On July 30, Torontonian author Caitlin Sweet visited the University of Toronto St. George Campus’s Fantasy and Horror class to talk about her fantasy novel, The Pattern Scars. On her visit she revealed insights into her writing process, her influences, and the fantasy genre itself.
Sweet has an organic writing style; she forgoes research and instead writes what comes naturally to her. Prior to writing The Patterns Scars, she experienced a four-year-long writer’s block trying to write a book that involved detailed and heavy research. She is “anti-world building,” preferring to build her worlds as she goes along without overthinking anything.
Though Sweet teaches writing courses at the University of Toronto, she never took any writing courses herself and cautions writers to be wary of the “rules” of writing. She advocates exploring the elements of the craft that excite you.
Writing can be frustrating, as all writers undoubtedly know, but when it’s going well there’s “nothing like it.” She stated that having day jobs has helped her writing process because she only has short periods of time each day to write, which prevents that “stuck” feeling.
Reading reviews can be tough for any writer. Sometimes negative reviews can be disheartening for Sweet, but she tries to focus on the positive ones. She enjoys reading different interpretations of her works. She relayed an anecdote of two different reviews of one of her books, one from an Evangelical Christian and one from a Wiccan. Both read her novel through the lens of their respective religion. Different interpretations are encouraging for her, as sometimes people can perfectly interpret exactly what she was trying to write down without her even consciously realizing that that was what she was trying to get across.
On Her Influences
Sweet’s main influence and the majority of what she writes about is mythology. The Pattern Scars was inspired by the Greek myth of Cassandra. Cassandra was given the gift of prophecy by Apollo and then cursed by him to always tell the truth. Her new novel, A Door in the Mountain, is a retelling of the Minotaur myth set in Ancient Crete with, of course, magical elements.
Sweet shared an excerpt from her novel-in-process with the class. This as-yet-unnamed novel is a sequel to A Door in the Mountain. Her other literary influences include Ursula K. Le Guin, Stephen King, Charles Dickens, and Spanish literature.
Sweet’s relationship with fantasy began when she was a child. She also first experienced the stigmatization of fantasy when she was young. Her father left A Tale of Two Cities on her pillow, saying “I want you to read something real!” (In a twist of fate, Sweet now loves Dickens and her father loves Game of Thrones.)
In between writing projects, she often thinks that her next book will be something commercial, but she always comes back to fantasy. Fantasy is a difficult market. She struggled to get The Pattern Scars published until she found ChiZine Publications, which publishes dark, “unplaceable” fantasy. However, despite its unsteady nature, she holds firm to the belief that fantasy has value.
When asked about her opinion on fantasy as a vehicle for politics, she agreed that distancing oneself from our world can help one to understand it. The Pattern Scars involves an abusive relationship, and she is moved when people tell her that they experienced a similar relationship and that her book helped them in some way.
One of her pet peeves in the fantasy genre is the use of magic without consequences. This is why she always makes sure that she explores the consequences of magic in her novels.
Caitlin Sweet capped off her visit with a signing, making sure each individual got a personalized message. Meeting her was an absolute delight.
-contributed by Emily Maggiacomo