The school year is about to start again, but before summer wafts out the door, I wanted to look back at my vacation-packed summer and give it a long kiss goodbye.
In July I went to New York for a few days of whirlwind-I saw my agent Caitlin Blasdell and my editor at Tor, Christopher Morgan, as well as friends galore and art galleries even more galore. Galore-er? I also went to shows: the whole trip was initially instigated by kick-ass multi-genre superauthor Jeffe Kennedy, and her decision to see Hamilton while she was in town for RWA. I added Beetlejuice to the mix a day later. I went alone, but by the grace of Twitter I realized Matthew Kressel was seated fifteen feet away from my seat.
This has been the year of some wonderfully fancy shows, because just a few weeks after that, Kelly and I went to London, where we went to see Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Globe! London was our prelude to the Dublin Worldcon-a few days of walking, seeing art, drinking in the history. We saw the desk where Charles Dickens wrote multiple books and the prison in Reading where Oscar Wilde was banged up for homosexuality. And then we went to the MERL, home of many a fascinating farm implement (no, really, I’m not joking!) and one of the best voices on museum Twitter.
In Dublin the pace changed to convention time: we saw writer friends, talked shop, appeared on many panels, attended the Hugo Awards ceremony, where Kelly’s Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach was a nominee and committed a bit more tourism. I was especially excited to see Dublin Castle, where many of my favorite Tana French mysteries are set. Dublin is a beautiful city and I’m glad to have seen it.
This year has also taken me to LA twice, Ottawa a bunch of times, and there will be a dash to Vancouver in the near future. It’s been a lot of hours on the road, and with a lot of wonders seen. I feel extremely fortunate and blessed, and more than a little boggled at how jet-setty it has all been!
The last couple of days have been perfectly warm and yet not humid, not hot. It has felt as though Toronto had been lunging between rain and attempts at heat. And maybe that pattern will reassert– we can’t know anything about what the weather will do now – but I feel as if summer did have cat days, this will be them. Long, perfect for napping, lazy but not fully languorous.
Besides that, our cats are filled with wonder and delight because their favorite reality show, Adolescent Squirrels Leave Home! (season two) is currently playing in our front yard.
Sadly, they don’t have access to Raccoons invade local record Shop, playing just down the road at Kop’s Records on Queen Street.
Because I am interested in and writing about things like rationing, food security and small scale economies, I’ve also been watching a bunch of UK quasi-reality shows called Wartime Farm, Edwardian Farm, Tudor Monastery Farm … well, you get the idea. It’s a shared universe proposition, featuring a trio of archaeologists and historians who don period clothes and go work historical farms within Britain, using the technologies and techniques of the era suggested by the show’s title.
The Farm shows are a bit of a drift from our usual fare, which leans heavily to British murder mystery and period drama interspersed with things like the latest incarnation of The Tick and Fleabag, but Kelly and I have found them wildly compelling. I think I could watch people build improvise and tend kilns, making bricks out in the middle of nowhere, every day for the rest of my life.
Another appeal of the farm shows, besides soft research, is they underline very strongly how much wood a person had to have access to, and burn, to achieve any measure of comfortable living. Making charcoal for kilns, then burning the charcoal. Boiling salt to refine it. Smelting, blacksmithing, keeping water hot… I get that trees can be big and weigh a lot, but it’s a sobering look at resource use, a reminder that we still use all that fire and more besides—we just don’t see where it comes from.
I am just kickin’ the jetlag after a week in Los Angeles, where I went to an Amanda Palmer concert, hit the usual-for-me handful of museums (LACMA, Getty, Getty Villa, Broad, MOCA). I packed bags of books for and then gleefully attended SFWA’s biggest Nebula Awards weekend to date, and finally–for a big change of gears–went to a young family member’s university convocation. It was a fun-filled and action-packed week, and I am very glad to be home making the final push on a big project.
Here’s Tina Connolly, Jenn Reese and me at the Nebs banquet.
What’s next for me this summer? Short answer: lots of things! In particular, though, I haven’t been telling you about new courses much lately because I’ve been teaching one very big, very intense, very rewarding novel-writing master class for some nine months. Now, as that goes on hiatus for the summer, I am happy to announce that on June 15th in Toronto I will be running a free workshop on worldbuilding at the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation, and Fantasy, at the Toronto Public Library. Admission is free, but attendees must sign up in advance.
And here’s the Tweet with the Merril phone number and a huge picture of me looking smug. Clearly I’d built a really good world that day! It was probably Stormwrack.
This is a rare opportunity to do a little work with me without signing up for a full bore class or mentorship via UCLA Extension or the UTSC Creative Writing program. That said, it seems appropriate to mention that if anyone happen to enjoy the Merril workshop, I am also running a summer session of my online UCLA course, Creating Universes, Building Worlds, starting in early July.
For those of you who are local and fancy a little face to face deity-playing, come ponder vampire dietary regimes, the effects of adjusting a planet’s gravity, not to mention all the other details that can lay a solid foundation under your stories and novels.
I am delighted to announce that Podcastle: the Fantasy Fiction Podcast will be producing an audio version of my story “Cooking Creole,” which first appeared in the Nalo Hopkinson anthology Mojo: Conjure Stories in 2003.
If you’re thinking it’s been a long long while since I announced or posted anything in this space… you’re absolutely right! This is because I have many irons in many fires–I’m writing busily on the Sekrit Project, am still going great guns on all my projects for the UBC MFA program in Creative Writing I’ve enrolled in–there are poems, a screenplay, a stage play and critiques of all the work by my various wonderful classmates. I am also, as always, teaching–right now it’s the UCLA Master Class in Novel Writing.
The upshot is that I’ve been a ghost just about everywhere but Twitter and Instagram, and expect for things to stay that way until just about April. Which is soon and getting sooner every day!
Kate Heartfield’s first novel, a historical fantasy calledArmed in Her Fashion, is coming from ChiZine Publications on May 17, 2018. It’s available for pre-order now. This spring, look for her interactive fiction project, The Road to Canterbury, from Choice of Games. She will have two time-travel novels coming soon from Tor.com Publications, beginning with Alice Payne Arrives in November, 2018. Her short fiction has appeared in places such as Lackington’s, Escape Pod and Strange Horizons. A former newspaper journalist, Kate lives in Ottawa, Canada. Her website is heartfieldfiction.com and she is on Twitter as @kateheartfield.
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? Who was she?
I had many! Aerin from The Hero and Crown, Trixie Belden, Cherry Ames, Meg Murry from A Wrinkle in Time, Anne of Green Gables, and more. But there’s one who doesn’t get mentioned often, who was very important to me: Abigail Kirk, from the novel Playing Beatie Bowby Ruth Park.
Playing Beatie Bow is a time-travel fantasy set in Australia. The prose and world-building are impeccable, the atmosphere still makes the hair on my arms stand up, and I re-read the book every year or two, still. I’m on my second paperback; I loved the first one to bits.
Can you remember what it was she did or what qualities she had that captured your affections and your imagination so strongly?
Abigail is not a kick-ass, confident heroine. She is, like I was, “a girl who wished to be private”, and who is interested in things like tacking old bits of lace onto her dresses. She has a complex emotional life, and so do the people around her. Much like Meg Murry, it’s her faults that allow her to have adventures in the first place; if she weren’t that kind of girl, she wouldn’t travel back to the 19th century, and she definitely wouldn’t survive once she got there.
She doesn’t defeat a villain; her success is in learning how to cope with things like grief, betrayal, unrequited love and the fact that the past is just out of reach. But none of this comes across in an after-school-special kind of way; it’s a page-turner that will rip your heart out.
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 agent said recently that one of my strengths is the portrayal of complex emotion, and I was surprised at first, as I didn’t realize that was something I could do. But looking back, Ruth Park’s deft portrayal of Abigail as a whole person who feels many contradictory things simultaneously was probably a model for me as a writer.
In my debut novel, Armed in Her Fashion, there’s a young woman named Beatrix who sees the past and future in glimpses, who is a very private person, and who has to come to terms with grief and the end of love. But the novel’s main character is actually her mother, Margriet, who is a grudge-holding, pragmatic terror of a middle-aged woman. In fact, Margriet is more like Ruth Park’s irascible character Beatie, all grown up. As I’ve entered middle age myself, my heroines have tended to become older women who have already learned a lot of life’s early lessons, have work to do, and are completely unconcerned about whether anyone likes them.
And I’ve started to expand my definition of “heroine” and look at other literary characters — often the older women, relegated to the background—in a new light. For example, these days I have an understanding of the Reverend Mother Helen Gaius Mohaim, in Dune, that I never had when I was a girl.
So while my girlhood heroines are still there, still part of my life, I’m still imprinting on new heroines, or old ones I wasn’t able to appreciate before.
Bonus round: How do you feel about the word heroine? In these posts, I am specifically looking for female authors’ female influences, whether those women they looked up to were other writers or Anne of Green Gables. Does the word heroine have a purpose that isn’t served by equally well by hero?
I don’t think that gendered nouns ought to be the default or the rule, but I also don’t think that means they have no use and should be binned. For example, to me, the words “suffragist” and “suffragette” are doing different things, and either one might be appropriate depending on the context. For me, the word “heroine” is more than just the female version of “hero.” It implies a struggle that “hero” does not. Maybe one day, we’ll easily apply “hero” or “heroine” to people of any gender, or maybe “heroine” will always imply the circumstances particular to a marginalized gender. For now, it still means something distinct to me.
About this post:The Heroine Question is my name for a series of short interviews with (usually) 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 Ada Hoffman, Faith Mudge, Stephanie Burgis, and S.B. Divya . If you prefer something more in the way of an actual index, it’s here.