By Allison Stalberg Siebens
No one understands why eighty-three-year-old Edna Fisher is the Chosen One, destined to save the Knights from a dragon-riding sorcerer bent on their destruction. Still, Edna leaps at the chance to leave the nursing home. With her son long dead in the Knights’ service, she’s determined to save dragon-fighters like him and to ensure other mothers don’t suffer the same loss she did.
But as Edna learns about the abuse in the ranks and the sorcerer’s history as a Knight, she questions if it’s really the sorcerer that needs stopping — or the Knights she’s trying to save.
We spoke with author E.M. Anderson about her debut novel, The Remarkable Retirement of Edna Fisher, mental health and invisible illness representation, and American white pelicans. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
To me, the most striking part of your book’s concept is your protagonist, Edna, because she’s eighty-three-years-old and the Chosen One with a destiny that throws her into a magical adventure. What inspired you to have an older main character?
Most directly, the premise was inspired by @BroodingYAHero’s tweet about the Chosen One always being a teenager, when you’d think they’d choose someone more emotionally stable, with more free time … like a grandma.
But I’ve always written protagonists a lot older than me. When I was twelve, I was writing people in their twenties and thirties, and as I’ve aged up, so have my characters. Like, if you look at my short stories, they also tend to have central older characters — sometimes the main character, sometimes an important secondary character, but they’re always there. I think it’s just my author brand now.
Do you think fantasy that centers around older characters has untapped potential?
I definitely think this is an area of untapped potential. Older protagonists are fairly common in the mystery genre and they’re immensely popular there. I’ve seen an increasing number of pleas from readers in recent years to have fantasy books centering adults over forty. Mainstream pub hasn’t made the leap, but I very much think it could if it wanted to.
There is a lot of disability representation in your book, from several characters with anxiety and PTSD to Edna’s use of a cane, glasses, and hearing aids. How much of this representation is linked to your own experiences?
The anxiety, panic attacks, and flashbacks are all mental health issues I’ve experienced, so while I’m sure other people’s experiences with such things are different, the representation of these things in the book are very much based on my own experience.
Physically, I have an invisible illness and wear glasses, the latter of which I very much need. I have friends who routinely forget their glasses, which always confuses me until I remember that not everyone needs glasses to the same extent or for the same reasons. What do you mean you FORGOT your glasses?? Didn’t you notice you couldn’t see??
What got you into writing? Are there particular works of fantasy that inspired you?
I don’t have a good story about how I got into writing, because there was never, like … one moment or one book that made me think “I want to be a writer”? And my memory in general is very fuzzy, which complicates things. I will say that I come from a family of readers, so I’ve always loved books! And my grandfather was a writer, and he was one of my favorite people on earth.
As for which works inspired me … it’s painfully obvious from my earliest stories. Like the first “novel” (it was 50 pages or so) I ever wrote was just Will and Elizabeth from Pirates of the Caribbean running around the moors of Scotland with Yanno from Eloise McGraw’s The Moorchild, chasing after wild horses because Baby E was a horse girl. The first fantasy “novel” (again 50 pages or so) I ever wrote was just Arwen Undomiel from Lord of the Rings with an Aragorn lookalike of a love interest. The first urban fantasy novel (actual novel-length) I ever wrote was just Warren Peace from the 2005 Disney Channel Original Movie Sky High. Like. It’s so obvious. SO obvious.
I like to think it’s less obvious twenty years later … but the main character and love interest of the manuscript I signed with my agent are just Manny and Ellie from the Ice Age franchise, but old, gay, human men.
What would you say are unique challenges to writing fantasy?
Definitely the worldbuilding! Like, you have magic, but the magic can’t magically get the characters out of every situation or the whole thing falls flat. Before that, there are so many options. Like you can write about any kind of magic, or no magic, maybe it’s just a secondary world, but no magic, or maybe there are magical or mythical creatures but no magic, like the possibilities are absolutely endless.
With Remarkable Retirement, a particular challenge I had was making it clear right from the beginning that the world is (more or less) the real world, but magic exists openly. In the first chapter, a wizard shows up at the nursing home, and early readers were confused by the reaction of the residents: the residents are like, “Wow! What’s a wizard doing here?” — but they’re not surprised by the existence of a wizard, because the magic isn’t hidden in this real-world setting. So I rewrote the opening so many times, trying to make it clear right from the first line that this is the case.
While you’ve been in anthologies and magazines, this is your debut novel. Do you see more novel writing in your future? Will you stick to fantasy?
Novel-writing has actually always been more my focus! I did sign with an agent for my next adult contemporary fantasy, so that will go out on sub later this year, if I ever turn in my edits, lol.
I never say never about genres, especially since I’m an eclectic reader, but all my current ideas are fantasy! Currently, I’m attempting to draft a cozy fantasy murder mystery, despite the fact that I always thought I’d never write mystery because I have to figure out clues, dammit (this is why I never say never about genre).
I also have one (1) middle grade idea — also contemporary fantasy — in mind, but I don’t think I’m ready to write it yet.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
Recently, on a bird walk, I saw an American white pelican. In Northwest Ohio. Which is not within the usual range for American white pelicans. That has nothing to do with writing, but I just think it’s neat.
E.M. Anderson (she/they) is a queer, neurodivergent writer whose work has appeared in Wizards in Space Magazine, Dark Horses: The Magazine of Weird Fiction, and SJ Whitby’s Awakenings: A Cute Mutants Anthology. Her debut novel, The Remarkable Retirement of Edna Fisher, is out now with Hansen House Books. It is their doom to one day vanish in the depths of a forest, never to be seen again, after ignoring the repeated warnings of the locals to stay out of the woods. Until that fateful day, you can find her on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or Tumblr at @elizmanderson.
Allison Stalberg Siebens is an indie author and foster cat mom. She is in the process of getting a Masters in Fiction from Southern New Hampshire University.
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