The latest interview for our Writers of Fantasy series is Charlie Jane Anders, author of All the Birds in the Sky!
She has also written a number of shorts, novellas and more that you can find on Tor.com, Strange Horizons, and Flurb. She’s a brilliant writer and has plenty of experience to draw on, so strap in and enjoy!
– You’ve written a lot of short fiction over your career, as well as novels; what would you say are the biggest differences in how you approach short fiction vs novels? (You know, aside from length).
The main difference between short stories and novels is, novels have a lot more middle. They both have a beginning and end, but the middle is a lot more complicated and fancy in a novel. With a novel, I’m kind of trying to poke into all the dark corners and figure out a lot of the ins and outs of the world and the story I’m telling about it — with a short story, I can be a lot more focused and just try to develop a situation from beginning to end. Also, weirdly, I often feel like I can be more plot-centric with a short story.
Not all of my short stories, to be sure, but I’ve definitely written my fair share of shorts that are very heavy on plot twists and action — I find it super satisfying to write short fiction that’s action-packed and plot-heavy, versus novels where you need to slow down and develop a whole cast of characters. But it’s hard to generalize, really. Every story is different, and so is every novel.
– How have you changed as a writer since your first stories were published? Do you work differently now to how you did back then?
I am definitely a lot more tired now. I’ve learned how much coffee I can guzzle before I impair my ability to get to sleep and also give myself horrible jaw pain. Other than that, I hope I’ve gotten a bit better as a writer. Reading my work aloud, in a bunch of different settings including big readings as well as open mics, helped me figure out how my words come across to other people, and I think that’s shaped my voice as a writer.
So has getting tons and tons of feedback. On my most optimistic days, I like to think that I’m making more interesting mistakes now than when I started out. I still screw up constantly, but the screwups at least sometimes lead to some neat places.
– What have been the biggest changes you’ve observed in the industry itself? Has new technology shifted everything around?
As I’ve written a lot lately, I feel like short fiction has had a bit of a sea change in the past 10 years. Magazines like Tor.com, Lightspeed, Clarkesworld, StrangeHorizons, Uncanny Magazine and tons of others are getting a LOT more attention and getting on award shortlists all over the place. You can publish a story on the internet and have it go “viral” just like any other kind of internet content.
I also think that e-books have revitalized shorter novels, including novellas, and that’s been really nice to see. I’m still waiting for more authors to pick up the baton from John Scalzi and a handful of others, and experiment with more serialization in electronic formats. I love serialized novels.
– All the Birds In the Sky includes a number of time jumps as the characters get older and develop. Are you tempted to go back and give us more detail on, say, Patricia’s time in school? The glimpses we got were enough to get me interested!
Oh thanks! I always wanted to have that big time jump, not sure why. I think it just felt like a nice way to show how their lives as kids are reflected in what happens to them as adults. I did write a bit more of Patricia’s time in school, and it’s posted on my Tumblr someplace. (allthebirdsinthesky.tumblr.com.)
Also, there’s a story coming out soon that explains what happened to Patricia’s cat, Berkley. But I don’t know if I’ll ever go back and fill in more of those gaps. You never know, I guess!
– How did you develop your characters? Did you begin with knowing that Laurence and Patricia were going to end up where they did (trying not to give too much away here)?
This was definitely a long process, full of trial and error. When I started the book, nothing was set, and originally I was thinking in terms of something much more zany, with a mad scientist and a witch who fight each other, pitting science against magic in a bunch of silly set pieces. (Flying carpet versus flying car! Raygun versus wand!) But over time, I got more and more interested in making this a relationship story, and started to delve deeper into the characters and their psychology. And slowly — super slowly — the whole feeling of the book changed.
– Your cast of characters is wonderfully diverse. How important is this to you as both a writer and a reader?
Having a set of characters who represent the reality of the world we live in is super important to me, and so is knowing that all kinds of people can read my book and hopefully see themselves in it. I couldn’t really set a big chunk of the book in San Francisco and not include a cast of people with varied sexualities, cultural backgrounds, and so on. To me, it’s just like getting the science right or any other aspect of creating a believable world — you have to do your homework.
– Do you think the sci-fi and fantasy genre is getting better at being more inclusive not only in terms of characters, but authors as well?
I think we’re making baby steps. We still have a long way to go, especially in terms of recognizing the incredible work being done by so many authors who don’t fit the narrow image of what a “science fiction author” was supposed to look like. But we’re getting a bit better, slowly but surely. I think people are much more aware that there’s a problem, at least.
– What are you working on now? What’s the next thing you have coming out?
I have a bunch of stories coming out that I’m proud of. There’s the aforementioned story about Patricia’s cat. There’s my weird fairytale riff in The Starlit Wood, a whole anthology of fairytale stories edited by Navah Wolfe and Dominic Parisien. And there’s a space opera story in Cosmic Powers, an anthology edited by John Joseph Adams.
Plus I think Bridging Infinity, Jonathan Strahan’s anthology about big futuristic projects, is coming soon — and I have a super weird story about party girls in space in there. Meanwhile, I’m hard at work on my second book for Tor, which is actually starting to get somewhere. It’s a super-intense story about humans living on an another planet over 1000 years in the future. Fingers crossed!