A Chat with Celia S. Friedman

We’re big fans of C.S. Friedman (see our reviews here) and are pleased to present this interview which was conducted for FanLit by our friend R.K. Charron. Thanks, RK! Commenters will be eligible to win the audiobook version of METAtropolis which was edited by John Scalzi.


Celia S. Friedman was born in 1957. She is the author of the SF novels In Conquest Born, The Madness Season, and This Alien Shore, and the highly acclaimed SFF trilogies THE COLDFIRE TRILOGY (Black Sun Rising, When True Night Falls, and Crown of Shadows), and THE MAGISTER TRILOGY (Feast of Souls, The Wings of Wrath, and the forthcoming Legacy of Kings).

At age 14 she began to design an interstellar universe complete with warring nations and a 10,000 year history. This work would later become the core of the background material for her first published novel, In Conquest Born. And then one day in 1983 “it” happened. She had spent the whole night in a writing frenzy, turning out 30 pages that (in hindsight) were clearly inspired by the bitterly cold, ice-bound Rochester winter. She looked at them in the bleary light of dawn and read them again and thought, “Damn, this is good. This is good enough to sell.” (Chapter 11 of In Conquest Born).

Moving to Winchester Virginia, to teach at Shenandoah University, she set aside a summer to turn her stories into a novel which she could submit for consideration. She finally submitted In Conquest Born to DAW books, and waited for her rejection to come in the mail… It didn’t. DAW loved her book and she loved DAW and she has been writing for them ever since. Celia teaches Creative Writing on the side. She always welcomes new opportunities to teach in the Northern Virginia area; interested parties should contact her.


R.K. Charron: I love The Madness Season- having a vampire in a SF setting is so very rare, and your characters are so vivid! I also love how your COLDFIRE TRILOGY straddles SF & Fantasy. Anything to report about COLDFIRE?

C.S. Friedman: Thank you so much. I enjoy mixing genres, and of course I pride myself on strong characters. Most of my books are character-driven, in that I come up with a vision of who my main characters are and what their trials are going to be, then craft the rest of the book around that. If a reader does not care passionately about your characters, they won’t really care about the book.

I am working on a short story that will not only be exciting in its own right, but offer some interesting glimpses into Tarrant’s history. Very exciting project, that I am sure will thrill my fans. Unfortunately, I’m behind schedule on writing, so I’m not quite sure at this point when it will be finished. Keep an eye on my web page for updates, and sign up as a fan on Facebook (under C.S. Friedman, not my first name) for announcements.

R.K. Charron: In THE MAGISTER TRILOGY there is a consequence to magical power. How did you create the concept?

C.S. Friedman: My COLDFIRE TRILOGY dealt with a magical system in the throes of transformation, with various parties attempting to bind the fae to patterns which would render it unworkable. Many of them believed that if the cost of magical power were high enough, it would spell the end of sorcery. Which begs the question… is that true? Under what circumstances might a man be wiling to make that ultimate sacrifice? Could a savvy, selfish sorcerer find a way around the system? I have unshakable faith in Man’s dark genius, when it comes to finding loopholes in nature. Searching for the loopholes in this case, as a sort of creative exercise, I realized I had the makings of a truly epic story.

R.K. Charron: The Wings of Wrath, book two in the MAGISTER series, has just been released in paperback. (Yay!) Can you tell us about book three, Legacy of Kings?

C.S. Friedman: Well, it will be intense, dark, and surprising. Some things will be revealed about my characters and their world that I know my readers do not see coming, which is perhaps the hardest thing to do, in a field where fans take pride in second-guessing you. Story-wise, Volume III is the culmination of many threads, all centering around mankind’s need to destroy the Souleaters before they can establish themselves in the human kingdoms. What happens when the people who must save the world are, by definition, the most selfish, callous bastards in existence? What confluence of events would be necessary to convince the Magisters to risk their own lives for the welfare of others? Mix that with Salvator’s discovery of his own religious destiny, Gwynofar’s confrontation with a Souleater queen, Siderea using seduction to shift the tides of war, and Kamala discovering at last what her true nature is — and with it her true potential — and you have a pretty potent mix of story elements.

R.K. Charron: I love how solidly built your worlds are and your DM Rule. How long does it take you to create a world before you write the story?

C.S. Friedman: Two years. Bet you didn’t think the answer was that straightforward :-)

I start working on world creation while I’m doing the book before that, then it generally takes a year to work out the kinks. I’m trying to get it down to less time, but when you specialize in creating worlds that are known for their complexity and detail, as mine are, it’s a hard process to rush.

I apply the DM rule by designing a system, figuring out how the rules can be broken, and generating a story from that. It’s a great creative exercise. THE MAGISTER TRILOGY is the first work I’ve ever created where the magical element is virtually unlimited in potential, which is the ultimate challenge. I can’t tell you how many time is have to stop myself while writing these books to ask myself the DM question: “If sorcery can do this so easily, why is anyone bothering to do it by more mundane means?” Inevitably that generates ideas that add good stuff to the story, but not before I have beaten my head against the wall a few times.

My first novel, of course, was 12 years in the making, as I’d been working on that world since I was 13. But if I took that long now, my publisher would kill me :-)

R.K. Charron: Was DAW your first choice for publisher?

C.S. Friedman: Yup. No literary reason. I had a friend who knew Don Wollheim and offered to turn in my manuscript to them. That said, I consider myself very fortunate that happened, as I found a brilliant editor in Betsy Wollheim, and she has contributed immeasurably to my artistic career. DAW also keeps an author’s books in print for as long as people want to buy them, which is not a common arrangement. So I never have to worry about my readers being unable to get hold of my earlier work.

R.K. Charron: After reading your bio on your website, I’ve got some “personal” questions. First, you studied costume design in college. Do you still keep a hand in that?

C.S. Friedman: I burned out pretty badly after designing 100 shows in a highly stressful environment, and now I only make costumes when I need one, or when a friend needs help. However, I have taken up lampwork, and am producing jewelry and accessories featuring hand-crafted glass beads. It will eventually be available for viewing (and sale) at www.glassfantasies.com …but the web page is also behind schedule right now, so it’s not up yet. I’ll post a note on Facebook when it’s ready.

I find that playing with molten glass satisfies many of the same creative urges that originally moved me to take up costuming, only in this case I can play with color and composition directly, without the need to spend hours making patterns and fitting actors, in order to create anything. Not to mention, one wrong move could burn down the house, which is always exciting :-)

R.K. Charron: There are a lot of authors putting playlists in their books now. Do you listen to music when you write?

C.S. Friedman: I do, but I find most music distracting; even when I’m not consciously listening to it, it affects my use of language. So I’ve collected a number of pieces, down through the years, that don’t do that, and I generaly put one of them on when it’s time to work. Many chapters have been written with Mike Oldfield’s Incantations playing in the background.

R.K. Charron: And most importantly, I’m wondering about your “hirsute writing assistants.”  How are they?

C.S. Friedman: My mom’s cat Coco left us on Christmas morning, alas, and is now editing manuscripts in heaven. I have a new housemate, a sweet grey Maine Coon type named Juno, who was adopted from a hectic and stressful environment. She is adapting well and, after seeing how Tasha lies between my arms while I type, decided that seems like a good thing for cats to do. Unfortunately, she’s almost twice the size and weight of my typing kitty, and we haven’t quiet worked out the dynamics of that yet. She may have to settle for curling up on top of the computer…


Thanks to C.S. Friedman and R.K. Charron for this fun interview! (We look forward to more interviews by RK in the future!) Since we’ve got an SF theme here, commenters are eligible to win a copy of the audiobook (CD) version of METAtropolis which was edited by John Scalzi and contains stories by Jay Lake, Elizabeth Bear, Tobias Buckell, John Scalzi, and Karl Schroeder. If that doesn’t sound good, you can choose a book from our stacks.


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Thanks to our friend RK Charron for contributing to FanLit!

View all posts by RK Charron (guest)

10 comments

  1. Bah, my internet is acting kooky, let’s try this again…

    Great interview R.K. and C.S.! ;-)

  2. Nice interview! Her books have been on my TBR list for a long time!

  3. I LOVE (like, LOVE!!!) Celia S. Friedman… I cried when my copy of This Alien Shore didn’t come back from a loan-out… =( I’ve read her Coldfire trilogy so many times, the books are dog-eared (and if you know me, that’s a LOT of usage… =) Great interview!

  4. Very nice interview. I’m waiting for the Magister Trilogy on Kindle.

  5. Nicely done RK and thank you to Celia for stopping by. I need to read these books.

  6. Excellent interview! I enjoyed the Coldfire trilogy when I first read it – one of those series I’ve wanted to re-read for a while now.

  7. Very interesting interview. I have heard great things about the Coldfire Trilogy and can’t wait to read it. I think a lot of authors might benefit from following the DM rule. Thanks!

  8. I have to say, the DM rule is the most interesting and useful rule for linking plot, setting, and theme that I’ve ever heard. It’s already been useful to me trying to replot my current WIP. Thanks CS and RK!

  9. Very enjoyable interview. It is nice to hear about an author’s creative hobbies as well as their work habits

  10. The winner is…..drey

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