Time for another author interview :) This time, I'm happy to introduce Ekaterina Sedia, whose latest novel, Heart of Iron has just been released. The name might be familiar to my loyal readers because I've short stories in two of Ekaterina's anthologies, Running with the Pack and Bewere the Night.
As with most of my interviews, I'm offering a free copy of Heart of Iron to a random commenter. Please let a comment and your email addy by noon EDT on Saturday, July 30th to be entered to win (I know this is shorter than normal, but I'm leaving on the 31st). Open to international readers as well :)
Here's the blurb: In a Russia where the Decembrists' rebellion was successful and the Trans-Siberian railroad was completed before 1854, Sasha Trubetskaya wants nothing more than to have a decent debut ball in St. Petersburg. But her aunt's feud with the emperor lands Sasha at university, where she becomes one of its first female students - an experiment, she suspects, designed more to prove female unsuitability for such pursuits than offer them education. The pressure intensifies when Sasha's only friends - Chinese students - start disappearing, and she begins to realize that her new British companion, Jack, has bigger secrets than she can imagine! Sasha and Jack find themselves trying to stop a war brewing between the three empires. The only place they can turn to for help is the Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace, newly founded by the Taiping rebels. Pursued by the terrifying Dame Florence Nightingale of the British Secret Service, Sasha and Jack escape across Siberia via train to China. Sasha discovers that Jack is not quite the person she thought he was...but then again, neither is she.
And now let's Take 10 with Ekaterina Sedia:
1.) Why this book? What made you want to write this story?
Like with any book, there are many possible answers. But basically, I wanted to write an alternate history that wasn't about the US or Western Europe. Crimean War seemed like a natural subject, since what's accessible to Anglophone readers is the British take on it and I felt that the story taking place in Russia would offer a different perspective. And I also wanted a book where Russia explicitly made alliances with Asia, and since in this timeline the Trans-Siberian railroad is completed by 1853, it seemed a shame to not bring the Taipings into it.
2.) Which authors inspire you? Has that changed over time?
I enjoy Dina Rubina a lot, as well as Viktor Pelevin (there are parts of the book which are explicit homages to his Chapaev i Pustota.) I'm also a fan of Dickens and Austen, Nalo Hopkinson, Octavia Butler, James Tiptree Jr., and a whole bunch of other writers. Tastes always change over time, of course – when I was very young, I loved James Fenimore Cooper. Look, I was nine, I didn't know any better.
3.) Why fantasy? Is there something special about fantasy that draws you to write in the field?
All fiction, I think, is about human condition. Fantasy allows you to put regular people into crazy, impossible circumstances and see how far you can push them. So yes, for me fantasy allows exploration of certain aspects better than mimetic fiction.
4.) What do you find most interesting about Sasha Trubetskaya and Jack?
Sasha is very much a regular person. It seems that lately in order to be considered a strong heroine, a woman has to be a total badass – sassy, sexy, kick-ass weapons expert and investigator. Not that it's a problem per se – I just don't think it should be a requirement. So Sasha cannot fight, really, she is not savvy or sassy. What she does have is determination, good role models, and a sense or right and wrong. She also embarrasses easily.
Jack, on the other hand, is everything she is not – he is basically a Victorian superhero. Also, a bit of a criminal, but not without some charm.
5.) What else do you enjoy doing besides writing? Interests? Hobbies?
My full-time job as a college professor. I also edit anthologies, write an occasional fashion blog entry, and am very much into fitness. Kettlebells are my main obsession at the moment.
6.) Did you have to do any special research for this book? What did you learn that you didn't know before?
Oh, tons. I'm well familiar with Russian history, but my knowledge of Taiping Rebellion and Opium Wars was somewhat limited. On my website (http://ekaterinasedia.com/index.php/novels/heart-of-iron/), I have a currently under construction bibliography, but Spence's God's Chinese Son and Walley's Opium War Through Chinese Eyes were absolutely invaluable. Also, on the same page I'm linking to a series of blog posts I wrote about history involved with the book. Check it out – all good stuff!
7.) How did you become a writer? Is this what you saw yourself growing up to be? Or did it take you by surprise?
Oh, never even considered being a writer, although I was always an avid reader. In my mid-thirties, it occurred to me that maybe I have something to say, and so I started to write. I still don't quite think about myself as a proper writer.
8.) Do you have a writing routine? Talk process for a moment, how do the words get on the page?
I usually write before bed, to unwind from the day. So one-two hours a day when I'm working on a project. Since I also work on anthologies, sometimes this time is taken up by editing work. I try to write every day, but don't really sweat it if I can't. I don't want it to be something I have to do; I want it to be my downtime, something I do for myself because I want to.
9.) Office? Closet? Corner of the living room? Do you have a set place to write? A favorite?
I do have a very small office; I mean, the floor area is small, but it has a ridiculously high ceiling and a skylight. And usually a cat or two plopped on the desk.
10.) What are you writing now? What's coming out next?
Right now, I'm working on a short story – I have several of those due for various anthologies. Then I have my next anthology to work on – Bloody Fabulous, which is a collection of urban fantasy stories centered around fashion (you're writing one, right?). Next year I have a short story collection coming out, and Jeffrey Ford was kind enough to write an amazing introduction for it. After it – more anthologies, and more work on the novel I started a while back (a ghost story featuring Chinese-American actors in 1930's Hollywood.) My plate is full, but I'm very excited about all of these projects!
[Yes, I've a fun idea from a fashion photographer's POV!]
Thanks so much for answering my questions! Below are some links for those who are interested: