Women in SFF Author Spotlight – Genevieve Cogman
Genevieve Cogman is a freelance author, who has written for several role-playing game companies. Her work includes GURPS Vorkosigan and contributions to the In Nomine role-playing game line for Steve Jackson Games: contributions to Exalted 2nd Edition and other contributions to the Exalted and Orpheus lines for White Wolf Publishing: Hearts, Swords and Flowers: The Art of Shoujo for Magnum Opus: and contributions to the Dresden Files RPG for Evil Hat Productions. She currently works for the NHS in England in the HSCIC as a clinical classifications specialist.
Welcome to the Hive, Genevieve Cogman. Let’s start small: tell us about a great book you’ve read recently!
I’ve just finished THE ANGEL OF THE CROWS by Katherine Addison – a lovely Holmes-and-Watson homage, in a fantastic London where our protagonists are an angel and an ex-Army surgeon. A delightful read (and also great fun for the reference-spotter).
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?
Wizard, and I’ll have a Staff of the Magi, if that’s still on the books. (Having a flashback to the days of first edition AD&D and reading through the magic items in the DMG . . .) Though of course the most important weapon is knowledge!
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?)
Tell us a little bit about your writing method!
I tend to write in silence – while I enjoy music (various pop singers, some folk music, some musicals, some operas), if I have the music on while I’m trying to write then I find myself paying too much attention to the music and not enough to my work.
I definitely type rather than handwrite (my handwriting’s abominable), though I note things down by hand when I have a useful idea or thought. Some of my minutes from meetings at work have Library-related things scribbled in the margins because I had the idea during the meeting and didn’t want to lose it . . .
I’m somewhere between a plotter and a pantser. I have an outline, and I have some detailed parts of that outline, but other bits are more along the lines of “by some cunning plan which I have not yet worked out Irene escapes the ambush” or “characters discuss situation and decide they’re doomed”. And sometimes I have an idea which is brilliant and clearly *right*, but unfortunately contradicts earlier parts of the planned plot, and I have to go back and rewrite earlier parts. Life is tough.
What (or who) are your most significant female fantasy influences? Are there any creators whom you dream of working with someday?
I’m not sure who’s most significant, but female fantasy writers I’ve read and loved include Barbara Hambly, Lois McMaster Bujold, Diana Wynne Jones, Geraldine Harris, Diane Duane, Kage Baker, Mary Gentle – there are lots more. I’ve never really dreamed about working *with* any of them, but I’d be flattered beyond measure if any of them said they liked my writing.
What was the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it? Alternatively, what games have you enjoyed recently?
Sadly, the most recent thing I watched on television was the news last night – to find out what their prediction of the weather was for today. I have been livestreaming Hamilton, but hasn’t everyone?
I’ve been playing a lot of OCCUPY WHITE WALLS recently on Steam. It’s a multiplayer game where you build your own art gallery – the game has a wide variety of building assets (walls, floor, windows, lighting, decorations, etc) that you can use, and it also has over ten thousand artworks which you can put in your gallery. You can then visit other people’s galleries, or refine your own, and I’ve been very impressed by the design work of some builders. (My own design aesthetic tends towards the “build big room, put paintings on wall”.) It’s a very easy, relaxing way to investigate art (well, paintings at least) and find out what you like about it, and which artists you enjoy – especially in these days when so many art galleries are closed.
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?
I’m tempted to say “sleeping”, but I’d probably be trying to catch up on my to-read list. There’s just so much good stuff to read and available.
Can you tell us a little something about your current work(s) in progress?
I’m currently editing the seventh book of the Library series and writing the eighth. I can tell you that book seven (The Dark Archive) starts off with murder and kidnapping attempts on Irene and her friends, and gets worse. And the fact that Irene’s got a new apprentice isn’t helping . . .
What’s the most (and/or least) helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
This poem always sticks in my head – well, the last two lines in particular:
by Nicanor Parra (trans. by Miller Williams)
Write as you will
In whatever style you like
Too much blood has run under the bridge
To go on believing
That only one road is right.
In poetry everything is permitted.
With only this condition of course,
You have to improve the blank page.
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?
Sometimes I try to load up my brain with other creative material (books, films, etc) in the hope that it’ll help me bridge the gap. Sometimes I sit and stare at the computer screen. And sometimes I just leave it be for the moment and work on something else, and come back to it later.
If you could visit any country at any point in history, where/when would you go, and why?
So many places I’d love to go – the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul (or previously Constantinople), Japan (modern period, Edo period, Heian period), feudal Korea, China, St Petersburg in Russia, Belle Epoque Paris . . . I honestly can’t decide. I think, though, that I’d have to add a note saying that I wanted to be able to visit them safely and inconspicuously.
Who are your favourite female characters in literature or pop culture? And do you have a favourite type of female character you enjoy writing?
I don’t have any definite favourite characters, but I do have a soft spot for competent ones. Cordelia Naismith in Bujold’s books, Ise Nanao in the Bleach manga (though that may be partly the glasses), Agatha Heterodyne in the Girl Genius webcomic . . . Then again, one of my definite favourites is Tazendra in the Khaavren series by Steven Brust, who is competent in her own area but very unreliable in others. Yet she’s just such *fun*.
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
I’m fond of Point of Honor by Dorothy Heydt – it’s one of my comfort reads. It’s set in a future slightly further along than ours, where virtual reality gaming and sports are common, and the heroine’s a jousting champion from the popular Chivalry game who finds herself caught up in both real-world and virtual-world danger.
Finally, would you be so kind as to dazzle us with an elevator pitch? Why should readers check out your work?
Read the Library series for an entertaining set of adventures that wander through alternate worlds, where the heroine and her friends must save the day through the power of determination, common sense, fast thinking, and stories. Dragons, Fae, and a thinly veiled Sherlock Holmes homage, and a heroine who’s a librarian spy, out there to collect unique books and save the world.