Interview by the Young Adulting Editors with Kelsey Elizabeth Moorhouse
Rachel Hartman is the New York Times bestselling author of three young adult fantasy novels. Her most recent, Tess of the Road, was a runner-up for the Nebula, Locus, and Lodestar Awards, and the winner of the Sunburst Award. She lives in Vancouver with her family.
The kingdom of Goredd is so vast. From dragons to saints, religions to governments and the oppression of art, do you have the world fully mapped out before you beginning or fill in the details as you write?
Goredd has been with me a very long time. I first conceived of it, in fact, when I was twelve years old. I had to write a narrative poem for English class, and so I wrote about a little girl knight who saves a king from a witch. The girl lived in a land called Goredd, which rhymed with Fred, the name of her horse, and while this made-up land was kind of silly and fairy-tale derived, it was also the first inkling I’d had that I could make up a world myself. All through high school, when I was asked to write stories, I set them in Goredd. In my twenties, I wrote and illustrated a comic book set in Goredd. When I finally started writing Seraphina, at age thirty, my world had been growing and evolving for eighteen years already.
Even so, I wouldn’t say I know everything about my world. I don’t know everything about the real world either, and it’s ok! I learn more with every book I write, and that kind of discovery is exciting to me and one of the things that keeps me going. It helps that it’s a big world, so there’s room for all kinds of people, places, and things.
Follow up question: how do you keep all of these worldbuilding details consistent throughout your series?
Poorly, sometimes. Editors and copyeditors are really helpful in this regard; I probably lean on mine more heavily than I should. That said, I think there’s actually more wiggle room in a large world than you might expect. Different characters are going to have different insights and understandings of how things work. Sometimes they can even be wrong. Human-made institutions, like government and religion, change and grow over time and can become internally inconsistent themselves (I read a criticism of my made-up religion once that complained of inconsistency, but real religion is often inconsistent! That only makes it more real, to me). Nothing is set in stone until it’s published in a book, as far as I’m concerned, so one of my best tools for remembering what can’t be changed is rereading my own books. Sometimes I will find a little throw-away line, some detail that I’d completely forgotten I put in there, and realize I haven’t been utilizing this weird and interesting thing I made up.
In a genre that is typically male driven, how do you handle issues surrounding feminism and relationships?
As a kid, I read a lot of fantasy by men; I was always re-imagining the stories with myself inserted in the narrative. In my version of Fellowship of the Rings, for example, Rosie – who Samwise eventually marries – had her own adventures which led her to Lothlorien, and she joined the fellowship there. It was fanfiction, of a sort, before the internet existed. Even my very first attempt at a fantasy novel, at age thirteen, was a Lord of the Rings knock-off, with a girl leading the quest.
So I’m sure I absorbed all the male-driven tropes when I was young, but I have to say that as an adult, I don’t think about genre norms at all. I write whatever interests me. Feminism and relationships are definitely among the things that interest me, so those are very often front and centre. I can think of a couple writers who gave me the courage to say whatever I need to say. Tamora Pierce is one—Alanna was the first book I ever read where a character gets her period, and it kind of blew my mind to realize you could talk about that kind of thing in fiction. Terry Pratchett (who I realize was a dude) also gave me a nudge in that direction; his books showed me you can talk about anything you need to talk about, and I’d put Tiffany Aching right up there with the great YA fantasy heroines of all time.
How does living in Vancouver influence your fiction?
I’m not sure it influences the content of my work so much as my process in creating it. I’m the sort of writer who gets easily depleted and needs to refill the creative well. Nature does that for me, better than almost anything else, and so I really appreciate living in a place where I can walk to a forest, bike to the seashore, or just raise my eyes to the snow-capped mountains on a sunny day.
What’s next for Rachel Hartman? Will we be seeing more of Goredd in the future or is there a new world you’re planning to explore?
I’m working on my fourth book, the sequel to Tess of the Road, tentatively titled Tess of the Sea (this will almost certainly change; I was talking to my editor recently, and we both agree it’s not quite the right title anymore). It’s set in the same world, although I think we spend no time in Goredd itself, except maybe in flashback. They’re on a journey, so the world is expanding rapidly again.
After that, I’m not sure. I’m not worried about it. Ideas come when I need them to. I would anticipate that whatever it is will be set in the same world, however. That’s another inspiration from Pratchett, I suppose—many different books, set in one enormous world. It really is big and complex enough that I could tell almost any kind of story there.
Our reviews for Rachel Hartman’s books: