Texas Book Festival 2017:
Flights of Fantasy
Authors Pulley and Rivera on what's new in historical fantasy
By Elizabeth Cobbe,
5:45PM, Sun. Nov. 5, 2017
It’s old news by now: The days of the fantasy genre existing solely as a bunch of Tolkien knockoffs is over. The sword-and-sorcery novel that dominated much of 20th century fantasy still holds its place in the genre, but it’s now joined by many other kinds of magical stories – as evidenced by the range of sci-fi/fantasy panels at the Texas Book Festival.
Historical fantasy, which draws heavily from actual history and cultures, has emerged as a subgenre that can pull in both genre fanatics and readers who might not otherwise be attracted to the “fantasy” label. The panel “Flights of Fantasy” featured historical fantasy writers Natasha Pulley (The Bedlam Stacks, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street) and K Arsenault Rivera (The Tiger’s Daughter) in a conversation moderated by Austin’s Jason Neulander of The Intergalactic Nemesis fame.
The pairing was complementary. The two women approach historical fantasy in nearly opposite ways. The very British, Oxbridge-educated Pulley remarked that she loves being asked where she gets her ideas: “I nicked it.” Bedlam came from digging through Victorian-era expedition notes from an English voyage to Peru for medicine to fight malaria, and in a certain light it might be called magical realism. Rivera, a New Yorker born in Puerto Rico who holds no degree, took “fantasy Japan, fantasy Mongolia, and fantasy China,” and mashed them up into a setting for an epic, magical, queer love story.
It’s notable that both Pulley and Rivera have written books that feature characters and mythologies of different backgrounds than the authors themselves. Book festivals have become potential minefields when it comes to the discussion of cultural appropriation, and props to Neulander: The topic was raised deftly. Both authors agreed that research is key, as is having good early readers. Simple advice, but effective enough for a positive discussion that became something like a workshop for aspiring fantasy authors.