Photo credit: Beth Gwinn
Describe your latest book.
I think of Spinning Silver
as a conversation with Rumpelstiltskin — not a retelling of the fairy tale, but the fairy tale was the grain of sand in my oyster, and the book formed around it.
begins with the story of Miryem, a moneylender’s daughter, who lives in a kingdom called Lithvas, loosely inspired by a mix of Lithuania and Poland and Russia — not so much the real places, but those places as they existed in my imagination as a child, growing up with the fairy tales and family stories my parents told me.
Miryem isn’t the only narrator, but the story follows her as she gains the power to turn silver into gold, and then uses that power to save first her family, then her people, then her nation, and ultimately a neighboring nation, not alone but with the help of many others. So it's about her, but it's also about all the other threads women weave together to protect themselves and each other in the world.
What was your favorite book as a child?
The 1976 Big Golden Book edition of Walt Disney’s Peter Pan
, when I was three:
I loved it so much for a while that my poor parents had to read it to me multiple times every night, and I pestered my mother to make up new stories about Captain Hook not getting eaten by the crocodile, and the other pirates and how they survived and reformed and made friends with Peter after all. The only thing I remember of these amazing stories now is that the pirates had to climb coconut palms using their belts.
My favorite lullaby was a Polish song called "Bajki Cudowne
(Tales of Wonder)" that I also made my mother sing to me many, many times.
When did you know you were a writer?
Well, I knew I was a professional writer when I sold my first book, His Majesty’s Dragon
, back in 2004. And I’ve been writing fiction for other people to read fairly steadily since 1994, when I fell into the early Internet and discovered fanfic for the first time. But to be honest, I don’t very much believe in the idea of “being” a writer, and in fact I think there’s a kind of romanticizing of it that occasionally people get confused, to their detriment.
Sometimes I see people get hung up on it if, for instance, they write one story and it’s really good, and then it paralyzes them for the next; or if they don’t write a story for a few years and think, “Oh no, am I not a writer anymore?” But it’s not possible for every single thing you write to be the best thing you’ve ever written, and you can be a writer again any time you sit down and start the words going. You can be a writer, you can enjoy writing, even if it’s not your job.
What does your writing workspace look like?
At my office, I have a wonderful treadmill desk (which I proselytize about to anyone who shows even the slightest interest — no really, it’s amazing), and it stays mostly neat. At home, alas, my desk is a disaster of papers and stuff. Here’s a shot of a few of my toys from the last time I straightened it up:
The computer’s name is She-Hulk, for obvious reasons, and she was acquired to play The Witcher 3
at maximum. I don’t actually use Windows except for gaming, so it was very much a massive self-indulgence.
Besides your personal library, do you have any beloved collections?
I’m horribly addicted to tabletop gaming miniatures and especially Dwarven Forge (makers of fabulous 3D terrain for Dungeons and Dragons
and similar role playing games). I actually manage to play a game only a handful of times a year, but I love to paint the miniatures, and my daughter and I use them together as building toys.
Here’s a shot of a recent layout for a game — complete with kobold riding a winged goat:
What scares you the most as a writer?
I’m not really scared anymore because I’ve done it for long enough now, but when I wrote the first Temeraire book
, it was by a mile the longest thing I’d ever written, and I was terrified that I wasn’t going to finish it. I was so afraid that I didn’t want to stop — I would routinely write 14 hours a day; if I got less than 3,000 words a day, I was anxious because obviously I was going to run out of gas and get distracted and abandon it and it would all be a waste, etc., etc. But like anything else, if you do it often enough, you eventually come to really understand the shape of the work involved. Now I know that I will finish, that I know the way out of whatever hole I’ve gotten into. (Also, that I will finish past my deadline, and that the final edit will have to be pried out of my clutching fingers.) Sorry, Anne! (My editor.)
What's the best advice you’ve ever received?
I have to say, hands down: “Why don’t you try writing a novel?” My best friend gave me this advice shortly after I finished working on Neverwinter Nights: Shadows of Undrentide
. I’d loved the creative experience of building a computer game, and it left me unenthusiastic about continuing with my PhD in Computer Science. But at the same time, I’d had a frustrating time with several aspects of the game development industry at the time, and I was also in a different place in my life; I wasn’t fresh out of college and I wasn’t up for a life of endless crunch mode. I wrote His Majesty’s Dragon
a few months later.
The second best piece of advice, also from my best friend: “Set something on fire.” As a writer, if you’re bored with what you’re doing, the reader’s going to be bored too. If you find yourself bored, you should never try to get to somewhere where you aren’t bored. Most readers won’t follow you there. Instead, you should immediately set something on fire and change the situation. (Fire does not need to be literal. Also, caveat: Do not set things in the real world on fire except under controlled circumstances.)
Six Authors and Books I Keep Coming Back To:
, of course. I have many editions of Pride and Prejudice
, because when I was traveling in the days before ereaders, I’d always run out of books and need a new one.
Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances. I’d probably go with Frederica
if I had to pick one.
Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe
novels. I'm cheating and lumping these all in together, but they are not meant to be taken one at a time; these are the books I stack up by the dozen next to the bed when I’m really sick and need to lie around reading.
If I’m in that annoying place where I’m hungry, but I can’t figure out what I want to eat, I’ll reread Farmer Boy
by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and like magic, I’ll suddenly want something. There’s something amazing about the food descriptions in that book — I think her own deprived childhood and hunger are speaking to us through it.
The Hero and the Crown
by Robin McKinley
“The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” by Ursula K. Le Guin
÷ ÷ ÷
is the acclaimed author of the Temeraire series: His Majesty’s Dragon
, Throne of Jade
, Black Powder War
, Empire of Ivory
, Victory of Eagles
, Tongues of Serpents
, Crucible of Gold
, Blood of Tyrants
, and League of Dragons
. She has been nominated for the Hugo Award and has won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, as well as the Locus Award for Best New Writer and the Compton Crook Award for Best First Novel. She is also the author of Uprooted
and the graphic novel Will Supervillains Be on the Final?
She lives in New York City with her husband, Charles Ardai, the founder of Hard Case Crime, and their daughter, Evidence, surrounded by an excessive number of purring computers. Spinning Silver
is her most recent book.