Judith Tarr has written over three dozen novels and numerous short stories in everything from the Tolkien Centennial anthology to Jerry Pournelle’s War World. She has been nominated for the World Fantasy Award, and has won the Crawford Award for best new fantasy. She is a member of Book View Cafe, the online professional authors’ co-op. Her first Kickstarter project, Living in Threes, funded successfully last year, and has since been published by Book View Cafe. We had the opportunity to interview Judith about her career and her newest Kickstarter project, Forgotten Suns.
Paul Weimer: Who is Judith Tarr?
Judith Tarr: Native Mainer. Adopted Baja Arizonan. Refugee medievalist. Kamikaze cook. And of course, loyal henchperson to an invasion force of Space Aliens in fat white horse suits.
PW: If people were given a single word to think of when it comes to genre author’s works, yours would invariably be “horses”. But where did the interest and love of horses come from?
JT: My paternal grandfather was just old enough to remember the horse-and-buggy days, and introduced me to friends’ horses as a baby and later bought me my first horse. My maternal grandmother loved horses. Otherwise the family has little to no interest. They look on the whole operation here with a kind of baffled benevolence.
Maybe it’s some sort of past-life thing. Or an alien mind worm. Or slave rays. Slave rays would explain a lot.
PW: As a “Refugee Medievalist”, your love of history is no mystery. But where does the love of fantasy, alternate (or secret) history and SF come from?
JT: As a fairly typical misfit nerd kid who kind of hated school even though I was good at it, I escaped into books, and the ones that took me the farthest and excited me the most were the SF and fantasy and alternate history. I could travel in space, ride a dragon, help Richard the Lionheart win Jerusalem. I could do anything I wanted. Something that books more solidly based in reality (though I devoured those, too) couldn’t do.
I took out every fantasy and SF title at the local public library, which had a lot of them. I read all the old Avalon science fiction books, I read Andre Norton, I read AsimovClarkeHeinlein. I read them all.
The big OMG moment was also fairly typical. A copy of Tolkien’s The Two Towers had been stowed under the chair of my desk in a very unexciting eighth-grade French class. I sneaked a look. “‘Three rings for the Elvenkings under the sky…'” OMG. I sneaked another. This was volume II, mind. Some guy named Aragorn was running up a hill. Doing something cryptic but intriguing. OMG. I had to read the rest. Backward, forward, I didn’t care. I wanted it all.
As still very much a larval writer, and completely innocent of publishing categories or marketing niches, I took that and applied my other OMG moment, the summer before that crucial school year, when I found a copy of Andre Norton’s Moon of the Three Rings in the library and read it over and over and renewed it and renewed till I finally had to give it up. Between Norton’s space opera and Tolkien’s epic, I’d found my literary home. And once I’d found it, I had to be part of it. I had to participate. I had to write.
PW: With some exceptions, a lot of your fiction takes place on Earth, with connections to Otherworlds, or containing magic, or otherwise being more fantastical than straight up historical novels. What makes it easier to use Earth as a basis rather than a Secondary World? What makes it harder?
My published work represents agents’ and editors’ selections from my Bottomless Trunk of Wild Ideas. Earth and earth-based fiction sells much better, or so I have been told, than secondary worlds.
And only certain parts of Earth. Northern Europe. Familiar settings and stories for the Marketing-defined American reader.
Now that we live in the brave new publishing world, I’m able to do what I really want to do. And that’s cross genres, play in secondary worlds, write space opera. I’ll be back to Earth often enough; there are stories and then some to be told there. But not necessarily the familiar or usual or safe ones.
PW: That brave new publishing world indeed. Writing has been a significant part of the Kickstarter and crowdfunding phenomenon. What prompted you to take the plunge with Living in Threes, and your latest crowdfunding effort, Forgotten Suns?
JT: Both novels went through my NY agent, and both came back with, “Love ‘em, can’t sell ‘em.” Last year I was talked into Kickstarting Living in Threes, because friends and colleagues believed there was an audience for it. I tried it. Discovered that yes, indeed, people would sign on to back the project.
This year I had another novel ready to go, a collaboration, but with one thing and another we decided to wait on that one. So at the last minute I pulled out Forgotten Suns, polished up the pitch, shot a quick video, and there it is. Doing better than the last one, even. Which I gather tends to happen as backers come back for more, and new backers come on board. And everybody loves a space opera.
Plus this is a “heart book”–one I really, really want to write, and have wanted to write for a long time. It means a lot to me, and the fact that 200+ people and counting want to be a part of it means even more.
PW: One thing I’ve noticed, especially with the Living in Threes project, is your technique of letting future readers see “under the hood” as you are creating books in this new era. What is the motivation, challenges and rewards of that approach?
JT: Originally, when I was researching Kickstarter projects that had succeeded, I noticed that backers really seemed to like to be involved in the creative process. Offering to show my work, so to speak, got clear and positive responses. So I went with that, and last year’s Kickstarter, Living in Threes, is still going on with the “Ponies in Space” worldbuilding project. I’m even applying some of it to this year’s Kickstarter.
The challenge of course is to get it out there and make it coherent, so that readers can make sense of what I’m doing and how I’m doing it. It’s like teaching a class with highly motivated students. The rewards are amazing input — suggestions, ideas, “Hey, what if…” — and a sort of validation of the process. Readers are interested in it, and enthusiastic about it. That in turn makes me more excited about the project.
Crowdfunding does that. It’s a communal process. Backers love to feel that they’ve played a part in the project, and creators love the immediate and positive feedback. Both sides have a sense of ownership, so to speak. And both sides feel that they’re getting value for time and money spent.
As a sidebar, it occurred to me that Kickstarters that go truly crazy with funding are serious about backer participation — games especially, but media and music, too. Rewards that give a backer a role in a film or a novel are really popular. Backers love to feel that this is their project. That the creator is listening to them and sharing with them and, for some, giving them a role to play in the creation of the project. It really is ownership. Community. Being a part of something big.
As a genre writer I’ve been part of the writer and fan community all along. Crowdfunding makes the fans and fellow writers co-creators, and to an extent publishers, as well. It seems like a natural evolution.
PW: With the Forgotten Suns Kickstarter in its last days, and in stretch-goal territory thanks to that reader-author ownership model successfully pushing it toward being funded, what’s next for you? Besides writing the novel, as it were?
JT: Writing more novels, of course!
Well, to be precise, I’m still blogging the Ponies in Space worldbuilding project from last year’s Kickstarter: Living in Threes. I’ve been working on a collaborative novel (steampunk! alternate history!) with crazy-brilliant fellow author Anatoly Belilovsky. We write as the androgynous MD/PhD, AJ Barr. We’ve been talking about doing a Kickstarter for that one, too.
After that, I have a bunch of projects to think about, including a new historical/fantasy Sekrit Projekt, and a sequel to Forgotten Suns. Not to mention any short-fiction ideas that might snag me as I go by.
PW: What’s the best way for fans to learn more about you and your work?
JT: Probably the most convenient place to find me is at my Book View Cafe author page.. I do the Horseblog at the BVC Blog once or twice a month. I have an intermittent Livejournal (dancinghorse) that ports to Goodreads and Amazon, as well. And I’m on facebook (as Judith Tarr) and twitter (as @dancinghorse).
PW: Thank you so much, Judith!
Be sure check out The Kickstarter for Forgotten Suns.