Interview with C.S. Pacat
Literatopia: Hello, Cat! Your debut novel “The Captive Prince” was released in these parts recently. Would you be so kind and outline briefly what it has in store for our readers?
C.S. Pacat: „Captive Prince” is an adventure fantasy with a slow-burn enemies to lovers romance. It tells the story of Damen, a warrior prince who is betrayed by his half brother and sent to Vere — a land where the knowledge of his true identity would mean his certain death. His master, Prince Laurent, is beautiful, merciless, and conniving, but in the labyrinth of intrigue that exists in court, Damen quickly realizes that an alliance with Laurent may be his only hope of survival.
Literatopia: What kind of protagonist is Damen? And how does he cope with his enslavement?
C.S. Pacat: Damen is a strong, noble and heroic character, a "hero's hero". He is very straightforward and honourable, and he has a direct approach to problems, like Alexander the Great cutting through the Gordian knot. As a writer I wanted to explore and celebrate that kind of traditional heroism, and then to critique it as well. I also think it's fascinating to see someone like that paired against their opposite, in this case Laurent, the icy Machiavel.
In terms of slavery, Damen never loses his nobility but he is forced to see things from a different perspective.
Literatopia: At the beginning, Laurent comes across as spoiled, arrogant and cruel. Where does his icy facade originate from? And what lurks behind it?
C.S. Pacat: Laurent is a complex character, and when we meet him for the first time, we see him only from Damen's perspective, so we don't necessarily have the whole story. He does indeed have an icy facade. I am fascinated by characters who wear their damage as strength, and I wanted to explore that in the book. I won't give away any more than that!
Literatopia: It is perfectly acceptable in your fantasy world for wealthy men to own male sex slaves. Did you get some of your inspiration for this from ancient Greece? Why is it that the society of Vere is so forthright about homosexuality?
C.S. Pacat: Growing out of Tolkien, medieval fantasy is often a fantasy of nostalgia, in which the reader is invited to escape into an exciting or reassuring past. However, "nostalgia" itself can be exclusionary, as those from minorities for whom life in the past would have allowed fewer rights cannot imagine existence there without constraints. Thus, the reader may travel backwards in time only if they take on an imaginative self that conforms to certain conditions, which may include race, sexuality, or gender expression.
Writing the Captive Prince trilogy, I wanted to create a heroic, escapist story in a landscape of diversified period fantasy, challenging the assumption that, "that's just the way it was". Alongside heroic archetypes and genre-specific tropes, I constructed a "homonormative" universe, where constructs of sexual identity are different to our own. I centered research for the book on ancient Greek cultures, drawing on myths and literature from that period to highlight that even in our own world constructs of sexual identity have not been transcultural or transhistoric.
Literatopia: The slaves pass through several years of training. What exactly does their education comprise? And is it at all correct to apply the term 'slave' here?
C.S. Pacat: In Akielos, palace slaves are trained for years, in various skills from kithara to poetry recitation to massage to court ettiquete to languages - and of course they are taught erotic skills as well.
In Vere, the system is a little different. The Veretian "pets" are not slaves, they are more like courtesans, who are paid for their services. They are free to negotiate payment in exchange for a period of service to one of the court nobles. There is no formal system of training for them either, although the more accomplishments they had, the more they could be expected to rise in favour at court.
Literatopia: What do you personally find appealing about (erotic) love stories between men? Was it clear from the start that two princes would be the main characters in your book?
C.S. Pacat: I knew from the very beginning that Captive Prince was going to be a love story between two princes, and that it would take the form of an enemies-to-lovers romance.
I've always been interested in homoerotica, as a form of sexual expression that is not frequently included in mainstream commercial fiction, particularly in genre fiction. I think part of it for me at least is that as a queer person I yearn to see representations of the self - and not only realist representations, but heroic and aspirational representations as well.
Literatopia: Here in Germany, an animated discussion is going on about whether or not homosexual couples should be granted all the same rights that heterosexual couples enjoy. What is the situation in Australia?
C.S. Pacat: Australia is still lagging behind many countries when it comes to civil rights for LGBTQI people (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning and Intersex). There's a strong movement in Australia seeking marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples, and in fact, the majority of the population supports the idea, but our current government is conservative, and change is unfortunately slow. I'm optimistic that those changes will arrive in the next few years, although it may take a change of governement for that to happen.
Literatopia: You wrote in the epilogue that “The Captive Prince” arose from several telephone calls. How can we picture that?
C.S. Pacat: I often do "brainstorming sessions" with those friends of mine who are also writers - I find it a really valuable part of the creative process. Basically we will spend 30 minutes brainstorming ideas for one of our books, and then swap and brainstorm for the other. One thing that I like about it is that it helps you push past cliches-- which are often the "easy" ideas that come first--and into more exciting and original territory.
“Captive Prince” arose out of those sorts of sessions. I was living in Tokyo at the time, and my friend Kate and I would phone each other every Monday night for a catch up, and to brainstorm. In fact, it was too expensive to telephone each other using mobiles, so I talked on the big clunky plastic landline in the living room.
Literatopia: There are fan art pictures of Damen and Laurent on your Twitter page. Do they come close to your own conception of your characters? And do you often come into contact with your fans?
C.S. Pacat: I love the “Captive Prince” fanart, the artists are all so talented, and they have created some truly stunning artwork. I am lucky enough to be able to interact with fans fairly frequently in places like Twitter and on Facebook and my blog, so I do get to see a lot of the artwork.
No one has ever captured the characters exactly as I imagine them, but I think the reader versions are just as important as the author's vision - more important, truthfully. The reader's mind is the place where the story unfolds.
Literatopia: Is “The Captive Prince” really your first novel or simply the first one for which you could find a publisher? How and why did you start writing fiction in the first place?
C.S. Pacat: „Captive Prince” is my first novel. I wanted to write the book that I wanted to read. I love high-octane escapism, adventure, swordfights, chases, escapes, true love, intrigue, high stakes - and homoerotica, themes of sex, power and sexuality.
I also love princes--not in a Prince Charming sense, but because they are liminal, they are in a state of becoming, and they must displace someone else in order to fulfill their promise and become King. Displacement is so powerful to me as a theme. I was immediately caught up by the idea of a prince who becomes a slave.
Literatopia: What do you enjoy reading? Do you prefer fantastic love stories? And what do you think of thrillers or science fiction?
C.S. Pacat: I read very widely but I love fantasy and young adult fiction, I think because of the kinds of stories that get told in those genres. As a reader as well as a writer, I'm interested in exploring extreme situations. I think that extremes are what the fantasy genre does best - often better than realist fiction. Realism as a technique is very good at describing actions and behaviours within a certain bandwidth, but because extreme acts and situations can seem so fantastical that they explode believability even if they are true, they often sit awkwardly in a realist setting. In a fantasy setting, the extreme and the fantastical are assumed to be plausible, and can be explored in depth.
I enjoy thrillers, but I often read them more to study the craft than to read the story - thrillers are very good at plotting and at "narrative traction", which is the page turning quality that drives a reader through a book. As for sci-fi, I don't read it as often, but I just finished Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie, and I loved it. Probably one of my favourite books of the last few years.
Literatopia: You wrote on your homepage that you like antiheroes - which antiheroes from books or movies do you like in particular?
C.S. Pacat: My favourite antihero is Lymond from the Dorothy Dunnett series, “The Lymond Chronicles”. What fascinates me about aniheroes is that while the hero is valorised by the text, the antihero often does not receive validataion for his or her actions from those around them, or sometimes even from the text itself. I find that that creates a really interesting tension between the heroic actions and the perception of the antihero. I think heroism in general is always more interesting to me when it comes from unexpected characters, or shows itself in non traditional ways.
Literatopia: You have lived in different countries - which one did you like best? And do your experiences abroad leave a mark in your stories?
C.S. Pacat: I've lived in Australia, Italy and Japan, and briefly in China. It's impossible to choose a favourite, as they are all so different. But I think living in different countries does change you deeply. They say when you learn another language or become immersed in another culture, you gain another self.
But it's a self that you can't necessarily share with people when you get back, so it becomes quite a lonely part of yourself at times. I think travel made me interested in characters who enter new worlds, the sort of place where they can never fully fit in, but which change them so that they can also never fully go home again either.
Literatopia: Could you give us an outlook on what awaits the readers in volume two “Prince’s Gambit” (due to appear in Germany at the beginning of 2016)?
C.S. Pacat: In “Prince's Gambit” the story widens in scope, and moves from the intrigue of the court to the battlefield, as Laurent and Damen ride to the border to avert a lethal plot. There are chases, escapes, swordfights, plots...
It's a little more adventure focused than “Captive Prince”, and a little more romance focused as well, as the trust between the two main characters begins to deepen, and their relationship evolves from that of enemies, to unlikely companions, to something more.
Literatopia: Thank you very much for this lovely interview, Cat!
photocredit: Alise Black
author's homepage: http://cspacat.com
This interview was done by Judith Madera for Literatopia. All rights reserved.