“Inspirations and Influences” is a series of articles in which we invite authors to write guest posts talking about their Inspirations and Influences. In this feature, we invite writers to talk about their new books, older titles, and their writing overall.
Last week, we published brand new paperback editions of Andrea K. Höst’s epic YA science fiction parallel-worlds-spanning Touchstone Trilogy. Stray, Lab Rat One, and Caszandra have been Book Smuggler favorites for years–so imagine our sheer and utter joy when we had the chance to publish these wonderful books with brand new cover art. More sheer and utter joy: here to talk about the inspirations and influences behind the series is Andrea K. Höst!
Please give a warm welcome to Andrea, folks!
I will never write like Diana Wynne Jones. Or Robin McKinley. Or Andre Norton. But my books have pieces of Jones, McKinley and Norton. They also have Heinlein, and an irritating book where horrible things happened to the interesting, independent woman, while the ‘pure’ teen had fortune heaped at her feet. They have that scene from the Gor books, where the chained, whipped captive suddenly decides she’s enjoying herself. They have the unnamed protagonist of We Who Are About To… making a clear-sighted decision.
I am a writer built by libraries. My high school library had four rows of fiction, each five up and four across, starting alphabetically by the windows. It’s odd the books that stand out from there – not my favourites, but ones I distinctly know were there. Trillions and Grinny by Nicholas Fisk. Perelandra and Out of the Silent Planet by C S Lewis – which I remember because I took them off the shelves at least a dozen times, read the description, and put them back. And The Silver Metal Lover by Tanith Lee, demonstrating that the future in androids can be more complicated than killer and/or victim.
My local public library gave me Ruth Manning Sanders collections, with their brilliant illustrations by Robin Jacques. Those illustrations, just as much as the wide range of fairy-tales, set the shape of magical worlds for me. Courtesy matters. Selfishness will hurt you in the end. Your last loaf of bread, torn in half and offered to a chance-met companion, is worth a kingdom.
That library also had volumes of Star Trek stories, which gave me a far greater appreciation for characters such as Yeoman Rand and Nurse Chapel. The characters about the fringes of a main cast are the protagonists of other stories, and to cut them from cardboard is to make your worlds hollow. I’ve never felt it necessary to map out the whole backstory of side characters, but I try to never forget that they all are seeing my stories through their lens.
Sylvia Kelso had the largest impact on my prose. I don’t begin to write with her spare poesy, but she brought home to me the lesson of the Spartans. Sparta was the origin of the word ‘laconic’ – they were famed for not using an extraneous word, and while I am far from so controlled, it is probably the only writing advice that consistently stays with me.
Robin McKinley is one of a rare few that gave me ‘just right’ stories – books I read over and over again, because they made me happy, and they went the way I wanted, but still surprised me. I don’t know how many times I’ve read Beauty, but the strength of Honour’s family, and the importance of her sisters, makes that story for me.
McCaffrey brought me a whole range of worlds, and the concept of women in powerful places. McKillip brought faerie given form: rich, beautiful worlds. Mahy added another level of strangeness to the ache of leaving childhood. Moon offered up a soldier’s competence. From Laurie J Marks I had the gift of ‘idre’, of words that set aside gender and took away investment on how x or y should behave.
Pure coincidence that so many ‘M’ authors have been there for me so long. But it’s off in ‘N’, with Andre Norton, that my real foundation can be found. Norton defined the worlds I create. Andre Norton gave me ancient ruins left by Forerunners, and she gave me a wide variety of espers. She gave me skimmers, flitters, blasters, tanglers. She gave me the proud, stoic outsider, gritting their teeth and pushing forward with quiet dignity.
My favourite of her novels is Catseye, which is somewhat surprising because (like many of Norton’s early novels), women barely seem to exist in that future. But it is so easy to sympathise with Troy Horan, refugee, unemployed, starting his story as a day labourer desperate for work. But that desperate need for employment does not mean he can set his conscience aside when he encounters those in need, and he’s avoiding monsters in some ancient alien ruins while protecting his found family of espers.
I didn’t begin the Touchstone Trilogy as a homage to Norton. I didn’t even structure it as a novel. I decided that, after many years of fantasy novels, I would take a break from ‘serious’ writing and play with a fiction blog for a while. I called the blog Fallen Out of the World, and started, as I like to do with many of my stories, with the moment when something changed.
The change was a teen girl stepping through a worm-hole to another planet. I didn’t have any particular plans for her, and so I explored her situation for a while, and then produced some abandoned alien ruins. She avoided monsters for a while, then met some espers, and ended up with a found family.
There was no attempt to reflect Norton in any of this – it’s just she’s the bedrock of my science-fictional universe.
Touchstone was endless fun to write. The initial structure was ‘time for something new!’ whenever I felt I’d spent long enough on any given situation. The only overarching concept I had was that it was to be the diary of someone who didn’t know beforehand what days were important, and what days didn’t need to be written down. It became, as much as anything, an exploration of language: not just Cass’ slow mastery of Taren, but the language of culture, of stories, of all the books Cass had grown up with, of all the memes, and in-jokes and nuances of communication that is inevitably left behind when you’re transplanted to somewhere completely new. Cass is a very genre-savvy protagonist, in a place where no-one is going to get any of her references.
The diary format means the focus of the story is entirely on what Cass knows – and filtered by what she chooses to write down. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes that Cass only glimpses – a tale of government authorities struggling between urgency, expedience, and morality. Can KOTIS use Cass without alienating her? With so much at stake, should she be pushed as far as possible, or coaxed along?
A couple of years after writing Fallen Out of the World, a story that had enjoyed only one steadfast reader in its weblog format, I decided that I liked it enough to publish it as an ebook. And it became the most popular thing I’ve ever written.
I hope you like it too.
About the Author
Andrea K Höst was born in Sweden but raised in Australia – mainly in Townsville, Queensland. She now lives in Sydney.
Andrea writes fantasy and science fantasy, and enjoys creating stories set in worlds which slightly skew our social expectations, and most especially give her female characters something more to do than wait for rescue.
Her novel “The Silence of Medair” was a finalist for the 2010 Aurealis Awards for best fantasy novel, while her novel “And All the Stars” was a finalist for both the 2012 Aurealis Awards and 2012 Cybils Awards.
You can catch the latest news from Andrea at her site: andreakhost.com
About the Artist
Kirbi Fagan is an award-winning, Detroit based cover illustrator who specializes in YA and MG fiction, fantasy and comics. Her illustrations are known for their magic themes, nostalgic mood, bright colors, and powerful characters. She received her bachelor’s degree in Illustration from Kendall College of Art and Design. Kirbi’s work has been acknowledged by organizations such as Society of Illustrators Los Angeles, ImagineFX, Art Order and the International Writers & Illustrators of the Future.
Visit her website www.kirbiillustrations.com
How to Get the Books
All three of the Touchstone paperback books are available now on Amazon!