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01 July 2009 @ 07:22 pm
Interview with Patricia C. Wrede  
For many lovers of fantasy literature -- especially children's fantasy -- Patricia C. Wrede is a familiar and well-loved name. With a Wrede novel the reader can always be confident of meeting smart, sensible, and engaging main characters, as well as an intriguing blend of magic and mystery.

Ms. Wrede's best-known series for children is the Enchanted Forest Chronicles (Dealing with Dragons, Searching for Dragons, Calling on Dragons and Talking to Dragons), which feature the adventures of a determined young princess named Cimorene (plus assorted friends and relatives) in a delightfully quirky fairy-tale setting.

She has also co-written a very popular trilogy of historical fantasies set in the Regency period (Sorcery and Cecelia, The Grand Tour, and The Mislaid Magician) in collaboration with Caroline Stevermer, as well as the tangentially related novels Mairelon the Magician (our featured book for June) and its sequel Magician's Ward.

Her most recent publication is Thirteenth Child (Scholastic, May 2009), the first book in the Frontier Magic series.

We are happy to be able to present this interview with Patricia C. Wrede!

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1. You've been writing professionally since 1980, and much of your work has been for a younger audience. What was it like being a children's fantasy author in the 80's and early 90's, and how is it different now? Do you think the changes in the marketplace over the last ten years have been good for the genre?

I have no idea, actually. I have always written my books for myself, and I am always rather surprised when they sell as YA (though I have finally learned not to say this out loud to editors). That's why I have an agent; because I don't really understand the market and never have.

2. You're a great advocate of writing every day, and writing by any method that works. Do you find that different books you've written have demanded different approaches to the writing, or has your process remained more or less the same throughout? What do you do to help yourself write on days when you sit down and just can't seem to put the words together?

Most of the time, I work best when I work every day at least a little, even if that's only a sentence or a paragraph. This is not true for everyone; I have a number of friends who are "burst writers" or sprinters -- they work in intense bursts of days or sometimes weeks, and then they need a rest before the next one. I've done a couple of books that didn't follow my normal process; the Kate and Cecy books are a prime example. I *had* to write in bursts, because I nearly always had to wait for Caroline [Stevermer] to finish her section before I did my next one.

As for not being able to put words together...normally, my problem is with the sitting down part. Once I'm actually at the computer or page, I can go from there. Sometimes, though, it's just not ready, especially if I'm working on something stretchy. In that case, sometimes I'll go back and revise what's already written (this is NOT recommended for writers who are subject to Endless Revision Syndrome!), or I'll work on something else, or I'll just outline or make notes for what I think I'm going to need in the next bit.

Diagnosis is important, though. If my problem is that I "just don't feel like it," well, I used to have days when I didn't feel like going in to my day job, but I went. Corporations aren't really big on "I just don't feel like working today, OK?" So in those cases, it's a matter of stubbornness and sitting down to Just Do It. Roughly nine times out of ten, the *reason* I don't feel like writing today is that the next bit I have to write is going to be something I don't like doing--a transition scene (which I loathe), or one with a lot of characters to juggle, or one where something unpleasant happens to a character I like. Things like transitions or unpleasant bits of plot generally can't just be left out, hence the need for stubbornness and discipline.

On the other hand, sometimes the problem is that I have either just made, or am just about to make, a really major mistake (usually something that will turn the characters to cardboard or make the plot impossible to solve plausibly). In that case, I need to figure out what the character/plot problem is and how to fix it, or things just go slower and slower and slower until they bog down completely. After doing this for nearly 30 years now, I can usually tell by feel when this is the problem, but it was definitely learned the hard way.

3. Do you read mostly children's and young adult fantasy these days, or do you prefer to do more of your reading in other genres/age groups? Do you have any recent favorites to recommend?

I read a little of everything, as much as possible. My reading has been severely curtailed this past year, but at the moment, I'm reading a lot of manga; "Kyou Kara Maoh" is my favorite, with "Wallflower" close behind (partly because of the grumpy Goth heroine). For books, I just finished Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu's The Shadow Speaker, which is very, very good, and I've been recommending Megan Whelan Turner's trilogy The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, and The King of Attolia to anyone who will listen for a while now. The Thief is really good; The Queen of Attolia is better; and The King of Attolia is absolutely brilliant, in my opinion.

4. You've written several alternate-history fantasy novels set in the Regency period (the Cecilia and Kate trilogy and also the Mairelon duology), and now your latest book Thirteenth Child takes place during the settlement of the American frontier in the mid-to-late 1800's. Is there anything in particular that keeps pulling you back to the 19th century as a setting?

My editors. Also readers. And a bit of serendipity.

Cover of

You see, I only ever *planned* to write one Regency-setting book, Mairelon the Magician. I was about four or five chapters into it when the Letter Game came up at tea, and when I was assigned to write the opening letter to Caroline, I thought I'd use a similar setting as practice (the Letter Game was, in its origins, a writing exercise, after all, and was never intended to become a book). Then came the serendipity--the Letter Game *was* a book, after all: Sorcery and Cecelia. So now I had two Regency novels, one on purpose and one by accident.

After Mairelon the Magician came out, the publisher wanted a sequel. Meanwhile, Sorcery and Cecelia was out of print but refused to die, and after quite a few years, our agents said, "You know, we could sell this again, but it'll be easier if there are more books." So Caroline and I offered to do a sequel to sell along with the reissue, and then the publisher and readers wanted a sequel to *that*.

And Thirteenth Child sold as a trilogy right from the start, this time because it had finally sunk in that my editors and readers keep demanding sequels, and I keep writing them, so I figured I might as well sell them as a package up-front. Which turned out to be a better idea than I'd thought, because I think it's going to end up being a lot more like a three-volume novel than like three books in a row about the same characters, which is pretty much what I've done in the past.

So really, I only started out to write two "history with magic" books--Mairelon the Magician and Thirteenth Child. Everything else was editors and marketing decisions and readers wanting more. Practically everything else in my current to-write queue is set in totally imaginary places, with no alternate history in sight, and most of it is medieval or Renaissance-level technology/sociology.

5. Inkpot member Deva Fagan (Fortune's Folly) would like to know: "As a big fan of Sorcery and Cecilia, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the "Letter Game" that you played with Caroline Stevermer which led to that novel. Compared to your other works, was it easier/harder, more fun/more challenging? And do you have any suggestions for anyone interested in experimenting with a Letter Game of their own?"

When we wrote Sorcery and Cecelia, we weren't writing a book. We were plaing a game. So yes, it was much easier and more fun for both of us than our normal writing processes. Tidying it up wasn't too bad, either (neither of us is the sort who can't stand revising, fortunately). The sequels, on the other hand, were much more difficult--as soon as we both knew that we *weren't* just playing a game, we had all sorts of problems. Our normal processes are almost totally opposite: I like to outline, she can't; I like to talk about plot, she doesn't; she tends to under-write in the first draft and expand later, I don't... like that.

My first suggestion to anyone who wants to try it is: remember that it is supposed to be a *GAME*, first and foremost. I've played six letter games now, and the other five all fizzled out for one reason or another after a few letters. They were all fun and worth doing, though. Past that-it is useful to give the other player a few open-ended hooks that they can pick up (or not) as they see fit... and pay attention to the hooks the other person is throwing out for you! It helps to have a reason why the two people writing letters cannot just meet up somewhere and talk everything out. Also, you're not actually limited to one character apiece, though if you each start playing more than one person, it can get really hard to keep track of the chronology.

6. Tell us about some of the research you did for Mairelon the Magician. What aspect of Kim and Mairelon's story was the most fun to learn about? Do you have a systematic approach to the research process, or do you just read a lot of books related to your chosen subject or time period and let it all sink in?

The two things I remember best were researching the wagon and researching the slang. Mairelon's wagon was based largely on a slim little book I picked up at the British Museum on the different kinds of live-in wagons used in the 18th and 19th century in England--the forerunners of today's RVs and campers. The thieves' cant was taken largely from a reproduction copy of The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue and Farmer and Henley's Historical Dictionary of Slang. One of the things I remember being frustrated by was the fact that "pig" as a slang term for policeman / watchman / someone-who-can-cart-you-off-to-jail goes back to nearly 1600, but it's so strongly associated in most people's minds with the 1960s that there's no way I could use it in these books without 90% of my readers assuming it was an anachronism. So I didn't.

How I go about researching something depends on what I already know about it (or think I know), and what I know I need to know. For Mairelon, I knew I was going to need thieves' cant, so that was one of the first things I went looking for sources on. I also hunted up a bunch of period maps of London and England. I didn't need to run straight out and find a lot of historical background reading, because I already had dozens of books like Carolly Erickson's Our Tempestuous Day, A Social History of England, Jane Austen's Town and Country Style, Literary Landscapes of the British Isles and so on. I picked up a lot more of them, of course, since I had such a great excuse, but I wasn't exactly starting from scratch.

So really, it's a combination of picking up a lot of random books on the background and time period, and hunting up very specific information that I know I'll need. And of course one thing leads to another--in finding period maps of London, I also discovered the existence of Hungerford Market (which no longer exists; it was torn down to build one of the railway stations). So then I had to dig up more information on Hungerford Market, because it felt like the right sort of place for Kim and Mairelon to meet. And so on.

There are also things I think I'm going to need, but that I end up not using. I did quite a bit of research on stage magic, and at one time I could have told you exactly how Mairelon did all his stage tricks, but none of that ever got into the book. Same for most of the research on Bow Street Runners.

I end up with this huge, disorganized mass of information, where I know positively I read this or that detail, but can't remember which of sixteen books it was in, only that it was on the lower left-hand page about three quarters of the way through. The stuff I know I need, like the slang and the maps, I keep track of; it's the lovely little random details that I always end up wanting a reference for, and not having.

7. And finally, another Inkie, Ellen Booraem (The Unnameables), asks: "Your latest book, Thirteenth Child, imagines an alternate United States whose western settlement has been influenced by the existance of magic, as well as the presence of woolly mammoths and other prehistoric beasts. Before the book even came out, commentators (chiefly online) got into a heated debate about your decision to eliminate Native Americans from this alternate world. This must have been quite an experience for you. Would you like to comment on it?"

No.

***

Thanks to Ms. Wrede for taking the time to participate in this interview! For more information on the author and her books, please visit her official web site or read her blog.

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R.J. Anderson is the author of Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter (HarperCollins Children's, April 2009), a.k.a. Knife (Orchard Books UK, January 2009).
 
 
Current Mood: accomplished
 
 
 
marissa_doylemarissa_doyle on July 2nd, 2009 02:51 am (UTC)
The research part is sooooo seductive... and fun, since it can lead to new and unexpected plot twists. Thank you for a great interview!

Marissa, trying not to appear too fan-girlish
robinellenrobinellen on July 2nd, 2009 03:35 am (UTC)
I just finished THIRTEENTH CHILD, and I enjoyed it. Eff is a great heroine -- I look forward to more :)
katecoombs on July 2nd, 2009 04:02 am (UTC)
I'm with Patricia Wrede when it comes to Megan Whalen Turner's Gen books, especially The King of Attolia. It's currently my gold standard for writing fiction, let alone fantasy.

I also read Thirteenth Child and liked it a lot; I hate having to wait for the second book! Since I haven't really seen a name for books in this particular subgenre, I've been calling them "rural fantasy" (as opposed to urban fantasy).

Thanks for the interview!
moonratty on July 2nd, 2009 04:31 am (UTC)
yay!
thanks for the interview! DEALING WITH DRAGONS was one of my favorite books when i was a teenager--i've bought it for so many people since :)
Devadeva_fagan on July 2nd, 2009 10:26 am (UTC)
Thank you for the interview, and particularly for the responses regarding the Letter Game.
jules_dominguez on July 2nd, 2009 04:14 pm (UTC)
Thank you~
What a great & insightful interview, much enjoyed reading it. And regarding the research, it is totally all-consuming--and amazing how one thing can lead onto a thousand other things--am in the midst of that wonderful vortex myself with GGSS :)
pjhooverpjhoover on July 2nd, 2009 11:31 pm (UTC)
Awesome interview! I can lose myself in the research. I could do nothing but that!