Genre Chick Interview: C. C. Finlay

I’ve found that in the genre world the friends of my friends are some pretty cool people. And so, based on the compliments of author Jim C. Hines, I liked Charlie Finlay long before I met him. Already a noted historian, C. C. Finlay is taking the speculative fiction world by storm this summer with his Traitor to the Crown trilogy: The Patriot Witch (April), A Spell for the Revolution (May), and The Demon Redcoat (June).

With my Genre Chick hat on, I took Charlie aside and asked him a few questions about his deepest darkest secrets.

Alethea Kontis: Three books coming out, essentially all at once, is pretty gutsy. How did you pull that off?

C. C. Finlay: I crawled into my cave nightly for about 18 months and did nothing else but write.  My beard grew to my knees, my eyes bulged like a deep ocean fish, and I wore all the letters off the keyboard keys.  I feel great about it.  I’m glad people get to read the whole series over one summer if they want.

AK: You’re quite the history buff–if you could live in any time in history, when would that be?

CCF: I’m very happy that I live right now.  If I lived in most other times in history, between childhood diseases and starvation and war, I’d probably be dead.  Plus we’ve got this whole Internet thing these days, which is very cool. The past is a great place to visit, especially in a novel, but I’m not sure I’d want to stay there.

AK: In The Patriot Witch, Proctor Brown has a special relationship with eggs. How do you take your eggs?

CCF: Good eggs are like a good high school midterm, over easy.

AK: On your blog, you recently discussed “genre fiction as the future of serious literature.” What are your thoughts on the subject?

CCF: Genre fiction is about characters who take action to change their circumstances and lives.  We’re coming to a point in history–because of global climate change and resource depletion, to name two things–where we have to take transformative actions individually and as societies to preserve our world.  Genre fiction is a laboratory where we can rethink our relationship to the world, reassess our values, and create models for taking action.

AK: I hear your son has won some pretty prestigious writing awards. How do you feel about that?

CCF: You’re talking about the Scholastic Books Kids Are Authors competition that he won with his classmates in 5th Grade.  They took first place out of something like 3,000 entries and had their picture book published by Scholastic.  It’s been three years, and he still reminds me that he will always have published his first book at a younger age than I did.  Aside from the smack talk, I’m very proud of him and his friends.

AK: You’ve taught various writing workshops across the country. What do you think is the most important lesson a budding writer should know?

CCF: There are a collection of traits that are important to writing.  Love writing–take joy in the process. Read all the time. Be persistent in the face of discouragement. Be committed to your own self-improvement.  Different traits come naturally to different budding writers, and then they have to pick up the rest.  It’s a matter of helping each writer find which piece of their puzzle is missing.

AK: According to your Web site, there are quite a few famous Charles Finlays out there. Has this challenged you to stand out from the crowd?

CCF: When I started writing, the most famous Charlie Finlays out there were baseball owner Charles O. Finley–the man who invented night games, the designated hitter, and donkeys in the outfield–and Dr. Charles Finlay, who found a cure for yellow fever and made the Panama Canal possible.  Those are pretty tough acts to follow.  Fortunately, neither one of them blogs or uses twitter, so between that and writing fiction I’ve slowly been able to climb up the google rankings over the past view years.

AK: Andre Norton, the late SF Grand Dame, was a local Murfreesboro gal and her memory is very dear to us. You’ve previously co-chaired the jury for the Andre Norton Award. Can you tell us a little bit about that award?

CCF: The Andre Norton Award is for best young adult fantasy or science fiction novel.  When I was growing up as a reader, the line between adult and young adult fiction wasn’t so clearly drawn.  On the one hand you might have Nancy Drew or Trixie Belden, and on the other hand you had the Gor books, but on the whole, the distinctions were much less clearly drawn.  But more recently, I had come to take the different categories for granted.

The year before I served on the Norton jury, I was on the jury for the Phillip K. Dick Award for best science fiction paperback.  Doing the two juries back to back was enlightening.  On the whole, I found the YA novels better: they were more engaging, with more vivid characters, and more fun to read.  Many of the themes were just as important and complex.  So now I’ve come to the conclusion that some of the best books being written right now for any age are being marketed as YA.  Even putting aside J.K. Rowling, who is a phenomenon unto herself, I find that many YA writers can be equally enjoyed by adults: Scott Westerfield, Maureen Johnson, John Green.  And other people seem to think the same thing.  Explicitly YA novels are finalists for both the Nebula and Hugo awards this year.

With that said, I think it’s fantastic that there is an award meant to draw attention to YA books.  I loved serving on that jury and would do it again if time ever allowed me to, just for the chance to find new authors.

Click here to download a free copy of The Patriot Witch.