Women in SFF Author Spotlight – Meg Macdonald (OATHSWORN)
Meg MacDonald began telling stories before she could write them. Her mother will attest to this. She wrote her first novel at age 13. It was terrible, but she improved. Her short stories and poetry have appeared in Weird Tales, three Darkover anthologies, and various other places. She served as editor-in-chief of the semi-pro SFF magazine PANDORA for a number of years.
Meg and her husband met at a SF gaming convention, fell madly in love, and were together 30 years until Paul’s death in March 2020. They once hiked the Grand Canyon, enjoyed spelunking, were foster parents, adopted three children, and spent a lot of time renovating old farm houses in Michigan USA.
Meg was the 2019 Realm Makers recipient of the Tosca Lee Future Award Winner scholarship. She has never been to the moon and has yet to find the location of the last Wooly Mammoth on Earth, but hope springs eternal.
Follow Meg on Twitter @kyrrimar (she hopes to be returning to social media soon)
Welcome to the Hive, Meg. Let’s start small: tell us about a great book you’ve read recently!
Hello! Thanks for the opportunity to buzz in and talk with you today. ☺
Ooh brownie points! We love a pun on the Hive.
I’m behind in my reading right now, but I enjoyed Rebecca P. Minor’s Windrider Saga earlier this year. Her main character is a cantankerous elvish soldier who relates better to horses—and dragons—than he does to people. I like flawed characters that are still relatable and whose personal journeys promise to deliver them to some future wholeness. Or, at least improvement. Too often it seems like authors sacrifice redeemable characters on the altar of ugly reality, forgetting that even when a character is a jerk, the reader wants to care about them. These books are a fun romp, full of snark, warmth, and the pursuit of truth.
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?
Is this a trick question?
Okaaaaaay. A half-elf…person…doing stuff with…things. Shiny things! Magical, shiny…er…things. As for my weapon of choice, how about an invisible (angry) cat. Nothing like a furry Cuisanart to vanquish one’s foes.
(How am I doing so far? No? I didn’t think so. The last time I played I completely derailed a campaign designed by a very experienced dungeon master).
Derailing campaigns is very much in our wheelhouse.
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!
Let the music play! Except when it is distracting and the sound of silence is what is required. (See what I did there? Heh)
Music has long provided me a great deal of inspiration—and solace. And never more so than at this time in my life as I recently lost my husband of thirty years.
We’re very sorry for your loss, Meg.
Now, of course, a lot of music makes me cry, but that’s all right. Joy comes after sorrow as surely as morning follows night and I trust that creativity—birth, if you will—is sure to rise from the ashes of grief. A long way around to saying that music is important to me as a creative person. Certain artists, songs, or styles of music become the score of the story unfolding before me and I’ll return to them during rewrites and editing. I have some “collections” of songs, but I don’t set out to create playlists prior to starting on a project. The music gathers over time and has been known to shape both storylines and character development. Even when there is no music playing audibly, it’s there. In my head. Not to be confused with the sound of drums. Usually. I am in possession of neither a White-Point Star or a TCE. Honest.
As to how I write, after so many years of trying to boost productivity, I remain a rather slow, methodical, discovery writer—at least at the outset. I do a great deal of mulling before I start writing, typically starting with a character or a scene that I just can’t get out of my mind. I follow the character(s) until I know what they’re getting up to. Sometimes it is a short story, sometimes it is a book. I don’t always know and have learned not to force it one way or the other. A manuscript is the length it needs to be in order to tell the story.
After I have a good draft and have been struck by various bolts of creative insight, I can develop something of a roadmap, but my Jeep needs off-road tires because I take a lot of unplanned turns down questionable paths. Climbing and/or spelunking gear is often a necessity. If I plan everything out I either change it all or I lose interest in the story because, well, I already know how it ends so why write it? I like to explore stories by following characters that intrigue me. It isn’t a method I recommend as it tends to be slow and haphazard, but it serves me. I am also not one to turn off my inner editor (sorry NaNoWriMo) so I revise as I go and my “first drafts” (or parts of them) are often quite polished. When I get stuck, I go back and read up to where I left off, picking up the threads of the story that way. If I still don’t know what comes next, I skip ahead to what I do know. That often provides the answer to what must have happened to advance the story to where it is now.
Clear as mud? I thought so. I compose both at the keyboard and by hand and while I do a lot of revision on screen, I vastly prefer to edit hardcopy. It keeps me honest (and entertains writer friends when they see my handwriting up, down, across and on the backs of pages). I also find reading out loud catches a multitude of sins.
What (or who) are your most significant female fantasy influences? Are there any creators whom you dream of working with someday?
Distilling this down to just a few names was harder than I thought it would be and I may have to blur the distinction between fantasy and science fiction here, but some early influences include Ursula K. leGuin, Zenna Henderson, R.A. MacAvoy, and C.J. Cherryh. Later, I found myself mesmerized by C.S. Friedman’s Coldfire Trilogy and I have long felt that Heather Gladney never got the attention that she deserved for her low fantasy books about Naga Teot. It would be amazing and humbling to collaborate with a well known author. So many authors in my generation did that, working with MZB, Andre Norton, and Anne McCaffrey. I think I’d find it difficult, however, as I’m pretty possessive about my characters! lol
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 don’t typically watch a lot of television, but I’ve been binge watching Star Trek (everything from TOS to Enterprise). Reading, writing, and concentrating in general have been very difficult this summer as I’ve had rather too much “real life” to cope with—mostly on my own due to the added complications of the pandemic. Star Trek is what drew me into the SFF genre as a child and it has been a comfort to revisit old friends and the stories and themes that clearly inspired me.
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’d split my day between curling up with a good book and going on an adventure—hiking, horseback riding, just wandering and taking it all in with a trusty Norwegian Elkhound by my side and likely followed by a cat or two.
Can you tell us a little something about your current work(s) in progress?
Sure! Before my husband passed away I was deep into final revisions of the second book in my Wolf’s Oath Trilogy and had the third book well in hand. Blood Sworn follows on from Oath Sworn as Aralt “Wolf” syr Tremayne continues his journey toward the homeland of his ward, Lian Kynsei, a boy destined to become kavistra—the religious and temporal leader of Askierran. Aralt still isn’t convinced this is a great idea, but he’s grown more fond of the kid and isn’t about to slack in his duty. Unlikely alliances form as a common enemy grows bolder—and a demonic force grows hungrier (it’s what they do). I continue to explore themes of friendship and betrayal, love and loss, and the consequences of actions and decisions made in youth. Also, how to avoid soulless assassins. Perhaps I need those invisible terror cats mentioned earlier.
What’s the most (and/or least) helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
One of the best pieces of advice comes from Louis L’Amour: “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet it turned on.”
Worst advice? Again, apologies to NaNoWriMo, but I have never found the “turn off your inner editor” all that helpful. I know it works for some people because it is doing what Mr. L’Amour says about turning on the faucet. Don’t worry about what you are writing, just write. If you write, you have something to edit. I give that advice all the time. However, cranking out tremendous numbers of words in the name of reaching word count goals but not applying yourself to the craft while you are doing it seems like time ill spent.
I’ve poked NaNo with a stick twice now and feel a bit guilty because I’ve participated off and on for years (and “won” more than once). The camaraderie of local write-ins and the energy generated each November has proved valuable both for drafting new projects and for focused revisions.
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?
This has been the hardest question for me to answer and the one that kept me from submitting this sooner. I wanted to provide a meaningful answer beyond the obvious “just write something, anything,” but I don’t have one right now. For me, it is never a matter of not wanting to write, it is being unable to write because of extraordinary circumstances in my life. The storms of life hit everyone: losing a parent, losing a home, watching a parent with Alzheimer’s fading away, grappling with a special needs teen who in turn is struggling with instability, fighting to overcome brain injury, coping with the loss of a beloved husband. I want to be writing, even if what I am writing isn’t up to my standards, but sometimes there just are no words. Don’t know where to start or what to do? Grant yourself the grace you would grant any other writer caught in indecision or the maelstroms of life. Step away if you need to, find inspiration and encouragement wherever it exists for you. You’ll get back to that book or story sooner or later. You won’t stop being a writer anymore than you will stop being human.
Apologies to any non-human life forms, but you get the idea.
That was a wonderfully meaningful answer Meg, thank you.
If you could visit any country at any point in history, where/when would you go, and why?
Is this another trick question? How do I pick just one? I would go… to Scotland around the turn of the last century so that I could meet my grandfather, Archibald MacDonald, as a youth. He died when I was young, but I utterly adored him and would love to have known him before the cares of life, including the first World War, took their toll. He told me three things that I’ve never forgotten. He said that I would have horses, that I would be a writer, and that Nessie was real. One of the greatest adventures I can think of would be exploring Loch Ness with him. Is it cheating if I take my cell phone back in time with me to get pictures?
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 like to write smart, slightly sassy female characters who have compassionate hearts, deeply rooted faith, and the strength to stand up to adversity. Some favourite female characters include Sam Carter from Stargate: SG1 and Katherine Janeway from Star Trek Voyager. Smart, strong, honourable, committed to their cause, yet feminine. That moment when Sam Carter won’t leave Cassandra in the bunker? Yeah, baby. That’s what I’m talkin’ about.
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
I often seem to like books that aren’t “popular” (and dislike many that are), so I have a feeling many of the titles I remember with great fondness might fit this description. I compiled quite a list here but in the end I’m going to cast my vote for C.S. Friedman’s Coldfire Trilogy. C.S. Friedman is widely known and her books celebrated, but the Coldfire Trilogy is lesser known. It also happens to be my favourite of her work. The author dives deep, creating compelling, deeply flawed characters facing morally ambiguous decisions in a twisted world. Delicious. Time for a reread.
Can I mention Heather Gladney again? If you haven’t read Teot’s War, do it.
Finally, would you be so kind as to dazzle us with an elevator pitch? Why should readers check out your work?
How tall did you say this proverbial building was? Ahem.
In a world where airships sail above tidal extremes and crystal swords are Tuned to the souls of their owners, Aralt must restore the last of a priestly clan to power. But, he isn’t sure he can. Or wants to.
Why read my work? It’s deep, character-driven, old school science-fantasy with meticulous worldbuilding, strong women, a flawed protagonist, an antagonist you will love to hate, and manly-men with kittens.
That’s brilliant, thank you so much for joining us today Meg!