Website & fanzine of the SF fan club USS Hudson Bay, Toronto, Canada






the Potential
of Myth vs. History

By Karen Bennett

Caitlin Sweet is a graduate of McGill University. She taught English in southern Mexico from 1994 to 1995 and continued teaching English as a second language after her return to Canada. Since 1998, she has been an administrative assistant at the University of Toronto's Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design. She lives in Toronto with her husband and two daughters.

When I went to the Ad Astra convention in Toronto in March 2003, I was really looking forward to meeting Caitlin. Her first novel, the fantasy A Telling of Stars, had been published by Penguin Canada in January 2003 and recommended to me by Chris Szego, a Bakka (now Bakka-Phoenix) bookstore employee and author herself, as "really beautiful." I found Telling's story, and especially the central character, Jaele, to be occasionally baffling and irritating, but the language cast a "glamour" over me. As fantasy books rarely have this effect, I wanted to meet the author, give her my compliments, and also ask her, "Why did x do y?" I did these things informally at Ad Astra, and a little later interviewed her via e-mail.

You've been to Ad Astra before, but was the 2003 version your first convention as a guest author?

It was, yes. My first Ad Astra experience was in 2001: I went to some of the Friday-night events, happily numb because I'd just received an offer from Penguin Canada. It was a very surreal evening! I returned for the whole weekend the next year, in the midst of revisions, eight months pregnant, and thrilled to be meeting other new authors like myself.

This year's Ad Astra was yet another landmark. My first panels, my first "participant" name tag...a thrill.

Artist Martin Springett did a beautiful job with the cover for Telling [at right]. Are you hoping he'll do the cover of your next novel, which will be a prequel to Telling?

Absolutely! He can't wait to read it and start planning the next cover. Penguin was incredibly accommodating and supportive when I told them I wanted Martin for Telling—I'm hoping they'll be as amenable the second time round.

The Springett-Sweet story actually began in 1989, when I was working as a bookstore clerk at Edwards Books & Art (the Yonge & Eglinton branch, for those who may be interested). I'd been an admirer of Martin's since I discovered Guy Gavriel Kay's Fionavar Trilogy (which, as I presume all your readers know, feature Martin's cover art). One day I noticed a book on hold under the counter with a "Springett" order label on its spine. I think my palms were actually sweating when I picked up the phone to call him. He wasn't home, and I left what I hoped was a very measured, very professional message on his machine.

Twelve years went by. When I signed my Penguin contract in the spring of 2001, I was told that I had to provide a map for the book. My first thought was, "Wouldn't it be perfect if Martin S. could...?" Several weeks and two-degrees-of-separation moments later, he and I were eating Chinese food on Spadina Ave., and he was telling me he'd love to read my book.

It's still hard to believe that the book is now his, visually. The cover, the map, the chapter illustrations (plus various bookmarks and sketches and a coming-soon poster): they're all Springett specials. And, even better, he's now a friend.

Could you say a few words about the plot premise of the prequel?

I thought I was finished with Jaele's world, when I finished Telling. Months went by, and I found (reluctantly, at first) that I still wanted to be in that world, though I had no desire to deal with anything immediately before or after Telling's story. Eventually I realized that the myth of Queen Galha continued to interest me—and I was particularly intrigued by the potential of a myth vs. history theme. And that's what I'm now writing about. That mythic queen, whose conflict with the Sea Raiders was not the same as the tale told to Jaele by her father.

Can history ever be true? Is myth inherently false? Etc...

How many books do you envision in the Telling series—or is that up to your publisher?

There'll just be the two books. I'll definitely have explored that world as much as I can, when the prequel's done. Never say never, I know, but I'm sure the story won't demand a third book, or a fourth, or a tenth. Also, I'm already excited about possible new storytelling directions.

Do I have it right that your ambition is to become a full-time writer?

You do indeed! Which makes me no different from any other writer, probably. I've always written around, through, despite, because of all the other stuff in my life: university (when I started Telling), living and teaching in Mexico, getting married and starting a family (and working full-time all the while). So I'm actually a bit nervous about the possibility of having all the time I want to write, someday in the future. But this won't happen for several years yet—at least until my daughters are in school (right now they're 3 1/2 and 1).

Are there things you'll do differently in your next book because of feedback you got on Telling?

I started the prequel several years before I got any professional feedback on Telling, and I knew right from the beginning that it was a very, very different kind of book. Umpteen more central characters, a lot more of what editorial people call "momentum," a variety of points-of-view. And language that's far less lush (though still, I hope, distinct). The feedback on Telling, both positive and negative, has made me feel pretty confident about the new book.

Is your husband one of your beta readers?

Yes, he is. (He's on the couch right now insisting that I attribute all the great ideas to him.) Along with my sister, who's been one of my most valued critics since I was 17 and she was 11.

Interviews and tours and fans are also part of a writer's life. Have you been asking for advice on how to handle these things?

For this book there won't be any tours—but I've already done several interviews: radio, print, and TV (this is my first e-mail one!). I've enjoyed every one, which I'm sure can't last.

Ad Astra has been my only experience of fandom. Can't wait for more! I'm considering getting a website too, though I keep getting stalled at the logistics stage.

Drop some names of authors whose work you admire.

Genre: Ursula K. Le Guin, Patricia McKillip, Guy Gavriel Kay, Tanith Lee, Mervyn Peake. I continue to find a particular richness in the YA fantasy I read as a child: Lloyd Alexander was and is a favourite.

Mainstream: Patrick White, Gabriel Garcia Marquez (I was lucky enough to read several of his books in the original Spanish in university), Peter Carey, Ian McEwen. And I suppose I could add a "classics" field, led by Jane Austen and Virginia Woolf.

I'm an admirer of Patricia McKillip's work too. Did you meet her at the 2001 World Fantasy Convention?

I haven't met Patricia M., no—though she and I did carry on quite an extensive e-mail correspondence this winter. I wrote a letter to her saying that Penguin would be sending her a galley; months went by and I didn't hear from her and I thought, "Oh well, that's that then." Then I finally got an e-mail from her, saying "Thanks for your letter but I never got your book..."—and it turned out Penguin had used the wrong address. We wrote back and forth several times. She was utterly gracious, very down-to-earth—and ended up giving me a lovely quote, even though the print deadline was long past. A fabulous lady (and a spectacular writer). I really, really hope I'll meet her sometime this year.

Are there authors at Torcon 3 [August 28–September 1, 2003] you are hoping to meet?

I'm ashamed to admit this, but I've lost the latest update report with the list of guests. And I've forgotten who was on it (this is the state of my brain, these days). I remember, though, that in addition to the writers I was excited about (whoever they were!), I was glad to see the names of some of the editors and agents I met at the Montreal WFC [2001]. Darren Nash of Simon & Schuster UK and David Hartwell of Tor were foremost among those.

Is the World Fantasy Convention [October 30–November 2, 2003] on your itinerary as well?

I would love to attend, yes, but as usual, family considerations have to come first. I'll play it by ear, basically. Part of my reason for wanting to go is that my agent, Jeff Kleinman, is based in Washington, DC. Believe it or not, I've never met him! [Later] By the way, my agent told me I could stay at his place during Washington WFC—so I just may be there!

I understand you don't do short fiction such as short stories or novellas. Do you find the short form too constraining to work in?

"Constraining" implies that I've tried and given up in frustration at the form's limitations. Whereas I've never tried, and I certainly don't think that short stories are a limited form. Since I was a kid I've been writing long, long stories—I guess I'm just not finished with them yet.

On March 4 [2003], you appeared on a panel discussion for a show called Ink for BookTelevision, along with Nalo Hopkinson and Karin Lowachee. The topic was "Women in SF & Fantasy." The discussion has already aired on BookTV, but I missed seeing it. Were you expected to give a learned discourse on the scores of other women in SF and fantasy as well as talk about yourself?

We didn't talk about our writing at all—only about which women have influenced us, and why. It was both inspiring and daunting for Karin and me to listen to Nalo Hopkinson, who is so very wise and articulate and has a seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of the history of speculative fiction.

I also got to drink a bit of scotch, which was lovely.

As Karin Lowachee did, you submitted chapters to the Del Rey Online Writing Workshop (which is no longer run by Del Rey, but is entitled the Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror). Is that how you got to know Karin? And Scott Bakker?

It is. I joined the workshop in the spring of 2000 and stayed with it until the summer, when I found my agent. I would love to have been there longer, since it was such a wonderful place to test out already-written or in-progress stuff—but the time requirements were pretty considerable (every review received had to be reciprocated). But in the few months I participated, I met some wonderful people with whom I'm still in touch—so there's definitely been a continuity to the experience.

Having said that, there was also an obsessive edge to the process that I eventually couldn't sustain. I was utterly consumed, those first few weeks, with printing people's chapters out and annotating them faithfully and thoroughly—which meant I was basically ignoring my own writing, despite all the feedback I was getting. (And I was back at work then, had a baby at home-so for a time, the attention I was giving to these considerably more important things was pretty fractured. E-obsessions can do that to you.) When the workshop format changed and a participant fee was implemented, I didn't extend my membership.

Incidentally, Cecilia Dart-Thornton was also in that group of participants. She and Karin, then Scott and I: within a few months there was a flurry of contracts (none of them with Del Rey, by the way). Scott has told me that the newest incarnation of the group has produced several Del Rey contracts, which is great news.

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