Campbell Interview: Stina Leicht

This is the fourth of my interviews with the finalists for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. You can read all of the interviews by clicking the Campbell Award tag. Today we have author Stina Leicht, whose interview includes the immortal phrase, “…kick Snork ass.”


1) In exactly 27 words, who is Stina Leicht?

I’m a perky goth with technicolor hair, sometimes known as the acorn of death. I’ve a light and a dark side. “Driven,” “perceptive,” and “serious” also apply.

2) Tell us about the kind of fiction you write, and where we can find some of it!

I write historical urban fantasy with an Irish crime edge. I also enjoy writing science fiction and plain old fantasy. At the moment I’m working on a fantasy series for older teens. You can find my work at your local bookstore as well as Barnes and Noble. My novels are also available online and in electronic format (DRM-free and Kindle) at the Night Shade Books website, IndieBound and Amazon.

3) What has been the best moment of your writing career thus far? (And if you’re comfortable sharing, what was the worst?)

There are a number of great moments. They seem to come in pairs. Two are from 2005 when I attended a writer’s workshop. Jim Minz asked for my first novel manuscript based on reading my short story entry. That same weekend Charles de Lint introduced himself and then asked to read that story. The next two great moments involve Joe Monti. First, when he called to tell me he wanted to be my agent and the second when he called to say he’d sold my first book. This year I’ve been given two major award nominations — being short-listed for a Crawford Award and then being nominated for a Campbell Award.

The worst moment was my first real agent rejection in 2007. We’d been communicating and discussing manuscript changes for a year. Then that first novel manuscript, the one that Jim Minz was interested in, didn’t sell. After that, I wrote the first draft of Of Blood and Honey and the agent promptly lost all interest. At the time, I was convinced that I’d done the best work I’d ever produce, and it still wasn’t good enough. It felt like lightning had struck (with the second short story I’d ever written, no less) and I didn’t think I’d get another chance. Everyone knows lightning doesn’t strike twice. I’d screwed it up. I’m so thankful for that experience as painful as it was. It taught me that there’s always room for improvement. It also taught me that writers have very little control over the outside forces that shove them about. However, they do have one thing that they can control: the quality of their writing. In the end, it’s best to focus on what you can control and not what you can’t. Doing otherwise will drive you insane.

4) Who would win in a fight, Papa Smurf or Spider-man?

Papa Smurf wouldn’t fight Spider-man. Spider-man wears smurf colors and is therefore, an honorary smurf.  Everyone knows smurf doesn’t fight smurf. As for Spider-man, he wouldn’t fight Papa Smurf because he isn’t a member of Spider-man’s rogues gallery. In fact, Papa Smurf and Spider-man would join forces and hire Matt Murdock to file an IP suit against the Snorks because Spider-man knows what it’s like dealing with evil impersonators. If that fails, they would then team together to kick Snork ass.

Or maybe they’d just opt to hang out with Rainbow Brite, listen to The Clash, eat veggie curry and get drunk. You never know.

5) As a writer, where would you like to be in ten years?

I’d like to have produced as many great novels as I can and to have sold every one and for them to be successful and well read. It’d be nice to have had some film options too, but it’s not the be all end all.

6) What drew you to write about Ireland in the 70s for OF BLOOD AND HONEY and AND BLUE SKIES FROM PAIN? What was the biggest challenge?

The Troubles (1968-1994) is a fascinating and utterly tragic time period in Irish history. (Although, there isn’t much in Irish history that can’t be described as tragic.) I’ve always been drawn to stories about ordinary people trapped in horrific circumstances. A lot of it has to do with the fact that I don’t believe reality operates in absolute black and white. Yet, absolute good versus absolute evil is a fantasy trope. That kind of thinking doesn’t work in realistic settings, and I prefer realistic settings. Extreme situations tend to bring out the very best in people as well as the very worst. I guess you can say it’s my way of finding a real situation that fits extreme good versus extreme evil. Again, the real world is far more complicated. But I find it much more moving to read about the ordinary person who is changed into a hero than I am by an already perfect person doing perfect things. Sometimes I wonder why we have that particular fantasy trope. Is it because traditional fantasy relies on older history and older history is often edited to create the black and white picture? I wanted to play with that. The only way to do so was to chose a more recent history. Current events are far too muddled to even attempt the bigger picture. We need distance before that dichotomy starts happening. Also, the British deliberately changed the record of events and got away with it.

We often hear the phrase “History is written by the victors.” It isn’t just a truism. Bloody Sunday (1972) proves it. It was a rare incident in which the finger prints and DNA had yet to be wiped clean. I found it horrifying that so few people outside of the UK had bothered to notice. (Note: I started writing two years before the British apology of 2010.) Everything Sinéad O’Connor got so much flack for ranting about was true. So, Of Blood and Honey was, in many ways, my reaction to that. In addition, there is much Americans can learn from The Troubles. I see no reason we should repeat what the British did. That’s outright stupidity. So, I wanted to draw attention to the similarities. Personally, I enjoy sci-fi and fantasy that addresses difficult topics and makes me think. My hope is that my readers want to think too.

I enjoy music a great deal. It helps me get my head in the right place and time when I write. So, part of my research was what sort of music might Liam like? Punk rock was born in 1976. As I saw it, punk would appeal to him. Liam is, in many ways, the embodiment of Irish rage. Punk music is a great outlet for anger. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that punk was a factor in Northern Ireland and not in the way I (as an American) would have thought. Kids from both sides of the wall came together to rebel against the extremist politics and violence. They used punk as a means for peace. Outside of Northern Ireland, punk lasted nine months. I loved that. Who wouldn’t? Again, it’s something that very few Americans are aware of. So, when I sat down to write And Blue Skies from Pain I decided to bring that aspect into the story.

As if writing about a place you’ve never been wasn’t challenge enough, the fact that I’d chosen to write about a foreign culture that I had no connection with was pretty difficult. However, I’d say the biggest challenge was the research. The established record had been tampered with. That meant not only gathering all the information I could, it meant having to discern the truth of, as well as the motivations behind, its contents. It meant gathering more than one account of events — checking and triple checking. It meant having locally written materials shipped to me because I wouldn’t have any other access. It made interviewing at least one person who’d lived through The Troubles a necessity. Frankly, I had all the problems of a non-fiction writer. Also, I knew I had a hard sell on my hands. I had to earn that setting with all my might. Sloppiness just wasn’t an option.

Oh, and let me just add that it was more than a little bit frightening ordering things like the “Green Book” (the IRA’s old handbook) and Cage Eleven by Gerry Adams online during the Bush era. [shudder]