Friday, April 17, 2009

An interview with fantasy author and escapist Sarah Avery

Today I'm interviewing Sarah Avery, an author who likes to escape into the fantasy realm and write about it too. We all can use a bit of escapism now and then...

1. So, Sarah, tell us--why did you choose to write fantasy?

When I was a kid I was misdiagnosed with a terminal illness. I escaped into books. Mainstream fiction wasn't far enough away, so I lived on science fiction and fantasy.

I realized I could escape into stories of my own, that I could create worlds out of language, worlds in which my own ostensibly impending demise was just not relevant.

2. So you’re writing unapologetic escapism?

To paraphrase Tolkien, anyone who objects to escapism on principle is, at heart, a jailer.

But that’s not the whole story, either. You know that Marianne Moore aphorism about writing imaginary gardens with real toads in them? If your toads aren’t real enough, nobody can escape into your imaginary garden. So an escapist also has to be able to write like a realist.

2. What writers influence you most?

I love the way LeGuin's early Earthsea novels create the feel of an incredibly deep, varied, longstanding civilization in such short, fast-paced books, and I love the way she handles the experience of being a foreigner in The Dispossessed. Making your viewpoint character an outsider is a common quick-and-dirty writing trick for justifying lots of exposition, and you see it all over fantasy and science fiction. You rarely see the outsider protagonist experience wave after wave of culture shock. The quick-and-dirty author tricks that everyone in the genre has to use, LeGuin usually finds ways to transform into opportunities for depth and beauty.

A lot of what I know about dialog, I learned from Joss Whedon, from Firefly and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I love the way Whedon can weave comic, tragic, and shamelessly melodramatic layers of story into a single, completely believable conversation.

3. How does your teaching feed your writing?

I'm a freelance tutor these days, and most of my students are teenage boys. Once they catch on that I'm there to help them, not to judge them, they get very honest about how they read, what they read for fun, and why. They’re a great reality check for me because all my formal training in creative writing was about making beautiful sentences. Beautiful sentences are not enough to make a story. Something has to happen. If you ask my students, preferably something with explosions. Fisticuffs at the very least.

4. What's your writing process like?

Right now, while my son is a toddler, my writing process consists of frantically trying on new writing processes, hoping to find one that’s compatible with parenthood. Before my son was born, I used to crank out over 200,000 words a year—that’s about 600 pages—but I used to do it by settling in at my local Starbucks for a four hour writing session every day.

These days, I’m lucky if I can average 300 words a day—that’s a little over one page. On the other hand, I do write every day, no matter what. The day after my son was born, I wrote.

5. So, what’s this new book of yours?

Atlantis Cranks Need Not Apply is a supernatural comedy about a coven of witches on the Jersey Shore who discover a guy with gills washed up on the beach during hurricane season. It’s a stand-alone story, but follows the same characters as my first book, Closing Arguments, in which a Wiccan personal injury attorney has to rescue his dead occultist parents when they get stuck in the wrong afterlife. The characters in Rugosa Coven are a lot of fun to write—they’re very real Neo-Pagans who live in a magical realist version of New Jersey.

For more information about me and my novels, please visit:

Sarah Avery is an escaped academic, a grown-up army brat, a writer, an ambivalently entrepreneurial private tutor, a new mother, a longtime wife, an initiated Wiccan priestess, and a committed blogger ( In addition to the Rugosa Coven novellas available and forthcoming from Drollerie Press, she has stories forthcoming in Black Gate and Jim Baen's Universe.

Thank you, Sarah. It has been great getting to know you and your work. ~ Cheryl Kaye Tardif


Unknown said...

Thanks for having me, Cheryl! I've really enjoyed checking out your blog. You've got a lot of good stuff here.

Cheryl Tardif said...

You're very welcome, Sarah. I really enjoyed your answers.

P.S. I'm also a grown-up military brat. ;-)