1. On a scale of one to ten, rank your current level of insanity–where ten is belongs-in-lunatic-asylum insane–and tell us why.
Does “my name is Alma and I hear voices” suffice? That’s the way I introduce myself to a lot of people at conventions when I’m on panels asking how I write. I think all writers have perceptions that are a little bit, er, skewed, you know what I mean? Otherwise we wouldn’t be able to play all those what-if games. Normal people deal with what IS. Those of us who spin stories for a living deal with what was, what NEVER was, or what might be if given the right sort of push… (if you insist on grading that on a scale, you’re gonna have to advance a number )
2. I loved The Secrets of Jin-Shei. I think, more than anything else, the appeal of the book lies in that it’s a story of women and friendship. Was it inspired, in any way, by those closest to you? As a sidenote, I read about jin-ashu, and immediately thought of nushu (an actual, women’s language used in China centuries past).
Re the side note – gold star – that’s precisely where it came from…
And concerning that main question, no, not directly. I’ll go so far as to say it was inspired – but not by anybody I knew. Or perhaps a little bit by EVERYBODY I knew. That book is possibly the most universal one that I’ve written, at least where the female half of the world’s population is concerned. People find things to recognise and adopt in that book to a degree that fascinates me, in the aftermath…
3. Many authors who started out in adult fiction are moving to young-adult fiction. Was The Gift of the Unmage always a YA to you, or did the powers that be decide that it should be published as YA?
No, that was ALWAYS YA. That’s what the whole idea was. And I don’t think that I’m “moving” to YA, not on a permanent basis – there will be other books, in both adult and YA universes. I’ll play it by ear when I get to each story. The current YA project, however, is my first-ever overt YA story – and it’s been a decidedly different experience writing the thing.
4. What is an Unmage anyway? I think that were I not already a fan of yours, I’d at least pick up the book at the bookstore to take a look at the blurb for the title alone! It just has this ‘ring’ to it.
Thea WInthrop, my protagonist, is a Double Seventh. She is the seventh child of two seventh children. She should be magically gifted beyond all dreams of avarice – but she has nothing. Zero. Zip. Nada. Not a whiff of magic about her. It isn’t even that she’s BAD at it or gets it wrong – she simply can’t do it at all. Until Things Happen (but you’ll have to read the book to find out what) and she discovers that there was a very good reason for it all… but she, until that point, is quite literally the Unmage. The non-magical entity. More – if the opposite of magic isn’t just the absence of magic but, in some sense, an anti-magic…. (the book is coming out in February. Read it to find out the rest…)
5. Do you naturally gravitate to ‘epic’ stories?
Crikey, yes. When I try to write short story I find myself yanking helplessly at the reins of a runaway tale which is at 20 000 words and rapidly galloping out of control, weakly yelling “whoa” in the fond hopes that it might, as in the movies, actually *WORK* – it never does. I naturally write in the 80 000- 200 000 word range.
6. You’ve lived all around the globe. Is there any one place that has inspired a major element in any of your stories?
Weird, but most of my books take places in places I HAVEN’T actually physically been. I’ve written “The Secrets of Jin Shei” and “Embers of Heaven” without ever having been to China, which inspired them; I’ve written “The Hidden Queen” and “Changer of Days” with the closest I’ve come to a real desert being reading “Dune” at a tender age or flying over the Skeleton Coast of Namibia on a moonlit night; I’ve written about the mesas of the American Southwest without ever having climbed them myself. I’m sure that there are stories just waiting somewhere in darkened pigeonholes in the back of my mind, inspired by real places. I just haven’t had time to get to them yet.
7. Would you recommend travelling around the world to find material for writing?
Hell, yes. And not just for that. Travelling and learning first hand about other places and other people makes you a more complete human being. Everyone should have at least one journey in their life.