Let’s start with an introduction: Who is Keren Landsman?
I’m a mother, a writer, a blogger and a doctor. I’m a specialist in Epidemiology and public health. I work in the Levinski clinic, which is a free STI clinic in Tel Aviv, as a physician, and in the mobile clinic for people in prostitution in Tel Aviv which the clinic operates. I also work for the Ministry of Health as an Epidemiologist, in charge of STI Epidemiology in Israel.
I am a founding member of Mida’at, a volunteer NGO dedicated to promoting public health in Israel, and I also currently manage Mida’at’s volunteers. Lastly, we just adopted three kittens, so most of my time is dedicated to preventing them from demolishing our home…
Your latest novel, The Heart of the Circle, is due to be published in August by Angry Robot Books. It looks really interesting: How would you introduce it to a potential reader? Is it part of a series?
The Heart of the Circle is about people fighting for their rightful place in society. Sorcerers in Tel Aviv fight for their right to be who they are and to live their lives without fear of persecution. I’m currently working on the sequel, but The Heart of the Circle is a stand-alone novel.
What inspired you to write the novel? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
I wanted to write a sweet, optimistic love story. The problem was that real life kept finding its way into my writing. We live in a country where religion and inequality influence every waking hour, and you can’t dismiss it. After a 16 year-old girl was murdered during the Jerusalem pride parade, I found the main thread of the story. It’s about trying to fit in while still being true to your values. About the need to fight for what you believe in, and standing up for marginalised populations in need. I’m afraid it didn’t turn out as sweet and as optimistic as I hoped it would…
How were you introduced to genre fiction?
I read a lot of fantasy growing up, but never thought about it as a specific genre, and never looked specifically for it. Also, most of what I read was classic children’s literature — The Narnia Chronicles, Roald Dahl, etc. Although I loved it, I grew out of it. At 12, I finished reading almost all of the books in my school’s library, and when I complained about it to my parents they asked if I had read Asimov. I had no idea who they were talking about, so the next day I went looking for his books. They were in a section in the library I never looked at: Science Fiction. I picked a book at random. I remember thinking “Oh it’s one of THOSE books”, but I didn’t return it, and by the second page I was hooked. I never knew there were other people in the world who looked at the sky like me, wondering if anybody was looking back.
That book changed what I thought literature could do. It didn’t just tell me a story, It told me about a future I might want to avoid, it warned me against losing humanity and made me think about what being human is about. It opened my eyes to a whole new world. Speculative fiction was no longer “for kids”, it became a whole new way of looking at the world. I couldn’t go back to reading anything else but SFF for a very long time.
The Heart of the Circle, Israel Cover (כנרת זמורה-ביתן)
How do you like being a writer and working within the publishing industry?
I don’t really have a choice about writing. I write because it’s the only way I know how to get a story out of my brain so it would stop haunting me. Until I finish a story the characters keep annoying me, bugging me with questions and demanding attention. Only when I put them on paper do they leave me alone and let me have a bit of peace and quiet. Until the next story pops out… I was very lucky to work with amazing people both in the industry in Israel and at Angry Robot. I loved the editing process, as it made me re-think my choices for my characters and worldbuilding, and really sharpen my plot.
Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
I’m a discovery writer, which for me means I start writing with either a scene, a sentence or a character in mind, and continue writing until the story takes shape. I do very little planning ahead and instead plan the story while writing it, and research my questions while writing too. I throw a lot away and do a lot of re-writing because usually my first draft (and the second one) is just me getting lost in the world or the plot. It’s true for both my short fiction and long form. The only difference is how much I throw away before getting it right.
I write whenever I can, which is quite challenging with a full time job, two kids and three kittens. I switch between writing tips to whatever works for me at a specific time. I sometimes stick to a 1,000 words a day, sometimes to “finish a scene no matter how long it takes”. Sometimes, especially for short stories with approaching deadlines, I open a google doc and invite people to watch me write. Knowing people are watching makes me stick to the schedule, because when the deadline is close, shaming works best for me.
The only thing that I never forget is that writing is a job. That means that I have to do it, and I have to take it seriously. It’s not a hobby for me, and if I don’t put words on paper I’d better have a very good reason for it, just like any other job. For me, that’s the main and only thing that never changes.
When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?
I started writing a bit after I learned how to read. I wrote poems and stories, some of them might still be at my parents’ home somewhere between my dolls and school papers. I started writing my first book at 16, about a teenage robot who is a part of a universal time traveling agency. I wrote a chapter and a half and gave up. I wish I’d finished that story because I don’t remember today how I saw the ending.
I’ve always written either a journal, a blog or short stories that I never dared to send for “real” magazines.
At 29, my husband encouraged me to do two things – to participate in a writing competition and to send a story to a really cool magazine. I expected to be rejected from both, but my story was accepted to the magazine and a few days later I won the writing competition. Since that first publication I didn’t stop writing and sending my stories to whoever would accept them. I still love those two stories very much.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
I love it! I can find myself in so many stories today, so much more than what I read as a teenager. There are women’s voices everywhere, different genders, different ages, different cultures, different languages, different political and personal views, and such a huge variety to choose from! I love how you can find anything in the genre today, and I can’t wait to see what future writers will bring to our genre.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline, and what are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on the sequel of The Heart of the Circle, hoping to expand the world and answer a few questions that remained open in the first book. I’m also writing a short story for “Once upon a Future”, an annual anthology of speculative Israeli fiction. My last story was a horror story, so I need to do something completely different this year. Maybe hard-core scifi? We’ll see. And last (but not least!) is a 50s pulp fiction style short story about a woman stuck in a time loop.
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
I just finished I am Malala, which was wonderful and very close to home. Even though the story is told through Malala’s eyes, I kept thinking about Malala’s mother, who had to deal with her daughter’s injury. I imagine how she felt when they told her about the shooting and how she had to stay strong and focused for her other kids.
My reading list from now until WorldCon will include most of the nominees for the Hugo’s (although I haven’t decided what order yet!).
If you could recommend only one novel or book to someone, what would it be?
Why would anyone read only one book? I think I’d probably have a very long conversation with that person and describe all the wonderful things they’re missing out on by not reading everything there is to read. They’d become a bookworm just to stop me from talking.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
I traveled with IsraAid to South Sudan a few years ago to teach Epidemiology and Public health to local health care workers. It was an interesting and challenging experience, and it made me understand a lot about the privileges we take for granted.
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
The Heart of the Circle coming out, finishing book 2 (which is currently nicknamed “Spleen of the Triangle” — geddit?), Zion’s Fiction 2 coming out, hopefully two of my best friends and writing buddies – Yael Furman and Rotem Baruchin – will have their books out too, a young writer whom I’ve known since she was born might start publishing stories, aaaaaand I’m always hoping for world peace with an end to hunger and plagues, you know.
Keren Landsman’s The Heart of the Circle is due to be published by Angry Robot Books in the UK and North America, in July 2019. The novel is also available in Israel, published by כנרת זמורה-ביתן.
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