A Bowl of Questions

Locus Shines the Spotlight on Ellen Kushner

Recently, Tremontaine's head writer, Ellen Kusher, had a fabulous interview with Locus magazine. You can read the whole thing here but we've included a little taste below!

And don't forget: the print edition of Tremontaine Season 1 comes out May 2!You’re the creator of the Riverside series, which includes novels and stories written by you, in collaboration, and by other hands, most recently the Tremontaine serials. Tell us a little about the history of the Riverside series.When my first novel, Swordspoint, came out in the US in 1987, it was a weird outlier: a fantasy without magic! Set in a city, not a Tolkienian landscape! With queer characters in a largely bisexual society…! I didn’t do it on purpose. Or rather, I did – I just wrote what I wanted, and figured it would be a disaster.Well, at the time, the book found its little audience. And it seems also to have been a stake stuck in the ground of the late ’80s, saying: ‘‘Hey, it’s OK to depart from tradition!’’ Since then, books of that kind in the genre have tended to be called either Fantasy of Manners or Historical Fantasy.


Swordspoint wasn’t the first to do any of the things I listed, but it was the noisiest, I guess. Anyway, people asked me when I would do the sequel, but I had a horror of repeating myself. So my next book was the rural, romantic, folkloric and musical Thomas the Rhymer (which won the World Fantasy and the Mythopoeic Awards).But I missed my city. And I missed my characters – so I made a deal with myself: I was allowed to write about them, but only if I took a new approach each time.The next book I started in the series occurred 15 years later. Same city, same characters (a little older), told from the viewpoint of a teenage girl. It would become The Privilege of the Sword – but at the time I was deep into my new career in public radio in Boston, and I set it aside.A few years later, my friend Delia Sherman and I began a romantic relationship, and started making up what happened in the next generation. Delia was particularly interested in the history, mythology and academics of the world, and we ended up writing The Fall of the Kings together. That upset all the Swordspoint fans, because all their favorite characters were dead (though much spoken-of, which was part of the fun!). When it came out, my agent made me pull Privilege out of the drawer, and so that got finished and published as well.I started getting nervous: was I, in fact, writing a series after all?? There were three novels, all set years apart, sure, but… would people call it a trilogy?Fortunately the insightful and erudite Jo Walton unwittingly came to my rescue with a piece on Tor.com calling the series ‘‘a very odd family saga.’’Saved my life. And also true: the next novel, a WIP I’m calling City Year, is about the bastard daughter of Alec from Swordspoint (she’s encountered by the reader in utero in Privilege), the angriest teenager in the world.


In between novels, I’ve written a fair number of short stories that tell about characters or situations referred to in the series – and, yeah, they’re all in slightly differ­ent styles. It’s a bitch: it also means I have to figure out just what a reader who’s never heard of Riverside needs to know in order to make each story stand on its own. Again, Delia came to my rescue by saying, ‘‘Just pretend you’re writing something set during the French Revolution. They don’t always need to know about Robespierre and Danton to make the story work.’’ She’s also fond of explaining Kings as ‘‘a historical novel about a place we made up.’’Tremontaine, which premiered in fall 2015, takes another leap in time: It’s a collaborative serialized narrative set 15 years before Swordspoint.

Talk about the collaborative process for creating the serial Tremontaine. Do the writers work closely together, or more independently? How much control do you exert as creator?Yes, yes, and yes.I write the opening and closing season episodes. The three staff writers write three stori – I mean, episodes each, and we have a couple of guest writers.Before any writing gets done, Julian and staff convene in my living room for a Brainstorm Retreat with a giant whiteboard, a bunch of colored index cards, and vast reserves of bagels, smoked fish, Mountain Dew, potato chips, and chocolate.Three days later, nobody’s dead, and we have the outline for the season, the rough contents of each episode, and have decided who’s going to write which one – and everyone goes home.We have regular meetings on Google-chat, and all communicate madly on Slack, to make sure that 13 stand-alone episodes all dovetail with each other, the First Kiss doesn’t happen twice, the person who was stabbed in episode three doesn’t show up dancing a jig in episode five… and that something Terribly Clever that Tessa just thought of for episode nine is duly foreshadowed in Joel’s episode seven. The stories are edited mercilessly (Delia the first year, Juliet Ulman now and forever), then I step in to make sure that nothing I know about the world but somehow forgot to tell anyone hasn’t been compromised.

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