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By Patrick (2006-05-01)
The following interview with Caitlin Sweet was done as a collaborative effort between Pat of Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist and Larry (wotmania/OF Blog of the Fallen). We agreed that we would divide the interview into two parts, with Pat concentrating on asking questions relating to the general descriptions of Sweet’s two published books, A Telling of Stars and The Silences of Home and her experiences with the fantasy industry, while Larry would devote the second section toward exploring a more behind-the-scenes look of the author as a person. Here is the result of our collaboration with an author who has much to say and hopefully will be a voice in fantasy for years to come.
For the benefit of those of us new to your work, without giving too much away, give us a taste of the story that is A TELLING OF STARS.
A Telling of Stars is the story of an 1year-old girl whose family is murdered by a band of Sea Raiders, members of a race cursed by the legendary Queen Galha. The girl, Jaele, sets off in pursuit of one of the Raiders, bent, of course, on exacting a bloody and satisfying revenge. She follows in Queen Galha's footsteps, inspired by her legend, and determined to gather others to her cause. One of these others is Dorin, a young man with whom she conducts a troubled, on again-off again love affair. Dorin changes Jaele, as do all of the people, places and creatures that she encounters; her quest, and her ultimate confrontation with the Sea Raider, end up unfolding very, very differently from what she'd initially hoped for.
The story is fairly simple, since it's told from only one point-of-view, but there are overlapping timelines, and the language is fairly dense and "lyrical" (the adjective most commonly applied to it!). It's also a pretty short book, in fantasy terms: just over 300 pages.
Same as the first question, but in regards to THE SILENCES OF HOME.
This story is set many hundreds of years before Jaele's time, and follows the seminal events of Queen Galha's reign - the events that became the legend that so inspired Jaele. As it turns out, the truth of the original Sea Raider attack, and Galha's epic revenge, was far, far less flattering than the legend. The story centers around a group of characters whose conflicts and passions mirror and even affect the larger developments within the realm.
Silences is a longer book than Telling; its prose is less poetic, and there are many more points-of-view. The two books may be connected, but they're also very different, which is appropriate and, if I may say so, kind of cool!
What do you feel is your strength as a writer/storyteller?
My inability to make characters and situations black-and-white. See the epic fantasy answer below for more on this!
What author makes you shake your head in admiration? Many fantasy authors don't read much inside the genre. Is it the case with you?
It is actually, and I'm fairly ashamed to admit it! My excuse, these past six years, has been my kids: I now read only before I go to bed, and thus get through only about one book every month or so, if I'm lucky...ah, how times have changed! It took me nearly the entire summer, last year, to read Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, and about that long to conquer Scott Bakker's tomes. Because it takes me so long to read anything, I try to read as widely as I can. So the authors I revere tend to be either genre authors who've been around for a long time (Ursula LeGuin, Patricia McKillip) or non-genre authors whose backlist I've discovered belatedly (Patrick White, an Australian who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in the 1970's, is one of these), or just non-genre authors, like Ian McEwan. All these authors, genre and non-genre, have a fairly stunning command of narrative; they write character-centred stories, using prose that's often unabashedly gorgeous. I also love Latin American authors. Borges is my hero; I was lucky enough to read his Ficciones in the original Spanish while I was at university.
What was the spark that generated the idea which drove you to write both your novels in the first place?
When I started A Telling of Stars (at age 21), I was attempting to recover from serious heartbreak and needed a cathartic creative outlet; I was also trying to write something that wouldn't be like so much of the adult fantasy I'd been reading, which had been disappointing me. (Again, I'll refer you to my epic fantasy answer for more in this vein...) So the spark was both personal and aesthetic. Silences was a more intellectual undertaking: I wanted to explore the relationship between history and legend, truth and propaganda. I was also interested in how individuals interact with the events of history. Thankfully, though, the intellectual spark was accompanied by an equally strong conception of the characters. I find that starting with only themes, and fleshing out characters according to these themes, doesn't work for me.