Q. Where did your love of books/storytelling/reading/writing/etc. come from?
A. My family. My parents put a really high value on reading. Our house was filled with books, and my father’s answer to almost every question was a book (or ten books).
“You want to learn to cook? Get a cookbook.”
Reading was kind of sacred. You were not supposed to disturb someone who was reading unless there were police at the door or the house was on fire. I remember being almost physically sick when I saw that a kid in my grade two class had cut pictures out of a book to use for a project. Because in my house, you didn’t even fold the corner of a page of a cheap paperback to mark you place.
Reading was also the only way I could get out of doing chores, or at least put them off for a while. I used to bargain for chapters: I’ll do the dishes when I finish this chapter – that kind of thing.
And there were no restrictions on what I could read. I got an adult library card when I was nine, because I’d gotten through everything in the children’s section, and the librarian wouldn’t let me into the adult section until my mom came down and convinced her that it would not destroy my moral fibre if I happened to read “The Carpetbaggers” or “Forever Amber”. (And it didn’t. When you are nine, you read those and think what a lot of silly ninnies adults are, and move on to the next book.)
Q. Do you write more by logic or intuition, or some combination of the two? Summarize your writing process.
A. I think I am in some ways an intuitive author…but having said that, I suspect that my lifetime of reading underpins that “intuition”. I think I learned what I know about writing from reading widely, inside and outside of my comfort zone. And then my university training and professional life in academia taught me about the structure and logic that has to be a strong part of any piece of writing. You can’t just hop around. You have to build a foundation.
My fiction always starts with the characters. I learn them, I imagine them doing things, having conversations, all in my head, and out of these things, the plot starts to build. Some of them have been living in my head for decades.
I find the beginning, the middle, and the ending, and that’s the point where I start to make notes on paper, laying that foundation, and giving the story a strong base to build on. But even knowing where the story is going doesn’t mean it won’t surprise me. One of the characters in “The Shades of Winter” threw me a huge plot twist two thirds of the way through the book, and it took me six months of deep thought to figure out how to get it back on track to get the ending I wanted.
Q. What are some day jobs that you have held? If any of them impacted your writing, share an example.
A. Well, I trained as an archaeologist, specializing in the late Iron Age and Early Medieval periods in northern Europe. Being a woman, I was mostly concerned with domestic life: how clothing gets made, how people cook over open hearths, what kinds of things occur in daily life that leave evidence in the archaeological record.
So I had this very deep knowledge of certain kinds of cultures, and when I started to write my first novel (“A Spell in the Country”) the world-building part was very easy for me.
The other thing was that my main hobby for about 35 years was various forms of sword/axe/medieval martial combat sports. My husband and I tried out a lot of different stuff, and we got pretty proficient at some of them. So all my main characters, so far, have been women who fight.
They tell you to write what you know. I know how to take a sheep fleece off the back of a Shetland or a Welsh Blackface ewe and turn it into a piece of clothing, and I know how to hit people with long pointy things.
Q. What do your plans for future projects include?
A. Once the Averraine series is finished (which could take a few years…) I’d like to try my hand at Urban Fantasy. I have a character who keeps popping up and telling me things going on in her life, and I’m guessing that in a year or two, she will flatly refuse to leave.
I’ve also got a Romantic Fantasy about half finished – it’s a take on the Regency period, but set in a different part of Averraine, as well as taking place about 500 years later than the current series. It’s light, and fun, along the lines of Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances. This one is so much less “epic” and it’s sort of a mash-up of magic and manners – I’m really enjoying the writing of it.
Q. Are there underrepresented groups or ideas featured if your book? If so, discuss them.
A. I don’t think that even today, women get fleshed out, as characters, in a lot of fiction, fantasy or otherwise. I wanted strong female characters, and while my protagonists are warriors/soldiers, the problems they face force them to look for different solutions. They have to think their way out. They have to rely on their inner resources, their mental abilities, their own character and their values, to make the right decisions, to choose the right paths. They have to find their humanity (as in “Casting in Stone”, where Caoimhe has to learn to be part of something bigger than herself), or their courage, or maybe just a chance to use their brain instead of their brawn, so to speak,
I also have had my work described as post-feminist, because I imagined a world where the equality of the sexes was taken for granted. That was because I wanted to avoid having my main character have to justify why she was a soldier, since that’s what seems to weaken women warriors in fantasy novels: the fact that they are presented as unusual/special cases means that the author then has to invent reasons why this has happened. And then they feel it is necessary to make sure the reader knows that the woman is still girly in some ways, and the whole thing becomes this weird balancing act.
I’m lazy. I didn’t want to go through all that stuff, so I just created a society where none of that had any relevance.
It’s also the world I would like t inhabit. I’d like to live in a world where women and men met on a truly level playing field, and could be open and honest with each other right from the start. Where we didn’t have to play these tight roles, and do all these contortions to get to a place of trust, even with our partners.
About the Author
Morgan Smith has been a goatherd, a landscaper, a weaver, a bookstore owner, a travel writer, and an archaeologist, and she will drop everything to travel anywhere, on the flimsiest of pretexts. Writing is something she has been doing all her life, though, one way or another, and now she thinks she might actually have something to say.