Women In SFF Author Spotlight – A. F. Stewart
Welcome to the Hive, A. F. Stewart. Let’s start small: tell us about a great book you’ve read recently!
My reading habits have been sporadic lately, but I am halfway through Sword of Kaigen by M.L. Wang and loving it; the worldbuilding is especially rich and the narrative takes the time to develop the story and the characters. I’m also eager to dive into the Riders of Fire series by Eileen Mueller. I’m not the biggest YA reader, but I love dragons and some of the excerpts sold me on giving it a try.
Okay, time to escalate things: reality warps and you suddenly find yourself leading a D&D-style party through a monster-infested dungeon. What character class are you, and what’s your weapon of choice?
Okay, so it’s time to spill a secret: I’ve never played D&D. I know a little about the game, so I think I’d be a bard with a sword, if that works. Maybe I could charm the monsters with my music and put them all to sleep. Although it would be more likely I’d be the one advising everyone not to go into the creepy-looking dungeon. However, I’d certainly be a better companion than some of my characters. They’d feed people to the monsters to save themselves.
When you’re not trawling through dungeons, how do you like to work? (In silence, with music, or serenaded by the damned souls of a thousand dead shrimps? Do you prefer to type or to hand-write? Are you an architect or a gardener? A plotter or a pantser? D’you write in your underwear, or in a deep-sea diver’s suit?)
I usually work in silence, without distractions, but I could get used to being serenaded by the damned souls of a thousand dead shrimps. I use scene outlines to plan my books, but I’m a pantser when I write short stories. I also do quite a bit of research as most of my books are based in history or mythology and I like to get the details right or add extra tidbits. In addition, I have pages and pages of notes on worldbuilding as I like to jot down my thoughts on the background of characters, places, magic systems, etc.
Most days I work at the computer pecking at the keyboard (or staring at the blank page on screen) with the occasional mutterings, or swear word if the computer is being annoying. I’ve been known to scribble longhand in my notebooks as well; I have an annoying muse who gives me ideas at inopportune times, often around midnight.
Tell us a little bit about your writing method!
When asking the voices in my head to be quiet doesn’t work, I sit down at the computer and let them tell me their story. I don’t really have a method, beyond the outlining and story prep. Ideas pop in my head and I write them down. It’s sit down and, okay, today she kills the monster, which turns out to be a bad thing, and off I go.
What (or who) are your most significant female fantasy influences? Are there any creators whom you dream of working with someday?
Jennifer Robinson was an influence, as was Anne McCaffery and Katherine Kurtz. Kurtz’s Deryni series in particular has some fantastic political intrigues and conflicting social structures that I love. And Robinson’s character of Del was an interesting portrayal of a woman navigating a male-dominated world. I can’t say I ever dreamed of working with any of the writers I read when I was younger; they were too far out of reach. I suppose a part of me still feels that way.
What was the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it? Alternatively, what games have you enjoyed recently?
I’ve been watching Stargirl recently. I’m a fan of the old JSA comic book characters, so I wanted to check it out. And the show’s been doing a nice job with adapting the comic book storylines. I’ve been pleasantly surprised. And I’m not much of a gamer; I suck at them.
The world shifts, and you find yourself with an extra day on your hands during which you’re not allowed to write. How do you choose to spend the day?
Either reading doing my artwork. Drawing, painting and designing are some of the ways I relax. Also my TBR list keeps growing, so an extra day to read would be fabulous. A nice cup of coffee and a book is a lovely way to spend the afternoon.
Can you tell us a little something about your current work(s) in progress?
I’m currently writing my new series, The Camelot Immortals. It’s Arthurian fantasy in a modern era setting and focuses on some of the female characters from the legends. The protagonist is Nimue, a snarky witch who swears and drinks too much, and some of the secondary characters are Morgan le Fay, the Lady of the Lake, and Iseult. The premise of the series is that magic can make you immortal, hence the modern-day setting.
I’m twisting the legends here and there, adding bits of Celtic mythology and introducing others bits such as Nostradamus, who shows up in book one as an antagonist. There are also some classic fantasy elements within the netherworld realms they visit. Plus, since the character can’t die, I get to kill some off more than once. The first book in the series should be out in October, but two short stories have recently been re-released under the title, Eternal Myths.
What’s the most (and/or least) helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
The most helpful piece of advice I got was from a high school English teacher who told me to write a story like I was telling it to extraterrestrials. In other words, never assume the reader knows what you are talking about. Make your plots believable and comprehensible.
Every writer encounters stumbling blocks, be it a difficult chapter, challenging subject matter or just starting a new project. How do you motivate yourself on days when you don’t want to write?
Chocolate helps, or cookies. Or I do some art first and create graphics or a cover design for the project I’m working on. That can get in the mood of the story. And if I just can’t get the juices flowing, I may write a poem to stimulate creativity.
If you could visit any country at any point in history, where/when would you go, and why?
I’d love to visit Ireland to see the places I read about in history and mythology, but I’m not sure I’d go in another era. I really like indoor plumbing and modern medical care.
Who are your favourite female characters in literature or pop culture? And do you have a favourite type of female character you enjoy writing?
A recent favourite female character is Bobbie from The Expanse TV show. She’s strong, determined but not without flaws. As for writing, my female characters tend to be independent, with some emotional baggage and sometimes homicidal. I enjoy writing female villains or women that are willing to be ruthless under the right circumstances. My recent dark fantasy/horror book, Visions and Nightmares is an example. All the stories in that collection have female protagonists that are thrust into upsetting or extreme circumstances and have to make difficult (and in some cases, disturbing) choices.
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
There’s an indie book call Act of Will by M. Darusha Wehm. It’s a cyberpunk thriller that also deals with identity, relationships, the virtual world vs. reality and it’s great. It’s book two in the Andersson Dexter series and I loved it.
Finally, would you be so kind as to dazzle us with an elevator pitch? Why should readers check out your work?
I write books both macabre and mythological with an undercurrent of peculiar. Embrace the darkness.