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The Voice of Saruman and the Terror of Control

Katie

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saruman

At first glance, “The Voice of Saruman” can feel a bit anti-climactic. It’s a showdown between two wizards, but only after one of them has been effectively defeated. Saruman’s central power – a captivating, hypnotizing voice that convinces even when the words themselves are indifferently convincing – is tough to translate to the page. There’s very little suspense, and it never seems terribly likely that Saruman is going to win any kind of victory.

Because, honestly? Saruman seems pitiful. He’s trapped in a tower with a minion he despises. His home is a ramshackle swamp. His voice – touted by Gandalf as one of the most dangerous things in Middle Earth – is only marginally effective against the crowd outside. He is bitter, petty, and seems unable to accept the reality of his defeat. It’s hard to square this with the fact that Saruman is one of the most powerful forces in Middle-earth.

But “The Voice of Saruman” is also a fascinating chapter, because it reads as the culmination of a story that’s been running quietly in the background, parallel to The Lord of the Rings in both sequence and theme. Saruman is a distorted mirror of Gandalf, of course. But he’s also a distortion of, or a warning to, the entire Fellowship. In the end Saruman’s story is a sad one. Despite (and because of) the fact that all the sadness is self-inflicted.

 saruman

They Must Be Mighty, But Forgo Might

Saruman is a wizard – an Istar in Tolkien’s terminology. He, along with four other wizards were sent by the Valar (the most powerful spirits in Tolkien’s cosmos) to aid and assist in the coming wars against Sauron. Realizing that Sauron – already quite the troublemaker in the past – was likely to be up to old tricks, the Valar got together to decide who would go. It was a difficult decision. 

For they must be mighty, peers of Sauron, but must forgo might, and clothe themselves in flesh so as to treat on equality and win the trust of Elves and Men. But this would imperil them, dimming their wisdom and knowledge, and confusing them with fears, cares, and weariness coming from the flesh. (from The Unfinished Tales, “The Istari”)

It’s an interesting dilemma. The chosen ones would have to be strong, but also willing to give up that strength. Even though giving up that strength would make them even weaker. It’s an ominous mission statement. Saruman – then named Curomo – volunteered immediately.

The story continues with one of the Valar, Manwë, suggesting that Olórin (Gandalf) should also go.

But Olórin declared that he was too weak for such a task, and that he feared Sauron. Then Manwë said that that was all the more reason why he should go, and that he commanded Olórin [to go as the third]. But at that Varda looked up and said: “Not as the third;” and Curumo remembered it.

YIKES. It’s a rough start for Saruman. He seems like the brave one: immediately volunteering for a mission that suggests hardship and diminished stature. Then, he’s almost immediately overshadowed by someone who does not want to go, and says he is afraid. And this, it seems, became a trend for Saruman.

To Rekindle Hearts in a World That Grows Chill 

The stated mission of the Istari was to aid the peoples of Middle-earth. They weren’t supposed to lead them, or muster them into armies – the Valar had them assume diminished statures so that they’d fit in, there to aid and help, not dominate. Like the rest of Tolkien, it’s a tale that insists upon free will. The Istari were to offer help. Everyone else could accept it or ignore it. Gandalf, of course, is great at this. And everyone recognizes it: Círdan the Shipwright entrusted him with Narya, the Ring of Fire, “to rekindle hearts in a world that grows chill.” Much later, Galadriel supported him as the leader of the White Council.

Saruman, of course, is not. There are a lot of differences to be talked about between the two wizards. Gandalf’s pride was tempered by a brusque-but-deep kindness and humility. Saruman’s was more deep seated and self-serious. Gandalf was largely mentored by Nienna, the Valar associated with wisdom through grief. Saruman was largely mentored by Aulë, a smith and craftsman. It is thus not surprising that Gandalf saw his role largely as a more passive (or responsive) role, while Saruman more actively crafted plans. Honestly, it’s hard for me to separate them from Cain and Abel – an older brother who creates (Cain tilled the soil) harboring an intense jealousy for a favored younger brother who guides (Abel was a shepherd).

But I’d argue that the key difference between the two is Saruman’s desire for control, and the pride that grew with it. Rather than wandering the land, Saruman established official relationships with Rohan and Gondor and built himself a centralized fortification. The core of his power – his voice – was designed to bring people to his way of thinking, to obtain control over them rather than to guide. As he began to slide further and further from his original mission, he even started to try to teach himself the craft of ring-making: when Gandalf approached Isengard before being taken captive in The Fellowship of the Ring, he noticed that Saruman was wearing a ring on his finger, something he had not done before.  

It’s an understandable impulse. Saruman appears in his younger days as brash, fearless, confident (just imagine if he’d met Fëanor). Yet he feels himself constantly overshadowed by someone much more unassuming than himself. So he keeps working, keeps crafting, keeps planning pushing towards that indiscernible point that will bring him success.

Saruman and the Temptation of Control 

And it’s this backstory that makes “The Voice of Saruman” – especially Gandalf’s conversation with the other wizard – so interesting and vibrant. So much of their history echoes in that final confrontation. Take Saruman’s last-ditch attempt to use his voices in a speech to Gandalf. It’s a powerful attempt, and wins over everyone else, at least for the moment. It casts a spell of magnificence, aristocracy over everyone else who listens.

Of loftier mould these two were made: reverend and wise. It was inevitable that they should make alliance. Gandalf would ascend into the tower, to discuss deep things beyond their comprehension in the high chambers of Orthanc. The door would be closed, and they would be left outside, dismissed to await allotted work or punishment. Even in the mind of Théoden the thought took shape, like a shadow of doubt: “He will betray us; he will go – we shall be lost.”

Saruman’s fantasy – his pitch to Gandalf – is one of control. That the two of them, in their pedigree and wisdom, ought to discuss the “deep things” beyond the understanding of others. Everyone else, including the king of Rohan and heir-apparent of Gondor, would simply await their “allotted work or punishment.” Saruman was never able to let go of this idea, to truly understand that his quest was designed to be one of service. Gandalf must have been such a mystery to him: a wizard who wandered among halflings, who seemed indifferent to power and then had people hand it to him.

And it must have been infuriating to him: when he made that final appeal, Gandalf does not even argue back. He just laughs. We know Gandalf well by this point. We’ve heard his speeches to Frodo and the Théoden about the essential quality of mercy. But it’s so fitting that Saruman, from his distant, paranoid purview, labels Gandalf’s mercy condescension and all his attempts to save Saruman as simply a long con. He denounces it as a secret plan to steal Orthanc and then:

the Keys to Barad-dur itself, I suppose; and the crowns of the seven kings, and the rods of the Five Wizards, and have purchased yourself a new pair of boots many sizes larger than those that you wear now. A modest plan. Hardly one in which my help is needed. I have other things to do.

There’s a weird sense of tragedy here that Saruman assumes that Gandalf has simply outplayed him. That he has been aiming at the same goals and simply playing a devious, two-faced game. Of course, we know that they weren’t playing the same game at all.  And Saruman, for a painfully long time, was the only one who seemed to assume that they were playing against each other. So even in the end, when Gandalf offers him another chance to aid, to assist, as he originally had been sent to do, Saruman refuses. “Great service he could have rendered,” Gandalf said. But:

He has chosen to withhold it, and keep the power of Orthanc. He will not serve, only command. He lives now in terror of the shadow of Mordor, and yet he still dreams of riding the storm. Unhappy fool! He will be devoured, if the power to the East stretches out its arms to Isengard.

Saruman insists on maintaining his own control and his own autonomy until the bitter end. He perpetuates a pattern that he’s been performing for literally thousands of years. The more Saruman reaches for control and authority, the less of it he has, and the more desperately he reaches. Gandalf gives him a way out of this holding pattern. But Saruman rejects it, seizing instead a life of confinement (and later, a life as a petty tyrant over a land he has long disdained). 

There’s a version of this whole story that could be told from the eyes of Saruman. It would be proud and sad and bitter, and always covered up by a cloud of narcissism. But it would be a good story. I’m sure he would have enjoyed telling it. But Saruman’s brittle, unyielding insistence upon his own independence only led to servitude. By insisting on authority, he lost control of his own story.

 saruman

Final Points

  • Another Saruman fun fact. In one version of the story, Tolkien had two Nazgul arrive at Orthanc while Gandalf was still prisoner. Faced with the blunt reality of his choices, Saruman panicked, lied to the Nazgul, and decided to help Gandalf escape. But when he reached the roof, Gandalf was gone and Gwaihir could be seen off in the distance. Having escaped without making any real choice, Saruman slid back towards his old ways. I’m not sure this would fit anywhere in The Lord of the Rings, but there’s a poignancy to it that I like.
  • I appreciate Gimli’s continuing concern that he had mistaken Gandalf for Saruman on the edge of Fangorn. It seems very in-character that such a thing would be troubling to him.
  • I knew it was coming, but it still made laugh that Gríma literally just chucks the palantír out a window. GREAT JOB, GRIMA.
  • sarumanEveryone’s interactions with Treebeard at the end of the chapter were perfect. Gimli & Legolas get one step closer to booking their vacation to Fangorn. And we get a sweet encapsulation of the friendship between Treebeard, Merry, and Pippin. “We have become friends in so short a while that I think I must be getting hasty – growing backwards towards youth, perhaps. But there, they are the first new thing under Sun or Moon that I have seen for many a long, long day.” I am going to miss the Ents, going forward. They’ve been such a lovely part of this book.
  • I appreciated Théoden being tempted by Saruman’s words. He’s probably in the most precarious position. Even coming off a victory at Helm’s Deep, he’s still not many days away from a very long stint under Saruman’s influence. It also continues to underline the theme that hope is a continual choice, not a one-time affair.
  • Prose Prize: “Here and there gloomy pools remained, covered with scum and wreckage; but most of the wide circle was bare again, a wilderness of slime and tumbled rock, pitted with blackened holes, and dotted with post and pillars leaning drunkenly this way and that.” Not beautiful exactly, but a nice striking image. I like the idea of drunken pillars.
  • Contemporary to this chapter: Still March 5th!

Art CreditsFilm stills are from Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) courtesy of New Line Cinema. All other art, in order of appearance, is from Jian Guo, Miruna-Lavinia, and erzsebet-beast

Katie spends her days reading about medieval history and her evenings wondering if it’s too late to drop out of graduate school and become an astronaut.

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Jordan F
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I loved this chapter and it really reinforced my love of Gandalf when he literally just laughs in Saruman’s face. I enjoy how his laughter shatters the illusion everyone has that he’ll go into Orthanc. Also, hats off to Theoden for resisting the allure of Saruman’s voice and saying in no uncertain terms “I ain’t coming up there ya Sith Lord looking douchenozzle, you murdered half my country and my main man Hama and I won’t be happy till you’re in a goddamn gibbet”. Badass. Also, whenever Saruman says the line that’s something “and get yourself a pair of boots… Read more »

Cynical Classicist
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Cynical Classicist

It does show a petty side to Saruman as he resorts to yelling that Gandalf wants a pair of bigger boots after talking about Kings and Wizards. Behind all that grand talk…

Maidens and Mules
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Maidens and Mules

The “purchased yourself a pair of boots many sizes larger than those you wear now” line always makes me chuckle. Saruman accusing Gandalf of desiring all these grandiose goals, from keys to magic towers, to wizards’ staffs, the crowns, to… big boots.

I get why they didn’t adapt this chapter for the films. It’s way too dialogue heavy to work in a movie. I do think that the world is poorer for the lack of existence of the parley with Saruman as a short play, starring Ian McKellan and Christopher Lee in the roles of Gandalf and Saruman though.

Morty
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Morty

Reading it makes the way the movies depicted it all the more… flat I guess. I get why they did it, but the contrast is stark. I think Tolkien did a very good job at depicting the way Saruman twists perceptions of people around him. The same words ring completely differently, depending on who listens. As I say every two chapters or so, it’s something modern fantasy misses. What Saruman does isn’t mind control, but something much more insidious and real. Which, of course, is a huge pain to portray in a visual medium, so it sort of excuses what… Read more »

Ангелина (Angelina)
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Ангелина (Angelina)

It’s interesting for me that Tolkien insisted that Saruman’s power was not ‘hypnosis or any other sciencefictious’ thing – it was something both more natural and innatural, like Morty says.

And also it strikes me now that I’ve thought about it that Saruman – being the one gifted with persuasive voice and therefore natural talent for diplomacy – is constantly rejecting peaceful way, way of talking things through, and chooses violence (no pun intended). He almost goes against his own nature. No surprise it leads to his downfall…

Mytly
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Mytly

Despite your ‘no pun intended’, I now can’t stop picturing Christopher Lee instead of Lena Headey in that GoT season 6 trailer. 😉

Ангелина (Angelina)
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Ангелина (Angelina)

Me too)

Fyodor
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Fyodor

I disagree. The essential requirement of diplomacy is empathy, the ability to understand the other (and oneself), so as to negotiate/bargain better. That’s why Gandalf is the consummate diplomat and advisor. A person, like Saruman, able to control others with his voice doesn’t need to bargain or even understand – he becomes an entity of pure id, habituated to controlling everything and everyone around him. One of the things I liked most about Jessica Jones is it captured in its antagonist the psychology of just such a monster, Kilgrave, and I put Saruman in the same bucket.

Ангелина (Angelina)
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Ангелина (Angelina)

Ah, you see, you presume here that Saruman has been the same person forever. But you forget that he did actually experience the Fall, and before he betrayed himself, the very nature of his talent couldn’t be what you depict. Because, you see, he was a Maia. There was no destructive, evil talent in them. once they were pure.

Saruman is not a psychopath (or sociopath as it is called in Western sources). He is not a natural-born monster. He is a person who grew up to be a monster.

Fyodor
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Fyodor

No, I’m not presuming that Saruman is innately psychopathic or was always evil. I’m arguing that an ability to compel others to your will is not conducive to a diplomatic temperament. Quite the opposite, I think. I’m also sceptical of the assertion that Maiar cannot be evil or destructive. True, I can’t think of a precedent, pre-incorporation, but the idea that sentient independent beings cannot choose evil flies in the face of Tolkien’s conception of free will. We also have the precedent of the Valar Melkor and the curiously large number of Maiar that went off the reservation in Middle… Read more »

Ангелина (Angelina)
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Ангелина (Angelina)

Er, they can choose to be evil (i.e. to fall from grace), but they can’t be inherently evil. Their talents, likewise, can’t be evil from the start, on the contrary, they change into evil counterparts as a result of the Maia’s fall. Like, Arien (the Maia who guides the Sun) is of same nature as the Balrogs; she is actually a female of their kind. But the Balrogs fell and become what we know of them, while she stayed pure. They all are Fire Incarnate, but the nature of this fire differs. Then we have Saruman who has a naturally… Read more »

Fyodor
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Fyodor

Nor did I presume that evil Maiar must be inherently evil. I simply questioned your assertion that, “There was no destructive, evil talent in them.” which is contradicted by their latent potential to do evil. Again, I don’t presume that Saruman is “blind to other people and craving power over them.” My point is that his power – however we want to define or quantify it – to bend other people to his will is likely to be corruptive to his capacity for empathy. Whereas a diplomat must understand, empathise, bargain, cajole and negotiate, Saruman’s ability obviates the need to… Read more »

Ангелина (Angelina)
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Ангелина (Angelina)

Ability to fall from grace does not require possibilty for evil talent, because, then again, it is clearly stated that from the beguinning the powers in posession of Greater and Lesser Ainur were pure and good or neutral in nature. Balrogs were not the Dark Flame from the beguinning; they turned into it as their souls were corrupted. Arien is of their kin and kind, but she is still unfallen flame spirit, and her flame is in fact quite bright. Then again-2, you ingnore that the way his voice ‘works’ requires exactly this: understand, empathise, bargain, cajole and negotiate. We… Read more »

Fyodor
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Fyodor

I don’t think I’m ignoring how Saruman’s voice works. Firstly, as other have noted, how his voice “works” is not explained. I think it’s pretty clear from the text that something supernatural is happening; it’s not presented as simply superior insight into men’s hearts and desires. So Saruman does not posses a kind of super-empathy. He may understand how to push people’s buttons, but that’s not the same thing. Furthermore, as you yourself point out, Saruman clearly does not correctly empathise with his audience. He misreads them, and I don’t think this is just a waning of his power, because… Read more »

Ангелина (Angelina)
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Ангелина (Angelina)

And again you presume that was like this right from the start, while my core objection is, it was not. There couldn’t be a Maia with a power to ‘press right buttons’ in human souls, with no understanding of those, because it would be inherently bad power, and Maia’s powers and talents can’t be inherently bad, they become bad and evil when they fall.

Fyodor
Guest
Fyodor

Again, I make no presumption about when Saruman gained his voice, pre- or post-fall. Frankly, it’s irrelevant to the discussion at hand, i.e. the implications of Saruman’s voice for his personality and suitability for diplomacy

You assert that Saruman could not be possessed of the ability to compel others without truly understanding them and yet he plainly does. If you have a problem with that, take it up with author.

Ангелина (Angelina)
Guest
Ангелина (Angelina)

Argh. You seem to be really intentionally deaf to me. If you choose not to read what I wrote, ok, I’m done with it.

Kaesy
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Kaesy

I love the relationship between Gandalf and Saruman. I think it’s so interesting how Saruman looks down on Gandalf, for mucking about with the ‘low’ people of the world and not aspiring to the heights that Saruman does, and yet he also wants to *be* Gandalf, seems to sense that somehow Gandalf has something he doesn’t, to earn the treatment he does. Thus even as he mocks Gandalf for smoking, he’s plumbing the Shire for the best pipeweed. But he’s never able to really see what it is about Gandalf that he can’t reach.

Cynical Classicist
Guest
Cynical Classicist

A hypocrite, like many of the major villains. He despises someone even though he wants to be them in some ways. But there’s a counter to that, it’s also a case of the villain not understanding the hero, and assuming everyone thinks like they do. It’s like how, in ASOIAF, Cersei assumes the world thinks like her, with everyone trying to grasp power, and in her paranoia sees any opposition to her as part of a plot to seize all the power. In Unfinished Tales it’s mentioned how Saruman assumed Gandalf playing with smoke-rings was part of some clever trickery,… Read more »

Maidens and Mules
Member
Maidens and Mules

The parley with Saruman itself is structured much like a stage play. It takes place in a single location, on the steps of Orthanc. There are the leading actors, Gandalf and Saruman, with Theoden and Eomer in supporting roles, Aragorn and Gimli playing bit parts (each with one memorable line, naturally) Legolas as spear carrier (I’d forgotten he was even there until I re-read the chapter), and the Riders of Rohan and by extension, the reader, in the role of the audience. The entire scene unfolds from the POV of the Riders: at no point do we ever find out… Read more »

Mytly
Member
Mytly

Supremely minor nitpick alert! ‘Saruman … built himself a centralized fortification’ is technically incorrect, as Saruman did not build Isengard/Orthanc – it was built by the Numernoreans in the Second Age. Saruman simply occupied it in the later part of the Third Age.

Fyodor
Guest
Fyodor

I don’t think it’s clear that Saruman is jealous of Gandalf, or feels overshadowed by him in LOTR. The backstory in Unfinished Tales provides some angles on the personality clash between the two of them, but Saruman’s reactions to Gandalf in this chapter are redolent of hubris thwarted, not jealousy. Saruman is enraged that Gandalf has been able to cobble together an alliance of disparate, “lesser”, allies to crush his mighty army, built by his mighty intellect and skill. It’s essentially a reprise of the core theme underlying all of Tolkien’s works, namely that friendship and cooperation will always defeat… Read more »

WanderingUndine
Member
WanderingUndine

Great essay! Gollum will always have my love, but you’ve helped me sympathize with and relate to Saruman as well.

Books

Creator Corner: Interview with Fantasy Author K Arsenault Rivera

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I’ve said so before, and I’ll say it again: talking with artists and content creators about their work is one of my favorite things. That’s why I do this interview series in the first place. Plus, there are so many artists from marginalized communities writing for their own communities that get overlooked in our major-franchise-oriented media landscape. Books especially seem to fall by the wayside. Since I grew up reading fantasy, getting to talk with an author of queer high fantasy is a treat. K Arsenault Rivera’s The Tiger’s Daughter captured my attention from the start, with its unique epistolary format, non-Western medieval setting, and pair of women-loving-women protagonists. Wives who are gods that fight demons? Yes please!

Needless to say, getting to interview K was a pleasure I couldn’t pass up. So join me as she talks her inspiration, writing queer fantasy, representation, and fan-made metal albums inspired by her book series.

Gretchen: Let’s start at the beginning. How long have you been writing? Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?

K Arsenault Rivera: Well, I’ve basically been writing since I was in elementary school. Writing was a big part of how I learned English. When I came to the US from Puerto Rico, I was very young and spoke mostly Spanish at the time, so learning how to speak English was of course a gigantic hurdle. My mother would read to me very often when I was a kid, from picture books and stuff like that, to try and make sure that I was more fluent in the language. But it wasn’t really until I started writing my own stories that everything began to sink in.

I mean, it was a lot of fun doing so. All those assignment in class that were things like making up your own nursery rhyme—those were great for me. The very first story I wrote was about a spider named Joaquin who was trying to escape the rain that I wrote when I was maybe five, and even then I knew that was what I wanted to do. Of course as time goes on, you stop writing about cute spiders and you start writing Devil May Cry fanfiction and passing it out to your classmates. They think it’s mildly amusing, and you think, “Hey, maybe I really can do this whole writing thing.” That’s basically it for me.

G: This is a two parter, but they’re related: First, who are your top three influences as a writer? Second, are there any stories or authors that inspire you when the creative juices aren’t flowing?

KAR: So I think that when it comes to authors and things that influence you, it’s easier for me to speak about what influences a particular work. Especially because a lot of the research I did for Tiger was so specialized. A lot of this was stuff I really didn’t know about beforehand. When it comes to Tiger’s Daughter, certainly, my biggest influences there would be poets. Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu being two of the major ones. But also I’ve always been a huge fan of Greek myth, and I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shoutout to my boy Homer—also a big influence in the big, romantic, mythic tone of Tiger.

But if I’m talking about things that influenced me when I was younger, Tamora Pierce is one. I’ve always really loved Malinda Lo’s novels, too; Huntress and Ash had me shook when I was a kid. Oh god, they were so good.

In terms of things that I read in order to get my juices flowing, I do read an awful lot of Han court poetry. A lot of tanka and a lot of haiku, mostly tanka though. I’ve got two books right here on my desk and one is a collected compendium of Izumi Shikibu’s poetry that I read usually before I start writing every day. It’s good to remind yourself of the tone you’re trying to hit.

G: With so many people watching movies and TV shows, do you think reading books still has a strong place in queer storytelling?

KAR: Absolutely I do. The main reason for this is kind of a simple and practical one. When I was a kid and I wanted to consume queer media, it was easiest to do so in book form because if my mother saw me holding it I could like about what it was about. The same is not necessarily true for movies, games, and stuff like that. I’ve definitely had the experience where I was playing Mass Effect and you go to kiss the cute blue alien and you’re playing a girl and you’re terrified that your parents are going to walk in and you’ll have to explain some things. But that’s not really the case with a book. With a book, there’s no real way of knowing immediately what it’s about. You can discuss a bit more freely the details that you want your parents to know.

But even more than that, I feel like while media like tv and movies are very important in terms of visual representation, there are still certain things that are very difficult to do in movies. We get more leeway with the types of representation that we can promote in books and literature. For instance, poly relationships come up way more in literature than they do in movies or games or anything like that. That’s something that we’ve been talking about in genre circles for years now. There are lots of different poly relationships that come up in fantasy and genre fiction. That’s not really discussed in any other forms of media. So yeah, there’s definitely still a place for books.

G: I was just trying to come up with poly relationships recently in visual media, especially queer and poly, and the only one I could think of off the top of my head was in Black Sails

KAR: Right, it’s not discussed, or if it is, it’s a one-off joke. You see that a lot in sitcoms; Broad City had a throuple show up but they were the butt of the joke for being ‘weird.’ But if you ask any allocishet white dude what his favorite fantasy series is, he’s probably going to get to Wheel of Time eventually. As normative as Wheel of Time is, it does feature a polyamorous relationship at the core of these twelve, thirteen books, and that’s not really something you would normally get in a visual medium. I feel like genre fiction gets a reputation for being more conservative but we are experimenting more than visual media is.

G: On a related note, what do you think fantasy as a genre or genre fiction more broadly can do uniquely well when it comes to the creation of queer protagonists and telling of queer stories?

KAR:  I think that a lot of it lies in the control we have over the worlds we build. The job of fiction and the job of genre fiction especially is to hold up a mirror to things that we experience. The job of all fiction is to build empathy in one direction or another; all art is propaganda, it just depends on what sort of propaganda it is.

In terms of genre fiction, there are times when we don’t think that something would be possible in our day-to-day lives. However, we’re able to create worlds in fantasy settings and scifi settings where being queer isn’t necessarily a problem. Where we can see these big, huge heroes and having people like that having people with these larger-than-life abilities is very important in terms of inspiration.

There’s a reason that Orwell—who is best known for dystopias like Animal Farm and 1984 —even though he firsthand witnessed the rise of fascism and went to go fight in the Spanish civil war, he chose genre fiction in order to combat those things. There’s a reason for that and it’s because sometimes it’s easier to construct these enemies and know why they need to be defeated when you have more control over the world. It’s also easier to be more in control of the message that you’re trying to send, as I said, all art is propaganda.

It’s important to have these queer heroes triumph in ways that they haven’t necessarily in history so far so that we can enable another generation down the line to triumph in those ways. Nobody is every going to think that they’re impervious to arrows until they read a cool story about somebody who is. Nobody is going to think that they can slay a giant until they read a story about this kind of nerdy dude who did with just a sling. Once that idea is in your head, it’s a lot easier to reach for it in your own life.

G: Tell me about your books, The Tiger’s Daughter and Phoenix Empress; what inspired you to write this story? Why did you choose the epistolary format?

KAR: The simple answer for this is that I read an awful lot of Victorian fiction between the ages of fifteen to twenty-two. Even when I dropped out of college, I was reading a lot of Victorian literature, and boy, did they love epistolary format! So a lot of the stuff I was reading was epistolary and it became this kind of natural thing for me to have in my head. The reason that I chose epistolary for Tiger’s Daughter in particular is that Shefali is a very quiet character. She doesn’t actually say more than four words to anyone who isn’t directly related to her or her wife at a time. I try to keep track of that; it’s like a rule I have when I’m writing: how can I get Shefali to say what she needs to say in four words or less.

In order to get to know her and simultaneously to get to know Shizuka, who is kind of…difficult, it’s easiest if we’re in Shefali’s head and if she’s talking to Shizuka. If we have this idea of a gift that she’s giving her, this attention that she’s lavishing on her wife who she misses so dearly—I needed that level of intimacy for Tiger because this trilogy is about gods. It’s about the people who become gods and what they give up. Because of that, it’s very important to have a personal stake in these matters. I needed a lot of buy-in into their relationship. Plus, there’s a bit of a girlfriend experience thing, to, and that’s not something that you really see in queer fiction. You don’t have these big gay love stories. How dreamy is it to be reading one that’s 500 pages long and the subject is you. You get to, at some level, transfer yourself onto that. I thought that was very dreamy, very romantic sigh inducing. It was just what I wanted to read so I wrote it.

G: That’s one of those pieces of advice you hear a lot when you want to be a writer: write what you want to read because someone is going to want to read it to.

KAR: I definitely agree that if you write something you want to read, there’s at least five other people who want to read it. You need to keep in mind those five people when you’re writing. Not everything you write is going to appeal to everyone, but if you can appeal to those five people who need what you’re doing, you’re golden.

G: I asked you this at the panel where we met, but I loved your answer so much I want to ask it again for our readers: what is your favorite thing about your two protagonists?

KAR: Shefali, as I mentioned, is very quiet. She doesn’t really talk much to anybody, she’s very withdrawn. But, she’s probably the most reliable character in the series. She’s very sturdy, very loyal, very dedicated, and doesn’t really let anything get in her way once she decides that she’s going to do something. It just get’s done. But she’s not very loud or very brash about it like Shizuka is. She’s just…solid and fair and it’s so comforting to be able to write someone like that. I feel like it kind of imbues me with those qualities slightly as I’m writing her.

Which brings me to my second point about Shizuka: Shizuka is a wreck. She’s so…oh god, she’s trying her best. She’s got this brash exterior where she’s always bragging about everything and talking about how great she is and secretly, she’s afraid of everything. I have really severe anxiety. It keeps me home sometimes or keeps me from doing things that I want to do. Shizuka has determined that she’s got to make decisions quickly before the fear sets in. That’s her main thing. I very much admire that about her. I admire her dedication to doing things in spite of how afraid she is, and the way that she endures everything just because she knows it’s the right thing to do. The way that Shizuka deals with her fears is very inspirational to me. I sort of feel bad for making her afraid of so many things.

G: Given your personal experiences as a queer woman of color, talk to me about the importance of representation of marginalized communities. How did that shape the stories you tell?

KAR: It’s something that I think you have to be hyper aware of as a queer creator, especially in my case being a queer creator of color. I was born in Puerto Rico, both of my parents are Latinx, my mother is also Black. There’s a lot of intersection that goes on there and there are a lot of things I was aware of growing up that maybe other kids were not so aware of. To that extent, when it comes to Tiger, the Qhorin aren’t just a different ethnic group, they’re also markedly darker than Hokkarans. There’s also the Xianese to the south, the Doanese, and the Jeon—they’re all different groups, and all of that interacts very differently within the work.

I think that a lot of the time there’s a tendency to use a checklist with diversity. Like, “Here’s this one character with three different marginalizations, but we’re not really going to touch upon that at all in the work.” In some cases that can be, though I’m not saying it always is, but it can be a bit lazy. We really need to examine how those intersections would affect the people that have them. As a queer woman, I’m not just a queer woman, I’m also a queer woman of color. I have to deal with coming out to my extended family when machismo is such a huge thing in Latinx culture. I have to contend with traditional portrayals of Latinx masculinity and hyper masculinity and how those interact with, well I don’t want to say white ideas, but I guess ‘traditional’ ideas of masculinity.

And in writing something like The Tiger’s Daughter, I have to understand East Asian ideas of what masculinity and femininity are. This wide array of different gender identities and different approaches to gender and sexuality and romance that are portrayed across cultures. Something that was very important to me when I was writing Tiger’s Daughter is that Shefali, who is my main character, and her brother are both bi-racial like I am. And they both take more after their mother than they do after their father. There are a few scenes where Shefali is minding her own business and people are like, “Oh, you should get out of the sun, you’ll get so dark.” It’s things like that. It’s not just a queer story, it’s also a story about people of color, and it would be egregiously wrong of me not to address all of those concerns.

In terms of marginalization and representation, I just think that it’s important that we’re not just writing queer stories. That we’re writing queer stories about women, or writing queer stories about trans and gender non-conforming people. That we’re writing queer stories about people of color and that we’re addressing the concerns that these people might have growing up in their lives. These are things that I had to be aware of when I was a young queer person considering whether or not to come out. We need to see more of that in fiction because as I said, it makes us stronger.

G: Right, and you mentioned anxiety; mental illness, disability, and neurodiversity are other aspects of that as well. All of it intersects with each other. 

KAR: It definitely does.

G: As a younger author (and a queer woman!), I’m sure you’re aware of fanfic and fanart. Do you have a lot of fan engagement with your book? Any favorites?

KAR: First of all, I do not read fanfiction, I haven’t actually looked for any either, in terms of my books specifically. However, I have gotten some fanart that is quite lovely, and I always do appreciate when people tag me in fanart. A lot of people seem to enjoy drawing Shizuka, and I think it’s because she’s extra as fuck, and I’m here for it.

That is, of course, a wonderful part about being an author, that people will occasionally draw characters from your book and you’ll get to see your children in a visual way. That’s so nice.

A totally sick, rad thing that is happening in my life is that there is, in fact, a 42 minute long metal album that is actually just one song, and it is also called “The Tiger’s Daughter.” It is based on my book The Tiger’s Daughter and it is so cool! It is the coolest thing that has ever happened to me. My fifteen-year-old self is just about shitting herself. It’s great. I love it so much. I have only heard the snippet because only a snippet has been posted so far—it’s by Lascaille’s Shroud. It’s awesome. Sometimes I listen to it when I need to get hyped up to write.

G: That’s awesome, and so unique too!

KAR: It really is!

G: I don’t know a lot of authors who could say they have a metal album based on their story.

KAR: Yeah, I mean, Nightwish has a song that they wrote that takes it’s name from the Kingkiller Chronicles, but that’s all I can think of. The funny thing is, I remember distinctly about two days before I heard about “The Tiger’s Daughter” metal album that I was listening to that Nightwish song about the Edema Ruh. I remember thinking nobody was ever going to write a metal song about my book…

Welp, that’s where you’re wrong, bucko.

G: That’s perfect! So, what’s coming up next for you? Any other projects you’re working on that you can tell us about?

KAR: I do have the sequel to The Tiger’s Daughter and The Phoenix Empress coming out soon, called The Warrior Moon. I’m putting the finishing touches on that now. We also have a short story coming out in the same universe called “Sixteen Swords.” That’s probably going to be early next year in terms of release. It’s about the mothers of the two protagonists in The Tiger’s Daughter and this mission that they go on in the demon realm. I like to describe it as Seven Samurai meets Blair Witch.

G: Oh my gooood. That sounds amazing!

KAR: Right? I’m really happy with it. It’s actually probably one of the things I’m proudest of writing; I think I did some pretty good work. Beyond that, not much that I can talk about now.

G: That’s fair. But that right there sounds so exciting! I loved the mothers of the protagonists when I read the first book; the story that you gave them is so compelling and I want more of it. I will consume everything that you make about that. 

KAR: My editor had an offhand comment along the lines of, “I would really like to see what happened to these women when they were over the wall.” And I was like, “Oh, ha ha, my hand slipped and I wrote 45,000 words. Ha ha ha!” She was very gracious about it, and we are figuring out how to bring that to people because it is a pretty great story.

G: Anything else you want to share with us before we go?

KAR: Nothing immediately comes to mind except, you know, comments about the political hellscape that we are in but that’s not quite relevant.

G: But in that vein, reading a lovely story about divine wives who fight demons is a really great way to spend some time and think about what could happen if they existed in our world.

KAR: Oh god, if they lived in our world they would just be sick of everything.

G: They would be so done.

KAR: Oh, so done. So completely done, but I feel like Shefali would have a couple of very straightforward solutions to everything and would be able to talk Shizuka through actually implementing them. Eventually they’d work it out and they’d be fine. As long as Shizuka didn’t start drinking again…

G: Absolutely. So, that’s all I have. Thank you so much for talking; this was lovely!

KAR: Yeah, thank you for having me!

About K Arsenault Rivera

K and her family moved to New York City from Puerto Rico when she was three. They landed in the middle of a blizzard, and K’s been complaining about the snow ever since.

At a compact four foot nine, K is a concentrated dose of geekery. She’s happy to ramble about everything from Gothic Literature to Revolutionary Girl Utena, with detours into Magic the Gathering and Star Wars. Her two best friend groups are her coven and her tabletop gaming group.

She is almost too queer to function.

She lives in Brooklyn with her hipster photographer partner, their robot queen roommate, and a two foot tall statue of Wonder Woman.

The Tiger’s Daughter and The Phoenix Empress are available for purchase online or in any major brick-and-mortar bookstore. Make sure you check out K Arsenault Rivera on Twitter or her website to stay up to date on her, her work, and forthcoming stories in the Ascendant universe.


Images courtesy of K Arsenault Rivera and Tor Books

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Analysis

Conclusion to Stumbling Beginnings in Summer Knight

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It had to happen sometime. I talked last book about how much Butcher had improved on his shaky start. Published in 2002, Summer Knight brings the shaky opening to a conclusion. It also opens up a new phase of storytelling for the series as a whole. In case you couldn’t tell, I really like this book. It brings so much to the series, and features one of the more iconic moments of the series for Murphy. Let’s get into it.

Spoilers for Summer Knight and all previous books in the series.

So, What Happened?

Summer Knight opens with Harry and Billy investigating a rain of toads. Harry grumps around and alienates all his friends because of his grief over Susan. Afterwards, he goes to a meeting Billy orchestrated, which turns out to be with Mab, Queen of the Winter Fae. She bought his debt from the Leanansidhe, and wants him to clear her name for a murder. Harry refuses and goes to the White Council meeting. We meet several other wizards, and a vampire offers peace between the White Council and Red Court if they turn over Harry. At the conclusion of the meeting, the wizards agree not to sacrifice Harry if he makes Mab cooperate with the Wizards.

Harry discovers that the murdered man, Ronald Reuel, was the Summer Knight, the human intermediary for the Summer Court. The power he wielded disappeared, destroying the balance. Which, eventually, leads to war between the Courts. Elaine, shows up as the Summer Emissary. Harry attends Reuels funeral, and runs into several teenage, changeling acquaintances of the knight who are concerned over the disappearance of Lily. He visits the Winter Lady, then contacts Murphy. They fight several monsters in a Wal-Mart. He goes to the Summer Lady after finding Elaine beaten by his car.

Harry visits the Summer and Winter Mothers in the Nevernever. The Winter Mother gives him an Unraveling. Aurora, the Summer Lady steals it from him and reveals she orchestrated everything to remake the seasons in her own image. She trapped the power inside Lily. Harry objects to this. Harry, the Alphas, and two of the teenage changelings go to the Stone Table. They interrupt the fight between seasons, steal back the Unraveling, and kill Aurora, saving Lily, the one holding the mantle. In the conclusion, Lily becomes the new Summer Lady.

Best Moment – The Wal-Mart Fight, Organization to Conclusion

There are so many good things about this scene. There’s finally communication, Murphy’s first moment of awesome, and plot hooks perfectly combined with character catharsis. Over the course of this unlikely placed scene, Butcher manages to bring several elements of the early series to a conclusion.

The first, of course, is that Harry finally tells Murphy everything about the supernatural. She even gets in one last one-liner about being kept out, a start to their banter for the rest of the series. “‘I know I’ve kept things from you.’ … ‘Yeah’, she said, ‘I know. It’s annoying as hell.’”(299). He tells her everything. About the Red Court, the White Council, the Fae, and Chicago Supernatural Politics. Now, we won’t have the cheap conflict from Storm Front where they work at cross-purposes again.

Immediately afterwards, we have the fight with the chlorofiend, the Tigress, and the mind fog. At the conclusion of that fight, we also have Murphy’s first major impact since the Loup-Garou. “Murphy tore through them with the chain saw, … then drove the blade directly between the chlorofiend’s glowing green eyes.” (345). Chainsaw with cold iron, vs Fae Creature. Murphy wins.

The way that the plot interacts shows improvement from the previous book. There, Butcher attempted to tie together the antagonists with the chain spells. Here, we see the ghoul, the summoned monster, and the mind fog from two different people. The Tigress also capitalizes on Murphy’s trauma from the previous book. But everything makes sense, and the conclusion of the fight ties together various plot threads, since Ace sent the Tigress, Aurora the fog and fiend, and Murphy starts to recover from Kravos’s attack.

Most Improved – Harry’s Attitude

While some of the previous books focused more on the change to other people, here we have Harry change. He has a character arc that comes to a satisfying conclusion by the end. Harry starts the book depressed over Susan, and he alienates everyone. Billy points it out. “I don’t need to be a wizard to see when someone’s in a downward spiral. You’re hurting. You need help.” (25). Given that Billy previously espoused the theme of the series, his reintroduction here is significant. Eventually, Harry accepts the help Billy offers, both in scheduling meetings, and with the fight at the end. After the fight, Harry even goes over to hang out with the Alphas, and plays a barbarian in a Dungeons & Dragons spin-off game. He quotes William Shakespeare jokingly, and says, “Meep, Meep” to a deranged Faerie Queen. (489).

It is not only the Alphas that help change Harry’s mood. His reunion with Eileen, his teenage flame, who he thought he killed alongside Justin also helps. Finding out he didn’t kill her brings him closure. But through the book, when she nominally serves as an opponent, the Summer Emissary to his Winter, her presence reassures him. Even when she ‘betrays’ him to Aurora, and binds him, she still helps him. “I’d been right. It was the same binding she’d used when we were kids.” (433). Her meddling enables him to escape Aurora’s death trap, by using their childhood bond.

At the conclusion of the book, she gives him advice regarding Susan that builds to the catharsis detailed above. “Stop thinking about how bad you feel—because if she cares about you at all, it would tear her up to see you like I saw you a few days ago.” (510). That help sends him in a new direction.

Best Worldbuilding – The Fae Courts

While the information on the White Council is delightful, the Fae Court proves more valuable to the main plot. And we learn a lot about the Courts here. Lea makes an appearance, where she ‘helps’ Harry by distracting him and a Fae from fighting and guiding him to the Stone Table. She mentions again how she believes her actions last book only helped him as well. It gives insight to the alien nature of Fae morals.

We also can draw conclusions about the structure of the Courts given all the information on how they organize themselves. Through the book, we learn about the Winter and Summer Courts, each with three Queens. The Mothers, the retired queens. The Queens, the current ruler. And the Ladies, the heir for the future. Their Knights that do their will in the mortal world, and the Emissaries chosen on special occasions.

Also informative is the phrase, “If Winter came here, Summer had to come too, didn’t it?” (219). It implies certain checks and balances on each other’s behavior. That only highlights how serious a problem it is that the Summer Knight is dead, and the mantle gone. Lea’s information about the Stone Table reinforces that. Beyond being a reference to Narnia, it also guarantees great power to whoever holds the table, and whoever sheds blood on it. So, the peaceful transfer of the table from Summer to Winter and back with the seasons preserves their equality. Aurora’s plan only serves to show how important it is to keep that balance, less there be another Ice Age, or worse.

In showing us all this, Butcher expands his universe so much further, and sets the ‘table’ for future stories. Ones that will lead to the eventual conclusion of the series, yet to come.

Worst Worldbuilding – The Conclusion of Meryl’s Story

Given all that we know now about the Fae, it comes as no surprise that the worst worldbuilding also comes from that section of the story. Butcher’s take on Changelings is innovative, being half-human, half-Fae rather than the traditional version. The problems arise from how the narrative treats her, and the results of her half-Fae heritage.

The problem with Meryl is that Meryl dies at the end of the story. She is the first person explicitly allied with Harry to die. The only previous person that was not an antagonist that died was MacFinn, and he attempted to murder them all because of an uncontrollable curse. Meryl dying in and of itself is not the entire problem. Butcher directs the series in a darker direction, so deaths will come eventually. The issue that I have with the conclusion of Meryl’s story is that Butcher could have done so many things with her. As a Changeling aligned with Winter, dearest friend of the new Summer Lady and Knight, the possibility of an inter-Fae alliance or Court would develop.

She even said, “[Winter] Calls,’ Meryl said. ‘ But I’m not answering.’” (459). The Changelings provide a glimpse of the Fae outside of the manipulation, outside of Court politics. Meryl could have been symbolic of that. But no. Meryl Chooses to save Lily. She Chooses and she dies and all that hope with her. It’s a story brought too soon to a conclusion, one that broke off threads that could have continued.

Moment of Regression – Ye Old Wandering Eyes

I will admit, this is a sticking point for me. I talked about my dislike of Harry’s voyeurism in Storm Front. I brought it up again in Fool Moon. Thankfully, it didn’t appear too often in the following books, but here we see this again with a vengeance. And it doesn’t even make sense in character this time.

After a Susan-vampire nightmare, Harry thinks.

“But I had been used to a certain amount of friendly tension relieving with Susan. Her absence had killed that for me, completely—except for rare moments during the damned dreams when my hormones came raging back up to the front of my thoughts again as though making up for lost time.” (176).

So, theoretically at least Harry’s libido takes a break. I understand that part of this nightmare and Harry’s symptoms comes from the dangerous way he’s punishing himself for Susan’s condition. But, still. Even before this dream we have moments where he stares at Mab’s ass. He knows she’s the Winter Queen, and he still ogles her when she leaves. At Maeve’s court, Butcher spends a good deal of time describing Jenny Greenteeth, a Fae seductress. He could have emphasized the alien way she moves, the details that make her decidedly not human, and dropped a one-liner about her being naked at the end. It would have been in character for Harry’s blasé kind of humor. Instead, Butcher flips that script, focusing on the nakedness, with the inhumanity coming as an aside.

Call it my own personal soapbox, if you will, but that doesn’t sit well with me, especially when the last book did so much better with Harry’s gaze. (Not perfect, of course, but better. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just needs to keep improving.)

In Conclusion

Overall, Summer Knight showcases the best of Butcher’s work so far. While the choices were somewhat limited compared to last book, the plot hangs together much better. That cohesive plot lent its voice to each category, and the worst moments were nitpicks and could-have-beens.

The way that Butcher brought this story arc, and Harry’s character arc to a conclusion proved satisfying. His mastery of plot improved, with the motivations of the antagonists and the number being reasonable, instead of overwhelming. The knowledge about the Fae, about the Council, and about Elaine all help set up this next phase of the series. I’m looking forward to the next book.

Am I being too nit-picky in the ‘bad’ categories, or is it just proof of concept that the problems can be reduced to nitpicks? Was the White Council more fascinating than the Fae, or was Harry’s arc disjointed? Let me know if I’m being too harsh on the series, if you had a different idea for a category, or if you have any comments about the arc of the series as a whole. I look forward to hearing from you.


 

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Books

Creator Corner: Interview with YA Author Linsey Miller

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Every now and again an opportunity falls into your lap to have a conversation with someone you never dreamed you’d get to. When Dan asked me if I might want to interview Linsey Miller, author of Mask of Shadows and its sequel Ruin of Stars, I fangirl screamed politely accepted the invitation to make contact. As a fan of queer YA, masked assassins, and page-turning action, I couldn’t pass up the possibility of talking with her. She said yes, and here we are.

So come join me as Linsey talks writing, representation, and what’s coming up next for her.

Gretchen: Let’s start at the beginning, what got you into writing? Are you one of those life-long storytellers or did something specific inspire you to want to become a published author? Or both?

Linsey Miller: I wrote a lot as a child. I was lucky—my parents liked reading and we had a library that wasn’t too far away. However, I didn’t really grow up thinking it was a thing that a person could do (even though my kid brain knew people did write books, the idea that I could didn’t really click). Years later, I ended up completely blowing my medical school applications and one of the interviewers said, “Sounds like you want to write books.” I started researching, reading, and writing more after that.

So thank you doctor who saw through my terrible application.

G: What makes books a compelling format for telling stories for YA audiences? Is there something you think books can do that say, a visual medium like film or television can’t?

LM: I think a lot of what makes them compelling will vary greatly from reader to reader (and they might never be as compelling as a film to some), but I know for me it was how immersive they were. With books, you have to directly interact with the prose in a way you can’t sometimes with visual mediums—the cadence and pacing of the reading, while it can be set by the narrative, is partly dependent on the reader. It’s easier to put yourself into the narrative and see yourself as a part of the story and world when you’re reading. I don’t think there’s something books can do that visual mediums can’t so much as that the interaction between reader and book is different than viewer and medium.

G: Speaking of your writing, what inspired you to write Mask of Shadows? What was it about the story itself or the characters that really drew you?

LM: There were a lot of small things. I like assassins, and I wanted to explore how difficult moral choices affect people, especially as a kid when you’re realizing that morality is not as solidly set as you thought. But at the same time, I really want to write a fantasy novel that let people be the rogue with a heart of gold and grapple with how difficult some parts of life are without sacrificing one for the other.

And then, there was this driving urge to explore a fantasy world that felt like it was a few years past when a book would normally be set so that I could see how the grown up heroes of a plot might cope with what happened and how that affects the young adults around them. Growing up after something huge happened and with the people who were directly involved was something I wanted to write about.

Also, I love Sal. Writing their story was a dream come true.

G: Your primary protagonist in the duology, Sal, is genderfluid; what led you in that direction and why do you think it’s important to have gender non-conforming characters in media for young adults?

LM: Before writing the book, there was a lot of talking about how Sal approached gender, navigated the world, and how the plot would and wouldn’t approach gender. I wouldn’t say anything led me in that direction specifically.

However, especially now that I know more, I think it’s important to have non-binary and gender non-conforming characters in media for young adults who are written by non-binary and gender non-conforming authors. People need to see themselves in media—especially young adults who are still figuring themselves and the world out—and they deserve to see themselves represented in all the nuanced ways that exists by people who know what it’s like.

So I go back and forth now on if it was my place to have written Sal, but I don’t want that to detract from how vitally important it is that kids see themselves in literature AND in the population creating that literature.

G: You also include a queer romance in the story and have multiple characters of color; why was it important to you to include so many layers of diverse representation?

LM: It was really important to me that the world was actually a world. I decided early on that if I wrote young adult that I had to take how and what I wrote very seriously, so the goal was to make sure that the world didn’t erase people or leave room to default characters to what is generally expected. I didn’t want the main characters to be token people. That felt unfair to them and to readers.

G: Tell me more about your characters: What is your favorite thing (or things) about Sal? Is there anything that makes them especially challenging and/or exciting to write?

LM: I love that Sal knows who they are. They’re confident and a little bit on the arrogant side, and they start Mask of Shadows knowing what they want. They do change over the course of the book, but I liked writing a character who knew themselves and didn’t feel guilty about it. Sal was just Sal. They enjoyed being Sal! That was exciting to write.

G: If you could write a book or short story highlighting one of your secondary characters, which one or ones would you choose and why?  

LM:  Ruby or Maud. Writing something for Ruby would give the added benefit of including a bunch of other characters, and I would love to explore the siege of the school ten years prior to Mask of Shadows. Nearly every character in the book would have been involved, and many would have been Sal’s age when it occurred.

As for Maud, she’s simply the best.

G: If you could give one piece of advice to other aspiring writers who want to write original fiction that you don’t think others are saying, what would it be?

LM: The advice to “write” is out there, but what happens emotionally during isn’t always talked about. Writing is a largely internal process—you spend a lot of time alone thinking about things that you can’t talk about. That loneliness can be draining, so make sure you take care of yourself if you can. Find out what helps you, find your people, and take care. A book is all well and good, but you’re important too.

G: What’s coming up next for you? Any other projects you’re working on that you can tell us or hint to us about?

LM: Yes! I have two new fantasy books coming out in 2020 and 2021. By Grace & Blood is a standalone young adult fantasy about two young women who must work together to stop a war waged by the powerful and greedy in a French-inspired fantasy world. I should have more information about it soon.

G: Anything else you want to share with us before we go?

LM: Save your work in multiples places as you go.

Don’t be me.

Whether you write by processor or by hand, make sure your work is copied and safe in at least 2 or 3 places.

G: That’s excellent advice. Thanks for chatting with me!

LM: You’re welcome!

About Linsey Miller

Originally from Arkansas, Linsey has previously worked as a crime lab intern, lab assistant, and pharmacy technician. She is currently an MFA candidate at Wichita State University and represented by Rachel Brooks of Bookends Literary. Her debut novel Mask of Shadows was the first in a young adult fantasy duology, which was completed with Ruin of Stars this year. Her next novel, a standalone French-inspired fantasy titled By Grace and Blood, will come out in 2020 with another standalone fantasy to follow in 2021. She can be found writing about science and magic anywhere there is coffee.

If you’d like to follow Linsey Miller to stay updated on current and future protects, check out her website and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.


Images Courtesy of Linsey Miller and Sourcebooks Fire

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