The Big Idea: Kate Elliott

Change always happens, but as Kate Elliott explains in this Big Idea for Black Wolves, the opening novel in a new fantasy trilogy, not all change happens at once.

KATE ELLIOTT:

For years I’ve hung on to a rotary dial phone, one that plugs into the wall jack and needs no power to run. We don’t use it; it sits in a drawer in case of emergency. My daughter grew up in the digital age. When she was ten years old she found the phone, studied it for the longest time, then turned to me and asked, “How does this work?”

Change interests me. It can come as a convulsive explosion, a social earthquake that shatters, or it can rise like a tide in such slow stages that you don’t realize you’re drowning until it covers your mouth and nose.

I’m typing this on a MacBook that weighs less than many a book. It has 8 GB of memory, which is nothing special until I recall that my first hard drive (external, of course) had the mind bogglingly large capacity (for the time) of 20 MB. That’s a massive difference, yet viewed from this side it can be easy to flatten all the amazing leaps and startling bounds of the span between that hard drive and this MacBook into a gently inevitable curve.

Change happens in every society, even the most hidebound. No empire rules for a thousand years, static and unchanging. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and it fell in pieces, over centuries, and fragments still remain with us. Imperial China has a hugely complex history of ebb and flow and significant change across eras. Ancient Egypt only looks like a monolith if considered across a gap of thousands of years. The most borrowed-from setting for fantasy, the European Middle Ages, was not one thousand years of credulously ignorant peasants who toiled in the fields below stone castles ruled by feudal lords; it was a vibrant period of social and technological change taking place across a vast and complicated geographical region. Talk to me about Al-Zahrawi the “father of surgery,” or the introduction of the heavy plough and its role in agricultural and economic change, or how the spinning wheel (which comes from Asia) transformed aspects of domestic labor, or the rise of mercantile capitalism in the thriving urban centers of northwestern Europe.

With Black Wolves I specifically wanted to explore the idea of change in a fantasy landscape, how a culture can start taking a new shape and losing its old boundaries and customs piece by piece so that often people don’t notice it slipping away as meanwhile new contours take form. New technologies influence economy and politics. Religious beliefs shift. Social interactions develop with greater openness or freshly-imposed constraints. Experience becomes memory, and memory turns into a variety of histories, each of which give a different account of the past.

I chose to tie the larger thematic story of cultural change into a personal story of how, as we get older, we may be required by circumstances to look at the past and untangle how much of it is lies we have told ourselves and how much a truth we may not want to hear, especially truths about the people we love who may not be everything our golden memories make them out to be or who we may have misunderstood all along.

And let’s be honest: I wanted to write a book whose main character is a snarky older woman in a position of authority who has had enough of your shit. Interestingly, of my beta readers, it was only women who asked if I might consider making Dannarah more “likeable.” The male beta readers were all cool with her personality.

59-year-old Dannarah is one of an ensemble of five point of view characters. Black Wolves features my (trademark?) method of introducing seemingly disparate character threads and weaving them together as the larger plot unfolds until you see why they are all necessary and inevitable and how their stories tie together. Besides Dannarah, Black Wolves also features a 73-year-old retired soldier called back to duty, a good girl and a bad boy (no, they don’t become a couple), and a polymath. You will also find giant justice eagles, demons who walk in human form, and the all important answer  to the question of whether Ri Amarah men actually have horns hidden beneath the head wraps that cover their hair.

An early reader reviewed the book as “a murder mystery at the heart of a political thriller wrapped up in an epic fantasy setting.” Another called it “Jane Austen’s Persuasion meets Dragon Age.” A reviewer described it as “the epic fantasy for someone who loves ladies, politics, the word ‘cock’, and dudes constantly embarrassed by ladies.”

Probably it is a book I could only have written now, looking back at 27 years writing and publishing science fiction and fantasy and seeing how the field has changed while wondering how it will continue to change. The thing is: We can make informed guesses but we don’t truly know. We live in the constantly flowing waters of change because change permeates our lives, and we can drown, or we can fight it, or we can delight in the prospect of discovery of what’s next and the flowering of each new generation. I wanted to write a fantasy novel that reflects this universal aspect of human life and culture.

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Black Wolves: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Kobo

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.

12 thoughts on “The Big Idea: Kate Elliott

  1. ” a book whose main character is a snarky older woman in a position of authority who has had enough of your shit. ”

    And it just got added to my wishlist.

  2. This sounds brilliant. I think I want one. I must hear every last word the author has to say. All of it.

  3. Sounds great! I just ordered it based on this post.

    As I’ve read and loved all of Kate Elliott’s books, I’d probably have bought it anyway when I saw it, but this is the first time I saw it.

  4. Was going to get this anyway, but realizing it’s set in the world of the Crossroads trilogy (but not with the same characters), then even more eager to get it!

  5. I’ve never read any of Kate Elliott’s books. I have a massive physical TBR pile, and an electronic TBR that takes up much less space, but has many more books in it. I have seven more e-books pre ordered from Amazon, I buy Baen Monthly Bundles AND I subscribe to a bunch of SF magazines. In short, there was no obvious reason for me to buy this book. And then….

    ” a book whose main character is a snarky older woman in a position of authority who has had enough of your shit. ”

    And I dashed off to Amazon to buy it. Now, I have to revisit my list, because something is going to get moved down to fit this one in.

  6. @Hugh: *Mostly* not with the same characters. And yes, I know that probably makes you even *more* eager to get it. XD

    And I can’t possibly rave enough about it (especially while avoiding spoilers!), so I’ll just say that this was one of those rare occasions where I really, literally didn’t want to do anything else that I could possibly avoid or postpone, including eat or sleep, until I finished it.

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