January 12, 2011

Interview with Hilari Bell

Let's welcome Hilari Bell! She's the author of the Goblin books and the Farsala trilogy, among others.  (I discovered her due to the Farsala trilogy, which confused me when the books kept changing names!)  She's a former reference librarian who now writes first time.  TRICKSTER'S GIRL is a little different from her previous books - there's a little more science fiction to it and it's a bit more grown up.  The sequel, TRAITOR'S SON, will be available in 2012.  This interview is part of a T2T tour, as is the review that will be posted later today.  You can catch Hilari at All About {n} on the fourteenth or at her previous stops.

Trickster's Girl (Raven Duet)

1. Some of your books are directed more towards a middle grade audience and others are aimed at young adults. What do you think makes a book MG or YA? Are you conscious of the audience when writing a novel?

The main differences between MG and YA are the age of the main characters, complexity of the plot, and pace of the story--also sometimes length. In MG, because the characters are younger they also have somewhat different problems and concerns, and the younger your reader the faster your pace needs to be. The age of the reader also impacts how many and what kind of subplots you have going on. But when I sit down to write a story, I think of the story I want to write. Only when I've decided that a particular plot would be best as middle grade or YA do I start thinking about the rest of it. And I also love writing for tweens (ten to fourteen) which falls right between the two age categories, but that's awkward for publishers, bookstores and libraries, because the books have to be shelved in one section or the other. They end up being labeled either younger YA or older MG, but in fact quite a bit of my YA and middlegrades are actually tween.

2. TRICKSTER'S GIRL is a science fantasy instead of fitting neatly in science fiction or fantasy. What was the hardest part about combining the genres?

I don't find it hard to combine them, which probably says something bad about me and categories. (Note the above paragraph, about how many of my books falling in between the normal age ranges?) But if you can have fantasy elements in a middle ages setting, or fantasy elements in today's modern world, why not fantasy elements in a futuristic SF setting? And it's a total kick to write, because you get the best of both genres--the coolness and freedom to explore the future that comes with SF, and the fun of magic. The first book I ever sold, SONGS OF POWER, is also a near-future SF/fantasy. So in some ways writing TRICKSTER'S GIRL and TRAITOR'S SON felt like coming home.

3. TRICKSTER'S GIRL is also quite different from your previous works, which tend toward traditional fantasy. What sort of territory do you think you'll explore next?

The next thing I'm going to work on is a gypsy steam punk novel, but (what is it with me and categories?) it's set in an alternate just-post-WWI setting instead of Victorian. In this world most magic has become just another branch of science, with recognized principles that are well understood and harnessed, but gypsy magic is different. And WWI fought with magic was every bit as brutal as the real one. I'd like to say more brutal, but it would be hard to be more horrible than WWI, which seems to me to have combined the worst of both modern and primitive warfare--it was ghastly. What's at stake in this story is the success of a peace conference that stands a chance of ending that war. It will be very cool.

4. In your site bio, you mention that you enjoy a decadent sort of camping with your mother. I couldn't help but wonder if that influenced your portrayal of Kelsa's relationship to her father.

Not so much their relationship, but Kelsa's love of nature, of the beauty and peace of the open places comes from me. And it was very frustrating, because Jase in the next book lives in one of the most stunningly gorgeous places I've ever seen, but he's a total city kid whose first love is his car! He does get better eventually, but seeing the world through his mind I couldn't do Alaska justice--and that hurt, because Alaska is incredible. Until I wrote these books I didn't realize that my editor had also been to Alaska, but she told me that when they first went there she and her husband were "stunned silent" by it's beauty. And that's just about right.

5. Who are some of your favorite authors writing now?

Lois Bujold, Eric Flint & David Weber are my top three, but there are a lot of others.

6. Do you ever write yourself into a corner? How do you salvage a good idea when your first attempt at executing it goes wrong?

I'm one of those people who plots out the whole story before I ever start to write--because I don't want to write myself into corners! I also don't want to have to go back and throw out a quarter (or more) of my manuscript backtracking all those paths that turned into blind alleys. But I do know quite a few writers who can't bring themselves to give up the joy of discovering the story as they write, even though I think they end up doing twice as much work as we pre-plotters. And when they write themselves into a corner they usually agonize and write in circles for a long time, and then bring their stalled story into the writers group and tell us what they've got so far and where they're stuck. The group brainstorms for a while and comes up with several different directions they could go, and several interesting ways to get there. But they almost always have to throw out huge chunks of what they've written so far, because what they've got is what lured them into that dead end in the first place.

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