Interview with Sarah Zettel
Posted May 21, 2012on:
She writes space opera, she writes fantasy, she writes young adult and even paranormal mystery. Even better, she’s a fellow mid-westerner. In the last year or so, Sarah Zettel has quickly become one of my favorite science fiction writers. Her space opera is phenomenal, with characters that leap off the page and show you they are real people with real challenges. I don’t envy any of her characters, but I feel like I can relate to them. I’ve recently enjoyed Zettel’s Fool’s War and Bitter Angels (written as C.L. Anderson), and her new paranormal Vampire Chef series is getting rave reviews as well. I was beyond thrilled when Sarah agreed to do an interview on my blog.
So let’s get to the fun stuff, the interview!
L.R.R.: Your debut novel, Reclamation, won a Locus award for best first novel in 1996, and more recently Bitter Angels (2010) won the Philip K Dick award for best paperback original novel. Between 1996 and now, how have you seen the writing industry change? As a writer have you felt pressured to change with it?
S.Z.: The big change, of course, has been e-books. There’s now, unquestionably an audience for e-books, and a whole infrastructure to bring readers what they want. That’s opened up a lot of new avenues for writers and publishers to get their work to those readers. Is there pressure to change and adapt? Always. But that can be a good thing. I’m been part of a professional writer’s co-operative (Book View Cafe) where we as authors got together to help each other get our backlists out in e-book form. It’s been a lot of work, but a tremendous experience.
L.R.R.: There’s been a lot of attention, recently, on strong female lead characters in Speculative fiction, something you’ve been doing for years. Can you speak to any barriers you’ve experienced (or broken!), being a woman who writes speculative fiction with strong female characters?
S.Z.: When my 2nd novel Fool’s War came out, I had so many women come up to me and say “Thank you!” for writing protagonist who is a married woman. I think traditional literary science fiction is perceived as a male-oriented genre, and men are perceived as not being interested in reading about women or “women’s issues” read: relationships. There has always, always been SF by strong women, about strong women. Ursula K. Le Guin, Vonda McIntyre, Julie Cznerda, Octavia Butler, are just a few of the authors. But that’s not the perception of the genre, and so they don’t get talked about a whole lot. However, what has happened and what’s been interested is how speculative fiction that features strong women and relationships moved beyond the SF genre. It’s on the romance shelves, on the mainstream shelves, on the manga shelves, and, hurray, hurray, on the Young Adult shelves.
L.R.R.: One of the many things I loved about Fool’s War is that one of the two main characters is a devout Muslim woman. I don’t claim to be well read, but come on, how often do you run into science fiction that stars a Muslim woman? When you were working on that novel, how did her character come to be, and what type of research did you do get all those cultural details just right?
S.Z.: Fool’s War came from a short story I wrote for Analog Science Fiction & Fact called “Fool’s Errand.” I wrote that story during the first Gulf War. At that time, some, well, idiots, beat up a Sikh man because they couldn’t tell the difference between a Muslim and a Sikh. And this wasn’t a lone incident. I was angry, but what could I do to help combat the prejudice? It occured to me I could show competent, strong Islamic characters in the future, and so I made the ship’s engineer a Muslim woman. When I started out on Fool’s War, I realized it made sense for the person who maintained the ship to also be the person who owned the ship, so Al Shei became one of the major protagonists.
L.R.R.: You write in multiple genres – science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, and more urban fantasy (American Fairy trilogy) and paranormal mystery (Vampire Chef series). Does it ever get confusing to be working on different projects in different genres at the same time? Are different genres more fun to write in than others?
S.Z.: Actually, I find writing in mulitple genres not only helps keep me fresh, it keeps me learning. Each genre has a different focus and a different set of expectations, and each focus teaches you something new about the craft of writing. All genres are fun. I will say that of them all, science fiction is probably the most work, because of the nature and the level of the world building you have to do to create a solid, complete SF story.
L.R.R.: Speaking of The American Fairy Trilogy, can you tell us a little about the first book in the series, Dust Girl, which is scheduled to hit bookstore shelves this summer?
S.Z.: June 26, to be exact (VBG). Sure. It’s my first Young Adult series, and I’m very excited about it. It’s about a girl named Callie who lives in the heart of Kansas during the Dust Bowl. Callie’s father disappeared before she was born, and she always suspected he was African American. He was. It turns out he’s also a fairy prince. Callie’s inherited his magic, and a world of trouble as a result, especially when the fairies come calling to her dust bowl home.
L.R.R.: Do you have any plans to be at any upcoming conventions (WorldCon perhaps?) or bookstore signings? Where and how can your fans connect with you?
S.Z.: I am going to be at McLean & Eakin in Petosky Michigan on July 13. I’ll also be at Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor July 25. I’m not going to make WorldCon this year, but I will be at BoucherCon in Cinncinati, OH.
L.R.R.: Hear that midwesterners? I don’t know about you, but I’m planning a field trip to Ann Arbor! Thank you so much Sarah, for spending some time on this blog. I’ve enjoyed everything of yours that I’ve read, and I can’t wait to read more!