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.
This year the amount of student work I read–both as an instructor at UCLA and UTSC and as an MFA student at UBC–was copious. We’re talking around two hundred stories and novel fragments, all of which I critiqued, too. This is what I fit in the cracks:
Fieldwork Fail: The Messy Side of Scence, by Jim Jourdane and 25 scientists
I read lots and lots and lots and fucking lots of non-fiction articles, and I didn’t track them. You can’t track everything. But notable among them is: “City of Villains: Why I Don’t Trust Batman,” by Sarah Gailey
New Short Fiction
This is an incredibly incomplete list… I’m still struggling to capture all my short fic reading, especially the DailySF offerings.
Most of you probably know that The Nature of a Pirate is on the ballot for the Aurora Award this year; voting is open now, and if you’re a member of CSFFA I urge you to get a ballot in, to support your favorite work by Canadian authors, pro and fan (as well as fan organizers, musicians, and visual artists!) working in all our beloved speculative genres.
Winning the Aurora for best novel last year for A Daughter of No Nation, in tandem with Kelly winning Best Short Fiction for her “Waters of Versailles,” was one of the great thrills of a magical year. I am thrilled and blessed to be on the ballot again. And soon we are headed off to Finland, and Worldcon, for even more magic.
As I write these words I am well and truly settled into life in Toronto—it has been four years! But when I embarked on the Hidden Sea Tales trilogy, the question of where my home would be was very much in the air. We were eager to move east, Kelly and I, but couldn’t see a way to do it: there were so many wonderful things and people tying us to Vancouver. I was in the weird lucky position of being somewhere great, yet suspecting that there was someplace even better. When we went it was sudden, and intense—a big leap, not without risk–and I’m so grateful that instinct to jump proved to be the right one.
The old proverb home is where the heart is goes back so far it has been attributed, provisionally, to Pliny the Elder, a first century Roman scholar who really made the best of having Plinius for a middle name. It’s one of those two-edged aphorisms. It can mean home is where any sensible person wants to be, because of their attachment to the comforts and beloved people therein. Or it can mean any old pile of bricks and mortar place will take on the sentimental glow of a home if the ones you love are there.
Both definitions contain within them the idea that a home embodies an ideal of safety, comfort, and affection.
But what if the heart lies in two places?
This may be slightly more of a thing nowadays than it used to be. Our population is more mobile, and it’s not an uncommon phenomenon to have partners and jobs in differing cities. Sometimes people fall in love without having met in person. Sure, people were always being separated by war or work or trade missions—that part’s not new–but communications technology makes staying connected more feasible, so long distance relationships have proliferated in new ways.
I am something of a procedural mystery maniac, and one of my recent obsessions has been a show called Shetland, brought to us by the grace of Netflix and the BBC. It’s set in the Shetland Islands (which Google Maps can confirm is exceeding freaking remote) and while the main hub of the action is the bustling 7500-soul metropolis of Lerwick, there’s an episode that takes place out on Fair Isle, an island with under a hundred people.
For anyone who’s read Child of a Hidden Sea and the rest of the trilogy, it should be no surprise that this hits my sweet spot. Shetlandis about a community of interlocked islands and the tiny subculture flourishing there. A big subtextual concern within the show is the idea of home, of place–of living in a locale where your social opportunities and your geography are so very bounded, and where every young person who leaves is an incalculable loss to the community. It’s very nearly a portal fantasy with murder.
One of the things about portal fantasies–a subgenre I absolutely love–is they tend to offer up these neatly bounded sojourns. The heroes of these novels go to the magical enchanted land, as my Sophie Hansa has gone to Stormwrack. They have an adventure, they upset the local balance of power, sometimes they see Aslan die a horrible death… and then they come home. If they have an ongoing relationship with that other world, it is somehow tidy, characterized by intermittent visits. There’s a sort of general assumption that these characters get a taste of magic, achieve character growth, level up… and then get back to the business of living in the real world.
Who could do that?
For Sophie, and to a lesser extent her younger brother Bram, the magical enchanted land is, among other things, a scientific discovery. Stormwrack is a research opportunity, a possible avenue into better understanding the nature of the universe. What’s more, they suspect it may hold answers to questions about our own future in the age of climate change… and since this Narnia’s existence is a secret, nobody but the two of them can truly study it.
The challenge, of course, is is human entanglements. Sophie has, in San Francisco, an up-to-the-minute super modern life whose many technological conveniences are just a backdrop to what really matters: her parents, and when he chooses to be at home, her brother too.
But the longer she stays on Stormwrack, learning about magic and figuring out how to survive an Age of Sail culture and applying her unique skillset to interesting problems for a government that is–very slowly–coming to appreciate them, the more connection she makes there, too. And a lot of those connections come with genetic ties; she gets at least one new family member in every book in the trilogy.
Sophie grew up in San Francisco. She loves San Francisco. She loves telecommunications and streaming video and her parents and driving cars and pop music and cheap electric lights and being able to look up just about any fact known, on the Internet, within the blink of an eye.
But more and more, she also loves her new home, the sailing vessel Nightjar. She loves its crew – its bosun, Sweet, the ship’s doctor, Watts, its first mate, Tonio (whom she sees as brother-in-law material, though Bram hasn’t quite figured that out yet) and most especially she loves its captain, Garland Parrish.
Sophie loves the sense of being around the corner from the next incredible discovery, and the feeling of doing something important, and the self-confidence she found when her homeborn context were taken away from her.
Who could give up Wonderland, Oz, or Narnia for San Francisco? How do you make that big a leap?
In The Nature of a Pirate, finding a true sense of home is a big part of Sophie’s journey. The rest involves a captured human smuggler, a conspiracy to sink some of the great ships of the Fleet of Nations, and – did I forget to mention? – a tiny matter of accidentally having to plan a wedding.
What Sophie finds, ultimately, isn’t tidily bounded. It’s messy. Home may indeed be where the heart is, but our hearts will always be boundless.