Interview: Martha Wells

Martha Wells’ works are primarily fantasy. Her third novel, The Death of the Necromancer was a Nebula Award Nominee in 1998, and the French addition was nominated in 2002 for an Imaginales Award. She has also written two media tie-ins for the TV show Star Gate: Atlantis.
More information about Martha Wells writing can be found on her site.

How long have you been writing as a career?
I sold my first novel in 1991 (The Element of Fire), though it didn’t come out until 1993. I wrote part-time until about 2004, when Ifinally was able to quit my day job.
Where did you go to school? (Did you go with the aim to become a writer?)
I went to Texas A&M University, and my degree is in anthropology. I did want to be a writer when I first went to college, and did submit some stories to magazines, but I didn’t sell anything. I chose TAMU because they had a very active SF/F club that ran an annual convention, and I wanted to get more actively involved in fandom.
This may be a redundant question, since you have a blog, but what’s your opinion of the increased interaction/communication between reader and writer as a result of authors who keep blogs and interact on a regular basis with their readers/fans? What do you think are the positives and negatives of this?
I think it’s a very necessary right now, as basically a publicity tool, since publishers generally do very little promotion for books. The positive is that it gives the author a way to keep in touch with people, let them know when your books and short stories are available, lets you do contests and promotions and post excerpts, etc. When a book is published now, it generally has a very short window of opportunity to succeed. Sometimes that window can be as small as two to four weeks. You have to tell your readers that it’s
available as soon as possible.
The negative is that you have to remember that when you’re online, you’re always on stage. To a large extent, anybody who is posting anything in public online is on stage, but when you’re an author and you’re using it to advertise your work, you’re more public than normal. If you want to have a normal blog like everybody else where you talk about personal issues, or just rant and bitch to your friends, I think it’s better to keep it locked to restricted to people you know, so it’s more private.
It can cause problems, even if your blog is just about your day to day life and not particularly dramatic. The first year I had a blog, it wasn’t actually my current author blog, it was a personal journal that I used to talk to friends online, though some of the people who followed it knew I was a published author. I had a reader basically say to me “I bought one of your books so I don’t want you to post links to political articles I don’t agree with.” I sent her back the money for the book. Later, I pretty much gave up on the idea of
having a personal blog at all.
How would you describe your writing process? (Do you think this is basically a fancy way of asking ‘where do you get your ideas?’? Why or why not?)
It’s a similar question to “where do you get your ideas” though I think it’s a little easier to answer. I usually start with a character or a setting I want to write. If I start with a character, that usually controls what I kind of setting I use, since I have to come up with a setting that would develop that person. If I start with a setting, I have to come up with a character who would fit in there.
What do you like to read (by way of genre), and who are your favorite writers?
I like SF/F, and mysteries best, though I read a little bit of everything. Some of my favorite writers are Judith Tarr, Lois McMaster Bujold, Barbara Hambly, Rex Stout, Barry Hughart, and F.M. Busby. When I was growing up, I was heavily influenced by Andre Norton.
What kind of research goes into a book like The Death of the Necromancer?
I did a lot of research on the Victorian/La Belle Epoque time period in England, France, and Europe, on architecture, development of cities, material culture, clothes, food. I was building on the research I originally did for The Element of Fire. Both books are set in the same world, in the same city, about 200 years apart, and I wanted to show how the setting had changed and developed in that time period.
What do you like or dislike about research?
I like the fact that I find out all kinds of neat stuff that I wasn’t expecting to find. A lot of I might not use in the book, or end up using in a later book, but it’s always fun. I don’t think there’s anything I dislike about it.
Of your own books, which ones are your favorites? (Do you have any favorite characters among those you’ve created?)
City of Bones is one of my favorites, because it was the first fantasy I wrote that wasn’t heavily based on a real-world setting and culture, so in a lot of ways it was more fun to the Queen Mary as a setting for a long time, and with that book I finally got a write. The Ships of Air is also a favorite, because I had really been looking forward to using chance to do it. Right now my favorite is The Cloud Roads, which is the book I finished in early 2008, and which is still looking for a publisher at the moment.
Which of the characters you’ve created are your favorites?
Kade from The Element of Fire, Khat from City of Bones, Tremaine from The Wizard Hunters, The Ships of Air, and The Gate of Gods.
What is The Cloud Roads about? (I’m guessing it’s in the same universe as The Ships of Air?)
No, it’s set in a completely new fantasy world. (The Ships of Air is the middle book in the Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy.) At this point, since it doesn’t have a publisher, I don’t want to get into too many details about what it’s about.
(Note to Interviewer/Self: don’t assume series relationship based on apparent theme.)
Many fantasy novels (particularly those from a few decades ago) put “magic” in opposition to “science/technology.” In your stories, you tend to combine them–what made you decide to do this?
I don’t think it was a conscious decision. I’ve just never seen them to be mutually exclusive, or as naturally opposing forces.
What would you say are the most common tropes or themes in your writing? (If you want, you can use the tropes defined in “Television Tropes and Idioms.”)
I find myself using themes of trust and betrayal a lot, of characters who feel alienated, different, alone, characters who have difficult parental relationships. I had the most fun with the last one with the character of Tremain, who is the daughter of Nicholas from The Death of the Necromancer.
How would you describe your writing style?
I like to stick with one or two main viewpoint characters, and to keep the POV very tight and immediate.

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