Science Fiction & Fantasy

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Nonfiction

Author Spotlight: Ann Leckie and Rachel Swirsky

What was the spark for this story? How did the idea of marked women emerge?

Rachel: I came up with the raw core of the idea for this story when I was twelve or so. I think it deals with a lot of the issues that cause angst for certain kinds of teens. Who am I? Will I always be excluded?

It also resonated with what I was reading at the time which was a lot of epic fantasy, and in particular the Sword and Sorceress series edited by Marion Zimmer Bradley. Several years ago, when the S&S series was rebooted, Ann and I wanted to get a story into one of the books. (We never did.) After writing a few stories on our own, we decided to collaborate on a couple of the ideas I’d had as a teenager, with the hope that because they were generated when I was really into the series, they’d reflect what the series wanted. They didn’t, but that’s okay. This one landed in Realms of Fantasy, and another one came out in Lone Star Stories, which was a lovely, small online magazine.

Ann: Moment of silence while I have a small sad about Lone Star Stories being gone.

Yeah, I don’t have anything to add here. Rachel basically said, “Here’s what I’ve got of this story!” And off we went.

 What were some of the surprises along the way with working together? Were there any surprises in writing this story?

Rachel: This wasn’t our first time working together so I don’t think there were any massive surprises in the process. We usually outline a story and then break it down into scenes and then assign ourselves alternating scenes. Sometimes one or the other of us will get bored in the middle of waiting for the other one to finish all their scenes and just finish it out. (Then the other helps with rewrites and integration of course.) Usually, Ann is the one who gets bored and finishes it, but with this one, I think I may have done the huge drafting chunk.

Ann: That’s my memory, too — the other one of these started, I seem to recall, with maybe one scene drafted. This one was much farther along — though it also changed a lot as we worked on it.

But I don’t think there were any real surprises for either story. I think both of us were already aware of the places where our processes differ a lot, so it was just kind of funny when that cropped up. Like, right, of course I had to read a bit on theories about ancient Slavic burial practices before I could really get down to business. Does any shred of that appear in the story? Nope. But I felt like I had to have it in the back of my mind before I started work. It is no surprise to me that this sort of thing mystifies Rachel and/or makes her laugh at me. I doubt very much that my doing it surprised her at all, by that point.

Not many stories have a birth as the big event in the tale. What prompted this narrative choice? Do you think you’d work with this setting and these characters again?

Rachel: When I was in junior high, I often had ideas for stories that I never wrote up, but like this one, I’d toss them around over and over again with the vague intention of writing them up someday. (I’m sure I’d have been shocked to know it would be more than ten years before I actually would.) Oddly, I’m not sure whether the story idea started with the mother, or with the daughter. I think I might have had a vague idea of writing a story where the daughter was searching for her mother, and their two stories intersected.

Since the strong theme here is about motherhood and matrilineal power, I think it makes sense for the birth to be the moment of change. It’s the moment when the main character goes from magically powerless to magically powerful; it’s the moment when she goes from being relatively easy to hide to being in a significantly more precarious position; it’s the moment when she goes from being the daughter in a potential magical link to being both a daughter and a mother.

The birth scene was the one that Ann and I had the most trouble with. I wanted to write something abstract and blurry in the way that writers often do when we want to dodge details, something like “Time started to fade as she became preoccupied by her senses, and sometime later . . . “ And Ann was like, “Yeah, no, that’s not what birth is like.” She’s done it twice, so she won the argument.

On the topic of whether I’d work with these characters again — when I showed this finished draft to my own mother, she said it seemed like a good beginning for a young adult novel. She may be right. It’s certainly something I’d consider as a future project if it seemed like a good idea.

Ann: Ha, my memory is of only partially winning the argument over the birth scene! To be entirely fair, though, every birth is different, so. :D

What’s next for you? Tell us your news!

Rachel: I’m still really excited about my novella, Grand Jete, which came out in the last issue of Subterranean Online this summer. Stories of mine also recently came out in Neil Clarke’s Upgraded and Solaris Rising 3.

Ann: I just had book two of a trilogy come out — that would be Ancillary Sword, sequel to Ancillary Justice. I’m finishing Ancillary Mercy, book three. Honestly, those take up so much of my time and brain that I don’t think there’s much of anything else going on!

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Robyn Lupo

Robyn Lupo lives in Southwestern Ontario with her not-that-kind-of-doctor partner and three cats. She enjoys tiny things, and has wrangled flash for Women Destroy Science Fiction! as well as selected poetry for Queers Destroy Horror! She aspires to one day write many things.