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[SFFWRTCHT] A Chat With Author Stina Leicht

Stina Leicht is a John W. Campbell Award nominee this year. Born in Saint Louis, she currently lives in Central Texas with her husband. Her short stories have appeared in the anthology Last Drink Birdhead edited by the Vandermeers, amongst other places. Her Urban Fantasy novel series, set in 1970s Ireland, is out from Night Shade Books Of Blood & Honey and And Blue Skies From Pain. She can be found on Twitter as @stinaleicht, on Facebook and at her website

SFFWRTCHT: Let’s start with your interest in science fiction and fantasy. I know an Irish babysitter influenced you. Where’d your interest in SFF come from?

Stina Leicht: Television initially. Shows like Star Trek, Dark Shadows, and Johnny Quest. I was four.

SFFWRTCHT: Sadly, I was a lot older than four. Who are some of your favorite books and authors from youth and beyond?

SL: My first sci-fi book was A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. Then Fahrenheit 451 and Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury, Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Charles de Lint, Robin McKinley, J.R.R. Tolkien, Jane Yolen, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, the Borderlands books and stories, Stephen King, C.J. Cherryh (specifically Cyteen and The Faded Sun), and Dune by Frank Herbert.

SFFWRTCHT: When did you start writing?

SL: I was in the seventh grade, but I stopped. Didn’t start again until around eleven years ago.

SFFWRTCHT: What attracted you to start your writing in fantasy as opposed to SF?

SL: Oh! Why fantasy and not sci-fi? I have written a sci-fi story. Well… two-ish. But it’s mostly because I never felt I had the science background to pull it off. I may change my mind one day. But largely, my favorite thing is history and myth. I do enjoy gadgets, though.

SFFWRTCHT: Did you study writing formally in school?

SL:I had one creative writing class in High School. Nothing in college. Short stories first. Then a novel. All were terrible of course. I was in seventh grade.

SFFWRTCHT: What was that seventh grade novel about?

SL: It was a Tolkien-ish fantasy. Super dark. Freaked my parents out because I drew bits. So they went to the priest, all worried. Father M just laughed, said Tolkien was a nice Catholic and read C.S. Lewis.

SFFWRTCHT: Were you involved in Cons or cosplay? 

SL: Conventions yes. Cosplay? No. I never did cons as a kid. Not until I was out of college. 

SFFWRTCHT: How long after you started writing until you got your first sale?

SL: My first sale was four years ago, I think. It was a short story for an online anthology.

SFFWRTCHT: And now you’re up for the Campbell. Congrats! Where did the idea for The Fey and The Fallen come from?

SL: I read Those Are Real Bullets, Aren’t They? By Pringle & Jacobson. I was already thinking of writing about real Irish myth in a more modern setting. But that book gave me the idea of setting it during the Troubles. The babysitter had nothing to do with it. Blood Sunday, Jan. 1972 had everything to do with it. I couldn’t believe what happened happened without anyone outside raising a stink. But the British controlled the media. At that time, the British hadn’t even apologized. They covered everything up  So, I decided to use fantasy to write about it. Thought Americans could learn from it.

SFFWRTCHT: In the storyline, The Fey and Fallen are on the Earth mixed with humans and the Catholic church is at war and the protagonist, Liam, gets caught in the middle. He’s a halfbreed Fey and human and a shapeshifter.

SL: Of Blood and Honey is where we first meet Liam. He knows nothing of his father and gets pulled into the Troubles. The elevator pitch: “OB&H is set in the ’70s in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. Liam, the main character, is a Catholic who thinks his father is a Protestant who got Liam’s mother pregnant and left. His father is really a puca named Bran. Liam doesn’t know he’s a shape-shifter. He gets pulled into the Troubles and becomes a wheelman for an IRA bank robbing unit…. then things go very, very bad.”

SFFWRTCHT: For our readers, in case they don’t know, A puca is a changeling, usually a mischief-maker. In writing the story, which came first, plot or character? Liam? Bran? Father Murray?

SL: Liam came first. Then everything else. But Bran and Father Murray weren’t long after. A puca is an Irish fairy, a shape shifter. Fairies in Ireland are not the tiny things with butterfly wings. Irish fairies are dark. Pucas are the darkest of the dark. They’re known for revenge. Pucas also take many different forms: an eagle, a goat, a horse…

SFFWRTCHT: The Troubles refers to the Irish conflict between Catholics and Protestants in the 70s and beyond. How long did you spend writing Of Blood & Honey before you found an agent and submitted it to publishers?

SL: I spent two years writing OB&H before I submitted it to an agent. Then I spent another four months rewriting it.

SFFWRTCHT: In And Blue Skies From Pain Liam is given to the Church for temporary holding as a truce is negotiated between the Church and the Fey. Then the Fallen have infiltrated the Church and his life is threatened. Was the difference in tone and style between OBAH and ABSP a conscious decision? OBAH is very much historical fiction fantasy. Blue skies is much less historical, much more supernatural/Fae.

SL: And Blue Skies from Pain has more magic and fantasy elements.

SFFWRTCHT: How much research did you do to write this? Did you research as you went or do the bulk of it in advance?

SL: I did a lot of research. Tons. Years. I had to. Research is an iceberg. Only a tiny bit appears above the water and is seen by reader.  I research far, far more than I let the reader see. What’s below the water affects plot. The Troubles are not something you write about lightly. Many people who lived through the Troubles are very much still alive. It was a horrible war. Terrible. I did enough research at the start to be comfortable to start. And then I did more as I went along. I have to say it wasn’t easy to research a topic that had been rewritten by the victors. But it was a great lesson about history and the media.

SFFWRTCHT: Are you an outliner or pantser? What’s your approach to writing? 

SL: I’m a pantser. But at the half mark I stop and think about what is ahead and where things are going. Make a loose outline.

SFFWRTCHT: What mythology of Fey and shapeshifters influenced your world-building?

SL: The actual Irish mythology recorded by Yeats and Lady Gregory, The Tain and The Book of Invasions, Fionn mac Cumhaill.

SFFWRTCHT: How many more books are planned in the series? And when can we expect them?

SL: Since I’m a pantser, I don’t really know how many. I know Liam and Father Murray have at least one more in them. But there are a lot of other characters I’d like to take for a run on stage, if you know what I mean.

SFFWRTCHT: I do indeed. That would be fun. It’s good to have a rich world like that. Are you Irish? Do you speak Gaelic?

SL: Nope. I’m not Irish. Although, I was told I’d been adopted as an Irish writer Campbell nominee by Irish fans. I’ve been taking Irish language lessons for three years now. It’s not an easy language to learn. Irish isn’t Scots Gaelic. Irish is the root language for Scots Gaelic, however.

SFFWRTCHT: Just wondering how knowledge of language might play a part in how you craft the story and if it affects how you deal with Irish myth?

SL: No. But Irish does change how I wrote English dialog spoken by Irish characters.

SFFWRTCHT: What other projects are you working on that we can look forward to?

SL: I’m working on a YA right now. But I’d prefer not to talk about it much.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the new anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. His children’s book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.