Thursday, December 27, 2018

Interview with Joyce Reynolds-Ward, author of Klone’s Stronghold

Today the Speculative Fiction Showcase have great pleasure in interviewing Joyce Reynolds-Ward, whose new release, Klone’s Stronghold, we featured on August 15, 2018.

Cover art by Roslyn McFarland
What led you to write in the first place, and what piqued your interest in Science Fiction and Fantasy?
I have written stories off and on since I was a little kid. My first memory of writing is rolling some yellow-colored paper into my dad’s typewriter and composing some sort of Mighty Mouse fanfic. Next came the trilogy of horse racing novels starting in 5th grade, featuring a palomino Thoroughbred filly and her girl that—of course—won the Triple Crown. Then I started playing around with an action-adventure story that featured intrepid journalist sisters in James Bond-like adventures, inspired in part by the TV series The Name of the Game.
Science fiction and fantasy entered the scene when I read The Lord of the Rings in junior high. By then besides spy thrillers I was also gobbling up Andre Norton, Isaac Asimov, and Heinlein as well as reading The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction as well as Analog. I had a huge fascination with psi thrillers, which were pretty common in the era, and had a set of stories of my own featuring telepaths called Sensitives. I’ve continued on from there, writing off and on.

You are a prolific writer, having written numerous full-length novels as well as short stories – and poetry! What drives you, and how do you find (or make) time for writing?
I blame Jay Lake for getting me into the habit of trying to write 1000-2500 words a day when actively working on a novel. I participated in the Fireside Writers’ gathering for several years. Part of my motivation at the time was simply that I wanted to get my work out in front of readers, and if I didn’t make time for writing around a stressful day job, I wouldn’t get any work done. For several years I got up at 4:30 am, wrote for an hour, then did social media while eating breakfast before leaving for my special education teaching job. Then I would do edits during my lunch, and further revisions in the evening.
Cover art by Mariah Sinclair
I’m nowhere near as intense now, though I did produce one book, Netwalk’s Children, while moving 350 miles (we did everything ourselves using our pickup and horse trailer).
Making time for writing means I turn grouchy and make it a priority. It’s actually more challenging since my spouse retired because there are fun things we want to do. But when I am deep into a story, essay, or novel, I hit the computer pretty much daily. I shoot for at least 1000 words a day, and really prefer to write 1500-2000 words.
I also make sure I have a notepad with me at all times, to jot down ideas related to the current book or else new story or essay ideas.
Short stories simply don’t come as fast and my daily word count is lower when I write short. I compose in scenes, so I try to get through at least one scene and preferably two or more per day. Short stories are tighter so they’re pretty much a single scene at a crack. Poetry comes after I’ve jotted some notes, and then I go with it. It’s not as frequent as the short stories, though.

Are you a plotter or a pantser when it comes to planning your books?

Plotter. I use an elaborate scene matrix to outline my books before I write. I’ve found that this keeps me from getting bogged down when I reach the muddle in the middle. But my book planning also involves notes in Scrivener (love the note card system), worldbuilding and brainstorming on continuous sheets of easel paper, and research notes.

Tell us about your experience as a special education teacher on Mount Hood. How has that experience informed your writing and in particular your most recent full-length novel, Klone’s Stronghold?

Several of my published short stories come directly from my teaching experience—some in the oddest ways. So Sorry About Your Loss came from an exasperated comment by a colleague that “there’s a greeting card for everything!” J.C. the Ski Bum came from an offhand comment by a student during a school ski night. Witch Trails came from a horrendous in-service experience where the instructor said (in reference to a kid misspelling “witch trials” as “witch trails”) blithely “there’s no such thing as witch trails.” When I wrote a short story for a privately published Jay Lake anthology—Jay Lake and the Ski Bum Zombies—(during his first bout with cancer), I ran elements of the story past my students at the time. They loved it! 
Cover art by Roslyn McFarland
The ski experiences connected with teaching on Mt. Hood also shaped my Netwalk Sequence series. One of my main characters, Melanie Fielding, was a former World Cup competitor and skied daily. The first two Netwalk books (Netwalk: Expanded Edition, Netwalker Uprising) feature skiing quite prominently. Later books have peripheral references to skiing. Tranquility Freeriders in Learning in Space: Bess and Alex, features skiing and snowboarding on the Moon, and Netwalking Space has an extended lunar ski sequence.
One of my special education strengths was working with students who struggled with writing. I firmly believe that reading and writing are interconnected—I saw a lot of students with reading comprehension difficulties who also had problems writing. Many of the same strategies that help with reading comprehension carry over well to writing—graphic organizers foremost amongst them. I found that working with remedial writing students helped me to be more conscious of my own writing and has made me a better editor of other people’s work. One of the challenges I faced when in writing groups was critiquing without taking over another writer’s voice. Well, when you are a teacher working with remedial writers, you can’t take over your student’s voice—at least not without facing accusations that you wrote the paper for the student. Helping a blocked student figure out how to say it in their own words and voice actually helped me.
Reeni in Klone’s Stronghold is a special education teacher at heart. Some people go into sped accidentally, and then there are others who are born sped teachers. Reeni is born to it. She has an eye for quick miscue (mistakes) identification and the appropriate response to fix it. She’s also a good diagnostician and can identify learning process glitches quickly. Is she a little bit of a Mary Sue that way? Probably. I was good at diagnostic work as a special ed teacher—so much so that I was called back to help my district with testing a couple of years after my semi-retirement—and I’m fascinated by puzzling out learning problems when I run into them.

In the blurb for Klone’s Stronghold, you describe the protagonist as teaching “cryptid constructs”. Please can you talk more about what – or rather who – these are?

In the world of Klone’s Stronghold, “cryptid constructs” are genetically engineered crosses of Sasquatch (the cryptid element) and supernatural entities. I have a lot of oddball supernatural entity crosses in that world—part-dragons, demon/elementals, dragon/elementals, and then the kids, who are part-Sasquatch, part-supernatural entities (for two of them, their mother is part-selkie). Strug (one of the major characters) is a Sasquatch/elemental cross. There are also human/elemental crosses, and Sharli, the violinist for the Mudhole band, is a woods elemental.

You mention your love for skiing and your time spent as a “ski bum”. You have clearly lived a very active and outdoorsy life, more so than many writers – how has this affected your writing and your imagination?

I take a lot of inspiration from being outdoors doing things—not just skiing but horseback riding, hunting, cutting wood, and camping. Skiing kept me sane during a tough job, especially since I was so done with urban life. It was a much-needed escape. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, the Netwalk Sequence stories are strongly influenced by my love for skiing. Goddess’s Honor is heavily rooted in Northern Oregon, from the Wallowas to the mouth of the Columbia River.
My love for the outdoors is pretty specific, though—I am a mountain woman. Mountains move me, whether they’re the wet Cascades or the drier Blue and Wallowa mountains. Seascapes and oceans don’t do much for me, though I do enjoy being around lakes and rivers. Paradoxically, amongst outdoor people, I’m nowhere near the most active or ambitious. I don’t do overnight hikes, never have. Car camping was always more my style, and I’ve preferred dispersed—non-organized campsite—camping to campgrounds.
I did have a spell in the past where I was a low-level environmental activist. Not so much these days because a lot of environmental activism springs from urban roots shaped strongly by urban ideologies and to some extent misperceptions about what activists see. My philosophy is shaped by what I observe—I enjoy watching wildlife of all sorts as well as domestic animals in situations closer to the feral life. In the summertime I often ride my horse on gravel roads through local farm and ranch land, up to nine miles at a time. On horseback it’s pretty easy to observe actual practices, at least in this particular setting.
I can see stories in the woods where I can’t in urban settings. The foundation for the Netwalk Sequence came from camping on the rim of Hells Canyon, then were refined by working and skiing on Mt. Hood. I have an as-yet unpublished (except for Witch Trails) set of urban fantasy/horror stories inspired by various rural locations around Oregon.

You talk in your bio about your deep love for horses and riding. For the uninitiated, can you explain the difference between Western and dressage, and how this leads you to write more about cowboys than knights?

While both Western and Dressage have European roots, Dressage has been more of a confined, arena pursuit, to the degree that many modern Dressage horses never set foot outside of an arena, much less live outside. Western has many manifestations in the show ring but it is also a working riding style. The Western tack was shaped by working cowboys and has significant regional differences in the American West—all the way from Alberta down to Texas and Mexico (Mexican saddles are very very interesting and I’d like to ride one someday). Different saddle, bridle, and chap styles evolved from different working conditions (which shows up in different cinch configurations, different types of bridles, different types of reins, different types of chaps).
I’ve ridden some Dressage, but I grew up riding Western and it’s a style I revert to all of the time. One reason I write more about cowboy-influenced horsemanship than knight-influenced horsemanship is that I honestly do not feel a strong connection to Europe and European-styled stories. My family history has been North American for several hundred years—I am the descendant of poor dirt farmers—and the whole medieval thing just doesn’t resonate very strongly with me. Castles aren’t just a European thing—the Japanese have castles (Osaka Castle is AMAZING), as did some of the Southwestern peoples. I’ve spent more time in the Southwest than I have in Europe, so I simply just don’t feel that I know and experience that part of the world sufficiently to write about it. My visits to Amsterdam and Paris hammered that awareness home.

On the topic of realism, sometimes Fantasy writers fall down on the subject of horses as a means of transport (!) something Diana Wynne Jones satirised in The Tough Guide to Fantasyland. How important is realism in the writing of fantasy and science fiction, and what are the limits?

Realism is very important in writing science fiction and fantasy, in my opinion. But realism is important to ALL writing. One interesting situation I encountered at a literary writing conference was a writer who wanted to pick my brain about worldbuilding because he was writing a near-future story and realized he had to consciously create that world. Non-genre writers do engage in worldbuilding, they just don’t consciously think they do.
Thing is, you have to base your stories in something that a reader can relate to. This includes eating, sleeping, smells, and, to the extent possible, technologies used. When building my fantasy worlds, I looked to chronicles from fur trappers, settlers, and the like to get a feel for what would be more realistic elements of daily life. I’m not just talking horses, I’m referring to things like food, clothing, weaponry, and shelter. Diana Wynne Jones slams the regular appearance of stew in fantasy quest novels and she’s right—especially when journeying, no one is going to have the time to cook stew. And any subject such as horses, musical instruments, and guns where there are many knowledgeable sources requires careful research because if you get it wrong, boy are you ever going to hear about it.
Cover art by Roslyn McFarland
One problem I have with a lot of Weird West/Western alternative histories is that while there are excellent, well-researched stories, there are still many others with superficial research based on Western tropes. I have very little patience with Native American clichés that clearly come from appropriation narratives, especially when drifting into the spiritual side of things. It is not hard to research Native American cultures these days and get them right, especially since many official Native tribal entities actively provide sources presenting their perspective and cultural history. For example, if you are writing a story set in the Pacific Northwest Plateau, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla are THE source for Native information. Not only do they have their own museum, but the Umatilla are cited as sourcing for information provided at the Whitman Mission, Fort Walla Walla, and other otherwise-white focused sources. The Nez Perce (Nimiipuu) also have strong Native-focused sourcing. This is just my local experience—and I am sure that the same is true throughout much of North America.

Tell us about your Goddess’s Honor series. What led you to write that series, and what can you tell us about the final book in the series, Choices of Honor, which is out in mid-2019?

Goddess’s Honor has its roots in a story I started back in high school. It took many years before I could find a way to write about that world that wasn’t a cliché, especially since I had a hard time writing about one of the primary characters, Alicira. Moving the focus to Katerin Healer who turns out to be related to Alicira was a huge breakthrough. As I poked at the story more, I realized it was about a particular power struggle amongst the gods of that world that spilled over into humans and human sorcerers, some of whom were powerful political leaders.
Cover art by Roslyn McFarland
I also wanted to write a non-European setting fantasy with strong female lead characters. One subconscious motivation was to write a story about settlement that depended on the mix of plague—which turned out to have its roots in a curse that went worldwide—and political exiles who were dependent on the good will of the native peoples of the lands where they landed. At that point I wanted to rewrite the settlement narrative to one of assimilation of the immigrants by the natives, not conquest. I don’t know how well I’ve done with that aspect of what I write. I’m not ready to write the earlier parts of the story, though I hint at it.

I flipped the trope of the Chosen One somewhat in the middle book, Challenges of Honor, when Rekaré struggles with being that person. Choices of Honor takes that flip further, as Katerin and Rekaré confront the colonial powers that spawned them. Rekaré’s choices lead to a much different outcome than the trope would expect.

You write both Fantasy and Science Fiction (and more). How does writing a series like the Netwalk Sequence differ from writing one like Goddess’s Honor?
In some ways, they’re very similar. Both series feature strong, independent female leadership as well as family dynamics. But Goddess’s Honor requires a different type of research from the Netwalk Sequence. Netwalk depended very heavily on neuroscience research connected to my special education training as well as research about space. Goddess’s Honor focuses more on frontier research as well as building a magic system based on leadership having ties to the land.
Characterization was very different, too, because the characters in the Netwalk Sequence are inherently powerful risk-takers. They are a corporate dynasty of women who dared to reach beyond what was expected of them. The men who support them are technological geniuses with strong protective drives—which translates into creating gadgets that help those women excel. The women administer, the men invent. Now that doesn’t mean the women don’t innovate, either—but their primary role is manipulating power.
Netwalk Sequence also depends heavily on the Gizmo, a mysterious war machine that wreaked havoc on the world before the earlier generations in the story captured it. I’ve written some of the pre-Gizmo backstory and may do more.

Goddess’s Honor looks at the concept of the Chosen One, fate, and divine intervention in a settler setting. It’s also a fantastic rewrite of the typical colonialist settlement narrative. Again, I don’t know how well I convey that notion. But in the world of Goddess’s Honor, the colonialist mentality is a failing one. Assimilation into the cultures of the new land—an opening provided by a worldwide plague—provides my settlers with a place to live. The corruption of one leader toward a colonialist mindset as he ages creates the problem at the beginning of the series. The resolution of the series is definitely not colonial.
The character dynamics in Goddess’s Honor are different as well. Both Katerin and Rekaré are independent. Katerin lost her beloved early on in their relationship, and while Rekaré dearly loves her spouse, her fate takes her away from him. Alicira depends on her spouses, Heinmyets and Inharise, for support—but she went through a horrific experience which weakened her. The dynamics of that relationship are egalitarian—Heinmyets is the heir to Keldara, Inharise to Clenda, and Alicira is exiled from Medvara. But the three of them meld their magic and their wisdom to rule over the Two Nations of Keldara and Clenda. Their children are raised together (Rekaré is Alicira’s daughter by the villain Zauril while Rekaré’s beloved Cenarth is the son of Heinmyets and Inharise. The twin children of Heinmyets and Alicira die due to a plague, and Heinmyets and Inharise do not have other children).

When you are not writing, what do you do to relax?
I spend time riding my horse, doing other outdoor things (fishing, hunting, hiking, working on trail maintenance, wildlife watching), reading, and quilting. Due to age-related issues I don’t ski as much as I did a few years ago but I do like watching ski videos. I used to make jewelry but other craft forms take a higher priority these days. When I’m in Wallowa County I spend one day a week sewing with other women at a local Grange. We joke, solve the problems of the world, share local news (with only a weekly paper, Facebook groups, and a local radio station personal connections are often the only way to know what’s happening), and brainstorm new creations.
Fishing and hunting are often excuses to be outside and watch wildlife interactions. Again, due to age, we’re not very aggressive hunters. We eat what we take, but if we don’t find something, it’s no big deal.

What are you reading? Do you read within the genres, or prefer to read other kinds of fiction – or non-fiction?
I read widely, including genre fiction. Within genre at the moment I focus on work by other women and persons of color. I’ve got a solid foundation in the roots of science fiction and fantasy, so traditional work within the field doesn’t tend to excite me. Because I am a voracious reader I depend a lot on my local library, which doesn’t always have the newest genre works. But I have branched out into reading obscure Western genre and Western literary works, and discovered to my fascination that there’s some pretty decent stuff out there. I don’t read much romance or chick lit, but I do read some. Nonfiction really depends on my mood. I like some historical works but most of that tends to be research reading in pretty obscure areas. I don’t tend to read many thrillers, action-adventure, or mainstream best sellers. I’m one of those people who turns to reading when I’m bored or have down time. I don’t watch much TV or video, nor do I game. So I read a lot.

What are you working on at the moment?
I am rewriting a previously published cli-fi novella, Seeking Shelter at the End of the World, that I got the rights back to. It’s a pretty extensive rewrite including a new title, Beating the Apocalypse. I’ve added two more point of view characters, and extended the duration of the story significantly. It’s harder than writing from scratch, but I think the story deserves this opportunity.

What are your plans for 2019 and beyond?
I am editing a small anthology which comes out in March called Whimsical Beasts. After I publish Beating the Apocalypse, I’ll write Choices of Honor. Then I will branch out into Weird West/alternative Western history with Oregon Country, based on the change point that when Hudson’s Bay leader Dr. John McLoughlin approached the early Oregon settlers and fur trappers to propose a separate Oregon Country away from both Great Britain and the US, they said “yes” instead of the “no” that happened. And there’s magic in it, of course. The viewpoint character is a fictional grandson of McLoughlin’s who is torn between his magical obligations toward the Oregon Country and his infatuation with a sorceress who has made a devil’s deal with an earlier divided US to save her enslaved family.
After that, I have plans for a sequel to Klone’s Stronghold, a different urban fantasy series connected to my Witch Trails story, and a far-future extension of the Netwalk Sequence called Star Shepherds. I have notes for short stories, some essays, and other books as well. I’m also poking at making a book out of my ski blog posts and may write a short book about my horse’s encounter with white line disease. So I don’t foresee myself running out of things to write any time soon!

About Joyce Reynolds-Ward:

Joyce Reynolds-Ward is a speculative fiction writer who splits her time between Enterprise and Portland, Oregon. Her short stories have appeared in Children of a Different Sky, Steam. And Dragons, Tales from an Alien Campfire, River, How Beer Saved the World 1, Fantasy Scroll Magazine,and Trust and Treachery among others. Her books include Shadow Harvest, Alien SavvyNetwalking Space, Pledges of Honor, Challenges of Honor, and Klone’s Stronghold. Joyce recently completed editing her first anthology, Pulling Up Stakes. Besides writing, Joyce enjoys reading, quilting, horses, skiing, and outdoor activities.

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