I first met E. Catherine Tobler in another life, or so it seems. We bonded,via paper letters, in a prior century, over a love of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Highlander, historical romance, and writing. Both at the time aspiring novelists, we encouraged, supported, and critiqued each other, and if we haven’t scared each other off by now, we probably aren’t going to, which is a good thing, because I love her work, especially today’s new release, Rings of Anubis, which Kirkus reviews dubs “deliciously fun.”
Rings of Anubis combines several great tastes that taste great together: history, romance, intrigue, fantasy, adventure, steampunk, mythology, faith, addiction, recovery, a wounded hero and determined heroine with a past of her own. I am delighted and honored to have read this in manuscript form, and now the rest of the world gets to come along for the ride because this fantastic tale is now available in a bookstore near you. Pull up a comfy chair, pour your beverage of choice and let’s play a round of Ten Questions with the author who made this amazing tale possible.
- When did you first know you were a writer?
There was no moment on the mountaintop where sunlight broke rainbow-bright through clouds and I was spinning about, saying “Yeeees.” I can remember experimenting with short fiction for the first time in high school (though I wrote a novelette in middle school–“The Metal Zone,” which involved my bestie getting sucked into The Metal Zone, aka The Twilight Zone, where she met a hot guy, ha!)
But, in high school, I was behind in my history class, and got assigned a story for extra credit, which I dearly needed. I wrote a short story that completely freaked the teacher out and I appreciated that reaction to something I’d created. I sent one of my early attempts to Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy, and that entire process–printing the manuscript, mailing it, waiting for a reply–certainly had me feeling like something of a writer.
- How did Rings of Anubis first come to be?
In the beginning, it started as a highly misguided distant future piece, wherein Eleanor and Virgil traveled from a Blade Runner-like world to ancient Egypt. Balancing the distant future with the distant past ended up being something I was not a) skilled at or b) just not ready for. I examined the parts I really loved and wanted to keep and then looked at how I could make them work; turns out, the late 19th century was a perfect fit, given technologies I wanted to play with, archaeological discoveries that had and had not happened, and well, airships. I wanted things that fly.
- What are the best and worst pieces of writing advice you’ve ever heard?
For me, “write every day” was disastrous advice. It’s not how my creative brain is wired; I have a brain that fills itself up, explodes on the page, and then needs refilling before it’s ready to explode again. Writing just doesn’t happen every day if I’m refilling–through research, brainstorming, artwork. Once I stopped trying to hit X pages or words a day, I was a much happier and productive writer.
I think the best advice is still out there and will contain the phrase “eat gelato.”
- Why are romance and speculative fiction two great tastes that taste great together?
Who doesn’t love a mash up? It’s fun to take two seemingly unrelated things and press them together until you have something entirely new.
- How would you define steampunk to someone who has never heard of the term?
Is there such a person left in the world? (There’s a story in that.) We should meet and have a fantastic tea! Simply put, steampunk is a genre within SFF that features steam-powered machinery. Think H.G. Wells, Mary Shelley, Jules Verne. Wild, Wild West, Metropolis.
- Let’s talk about Virgil and Eleanor for a moment, a couple that is very dear to me. What makes them perfect for each other, and what’s the biggest obstacle standing in their way?
I’d say Eleanor and Virgil are very much not perfect for each other. They’re both stubborn and independent and selfish. They discover they’re each the means to an end–but also something more in the long run; Eleanor is exploring something her father has asked her to leave behind while Virgil is trying to unravel the puzzle of his late wife. I’d say the biggest obstacle is the pyramids at Giza (one of which they get to climb), but it’s probably Anubis, who embodies the unknown, trust, and the need to be exactly who (or what) they are.
- Then there’s Cleo and Auberon. Will we be seeing more of this fascinating secondary couple’s love story?
As you know, Bob, I have written another book set in this universe, which involves Cleo and Auberon. It goes into Cleo’s history, she of the mechanical arms, and pushes Eleanor and Virgil against some boundaries they first discovered in Rings of Anubis. Like RoA, the book moves in a couple of different directions at once, and this time includes a correspondence between Cleo and Auberon, helping to tell the past and future of their relationship.
- Though Rings of Anubis is your first published novel, (or novels, for those who read the e-release as Gold & Glass and Silver & Steam) you’ve also written short stories and novellas, and been nominated for a Sturgeon Award. What are some similarities and differences in writing short and long fiction?
Obviously a bigger canvas gives you more space to expand characters and plots; sometimes you want that, sometimes you don’t, so learning how to tell how much room your story wants is an important trick in any writer’s bag. I’ve seen countless stories in Shimmer submissions where a writer tries to pack a novel into a two-thousand word short. Some stories need to breathe; others like being tied up like a guest star in Fifty Shades.
- What is the most important thing you’ve learned about your own writing from editing Shimmer magazine?
Whatever story you’re telling, it starts on page one. No matter how long the work, a good deal of the overall story is right on page one. Page one needs to pull your reader in, needs to anchor them in the adventure you’re about to take them on. Start at the beginning, don’t introduce your people or conflict on page thirty (or page three for a shorter work).
- Finally, what can readers look forward to next? Is that some faery sparkle I see in the distance?
September will indeed bring Watermark from Masque Books, a story set in the fictional Colorado town Peak. We meet young fairy Pip, who has been expelled from her homeland for Reasons She Can’t Quite Remember. (Funny, me writing an amnesia story, as it’s a trope I don’t tend to enjoy!)
Short fiction on the horizon includes my first story in Lightspeed Magazine, “A Box, a Pocket, a Spaceman.” A novella set in my traveling circus universe will be out next summer…but I’m not sure if I can say where yet! Suspense!
Thanks, E, and do drop in again in September to talk Watermark. Fans of inventive urban fantasy with romance, baked goods, and a touch of faery magic won’t want to miss this one. How about you, dear readers? Do you like a thread of fantasy mixed with your romance? What’s your favorite flavor?