books battle for attention in bookstores and on library shelves and any advantage is a bonus. 2009 Aurealis Award winner for Best Young Adult novel Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld is a perfect example. It practically cries out to be picked up, caressed, and then devoured. The artwork is symbolises the story, depicting it in a gorgeous and captivating way that appeals both to its target readers and adults (who are frequently the book buyers for that young adult audience), and it’s simply one of the most appealing books of the year.

Other 2009 Australian releases that hit my buttons for great covers included Mirror Space by Marianne de Pierres , Scarecrow by Sean Williams and Full Circle, Pamela Freeman . What’s most interesting about these covers is that not only are they beautiful in their own right, but they also manage to act as a cohesive whole with the other books of the series they are part of. While each is unique, each also holds design elements in common with its sister books, which makes it even more appealing to the avid reader.

And the 2010 book I was MOST looking forward to is Power and Majesty (Book 1 of the Creature Court trilogy) by Tansy Rayner Roberts (released in June from HarperVoyager). Tansy has long been a favourite author of mine with her short stories and her Mocklore books; Power and Majesty is not only already receiving rave reviews – promising to be one of the hottest fantasy novels of the year – but it has the most gorgeous cover, ensuring it will fly off bookstore shelves.

Not all publishers get it right. Some covers make a great book look drab and boring, others completely misrepresent the story being told (I’m thinking particularly of books like Carrie Ryan’s The Forest of Hands and Teeth, a YA zombie novel that is nothing like Twilight, despite what the cover tries to insinuate!). But others get it very very right, and these are the covers that draw us in and carry us away. You really can’t judge a book by its cover, but the cover sure helps!

Winner of the Liar competition!

Congratulations to Nikki, who told us that her favourite YA book was:

“Are you there God it’s me Margaret” by Judy Blume. This was banned from my school library when I was in Year Seven so became the book that everyone wanted to read. We had to sneak copies in from the ‘outside’ and on the quiet and eventually each girl in the two classes had read it. This was my first experience of censorship.

Nikki wins a brand new copy of Justine Larbalestier’s 2009 novel Liar, which is one of my favourite YA novels of the past couple of years!

There were some great comments which turn into a pretty decent reading list. If you’re interested in discovering some unusual YA favourites, check out the comments of the post!