Hello Readers and Writers!
Today we would like to introduce you to a Historic Fantasy author whose books are fantasy without magic, explore themes around choices and consequences, gender roles, sexuality, and power. After surviving a possible publishing nightmare, she self-published her first book and founded Arboretum Press. The press functions as a collective and all royalties go to the author.
Introducing Marian Thorpe!
When did you start writing as a career?
As a career, in my 50s. I had written all my life, and I had some poems published when I was in my 30s. I began what became my first published book, Empire’s Daughter, somewhere around 1998 or 99; it took me 12 years to write the first draft and five more (including a failed publisher) for it to see the light of day. I took early retirement from my previous career in 2015 for health reasons, and became a full-time writer.
What's your current work in progress?
Empire’s Heir, the 5th full-length novel and sixth title in my series.
You write historical fantasy. What led you to write in that genre?
I wanted to explore some themes around choices and consequences, and love of an individual contrasted with love of a country, but not in a real setting. My books are fantasy without magic, and I wanted the world to feel familiar, so I based it on Europe after the decline of Rome.
Tell us about "Empire's Reckoning" and the Empire's Reprise series.
I need to explain a little about the first series, Empire’s Legacy: it has one narrator, Lena. The character of Sorley, a young musician, is introduced in the second book, where he is a minor character. In the third, he has a larger role, pivotal to a certain story line, and he turned out to be a complex and interesting character, in part because he and Lena are in love with the same man.
The Empire’s Reprise series was conceived as jumping forward a generation; the world and its conflicts seen through Lena’s children’s eyes. But Sorley had his own story to tell, inextricably caught up with theirs. So Reckoning (and the preceding novella Oraiáphon) tell that story with Sorley as the narrator, but Reckoning also introduces Gwenna, Lena’s daughter, at fourteen, as she begins to take her place in the political machinations of my world. Gwenna, a few years older, is one of the two narrators of Empire’s Heir, the work in progress.
How do your books rebel against the status quo?
Within my pseudo-post-Roman world, Lena’s land – first known as just ‘The Empire’ and later as Ésparias, is a land divided by gender. Women and men live separately for all but two weeks a year; boy children join their fathers at seven in the military, women farm, fish, and do everything that keeps the economy going. Same-sex relationships are the norm, for both women and men, the two week-long Festivals each year ensuring procreation. A few men or women live completely heterosexual lives, but not many. At the beginning of Empire’s Daughter, the status quo is shattered by the request from the Emperor for the women to do the one thing they do not do: learn to fight, to protect their land from an imminent invasion that the men alone cannot deal with. I was exploring ideas of gender roles, sexuality, and power; this is a land with very different norms of sexuality, but still with defined and rigid gender roles.
As the series progresses, we learn that only Lena’s land has this freedom of expression of sexuality; north of the Wall, where she meets Sorley, heterosexuality is all that is openly accepted. This is only touched on in the first series, but explored in depth in Oraiáphon and Empire’s Reckoning. As well, the role and rights of women continue to be a major theme.
A second theme of rebellion, beyond a non-heteronormative society, is found in the politics of the second series, where the concepts of resistance to a colonial government are a key part of the story. The underlying theme of the whole series, really, is love of homeland, and what characters will – or will not – do for their lands. In Empire’s Reprise, that expands a little, to ask if love for land and people can be enough to transcend culture and expectation, and create a different world.
Your reviews are very favorable, but how do you deal with criticism from readers?
That depends on the criticism. Some of it I simply shrug and remind myself that not every book is for every reader. Readers who cannot suspend disbelief to accept my world – well, I can’t do anything about that, when I know they are the minority. (Were I being told that by the majority, I’d know I have a problem with worldbuilding. But it’s the opposite.)
Other criticisms I consider, and sometimes act on when they come from beta readers. There is a development in Empire’s Reckoning that my structural editor disliked intensely, and a few readers have also. But it is true to my characters and my world, and even though I wavered, I stuck to it, because in my gut I knew it was right.
You also write poetry? Guide us through the stages of a poem.
I am entirely a poet of place and nature; I start with an image, and what that image conveys to me, and then I try to create that picture and feeling with words.
I am a very structured poet, counting beats and using rhyme schemes. My first published work used a traditional sonnet structure: I like the challenge and discipline of fitting images and concepts into a defined structure. It’s good training for writing concisely but descriptively, weighing words for what they evoke.
Most poems go through multiple iterations, a fine-tuning of words to remove everything inessential, and to leave as much unsaid as said.
Talk to me about the path you choose in publishing.
I originally chose traditional publishing, and Empire’s Daughter was accepted by a small house in 2013. They went out of business before the book was published (but after it had been through a detailed editing process). The rights reverted to me, my ex-lawyer sister having insisted that was written into the contract. I’d been diagnosed with serious cancer in 2014, so I didn’t figure I necessarily had three years to shop it around again, so I chose to self-publish. A year or so later, when it appeared I wasn’t about to imminently die, I founded Arboretum Press, my current imprint. The press functions as a collective, sharing editing and production responsibilities. No money changes hands except for cover art, paid advertising, and print-on-demand costs. All royalties go to the author.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to write and publish their work?
Read, read, read, and read outside your genre. Read poetry and prose and genre fiction and the classics, and learn how a story can be told in so many different ways, and how words sound together and apart. Do not think the first book you write is publishable; serve your apprenticeship. Listen to critics and teachers who will tell you the truth, not praise you regardless. Do your research on traditional vs indie publishing; there are pros and cons to both. Finally, read Neil Gaiman’s Eight Rules of Writing.
You are also a birder! Tell us how you started with that hobby.
A mother who fed the birds, even when all that she could afford was stale breadcrumbs on the porch wall. A children’s bird book, from who knows where. A childhood spent wandering fields and woods, mostly alone – I was the youngest, and the world was rural and safe. I was maybe ten when I independently identified a meadowlark one day; I still remember that. Birds were part of my world, along with plants and animals. It just evolved from there; I met my future husband, introduced him to birding one May day at Point Pelee National Park, one of the world’s birding hotspots and close to where I grew up – and we haven’t looked back.
What are you reading currently?
Fiction: Anne-Louise Avery’s Reynard the Fox. Non-fiction: Roman Sports and Spectacles, by Anne Mahoney, for research.
What can readers expect from you in the future?
Empire’s Heir should be published in late 2021. There is one final volume in the Empire’s Reprise trilogy to be written, tentatively titled Empire’s End, which will bring the story full circle. Perhaps another related novella, and possibly a collection of short stories set in the same world.
Then, possibly, a Grail-focused book I’ve been considering for nearly thirty years. A huge undertaking, and I didn’t have the skills to write it when I first envisioned the idea. The world, too, has changed, and to write it in a way that is not perceived as a celebration and a defense of a white and Christian England – which I do not want it to be – will be a challenge. So its time may have come and gone, or I may find a way to do it. We’ll see!
Find Marian Here:
Books | Arboretum Press | Website | Twitter | Facebook