Interview with Rowenna Miller (TORN)
I’m Midwestern born and raised, and it turns out you can’t take the Indiana out of the girl. I have a Master’s in English Film and Literature because I can’t shut up about stories, and have taught and tutored writing in college and university settings.
I write fantasy shamelessly inspired by my love of history, especially the history of ordinary people. My work is represented by Jessica Sinsheimer.
I’m also a historical reenactor and seamstress, specializing in the late eighteenth century, and enjoy the smell of woodsmoke and the rustle of silk taffeta more than I care to admit.
Hi Rowenna, welcome to the Hive!
How does it feel to have a completed trilogy out there in the wild? When you were writing your last book Rule were you excited for your readers to know how the story ends, or were you more sad to let these characters go?
Despite the weirdness of releasing into a pandemic world, it’s still very exciting! I hope that the final book gave readers some escape from the stress of the real world. Though it’s been a thrill, it’s also a little scary venturing out again—this world became a comfort zone in terms of creativity, especially for character development and worldbuilding, and now I’m diving into new projects in new worlds with new characters. It’s strange not having that familiar camaraderie!
What was it like holding a physical copy of your book for the first time, or seeing it shelved in bookshops?
It’s a bit surreal! I haven’t seen Rule in person in the bookshop yet—for obvious reasons!—but with the first two books I took my two young daughters on outings for bagels and Barnes and Noble stalking on the Tuesdays they released.
Who are your favourite characters to write and why? What are your favourite kind of female characters to write?
I love side characters. I love knowing little details about them that will never make it into the books, but making them as real and well-rounded as possible helps me write them convincingly, capture mannerisms and nail down speech patterns for dialogue. Inventing people who have full lives and are the protagonists of their own stories even if they’re not the protagonist of mine is such fun. My favorite women to write know themselves well and have asserted themselves in the world, are tenacious and strong, and have learned the value of community and relationships. I love playing with “strong women” stereotypes—strong women can come in all ages, professions, physical fitness levels (most of mine would not do well in boot camp).
At the Hive we are very interested in world building. Could you explain your world building process please? What sparks your imagination?
I’m a history and geography nerd, and I love seeing the ingenuity of how people both past and present adapt to the environment they live in, and adapt that environment to their needs, and how so much of culture is a reaction to and integration of environment. A lot of my early worldbuilding is considering the environment—climate, biome, geographic location, resources—and consider how a culture would grow in tandem with that environment. Then, because I tend to like writing “modern” fantasy worlds—age of sail and beyond—fast-forwarding centuries, throwing technology at them, seeing how they use it, how the interact with other cultures, how they experience trade of goods and ideas. And of course, magic—add magic, shake, see what happens. But much of what shows in the final book itself is the experience and viewpoint of the character/s. I tend to like to show the shades and nuance of the world through how a character navigates their space, orders their day, what they worry about, what surprises or comforts them.
Since this is our Women in SFF month, who were the women in SFF (or beyond) that influenced or inspired you? (Authors and/or characters!)
I’ve always been drawn to the fact that even when women were rendered invisible by history books and biographies, they were THERE. That’s probably one of my biggest influences—all of the women who seem silent but are there when you look, like the wives of famous researchers who literally wrote their books and did field work with them but were never credited. As a kid (and voracious reader), I so appreciated the writers who included women and their stories on an equal footing with men, giving them voice. Tamora Pierce was an absolute inspiration in that regard.
What’s a good SFF book (written by a woman) you’ve read recently?
So many! We are spoiled for choice in SFF right now. I just read an ARC of She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan and it was incredible. I’ve also recently loved Alix Harrow’s The Ten Thousand Doors of January, H.G. Parry’s The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heap, and I’m in the middle of Sam Hawke’s City of Lies. Because my TBR is trying to murder me, all three of those authors have new books out in 2020.
If you could co-write or co-create a series, which author would you choose to work with and why?
…would anyone want to co-author a series with me?! I’ll say Tasha Suri, because we both find inspiration in history, write strong women of all stripes, and enjoy torturing our characters with feeeeeelings. Honestly, we’d get nothing done because we’d just devolve into swapping Untamed fan art we found on Twitter and pictures of our cats being derpy.
If your book was to be adapted to television or film, who would you cast for your main character(s)?
I am so bad at this question—I watch more old movies than new ones and feel like that old lady who’s like “well, who do the youths like nowadays?”
What piece of advice have you found the most useful during the process of writing?
“Don’t be precious” which was basically, “don’t be high-maintenance or fussy about your writing space/time.” It’s nice to go to your favorite coffee shop or have your favorite mug with your favorite tea or sit in your favorite chair, but if you make it necessary, you lose a lot of opportunity to work. That’s proven very helpful lately!
What do you most love to do, other than writing?
I love to sew, and I’ve been diving into vintage patterns recently. Making a cute dress out of fun, bright fabric is a great antidote to the lockdown blahs (and, bonus, you can make a matching mask! Gets lots of compliments on your weekly grocery outing!). I also like hiking, baking, and making jam.
If there was a time you could travel back to, when would it be?
My husband and I both love vintage and swing dance, and so I’d love to take a vacation to late 1930s Chicago, just to go dancing in all the old ballrooms–the Aragon and the Trianon, and the Savoy, and most of all the O’Henry, which remained open until recently as Willowbrook Ballroom where my husband and I had our first date (RIP Willowbrook). Of course, I recognize that there is a lot of privilege in traveling back in time safely and unharassed…only whites were allowed in some of Chicago’s ballrooms. So I’d much rather bring those beautiful dance floors back today with a more inclusive attitude!
Lastly, and of course we save the most important question for last! What is your favourite fantastical creature? Which would you ride into battle on?
I am a sucker for all the classic woodland mythology—dryads and naiads and fairies and all that sort of thing. As for a fantasy steed, I love the fierce battle unicorn myths—and if I can train my chickens, surely I can tame a unicorn, right?
Thank you so much for joining us today, Rowenna!