An Interview with Sam Hawke

Don’t you love it when people give you the time of day?

Back in July of 2021 (doesn’t it feel like an eternity ago?), Etherea Magazine was a publication in concept only. There was a very (very) basic website, displaying one blog post and a submissions page.

We had a circulation of zero, and the only traffic we had to the site was from yours truly (why did I keep visiting the site? No idea to be honest. Maybe it was going to change while I was away? I mean, in fairytales elves make shoes overnight – maybe they touch up websites too!).

Why am I mentioning this? Only to paint the picture of how incredible it was that an author of the caliber of Sam Hawke would take the time to respond to our request, and then provide such amazing responses.

If you haven’t read Sam’s novels (City of Lies and Hollow Empire), consider yourself lucky that you get to read them through for the first time. Which I am sure you are going to do right after this interview (if only it was that easy to sell books!)

Sam is a multiple awards winner. Her debut novel, City of Lies, won Ditmar Awards for Best Novel and Best New Talent, along with the Norma K. Hemming Award, and Best Fantasy Novel at the Aurealis Awards.

The interview was conducted over email, with Sam responding to our queries. It does make a segue into the interview difficult to seem natural, so stuff it! Interview starts now:

How has your life changed since the publication of City of Lies and Hollow Empire?

In terms of my day to day life, not a lot? I still have my day job, and likely always will. But I’d say the main difference is that I have a lot more writing friends, and I spend a lot more time talking to other humans about writing, online and otherwise. Before I was published I was too self conscious (or too critical of my own work, maybe?) to really think of myself as a ‘proper’ writer, whatever that means, and so I was very isolated. I’ve really only found the incredible writing community since publication.

In your novels, how much of the characters are made up of those in your social circle? How much of you goes into the characters?

Consciously, none of them. I’ve never set out to map a character’s personality or experiences on anyone I know in real life. But having said that, in reality we’re inherently limited in our creations by what we’ve felt or observed so I imagine sub-consciously characters are smooshed together out of bits of ourselves and those we know or people we’ve watched. I definitely mine my own past for emotionally resonant moments to twist around and use in fiction, so I suppose at their core all my characters are me, sort of!

It takes a lot of soul baring to share creative works with people. Do you have any advice for writers starting out to get over this fear?

Ha, I am a terrible role model here. I didn’t show my writing to anyone who wasn’t an immediate relative until I was sending it out to agents, basically. Imposter syndrome is such a real thing, and social media can make you feel like a failure relative to everyone else’s highlight reels. What I would say is that you have to remember 3 things.

Everyone is in the same boat (well, almost everyone. Of course there are those naturally confident people but in the writing world they seem to be rare and confusing beasts, and I assume they have gained their powers through some kind of dangerous and unholy rite), and we’re all in this weird and scary profession together.

Remember that the reason you want to write for publication and not just yourself is that you want to share your writing with other people. That’s actually the end goal. So you’re gonna have to start, and it’s better to start with sympathetic fellow writers!

The easiest way to make friends is to get beta reading pals in a similar writing stage as you, and getting some writing friends is the number one thing I recommend for all writers. Craft and industry knowledge are important but nothing will keep you sane, keep you grounded and help you navigate this world better than pals who actually understand what you’re going through. So be brave, make friends; it might feel hard initially but you’ll be grateful for Past You later.

In your mind, which author is criminally unknown?

I can’t really limit that to one author. There are people like Kate Elliot, who’ve had incredible, long lasting careers writing in almost every subgenre of SFF and yet always seem to be forgotten on those infernal internet lists (if you’re bored of waiting for GRRM, why not try Kate, who started her massive multi POV epic fantasy the same year George did but, you know, actually finished it? And then wrote like ten more series after?).

Then are wonderful writers out there doing impressive work quietly without the kind of big publicity that actually gets books in front of noses – check out KA Doore’s Ghadid series, Megan O’Keefe’s Protectorate, Essa Hansen’s Nophek Gloss, Leife Shallcross’s Beast’s Heart, and EJ Beaton’s The Councillor (which just came out but because of Covid related shenanigans is really hard to find in bookstores here in Aus yet – I’d urge you to ask your local to get it in because it’s a wonderful book) – to name just a few.

Oh, and one of my most recommended series is Robert Jackson Bennett’s Divine Cities series, which I think is just remarkable and while I couldn’t call it unknown it’s definitely not as known as it ought to be for something that accomplished and enjoyable. (Sorry, I really abused my privileges with this question, didn’t I? It’s very dangerous asking writers about books they recommend though 😉 ).

What was the most difficult part of writing from the male perspective?

I don’t know that the male perspective itself is something that bothers me at all, to be honest. Generally speaking, the differences between my life and my characters’ is so dramatic the gender thing is the least of it. I’ve got a lot more in common with my brothers and husband and sons and friends than I do with someone who has to test poison for a living, haha.

Do you like the books you read to follow a familiar path (Evil is vanquished) or twist endings?

I think I’d get very bored reading the same kind of thing over and over, which is why I

find it really important to mix up my reading between genres and tones. I love being surprised by an unexpected direction in a book but if you read too many surprise twist books in a row it’s like watching M Night Shyamalan films. You just start reading with a view to predicting the twists, and it’s no fun.

Australian science fiction and fantasy appears to be on the upswing over the last decade. What do you think we can attribute this to?

I think we’re just recovering from the big blows of a decade or two ago when we lost the Voyager label that was putting out so much local fantasy, and some of the big bookstore chains that were buying it. When I was in my teens and 20s it felt like we had an incredibly healthy local market and then it just got systematically dismantled. Now we’re slowly coming back, through the combination of some smaller publishers that support genre and a bunch of Australians being picked up by overseas publishers and finding their way home.

How much of a procrastinator are you? *As an Editor I spend a lot of time folding clothes*

Oh, boy. I actually think it might be my one true gift, a thing that I am Olympic-level good at. I mean it’s lucky in a way. Otherwise how would hated tasks like unpacking and rearranging the pantry, or sorting the kids’ toys to donate to charity ever get done, if I didn’t have important deadlines to avoid and uncomfortable stress levels to generate? I think I developed these skills early, as a school student who was bright but extremely lazy, and then just kept honing it for decades.

What is your favourite rant about minor inconveniences to have?

Ummmm, I think my husband would say that it is absolutely ranting about (blatant, consistent bias in) reffing in Raiders games, or possibly just annoyingly nitpicking minor things in TV shows that I absolutely cannot let go?

What is next for you?

I’m currently working on a new book which isn’t related to the Poison Wars universe at all. I (semi-jokingly) refer to it as my Hadestown Les Mis with Ghosts book because it features a journey into hell to save a loved one, a rising of the underclass, and some menacing ghosts.

Thank you for the interview!

Sam can be found at her Website or on twitter at @samhawkewrites.

Her novels can be found at all major online booksellers (for convenience, Amazon links for City of Lies and Hollow Empire).

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