Please welcome K. M. McKinley to The Qwillery as part of the 2015 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Iron Ship will be published on May 26th by Solaris in the US and on June 18th in the UK.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery.
K. M.: And thanks for having me!
TQ: When and why did you start writing?
K. M.: When I was about 17, but there was an awful lot of thinking about writing, moaning about writing, and not very much actual writing for years. I've been a professional writer since 1997, but didn't get truly serious about fiction until around 2000. Then I really went for it, and started to train myself.
TQ: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
K. M.: Both. I've written to both methods and everything in between, from writing a super-detailed plot synopsis to sitting down in front of a blank screen with a vague idea of where I'm going. Sometimes, there is wine involved. All produce different kinds of story. I find that varying methods and styles prevents fatigue, no matter what you are writing.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
K. M.: Being able to produce a high enough volume of work to make enough money to live, and not getting utterly worn out doing so. But that's not very different to any kind of job, and I get to nap. It's a privilege to do any kind of writing as a job. Viewing it in terms of difficulty ignores the lot of people who have to get up at 6.00am, drive for two hours to some office they loathe and do the same thing day in day out for years. So, writing feels like a massive pain sometimes, but it's not really, is it?
Ah, you said challenging. Well, it is daily challenging, but only in a good way. Most of the time.
TQ: Who are some of your literary influences? Favorite authors?
K. M.: Ursula Le Guin, Michael Moorcock, Robert Silverberg, Fritz Leiber, HP Lovecraft, William Hope Hodgson, MR James, Clark Ashton Smith, Ray Bradbury, Gene Wolfe, JRR Tolkien, Neal Asher, Michael Swanwick, Adam Roberts, Dan Simmons, Geraldine Harris, Andre Norton, to name but a few.
TQ: Describe The Iron Ship in 140 characters or less.
K. M.: Man, I hate writing stuff that looks like I'm full of myself, but here goes:
Game of Thrones influenced magic-punk. A vividly realised neo-industrial world with a sprawling cast of characters. War, magic, machines, family, love and death.
That was my elevator pitch, pretty much.
TQ: Tell us something about The Iron Ship that is not in the book description.
K. M.: One thing I wanted to do with The Iron Ship is examine the agency of strong women who are trammelled by a genuinely patriarchal society. A lot of fantasies put a woman in a position of power in a male dominated set up without telling us how she got there. That's missing half the story. It's not as dull as it sounds, I hasten to add. On the contrary, it gave me loads of strong character notes, and some (I hope) really good characters of both sexes.
TQ: What inspired you to write The Iron Ship?
K. M.: It's about a big family. I come from a big family. I wanted to explore family dynamics in a time of upheaval and change. That's part of it. Some of the rest I can't say without ruining not book one, but also book three! Ask me again when the series is finished, and I'll spill the beans.
TQ: What appeals to you about writing Epic Fantasy?
K. M.: Change again. Epic Fantasy has change at its heart. Unlike SF (I love SF) that says "what if?" fantasy kind of postulates "what else?" There's always some existential peril that threatens the established order of things. It is the fiction of the momentous. Thinning of magic, resurgence of magic, rebellion, the return of old evils... One might almost say that war is the stock in trade of epic fantasy. Some writers use this brilliantly; the sense of melancholy in The Lord of the Rings at the passing of time is almost overpowering, for example. I wanted to try this and make a good job of it. As I get older I think a lot about mortality, the fleeting nature of individual lives, but the continuity of nation, family and locality. All subject to change and bound into subjective history, of course. Hopefully I've captured that in the frame of a rollicking good adventure.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for The Iron Ship?
K. M.: A fair bit - especially on, would you believe, iron ships. That and industrial processes. I drew a lot on modern history from the 18th and 19th centuries, but I didn't read up on it too much as I know a bit about it anyway. Write what you know!
TQ: Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
K. M.: A tough question. Were any easier or harder? I don't think so. They were all equal. Getting them to a point where there's enough material that their own existences spark into being, that's the hard part. Once that's done they come alive and do their own thing. Then you just watch them in a fugue state. With a headache, because your psyche's fractured into two dozen people.
TQ: Which question about The Iron Ship do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
K. M.: Holy cow! Another toughie. I actually don't want people to ask me about it, because I'll tell them EVERYTHING. I'm so eager to tell the story. I had to stop myself spilling the plot to this and the next book to my dad only yesterday. Maybe limit all interaction with me to approving nods, or disapproving shakes of the head? Then we'll all be safe.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery lines from The Iron Ship.
K. M.: Er, how about...
"If I do this, and I will, and you even think about leaving without me, I will kick you very hard, right in the balls, and then you'll be no use whatsoever to fancy miss spanner pants." She smiled dangerously. "I'm sure even you can understand that."
TQ: What's next?
K. M.: I've got a bunch of stuff to write this year, but I'll soon be starting on The City of Ice, the second book in the Gates of the World series.I am very much looking forward to that.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
K. M.: Thank you.
The Iron Ship
Gates of the World 1
Solaris, May 26, 2015 (US); June 18, 2015 (UK)
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 400 pages
An incredible epic fantasy begins!
The order of the world is in turmoil. An age of industry is beginning, an age of machines fuelled by magic. Sprawling cities rise, strange devices stalk the land. New money brings new power. The balance between the Hundred Kingdoms is upset. For the first time in generations the threat of war looms.
In these turbulent days, fortunes can be won. Magic runs strong in the Kressind family. Six siblings strive – one to triumph in a world of men, one to survive murderous intrigue, one to master forbidden sorcery, one to wash away his sins, one to contain the terrible energies of his soul.
And one will do the impossible, by marrying the might of magic and iron in the heart of a great ship, to cross an ocean that cannot be crossed.