Fantastic Beasts interview: Susan Forest
One of my fellow SFWA members and bundle buddies, Susan Forest, has a novel, Bursts of Fire, in the bundle. Bursts of Fire is the first book in a planned seven-book series, so here's your chance to not only get a great bunch of books from established pros, but start yourself on a brand new series.
Susan Forest is a writer of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, and a four-time Prix Aurora Award finalist for her short fiction. Her epic fantasy, Bursts of Fire, came out in 2019 from Laksa Media, to be followed by Flights of Marigolds this summer.
She has published over 25 short stories which have appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show, among others. Susan has co-edited three anthologies (Aurora Award-winning Strangers Among Us and The Sum of Us, and finalist, Shades Within Us) on social issue-related themes with Lucas K. Law. Susan is past Secretary for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA).
She loves travel and has been known to dictate novels from the back of her husband's motorcycle. Below is my interview with Susan. Enjoy! And please check out the Fantastic Beasts ebook bundle.
You're an established pro at short fiction, but Burst of Fire is your debut novel. What prompted you to move to the longer form?
I've always considered myself a fantasy novelist and actually began in the long form (check my bottom drawer), but branched into short story writing as a means to hone my craft by working with complete story arcs. The first few I submitted to my critique groups came back with the comment: "This is great! But it's Chapter 1 of a new novel."
Nevertheless I persisted, and started publishing short stories in 2005. I also branched out from fantasy into science fiction, horror, and even comedy. But fantasy, and long form, has always been my first love, so I'm thrilled that Laksa Media took me on for the Addicted to Heaven series.
What was it about the Addicted to Heaven story that attracted you to commit to writing seven books?
I love the world, the people, the ideas, the magic—to me the stories almost seem to exist in some real alternate time and place, and I am privileged to peer into that world and follow the characters as they confront the events in their lives.
Addicted to Heaven is not my only sandbox, though; I have a historical fantasy set in an alternate 1635 on submission at DAW, and have researched a fantasy thriller set in 1942, in northern France. I love all my worlds, probably because I get so immersed in them.
Did you know you were starting a series when you began writing Bursts of Fire?
No, I began with a single story, which now forms the series backbone. This means there will be exactly seven books, not more.
But there were just too many stories in my world to ignore, so I had to bring them to life. I've written about a third to a half of each of them, so the series will deliver on schedule (baring COVID and Acts of God). Each is intended as a stand-alone book, though some characters do appear in all or most of them.
How much of the overall story arc of the Addicted to Heaven Saga did you have worked out before you began Bursts of Fire?
Like a lot of first books, the Addicted to Heaven series was a long time in gestation, and as such, spawned multiple threads as I worked through the world implications, character backstories and relationships, and structures.
However, I am a planner at heart, and so when I structured each book, I did so by working out the key elements prior to writing.
This makes the actual writing of the books fairly exciting: it simply pours onto the page with very few hiccoughs. I tend not to get bogged down in plot logic problems at the 2/3 mark, as I have the chain of logic and character motivations worked out ahead of time.
What was the most engaging or immersive part of writing the Addicted to Heaven series? Do you have a favorite bit?
This is a tough question because I really love both the drafting and revision aspects of the writing. My favorite bit is usually the bit in my head, either because I've just written it or because I'm about to.
I've had to take a break from crafting Book 4 (Shivers of Ivy) because I'm waiting for some feedback on Book 3 (Scents of Slavery) before I do the final revision. So while I wait, I'm playing the antagonist character, Mescut, in a game of DnD. One of the other players said to me recently, "Mescut's the bad guy? But he's so nice!"
Of course he's nice. He beleives he's the hero of the story, and he only wants what is best for everyone. Playing him is one way for me to get to know him better before I put together the plot of that book. So, right now, Mescut is my favorite bit!
If readers love Bursts of Fire, when will they be able to read Flights of Marigold, the next book in the series? And the next? And the next?
Fights of Marigold is out August 11, 2020 (available now for pre-order), and of course my launch is all being re-planned for an online event. I have two book videos for Bursts of Fire, and hope to have three more for the August launch, to help celebrate.
The next five books don't have a publishing schedule yet, but in talks with my publisher, we are discussing delaying Scents of Slavery until all of the books are complete, then put them out on an accelerated schedule so people don't have to wait to finish the series.
Aside from the Addicted to Heaven series, where else can readers find your fiction?
Writing seven novels has certainly put a crimp into my short fiction writing, so I don't have any upcoming short stories, but my past short stories are all (or mostly all) available either in my collection, Immunity To Strange Tales (Five Rivers, 2012) or on Curious Fictions.
You're an established pro and have won and been a finalist for several awards, both as a writer and editor. You're a member and have been an officer in SFWA, who curated the Fantastic Beasts bundle. What advice would you give writers starting out in the field of speculative fiction?
Network. You hear all the advice about how important it is to read, study, write, practice, and hone your craft, so I'm going to take it as a given that new authors know they have to work hard and be the best they can be. Writing is a marathon, a profession, and a calling, so writers need to be committed to the work and to excellence.
But what is hard to do is pursue the business side of the career. We are writers because we love writing, and as much as it can be difficult or frustrating, we always come back to the writing because we can't stay away.
Networking and making contacts in the industry and building social media are easy to avoid. But there are so many people out there in the SFF world who are friendly, knowledgeable, and experienced, and my career really started once I began taking advantage of the amazing resource that is the SFF writing community.
Thanks, Susan! Good luck with Bursts of Fire and the entire Addicted to Heaven series.
I hope you all enjoyed this interview and will check out the Fantastic Beasts ebook bundle before it disappears. It runs to June 18, and then it's gone.