This book has been a few years in the making and flows out of my obsession with Da Vinci and the extraordinary times he lived in. So firstly, the blurb:
The Florentia series is set in a lost world conquered by Renaissance Italians at the time of Da Vinci. It follows the fate of a resourceful young ambassador who must choose between two men she comes to love completely: the brutal generale who can save her world, and the engineer from Earth who can destroy it.
The story opens with our young ambassador betrothed to the generale everyone fears, while an unsuspecting engineer from our world is pulled through a portal into theirs. Florentia is a hotbed of political intrigue that’s been festering for five centuries, and inside that pressure-cooker I’ve created a high-stakes story with dire consequences if any of the three lead characters make a wrong choice. The political machinations were delicious to write, but of course, being a romantic at heart, the love story was an important component for me as well – and I do like a good love triangle!
The setting of Florentia is deliberately elaborate. A couple of years ago I spent a week in Rome and two weeks in Florence researching art and architecture that the wealthy Medici family had commissioned from artists like Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Brunelleschi. I met Medici scholars and even stayed in a palazzo owned by the Medici family 500 years before. My goal was to imagine what sort of wonders the invading Medici would have created on Florentia in the 500 years they’d been ruling it, assuming they had the resources of an entire world to drawn on. I’ve got a pretty good imagination, so hopefully I’ve done that justice. To test the water, I entered Silk in a couple of big US writing contests for fantasy stories with romantic elements, and it’s finaled in The Beacon, Show me the Spark, and the Sheila,which is really encouraging. Now I just need to finish editing it and sell it!
You wrote the bestselling Shadow through Time series. What was it that attracted you to writing Fantasy in the first place?
Growing up, I was one of those kids who never felt like they belonged, so I was drawn to ‘stranger in a strange land’ stories like The Little Mermaid, Alice in Wonderland, Dune, Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land – novels that explored that idea of seeing a world through fresh eyes. As a teenager, when my girlfriends were reading romance novels, I was devouring the Edgar Rice Burroughs Princess of Mars series (recently made into the Disney movie John Carter). I’ve written ‘light’ romances, but my best work is always going to be dark fantasy. I don’t know why, but creating other worlds comes naturally to me, and I think that’s why I do so well working with computer game companies to help them develop fantasy and sci fi world building.
You run a mentoring business and have mentored and assessed manuscripts for International Best Sellers like Australia's Kylie Scott. Aside from success and remuneration what do you love about the mentoring and assessment process?
Part of my mission statement is to share my passion for storytelling and inspire others to tell their own stories, so mentoring and assessment fit that nicely. Some years I have more time for it than others. From a practical perspective, I completely “get” the psychological side – the self-doubt, the grandiose dreams, the desperate desire to share your characters with other people. I also understand that writing is a business, and now more than ever, you have to have strong writing craft along with a great story if you expect a major publishing house to take you on. I’m good at teaching the craft. I’ve assessed over 200 manuscripts now. And I’m naturally quite a nurturing person, which helps. So I couple that with honesty about what needs to be fixed, and excitement and enthusiasm for what’s already working fabulously. I try to help people see that their dream is practical and do-able. You just need faith and persistence!
What Australian works have you loved recently?
Jason Nahrung’s Salvage is a fave. I re-read that recently. Cheryse Durrant’s The Blood She Betrayed was a pretty awesome spec fic debut – a kick-ass heroine arriving on our world from another world – so she’s an author to look out for. Anything by Kylie Scott – really, she’s such a talent. I love her zombie erotica (Flesh, Skin) and her Stage Dive romances are great too: Lick, Play, Lead and soon Deep – again taking everyday characters and thrusting them into extraordinary circumstances (a zombie society, the high-drama world of big International rock bands). I’ve also been working through the Kimberley Freeman and Kate Morton backlists and loving their historical worlds.
Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?
Twenty years ago all I did was write, and now I need time for social media every day. That’s distracting. And it’s not going away. The huge rise in indie authors means that I’m not competing against twenty other fantasy authors in the bookstore for a sale, I’m competing against thousands (many indie/self-published) in Amazon and the Book Depository. So author platform is no longer something any of us can ignore. And the fact that there isn’t any ‘right’ way to do promotion, means that authors waste a lot of time on social platforms that don’t engage readers. Of course, the best advice is write a fabulous book, but I’ve seen people do that, and not make sales because their book was lost amid the thousands of new releases every day.
The rise in self publishing has meant that anyone with a word processing program can toss together a ‘novel’, spell check it, whack a cover on it, then in a few quick steps they’re “published” by Amazon or Smashwords which, as you can imagine, upsets some of the established authors who had to work much harder for the status of “published author”. Of course, there are also indie authors who go to a lot of trouble with editing, professional covers etc, and hybrid authors who have traditionally published books and also indie books. The upshot is that there are a lot of authors out there now. Recently a multi-published International best-selling author told me that she felt like she’d wasted her adult life striving for something that’s worthless now, and several established authors have retired because the effort of meeting big publishing house standards isn’t worth the return any more – the market is flooded with “authors” so the specialness of that job is gone. As a mentor of both new and established authors I get to see both sides: the fabulous reality that everyone who has the dream to be a published author can now achieve that, and the disappointment of those who had to work harder to achieve that status. I have no answers, really, and all the writing organizations I belong to have been grappling with their definition of “published author” for the last few years. So from an author’s perspective, the ground has really shifted in the last three years. Readers, as well, are flooded with books, which sounds great, except that there’s little to filter them for quality in the digital realm. Word of mouth and book blogging have grown and may offer some direction, but it truly is a brave new world out there with plenty of choice for both readers and writers.
In five years time I have no idea what media I’ll be writing in, but I know there will be characters going from one world into another world, and seeing that new world through fresh eyes. That sort of continuity is exciting to me.
Louise Cusack lives in Australia, in a tiny fishing village on the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef. She's a long-time vegetarian and caffeine addict who mentors other writers when she isn't writing herself. A Trekkie from way back, she loves all thing science fiction and fantasy, especially if it has a good love story.
Louise has been published by Simon & Schuster, Harper Collins and Pan Macmillan. She writes about intrepid characters entering worlds that are new and strange to them, whether that's an everyday woman from our world traversing a portal into a sepia kingdom, an amorous mermaid stranded on dry land, or a reclusive oyster farmer who must face the modern world when a geek arrives on her doorstep. Louise also works with computer game companies to develop fantasy and sci fi world-building and recently did a stint as a Special Interest speaker on a luxury cruise.
This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and collating the links at SF Signal. You can find other interviews in this series at the links below:
- Tsana Dolichva
- Stephanie Gunn
- Kathryn Linge
- Elanor Matton-Johnson
- David McDonald
- Helen Merrick
- Ben Payne
- Alex Pierce
- Tansy Rayner Roberts
- Helen Stubbs
- Katharine Stubbs
- Tehani Wessely
- Sean Wright
- Nick Evans