Author Interview – Kate Elliott, American Fantasy Author

Kate Elliott is a writing tour-de-force.   I read the Crown of Stars series as it was released in 1997 through to 2006 and found it marvellous.  The writing style and story carried me away from the first moment.  It was very difficult to wait for new books but waiting we all had to do.  It was very much worth it in the end though.

Kate has also written a science fiction series called Jaran as well as two more trilogies.

This may be a little known fact (or not) which I will share with you.  Kate Elliott is the pen name for Alis Rasmussen, who wrote a science fiction trilogy called the Highroad, which were released just before the Jaran series started.

Without further ado, here is Kate Elliott.

What genre would you like to write a book in that you haven’t?

Comics/graphic novel.

Where do your ideas come from?

I’m not sure. I think creativity is a frame of mind. People are creative in many different ways. In my case, I put together stories in written form. It’s a form I like because I read so much and grew up loving to read novels, so I guess it is natural that it is the form I most gravitated toward when I first started experimenting with the creative part of my psyche.

Beyond that, I would guess that ideas emerge from the subconscious and that a story therefore reflects some element in how a mind draws together diverse images, thoughts, emotions, and reactions into a larger whole. In other words, my entire experience of life has made me who I am, and who I am is a person who finds certain themes, emotions, and images compelling and so builds stories around those things.

Do you have a standard formula for plots or do stories come to you as a whole construct?

Neither. I try not to use a standard formula for plots, although I couldn’t tell you if I succeed or not — that is the reader’s job. Stories do not come to me as whole constructs, either. I tend to start with an almost cinematic image of a character in a place doing something, and then it grows from there usually by my discovery of (or figuring out) what the basic plot arc is (the main characters’ starting points and ending points), what the world is like and how it affects the characters and the plot, and the plot and setting details that then begin to fill things in.

However, this description is very bare bones and doesn’t really get to the heart of how I work. I think every writer works in an idiosyncratic way, and beyond that I think every book I write is developed and composed somewhat differently than all the others. The most important thing, I think, is to not force a way of working onto yourself but to find out what the best way of working is for you.

When you start a new story, do you have a title for it? Does that trigger the story?

No. Rarely do I have a title in advance and if so it is almost always for a later book in a trilogy or series when the “pattern” for the titles has been established. I have in my life come up with a couple of evocative titles, which I think I ought to write a story for, but it will tell you something about my process that in fact I never have written a story TO fit a title. I’ve always written a story. The title, for me, serves a different function, more like a marketing tool to convince potential readers to pick up the book. The story is always the heart of what matters most to me.

Do you see the future of fantasy as bright? If so, which authors are driving it?

I do see fantasy as having a bright future as a genre that readers will continue to enjoy. Obviously the success of George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones both on tv and in print has raised the profile of fantasy, just as JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and Stephanie Meyers’ Twilight books and films have done. The explosion of Young Adult novels and associated films has introduced a new generation of readers to many varieties of fantasy literature, and I expect many of those readers will continue to search out fantasy in their fiction, film, and other media. I’m not as up to date on the gaming culture but I know that a number of fantasy (and science fictional) games are popular, both straight games and online games like World of Warcraft. I don’t see any of this going away any time soon.

One of the things I see driving fantasy now is increasing attention to people writing and creating whose work has been overlooked before or who haven’t been able to get through the usual channels for various reasons. The multilingual, multiethnic aesthetic is developing quickly as a force to be reckoned with, and I believe it is here to stay and will, in fact, drive the next stage of the evolution of the fantasy genre.

What themes are being overused?

Themes run in trends, so right now vampires and zombies are popular even as dystopian novels are flooding the market after the success of The Hunger Games. I’m not sure a theme can be overused in the sense that a good writer can make good use of any theme while a writer who is only following trends is perhaps more likely to fall into a tired rendition of what is currently popular. I don’t read vampire books, but since they are still selling, I’m not sure I would go so far as to say the theme is being overused. If people are buying, then there is still a market, and someone somewhere will find a new way to approach the story that will make it seem fresh.

Are movies of books ruining the book?

No. The book is still there to be read, exactly as it was before the movie was made. The people who wouldn’t read the book because of the movie probably weren’t going to read the book anyway.

Do you see ebooks threatening traditional publishing?

Yes and no. This is an extremely long and complex question that I don’t have the time or space to do justice to here. But I will say that the publishing industry is changing on a lot of fronts, and one of the ways it is doing so is via ebooks. This is not a good thing or a bad thing; it is a change. Change is inevitable.

Do you prefer to read established authors or debut authors? How do you choose which ones to read?

I don’t prefer either. First, I take this as asking about fiction. My preference is to read novels that I will enjoy. I have authors whose work I’ve enjoyed for years, whose new work I look for. I have authors who are established but who I’ve not had a chance to read yet whose work I pick up in an effort to catch up. I also always have my eye on debut and newer authors, people coming into the field, because the new authors are always driving a new aesthetic and new directions. If I only read writers who had started writing 25 years or more ago, then I would truly be limiting myself. If I only read new authors, then I would also be limiting myself.

As for choosing, I listen to what books people are talking about and reviewing, I check out sample chapters, I consider if I have prior experience with a given author or if the kind of thing they are writing is something I’ll be likely to enjoy. I try to branch out occasionally into work I don’t often read so I don’t fall into a reading rut. For instance, right now I’m reading a collection of linked short stories, Years of Red Dust, by Chinese writer Qiu Xiaolong. They’re fabulous mostly because they are simply great writing but also because they are a long way–in some ways–from the science fiction and fantasy I normally read, but similar in that the stories evoke a time and place and examine the human condition.

What is it about fantasy that appeals to you?

Traveling to a place that isn’t the place I live.

Can I get an autographed book?

I do very few signings because I live in a rather out of the way place, and then really it only makes sense to do a signing when I have a new book out, which doesn’t come round as often as I might wish. I also attend very few conferences and conventions (see out of the way place, above).

So, besides attending a signing or a convention where I’m appearing, the best way an autographed book can be acquired is by inquiring at one of the bookstores where I’ve signed books most recently (Mysterious Galaxy, Borderlands, and Powells come to mind). Any of these stores can ship to you if they have autographed stock left.

If you (the generic you) see I am attending a convention or doing a signing at a place where you don’t live, contact the bookstore(s) in advance and ask to have a book signed specifically to you (if that’s what you want); bookstores these days are happy to do that. It does cost extra for shipping, but shipping probably costs no more than a gallon of gas.

Do you have a group of people that you show a new story to? How much impact can they have on the whole story?

I recently answered a set of questions about beta readers over at Donna Hansen’s blog, so rather than answer this again, I will just link to my answer there, which went into detail.

Do you set yourself a word limit for each book?

No. But because I tend to write long, I do try to consciously stop myself from going off on tangents. I try to make each book as short as possible. Often, for me, this means 150,000 words. My latest goal is to write a novel under 100,000 words. It won’t be easy.

Do you have a target each day?

In general I try to write 2000 words a day. I find I can maintain that pace without burning out. If I go over 3000 words in a day I tend to feel mentally tired the next day. If I go under 1000 words I get frustrated with myself.

Do you write constantly or have breaks between books?

I only have breaks for creative or mental exhaustion or for trips. Mostly, I write constantly.

Do you have characters running around in your head? Do they dictate events and their histories to you?

No, that’s not really how I personally work although I know other people work that way. I want to mention here that I strongly believe that the most important thing a writer can do is figure out how to make writing work for him or her rather than follow some “expert’s” rules of writing.

In my case the characters and setting tend to develop together. I may start a novel with an image of a character doing something, but I have to get to know both the character and the world as I work out the story.

After 20 books, how do you keep them unique?

I work in sets of multivolume story, so actually I have only written 1) the Jaran novels (sf) and the Highroad books (same universe) 2) Crown of Stars (fantasy) 3) Crossroads (which is set on one of the worlds in the Jaran books, only it is a fantasy version of the same world) and 4) the Spiritwalker universe (fantasy alt-steampunk history). Each world is so different that it’s easy to make the stories and characters different.

What is your biggest time waster?

These days? The internet.

Do you remember the first time you saw your book in a shop?

No, I don’t. But I should!

Do you read other people’s writing?

Every year I do read a couple of advance copies of books not yet out but in the pipeline to be published, with a view toward giving them a positive quote to (one hopes) help give them a boost in visibility and thus sales. Such advance copies are sent to me by editors at publishing houses. In such cases, I prefer to be approached by editors rather than authors themselves. I can’t always guarantee that I’ll 1) have time to read a book on a set deadline and/or 2) like it enough to give it a quote, so it is easier for me personally to deal with an editor under these circumstances. I would feel really really bad if I didn’t care for the novel enough to want to offer a quote and would then have to tell the author that personally. It’s just easier to go through a third person for this kind of thing, because an author quote should, I hope, reflect the author giving the quote’s honest excitement about a forthcoming novel.

How about workshopping? Do I read other people’s writing in draft form?

I do act as a beta reader for a few people, by which I mean I read their early drafts and give them comments. However, these are all people with whom I already have an established “workshopping” relationship. Mostly I do not read manuscripts in draft. The main reason I do not is that I simply do not have time. Reading a draft closely enough to give comments is a hugely time consuming effort if you mean to do it right, and at the moment I am so far behind on my own projects, much less email and other non-fiction writing (given the amount of online publicity that authors are now routinely expected to do in support of their new publications), that any such reading I do would take time away from my own writing. At the moment, unfortunately, I can’t afford to do that. I’m sorry this is the case, because in the past I have had more time to read unpublished manuscripts (including works by Catherine Asaro, Maria Snyder, and Joshua Palmatier, all of whom are now publishing), and it’s an exciting process. Maybe at some point in the future I’ll have time again. I hope so.

Can I read yours?

At the moment, sadly, I am simply too swamped with deadlines.

You can find Kate Elliott in these places:

Twitter:  @KateElliottSFF

Her website:

Amazon Author Page:

On Wikipedia:

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