D. Hart St. Martin is one of my favorite authors of Young Adult Fantasy, and I am thrilled to be able to share her insights about writing with you today.
Hart is the author of the award-winning Lisen of Solsta series. In these incredible books, she pulls off the near impossible by creating a virtually genderless society of marsupial humanoids on another planet. When I say she “pulls it off” I mean she really, actually pulls it off, by writing about the characters and their world in a completely believable and compelling way.
Hart, I can definitely say the Lisen of Solsta series is not your run-of-the-mill fantasy on planet Earth. What inspired you to write such unique fiction?
I began with the premise of a world with no sexism. It took me many years to figure out what that must look like, with little bits of the culture and the physiology required, I felt, for such a world to exist settling into place over time. I believed that the manner of procreation was the key. If men and women were to share equally in the nurturing of the child before birth, their brains might be hard-wired differently than on Earth. That’s when I came upon the concept of the marsupial pouch, but for both sexes. This was the final touch, believe it or not.
I think my favorite moments were writing what it was like for Korin to pouch and carry Rinli. I enjoyed watching him soften while still remaining the soldier he’d always been. I also loved comparing his experience and reaction to it with Lorain’s. He was joyful while she was simply performing her duty. Their two “pouching-ins” gave me the opportunity to fully explore many of the aspects of this thing that would be so strange to humans.
As for the setting, I read once that Tolkien placed The Lord of the Rings in an English/European setting because he felt that England had little to nothing in the way of mythology of its own. I thought why not set my story in a place I knew well–California, specifically Southern California. With the beautiful ocean communities to the west, a wide stretch to the mountains then into the desert to the east (well, sort of).
The characters in your series are remarkably real, even though both males and females have a “pouch” on their abdomen, and a member of either gender can carry the baby. How do you go about developing your characters so well? Do you make character sheets, charts, etc., or do you have a different method?
I am a sloppy writer. Not exactly disorganized, but I do little in the way of immortalizing my characters on paper (or in a document) before beginning the actual writing. I have a spread sheet of sorts that lists the name, age, hair color, eye color, height (tall or short when not average for this world), special notes (like which eye is Korin missing–it’s his left) and the scene in which the character first appears. My characters usually reveal themselves to me best not so much when I write a scene from their point of view but when another character’s POV shows me something new I hadn’t seen before.
It surprised me in the beginning when reviewers and readers would mention how true each character’s voice was to that character. It was only later that I realized that the reason it didn’t feel like I’d made an effort to accomplish that was because I was able to slip into a POV character’s skin when I wrote a scene through their eyes.
What is it about the Young Adult Fantasy genre that most appeals to you as a writer?
I fell in love with Science Fiction and Fantasy when I was in my teens, way back when there were little-to-no female heroes. I would always reconfigure things in my imagination so the hero had a sister or a daughter who would carry on the story. I have continued to read YA Fantasy (as well as other books with YA protagonists) because there is something redeeming in watching a young person come into their own while dealing with impossible odds.
Since you have written a successful series which is adored by fans – and won awards, no less! – is there any advice you can offer aspiring authors?
Wow. I think the hardest thing about writing is the fact that we sit alone in a room for months or years at a time–no cheerleaders, no fawning fans–and write our souls out. You can’t do it for the money because there are too many books and too little money out there. You have to do it because you can’t not do it. And you absolutely have to be honest. Whatever the genre, whether fiction or nonfiction, the most important thing is to speak your truth.
I love that answer, and I can see how you’ve sown your truth within the steps of your characters’ journeys. Does the story of Lisen teach us a moral lesson of any kind?
Well, obviously what the reader takes away from any story is up to them, but my hope is that a better understanding of how equality of the sexes without division of roles based on gender stereotypes will be the take-away. I made a point of showing families interacting–more so in book 4, Protector of Thristas, than in the first trilogy–because when I began writing this, Phyllis Schlafly, the antifeminist rabble rouser, was claiming equal rights for women would destroy the family. I wanted to prove it didn’t have to.
I’ve heard different schools of thought on the subject of what we should choose to write about. One is “You need to research the market and write what is selling.” Another is “Write what you would want to read.” Which do you think is correct, or do you have another philosophy?
The way I see it, the market is constantly changing. It takes months or, more often, years to complete the writing of a book. What is trending today will most likely not be trending when you’re ready to market your book. Write the best book you can, write the book you’d want to read if you saw it on the shelves of a brick-and-mortar book store or on Amazon, and then convince an agent, a publisher or your potential readers if you self-publish that they want your book. Were books about boys who discovered they were wizards trending when J.K. Rowling started writing the Harry Potter books? Were books about teen-age vampires trending when Stephenie Meyer began Twilight? No. Write what moves you to continue writing. If you go with what’s trending, you’re as likely to get bored and give up as to finish the thing.
How much time would you say you spent in the beta-reading and editing phase per book before you published each one? Do you have regular beta readers, or do you get new ones each time you produce a new work?
This is probably the hardest question to answer. Let’s start with Fractured and Tainted, books 1 and 2 of the series. I initially put pen to paper (literally) back in 1977. It took me 3 years to write what was essentially the very first draft of those books. I didn’t know what I was doing. The current incarnation of the story began taking shape in 2005 when a character named Ann became Lisen. I didn’t send her to earth then bring her back again until 2008. I relied on a writing group I belonged to at the time, and they were invaluable in guiding my edits. Hence, I never sent those books out to beta readers.
When I began Blooded, I decided to hire an editor, Todd Barselow, who is very good and very reasonable in his pricing because he believes in indie writers. I’d done my own proofing on books 1 and 2 myself, something everyone will tell you not to do (and they’re right), but in my case it worked. I have a complicated answer for why I can proof my own work, but let me simply say that it has to do with my former work as a medical transcriptionist. After three drafts, I sent Blooded off to Todd. He gave it his full attention but found very little to change. So, with Protector of Thristas, I decided to rely on beta readers only–a couple of author friends online and my sister (who is very, very picky).
Do you think you will write another Young Adult Fantasy series, and if so, what are some of the ideas you have?
Right now I’m working on the last two books for Lisen. I have found an ending that satisfies me and hopefully will satisfy the reader. The second three books are more New Adult than YA and have allowed me to explore an adult Lisen as leader, spouse and parent. As for a future beyond Lisen, there is a paranormal romance I finished some time ago, and when I hit a block with the current work in progress, I formatted that and have published it as a Kindle only. Beyond that, I have a couple of ideas, one a fantasy with dragons and the other a dystopian tale that takes place in the near future.
What has been the most rewarding thing about being an author?
Writing is bliss. Writing is that moment when you form a sentence or a paragraph and beam at its precision and beauty. Writing is the revelation that comes in the middle of the night solving a hole in the plot that’s been bugging you for months. Writing is living inside a character’s head and knowing you’ve nailed the narrative. Writing is life, about life, making life. I am a writer, a novelist who makes short stories long.
Where can readers find your books, blog, and website?
I have a website, but I haven’t touched it in months (shame on me). But you can find current info at these other places.
Amazon author site: https://www.amazon.com/St.-Martin-D.-Hart/e/B0099S9GWW/ref
Thank you very much for the interview, Hart! I look forward to reading more of your work in the future.