Welcome back to CR! For new readers, let’s start with an introduction: Who is Gaie Sebold?
I never quite know how to answer this question in a way that doesn’t sound dreadfully dull! I’m a married fantasy writer with a cat. I used to do some interesting things and then middle age — not to mention the pandemic — happened. Now I mostly sit at a desk. I have been known to perform poetry to an audience, and run around in a wood with a latex sword, or a gym with a wooden one. I grow vegetables and cook. That’s me.
Your debut novel, Bad Gods (originally titled Babylon Steel), is due to be re-issued by Solaris, in January. I really enjoyed it when it was first published, but for new-/latecomers: How would you introduce it to a potential reader? Is it part of a series?
It’s about a woman who runs a brothel, in a city connected by a series of portals to various planes. She gets hired to find a missing person case and also tracks down a serial killer while avoiding her own past. It has occasional sexy bits and more than occasional funny bits and quite frequent serious bits. It’s the first in what is currently a two book series, which I hope may be extended.
What inspired you to write the novel and series? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
I love Terry Pratchett beyond reason, and I really wanted to write fantasy, as he did, that dealt with serious themes in a lighthearted way. I wanted to write about a person and a culture for whom sex is a craft, not something to be ashamed of or hidden. (Not everyone in this fictional world agrees on that, mind you).
I love crime fiction too so that’s where the crime angle came from. My main inspiration always comes from reading. Fantasy fiction has always been my first love but I read sf, crime, romance, horror and literary fiction, graphic novels, occasional non-fiction. I get ideas from film, television, and art. Some stories have grown out of a discussion after a writing critique session. I also drew inspiration from LARPing and learning longsword. The idea for a book I’ve recently finished was sparked by the picture on the cover of a charity anthology, so… ideas can come from anywhere. Generally they have to bump into one or more ideas from somewhere else before a story starts taking off.
Looking back on the series, are there any key lessons you learned from writing them?
That I’ll probably never again go into a novel without some sort of plan. I always thought I was a pure pantser but there’s nothing like a deadline for putting that idea in its place. And that if I’m writing a series, I really need to think about the series as a whole, and how the individual story arc of each book fits within it, preferably before I start writing.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
I think there’s a huge amount of really interesting and entertaining work being done. The genre has expanded so much. Whatever your tastes in fantasy you can find something you’ll like, and you can find stuff you didn’t even realise was your taste because it’s not been out there before! As to where my work fits in… I’m hesitant to put my books or anyone else’s in a category: I think that categories, while useful for readers in terms of finding the sort of book they’re in the mood for, can be limiting. I call the Gears of Empire books steampunk because it’s handy, and helps with marketing and where they get shelved in a bookshop. But really it only means ‘It’s set in an alternative Victorian/Edwardian era.’ It doesn’t tell you about the tone, mood or style of the books. As for Bad Gods — in its previous incarnation it once got shelved as Paranormal Romance, and while I don’t have a problem with Paranormal Romance as a genre — I read some of that, too — it’s not what I think is the right label for my book. And I don’t think someone looking for it would find it there.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline, and what are you working on at the moment?
I have a book out on submission to agents at the moment which is a, shall we say, less light-hearted fantasy novel. Not grimdark, though, grimdark isn’t really me. I am near completion on another novel for Solaris, which is more in the humorous vein, and I’m partway through another humorous fantasy novel I’m currently referring to as a Regencypunk Bromance (there’s categorisation for you) which I shall get back to once the current manuscript is handed in.
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
I finally got around to This is How You Lose the Time War, (Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone) which I’m loving. I recently charged my way through T. Kingfisher’s Saint of Steel series. She’s one of those writers I pre-order on principle. And I just bought Samantha Shannon’s The Bone Season.
If you could recommend only one novel or book to someone, what would it be?
Unfair question! I don’t think I could choose. Apart from anything else it would depend on what kind of book the person needed in their life, or if they were planning to be a writer themselves, or… no, I couldn’t possibly. I might be able to narrow it down to about twenty. Maybe.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
I don’t know, I think I’m fairly ordinary. But I love to cook, and try dishes from different parts of the world. I was given Sabrina Ghayour’s Persiana and Yasmin Khan’s The Saffron Tales for Christmas a few years ago and I’ve become quite proud of my chelow (Iranian style rice).
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
Seeing Bad Gods come out, handing in the new manuscript, and, I desperately hope, seeing this wretched pandemic loosen its grip. It’s been a hard couple of years, for other reasons as well. Books have been one of the things that have helped keep me going, both reading other people’s and working on my own. I hope my books have helped a few people, too, even if it’s just giving them a break from reality for a bit.
Gaie Sebold’s Bad Gods is out tomorrow, published by Solaris Books in North America and in the UK.
Also on CR: Interviews with Gail Sebold — 2012 and 2016; Review of Babylon Steel