I know, I know, they tell us not to judge a book by its cover, but when I saw the cover (US version) for this book, I was immediately intrigued. What great art! If you aren’t quite as shallow as me, why not trust Robin Hobb’s rave review?
I spoke to Callie about her love of magic and fantasy, royalty in fantasy stories, gender issues, and her favourite fantasy novels.
What is it you love about stories with magic? Are speculative worlds able to take you places – as both a reader and writer – that ‘realist’ fiction can’t?
I think magical stories have the ability to work with metaphor and archetype—the stuff of legends and fairy tales—in a way realistic fiction can’t, or can’t do as directly. If art mirrors life, the fantasy mirror reflects larger stakes and grander tales than are easily found in the “real world.” And speculative fiction requires much of our imaginations, often pushing us to the limits of what we can conceive.
It means fantasy and science fiction can be demanding—but speculative fiction is also FUN. As a reader or a writer, you are involved in either creating a whole new world or inhabiting one, and that’s a magic all of its own.
Magic often goes hand in hand with Kings and Queens. Why do you think we find it easier to imagine worlds with magic in a pseudo-historical setting?
This gets back to how fantasy has evolved from fairy tales and legends, I think; many of us grew up reading or hearing stories set “long ago, in a kingdom far away,” inhabited by fairies and witches and other magical creatures, and slipping into a similar setting, with similar language, not only sets up the expectation of magic in the story, but ideally takes us back to the very human magic we experienced when we first read such tales. I think we are chasing the feeling of wonder that our first encounter with magical stories evoked. At the same time, we want to be challenged as adult readers, so the history-esque grounding lends dimension and depth to these stories. I think there’s also a comfort in a setting that feels historical, even if it’s not; it’s also somehow easier to suspend disbelief in magic if it takes place at a remove.
Was it a deliberate decision to feature a female protagonist in The Waking Land? Did the character’s gender determine many story elements or did the story demand a particular gender?
The Waking Land arrived in my head as a story about a young woman growing into herself. While making her female wasn’t so much deliberate as inevitable, to me, her femininity is strongly reflected in her bond with the land, and her nature magic. Over the course of the book, we see her gradually become one with the earth, until she feels as if her body is an extension of the land itself. While of course this could have been done with a narrator possessing a different gender identity, I wanted her story to evoke myths of nature goddesses, and traditions connecting the female body to the earth. I also wanted to write a complex female character—one who struggles to overcome her conditioning and her past, and who has significantly changed by the end of the book.
What fantasy novel do you wish you’d written? What made you fall in love with it?
It’s hard to choose; there are so many great books! But for this, I’m going to say Uprooted by Naomi Novik. I love the way that book plays into what appears to be a traditional narrative, yet consistently breaks the mold—and, without revealing too much, I love the deep compassion that characterizes the ending. I also adore the nuanced and complex female narrator! (Though I have to add that my favorite book in the entire world is Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, and if I could somehow spend the rest of my life writing DWJ tributes, I would consider it very well-lived.)
Why should we be reading The Waking Land?
I would never say anyone should read a book I wrote—I am the worst shameless self-promoter ever—but if you’re looking for an adventurous fantasy filled with revolution, nature magic, atmospheric settings, a dash of romance, complicated characters…oh, and poisonous fungi!…then it might be for you!
Callie Bates is a writer, harpist and certified harp therapist, sometimes artist, and nature nerd. When she’s not creating, she’s hitting the trails or streets and exploring new places. She lives in the Upper Midwest. THE WAKING LAND is her debut fantasy novel.
Follow her on Twitter @calliebywords or visit her website at calliebates.com.