“Stolen me? As soon to say a caged bird can be stolen by the sky.”
Foz Meadows is Hugo award, Nora K. Hemming Award, and a Ditmar award for their essays, reviews, short fiction, and stories. They have appeared in everything from Uncanny Magazine to The Huffington Post. Foz will be releasing their queer fantasy novel A Strange and Stubborn Endurance in August.
It was an absolute treat to talk to them and find out a bit about what makes inspires them.
[BT] I read that you decided at age 12 to become a writer. How did that happen? What led you to that discovery?
[FM] It’s hard to remember my exact thought process, but I’d been writing stories for fun since I was six or seven, and at a certain point, I realized that was a job people had, which meant I could do it, too. I was one of those kids who was always reading, always writing, and while I went through periods of wanting to do other things – most notably archaeology and journalism – it was always as well as, not instead of. It probably helped that I grew up in a house full of books: my parents both wrote for a living, and they always encouraged me, so it never felt unachievable. But at the same time, I had no idea how the industry worked, which was its own learning curve once I got older!
[BT] Which stories have had a considerable effect on you? I know you are a fan of The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison; who else do you love?
[FM] I’d be here for days if I tried to list everyone, but some of my favourite authors right now are Martha Wells, N.K. Jemisin, K.J. Charles, Aliette de Bodard, Kate Elliott, Yoon Ha Lee, Lois McMaster Bujold, June Hur and Django Wexler. At this point, there’s so much brilliant work being written in SFF that I feel like everything I read is affecting me, because I’m constantly in awe of the field. Tamsyn Muir’s use of language and voice in the Locked Tomb series, Shelley Parker-Chan’s incisively mirrored internalities in She Who Became The Sun, Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s nuance and versatility, Lee Mandelo’s sense of place and deep understanding of people – it’s all just breathtaking. I’ve been reading Mo Xiang Tong Xiu’s work as the installments come out in English – I did try the unofficial translations, but I struggle to read long works on my phone – and there’s these moments with her characterization where I want to bow down, it’s so good. Right now, I’m reading an ARC of The Archive Undying by Emma Mieko Candon and it’s just phenomenal: the prose, the pace, the concept. I’m spoiled for choice!
[BT] You have a deep love of webcomics. Which one is your favorite, and why?
[FM] Oh man, webcomics! There’s a few I’ve been reading for literally twenty years now, which feels insane to say, because what even is linear time? Of the ones I follow currently, I don’t think I could pick a favourite, because they’re all too different; I really love Wilde Life by Pascalle Lepas and Dresden Codak by Sen Diaz,but if we’re including comics that have wrapped up, I think my all-time favourite is Check, Please! by Ngozi Ukazu, which aside from being a truly wonderful story is also responsible for getting me into ice hockey.
[BT] What is the biggest difference between writing Solace and Grief and The Key to Starveldt to now with A Strange and Stubborn Endurance?
[FM] Honestly, the biggest difference is who I am as a person. I started writing Solace & Grief in 2007 aged 21, which means there’s fifteen years of life experience between me-then and me-now; coincidentally, we’re also coming up on my fifteenth wedding anniversary. Since Solace, I’ve moved internationally three times, lived in four different countries, become a parent, figured out some gender stuff, had my health get fucked up, clawed it back, and been through an arguable rollercoaster re: the industry and my place in it. I’m a stronger writer now than then, which feels trite to say on one level – I’ve had an extra decade and a half to work on my craft; you’d hope I would’ve improved a little! – but it’s also because I know myself better. I understand what I want to write and why in a way I didn’t back then, not because me-then had no convictions, but because me-now has had longer to develop them and figure out how they intersect with fiction. Which is funny, because inevitably, me-now will eventually become a different me-then to look back on. You know? There’s no end point to identity any more than there is to craft; it’s just a mix of changes all the way down, some big and some incremental, until we all turn into Theseus’s ship.
[BT] You are a lover and prolific writer of fanfiction. What was your first brush with fanfiction? And how has fanfiction influenced your work as an author?
[FM] Way back in the mists of early adolescence, long before I ever knew there was a word fanfiction, I co-wrote Zelda: Ocarina of Time fanfic with my friends, though I can’t now recall if this came before or after writing Final Fantasy VIII fanfic for myself. Either way, it was never posted anywhere; it was just for us, because we had feelings about the characters in the games we played and felt moved to tell our own stories. As an adult, I still had the same impulses, but I’d lost the sense of play I’d had in my tweens and teens that made me feel it was something I could indulge in outside of daydreaming on the bus to work, so I didn’t do anything with it. And then – and this is basic, I know, but basic is basic for a reason – I wound up in the Supernatural fandom, saw what friends and fellow fans were making, and realized, “Hey, I can do that!”
I posted my first fic to AO3 in 2014, and that opened the floodgates. Sharing in a big fandom like that, writing things specifically because a single friend wants to read them or because you desperately want it to exist and nobody else has done it quite right yet – it was honestly a transformative experience. It made me completely rethink the way I wrote, not just in terms of showing me that I could write romance as a central narrative focus – and more, that I enjoyed writing romance as a central narrative focus – but by totally recontextualizing my understanding of tropes. Once I’d learned what tropes were and how they applied to SFF, I’d honestly been kind of paralyzed by it, because I’d started thinking tropes were the same as cliches – that is, simplistic concepts to be avoided rather than distilled descriptions of common narrative building blocks – and been struggling to avoid them, which isn’t actually possible. And then fanfic came along and made it clear that none of us is a creative island. You don’t have to find some totally unique, hitherto untapped perspective or develop a brand-new concept of language or voice or setting in order to be original; you just have to write as yourself, giving your own perspective on the ideas that interest you, where an interest can be anything from a deeply-felt political passion to a random thing that makes you happy. It was just… nice, to be reminded that stories – and the act of writing them – can be joyful, and that their joy doesn’t detract from or come at the expense of depth. We can all contain multitudes.
[BT] Which fandoms are you a fan of?
[FM] Right now, my main fandom is still The Untamed, aka Chen Qing Ling, the live action adaptation of Mo Dao Zu Shi (The Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation) by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu. It’s such a rich, powerful story with so much to say about people, power, violence, history – every time I come back to it, I find something new. I’m also completely obsessed with Beyond Evil, aka Goemul (Monster), a Korean crime drama; it subverts and critiques the genre in a way that makes me feral, and the chemistry between the lead actors – and the performance of Shin Hakyun in particular – is phenomenal.
[BT] Can you tell us about your newest novel, A Strange and Stubborn Endurance?
[FM] It’s a queer fantasy romance centered on the diplomatic marriage between two noblemen: Velasin vin Aaro, who’s from the homophobic nation of Ralia, and Caethari Aeduria, from the more liberal nation of Tithena. Vel, a gay man, is originally slated to marry Cae’s sister, but when he’s outed under ugly circumstances, the Tithenai envoy proposes that he marry Cae instead. Though Vel’s father is opposed to the new arrangement, as the alternative is to let the alliance fail, he allows it to go ahead, though not before effectively disowning his son. So Vel starts out the story in a very dark place, but his arc is ultimately one of healing – and at the same time, there’s political shenanigans afoot when he gets to Tithena, because not everyone is thrilled about the alliance.
[BT] What was the genesis for the creation of A Strange and Stubborn Endurance?
[FM] I started writing the first draft in 2015, after I’d handed in my edits for An Accident of Stars, but before I was set to start work on A Tyranny of Queens, when I had a free moment and my brain, somewhat predictably, leapt at the chance to work on something new. I’d been enjoying writing queer romance in a fanfic context, so I wanted to try my hand at something original in a fantasy vein, and this was what came out. I didn’t plan the story: I just opened up a new document and Vel’s voice flowed onto the page, and suddenly I had this whole concept in my head that needed a home.
[BT] How did you select the name of the novel?
[FM] The original working name for the book was The Killing Choice, in reference to a fictional queer fantasy novel I made up to include in a Supernatural fanfic. I wasn’t trying to write the story as described in the fic so much as riffing off the name I’d given it, and in the end, the title didn’t fit. So I went back into the text to look for inspiration, and settled on A Strange and Stubborn Endurance, which is what Vel is described as having at one point, and which feels much more representative of the story.
[BT] How did Velasin vin Aaro’s character come about? What was his inception?
[FM] Honestly, he just showed up! I started writing and there he was, which is how it often feels when my creative hindbrain gets an idea but doesn’t deign to enlighten my conscious mind about all the underlying hows and whys. There’s just something there, and I know it’s mine, but it’s come from the black box part of my brain rather than the cockpit, if that makes sense, and when that happens, it’s generally best to just run with it.
[BT] A Strange and Stubborn Endurance is a lot of things: a love story, a story about healing, friendship, cultural roles and the damage they can do, and recovery from trauma. How did you balance everything so well? Did the story organically grow as you wrote it?
[FM] I do sometimes plan out my novels, but this one was purely organic. I wrote the first half in about two months, sending day by day updates to my friend Liz Bourke, who was cheerleading me through it and continually asking for more – but then I had to stop and work on A Tyranny of Queens, for which I was contracted at the time, and after that, life got in the way for a while. I kept nibbling at it and tweaking the early sections over the next few years, but I didn’t actually come back and finish it until 2020 – at which point, the whole second half came out in about three months. So depending on how you measure it, the book either took five months or five years to write!
[BT] What is next for you? What have you been working on?
[FM] The first book in my Manifold Worlds duology, An Accident of Stars, is getting rereleased in June, which is really exciting, and in addition to working on the sequel to A Strange and Stubborn Endurance, I’ve got a novella, Finding Echoes, coming out from Neon Hemlock in 2023. There’s also another couple of novels on the backburner, one of which I’m particularly eager to get to; working on it is going to be my reward for finishing the Endurance sequel. It’s a sort of reverse murder mystery in a setting where magic comes from being touched by gods, and I can’t wait to finish it!