This Saturday afternoon at C2E2, fantasy novelists Rachel Griffin (The Nature of Witches), Scarlett St. Clair (King of Battle and Blood), and Maxym Martineau (Kingdom of Exiles) gathered for the Witches, Gods, and Monsters panel to discuss the writing life. To kick things off, each writer described herself using six words:
Griffin: “I’m Rachel and I love nature.”
St. Clair: “Daddy’s girl, mythology obsessed, dog lover.”
Martineau: “Anime-lover, video games, coffee, dogs.”
Next, conversation shifted to how witches, gods, and monsters functioned in the authors’ novels.
“I’ve always thought of witches as people first and foremost,” Griffin said, “who have this incredibly deep connection to the earth and to the natural world around them. And so when I was building out the story [of The Nature of Witches, a novel whose fantastical world is centered around the seasons], it became clear to me that it needs to be witches who are able to use this magic.”
St. Clair explained that “all my books are steeped in mythology… I always try to find a way to put the women in the mythology in power… because traditionally, even in Greek mythology, [women have] powers taken away from them. So I always seek to do that… it’s kind of how I play on mythology.” To keep mythology fresh, she looks at how “it’s still relevant today because I don’t think society has changed very much unfortunately… [for example] looking at Apollo… I compare him to Harvey Weinstein, like he pursued women until they begged to be turned into a tree.”
“Yeah, I write monsters,” Martineau said. “All of my books have a lot of inspiration from… video games and anime and really strange and mythical creatures.” Martineau comes up with her beings by “looking at like the world’s scariest creatures… [and] also before I got my degree in English, I started as an animal behaviorist and I wanted to study big cats… if you read my series, the 10 legendary beasts are all felines of some sort… I pulled from that a lot, and then obviously like Pokémon.”
The writers turned to characterization next. Martineau described how “I read a lot of literature where the main female characters didn’t really have a lot of say or agency and I wanted to change that. I wanted my character to have a decision in her fate even if it was like the cards were stacked against her. So she is smart. She is actively trying to work against the hand that has been dealt to her and she’s okay with like killing people to make it happen.”
Griffin’s novel is “very deliberately character driven… You know, plot is a huge part of the story. And obviously, there is a plot but it’s a very internal like intimate journey with one character… What does she feel about herself and how does her narrative and her thoughts of who she is change throughout the book because of this magic that she has?” Griffin also “wanted a badass strong heroine who was sensitive and emotional and who would cry and who allowed herself to feel things deeply,” explaining how a fifth grade teacher told her she’d never make it without a thick skin. “Well, I’m 36 and never grew a thicker skin… I wanted to show that in a story because the two are not mutually exclusive. You can be sensitive, and strong and badass and take charge.”
St. Clair was told a “similar thing” as a kid, saying “when I write, I write my experiences, my journey to becoming who I am and comfortable with who I am… just learning who I wanted to be and shedding the expectations of society and the people in my life… it takes a lot of courage to do that, especially as women in our society when we have all these contradictory expectations of us… I just work on myself through my characters… and I know it’s working and I know people relate because they message me about it all the time… I’m definitely empowering myself to do this writing. So at the end of the day, I love my readers, but I write for myself.”
Martineau agreed: “If someone tells us ‘no,’ that just gives me more incentive to go out and do it anyway. So I wanted that same thing for my main character Lena. She was exiled. And like, all she wanted to do is say no, I’m gonna prove you wrong.”
St. Clair gives an emotional arc to every character. Griffin does the same, thinking of even her most magical characters as “humans; they’re still experiencing fear and heartbreak and anxiety and love and you know, insecurities. And I think that by giving them a really intentional… character arc… that really grounds it and makes it feel personal.” Martineau chimed in to say that nobody is perfect, and “the best way to ground people and make them believable is to give them flaws.”
The next topic was fantasy as escape. Martineau uses the genre as a safe haven, while also addressing real world issues. St. Clair had trouble writing her novel Malice because of its themes involving grief–– she had just lost her father to COVID-19, calling the process “the hardest thing I have ever done in my life… writing used to be my escape. I think it will be eventually but since I write myself into books, here we are.”
For Griffin, reading is “my escape” and writing is “my way of like, dealing with the world around me and also figuring out how I feel about what’s going on.” She recalled having an epiphany in the shower about what a certain book was really about, and bursting into tears, even though the book had been finished for four months. “So that’s kind of how writing plays its role in my life. I also really love fantasy, because it allows us to, I think, talk about unexplored things… in this more fantastical world that feels safer in a way, that feels more approachable.”
The next topic was the three writers’ dedication to sex positivity in both adult and young adult fiction. “In all honesty,” Martineau said, “do you want your kids to learn about sex from porn or from books?… There are so many opportunities for beautiful relationships in books.”
The writers then turned to social media. St. Clair started as a self published author- “because I got told ‘no’ a lot and I was like, ‘Well, fuck you. I’ll do it myself’”- and went viral on Tiktok, which she cites as “probably why I’m here today.” After her viral moment, St. Clair’s self-published novel sold more print than ebook copies, which is a “huge deal.” She is most active on Instagram, however, saying its greatest benefit is reader interaction.
Griffin used Instagram to find her writing community, which was invaluable for launching a novel in a pandemic. Martineau appreciated “messages from readers that are like ‘your story changed my life.’… you just don’t realize the level of impact you have on people, and social media makes it possible to have that kind of connection.” She noted that “Twitter is where the authors live,” and uses social media to gauge “what I’m doing right, what I’m doing wrong” as a writer.
“Don’t tell me what I’m doing wrong,” St. Clair chimed in.
The panel shifted to a Q+A portion. A fan asked how the writers combatted self doubt. “I hate myself every day,” St. Clair joked. Martineau promised that the “self-doubt monster never goes away.”
Griffin reminded the audience, though, “we all have a voice and.. you can only tell a story the way you can tell it and that makes your words important and unique… we can only do the very best we can do, something that I take like a lot of comfort from when I’m writing is… I really lean into the things that I love.” For her novel The Nature of Witches, she embraced her “weather nerdery,” saying following one’s passions makes it easier to fight self criticism.
St. Clair added not to “compete with other authors, leave that to your publisher… They’re your allies.”
The authors were asked what fandom got them into genre fiction. Martineau, visibly tearing up, spoke on her former love of Harry Potter, but said that, now, she is “very disillusioned by some of the things that JKR said and the way that she’s acted–– I do not agree with them at all. So it’s hard for me… I grew up with those books and… in my early writing, pull from them, and then to now feel so completely shattered by it. To the point where like, I don’t buy anything from her… it kills me to know that this person who was my idol has said those things.”
Griffin’s inspiration was Twilight. She read the first novel on a flight to Spain, and spent her trip trying to find an English-Language copy of New Moon. “I just loved this focus on an 18 year old’s emotions, and there was angst, and there was desire… and I thought ‘wow, I could do this.’” St. Clair chose Tolkien, though it is “very white.”
The women finished by explaining their fantasy writing processes. “It’s very simple,” St. Clair said. “I just hear the voices in my head and I write a bunch of scenes until I can put them in chronological order. And once I do, I write an outline and then I flesh out the book.” Martineau admits she is “very bad” at outlining–– “which is great when you’re writing a six book series.” Instead of an outline, she relies on “really in-depth character sheets.” Griffin, however, explained that “drafting is my least favorite part of the process… I’m an extreme outliner and plotter.”
Miss any of our previous C2E2 ’21 coverage? Find it all here!