‘Creator of weird worlds, melder of magic and technology, consumer of chocolate.’
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In the beginning…tell me what made you decide to start writing?
I’ve been in love with stories as far back as I can remember. Reading them, telling them, spinning them over and over in my mind–it was perfectly natural for me to put pen to paper and start writing them down! I admit that I didn’t get very far as a youngster. It wasn’t until college that I decided I really wanted to publish my work. So I got serious about completing my stories and honing my craft.
Are there any authors or artists who influence(d) you?
Oh yes! The Big Three, aka Rosemary Sutcliff, Diana Wynne Jones, and Joan Aiken, were my greatest influences. From Sutcliff, I learned to capture emotion, setting, and those wonderfully small yet significant moments that reveal so much about character. Jones and Aiken taught me how to play with both fantasy and history and infuse whimsy and wonder into my stories.
On the visual media side, I love the films of Hayao Miyazaki. An early (edited) English-dubbed version of Nausicaa was one of my most-watched favorites growing up. Thanks to Miyazaki, flying things appear all over my stories, from space dragons to floating citadels to soaring power suits.
Tell me about your book / series.
To save their world, the mages of old plunged it into darkness. It’s time to bring back the light.
I’m attracted to weird worlds, both in my reading and my writing. The Sunless World series came about when I wanted to write about a dark world in a mechanical universe. Long ago, the mages plunged this world into eternal night to save it from the Scorching. Now the mages are gone and desperate states fight over the luminous quartz that is their primary source of light.
Rafe Grenfeld is a diplomat and spy who learns of the discovery of the Tower of Light, a legendary pillar of quartz, out in the unclaimed lands. Unfortunately, his informer dies before revealing its location and Rafe himself is on the run in a hostile state. He’s rescued by the mysterious Isabella, who has her own secrets and her own agenda. As Rafe races to claim the quartz for his own country, dark forces close in and lost magic resurfaces in unexpected ways.
Tell me about a principal character in your book(s). What makes them memorable?
I’m very fond of Rafe, the protagonist of The Sunless World series. He’s competent and adaptable, thinks quickly on his feet, and is prone to making quips. He has a strong sense of loyalty towars his family and state and lacks any large ambitions for himself. But of course, all of that is tested during the course of the series as he’s caught up in events much bigger than he expected. I put him through the wringer, but even though he fails and falls, he always gets back on his feet.
Are you a plotter, or a pantser? What do you think of the opposite approach?
I’m somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. While I do need some sort of road map to get from beginning to end, I can’t plot everything out or else I get bored. A huge part of the fun of writing is discovering the story as I go along. A loose structure keeps me from losing my way, but still has plenty of room for surprises. Even in my most tightly-plotted story to date, an unexpected side character appeared in the very first scene! I regularly had to update my outline to accommodate the new twists.
Tell me about one favourite hobby or pastime that isn’t writing or reading.
Last year, I started learning Japanese along with my younger two children. I watch anime and read manga, so I had a good excuse. We’re entirely self-taught and while we haven’t made it very far, it’s been a super-fun experience. The cat, though, is probably tired of being used as a Japanese language conversation piece!
What are you writing at the moment?
At the moment, I’m poking at some already-written material, shaping it into something publishable. One project is gaslamp fantasy, set in a Regency-inspired world. Trey Shield, known as the Shade Hunter, exorcises spirits and fights demons. Arabella Trent is a ghost who has no memories of the accident that caused her disembodiment. It’s his job to send her on to the afterlife. But she’s not ready to give up on life yet—even if time is running out for her.
The other project is a meandering YA fantasy about a seventeen-year-old mage with unusual powers who finds herself in an academy full of other magical misfits. I’m writing this one as a serial in loosely-connected arcs.
What is your favourite genre to write, and why?
Science fantasy! I love melding elements of both fantasy and science fiction. Prayer magic and nanobots? Dragons in space? Magic-powered submarines and space suits? I’ve done them all.
I enjoy both fantasy and science fiction, and science fantasy lets me pull concepts and ideas from both. Also, I grew up in a big city and live in a world far more technologically advanced than that of most classic fantasies. Take transportation, for example. I’ve had far more experience traveling in cars, trains, and planes than on horseback. So, in a way, science fantasy lets me build a strange and wonderful world on top of what is already familiar to me.
Or, my love of science fantasy could be entirely due to me binging on 80s cartoons during my childhood!
If you could, would you live in the world you’ve created? Why / why not?
Ha ha, no. Most of the worlds I create are in imminent danger of collapse (have to give my heroes a suitable challenge, right?). I personally like a peaceable life full of creature comforts, which is not easily found in the perilous worlds I dream up!
If you could go back to the start of your writing career, what is the one piece of advice you’d give yourself?
I’d tell myself to be bolder, to take risks, and step outside my comfort zone. I don’t know if Younger Me would listen, though. Some things you just have to learn from experience.
Rabia, thank you for participating in Galaxy of Authors!