Author Interview with Meredith Katz!

This week we had the pleasure of interview award-winning speculative fiction author Meredith Katz! Her novels are filled with romance, fairies, ghosts, robots and the King of all Cats! What more could you want? Check out what she has to say about creating strong characters, diversity in the writing industry, and how to create great writing habits!

When did you know you wanted to be a writer? Was it something that you’ve always wanted to do or did your interest develop over time?

Oh, that I’ve always known—I tried writing my first books before I could read or write by narrating things I thought should be happening in my picture books! When I was six, I wrote and illustrated a six page story about a baby dragon (summary: there was an egg, and it hatched, and there was a dragon inside). When I was 11, I submitted a novella to… I think it was Tor (it was, unsurprisingly, rejected; it was very much a preteen’s adventure fantasy). I’ve pretty much always felt as though I’ve had stories inside me I want to shape and get out for others to read, whether or not I had the experience to do it well.

You write queer speculative romance, science fiction and fantasy. What first inspired you to write in these genres?

Well, I’m queer—I’ve known that since I was thirteen, and a lot of that self-discovery was helped by seeing queer characters in fiction get to be the heroes of their own story—rather than the comic (or tragic) sidekick in someone else’s. From the main characters in Tanya Huff’s “The Fire’s Stone” through Sailors Uranus and Neptune in Sailor Moon, I was given a chance to see the sexuality I was coming to realize through the lens of characters who were living their fullest lives and saving the world. Side characters are often designed not to be related to, but rather to allow the protagonists to show off different facets of their personality. It’s hard to want to relate to characters you are told aren’t even about themselves. So by seeing queer protagonists, it helped me feel less as though my own life was something that would get put on the sidelines if I owned my own identity. I want to give that back—I want to write for people who want to see themselves, or diversity, not be sidelined.

As for speculative fiction & romance… For romance, I like seeing characters with good romantic tension end up together, and have that promised happy ending without expecting something horrible to happen to their chance to be together! I grew up on science fiction and fantasy as well, and I just like being able to play with expectations by bringing in the element of unreality, whether it’s dealing with artificial intelligence or alien cultures in science fiction, the uncanny mixed in with the real as with urban fantasy or paranormal, or entirely alternate worlds and magic in fantasy.

Also, 10-year-old Meredith thought elves and unicorns and dashing thieves were really neat, and 35-year-old Meredith wants to enthusiastically add cryptids and eldritch horrors to that list.

What are some of the unique challenges that you have to face as an LBGT+ author?

I think there is a sense that you are writing for Just Your Audience and need to prove to The Mainstream that the stories you have are worth reading by everyone. I get a lot of comments like “I don’t usually read f/f, but I liked this” which, thank you, but—what do you mean, friend? If asked what you look for in a book, do you say “m/f” and leave it at that? I think most of the time we’d say we like enemies-to-lovers stories, or heist stories, or stories with rich narrative styles, or epistolary stories. And what that comes down to is the idea of identity-as-plot-point or even identity-as-genre.

Identity-as-plot-point is always a struggle to deal with as an individual, because I (and others) get a lot of “well, WHY is this character gay? What purpose does it serve in the story? If he’s not gay for a reason, why not make him straight so the story has more mainstream appeal?” This is why you hear occasional horror stories of authors being asked by publishers or agents to make a character straight—not something that’s happened to me yet, as I’ve published with a specifically LGBT+ press, but I’ve certainly heard of it. And as a queer author, I’m sitting here like, “I’m not a plot point in someone’s life. I don’t need to justify my existence, and the character’s story doesn’t need to justify theirs.” Diversity is a trait, not a trope; it builds out the rich tapestry of what the character likes, how they interact with others, what their social life is like within the setting, what their background is, and so on.

Do you think the writing industry as a whole seems to be embracing more diverse protagonists or do you think there’s still a lot of room for growth?

I mean, both. Growing up, after I had read a couple incidentally and found it fulfilling a need in me that I hadn’t realized existed, I literally printed a list of books with queer content off a website and sought them out, and it was really a list that could fit on one page. Between the rise of the ebook, self-publishing as a valid option, and social advancements acknowledging audiences that always existed that were previously receiving tidbits, there is now more than I could read in my entire lifetime. I publish with a queer publisher, as I noted; there’s quite a bit more than a handful of those now. I see more mainstream books as well as indie also. And I’m talking mainly about queer books here because that’s my wheelhouse, but I’m seeing a lot of other books celebrated as well (as I write this, the NYT’s top three bestselling books are all diverse—Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, and Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi)!

But that doesn’t mean that we’ve come far enough, and recent diversity reports absolutely show that. The Ripped Bodice’s recent report shows that romance publishers only had 6.2% of romance novels by authors of color in 2017. Diversity baseline studies conducted in 2015 shows that the publishing industry itself is vastly dominated by straight, white, non-disabled women (with men showing an uptick in the executive level, of course). People can of course write, promote, and relate to stories and characters that they don’t share diverse traits with—but when the vast majority of people making the decisions of what should be shared with the world all share similar identities, the fact is you are not going to see as much diversity in what gets chosen to be published.

Unconscious bias is stronger than people realize—see the infamous story of the Boston Symphony, which wanted to diversify their predominantly-male orchestra, so they did blind auditions. To their shock, they still kept selecting the male candidates. Was this because the candidates were inherently better? Well, no, it turns out, when they asked the applicants to take off their shoes, suddenly there was a lot more parity in selected candidates. The adjudicators were unconsciously picking up the sound of the female applicants’ high heels.

Basically, since the industry itself is not diverse, they are going to unconsciously identify more with something they see themselves in, or be made uncomfortable by something that asks them to question that, or see small steps as perhaps bigger ones than they are. And it’s not exactly possible to make a blind test for characters whose identities are written large in the story (often by people who share and represent these identities on the page). As a whole, the industry needs to diversify, and more conscious decisions need to be made around acknowledging bias.

Basically: We’ve definitely come a long way since I was younger, but it’s not a short journey, either. People are multifaceted and diverse, and stories are meant to represent people.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Oh goodness, I always sort of dread these questions, because it’s less where do I start and more where do I end? I can pretty much always recommend Tanya Huff, K.J. Charles, Jordan L. Hawk, Austin Chant, Malinda Lo, Maggie Stiefvater, Leigh Bardugo, and Alexis Hall. Katie Waitman’s The Merro Tree, Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint, and Sarah Monette’s The Bone Key are yearly rereads of mine.

Your novel, Empty Vessels, involves a man who acquires a friendly ghost and some physic abilities after a terrible accident. He must investigate the mysterious nature of his powers and the monsters that he now knows roam the Earth. Can you tell us a little bit about the inspiration behind the story?

That’s actually a funny story—at the time, I was working for a video game developer (who specialized in educational children’s games) and would sometimes, in my spare time, brainstorm video games I wanted to write someday. I was still writing fiction too (at the time, I was working on Beauty and Cruelty), but much of the novel’s ideas came from video game mechanics that I was toying with.

I thought it would be interesting to have a protagonist who had psychic powers that you could trigger to advance through a puzzle rpg, so that flipping on his telepathy could reveal hidden dialogue options (but risk driving people away by them being uncomfortable at how he was reading them, so you couldn’t keep it on all the time), or flipping on his second Sight could reveal secret magical markings or hidden passages in the world (but could cause you to run into problems by not seeing ‘regular world’ things as clearly). I wanted a character who would be ‘stuck’ to the protagonist who you could turn to for hints (or to save your game)—hence a ghost. Since I was thinking of it very visually at the time, I wanted a lot of uncanny imagery to characterize the Otherworld, so, monsters who were sort of cryptids, who looked like regular humans when the abilities were off, but who you could see as somehow inhuman when it was turned on, with antlers growing from their heads or bone spurs emerging all over their body.

Anyway, I obviously scrapped the idea of doing it as a video game, and put the idea away for some years, but the characters and scenario and visuals stuck with me and I fell in love with the idea of doing it as a novel instead. They felt like they were characters I could write for a long time in a wide variety of paranormal investigations–I’d love to expand Empty Vessels’ setting into a full series sometime.

How was the publishing process for you? Did you go it alone or use a publisher?

I’m unagented and published primarily through Less Than Three Press, a lgbt+ romance publisher. I’m not against the idea of self-publishing (and might do it sometime in the future, we will see), but after I finished Beauty and Cruelty, a friend recommended LT3 to me as a good place for it. I’ve had a great experience with them to date!

If you could go back and give yourself one piece of advice at the beginning of your writing career, what would it be?

Outline. Yeah, past Meredith, I know you feel like you’re a “seat-of-your-pantser”, and you’ve had good success with it so far for short stories, but did you know, there’s actually a reason you tend to get stuck around 20K on larger works? It doesn’t feel like there is, but turns out if you have the entire story planned out to refer back to, you don’t get stuck at 20K. Weird, I know!

You’ve written 11 novels and anthologies! That’s quite a body of work! Can you share with us a little about your writing process? How do you stay on task and productive?

Thank you! In all honesty, most of them are novellas (about three are novel length or above) but it’s still sometimes difficult to keep things on track.

The best thing I can say is to make it a habit—set aside some time on a daily basis (if possible) and write for that time and that time only. When I set it as a wordcount instead, it’s easy for me to get stuck on a loop of not getting started because I still have time to do things, but not doing other things because I shouldn’t do anything else until I’ve done my writing. If I put aside an hour as soon as I get home from my day job, I know I have the rest of the evening to do whatever I want after my writing time, so I focus during that hour.

Outlining, again, is the other thing. I have to think through the scene I’m writing a lot less ‘on the go’ when I’ve planned it out and just need to refresh myself. Obviously, outlines can change—if they’re too inflexible they’ll hinder your writing! But as long as I tweak them when the story needs something different, it’s a good way for me to stay on track and focus on what’s in front of me right then.

What’s next for you? What are you working on now?

I’ve got a few irons in the fire!
I recently submitted a novella set in the Empty Vessels timeline to an anthology call, so we’ll see how that turns out for me.
I’m almost finished a new book where “East of the Sun and West of the Moon” meets Lovecraft and the unseeable lover is an eldritch creature. Alain picked up the strange bronze symbol as a good luck charm, but it seems to have invited something into his home. Cosmic horror? Try cosmic romance.
I’m also working on another story set in the Pandemonium timeline—this one a direct sequel to “The Cobbler’s Soleless Son”; seducing a demon prince was all well and good, but now that things are working out… it’s time for Renart to take the demon prince home to meet his mom!

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

I definitely advise you to check out the work available from the major lgbt+-specific presses! Many lgbt+ books aren’t published in traditional stores but as e-books specifically, and the presses are a great place to narrow down books by identity, genre, subject matter, and more, so you can find things you’ll be interested in. I publish through Less Than Three Press, so of course I’d love for people to start there, but there are plenty more—I dug up this list from Affinity Magazine as a starting point!

If you’re interested in learning more about me and my work, my wife (who writes under the name Aveline Reynard) and I have a joint website for our writing and reviews, over at Come on by and check us out!

Thanks for the great interview Meredith!

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