Six Elementals Author Interviews will introduce prospective readers to some of the best writers in their genre you may, or may not, have heard of, via a series of six questions. I encourage you to check out the work of these phenomenal creatives! Links to their websites and purchase links will always appear, accompanying the interview. Check them out!
This is a distinct pleasure, in that I have the award-winning dark fantasy author, and creator of #Threadtalks, joining me: the amazing Natania Barron! Natania has published novels, novellas, collections, short stories, articles, and more. Her currently published novels include: Pilgrim of the Sky, Rock Revival, These Marvellous Beasts: The Complete Frost and Filigree Series, Queen of None, and Wothwood: A Broken Cities Novella
P.L.: Huge fan-boy moment for me here, to be able to interview you Natania! I admire your work so much! Thanks again for joining Six Elementals Interviews! You are a multi talented artist, who paints, in addition to your writing.
You are also an influencer, and your #Threadtalks is immensely popular, gaining you a lot of recognition beyond authorship. To quote you, the purpose of #Threadtalks is to take “a deep dive on patterns, textiles, and fabrics that have made our world go ’round so that hopefully you won’t ever look at a cushion the same way again.” Can you please explain a bit more about #Threadtalk, what inspired you to do it, and what impact you think the world of such fashion has had on literature, and culture in general?
Natania: You know, #Threadtalk took me by surprise, too! I’ve been into fashion history since I was a kid. In the third grade, I was in the gifted kid class (haha, ADHD gifted kid, of course) and I did a retrospective on the fashion of the 1910s-1940s. At the time I didn’t think anything of it, but now I’m like… okay, my brain has always been a little extra specially tuned toward fashion. I see the patterns shifting, the hemlines and fabrics, and my brain makes these connections.
So I write a lot of historical fantasy–and even when it’s not specifically historical, I want to make sure I’m rooting even speculative fabric culture in the realm of plausibility. That means a ton of research. I’m always doing research. It’s my favorite thing.
About a year ago I got my ADHD diagnosis, and I had this moment where I just decided to start sharing my extra brain overflow. Why keep all this stuff to myself? So I started keeping track of the research I was doing for my writing on Twitter–in this case, it was for Netherford Hall, which is a fantasy take on Pride & Prejudice. So I was deep in fabric culture, especially muslin.
The thread on muslin went more viral than anything I’ve ever written. It’s a heartbreaking story, deeply rooted in Imperialism, genocide, classism, colonialism, and literary history–all while still having repercussions today. And that’s part of my thesis, really. Fabric is power and wealth. Our current culture is sadly separated from that, but I feel like it’s my job to make sure people don’t forget the past. I can’t fix what happened, but I can help people question beauty. High fashion has only ever been available to a very select few, and yet it has literally determined the rise and fall of nations.
P.L.: I can tell you that those themes you have touched upon, through #Threadtalk, are important and compelling, and #Threadtalk has definitely had a great impact on me, and others. You are a Medievalist, and you possess a Bachelor’s Degree in English and Writing, and Master’s Degree in English, specializing in Medieval Literature. You are also a King Arthur scholar. I too am a huge fan of Arthurian legend. What do you think makes the legend surrounding King Arthur and his court so timeless, and such a recurring topic in literature? What makes you love the mythology surrounding the Once and Future King, and those associated with him?
Natania: The magic of Arthuriana is that it’s so adaptable. I’ve often compared it to an amoeba. We don’t quite know exactly where it started–there are so many theories on who Arthur might have been–but once the story crystallized around his myth, the stories just popped up everywhere. Over the centuries, the tales essentially became local fanfiction: wherever the Arthur stories went, new knights popped up and joined in on the fun. Nearby legendary forests, beasts, monsters, and even remnants of gods and goddess, absorbed into thestory. You get knights from as far as the Holy Land, Moorish knights, knights with lion pets–plus powerful women, fearless kids, and Questing beasts.
It’s also about loss and deterioration. That may sound depressing, but to me, I like that the Arthurian story is about falling apart. It’s not a happy ending. The Golden Age of Arthur isn’t about him: while his knights are running around finding the grail, his marriage is falling apart. His son is plotting against him. He ends up alone. T.H. White does such an incredible job of this in his book, The Once and Future King. You see the cost of the Might vs. Right debate, you understand that Arthur came to change the world, but not to live in the world he changed.
All that said, it’s made for adaptation. People criticize retellings all the time, but personally I love them. I think re-telling and adapting stories for our current time is part of the human experience.
P.L.: I completely agree that the tragedy of Arthur, and the realism, is one of the things that truly draws people to the mythology, generation after generation! It certainly did for me! Of all your novels, do you have a personal favourite, and why?
Natania: My favorite novel is always the one I’m writing. I kind of fall in love with it while I’m writing it, and it’s only gotten worse the morebooks I write. I just finished Queen of Fury, which is the successor to Queen of None, and it follows Hwyfar and Sir Gawain and their relationship. It’s a dual first-person narrative, and the first time I’ve attempted such a thing. For that reason, I think I was more emotionally invested in this book than I ever have been before. I wept while editing and writing it; I dreamed about them. I put together playlists for them. It’s like I was living in a fever dream of their consciousnesses. Super intense.
But if you’d have asked me back a year ago, I would have said that my personal favorite was Netherford Hall, because when I was writing that book I was so joyful. Edith and Poppy’s story is just full of such whimsy. Because it’s Regency fantasy and it has that breathless, fanciful quality, their biggest issues are like, misunderstandings. Poor Hwyfar and Gawain are doomed, and that’s a totally different kind of emotional investment.
P.L.: I love Regency books, so I will surely be reading Netherford Hall (and all your other books)! Can you speak a little bit about your writing journey please? How long have you been writing, what inspired you to write, and what made you elect to publish with small presses instead of completely self-publishing or going for a “Big Five” traditional house?
Natania: So, I started writing when I was about 11. I was an avid reader before I was even in school, and books, quite literally, saved me. I was a very introverted kid with an unconventional family (my dad is chronically ill, and my mother was the breadwinner, and we had lots of financial struggles). Storytelling was the natural extension of that.
Initially, I thought I was going to be an academic, but that turned out less than ideal. I wanted to be a researcher and lecturer, but I wasn’t interested in teaching English 101. I was a medievalist, and I wanted to live in manuscript libraries! I also had a child, and fell in love with North Carolina. The life of an academic meant likely leaving. It also turned out my son was autistic.
Long story short, I just kept at it. I had some very dry years where raising my son and working was all I could do. But then, small presses helped me get my feet back under me. I’ll forever be grateful to John Hartness for inviting me to write Frost & Filigree. I rediscovered myself in that story.
In the last ten years, I’ve published a mix of small presses and big presses, and hoping that my next book is with a larger,more traditional house–it’s out on submission now through my agent. My focus is always on just writing the next book, pushing myself, making it better. Queen of None languished on my hard drive for almost a decade before Joe McDermott at Vernacular reached out to me, and it’s gone on to win awards and be critically acclaimed.
What matters most is connecting with readers and growing as a writer.
P.L.: Queen of None was fantastic, and I can attest that the awards are well-deserved! Congratulations! As you can imagine, I am very excited to hear that Queen of Fury, the follow-up to Queen of None (one of my favourite books) is nearing completion! Can you please tell us about Queen of Fury? What’s it all about?
Natania: I touched on it a little before, but essentially it’s Hwyfar’s story. Hwyfar appears in Queen of Fury as Gweynevere’s sister. She’s a bit of a libertine, entertains minstrels in her apartments in Carelon, and has quite the reputation around court. Not a good one. Everyone writes her off.
But the book begins with her arriving home in Avillion, where her father, King Leodegraunce, has descended into illness and madness. With her other sister, Mawra, now married to Arthur, she’s the only one left to make decisions. Of course, she has no desire to have a shred of responsibility, but she’s also deeply unhappy, a drunkard, and grieving the death of her sister Gweyn in ways she cannot express.
When Avillion comes under threat from a usurper, she convinces Arthur to send troops to aid her–including Sir Gawain and his brother Gareth–and declares herself Queen Regent. In the process, she finds out that she’s got a lot more to inherit regarding Avillion than just a title.
The book is a doomed romance, of sorts, but it’s also about magic. You’ll see many stories from the Arthurian canon, including the Green Knight, Yvain and his Lion, the magic forest of Brocéliande and many others. Gawain’s story runs in and around hers, as he faces the reality that he can no longer fight–and what is a giant of a man to do if he can no longer bash skulls? You get a whole new side to him, though, as in the first book, it’s a very limited view through his mother Anna’s side.
A ton more magic, more castles, more fighting! And it’s a far longer book!
P.L.: I will be clicking “buy” immediately when Queen of Fury is out! Can’t wait! Some of the top fantasy writers in the world are part of the LGBTQQIP2SAA+ community, such as Tamsyn Muir, Tessa Gratton (a personal favourite of mine), and Samantha Shannon. You identify as queer as well. We obviously have a long way to go, despite many positive changes, in terms of embracing marginalized writers, despite the successes of the authors I’ve mentioned, and writers such as yourself. What do you think needs to happen to make more progression in this regard?
Natania: There’s a deep line of “traditional” conservatism that runs through fantasy. I grew up in an Evangelical church, and fantasy was one of the only genres you were allowed to read. Especially the sort that love the reinforce the “men are men, women are women” narratives. And unfortunately, that’s still a lot of what we see selling and a lot of what’s still read.
But I know it’s changing because I have a daughter, and I know her friends. They aren’t just living more inclusive lives, they’re demanding more inclusive stories. It’ll take time. It can feel very frustrating and demoralizing sometimes. I lost it a few weeks ago on a Facebook forum, because someone shared a picture of their fantasy bookshelf that was all white male writers and asked if anyone knew “any female fantasy writers.” I just… it just reminded me that we still haven’t even gone over that hurdle yet.
My daughter’s favorite show in the world is The Owl House which doesn’t just feature a teen lesbian couple, but also has trans representation. She and her friends introduce each other by their names and their pronouns. The next generation is fierce. I’m just happy to do what I can to help pave the way for them.
P.L.: I agree, we do have a long way to go in that regard, but we are making progress, and the next generation will ensure we get there! But thank you for all you do in the present, to help move the needle forward, with your wonderful, inclusive writing! It was a joy to speak with you Natania, and thanks so much for taking the time to be interviewed.