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Exploring BioFantasy with Julie E. Czerneda

BioFantasy? Yes, BioFantasy! Fans of biology and lovers of fantasy, look out. Have we got a new best friend for you! While we at WFC may have spontaneously explored the use of this term for possibly the first time in this context, we certainly wouldn't be against the genre actually taking flight. Especially with one of our new favorite scientists at the lead. Then again, we've been enjoying her fabulous fantasy for awhile now!

Since 1997, award-winning Canadian author/former biologist Julie E. Czerneda has shared her curiosity about living things through her SF and fantasy novels, published by DAW Books. Her latest is the standalone fantasy, The Gossamer Mage (2019).

Currently, Julie’s returned to her beloved character, Esen, in her Web Shifter’s Library series, featuring all the weird biology one could ask, with Mirage out Aug 2020 and Spectrum, spring 2021. Julie’s edited/co-edited award-winning anthologies of SF/F, including SFWA’s 2017 Nebula Award Showcase and the Clan Chronicles: Tales from Plexis, featuring stories by fans of her series. Check out if you can't wait another minute before diving in (but of course, be sure to come back to check out the interview afterwards.)

WFC2020: So excited to have you here with us, Julie! The world of fantasy writing is certainly a different 'culture' from the scientific one (if you can forgive a quick biology pun; it's the only one we know) and it makes us curious! What is one of your top "firsts" when it comes to this side of the literary realm?

Among my favourite “first” stories is meeting Sheila E. Gilbert, my editor (DAW Books), in person for the first time. We’d communicated over the phone for a few ::coughs:: years beforehand. In the beginning, I called at her request to remind her she had my manuscript A Thousand Words for Stranger. She’d thank me and ask me to call again in six months. Very soon, however, our calls became friendly chats about all manner of things—if you know Sheila, you’re nodding with a smile—then at the end of one of those chats? She offered to buy my book.

That was December 1996. The contract signing etc happened in January and we’d still never actually met. That summer, off to the Baltimore Worldcon I went, with my entire family, to attend our first official DAW Dinner ™. We were to meet in the hotel lobby. The Czernedas were early and relaxing. This was fun!

Then I look up to find an enormous mass of well-dressed smiling incredibly important people looking back at me. I recognized Marty Greenberg. Betsy Wollheim. Michael Wheland. C.J. CHERRYH and JANE FANCHER. Where was the oxygen? Who was that teeny tiny person in the midst grinning at me? Who was, remarkably, even tinier than my non-fiction editor of many years? Could that be…Sheila?

There were quick introductions that further numbed my brain. It was indeed Sheila and I was speechless in awe. So much personality in so petite a living space. AND THERE WAS HUGGING.

Since, Sheila’s kindly assured me: I didn’t look terrified and did speak like a Human. (I’ve my doubts.) I will never, ever forget that moment.

WFC2020: Truly unforgettable! Big names, big books, and big hugs; that sounds like our kind of a party. Speaking of parties, let's invite our new readers to join in this one! Which of your books would you recommend to readers who may not be familiar with your work yet?

If a new-to-me reader enjoys fantasy, I’ll recommend A Turn of Light; if their eyes light up at hearing there are dragons, Jane Austin manners, and so much pie.

If they want a standalone about magic and its cost, The Gossamer Mage.

An SF reader? Species Imperative for near future, biology-based, epic feel with salmon (honest).

Beholder’s Eye is the first of my stories about Esen, the semi-immortal shapeshifter with a heart of gold, and has the most fun moments.

A Thousand Words for Stranger is my first and I’m still very proud of it. There’s romance as well as a huge, biological what if? Also a lobster running a restaurant.

For the pure hard SF/space reader, In the Company of Others.

WFC2020: Julie, we're smitten. You have something for everyone, don't you? Surely you're as in love with writing as we're in love with your writing. What is one moment that stands out for you as an "I really love writing" moment?

2018-11-02 Friday at 5 pm. WFC2018 Baltimore. It was my first public reading from The Gossamer Mage. I love reading aloud and I’m pretty good at it, but this was a totally new type of book for me. The language, style choices, the pace—everything about it was me taking big chances—so I was anxious.

The room filled. I introduced myself, nodded to faces familiar and not, and read.

When I finished, it was as if no one was even breathing. The silence went on and on, then someone whispered “wow.”

I burst into tears. The audience burst into applause but, great as it was, I didn’t need it. That moment, the hush in a room at WFC.

A memory I’ll treasure the rest of my life.

WFC2020: Wow; truly! Not often do authors get to experience that kind of reader connection, especially with the current limitations on gathering! Thank you for sharing such a precious, breathtaking memory with us.

One thing that stole our breath recently was the cover art on your latest book! It's fabulous; could tell us more about what's inside this eye catching novel?

My latest book, Mirage, was released August 11th. It’s Book Two of the Web Shifter’s Library, continuing the adventures of my favourite character to write, Esen.

The SF premise of each of her stories concerns how biology impacts our ability to understand the other, which is even more fun when I add to that a universe with many and varied species trying to do just that.

I’ve been interested in the genetics of chimeras for a while now, and that’s the problem Esen must face here. Because she can assume the form of any other living intelligent being, she’s able to appreciate their senses and how they interact with what’s around them in a way no one else can. In Mirage however, that’s not an option. The species in crisis are a blend of two. All the while, there’s the hint of a larger, older problem looming.

WFC2020: If the biology classes in school had these kind of problems, a lot more people would have top grades, wouldn't they? Is that just us? That sounds thrilling! What are you working on now?

Spectrum, Book Three of the Web Shifter’s Library (tbp April 2021) That hint of a larger, older problem? Is now out in the open and must be dealt with—that’s the big epic part—but I’m also revisiting a few themes that have been throughout the Esen books. What it is to be Human. The relationship between form and person. The power of biology. Family and, above all, friendship.

WFC2020: We couldn't agree more. In the same friendship theme, now that we've successfully convinced our readership how much we would love to be your friend, what's that friendship going to look like? How can our readers connect with you? What will you be up to these next few months?

I’ve more fantasy novels in the works, as well as science fiction. While I hope those books will be ones I can share with readers in person, with hugs? I look forward to sharing what I can of myself and my work online, at WFC2020. We’re in this together. Let’s make some joy.

WFC2020: Well said! We'll toast to that, and, dear readers, even before WFC2020 gets into full swing, you'll find us browsing the web, star struck over Julie E. Czerneda. Feel free to join:

Twitter: @julieczerneda

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