Writing is a passion. Publishing is a business.


Interview with Judith Tarr

Judith Tarr is the author of numerous novels and short stories including the World Fantasy Award nominee for Best Novel, LORD OF THE TWO LANDS. As Caitlin Brennan, she has written a middle-grade novel, HOUSE OF THE STAR, as well as the WHITE MAGIC series for adults. She lives near Tucson, Arizona, where she raises and trains Lipizzan horses. Her new novel for young adults, LIVING IN THREES, will be published in November by Book View Cafe.

What are you reading right now?
I just finished reading a draft of the sequel to Kari Sperring's THE GRASS KING’S CONCUBINE. About to read another unpublished manuscript. Also on the pile: CANTEENS: writing and art by Harlem seventh-graders, which I backed on Kickstarter.

What first sparked your interest in writing?
Ummm…learning to write?

I can't ever remember not making up stories.

What do you love the most about writing? The least?
Most:  Being attacked by an idea and dragged off to its lair and held hostage until I've written its story.

Least: Proofreading the final draft.

Tell us a little about your writing process.
My process is an iceberg. Massive amounts of process happen under the surface. Ideas germinate, develop, and mature before they ever hit page or screen. At a certain point I'll start jotting down notes in what I call "Ideafiles"—developing characters and plot, building worlds, whatever the story needs. When I have enough (for values of "enough" that are completely idiosyncratic and specific to the project), I'll start writing.
I almost never do exploratory drafts. All that happens in my head. By the time the words go on the page, I'm pretty clear on structure and story. Sometimes I'll come at the story from the wrong angle and have to start over, but again, I'll do most of the rebuilding in my head, and only put it on the page when I'm clear on how it should go.
With novels, the first 100 pages/10 chapters/25,000 words are the most tentative and take the longest, as I find my way into the story. Once those are working (and I may go back and layer on new material as I go), the rest is pretty much a straight drive to the end.

I have never had to cut material, but I have often had to add. So I'm a sketcher rather than a kitchen-sinker. I'm also very linear. I never write ahead, though I may go back and recast what's already there. Nor do I skip around the story or write chapters out of order. I'm kind of anal that way.
What are your passions?

Writing. Horses. Cooking. History - especially non-conventional, non-white-guys history.

What inspires you?
Lots of things. The natural world - from animals and landscape to stars and galaxies. Watching the moon come up over the mountain, through a horse's ears. Human history. Human range and variety. Art and music.

Why fantasy?

That appears to be the way my brain is wired. I take straight history and pretty soon it skews. I love writing about magic and wonder and things that aren't real but ought to be.

How was HOUSE OF THE STAR born?
I submitted a manuscript to Susan Chang at Tor Starscape (it was, in fact, an earlier version of my Kickstarter novel, LIVING IN THREES, which will be published by Book View Café on November 20th). She passed on it, but she asked, "Would you possibly be interested in writing a magic horse story for us?" I had an idea, Susan liked it, and it grew from there.

Elen and Ria both exhibit intense prejudices while still remaining likable. In that regard, were they challenging characters to write?
Not really. I just engaged my inner kid, and let it rip. (I'm very Method when I write. The kind of writer who hears voices in her head. You know. That kind.) Originally the main viewpoint was Sara's, but a couple of drafts along the line, Susan asked, "Are you sure you have the right viewpoint character?" After I finished cussing and stomping around, I realized she was, of course, right. The real story was Elen's. And I had to go back and write it all over again from her point of view. Now that was hard. Also, a lot of work. But I think it was worth it.

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
Don't try to write to market. Write the story that's in you. The one you love - that you can't not write. The market will find you.

Is there anything else you would like to tell us about yourself?

When I'm not writing I'm working and playing with horses. The ranch in HOUSE OF THE STAR is based on my little farm in Arizona. Blanca and Moondance are real horses. Someday I'll write a sequel - there are so many more stories to tell about Rancho Estrella.