Author Stephanie Burgis
Stephanie Burgis grew up in East Lansing, Michigan but now lives in Wales, surrounded by castles and coffeeshops. She is the author of two historical fantasy novels for adults, Masks and Shadows and Congress of Secrets, both published by Pyr Books. She’s also the author of over thirty short f/sf stories and a trilogy of Regency fantasy novels for younger readers, beginning with Kat, Incorrigible. To find out more and read excerpts from all of her books, please visit her website: www.stephanieburgis.com.
Is there a literary heroine on whom you imprinted as a child? A first love, a person you wanted to become as an adult, a heroic girl or woman you pretended to be on the playground at recess?
I imprinted SO HARD on so many literary heroines as a kid! It’s actually hard to narrow it down – Anne of Green Gables! Jane Eyre! Elizabeth Bennet! Meg Murry! I loved them all – but: when it comes down to it, I identified with Jo March (from Little Women) in SO many ways.
Can you remember what it was she did or what qualities she had that captured your affections and your imagination so strongly?
She was a writer! (Which I already knew I wanted to be, from the time I was seen.) And she was fiercely ambitious with her writing from very early on in her childhood. In the book, she and her sisters even wrote a magazine as kids where she self-published her own stories – and as a kid, I actually did the same, circulating it ONLY among my own family members! Jo loved acting in plays that she’d written, she was wildly romantic, but she was also socially awkward and frequently messed up in important social situations when she most needed to do her best. She dreamed of traveling in Europe, just like I did; she was devoted to her family and she fought fiercely with them too. She felt real to me and she was wonderful.
How does she compare to the female characters in your work? Is she their literary ancestor? Do they rebel against all she stands for? What might your creations owe her?
My MG heroines probably have more in common with her than most of my adult-fic heroines, but there are definite commonalities throughout. I love writing fiercely ambitious and determined heroines (of any age), in the same way that I’ve always imprinted on them as a reader.
In my new historical fantasy novel, Congress of Secrets, I set out to take the trope of the powerful, manipulative, woman who’s often portrayed as a villainess and make her the heroine of the story instead. Caroline, my heroine, has been planning her scheme for years, and now that she’s finally back in Vienna under the guise of a new identity (using the 1814 Congress of Vienna as her excuse for the trip), she’s ready to do whatever it takes to accomplish it…even if she has to resort to the same kind of dark alchemy that ruined her childhood.
However, while she is ruthless in her determination, she’s not unfeeling; like Jo, she’s actually devoted to her family, and her whole scheme is based around trying to save her father from unjust imprisonment. So, while she and Jo March might not have many surface similarities, a few of the essential qualities are the same.
About this post: The Heroine Question is my name for a series of short interviews with (mostly) female writers about their favorite characters and literary influences. Clicking the link will allow you to browse all the other interviews, with awesome people like Linda Nagata, Kay Kenyon, and S.B. Divya. If you prefer something more in the way of an actual index, it’s here.
Fran Wilde is the author of the Andre Norton and Compton Crook Award-winning and Nebula-nominated novel Updraft (Tor 2015), its sequel, Cloudbound, newly out from Tor in September 2016, and the novella The Jewel and Her Lapidary (Tor.com Publishing). Her short stories appear in Asimov’s Science Fiction, Tor.com, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Nature. She writes for publications including The Washington Post, Tor.com, Clarkesworld, iO9.com, and GeekMom.com. You can find her on twitter @fran_wilde, Facebook @franwildewrites and at franwilde.net. Here’s what she says about this lovely piece of ink.
My tattoo is still new enough that I’m not yet thinking about what I’ll get next (everyone tells me that’s coming). I have zero regrets.
Getting a tattoo was something that scared me, because I’d been told all my life that I was pain-sensitive and there’s a lot of discussion about pain thresholds when it comes to tattoos. But this summer, I realized that my fear was much less important than my desire to do something for my body and for me, after a long stretch of having things done to it.
The tattoo is, in part, a tiny bit of crypto, a bit of lotus, and almost all compass rose. Traditionally, the compass rose has a “safe passage over troubled waters” meaning. I wanted it on my spine because that’s the spot that needed celebrating most, and maybe a little bit of protection too.
Trouble was, everyone said that a back/spine tattoo would hurt more than other places. Was I willing to risk it? I didn’t tell many people what I was getting, and I didn’t tell nearly anyone where. Just in case I chickened out.
Turns out, I didn’t chicken out. Nor – to my surprise – did it hurt. I pretty much fell asleep on the table while the tattoo was being done. The inking process (by Clifton W. Carter Jr.
) produced some sort of pain white noise that was more relaxing for me than standing up, or sitting down, due to the pain I’m usually in. I cannot tell you how much this matters.
My tattoo didn’t necessarily change the world’s view of me (or if it did, I haven’t heard / don’t care all that much) as much as it changed my view of me. I know now that I’m not pain-sensitive, for one, and all the people (family, doctors, that one school nurse) who convinced me I was can go jump in a lake.
I know better now that when people tell me I am something — whatever it is –, to examine the whys of their statements, and to decide for myself who I am.
I know also that no matter what, the ink was something I wanted to do and I did it, even though it scared me.
At the beginning of this year, I declared a map year for me, my writing, everything
. At the time, I meant that I’d be exploring new ways of being in the world, and new ways of seeing. I didn’t realize then that I would become my own compass for that journey, and that the trip will continue for as long as I’m standing, or writing.
That’s what the ink is telling me, though, and I’m very excited to head out for new directions.
You can find Fran Wilde at her website, blog, on Twitter, or order her books at Amazon (US), Barnes & Noble, IndieBound and Powell’s.
About this post: Inksplanations (and variations thereon) is the name for a series of short interviews with a number of genre writers about their tattoos. Why they got them, what they mean, how getting ink did or didn’t change them–any and all of these topics are fair game. What drives a literary artist to literally become canvas for an image or epigram? Did they get what they were seeking? I wanted to know, especially after I got my 2016 poppies from Toronto artist Lorena Lorenzo at Blackline Studio, and so I did what any curious writer would do. I asked.
Happy Halloween, everyone!!
This week in my Creating Universes, Building Worlds class at the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, one of my students said, in passing, that they thought James Cameron’s Xenomorph Queen, from Aliens, was a great villain, and that they thought Cameron was generally particularly good at creating villains. So I asked if they thought the Queen was a true villain, or–to split a semantic hair–an antagonist? She’s acting, after all, to avenge her offspring, and to survive.
What I was wondering, in that moment, was this: does villainy require premeditation, evil intent, or cleverness?
We batted that around a bit, talking about whether a baddie with simple motivations, like the Queen or the original Terminator (who does presumably know that what he’s doing is illegal within the time period he’s visiting, and who does a few pretty clever things to find Sarah Connor) is truly villainous. Here’s a snip from one of my posts in that discussion:
One definition of villainy is “wicked or criminal behavior.” If we were to contrast the Xenomorph Queen and the first Terminator, there’s an interesting question of intention. The former certainly isn’t setting out to be criminal. She’s essentially a big space-wasp. Wasps are parasites and what they do to their prey species is thoroughly horrible. And, to add in another wrinkle, she is smarter and more thoughtful than her soldier-spawn, who are orders of magnitude smarter than the face huggers. It is common in action movies to work your way up from dumb thugs to smart villains.
The Terminator is after one kill and causes a lot of collateral damage as he pursues it… in some ways, what he does is less horrible than space wasp parasitism. And, as you note, it behaves in ways that are consciously criminal and much more premeditated.
Anyone else have some thoughts? Is villain a value judgment? A level, like boss monster?
Child of a Hidden Sea
The Nature of a Pirate will be out on December 6th, just over a month from now, and Goodreads is running a giveaway for all of October. This means you have one more spooktacular day to sign up and potentially win one of the five advance copies on offer.
But wait–there’s more! What if you haven’t read the first two books in this series? I’m pleased to say Goodreads is also running a giveaway for ten copies of book #1, Child of a Hidden Sea. You’ve got a little longer to get in on that offer–it runs to November 9th.
To recap and make it easy.
These two books are the first and last in the Hidden Sea Tales trilogy. The middle book, A Daughter of No Nation, won the Prix Aurora for best novel this past year. They feature, collectively and in no particular order, a scuba-diving biologist from San Francisco, tall ships, a magical world that might be a future earth devastated by climate change, handsome sea captains, pirates, spies, murderers, diplomats, swordfights, mermaids in the navy, forensic science, and an international incident caused by a fight over turtle migration.
The books are the story of Sophie Hansa, who went looking for her birth family and found them on the world of Stormwrack, and who finds in Stormwrack her professional calling: a world that offers endless mysteries to tempt her boundless curiosity, and whose profligate use of magic is a challenge to her rigorous training as a scientist. They are books where a woman who believes that scientific puzzles are there for the solving delves into the question of magic, and how it can exist at all, on a world whose people mistrust the curious, seeing them as defective at best, spies and troublemakers at worst.
To make matters even more complicated, Stormwrack has a perfectly good supply of real spies and troublemakers, people who would like to get Sophie and all of her questions out of the way, so they can get back to the business of trying to rekindle a massive international war.
Emmie Mears’s most recent novel A Hall of Keys and No Doors is about magic keys and grief and what we can and cannot control. The book mentioned in this interview, Look to the Sun, is about the subtle magic of stories we tell ourselves and the stories we tell others. It comes out 15 November and is available for preorder now. Here’s what they say about this amazing tree:
I spent a decade wanting tattoos before I got any, and then my first one was a whim.
When I got married the first time, I picked out a ring that had deep meaning for me: a white gold band with ogham writing that said “my love on you” in Gaelic. That ring held no meaning for my husband–he never got my desire to move back to Scotland or how much that place felt like home for me. The day our divorce finalised, I decided in the car on the way home and got those ogham words tattooed on my arm.
A couple months later, I got started on the big piece, the back piece. From my lumbar region to just below my ear, I have a tree that stretches asymmetrically up my back. At the top is a trio of crows in flight, in silhouette. Down the trunk is more ogham, this bit reading “remember where you came from.”
I can still remember the smell of Simple Green, and it still makes me want to urp.
For most of my childhood, my family was so poor that we inhabited tiny log cabins with little to no plumbing. I shared a room with my mother that we rented from a woman in Portland. Later, I lived for months at a time in a tent on a patch of land. After that, in an actual barn we tried to make into a cabin. Most of those places had no functioning toilet. When I tell people that I grew up without a toilet, I get a lot of strange looks.
We used to dump Simple Green into the five gallon bucket we used as “the pot”.
It was my job to empty it.
Both my biological parents have had troubled lives. I’ve collected parental figures along the way, from my mother’s long term partner who I still see as my second mum to my step-dad, to a woman called Donna who took me under her wing in our church before cancer killed her, to families that gave me a place to stay when I could not stay at home (or when home got taken out from under us).
For this among many reasons, any desire I had to have children fell away from me in my early twenties. I’ve taken care of myself since I was thirteen. I staged my exit from home beginning at sixteen. At thirty-one, I have a healthy, loving relationship. A flushing toilet. (Booyah!) Two kitties.
My partner and I are about to move to Scotland.
In my forthcoming novel, Look to the Sun
, I found myself heavily identifying with Beo, one of the POV characters. His tattoo covers his forearm and is the first major connection between Beo and Rose, the other POV character and part of the poly romance in the book.
Like me, Beo has survived abusive relationships. Like me, he decided he wanted to wear his stories in his skin.
Tattoos are intensely personal things most of the time. They’re with us foreverish. But no matter how obscure they seem to be, they communicate part of our inner lives with the outside world. Just like Rose recognises the design of Beo’s tattoo as being from her all-time favourite book, I have people recognise the ogham writing on my arm or ask me about the vein-like branches that cover my shoulder.
Tattoos are just another way of telling stories.
A year from now, my partner and I will (dog willing) be ensconced in a Glasgow flat, having done something I’ve been trying to do for thirteen years.
I sometimes forget that my back is covered in ink.
Two of my great aunts, on opposite sides of my family, have spent decades combing through genealogical records about our family. On both sides, there is a lot of strong oral tradition and a lot of familial history that has been passed down for generations. Much of it eludes what documentation any of us have been able to find.
My family on both sides is insistent that we came from Scotland, from Wales. Sometimes by way of Ireland (this much is documented), sometimes appearing with a wave of other immigrants after a significant historical event (like Culloden) (this is fuzzier).
I had my DNA run through the system at Ancestry.com. After 40+ moves on American soil and a tendency to splutter when someone asks me where I’m from, that question spurs a small internal tornado: do I say Texas, where I was born but spent less than three months? Arkansas? Alaska, where I was a toddler? Oregon maybe? Montana, where I graduated high school? Maryland, where I’ve technically spent the most time? I still never know. Sometimes I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and see the branches there and only then remember that tattoo.
Before this last year, I was happiest in Poland. But Poland would not welcome my queer, trans self now. My happiness when I lived in Scotland was more transitive itself. I never had a flat there, just a bunk bed and a room full of loved ones who ate and slept and traveled and learned together.
But of all the places I’ve lived, Scotland was always home. I don’t know if it is where I came from. That DNA test said my DNA is Scandinavian. Which, hey. I mean, the Vikings got around. My aunts have traced our family back centuries and there’s not a Swedish, Norwegian, or Danish name to be found among the Welsh and Scottish and English and German ones. It doesn’t really matter–Scotland is a welcoming place for those who seek to make their homes there.
Which brings that second tattoo back to the first one: my love on you. And, more ephemerally, to the second tattoo’s deeper meaning.
I got that first armband on a whim, but I got it because I needed the meaning. It was important for me to affirm that to myself, that I deserve self-love. I stayed in my marriage longer than I ought to have done because I forgot that I could love myself.
As for the other, “remember where you came from”, it’s less about geography and more about self. It is the germinating seed that grows our tree. The branches we reach upward and the roots we sink into soil. We came from stars and live by the light of one. What a miraculous thing.
These first two tattoos cover a lot of me, but I’ve got a lot of canvas left to explore.
About this post: Inksplanations (and variations thereon) is the name for a series of short interviews where I ask genre writers about their tattoos. Why they got them, what they mean, how getting ink did or didn’t change them–any and all of these topics are fair game. What drives a literary artist to literally become canvas for an image or epigram? Did they get what they were seeking? I wanted to know, especially after I got my 2016 poppies from Toronto artist Lorena Lorenzo at Blackline Studio, and so I did what any curious writer would do. I asked!
Next week we’ll have Fran Wilde, answering the same question.