This week is our Starship Ladies series, dedicated to the ladies who write incredible YA speculative fiction. We couldn’t miss the change to pass up an interview with one of our favorite ladies: Kate Elliott, author of over twenty books, including Court of Fives and its upcoming sequel Poisoned Blade!
In Court of Fives, Jessamy is caught between being an upper class Patron and dreaming of the freedom of the Commoners. But at night she can be whomever she wants when she sneaks out to train for The Fives.
Poisoned Blade, the sequel to Court of Fives, releases in August! Can you give us a quick reminder on what happened in Court of Fives?
I’m terrible at summing up so I’ll quote from Rob Bedford’s review of the book on Tor.com: “Jes is caught between her desire to compete in the Fives–an intricate, labyrinthine, obstacle race (think something like the course on American Ninja Warrior)–and what society dictates the daughter of a Patron should do, torn between her duty and desire to save her family once her father’s sponsor dies.”
What can Court of Fives fans look forward to in Poisoned Blade?
More Fives. An arrogant but charming poet who dreams of rebellion. Travel outside Saryenia on a quest to find her missing sister, in the company of the man she hates most. A lot more about spiders. And of course a person she doesn’t expect to meet in the desert. And maybe, just maybe, a kiss.
What is your favorite part of writing Jessamy?
She is fiercely competitive and I never have to play that down.
Your books have been praised for managing to be effortlessly inclusive. How did you weave that into your writing? What advice would you give to those who seek to emulate your success?
1. I start with inclusivity as a foundational aspect of my worlds and characters, rather than as an add-on. Writing fully realized worlds is in part a matter of craft, and in my opinion shouldn’t be approached as a trend or fashion or ticket to publication. My first sf trilogy, published in 1990, has a WoC main character and a majority PoC cast. Believe me, there was no publishing benefit to this 26 years ago. My publisher didn’t even put the face of the MC on the cover until the third book. When I wrote that story I wasn’t trying to score points with anyone or get a pat on the back. I wrote it that way because when I considered how the setting I was creating would unfold, I saw all of Earth’s population as part of the future. All of my books (my 26th is coming out in August) have at least one MC who is a PoC and usually multiple or even majority secondary casts who are PoC. Again, I don’t say this to boast or to get my ally certificate. It’s just that I use the world we all live in as my model.
2. I don’t assume I’m successful, because I’m not always. I make mistakes. I can be insensitive and prejudiced. There’s so much I’m ignorant about. I keep working to be better.
3. Sometimes I discard an idea because I decide I’m not the right person to write it.
4. I accept that my personal perspective is tied to my upbringing and background and will to a greater or lesser extent be subjectively tied to those experiences and expectations. This should be obvious but I will say it anyway: People from different backgrounds do not have the same experiences or equality of privilege even within a shared culture. If I ignore that and assume my perspective is universal or that I can automatically understand other people better than they understand themselves, then I’m already writing unrealistically and without empathy. So I challenge myself to seek out, discover, listen to, learn about, and compassionately engage with the world beyond my own life. I do this for my creative soul, the well from which I draw for my writing.
You write both YA and adult fantasy! What do you think is the biggest difference between writing YA and writing adult?
I can’t include as much description and detail in the YA. Some might say this is a good thing because I am rather addicted to description and detail.
What else do you want people to know about your Fives series?
Because I grew up at a time when very few spec fic stories featured women in any sort of role and certainly not as at the center of an adventure, I will never get tired of writing stories about girls and women who get to be the heroines in stories with thrilling sword fights, arduous overland treks, deadly space battles, riots and revolutions, and strength of every kind, whether explosively physical or quietly emotional. So this trilogy comes from the heart.
What YA books – by ladies! – would you recommend to fans who need something new to read?
I have to limit myself to three for space reasons so I’m leaving out a hundred books I would like to mention.
Michelle Sagara’s Queen of the Dead Trilogy. Silence and Touch are out; Grave is coming later this year. Teenager Emma has suffered her share of loss. Then she discovers she can see, touch, and speak with the dead. This is an intense read which I particularly love because of the connection between Em and her friends and family.
A Bride’s Story by Kaoru Mori. I guess this is not technically YA. It’s a manga series about “a young woman from a nomadic tribe betrothed to a twelve-year-old boy eight years her junior.” Exquisitely drawn and so lovely in its depiction of everyday life and memorable people.
Diana Wynne Jones is one of those rare writers who can combine genuinely funny humor with dead serious topics. All her books are worth checking out because the ones you end up liking best won’t be the same as my favorites: Charmed Life, The Lives of Christopher Chant, and the iconic Howl’s Moving Castle. Calcifer forever!
Like this post? Read the rest of our Starship Ladies series.