Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: State College, Centre County
Science fiction writer Kate Elliot lived in State College in the 1980s.
Author Kate Elliott, originally Alis A. Rasmussen, was born on July 27, 1958. She grew up in Oregon, attended Mills College in California, and has moved around the country with her archeologist husband and three children. Early in her career, Elliott lived in State College, Pennsylvania while her husband was studying at Penn State University. She has become an accomplished author in the genre of science fiction/fantasy, with her first full series being published in 1990. Nineteen years and fifteen novels later, Elliott is at work on her latest series, Crossroads, from her home in Hawaii.
Kate Elliott, whose birth name is Alis A. Rasmussen, was born July 27, 1958. She grew up outside of Junction City, Oregon, in a country environment that undoubtedly fostered her fascination with adventure. As a pre-teen, Elliott and her older brother used to design maps and would devise stories about the places they had created. A true fan of fantasy, Elliott was inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings when she read it in eighth grade. She credits Tolkien’s Middle Earth as the biggest influence on her writing as a teenager. During her teen years, Elliott saw writing as an exotic escape from the small-town life in Oregon, since the stories she wrote at the time all took place in fantasy worlds. In eleventh grade, Elliott started her first world-building project, the creation of a fantasy realm called Thedeth. She wrote her first novel-length piece between her junior and senior years of high school, already sensing that “writing fiction [was] a form of navigation,” allowing her to “pilot readers through the plot.”
After graduation, Elliott attended Mills College in Oakland, California, where she further developed her writing skills. For the first time, she completed a novel, set in the world of Thedeth, called When the Winter Comes. She also penned a novella and began a fantasy re-telling of the Roman invasion of Britain. The latter project marked Elliott’s first foray into serious historical research, and she credits this experience as the origin of a sense of the historical process, an understanding of the flow of history that has pervaded all her subsequent writing.
When she was not writing, Elliott worked at a bakery and at the BBC in London. She also practiced Shotokan karate, in which she earned a brown belt, and was active in the Society for Creative Anachronism, where she gained experience in medieval broadsword fighting. She met her future husband, Jay Silverstein, on the battlefield while participating in the activities of the group devoted to re-creating medieval culture and military engagements. After graduation, Elliott worked with Keyboard Magazine in Cupertino, California, before becoming a full-time writer.
Elliott completed the first draft of a novel, Jaran, in 1981. Elliott has described this book as a “standalone adventure novel with a love story, steppe nomads, alien overlords, light cavalry inspired battle scenes, and a young woman trying to figure out her place in the world.” Over the next decade, Elliott took the novel through seven drafts before it was sold to DAW books. While revising this work, Elliott worked on various other projects. She began drafting a sequel to Jaran, a novel she titled His Other Son, which she then discarded and completely re-wrote as The Law of Becoming. She also began working on what she termed a “space opera.” The product of this effort was A Passage of Stars, which focused on coming of age rituals in which a character leaves her society, exists outside its cultural boundaries, and then reenters her world as an adult. After receiving a critique of the novel from fellow fantasy writer Judith Tarr, Elliott re-wrote A Passage of Stars and sold it Baen Books in 1987. A Passage of Stars, which Elliott counts as her sixth novel, was the first to be sold.
During the same year, Elliott wrote The Labyrinth Gate, which was published in 1988. The Labyrinth Gate takes place in an industrial revolution where the factories are powered by magic. The novel explores the ideas of universal suffrage and unionization through the eyes of two outsiders who have accidentally crossed over into that world. In 1988, Elliott revised A Passage of Stars, and wrote its sequel, Revolution’s Shore. The next year Elliott wrote the third book in this series, titled The Price of Ransom, and the entire Highroad trilogy, which borrows elements from the Russian Revolution, was published in 1990, under her real name, Alis A. Rasmussen. Elliott calls this trilogy a “space opera,” due to its setting in an isolated area of the solar system, and admits that Stalin influenced her creation of the trilogy’s villain. In 1991 the eighth draft of Jaran was finally ready for publication. She did not have early success with this novel, but in 1992 it was put on Locus Magazine’s recommended reading list as well as being named the Best Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Novel for Young Adults by the Voice of Youth Advocates.
Elliott’s productivity during this period is especially admirable since she was traveling during most of the writing process. She saw the country and the world with her husband Jay Silverstein, an anthropology student at Penn State University. She and her husband traveled to Europe, Japan, Israel and Central America, with stops in State College, Pennsylvania while Silverstein worked towards his M.A. and Ph.D. in anthropology.
During the next three years, Elliott worked on The Sword of Heaven, published as a two-part novel, and The Law of Becoming, the sequel to Jaran. She next collaborated with Melanie Rawn and Jennifer Roberson on The Golden Key. The novel, which was a nominee for the World Fantasy Best Novel award, depicted the lives of characters living in Tira Virte, a world led by women. The novel, set in an alternate-world Mediterranean setting, also employs magic and art.
After this effort, Elliott began work on the Crown of Stars series, an effort that spanned a decade and which resulted in seven novels. Elliott wrote these novels as she moved all over the world with her husband and children. The books often show the influences of her travels. For example, Elliott drew inspiration for Adica, a character from Child of Flame, from a display in Denmark’s National Museum while her husband was a guest lecturer at the University of Copenhagen. Like The Golden Key, this series put women in powerful roles, but this series had a medieval setting. In these novels, Elliott was particularly interested in examining “the ways cultures change over time and how they meet—with resistance, with conflict, with cooperation and curiosity—and interact with other cultures.”
After the publication of the Crown of Stars series, Elliott wrote Spirit Gate, Shadow Gate, and Traitors’ Gate, the first three novels in the seven-part Crossroads series. These novels take place in the fantasy world of Taskala, a free city that flourished after its founders, lawmakers, and survivors of war pooled their wealth together. The entire series was prompted by an online comment Elliott found that stated that no polytheistic religion could be moral. Originally conceived as a trilogy, Elliott expanded the series to seven books after she realized how much story she had to tell. She in an interview that she drew inspiration from sources as various as the medieval Danish law code of Vladimir II, Asian-Pacific culture, and her first, never-published, novel. The books in the series become progressively darker as Elliott highlights “consequences of social breakdown, war, and systemic slavery,” as the characters “find the strength to adapt, survive, and fight back.”
Elliott is currently working on the fourth book in the Crossroads series, and has finished the first book in a new Victorian fantasy trilogy, Cold Magic. Elliott, who consistently produces novels at a regular rate, continues to write “because it’s like breathing.” She professes “It’s not that I’m desperate to breathe; it’s that I have to in order to be alive.” At present, Elliott resides in Hawaii with her husband and three children.
The Labyrinth Gate. New York: Baen Publishing, 1988.
A Passage of Stars. New York: Bantam Spectra, 1990.
Revolution’s Shore. New York: Bantam Spectra, 1990.
Jaran. New York: DAW Books Inc, 1992.
An Earthly Crown: The Sword of Heaven Book One. New York: DAW Books Inc, 1993.
The Law of Becoming. New York: DAW Books Inc, 1994.