Ratha’s Persistence: An Interview with Clare Bell

I’ve loved Clare Bell’s Ratha series since I was a kid. Her extraordinarily detailed Paleolithic world is peopled with a species of intelligent cats negotiating very human questions of community, identity, and the divine. Ratha’s Creature (first published in 1983) and its sequels have had a bumpy journey in and out of print, but their legacy has endured thanks in no small part to a devoted community of fans. Rereading the books as an adult, I fell in love with Ratha all over again. Impetuous, arrogant, and exuberant, she’s a character that will stay with you.

Clare Bell was kind enough to answer some questions about the books; you can read more about the series at the Ratha and the Named Series website.

Ratha has had a long a difficult journey in print, which you talk about on the your website. What has kept you going in the face of a publication saga that would deter even the staunchest of hearts?

Writing is an arrogant bid for immortality, throwing your spirit into the waters of time and refusing to drown. It is arrogant in that it says that the words of your spirit are different, unique and worth passing down to future generations. Writing is not only creation, it is an act that defies the forces that would prevent, undercut, erode, or tear down. The passion that says, “I will create this and seed it into the future, no matter what the world throws at me.” Faith and trust in your own creation is an extremely powerful force.

I’ve never particularly liked the word “character” in reference to the entities that inhabit fiction. Ratha and the Named aren’t stick or cardboard figures to be moved around, but vital spirits that live in their own alternate world. If you are a writer, these children of your mind jump out of that world into yours, to swat you on the butt and demand that you immortalize their lives by writing their stories. They are themselves arrogant since they want to bring their lives across into our universe.

It isn’t just a one-way trail, either. Your fictional beings create you as much as you create them. It may be difficult to discover your own strengths and abilities, as discouragement and entropy often obscure them. The creatures and people of your imagination can teach you that you have qualities and capabilities far greater than you knew.

TR: What is Ratha’s status right now?

Well, I’ve just been through one of those bumps in the road that turned out to be a good thing. Bumps can cause drops and dips, but they also lift. As you know, Viking Penguin reissued the series in 2007, but let it go out of print. Imaginator Press (Sheila Ruth) picked up the rights to most of the books, and has re-issued Clan Ground and Ratha and Thistle-Chaser in trade paperback format with lovely A. L. Lashmit covers. However, Penguin held on to Ratha’s Creature, frustrating our efforts to get and market the complete series. Just recently Penguin gave up the rights to Creature, and both Sheila and I have signed contracts so that Imaginator Press can release a new edition. Having control over the whole series will make marketing it easier, since we can keep it in print, and can sell boxed sets. Once Sheila and I get the series on a secure footing, I’d like to explore additional possibilities, such as writing more books and adapting Ratha to graphic novel format. I’ve been studying classic graphic novel titles, such as Sandman and Watchmen.

Ratha had a whole independent life on the internet in the nineties, and more recently, fans lobbied Viking to keep the series alive when they cancelled on Ratha’s Courage. Can you talk a little about Ratha’s fanbase? Do you hear a lot from readers, and does Ratha continue to have new and younger fans?

I love talking about Ratha’s fanbase because they are extraordinary and creative people. In the 1990s Ratha readers created fan community meeting and role-playing websites to express their delight in and devotion to the series. In the beginning, they used existing fan sites, such as the Lion King Fan Art Archive (TLKFAA). Tori (username “Ratha”), a talented young artist from TLKFAA, set up an early and very influential site on Yahoo called Clan Ground of the Named. My husband discovered it and told me, and when I went there, I shook with joy and nearly fell out of my chair. I thought people had forgotten Ratha, yet here she was, thriving on the internet.

I was not only surprised and pleased by Ratha role-playing on the site, but dumbfounded by the amount and quality of reader creativity. I decided to give them my blessing to play in Ratha’s world. Many writers wouldn’t do this, as they feel that it is a violation of their work. I encouraged both RPs and fan fiction, since people were doing it out of sheer love for the series and it spread the word. Ratha fanfic also served as a great training ground for young writers, as Star Trek fanfic did for me.

As regards fanfic, I only asked that they not try to publish it professionally. Some of it was actually quite good.

The effort to save the new novel, Ratha’s Courage, from cancellation by Viking Penguin was a collaboration between me and Ratha’s readers. When I gave them the news and asked for help, they responded eagerly. The attempt didn’t save Courage, but it may have helped save the VP mass-market editions of Ratha and Thistle-Chaser and Ratha’s Challenge when VP also wanted to cancel them.

When [a fan] heard about VP’s cancellation of the new Ratha’s Courage, she suggested that Imaginator Press publish it. So that’s how Imaginator became the new series publisher, and Sheila became a good friend.

Sheila also urged me to try Twitter, and the result was the various Twitter “ClanChirps” posts, and the Twitter novelette, “Ratha’s Island.”

Photo of Clare Bell by Chuck Piper

The Rejectionist is a reader and a writer. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, and blogs at www.therejectionist.com


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