New Author Spotlight – Athena Andreadis
What drew you to writing stories that were moving across genres? Is this a new direction for your writing?
It was a case of Crossed Genres and me finding each other. All my stories are cross-genre because I come from a culture that doesn’t impose genre boundaries on its literature and counts many cross-genre authors as major and mainstream. In my storytelling I walk the winds of myth, revisionist history, science fiction (equal parts quasi-feasible extrapolation and space opera), epic fantasy, romance. The chimerism of my stories, combined with their decidedly non-Anglo flavor, may explain why I’ve had a hard time with publication.
The theme for this issue is Deadlines. Can you talk a little about how your story reflects that? And did you write it for the theme, or was it something that you’d already completed that seemed to fit?
I had written “The Wind Harp” a while ago and realized that it fit the announced Deadlines CG theme along one of its axes. There are several deadlines in the story; the obvious one is the impending unstoppable culling at Kem-Fir tower and Antóa’s tiny time window to circumvent it. However, there are a few subtler ones as well: Behtalka’s expansionist plans (and the resistance to them) in general and its ruler’s plans vis-à-vis Antóa in particular.
In “The Wind Harp”, you’ve created a number of cultures and worlds, all of them with unique characteristics. What is your world-building process like?
“The Wind Harp” is part of a vast saga that starts in Minoan Crete and goes into the far future, where humanity has unfurled into at least seven distinct cultures on a dozen planetary systems linked by quasi-stable wormholes that can be formed and/or accessed by several technologies. Two other published stories, “Dry Rivers” and “Planetfall“, are also parts of this universe; Antóa of “The Wind Harp” is the nameless narrator of the last section in “Planetfall”.
I’ve thought at great length about each of these cultures: their suns, moons, planets, ecosystems, customs, myths, science, art, politics, history, languages, interactions. “Planetfall” is mostly about Koredhán, the planetary culture extrapolated from the Minoans; in “The Wind Harp”, besides Ténli, Gan-Tem and Behtalka, you also get a whiff of Idre and Nireg – enough to learn, inter alia, that the Idriem are crack bioengineers. These deep foundations are crucial for plot intricacy and character dimensionality.
The young protagonist of your story seems first and foremost duty-bound. We so often see these characters in stories and they become clichés, where they are nothing more than their sense of duty. Antóa is anything but that. She is smart, introspective, and deeply questioning while always remaining true to her duty. How did you come up with her as a character?
In general, I’m allergic to characters who spend the length of a story “finding themselves” because this is so 20th/21st century US. People in most other cultures have far tighter choices and shorter timeframes to exercise them. Nor do I want any of my characters to fall into other black hole clichés: loyal apprentice to an exacting “master” of mystical powers; muse/helpmate to a gifted partner; frustrated/guilt-ridden woman; damsel against hag. A central thread in this story is the cooperation between two powerful, ambitious women.
Antóa Tásri-e (Ánassa Sóran-Kerís, The Long Shadow) first rose in my mind much older, in her mid-fifties, as the major leader—and scarred survivor—of a brutal, protracted and complex resistance war against Behtalka and as the head of a cross-cultural extended family (it won’t come as a surprise that the Gan-Tem caste warrior Tan-Rys is among its members). She comes from a culture that’s flexible despite its hierarchies of nobility and other systems of rank, and she transcends it while retaining its sophistication, love of beauty and recognition of merit. She’s diamond-strong but matter-of-factly so, intensely aware and self-aware – and though she’s passionate and a rule-breaker, her ethical compass rarely wavers. In short, she’s a natural nexus and pivot. Her voice was irresistible, a true siren call, so I followed her willingly on her life journey.
In truth, all of your characters – even those who only appear briefly – are fully formed, with clear motivations, pains, and desires. Do you think that characters are one of your strengths as a writer?
I cannot write a character until I hear and see them distinctly, until I’ve lived in their body and looked out of their eyes. That’s another reason why I’ve thought out the cultures of my universe in such depth: each character’s background is a major engine for their motivations and actions. And as this is mythic/epic SF, encounters between people can change worlds.
My stories tend to be character-driven but with a clear external plot arc; excessive angst is best left to adolescent diaries. They’re also dense with the mostly-submerged worldbuilding—although I do resort to the occasional letter or encyclopaedia entry for quick grounding. I’ve received complaints that people need to read my stories attentively or more than once, otherwise they end up missing something important. That’s actually a feature, not a bug. I’ve also frequently heard the accusation that my characters (my women, in particular) are too much forces to be reckoned with, too fully-formed even at story’s start. Of course, so are Antigone and Medea.
Since this issue is about deadlines: Are you a deadline writer? Do you need a deadline (either internal or external) in order to finish things, or do you find them constraining?
As a research scientist, I’ve written grants constantly and they have absolutely immovable deadlines. Writing fiction is a different process. I don’t need deadlines to finish a story; the work itself drives me, a cross between a pied piper and an orisha. My stories never come linearly (the beginning and ending invariably come to me first) and they ebb and flow like tides. Sometimes I write around the clock, sometimes I go fallow. I don’t force a work that’s reluctant to flow; also, I cannot write to a specified theme unless I already have a kernel sprouting in that direction—my own universes have taken up all the available bandwidth. Far more constraining is the lack of publication: my unpublished stories tend to clog my creative pipes, because they make it hard for me to see the next horizon.
Where is your favorite writing place? Can you draw us a visual picture of the kind of space you create for yourself when you write?
I don’t have many rituals, my writing depends on interior mood. When the story tide is rising, I can write anywhere provided it doesn’t exacerbate my fibromyalgia (and isn’t distractingly noisy or bright). I do have a body-friendly armchair with a lovely damask cover where I loll when I’m dreamweaving. I have several pieces of music that I play when in full spate, because they enhance the immersive state of the writing seaswell. They range from world folksongs to troubadour lays to symphonies and symphonic poems to cinematic scores. During doldrums I let my thoughts spread like dawn mist, stealthily shadowing the story until it grows still enough to approach and lead home.
What’s the question that you wish someone would ask, but no one ever has?
What are the commonalities between a research scientist and a fiction writer?
What’s the answer to that question?
Many and far deeper than you’d think after a casual glance. Careful craft, informed hunches and thinking outside habitual boundaries and past embedded assumptions are as integral to good science as they are to good writing.
Is there anything I didn’t ask that you think is important or that readers might want to know, either about you or about the story?
“The Wind Harp” has a sister story, “The Stone Lyre”, that happens concurrently and showcases an overlapping set of cultures in this universe (Nireg and Veldir besides Ténli and Behtalka). It’s a darker work that explicitly shows the repercussions of a Behtalkat practice mentioned fleetingly in “The Wind Harp”, a variant of the repugnant Ottoman – and Jedi – devshirme (blood tax, aka child-gathering).
And for the fun of it, “The Wind Harp” had a brief coda (connected to my earlier remark about Antóa in Planetfall) that got excised due to word count limits. Anyone who is interested in seeing the coda can leave a comment at the story on this site. If I like the comment, I’ll send the coda to the commenter.