Author Spotlight: Katherine Addison (THE GOBLIN EMPEROR)
Katherine Addison is the pen name of Sarah Monette.
Katherine Addison’s short fiction has been selected by The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror and The Year’s Best Science Fiction. Her novel The Goblin Emperor won a Locus Award. As Sarah Monette, she is the author of the Doctrine of Labyrinths series and co-author, with Elizabeth Bear, of the Iskryne series.
She lives near Madison, Wisconsin, with spouse, cats, and books.
Welcome to the Hive, Katherine. Congratulations on your sequel to The Goblin Emperor, The Witness for the Dead.
For those who may not know, could you briefly tell us a bit about both books please?
The Goblin Emperor started because I wanted to write a book about elves and airships, and—as I am at heart a horror writer—the first thing I thought of was the wreck of the Hindenburg. So when I started thinking about what sort of consequences an airship crash could have, the idea of playing with a common fantasy trope—the scullery boy who turns out to be the lost king—was too good to pass up. Maia isn’t an actual scullery boy, but this is definitely the story of what happens when you inherit a throne without any training. The fact that the answer is neither usurpation nor civil war suggests that the book is utopianist in its leanings. But the entire story of the book is Maia learning how to be emperor.
The Witness for the Dead, while it takes place in the same world, has nothing to do with Maia. Thara Celehar, the Witness for the Dead who solves the mystery of the airship crash in The Goblin Emperor, is now working as a Witness for the Dead in the northern city of Amalo. I wanted to write a mystery that did in a fantasy world a little bit of what Raymond Chandler did with Los Angeles in his Philip Marlowe novels. (What I learned is that mysteries are hard to write.) So the book is a mystery and it’s also an exploration of Celehar’s life in Amalo.
The Goblin Emperor was a refreshing digression from the diet of grimdark fantasy. Maia, the half-breed product of a loveless political marriage finds himself propelled on a throne he was never intended to inherit and an intricacy of court etiquette he was never prepared for. The result is an exquisitely written study of people and manners, with a healthy dose of political intrigue and personal peril. By the end of the book Maia was beginning to find his feet, some true allies and the authority to begin changing a world that really needed changing.
In The Witness for the Dead you return to Maia’s world, but not so much to Maia himself. Can you tell us about what drew you back in this standalone form?
I wanted to write about some of the world that Maia doesn’t get to see. As a Witness for the Dead, Celehar moves between the strata of society, from the throne room to the slums. And he can literally go more places. Maia’s world is very claustrophobic, and it was a relief to step outside.
Tell us a little something about your writing process – do you have a certain method? Do you find music helps? Give us a glimpse into your world!
I try to write every day, even if it’s only a couple of sentences. I compose either longhand with a fountain pen or at the computer in Word. (I hate Word, but everyone uses it and it didn’t make sense to write a manuscript in a format I’d just have to change before I submitted it.) I have lots of help from my cats.
Race and racism are a key theme in The Goblin Emperor, with Maia being half-Goblin, half-elven in an intensely patriarchal society. How do you feel these staple fantasy races helped you to interrogate prejudice and paternalism in The Goblin Emperor?
It’s the same trick that fantasy and science fiction always pull: by alienating us from the familiar, it causes us to re-examine our own society.
What (or who) are your most significant female fantasy influences? Are there any creators whom you dream of working with someday?
Ellen Kushner, Joan D. Vinge, Barbara Hambly. I got very lucky and got to work with Emma Bull on the online project Shadow Unit.
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?
Motivation can be hard. I try to set myself small, manageable goals rather than getting overwhelmed by a project the size of a novel—write a scene, or even just write 100 words—so that I can always feel like I’m accomplishing something, even on bad days.
We always appreciate a beautiful book cover! How involved in the process were you for both your books? Was there a particular aesthetic you hoped they’d portray?
No, I didn’t have much involvement with the cover art. I really like the sort of architectural theme they’ve gone with for the trade paperback of The Goblin Emperor and the hardback of The Witness for the Dead.
Who are your favourite female characters in literature or pop culture? And do you have a favourite type of female character you enjoy writing?
Harriet Vane in Dorothy L. Sayers’s books is one of my favourite characters; I also love Scarlett Johansson’s portrayal of Black Widow. I don’t think I have a favourite character type.
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?
Probably reading, but I’d try to go out and do some horseback riding, too.
One of our favourite questions here on the Fantasy Hive: which fantastical creature would you ride into battle and why?
I am a traditionalist and want to ride into battle on a fire-breathing dragon.
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
Victoria Lincoln wrote a book about Lizzie Borden, A Private Disgrace: Lizzie Borden by Daylight, which, whether you agree with her theory or not, is a beautifully written description of the society that Lizzie Borden wanted to be a part of and a really thoughtful exploration of what life must have been like in the Borden household.
Can you tell us anything about any upcoming projects?
I just turned in The Grief of Stones, the sequel to The Witness for the Dead, and am working on the third book, The Tomb of Dragons.
Are you planning anything fun to celebrate your new release? Do you have any upcoming virtual events our readers may be interested in?
The book launch is a virtual event on July 7 being put together by Boswell Books in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Find out more HERE
Finally, what is the one thing you hope readers take away from your writing?
More than anything else, I hope readers enjoy my books. But I do try to write about a world in which ethics matter.
Thank you so much for joining us today!