Tuesday, February 9, 2021

An Interview with Alix Harrow, 2020 Mythopoeic Award in Adult Fantasy Literature Finalist


Alix Harrow is a finalist for the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Fantasy Literature for her book 
The Ten Thousand Doors of January. She is an ex-historian with lots of opinions and excessive library fines, currently living in Kentucky with her husband and their semi-feral children. She won a Hugo for her short fiction, and has been nominated for the Nebula, Locus, and World Fantasy awards.


n a sprawling mansion filled with peculiar treasures, January Scaller is a curiosity herself. As the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, she feels little different from the artifacts that decorate the halls: carefully maintained, largely ignored, and utterly out of place.

Then she finds a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds, and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure and danger. Each page turn reveals impossible truths about the world and January discovers a story increasingly entwined with her own.


What is your most important idea behind the writing of Ten Thousand Doors of January?
There are, arguably, too many Ideas behind the writing of that book, which is what happens when your master's thesis sprouts legs and turns into a novel. But I think the most important ones are also the simplest: that the stories we tell actually matter, and that escapism is less of an embarrassing habit and more of an act of resistance.

How does this book fit in with the rest of your writing?
It's the first novel I ever wrote, aside from a regrettable middle school experiment, so the main thing it did was employ me, and allow me to keep writing. It also has a lot of the themes I can't seem to get away from (stories, families, agency, empire, young women coming of age, the inherent villainy of wealth). It ends with a young woman on the precipice, about to launch herself into the infinite multiverse of stories; I hope, cheesily, that I get to do the same.

Have you found there to be any difficulties in writing in what has traditionally been a children's genre, especially with this book having a young protagonist, and being lumped in with YA?
Oh, I don't know that I've faced any real difficulties, and I'm never offended that my book is confused for YA fiction (some of the best, most insightful, kindest, truest, and most harrowing writing I've ever read is in children's and young adult fiction). I do object to our collective tendency to assume that women authors, and especially young women, and especially young women of color, must be writing for children. It's as if we think a story about a young woman coming of age couldn't possibly be taken seriously or universally, in the way that stories about young men coming of age are taken seriously.

Have you read any of the Inklings books (Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams)? Do you like them?
Of course! My mom is an English major and a nerd, so I read The Hobbit and watched the BBC The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe before first grade. In grad school I started to more seriously interrogate the imperial assumptions baked into the fantasy cake, but I never stopped checking the backs of wardrobes.

Who would you consider an influential author to you? How have they shaped your work?
I'm sort of a messy reader, in terms of genre and style, and my influences are equally messy. I read the pages off Tamora Pierce and Lois McMaster Bujold in middle school; I grew up on Gaiman and LeGuin. Last year I discovered Marilynne Robinson and Tana French, and re-read Beloved for the third time. It feels pretentious to suggest any of them influenced me, but I would be very lucky if they did.

If you could recommend one book for everyone to read, what would it be and why?
I try hard not to be prescriptive about reading! I recommend that everyone read the book they loved best when they were fifteen, that felt like it was written specifically for them. I recommend they pick up a romance novel for the first time, or a middle grade graphic novel, or a Star Wars novelization. Failing that, I recommend they read Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.

Do you have any new books in the works?
I do! My second novel, The Once and Future Witches, came out in the fall of 2020, and my third isn't announced yet. The file is titled "house book," so I will reveal to you in confidence that it's a book about a house.

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