Today we confront the subject: Is there a time period you would love to write about, but haven’t? Why?
I’d love to write a novel set in 1933 in Saratoga Springs that would be a sort of sequel to the “Tales from Hawk’s Folly Farm” series of novellas that I did. But those are set in 1905-1909, which is a totally different world than 1933. Fortunately for me, we’re planning on returning to Saratoga Springs this fall (for World Fantasy Con) and I’ve added a day to our stay there specifically so I can visit the public library and start some serious research.
My mind pretty much imploded when I realized that Queen Seondeok of Silla and K’inich Jaanab’ Pakal of Palenque were alive at the same time. There’s still a desperate part of my heart that wants to write a story where these two magically get to meet, but I’m terrified of actually trying it.
I’m not sure I could do it without sounding like a fangirl. These are two of my favorite historical figures, period. Both acceded to the throne during turbulent times. They not only overcame vast difficulties and held their nations together, they improved their countries and left amazing legacies behind.
I’m also worried about the research. I’d want it to be perfect, especially since I’m dealing with real people I admire. But eventually, I’d have to make up some day-to-day details. At least for the Maya portion of the research, I have access to most everything in English and can read the glyphs myself. I’d only be making up what archaeology and history couldn’t provide.
But most English-language texts tend to focus on Korea from the Korean War to the present. Sadly, most of what I know about Queen Seondeok comes from Wikipedia and articles about the historicity of The Great Queen Seondeok, a really excellent k-drama that got me interested in Queen Seondeok in the first place. Maybe when my small children are older and I have more time to study Korean, I can try to tackle this. Or maybe I can make a friend with an expert in Korean history and we can co-author it. For now, it’s just a daydream.
Guest: Stephanie Feldman
I’ve got two American eras on my mind: the 1950s and the 1990s, especially their countercultures. (I mean, the 1960s counterculture is too obvious, right? And has been done to death.)
For the 50s, I’m less interested in Kerouac and friends (that phase in my life is over, and I’m not looking back), and more interested in McCarthyism and the black list. Political alliances were drawn with cartoonishly hard lines, something that I think resonates with our politics today. And I would love to explore relationships and ethical decisions under that kind of pressure.
In the 90s, punk and hip hop went mainstream with responses to the 80s’s decadence, and the limits and failures of the 60s’ revolutions, but were quickly commercialized and co-opted. It was a cynical time, but also innocent: Communism fell, the U.S. economy was ascendant. There was ethnic cleansing in Europe and Africa, but no Global War on Terror.
Or maybe it’s that the 90s were my formative years. This is when I was first learning how to be a writer, and how to critically think about music and film and books, so it feels natural to come back to this time in my work.
Bio: Stephanie Feldman is a graduate of Barnard College. Her first novel, The Angel of Losses, is winner of the Crawford Fantasy Award, a nominee for the Locus Award for Best First Novel, and one of The Washington Post’s Top Five SFF Books of 2014. She lives outside Philadelphia with her family.
I’m a California girl, born and raised, and I feel an intimate connection to the state, especially the San Joaquin Valley. There’s very little speculative fiction set there. I’ve been fortunate to sell a few stories based around the Mussel Slough Tragedy in 1880, which took place miles away from where I grew up. I would love to explore the region’s past century in more detail. So many migrants have sought refuge there, from the Armenians fleeing genocide, to the Portuguese who settled many farms and dairies, to the Japanese who cultivated orchards around Armona and lost so much during World War II internment. Where are their stories? I can look more into my own past, too. I had a great-grandfather work in the oil fields of Coalinga during the 1920s boom–surely there’s material there to build on.
Finding historical sources is a problem. I have a number of books on the region and they often cite materials that are rare, out of print, and not scanned online. My hometown of Hanford has several archives to tap, but often when I am home for a visit, it’s around holidays when places like the Carnegie Museum are closed. Slowly but surely, I am gathering more info, though. Last Thanksgiving I was able to visit the Taoist Temple Museum in China Alley. I bought a fantastic book and took pictures of their exhibits. This is information I can use for my new novel series and, I hope, more stories.
Guest: Julie McGalliard
My first thought was of you, Victorian England. My earliest favorite book was one of yours: Alice in Wonderland, with those amazing engraved illustrations by John Tenniel. There was always something about you that appealed to me. You were the opposite of everything I knew as a child in the sun-blasted Southern California of the 1970s. You were ghost stories and rainy days, fountain pens and loose-leaf tea. You were elaborate buildings, elaborate outfits, elaborate manners. You were creepy black and white photographs of faked ectoplasm. You were dense rooms full of treasures and mysteries stolen from all over the world.
You were gorgeous, but you were also troubling. You soared in a glittering airship of wealth, but its engine was grinding poverty and a filth of disease and pollution. You commanded a glorious empire, crushing many lives and cultures under the heel of your delicate lace-up ankle boots. The Egyptian artifacts in your British Museum are a testament to their culture, as beautiful and rich and strangely morbid as your own. But they are also evidence of your many thoughtless robberies.
Yet, I have never written fiction about you. I have never set anything in the world of Dracula; The Turn of the Screw; Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; Sherlock Holmes; Jack the Ripper; Ada Lovelace; J.M.W. Turner; the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. I have never used your enticingly named “underground” as a backdrop. So far, I have let the steampunk locomotive chug right past me.
Now I wonder why that is. We seem like such a natural fit. Do I know you too well? Am I too intimidated by the writers who go before me? Do I feel like there’s nothing more to say about you? Do I feel like you belong to others more than to me? Are you too big? Am I afraid of getting you wrong? Or, am I afraid that if I were to write about you, I would lapse into cliches?
At this point, there’s only one way to answer my questions: write about you, and see what happens.
Bio: Julie McGalliard is a writer and occasional cartoonist.
Her first novel, Waking Up Naked in Strange Places, was released in 2015. Her short stories have appeared in the magazine Talebones and in the anthologies Witches, Stitches & Bitches: A Three Little Words Anthology (Volume 1) and Space Grunts: Full-Throttle Space Tales #3.
She lives in Seattle with her husband Paul, a fellow lover of books and New Orleans.
At her day job she is a web developer for Seattle Children’s Hospital Research Institute. She is not, technically speaking, a scientist. But she is a scientist enabler.
It’s an amazing period in Japanese history. In 1868, Japan is still a feudal society. Samurai walk the streets wearing their trademark twin swords and topknots. The Tokugawa shoguns have ruled for 265 years, and for all of that time the emperor has been little more than a supremely comfortable hostage. (“Figurehead” is too august a term to describe him; his function is closer to that of a float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.) But despite their pride in their martial prowess, the shoguns and the samurai learn that militarily they’re no match for the West. With a handful of ships, Commodore Perry holds the entire country at gunpoint.
By 1912 the emperor reigns again and the whole samurai caste is made illegal. Railroads and telegraph wires criss-cross the country, the economy is fully industrialized, and — impossibly, unthinkably, stupefyingly — tiny little Japan has defeated huge, hulking Russia in war. No Asian country had ever defeated a Western power in the modern era. In effect, Japan transformed itself from a feudal backwater to a major world power in less than fifty years. It’s a hell of an achievement.
The famed Inazuma swords of my Fated Blades books were all active during the Meiji Era. One of these days I’ll have to figure out what they were up to.
Lawrence M. Schoen
I’m currently working on a new novel about cities, and part of the impetus for this was Uruk, arguably among the first cities the world ever had. We’re talking six thousand years ago. There is something critical about the formation of cities (at least, I think so, and it’s a major plot point in the new book). Urbanization typically corresponds to all sorts of development — social, technological, political — for people. It gives you bronze tools and medicine and astronomy. It marks the shift from subsistence agriculture to surplus and population expansion and trade. Human beings had been crawling around the globe for a long time, but about six thousand years ago with the creation of the first cities, we took a major detour from the status quo. And we’ve never looked back.
So, while I’m as fond of reading fantasies set in Europe as anyone (and indeed, the new book does involve a major city from what is basically 5th century Italy), I want to go back further and play with civilization, back to the cradle of humanity in those wondrous river-valleys.
“Why Uruk?” you ask? Well, for one thing, somewhere between 2800 and 2500 BC they had this king named Gilgamesh. I assume you’ve heard of him, as well as his best buddy Enkidu, and their adventures defeating giant monsters like Humbaba and the Bull of Heaven. After Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh travels to the land of the dead, seeking the secret of immortality. The Epic of Gilgamesh is the oldest, surviving story on our planet. What better time and place for a writer to focus his attention and desire?