Welcome to my weekly Author Spotlight. I’ve asked a bunch of my author friends to answer a set of interview questions, and to share their latest work.
Today, Siri Paulson – Siri Paulson writes all over the fantasy and science fiction spectrum, including (so far) secondary-world fantasy, urban fantasy, steampunk, Gothic, historical paranormal, and YA with spaceships. She is also the chief editor at Turtleduck Press (http://www.turtleduckpress.com). Siri grew up in Alberta, Canada, but now lives in an old house in Toronto. By day, she edits non-fiction for the government. Her other current passion is contra dance, a social/folk dance done to live Celtic and roots music. Her favourite places in the world are the Canadian Rocky Mountains and a little valley in Norway.
Thanks so much, Siri, for joining me!
J. Scott Coatsworth: When did you know you wanted to write, and when did you discover that you were good at it?
Siri Paulson: I’ve been telling stories, and feeling a compulsion to tell stories, since before I was old enough to write them down – that part was never even in question. As for being good at it…well, that’s still a work in progress! I will say that a turning point for me was completing my first NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) novel in 2005. It was the first novel I finished as an adult. After that, I started to think maybe I could actually do this thing I’d been dreaming of since forever.
JSC: How would you describe your writing style/genre?
SP: I write all over the science fiction and fantasy spectrum, and I love genre mash-ups. Steampunk is one of my favourite subgenres, but I’ve also done contemporary fantasy, historical fantasy, Gothic, secondary-world fantasy, space opera, and more. Once in a while I even write something that doesn’t have a speculative fiction element. *grins*
JSC: What was your first published work? Tell me a little about it.
SP: Six years ago, I teamed up with some other writers to start Turtleduck Press (http://www.turtleduckpress.com), a small indie press dedicated to publishing our weirdo stories that wouldn’t fit anywhere else. My first published story was “The Long Night”, a fantasy short drawing on Inuit mythology and the winter solstice, in our anthology Winter’s Night. (http://turtleduckpress.com/wordpress/2011/11/23/winters-night/) Knowing what I know now about cultural appropriation and #ownvoices and all that, I’m not sure I would make the same choice of subject matter again, but at the time I did my best to be sensitive about what I was writing.
JSC: What’s your writing process?
SP: I’m a “plantser”! AKA a hybrid of seat-of-the-pants writer and plotter. I do worldbuilding, research, plot turning points, and basic character elements ahead of time, but I also learn a lot during the first draft (discovery draft, if you will). I “think” through my fingers. Some parts of my first drafts are just bare-bones dialogue and action, other parts are fairly polished prose…but not necessarily the right scenes! So it goes.
JSC: Tell us about a unique or quirky habit of yours.
SP: I write using the Dvorak keyboard layout (http://www.dvorak-keyboard.com/) instead of Qwerty. I switched years ago because it’s supposed to be easier on the wrists. (The most commonly used keys are on the home row.) I’ve had wrist problems on and off for ages – and it did help, though only for a while. It took about two months to retrain my fingers. Now I touch-type faster in Dvorak than I ever did in Qwerty, but I can barely hunt and peck in Qwerty anymore!
JSC: If you could sit down with one other writer, living or dead, who would you choose, and what would you ask them?
SP: I’m fascinated by how subgenres come into being. I’d love to sit down with someone who “invented” a subgenre, like Tolkien for epic fantasy or one of the early steampunk writers, and ask them…how did you think of doing this? Where did all the pieces come from? A subgenre is a conversation among authors – so how does it start?
JSC: What action would your name be if it were a verb?
SP: Funny you should ask that, because of course my name has been co-opted by Apple’s iPhone (hey, at least it’s memorable). But I think that “to siri” would have to be some form of daydreaming, or moving through the world while detached from it because one is thinking too hard.
JSC: What kind of character or topic have you been dying to try to write, but you’ve never worked up the courage?
SP: I’ve written characters of color, but I’ve never (yet) dared to write one in a present-day setting, with all the privilege-related issues and pitfalls that would entail, or even a secondary-world setting that deals with the same issues. And someday I’m going to have to write a big, sprawling fantasy novel like the ones I grew up loving.
JSC: If you had the opportunity to live one year of your life over again, which year would you choose?
SP: It would have to be the 12 months, summer to summer, of 2012–13. During that period my spouse and I bought our first (and so far only) house, got married, and took six months off work to travel through Asia together. It was tough sometimes, but also amazing. (If you’re interested, I’ve blogged about it here: https://siripaulson.wordpress.com/category/life/travel/ )
JSC: What are you working on now, and when can we expect it?
SP: I’m currently revising a novelette (it’s just under 10,000 words) for a Turtleduck Press anthology that will be out November 15. The anthology theme is “space princesses”, and my contribution is a fairy-tale retelling featuring steampunk spaceships, fiber arts, and a F/F romance. (I did say I love genre mash-ups, didn’t I?) Keep an eye on our website for the latest updates.
And now for Siri’s new book: City of Hope and Ruin, co-authored with Kit Campbell:
Every night the monsters hunt.
A city that is the whole world: Theosophy and her companions in the City militia do their best to protect the civilians from the monsters, but they keep crawling from the Rift and there’s nowhere to run. Theosophy knows she’ll die fighting. It’s the best kind of death she’s seen, and at least she can save lives in the meantime.
They say the Scarred carve you up while you’re still alive.
A village in the shadow of a forest: Refugees from the border whisper about the oncoming Scarred, but Briony can’t convince her brother to relocate his children to safety. Briony will do anything to protect them. She owes them that much, even if it means turning to forbidden magic.
When Theosophy and Briony accidentally make contact across the boundaries of their worlds, they realize that solutions might finally be within reach. A world beyond the City would give Theosophy’s people an escape, and the City’s warriors could help Briony protect her family from the Scarred. Each woman sees in the other a strength she lacks—and maybe something more.
All they need to do is find a way across the dimensions to each other before their enemies close in.
Briony closed her eyes. Please, she prayed to the Old Ones, as bad an idea as that might be, please, I just need some magic to save my family.
“What the fuck?” said a voice from behind her. There was an accent to it. When Briony turned, she found herself looking at a strange, ethereal woman who glowed blue in the fading sunlight. Briony’s breath caught in her throat. A spirit, Old Ones, a spirit. She hadn’t even considered spirit talking in her magic list—it was said the spirits couldn’t be trusted, and that people who consorted with them sought forbidden knowledge to sow evil and mayhem—but it was a sign of magic within her somewhere, and maybe she could use that to transition to something the Academy would accept.
The spirit was beautiful, a tall, statuesque woman who had a hard glint in her eyes. Her hair was short, indigo blue through the glow and tightly curled, her skin a lighter shade over wiry muscles. One hand clenched a smallish item made of metal, the other a long tube with some kind of blade on the end. Briony had never seen anyone like her. Though she glanced around and held her body like someone expecting danger, her bearing was proud and strong, and every inch of her spoke of power and competency. A warrior. Briony had heard stories of them, left over from the Great War, but had never seen one herself.
Was that when this woman was from? The War?
“The trio—the monsters—where am I?”
Briony realized she hadn’t responded, and that perhaps this spirit had been looking for someone to talk to for a very long time, and maybe she would assume Briony couldn’t see or hear her either. “Don’t be afraid,” she said.
The spirit’s eyebrows rose. “That’s a…never mind. What is this place?”
“Well,” Briony started, taking a step forward. But her ankle buckled and she stumbled, managing to catch herself before she fell.
“You’re injured,” said the spirit. “Were you attacked?”
“Yes—you see, there was a Fracture back there, and—” Confusion crossed the spirit’s face. Maybe she was even older; maybe she didn’t know about the War. “There was a war, many generations ago, and the Old Ones, though I don’t know if it was ours or theirs or both, created creatures and plants that looked normal but weren’t. Fractures. Because they…fractured some part of the creature. I don’t know.” Briony was aware she was not being clear, though the woman just watched her intently. “Anyway. There were these people—they were supposed to save us. But they abandoned us and left us on our own. And we drove off the other side—the Scarred—eventually, but we couldn’t get rid of the Fractures. If that makes any sense.”
“A Fracture is…a monster?” the spirit asked. The idea seemed to mean something to her, though Briony could not imagine what.
“Yes, you could say that.”
The spirit raised the long tube with the blade, glancing around with hard eyes. “Is it still here?”
“No, no. I outran it. We’re safe now.”
The spirit gave her an odd look. “Safe,” she echoed.
Siri Paulson writes all over the fantasy and science fiction spectrum, including (so far) secondary-world fantasy, urban fantasy, steampunk, Gothic, historical paranormal, and YA with spaceships. She is also the chief editor at Turtleduck Press (http://www.turtleduckpress.com). Siri grew up in Alberta, Canada, but now lives in an old house in Toronto. By day, she edits non-fiction for the government. Her other current passion is contra dance, a social/folk dance done to live Celtic and roots music. Her favourite places in the world are the Canadian Rocky Mountains and a little valley in Norway.
Siri’s short fiction and the anthologies she has edited can be found on Turtleduck Press (http://turtleduckpress.com/wordpress/2010/11/30/who-is-siri-paulson/). She also blogs (http://siripaulson.wordpress.com/) and tweets (http://twitter.com/Siri_Paulson).
It is a little known fact that Kit was raised in the wild by a marauding gang of octopuses. It wasn’t until she was 25 that she was discovered by a traveling National Geographic scientist and brought back to civilization. This is sometimes apparent in the way that she attempts to escape through tubes when startled.
Her transition to normalcy has been slow, but scientists predict that she will have mastered basics such as fork use sometime in the next year. More complex skills, such as proper grocery store etiquette, may be forever outside her reach.
Kit can be found cavorting about the web at her blog (http://landsquidattack.wordpress.com) or website (http://kitcampbellbooks.com), on Pinterest (https://www.pinterest.com/campbell1091/), and even occasionally on Twitter (http://www.twitter.com/KitCampbell).