Tag Archives: Judith Tarr

[GUEST POST] Judith Tarr on The Life Equestrian (And Horses in Spaaace!)

Judith Tarr‘s first historical fantasy novel, The Isle of Glass, appeared in 1985. Her YA time-travel science fiction/fantasy/historical novel, Living in Threes, appeared as an ebook from Book View Café in 2012, and is now in print. Her new novel, a space opera (with horses, of course), will be published by Book View Cafe in 2015; a prequel, “Fool’s Errand,” appeared in Analog in January/February 2015. She’s currently running a Kickstarter for a series of novellas about horses and magic in contemporary Arizona. In between, she’s written historicals and historical fantasies and epic fantasies, some of which have been reborn as ebooks from Book View Café. She lives in Arizona with an assortment of cats, two dogs, and a herd of Lipizzan horses.

The Life Equestrian

by Judith Tarr

When you think about it, horses are as integral to fantasy as magic or invented worlds. As long as fantasy tends to be set in pre-mechanical-transport cultures, there has to be some means of getting people and goods from place to place. And horses, or horselike beings, are just the thing. They’re the transport, the war machines, and, often, the magical companions.
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Mind Meld Make-Up: Judith Tarr on the Intersection of Genre, Classical Literature and Myth

We have an additional entry on our Mind Meld on the connections between Myth, Classics and Genre, from None other than Judith Tarr!

Q: The Iliad and the Odyssey…the Epic of Gilgamesh…the MahabharataJourney to the West… These ancient myths and stories, and many others seem to partake of genre elements. Are they, in fact, on the Road to Science Fiction, to quote James Gunn’s classic series? How do they fit into the world of genre? How can they inform and be used in modern reinterpretations and borrowings of these myths and stories? What writers and stories best rework these myths and legends?

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MIND MELD: The Rules of Worldbuilding

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In fiction, especially Fantasy, SF, and the like, part of the joy of reading is the sometimes vast, and complicated, worlds that authors create. However, there are certain “rules” that seem to apply to this process, and io9 recently published an article called 7 Deadly Sins of Worldbuilding, which made me wonder what authors and readers thought about the subject, what kind of “rules” they use in their writing, and also what they like to see in their reading. So I asked them:

Q: When you write, are there any particular “rules” you follow in your worldbuilding? What do you consider a “sin” in worldbuilding? For readers and authors, what do you like to see in regards to worldbuilding in your reading, and what do you consider a deal breaker? What worlds have captured your imagination more than others?

Here’s what they said…

Ingrid Jonach
Ingrid Jonach is the author of the young adult sci-fi romance novel When the World was Flat (and we were in love), published by Strange Chemistry.
Since graduating from university with a Bachelor of Arts in Professional Writing (Hons) in 2005, Ingrid has worked as a journalist and in public relations, as well as for the Australian Government. Find out more at www.ingridjonach.com.


For me, worldbuilding has to add to the narrative. For example, there is no point in telling me the ins-and-outs of a new plant species unless it is eaten or used for medicinal purposes in the story. Likewise, there is no need to spend ten pages explaining a piece of technology if it is never mentioned again.

My young adult novel When the World was Flat (and we were in love) is set in our world, but – at the risk of sharing spoilers – it also includes an alternate world with a re-imagined history. This alternate world is the catalyst for the relationship between the two main characters and all of the worldbuilding is connected to the events in the story.

My work-in-progress (WIP) goes one step further than When the World was Flat (and we were in love), as it is set in a world with a re-imagined history. This means breaking the rules of our current world (e.g. everyone eats ice-cream three times a day instead of just for dessert), but with good reason (e.g. the world is run by kids). I promise that is not the premise of my WIP!

I loved the worldbuilding in the Forest of Hands and Teeth trilogy by Carrie Ryan, because it showed the separation of societies in a post apocalyptic world by distance and therefore culture. They even have different names for the zombies in each region, e.g. the Unconsecrated, Mudo and Plague Rats.
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MIND MELD: What Crowd Funding SF/F Novels Means for Authors and Publishers

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Crowd funding sites such as Kickstarter and IndieGoGo are enabling authors and editors to reach out directly to fans and ask for help in producing novels and anthologies. However, with crowd sourcing being a fairly recent phenomena, the authors and editors who have put their works in front of the public are blazing a new trail for others to follow.

We asked our panelists this question:

Q: What effect will crowd funding have on SF/F publishing in general and how will it affect the mid-list and self-published authors/editors?

Here’s what they said:

Allen Stroud
Allen Stroud is a University Lecturer from Bucks New University in High Wycombe. He runs the successful, Film and TV Production degree and also teaches Creative Writing, specialising in Writing Fantasy, a module he has taught for nine years. He has a Masters Degree in Science Fiction and Fantasy world-building and also writes music, composing work that has featured in award winning short films.

So you want to write a book? Or, you’ve already written a book and you want to publish it?

For some time now, the e-book publication method has been a source of hope to prospective authors attempting to gain recognition for their writing. The proliferation of e-book readers and the ease of constructing a professional looking copy has brought a new form of democratization to the differing processes of publication.

However, this process doesn’t bring a writer a guaranteed audience. Success amidst the e-book revolution is hard. With so many titles to choose from, readers seldom unite behind individual texts. Yet, we do see occasional stratospheric achievements. Although often these are as much to do with capturing the mood of the times as the quality of the writing.

Writing Science Fiction or Fantasy helps a bit. Genre readers have more identifiable interests in what they like from a book, so potentially, carving out an audience for your own work is a clearer objective in that you can write a book that appeals to this market.
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INTERVIEW: Judith Tarr Talks About Her “Forgotten Suns” Kickstarter

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.
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MIND MELD: Food in Science Fiction versus Fantasy

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This week we asked about Food and Drink in SF.

Food and Drink in science fiction sometimes seems limited to replicator requests for Earl Grey tea and Soylent green discs. Why doesn’t do as much food as Fantasy? Does Fantasy lend itself more to food than Science fiction? Why?
This is what they had to say…
Laura Anne Gilman
Author and Freelance Editor Laura Anne Gilman is the author of the popular Cosa Nostradamus novels, the award-nominated The Vineart War trilogy, as well as the story collection Dragon Virus. She also has written the mystery Collared under the pen name L.A. Kornetsky.

This will, I will admit, be a purely foodie view: I enjoy cooking, I enjoy eating, I enjoy reading about cooking and eating. And for a long time, it seemed as though we foodies were, if not the minority in genre, then certainly underserved.

There were the banquets in fantasy, of course, and the trail rations, and sometimes even a discussion of where the food came from, but – like bathroom breaks and sleeping – it often seemed tossed into the pile of “boring, don’t write about it.”

And science fiction? Mainly, science fiction mentioned food in context of technology: food-pills, space-age packets, vat-grown meat, etcetera. I suspect that many writers of the time had been heavily influenced by the early space program, and extrapolated their SF on the actual science. Surely, science fiction was saying, we had more important things to do than cook – or eat!

Even when they were dealing with an important, food-related issue (overcrowding, famine, etc), MAKE ROOM, MAKE ROOM made it a (very serious) punchline. So did “To Serve Man.” But scenes of characters preparing their food, or even enjoying it, were notably, if not entirely, absent.

(even CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY made the “too busy to eat” point with the 3-course-meal-gum…)
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MIND MELD: Point of View in Genre Fiction (Part II of II)

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In writing, point of View matters. So we asked a large handful of authors these questions:

Q: As you see it. What are the strengths and weaknesses, for character, worldbuilding and setting in using 1st or 3rd person (or even 2nd?) Omniscient or limited? And how about the time frame of the tense, past or present or even future?

What kinds of Point of view do you prefer to write in? What types of POV do you like to read?

Note: Due to the large number of responses received, this is Part II of the Mind Meld Part I can be found here.

Jon Courtenay Grimwood
Jon Courtenay Grimwood is a British science fiction and fantasy author. He was born in Valletta, Malta, grew up in Britain, Southeast Asia and Norway in the 1960s and 1970s. He studied at Kingston College, then worked in publishing and as a freelance writer for magazines and newspapers including The Guardian, The Telegraph and The Independent. He now lives in London and Winchester and is married to the journalist and novelist Sam Baker. He won a British Science Fiction Association award for Felaheen in 2003, was short-listed for the Arthur C Clarke Award for Pashazade the year before, and won the 2006 BSFA award for Best Novel with End of the World Blues. He was short-listed for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award in 2002 for Pashazade. The Exiled Blade, third and final novel in his Assassini series, after The Fallen Blade and The Outcast Blade, comes out next spring from Orbit books. He recently signed a contract for a literary novel, The Final Banquet, which will be published by Canongate next Summer under the pen name Jonathan Grimwood.

About a decade ago I had a breakfast meeting in New York with a US editor who’d just bought three of my novels and wanted them slightly re-edited them for the American market. There were a couple of politically tricky points (climate change for global warming, etc) but the main request was that I edit a handful of scenes to make them more obviously from the hero’s point of view. Over coffee she told me she just didn’t get why European writers couldn’t do pov; all that going back and forth between the heads of different characters, often in the same chapter and sometimes the same scene was like watching tennis. She seemed slightly disbelieving when I said we liked it like that. It wasn’t incompetence on the part of European writers, as readers we were used to povs that switched… Recently – within genre – the introduction of a combined US/UK edit – which aims for something that works within both markets – has ironed out loose third and almost abolished omnipotent (at least that’s how it looks to me). For the moment first person and tight third rule.

First person grabs the reader from the off and drags her/him through the action at the same pace as the main character. However, the advantage of first is also its disadvantage; the reader can only know what the main character knows. Single character tight third allows us to wander a little from the character’s shoulder, but action happening elsewhere has to be kept to a minimum.
If you’re a great writer like James Lee Burke (changing to a different genre for a second), then you can combine first, with tight third and occasionally slip into omnipotent, as he does with the Dave Robicheaux novels, but you have to be very good indeed. Multiple tight third, which is what had my US editor ordering extra coffee, allows you some of the freedom of an omnipotent pov without actually using omnipotent.

Having just written a historical novel that alternates between first person present and first person past, sometimes on the same page and often within the same section, depending on how deeply the main character is immersed in the story he’s telling, I think tense is down to what works for that particular novel. Sure, there are rules but they get broken. I remember an editor, a very good UK one, saying he couldn’t imagine epic fantasy written in the first person present. I’m pretty sure a number of people are doing that now.

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MIND MELD: The Non-Genre Influences of Genre Authors

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Usually when ask genre authors about the influences on their work we are expecting, and usually get, responses that name other genre authors. This week’s question, as suggested by an SF Signal reader, explicitly asks about non-genre influences. We asked our panelists this question:

Q: Which non-genre writers have influenced your work? How?
Kay Kenyon
Kay Kenyon’s latest work from Pyr is a science fiction quartet with a fantasy feel: The Entire and The Rose. The lead title, Bright of the Sky, was in Publishers Weekly’s top 150 books of 2007. At her website, she holds forth on writing, the industry and other curious pursuits.

This question is almost impossible to answer; I wonder if we ever know, or whether literary critics with a little bit of distance from the subject could best intuit how admiration for certain works inevitably leads to unconscious imitation. I doubt anyone writes novels thinking they will write like someone else. But you’re asking for influences, which is more subtle, and all the harder. This is especially a tough task since fantasy and sf books have always been my focus. However, here goes:

I remember reading Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing and feeling a sharp ache for what she had accomplished with language. The novel remains seared in my mind, but this was well before I thought that I would be a novelist. Still, I admire her work so thoroughly that I would be surprised if she were not an influence. I value wordsmithing. She is a master at this. Her environmental motifs went straight to my heart. Also: Early on Marge Piercy was a favorite of mine. Gone to Soldiers. Woman on the Edge of Time–although that last one must be considered science fiction; still, she is primarily a literary writer. Her feminism appealed to me, and the woman’s point of view presented with such stark emotion. The emotional dimension is a focus of my work. Writers like these likely showed me the depth that was possible. I’m always aiming for that depth.

I’ve been equally impressed with the big storytellers, especially James Clavell. Some of his books I wished would never end: Tai-Pan and Shogun, especially. The exotic locales of these books tied in to my love of strange worlds in science fiction. As it happens, worldbuilding is the feature most critics mention about my work. I always wonder at that, because I thought I did characters best. It’s a goal of mine to do both, like Clavell, but of course you always fall shy of your heroes.
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