Gentle readers, I’m pleased as punch to present – making a generous stopover at this backwater blog during the tour for the release of her debut novel The Masked Songbird – someone whose acquaintance it’s been my great privilege to make: author Emmie Mears. If you’re not already following her on social media (shame on you!) you may remember her from the post she inspired: Shut Up and Write. In less than a week, The Masked Songbird drops, and Emmie’s been gracious enough to spend a few moments answering some questions about her life, her work, fandom and the need to speak up. Come then, let us away.
But first, folks, presenting The Masked Songbird:
Mildly hapless Edinburgh accountant Gwenllian Maule is surviving. She’s got a boyfriend, a rescued pet bird and a flatmate to share rent. Gwen’s biggest challenges: stretching her last twenty quid until payday and not antagonizing her terrifying boss.
Then Gwen mistakenly drinks a mysterious beverage that gives her heightened senses, accelerated healing powers and astonishing strength. All of which come in handy the night she rescues her activist neighbour from a beat-down by political thugs.
Now Gwen must figure out what else the serum has done to her body, who else is interested and how her boss is involved. Finally — and most mysteriously — she must uncover how this whole debacle is connected to the looming referendum on Scottish independence.
Gwen’s hunt for answers will test her superpowers and endanger her family, her friends — even her country.
Emmie Mears was born in Austin, Texas, where the Lone Star state promptly spat her out at the tender age of three months. After a childhood spent mostly in Alaska, Oregon, and Montana, she became a proper vagabond and spent most of her time at university devising ways to leave the country.Except for an ill-fated space opera she attempted at age nine, most of Emmie’s childhood was spent reading books instead of writing them. Growing up she yearned to see girls in books doing awesome things, and struggled to find stories in her beloved fantasy genre that showed female heroes saving people and hunting things. Mid-way through high school, she decided the best way to see those stories was to write them herself. She now scribbles her way through the fantasy genre, most loving to pen stories about flawed characters and gritty situations lightened with the occasional quirky humor.
Emmie now lives in her eighth US state, still yearning for a return to Scotland. She inhabits a cozy domicile outside DC with two felines who think they’re lions and tigers.You can preorder THE MASKED SONGBIRD here (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00JD7TWZK)! Released in a box set, you get four great paranormal and urban fantasy books for less than $4!
I am…*checks passport*….Emmie? I’m a mostly-human defective cyborg who can swim with some facility and has an embarrassing penchant for watermelon. I’ve been writing since I was old enough to steal my mother’s day planners, and writing with the intent of publishing since I was about sixteen. I think I got here via the scenic route. I have always been a very deliberate planner, and I scouted out the business for about four years before I tried to hunt for an agent at all. I bought about five years of Writer’s Digest’s Guide to Literary Agents, researched query format, generally scoured the internet for protocol, and finally started querying a few years ago with a book that wasn’t up for the task. A few months later, I wrote The Masked Songbird, and I put all that knowledge to use. Doing my painstaking homework saved me a lot of foot-in-mouth moments, I think. My path to agentdom was relatively quick, as was my first sale. The offer came about four months into submission time, which is really not much. You hear about the miraculous four day turnarounds, but really, those are unicorns. Best advice I’ve heard: write a great book, be professional, and follow directions. It cuts through a lot of hassle and hand-wringing.
Ooh, favorite book is like asking me which fantasy world I’d like to live in forever. I really don’t know. My copies of David Eddings’s Belgariad and Malloreon are dog-eared and hunched over from their cracked spines — I read those at least once a year. Harry Potter made a home in my heart. LJ Smith’s 90’s paranormal romances are still among my favorites. Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time is one of my favorite massive stories. Pride and Prejudice is a perennial. The Giver. Hatchet. A Wrinkle in Time. See what I mean? Eddings and L’Engle are probably some of my biggest influencers. I always loved Eddings for being able to make me both laugh and cry in the same book.
I tend to write gritty stories that have some quirk to their telling, whether that’s from the minds of the characters and how they observe their situations, or something else.
Gwen is very much an everyperson at the outset of the book. She is, in many ways, a product of the global recession as well as a child of poverty. She has what I think is the under-represented mainstream millennial generation mindset of just sort of…plodding forward. While people like to call this generation entitled, I think for the vast majority of millennials, reaching adulthood at the zenith of global recession has put many on autopilot. Work, sleep, lather, rinse, repeat. That’s Gwen at first. Her journey is recognizing the power she has always had to alter her circumstances and effect change in her own life and others. I think what sets her apart from other superheroes is that she’s very much engaged in the regular world. She doesn’t have Bruce Wayne’s money or the resources of Charles Xavier’s school. She is just a person with special abilities, learning how to use them in tandem with her pre-existing latent (very human) strengths.
I think the appeal of the superhero genre is the ability to project yourself onto someone extraordinary. Even the gritty superheroes call back to human nature, to the desire to fit in or the need to prove oneself. I think that’s one of the things that makes them so alluring. For fantasy as a whole, I think escapism is a good part of it, but that’s true for any fiction. Fantasy provides us the ability to imagine ourselves away from this world in a different way, though — to imagine better worlds, or scarier worlds, but worlds where extraordinary things happen. At the heart of all great fiction is humanity, though. That’s where superheroes and fantasy in general shine brightest: telling human stories through a different lens.
That scene was a little bit of both. The first sentences of the book haven’t changed since draft one, and they’re really the thesis statement of the whole chapter. Gwen feels small and impotent, so she escapes into her imagination. It ended up working out well, I think.
A lot of craft-related things sort of converged on me when I wrote The Masked Songbird. I’d written two and a half books of a trilogy before sitting down to write Gwen’s story, and they were unpublishable. Structure clicked for me, as did Gwen’s voice, and it freed me up to run amok in Edinburgh for six weeks. I wish I knew what it was that made it different than the others aside from basic craft improvement, but honestly, I think sometimes what works is sort of a crapshoot. You hit something at the right time or you don’t.
I am a big supporter of the idea of self-determination. I think that Scotland’s values are distinct from the rest of the UK’s in many ways, and that it makes sense for them to be able to govern themselves and allocate their tax dollars where they see fit. In The Masked Songbird, though, I wasn’t so much trying to inform as to make the story accessible. It’s less Mel Gibson brandishing a claymore and bellowing “FREEEEEEDOOOOOOM” and more Gwen grappling with her feelings on the subject. She recognizes that there are valid reasons to vote both yes and no, and ultimately for her (as with Scotland at large), the question is one she has to decide for herself. Some characters will disagree with her, including some that readers will I think not expect. I left many of the other characters’ perspectives out of the first book for that reason. Book 2 will reveal how some of them voted, and some of Gwen’s friends DO vote no. My priority was to entertain, and while I am passionately pro-independence, I am fully cognizant of the fact that there will be tremendous obstacles and adjustment regardless of who votes what on 18 September.
I think studios think with their bottom lines and honestly, with entrenched ideas of what the public wants. They’re ready to blame Catwoman and Elektra‘s failures on female leads. I think they really are that stuck on it, for the same reasons the gaming industry lifts their shoulders and sturgeon-faces and holds up their hands like there’s just noooothing they can do about the lack of female leads in video games. Like it’s somehow out of their control or something. I mean, really, it’s kind of like watching people busy playing checkers who just shrug and say “Well, that’s the game” when there are chess pieces right next to them if they really wanted to play something different. They know they’re in control. But for some reason they act like the continuation of imbalanced representation is something happening passively rather than something in which they participate.
If I could predict that, I would pile all my meager funds into the stock market. Heh. I really don’t know. I think that in some ways, the younger generation is more progressive, but in other ways, I see some troubling attitudes that seem to think that feminism is irrelevant, along with a lot of people hesitant to identify as feminists (even when they’re espousing verbatim feminist views, like that women should be able to walk down the street without getting groped). There are some inroads being made, and I think films like Gravity, Frozen, The Heat, and this year’s Lucy ought not be discounted for their importance — but it’s really going to take people in power taking a stand before this stuff filters down. Voting with dollars works to an extent, but it’s slow. There’s such a huge gender disparity in Hollywood in general — the men with the power to greenlight films and television shows hugely outnumber the women with the same power. It’d be foolish to assume that doesn’t play a part in what gets made.
Hoo, doggies. There’s a question. I think the biggest, hardest thing to recognize is that the fact that “not all men” are like Elliot Rodger is irrelevant. Absolutely irrelevant. Because it doesn’t take all men being like a sociopathic murderer — it only takes a tiny percentage of the population to contribute to a culture where women are devalued, unsafe, and likely to experience abuse. And when the larger percentage tries to treat that tiny percentage as unworthy of discussion, well…that becomes part of the problem.
What can men do? Recognize that. Recognize that even though they might be a kind, empathetic, compassionate person, women have to operate from a point of view that every strange man is a potential threat. Have to. I cannot emphasize that enough. It’s ingrained in us from childhood, and it’s beyond stranger danger. Women are taught laundry lists of ways to stay safe that don’t always succeed. Because if we let our guard down and treat strange men like they are safe by default and something DOES happen, we’re ALWAYS going to get blamed for it by someone. Always. It’s a given. There is no if.I got harassed via text message this week, by a guy who had my number because I’d showed him my old apartment when I was separating from my husband. He gave my number to someone else. They were both texting me. The first thing two of my coworkers said when I told them? “Why the hell did you give them your number?”
Because that’s how the fucking classifieds WORK. I didn’t identify my gender in the post. The guy got my number because he was going to come see the place. He already had it when he found out I was female. And a month later used it to harass me. And I got blamed for not being careful enough.
So I really think that if men want to help, recognize that once you’ve gotten sick after eating an apple, you tend to have to look at apples with a different perspective until you’re sure they’re safe (Note: there’s a difference between courtesy and assuming someone is safe. I treat people courteously, but I will still be cautious and alert). Practically? Respect boundaries. Don’t invade a strange woman’s personal space (ie: give her wide berth if you’re walking on the sidewalk next to her). Don’t try to touch her. Respect if she says no. Listen. Believe her when she says she’s not interested. Believe her when she tells you her story.
And probably most importantly, when you exist in a space where women are not present and you see or hear men saying things that you know are wrong or disrespectful or toxic or shaming to women, SPEAK UP. For the love of all things warm and fuzz, SPEAK UP. I think the internet is good proof that many men listen more to other men than they do to women. If I call a guy out on a rape joke, I get told to lighten up. If a man calls his friend out for making a rape joke and makes it abundantly clear that it’s not cool, maybe that guy will think twice next time. We all know someone who has been assaulted or raped — we just might not know it because people don’t exactly wear it on their foreheads. And beyond that, women are people who should merit basic courtesy and respect by default, just like men. Ultimately, we have to create a space where the Elliot Rodgers of the world are challenged by the very people they think will accept their bullshit without question.
After the verbosity of the last answer, I’ll say simply that I have a magical realism and an epic fantasy in development. 🙂
Persist. Do your homework. Be professional in ALL interactions with agents, fellow writers, and publishing folks. Work on something new while you wait.
*blushes* Superheroine. It sounds like a drug, and to me “superhero” is gender neutral. Plus, the red squiggly line doesn’t like it.
“Freddie Mercury is waiting to hang out with you.”