Thursday, November 15, 2018

Stephen Leigh Interview - A Rising Moon

Photo Credit: Kyle Cassidy

Stephen Leigh has been writing science fiction since he was in grade school. His first professional sale was in 1975 (to Ben Bova, then the editor of Analog Science Fiction Magazine) and has been publishing regularly ever since then, both with short fiction and novels. His first novel, SLOW FALL TO DAWN, was published in 1981.

He has been nominated for and won several awards for his fiction over the years. He's written several stories for the WIILD CARDS shared world universe (edited by George RR Martin). He has written and published the occasional poems and non-fiction pieces, as well.

What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?
When I teach writing, I tend to break fiction down in four basic “atoms”: Character, Setting, Plot, and Theme -- along with the attendant molecules of Voice, Structure, Narrative Flow, and Point of View. Of the four atoms, I would argue that Character is far and away the most important. It’s the characters in a story or novel that we root for or against; it’s the characters that we care about; it’s the characters that we remember when we close the covers and think about what we’ve just read.

After all, Theme is what you use the characters to show, Setting is where the characters live, and Plot is what the characters do. I would maintain that you can have an incredible setting, a crackerjack plot, and a glorious theme that you want to examine, but if the characters are weak and one-dimensional, the story fails. Conversely, the setting can be minimalist, the plot semi-nonexistent, and the theme uncertain, but if the characters are vibrant, interesting, compelling, and complex, the reader will be sustained through the whole story.

It’s all about your characters!

What was your favorite book as a child and why?
My favorite writer in my youth was Ray Bradbury, and my favorite book “R Is For Rocket.” I fell in love with his writing very early and never lost that love. I read every book of his and every story I could find. His poetic language, his whimsy, his unique characters, his strong sense of setting, his compassion for the people who inhabited his stories: they were all traits I would try to incorporate in my own writing.

I had the pleasure of meeting him late in his life, and found that I liked him as a person as well as I liked him as a writer—that (alas) isn’t always the case when you finally get to meet your childhood idols, I’m afraid, but it was with Ray. I treasure the battered copy of “R Is For Rocket” that I had him autograph.

What chapter of A RISING MOON was the most memorable to write and why?
Hmmm… Tough one. I’ll give you two.

While Orla is the main focus of the novel, the book occasionally has chapters from the POV of Altan Savas, who for most of the novel is Orla’s antagonist. I think Chapter 5: Killing A God was one of the more satisfying chapters to write, since it encapsulates Savas’ personality: his portraying himself to those who command him as a “simple soldier”, yet displaying his ability to survive even in a political climate where he doesn’t feel entirely comfortable. The chapter also displays his instincts and willingness to throw himself into danger when duty requires it.

For Orla, I think a critical chapter is Chapter 6: A Mother’s Touch, which is where she first has to truly confront the powerful and dangerous ghosts of those caught in the Moonshadow, including that of her own mother. All the sections of the book where Orla is inside the Moonshadow were memorable to write (and difficult to handle), but that one stands out as displaying Orla’s personality and what Orla would one day be able to accomplish.

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to have a life in writing?
Marry someone rich.

OK, just kidding. What’s important is that you must have a passion for writing—it has to be something you have to do, even if you never make a penny from it. You must also have dedication to the craft, because like any art you’re going to need to work hard and constantly to become competent. And you’ll need persistence, because it can be awfully tempting to quit you’re getting rejection after rejection. You have to force yourself to keep going and keep writing and keep learning.

What about talent, you say? Talent is overrated. It’s nice to have some native talent, but I’ve seen many new writers with capital-T Talent who don’t have passion, dedication, and persistence… and they all fall by the wayside—because talent alone isn’t enough. Someone with just a modicum of talent, but with an intense, burning desire to be successful at writing and a willingness to put in the hard work and time will always, always, do better than someone who is relying entirely on native talent.

I teach creative writing at a university. I tell my students every semester that they probably already know if they should be writers. All they have to do is ask this: have you always written stories? Do you write stories because you have to write them? Do you write even when you’re not taking a class that forces you to write? Do you write outside of class? Do you make time in your day so that you can indulge that need to write?

If so, maybe you’re a writer.

For those who are unfamiliar with the Sunpath Cycle series, how would you introduce it?
The Sunpath Cycle is essentially alternate history in a world where magic actually works. It’s based (extremely loosely) on the Roman occupation of Britain, though the occupying force in my books is more based on the Turks than the Romans. Specifically, I’m looking at the 1st Century CE and the time of the Celtic tribal queen Boudica/Boudicca/Boadicea/Boudicea/Buddug (there are tons of alternate spellings of her name) and her uprising against the Romans.

Voada, in A FADING SUN, is essentially Boudica—as I say in the Acknowledgments at the end of A FADING SUN, “The historical Boudica has been forced to wear the masks of many agendas throughout history, not all of them complimentary and certainly few of them accurate. In this book, she wears a mask of my own making, and it’s as false as any of the others.”

Orla, in A RISING MOON, is her daughter. In real history, the fate of Boudica’s two daughters isn’t known; I thought I’d rectify that (though in my books, Voada has only one daughter). The Sunpath Cycle explores power and how power can corrupt even those who intend to do good with the power they’re given.

Any new and exciting things that you would like to share?
Well, I’m in the midst of boxing up my literary papers (drafts, manuscripts, galleys, notes, correspondence, etc) to Texas A&M University for their science fiction and fantasy archive collection. I received an email from Jeremy Brett, the Curator of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Research Collection at Texas A&M University, saying they were interested in handling my papers since they have a growing collection from science fiction and fantasy writers, including Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Bob Silverberg, Ursula K. LeGuin, George RR Martin, and several other luminaries of my genre. All people with whom I’d love my manuscripts and papers to be sharing an archive.

Though, to quote from an essay I wrote about this:

“I’m finding the task of packing up all this stuff somewhat bittersweet. On one hand, it’ll be nice to have uncluttered the office and my files somewhat, but now all those manuscripts I toiled and sweated over, that I read and re-read and re-read again, that Denise and I corrected and marked, will no longer be with me. I won’t ever see them again, in all likelihood. Maybe no one will ever see them again except the archivists at TAMU.

“I find myself looking at the manuscripts as I’m putting them in the boxes, examining the stains and wrinkles on the paper, the sometimes illegible marginal writing here and there, the colorful flags sticking out from the sides marking pages that needed attention, the cover letters from various editors and assistant editors, and so on. Even though in many cases I haven’t looked at the manuscripts in years or decades, seeing them again brings up memories of that time, and I’ll no longer have their presence in my office to spark reminiscence.

“I lay them in the boxes like I’m burying old friends—which to some extent, I am. I won’t be there when they’re exhumed at the other end, examined by dispassionate hands and eyes that know them not at all—to be catalogued, then re-entombed somewhere else and perhaps forgotten from that time forward.”

Still, on the whole this is a good thing to have happen, and I’m glad that TAMU asked me to contribute. At the moment, I have nine boxes full of paper ready to go, with probably a few more to fill before I’m done.

Choose a unique item from your wallet and explain why you carry it around.
Rather than my wallet, let’s look in my pockets. I always carry around two or three guitar picks: two or three because guitar picks are far too easy to lose, and also because one never knows when you might come across a guitar you’d like to play and I’m particular about my picks (for the curious, they’re Dunlop Primetones in 1.0 mm thickness.)

I also have an Irish half-crown coin from 1951 (my birth year). I’ve been to Ireland a few times now, and will be going back in May 2019 (co-leading a student creative writing trip) and in August 2019 for the science fiction worldcon, which is in Dublin next year. I have fallen in love with the country, as well as the scenery and history there. My initial books with DAW (the Cloudmages trilogy) were inspired by my first visit to Ireland, I’ve written another book (THE CROW OF CONNEMARA) based on my visits, and my current novel-in-progress (the working title is SLEEPING WOLF, but I intend to replace that with a better title) was inspired by a visit to the gorgeous Dingle Peninsula and the Blasket Islands. The half-crown is essentially my ‘worry stone’ and a reminder of the emerald isle.

I also always carry a pen in my pocket, because you never know when an idea or inspiration might strike; if you don’t write it down immediately, it’ll be gone forever!

What is the most important object you own?
That’s a tough one. My laptop is something I use all the time, and it’s terrifically important since it’s on that device that I do all my writing. But it’s certainly possible to write without a computer—a pencil and paper work just fine (and even has a “delete” key, in the form of the eraser).

I play music professionally on a semi-regular basis, both in a band and as a solo act, so my guitars, my bass, amps, and sound system are all also important objects that I’d hate to lose. If they were suddenly gone, I’d feel the need to get another instrument quickly.

I write every day; I play/practice music pretty much every day as well.

If you could live in any period in history, where would it be and why?
There are innumerable places and times in history I’d love to visit. But to actually live in them? I think about the level of health care, or the difficulties of travel and communication, or the lack of an accepting society for people of all races and sexual preferences and it’s “Uh, no thanks.” I don’t think I’d care to actually live any-when except the here and now, and only in certain countries even now (and only in certain areas of certain countries, for that matter). Sometime in the future might be nice, but we don’t know what the future holds.

Essentially, I’m happy to visit other places and times in my imagination and in books, but for actual living I’m mostly pleased to be where I am.

Thanks for inviting me to your blog! I love Book Nerds.

The second novel in this gripping historical fantasy series, set in an alternate first-century Britain, follows Orla Paorach, freedom fighter and daughter of a Boudica-like warrior.

"Orla! Hurry, girl! You must come with me!"

Orla Paorach's life was overturned for the first time when her mother Voada was beaten senseless, and Orla was taken by Bakir, a minor Mundoan army officer, as his second wife. Now her world is shattered a second time: Bakir has died in battle, and so has her mother, now known as the Mad Draoi of the Cateni.

Orla flees northward to Onglse, the island home of the draoi that is the center of the Cateni rebellion against the Mundoa. She becomes quickly embroiled in battle as well as deceptions from both sides of the conflict, as everyone expects that she's come to take up her mother's mantle. Those who knew her mother offer their help, but can she trust any of them? Can she avoid becoming the Mad Draoi herself, lost in the magic her mother once tried to wield?

An intense, fast-paced novel, A Rising Moon explores trust, courage, and the deep seduction of power.

Praise for A FADING SUN

"Leigh’s complex and substantial fantasy series opener adds elaborate spellcasting and powerful sorcerers to the legend of Celtic warrior queen Boudica repelling the Romans.... Leigh skillfully weaves together a comprehensive and rich mythology, intricate fight sequences, and a mother’s all-consuming revenge." —Publishers Weekly

"Readers, who will detect a resemblance to Ireland, Scotland, and England during the Roman era, will eagerly anticipate the sequel." —Booklist

"Leigh builds a vivid, thrilling and exciting new world that will captivate and hold the imagination in A Fading Sun." —RT Reviews

"Stephen Leigh’s A Fading Sun is another powerful entry in the category of stories about the change wrought by empires—for better or worse." —Barnes & Noble Sci-fi & Fantasy Blog

You can purchase A Rising Moon (The Sunpath Cycle #2) at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you STEPHEN LEIGH for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of A Rising Moon (The Sunpath Cycle #2) by Stephen Leigh..


  1. "When was the last time you wrote a letter to someone on paper?" Not all that long ago!

  2. Last night i am constantly journaling

  3. The last time i wrote a letter to someone on paper was over 20 years ago

  4. Two weeks ago. I send my granddaughters a card every month and I always write a letter in it.