Author Ann Leckie’s first novel, Ancillary Justice (2014, Orbit), won Hugo, Nebula, Locus, British Science Fiction Award, and Arthur C. Clarke awards in 2014. Her second novel in the same Radch empire series, Ancillary Sword, won the BSFA and is on the ballots for the 2015 Nebulas and Hugos. And the third, Ancillary Mercy, is on the launch pad. Recently, Leckie signed with Orbit to write more books within the Radch empire as well. Meanwhile, her short stories have appeared (and several can be read for free) at Subterranean magazine, Strange Horizons, and Realms of Fantasy. Her story “Hesperia and Glory” was reprinted in Science Fiction: The Best of the Year, 2007 Edition, edited by Rich Horton. She lives in St. Louis, Missouri, with her family.
Leckie recently took a moment away from writing to speak with GeekMom Fran Wilde and answer 10 questions.
Breaking News: Leckie and her publisher—Orbit Books—have generously offered to give away a set of two Ancillary books (U.S./Canada only), as well as personally selected teas. Read to the end of the interview for more information on how to win!
Ann Leckie: Ancillary Mercy is, like Ancillary Sword, not exactly the same sort of book as the one before it. Expect outside events to begin filtering into Athoek—or more specifically, expect the Presger and Anaander Mianaai to show up.
GM: You are a big science fiction and fantasy fan. Do you have other fandoms besides SF/F?
AL: SF/F is certainly my primary fandom! It’s a pretty broad one, actually, since you can say “fandom” and mean something as specific as a particular book or movie. But, the only other thing that I might classify as a (non-SF/F) fandom would be my participation in what was at the time called Gabeweb—that is, three or four websites dedicated to following and discussing Peter Gabriel, back in the, what, the late nineties, early 2000s? I’d decided to learn HTML, and thought for a while about what sort of website I might build—what was there that I knew about, or was sufficiently enthusiastic about, that I might actually make some sort of contribution to? And I discovered a small community of PG fans. It was a good bunch of folks and I had a good time. We were mostly just being kind of silly, and I think the folks running Gabriel’s website at the time had a pretty tolerant attitude towards us, which was nice.
GM: What would you like to tell someone new to your work about the Imperial Radch universe? What would you tell longtime fans who are snapping up Awn Elming memorial pins and debating what various teas from the Radch might taste like?
AL: Hmm. Aside from what’s already on the back covers, and what they might have seen mentioned around here and there, really the universe is meant to be a more or less classic space opera universe. My intention was to tell stories that were fun and gripping or affecting. And, something I’d say to any reader at all, if you give it a few chapters (or less, or more) and you find it’s not doing it for you, by all means put the book down with a clear conscience and my blessing. Thanks for giving it a try and I hope your next read is more your thing. Although, of course, I hope it does do it for you, and you don’t put it down!
To the fans? Hah, you’re awesome. Seriously, having people make fan art and fanfic, and really getting into speculating about details (whether it’s tea or what various passive-aggressive tortures Justice of Toren One Esk used on Seivarden back in the day) is right up there with winning awards, in my opinion.
GM: What one piece of advice would you give a parent who wanted to return to writing or to begin writing?
AL: Do it. Just do it. Make whatever time you can—obviously, particularly when your kids are small, your available time will be small, or even when you have time it’s in circumstances that make it difficult to concentrate on your writing. That’s okay. Do what you can. Eventually, kids get older, and more able to safely amuse themselves for longish periods. And even if you’re in a situation where that doesn’t happen—if there are health or disability issues that prevent that, for instance—whatever time you can take, use it. It’s worth it. It all adds up eventually. The longest novel ever written was written one word at a time, one sentence at a time. There’s no due date, no time limit, no prizes for finishing sooner, or fines for taking a long time. Just put one word after the other, whenever you get a chance.
GM: Do you have any thoughts about the media’s need to modify the word “writer” with adjectives like “lady” or “female?”
AL: I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, I feel like women writing science fiction have been repeatedly invisible. It feels to me like every 10 years or so, someone looks around and sees women in SF and goes, “Wow, look at all these women! It’s sure not like the old days, when it was all guys!” And then 10 years later, “Wow, look at all these women!” So from that perspective, I think it’s maybe a good idea to draw attention to the fact that, no, there are and have been women in the field for quite some time, and still are now, so that 10 years from now maybe people won’t suddenly be surprised to find women SF writers, like fish suddenly surprised to discover that water has materialized around them.
On the other hand, those labels have the potential to rope off women writers and their writing as a sort of “other” to unmarked, “regular” science fiction. And honestly, though this is probably particular to me and my history, I really dislike “lady” as a label. I could probably spend an entire blog post going into why, but to keep it short, there are not only class issues involved, but also a weird “good women/bad women” thing going on with it, particularly with constructions like “ladylike” or “she’s a real lady.” I almost never use it unless I’m asking where a public restroom is. Your mileage may, of course, vary.
GM: What advice have your kids given you that’s really stuck with you?
AL: I’ve only gotten one piece of advice, or what might pass for it, from my son. He was about 12, and I had sent Ancillary Justice out to agents and was waiting for replies, and you know that emotional state when you’ve sent something out and you really, really want to not get rejections back, but you know of course that’s what’s most likely, and I’d been working and working on writing the query letter and the synopses and all that and I was explaining to my husband about what I’d done and what I hoped to accomplish, (he had already heard all of it before, but because he’s awesome he was patiently listening), and my son, who had only been half listening, pipes up, “Mom! I have an idea! You should get an agent!”
It was good advice! The state I was in, I almost snapped at him, “Don’t toy with me!” But instead, I took a breath and said, “That’s what I’m trying to do, honey. That’s what all this is about.” And he said, “Oh.” And went back to his computer game.
GM: Who are you reading these days?
AL: Mostly people whose editors send me mss for possible blurbs! And lots of nonfiction. Whenever I’m in the planning stages of a project, I read large amounts of nearly random nonfiction. And whenever I get stuck. Often I feel like, if I’m stuck, I just need to find the right nonfiction to supply me with some idea or detail that will get things back on track.
It’s weirdly ironic, though of course it makes sense, that one of the reasons I wanted to write was because I love so much to read. But now that I’ve been quite successful writing, I have hardly any time to read, and often when I do, I find my brain sliding off SF/F. I gather I’m not the only writer to have this happen.
GM: What are you crafting these days? (Note: Leckie is a great maker-of-things across the board. She has an Etsy shop to prove it, which occasionally stocks the aforementioned Awn Elming memorial pins. If you don’t know what those are, read more Ancillary.)
AL: I have ambitions to reduce my yarn stash—it’s a very tiny stash by hardcore knitter/crocheter standards, but it would still probably make someone blink, who didn’t do either of those. But I haven’t made much progress, because I haven’t really been in yarn mode for a while.
Lately I’ve been beading. I started out crocheting beaded necklaces and I sold a few on Etsy, and then I discovered the local bead shop and next thing I knew, I was taking classes and doing beadweaving. As a consequence, I have a stash of beads that’s more impressive than my yarn stash, and several UFOs. For possibly obvious reasons, my focus has been on pins lately, which basically means beading up various small things and sticking a pin finding on the back, which has the advantage of not taking as long as, say, the ginormous free-form netted bracelet I’m in the middle of, or the even ginormouser free-form necklace I started a year or so ago. (I am a professional writer, therefore “ginormouser” is now a real word.)
GM: Geek or nerd?
GM: You are an award-winning novelist, an editor of short fiction, a supportive voice in the community, and a lifelong fan of genre fiction. What do you wish for the future of the field?
AL: I wish for a genuinely wide range of voices, and a recognition that when someone says “most people” they often actually mean “most people like me” or “people who fit into certain default categories.” And similarly, generalizations about what “readers” want is nearly always a shorthand for a particular subgroup of readers. And it’s perfectly cromulent to talk about what that a subgroup wants, or what people in one or another category mostly respond to, default categories included, but just realizing that you’re not actually talking about everyone, that the default categories aren’t the center and other groups of people aren’t just weird exceptions, just making that step in thinking about things is, in my opinion, an essential first step to having that range of voices.
Thanks so much to Ann Leckie for joining us!
From May 13-18, 2015, you can enter our GeekMom Rafflecopter giveaway to win two of Ann Leckie’s Ancillary books—Justice and Sword—or tea selected personally by her. To enter, log into Rafflecopter and follow the directions!