We’re about halfway through this recent batch of interviews I’ve been doing. Today we have fantasy author Gwen Perkins. She recently had her novel The Universal Mirror published by Hydra Publications. Stay tuned for tomorrow, when we’ll have a sneak preview of Gwen’s upcoming book The Jealousy Glass.
Tell me three things about yourself you think everyone should know and one thing that almost nobody knows.
Three things about myself everyone should know…
Well, I’m a nerd. Not a geek–that implies a level of cool that I don’t think I’ve got. (See? I just proved my point with that sentence right there.) I’m the kind of person that trips over couches, reads Suetonius in the bathtub and will try anything twice… as long as a computer or a D6 is involved.
I shouldn’t be allowed alone in a kitchen. Even my children supervise me when I wander near an oven despite the centrally-located fire extinguisher. I’ve set water on fire, made flaming peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and destroyed so many microwaves that I’m no longer allowed to own one. (Or perhaps that was after I thoughtfully looked at the last microwave and said with a dreamy air and my finger on my chin, “you know, that’s big enough to fit a turkey inside…”)
I love art. Nothing makes me happier than when someone gives me a piece of art that they made themselves. I dream of someday writing novels that inspire others to create in turn.
So far as one thing that almost nobody knows, I’d say that it would be the fact that I’m incredibly shy when it comes to talking to people face to face. I hide it well (in fact, my job consists at times of talking to audiences of hundreds) but inside, I’m shaking with fear every time I open my mouth until I realize that it’ll be fine after all. If you meet me and I’m acting awkward, it’s just that I’m being shy again. It wears off, generally quickly.
Your blog says you’re a museum curator. What kind of museum do you work in (when you’re not writing)?
I work in a history museum. History is my field and I was fortunate to obtain a position that both allows me to work in an area that I love while broadening my horizons in terms of examining art and artifacts. Much of my work is in the area of social history and looking at how events or places shape people but I do branch out on occasion. (I’m particularly fond of searching out weird events or interesting people to focus an exhibit or essay on.)
You have an MA in Military History. How does that affect your writing? Aren’t you supposed to then be writing military SF and not fantasy?
I have to be honest and tell you that I pursued my MA more for my work and academic interests than for the connection to writing fiction. Fiction is my first and truest love.
That said, the knowledge that I gained with my degree definitely influences the writing of the Artifacts series. My thesis was on medieval Byzantium and that empire’s intersections with Crusaders in 1204. I used that topic to strengthen and enrich the story of my second novel although I won’t be fully exploring war until book three. While I have studied and researched modern warfare, my interests in the medieval world are what compelled me towards fantasy. At some point I may venture into a little military SF but most of my research (little of it modern) is actually better suited to the epic fantasy environment.
Was The Universal Mirror the first book you ever wrote, or is there a stack of novels in a trunk somewhere that will never see the light of day?
Well, the first book that I ever wrote was written when I was fourteen. It was a story about a telepathic girl and her mother. I’m fairly certain that’s a trunk novel although I don’t know where the trunk is at this point. There are a number of other half-completed works piled around my house at the moment.
The Universal Mirror isn’t my first novel but it is significant among my forays into fantasy fiction. Until I completed my thesis, I actually spent most of my time writing horror and science fiction. It took months spent in the world of medieval Constantinople and Venice to have enough of a sense of where I could go with those types of settings to feel comfortable giving it a try.
Do you have any specific writing habits?
I normally write after my children go to bed which also means I tend to write after dark. This often spills over into times that they’re not home. I find it rather difficult to write during the day or in silence. Both things make me extremely fidgety.
Another habit that I have involves dealing with writer’s block. When I get stuck on a point, I walk away from the computer and write the scene longhand. For me, something about the feel of pen on paper and the physical motion of writing jars my brain loose enough to get my creativity kickstarted again.
You have another book coming out soon. Tell me about that.
The book that I have coming out this November is The Jealousy Glass, the next in the Artifacts of Empire series. It’s set a year after the events of The Universal Mirror and was written to be easily read as a standalone piece. It follows two of the characters from Mirror (Asahel and Felix) as they travel on a diplomatic mission to the Empire of Anjdur. Felix and Asahel go to negotiate a treaty but quickly find themselves tangled up in the intrigues of the court, the manipulations of the Anjduri Empress, and finally, a war.
What are three of your favorite novels?
This is a hard thing to choose. Off the top of my head, three speculative fiction novels that have influenced me profoundly would be Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler, The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, and Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card.
Enggar Adirasa did the cover art for Mirror. I was the one who selected Enggar initially after many hours spent digging through the internet. It’s a real pleasure to work with him (he’s doing the cover for the sequel as well). One of the things that I enjoy so much about his work is that he captures the spirit of the fantasy novels that I read in my youth. The art is alive and full of color–the story leaps off the cover at you and I love that.
How has being published changed your life?
I look a bit more legitimate when I start talking about imaginary people.
Okay, maybe that’s not all that’s changed. I’ve met a lot of people, readers and writers, who have been a great support to me. There has also been wonderful feedback that has helped grow as an author that I feel I wouldn’t have received otherwise. The first book has gotten a fair amount of attention which is flattering. It just thrills me to hear from people who’ve read the book and have an investment in the characters or ideas. Those kinds of comments also influence and inspire me as I go on writing more stories set in this universe.
What should I have asked, if only I had known to?
“What is the secret of life, the universe, and everything?”
On second thought, I think we all already know the answer so there really wouldn’t be much point in asking. (For those who don’t know, it’s 42.)
More on Gwen and her book: