Martha Wells is the latest subject of our Writers of Fantasy Interview series. She has been writing ground-breaking fantasy for over two decades now. Her Books of Raksura series in particular has challenged gender stereotypes and more in every way imaginable and she still has more coming! She has also been doing a Patreon for short Raksura stories!
We chatted about how she has changed as a writer, what her process is, and what she thinks of the industry at large. Even if you’ve never read a word of her books before, this interview is well worth checking out as she has great insights into the world of being a writer.
– When you look back on your first novels, such as The Element of Fire, and compare it to something more recent,like The Edge of Worlds, how do you feel you’ve changed as a writer? Has your process or method changed?
As a writer, I think I take more chances. I think I’m more in touch with the kinds of characters and relationships I want to write. My process has changed in that I write faster, I’m more productive,and I’m more confident in my abilities.
– Many of your works, Books of the Raksura in particular, explore gender and sexuality and there is great diversity within the cast. How important is representation and diversity to you?
It’s very important. Books that explored gender and sexual orientation were very important to me when I was was growing up, and helped teach me about the world in a way that I was not going to get from any other available source. And for me I think it’s an ongoing process and that I still have room for improvement.
– (Related) Is this something the genre as a whole needs to get better at, and have you seen it improving?
It definitely needs to get better. I think there has been some improvement, or at least more awareness of the problem. And some of the most critically acclaimed, award-winning, most exciting and original SF/F in the past years has come from writers who are POC, LGBT, and women,which you would hope would make a dent in the belief that only straight white men write SF/F. But you still see people saying things like “women don’t write fantasy” or “women don’t write SF” and believing it, which is depressing.It’s not encouraging to see the work of hundreds of women writers erased.
The popular, most visible bestsellers are just the tip of the genre’s iceberg, but for most people the rest of the iceberg doesn’t exist. It’s hard to be optimistic about it sometimes.But the other day on Twitter, Kate Elliott said “It’s hard to change the narrative when so many of the narratives that get the most visibility aren’t changing. But change is coming.” I think that’s very true.
– How do you usually create your characters, and do you build a story around them, or them around the story?
I usually start developing the characters when I Know the kind of story I want to tell. The world building also plays a huge part. The world the book is set in determines everything about the characters,their physical abilities, their personalities, their problems and goals. The Story is determined by the world and the characters. They’re so intertwined I find it hard to talk about them as separate things.
Some of the individual elements in the Books of the Raksura are universal and could translate to any setting, but the way the characters deal with their problems (and the kind of challenges they have) is determined by their physical abilities, their shapeshifting, and the structure of their culture.For example, in the Raksura books, the fact that it’s a matriarchal society with bisexuality as the default affects not only the way the characters think and act, but the way the story is told. The main character, Moon, is a consort, the only winged fertile male Raksura, and he has to become a queen’s mate, there’s no other choice in this society for him. It would be hard to tell that story in another culture, and it would be a completely different story with human characters.
– When creating characters and cultures whose attitudes towards issues like sex and gender is different to western society, how does that affect the way they speak and think, and how much time do you spend developing this?
As a basic part of their culture, it’s going to affect the characters on a fundamental level, so you have to always keep it in mind when writing from their POV. And also keep in mind how it’s going to affect the events of the story, the decisions various characters make, their attitudes toward each other.
I think it’s an essential part of the characterization, not something separate, so basically any time spent on developing the characters is time spent on that.
– You’ve also written for other,established universes, like Star Wars. How do you find the process of writing for a fantasy or sci-fi universe and characters you have a little less control over? Is it just a very different experience?
It’s different but it’s also a lot of fun. I like the challenge of trying to get the characters’ voices to match the actors’ performances as much as possible, and the try to make the story feel like something that could take place in the world of the show or the movie.
That said,I wouldn’t do a tie-in unless it was for a property I really loved. I was a Stargate fan for a long time before I had the opportunity to do the two Stargate Atlantis novels, and I was a Star Wars fan from the time the first movie came out when I was thirteen years old. So that made writing the tie-ins very special experiences.
– Your first book was published in 1993,so you must have seen the industry go through some transformations (pun intended) of its own. What have been the biggest changes from your perspective?
One of the big changes is ebooks, and that self-publishing ebooks has become a great way for writers to make their out of print backlist available to readers again. That’s been very helpful to me personally, just as a source of regular income. Also, writers who have never been bestsellers, especially women writers, tend to disappear pretty quickly from the genre consciousness.
You see people making statements that, for example, “there’s never been any epic fantasy written from a feminist perspective until a new popular young male writer did it,” ignoring all the women (and men) writers who did it years earlier. Having older books available as ebooks at least makes that erasure a little harder to accomplish.
The last Raksura book, The Harbors of the Sun,should be out next year in July. It completes the duology started with The Edge of Worlds, and finishes The Books of the Raksura series.
I’ve also been doing a Patreon for short Raksura stories at
I’ve also just finished an unrelated novella,and I’m working on starting my next book.
More from this series;