The OF Blog: April 2006

Saturday, April 22, 2006

An Interview with Caitlin Sweet

The following interview with Caitlin Sweet was done as a collaborative effort between Pat of Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist and Larry (wotmania/OF Blog of the Fallen). We agreed that we would divide the interview into two parts, with Pat concentrating on asking questions relating to the general descriptions of Sweet’s two published books, A Telling of Stars and The Silences of Home and her experiences with the fantasy industry, while Larry would devote the second section toward exploring a more behind-the-scenes look of the author as a person. Here is the result of our collaboration with an author who has much to say and hopefully will be a voice in fantasy for years to come.

For the benefit of those of us new to your work, without giving too much away, give us a taste of the story that is A Telling of Stars.

A Telling of Stars is the story of an 18-year-old girl whose family is murdered by a band of Sea Raiders, members of a race cursed by the legendary Queen Galha. The girl, Jaele, sets off in pursuit of one of the Raiders, bent, of course, on exacting a bloody and satisfying revenge. She follows in Queen Galha's footsteps, inspired by her legend, and determined to gather others to her cause. One of these others is Dorin, a young man with whom she conducts a troubled, on again-off again love affair. Dorin changes Jaele, as do all of the people, places and creatures that she encounters; her quest, and her ultimate confrontation with the Sea Raider, end up unfolding very, very differently from what she'd initially hoped for.

The story is fairly simple, since it's told from only one point-of-view, but there are overlapping timelines, and the language is fairly dense and "lyrical" (the adjective most commonly applied to it!). It's also a pretty short book, in fantasy terms: just over 300 pages.

Same as the first question, but in regards to The Silences of Home.

This story is set many hundreds of years before Jaele's time, and follows the seminal events of Queen Galha's reign - the events that became the legend that so inspired Jaele. As it turns out, the truth of the original Sea Raider attack, and Galha's epic revenge, was far, far less flattering than the legend. The story centers around a group of characters whose conflicts and passions mirror and even affect the larger developments within the realm.

Silences is a longer book than Telling; its prose is less poetic, and there are many more points-of-view. The two books may be connected, but they're also very different, which is appropriate and, if I may say so, kind of cool!

What do you feel is your strength as a writer/storyteller?

My inability to make characters and situations black-and-white. See the epic fantasy answer below for more on this!
What author makes you shake your head in admiration? Many fantasy authors don't read much inside the genre. Is it the case with you?

It is actually, and I'm fairly ashamed to admit it! My excuse, these past six years, has been my kids: I now read only before I go to bed, and thus get through only about one book every month or so, if I'm lucky...ah, how times have changed! It took me nearly the entire summer, last year, to read Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, and about that long to conquer Scott Bakker's tomes. Because it takes me so long to read anything, I try to read as widely as I can. So the authors I revere tend to be either genre authors who've been around for a long time (Ursula LeGuin, Patricia McKillip) or non-genre authors whose backlist I've discovered belatedly (Patrick White, an Australian who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in the 1970's, is one of these), or just non-genre authors, like Ian McEwan. All these authors, genre and non-genre, have a fairly stunning command of narrative; they write character-centred stories, using prose that's often unabashedly gorgeous. I also love Latin American authors. Borges is my hero; I was lucky enough to read his Ficciones in the original Spanish while I was at university.

What was the spark that generated the idea which drove you to write both your novels in the first place?

When I started A Telling of Stars (at age 21), I was attempting to recover from serious heartbreak and needed a cathartic creative outlet; I was also trying to write something that wouldn't be like so much of the adult fantasy I'd been reading, which had been disappointing me. (Again, I'll refer you to my epic fantasy answer for more in this vein...) So the spark was both personal and aesthetic. Silences was a more intellectual undertaking: I wanted to explore the relationship between history and legend, truth and propaganda. I was also interested in how individuals interact with the events of history. Thankfully, though, the intellectual spark was accompanied by an equally strong conception of the characters. I find that starting with only themes, and fleshing out characters according to these themes, doesn't work for me.

Given the choice, would you take a New York Times bestseller, or a World Fantasy Award? Why, exactly?

Oh, man, do I have to choose? Can't a girl have it all? ;)

Hmm. I'll go with World Fantasy. Much as I'd revel in the cold, harsh cash afforded by a NYT ranking, I'd revel more in the acclaim of members of the fantasy community I've always admired and enjoyed so much. Seriously!

The fact that you have your own forum on the internet is an indication that interaction with your readers is important to you as an author. How special is it to have the chance to interact directly with your fans?

Incredibly special. I was a bit of a latecomer to the online scene, but thanks to the admonishments of other authors (Bakker foremost among those) and fans, I finally did get my website going, a year ago. My forum followed a little after that. I was utterly blown away by the welcome I found there, and by the generosity of the readers who had no idea who I was, initially, but went off and bought my books anyway. And it's such an amazing thing, to be able to answer questions they have, or respond to comments and criticisms, directly. Like, within minutes! Yes, I'm still a bit wide-eyed - and it's fantastic.

Are you surprised by what little support you receive from the Canadian media? R. Scott Bakker and Steven Erikson rank among the best fantasy authors out there, yet both of them appear to get very little recognition in their own country. Only Guy Gavriel Kay seems to have gone through that obstacle, and that's after years of producing exceptional novels.

The Canadian publishing industry is incredibly small. The Canadian genre publishing industry is microscopic. So no, I'm not that surprised about the lack of media exposure. My first novel was reviewed in the Globe & Mail, which is Canada's national newspaper, but my second wasn't. I got to appear on a few TV shows (Breakfast Television, Richler Ink), do a few readings...I didn't expect much more than this. In Canada, there's a limited amount of review space, and most of it's devoted to international heavy-hitters, or to that odd bird that's known as "CanLit," written by a handful of well-known authors, and whichever up-and-comings manage to fit that mould. Fantasy simply has no "open the paper on Saturday morning to check out the book reviews" kind of presence, here. This is terribly disappointing, but not surprising. Which leads me to your next question:

Honestly, do you believe that the fantasy genre will ever come to be recognized as veritable literature? Truth be told, in my opinion there has never been this many good books/series as we have right now, and yet there is still very little respect (not to say none) associated with the genre.

I'm not holding my breath, sadly. I think that we may see more fantasy authors being accepted in that elusive "crossover" way, which will give them a much broader audience. I'm always interested to see where certain authors' books are shelved, in bookstores: I've found Gaiman, Tolkien and select others on the "Fiction" shelf, far away from that genre section at the back that most buyers of "real" fiction would never deign to set foot in. Putting Gaiman and Tolkien in the Fiction section is a value judgment, and I don't think this is likely to change. You never know, though: perhaps with authors like Gaiman (and Rowling, too) ascendant, in pop culture terms, fantasy will start to get read more, respected more. I've been told many, many times, "I don't usually read fantasy, but I LOVED your books." Which, while it may be a back-handed compliment, is also an indication that people will pick up something they've heard or read about, even if it's not something they'd normally choose. So I guess it's a matter of keeping the online reviews and interviews coming, and the websites up, and the fans clamouring - maybe the rest of the world will catch on!

What made you choose to write an epic fantasy? Were there any perceived conventions you wanted to twist or break? Why do you think that epic fantasy has such a vast and fractured fanbase -- those who either rabidly support or denounce a particular author?

I don't think I've actually written any epic fantasy, yet! I enjoy reading fine epic fantasy, from time to time (and I agree there's lots of it - don't get me wrong), but I don't feel able or even really willing to write it. So far I haven't been interested in working with absolutes, maybe because they too often come off like stereotypes with capital letters. Good and Evil, Magic, Power, True Love, Quest, Battle, Big Finish - I've read and believed in these narrative elements, but I've also, and more often, read and been annoyed by them. I love the escape inherent in fantasy, but I find that the fantasy that usually works best for me involves ambiguity. My own books reflect this, particularly Telling, which was my attempt to turn stereotypes on their head. I wanted to write about a frustrating relationship, a quest that didn't quite work out, a bad guy who maybe wasn't. Silences is similar; the characters are neither fully good nor fully bad, and none of them is evil. This is perhaps (and here's another segue!) why my books often don't appeal to people who adore epic fantasy.

So: why is the fanbase fractured...Because fantasy readers are so accustomed to being defensive about reading genre at all that they naturally get territorial with other fantasy readers, too? Because despite the breadth of interpretation inherent in the term "fantasy," some readers are adamant that one author, or one sub-genre, are the Platonic Forms of authors and sub-genres? I'm not actually sure. All I know is that all the in-fighting belittles the genre. Opinions are fine. Differing tastes: no problem. But it seems so unnecessary, to attack authors or other readers; to savage books that don't conform to one's own tastes, and to savage other readers' preferences. What I do like to see is healthy, constructive, rigorous debate - something that also happens, in fantasy circles. Thank goodness.

What can you tell us about your future projects?

Having just explained why I haven't written epic fantasy yet, I hope someday to try something on a larger scale. Some, dare I say, multi-volume thing. I've been playing with an ancient-Mediterranean-inspired story for half a year now, and although I've just put it aside, I do intend to go back to it. In the meantime, I'll probably stick to the kind of thing I've written so far: character-driven stories, told with a certain degree of lyricism and allusiveness. You never know, though: I might write something totally un-Sweetian... ;)


In this second set of questions, the focus is more on the intersections between Caitlin’s personal and professional lives. Instead of focusing so much on the mundane business of how the author goes about constructing the scenes, the emphasis is more on how real life matters, from raising children to related activities to real-life issues that appear to be reflected in Caitlin’s works are addressed. It is important to remember that authors are not composing their works in a vacuum and that their works very often reflect wider issues. So with this in mind, on to the second set of questions and answers done over a series of emails:

Based on many conversations that we've had over the past year, you talk a lot about your young daughters and the activities you do with them. What influence has raising your children had, if any, on how you view life and, by extension, on the writing of a story?

The quick, easy answer is that every single thing I do, think and feel is colored by the existence of my children - but that's way too sweeping! And not entirely true, though that might seem blasphemous to other parents out there. I was a writer long before I was a parent, and writing is still a refuge, of sorts: a place I go, a thing I do, that's about me as an individual. I've never experienced anything as emotionally and mentally consuming as being a parent, and a full-time one at that. (I actually found it much easier to balance things when I was working full-time and being a mother only for the couple of hours before the girls' bedtime.) So I need my writing now, more than ever. It keeps me separate from my mother-self, and usually allows me to return to that other self with a bit more equanimity and patience (though sometimes it doesn't work like that, either: when I was writing Silences, and feeling absolutely euphoric about how it was going, I was generally pretty snappish with my kids).

Practically speaking, having to juggle child-rearing and writing has been a very, very good thing. I'm a mother first, a writer second, but when I do get those two hours to myself in the afternoon, I focus immediately. I was never able to do this, before the kids.

Being a mother has influenced the content of my writing, too: I feel different, describing parent/child relationships, now that I've had children. Alea, in Silences, was a wonderful character to write: I got to trace her development from girl to young woman to pregnant woman to mother of a baby girl, and it felt natural and true. I'm not saying that people who haven't had children can't write about them (that would bring up all sorts of issues of voice appropriation, which I might not be up to tackling!). But now I understand, in a visceral way, how amazing, difficult and mind-boggling having babies and small children is, and that's a definite plus, when it comes to writing about these things.

As for how I view life: it's amazing how children make you remember what it was like to be a child. I watch my girls as they struggle and marvel at life, and find ways of putting these feelings into stories and pictures, and it makes me feel that what I'm doing with my writing is just part of that continuum.

In a recent email, you told me that you were giving a talk to a group of Grade 8 students about 'what it's like to be a writer.' If you don't mind, could you please tell us what you talked about and how the students reacted?

I was told to keep the comments very personal: when I first thought of myself as a writer, how I went about becoming a published one, what it's like to be one full-time. So I did a lot of talking about Caitlin Sweet: The Productive Early Years and Sweet in University: the Long Drought. ;) I brought in some props, including the manuscript of my very first book, written when I was 13. I passed it around; some of the kids flipped through it for a long time. (It's handwritten, as all my first drafts are, and it's WAY neater than all the books that have followed!) I was also asked to give them advice, which, in point form, was:

- be flexible. Write on the subway or in a park, in a restaurant, on little bits of paper - whenever and wherever you feel like it. Don't think you need to have a system, at first. And if strictness ends up being the best, go for it.

- while you're being flexible, be focused, too. Learn how to write, only - to put other things aside, even if it's only for half an hour at a time.

- find a community. This could be friends, family - anyone in your daily life whom you're sure will give you solid, constructive responses to your writing (the ones who'll always love whatever you write are adorable and fabulous, of course, but do try to secure some actual objective readers, too!). Go online and find a weblog or a writers' forum. Find a bunch of sources of feedback: this is the one thing you'll need more than anything. Writing is solitary, and it's easy to lose concentration, confidence and even enjoyment when you spend too much time in your own head.

- expect to have other "real" jobs, while you're writing. Or marry someone rich.

- experiment with all sorts of genres, but be confident about whatever kind of writing you decide you love the most. For years people pressured me to read and write something "real," something that wasn't fantasy. I had no interest in doing this, and I did feel a bit weird about it, initially, a bit ashamed because I was being made to feel like what I was writing was inherently lower-quality than mainstream fiction. After I got over being ashamed, I got mad and defensive, and that was no good, either. Now I'm just proud of what I write. Try for this confidence right from the beginning!

How they reacted...well, pretty much how I expected 45 13-year-olds to react, I guess! The vice-principal, who was in the room for about five minutes, said later, "I couldn't believe how engaged they were with what you were saying!" To which I said, "Aha - so lounging back in your chair, balanced precariously on its back two legs, and smirking at your friends counts as engaged?" To which she said, "Uh huh!" It was a classic pack-mentality scenario: none of them wanted to seem too interested. Once I got one of the students on her own, though (when she was walking me back to the staff room), she asked me all sorts of questions. I do think there were a few in the bunch who really listened. Unfettered by the potential for sniggering or ostracization, the two teachers asked me loads of questions!

One uniformly positive gleaning, for me: when I asked how many of them read fantasy, nearly every single one put up his/her hand. I said, "Not just Harry Potter - other fantasy too" - and the hands stayed up. They were utterly unembarrassed about this particular admission, and this pleased me greatly!

Sounds like a very interested group! I remember from our earlier interview a year ago of you talking about your love for Lloyd Alexander's The Prydain Chronicles and hearing how for many of these students Harry Potter may inhabit a similar place in their hearts. What do you believe it is about The Black Cauldron or Harry Potter that seems to captivate a reader and in some cases inspire them to reach out toward other works? Some people might mean it in a derrogatory fashion, but there does seem to be something 'special' about those books we discover when we are young, those books that are 'the stuff as dreams are made on,' as Shakespeare said in The Tempest. Any thoughts on this matter? Also, how would you relate your published and unpublished writings to the books you read in your childhood?

I wrote A Telling of Stars because I was longing to recapture the sense of wonder I'd always felt as a child, immersed in young adult fantasy - the kind of wonder I wasn't finding in most of the adult genre books I was reading, all those years later. Wonder, escape, emotional and moral resonance: all of these were traits I encountered in the work of Lloyd Alexander, Ursula LeGuin, Susan Cooper, Alan Garner. The stuff of dreams, indeed. I guess it's possible to ascribe dreaminess to the state of childhood itself - except that, when I re-read these books, I feel pretty much the same way I did when I was eleven. So yes, they're special. They enlighten and entertain, at once; they're simple in a gratifyingly elemental way, without being simplistic. (Although I've only read the first of the Harry Potter books thus far, I have the impression that, despite their increasingly voluminous word counts, they're fairly simple narratives too, in that same satisfying fashion. A boy, his friends, his school, a supreme baddie - there you have it!) (I by no means intend to imply that it would be simple to write such books. See below!)

It's strange: although I still think of y/a fantasy as my inspiration, I haven't had the urge to write any myself - or not since I was in high school, anyway. This might be because, at some level, I'm terrified. I remember Lloyd Alexander writing something along the lines of, "It's much harder to write for children than it is to write for adults" - and I believe this, for me, at least. Perhaps this is partly because of the added pressure. Adult readers are often creatures of habit, whose opinions and tastes have largely been formed already; but kids...well, they're more flexible, more open-minded, in terms of what kinds of books they'll tackle. These books have the potential to change their lives. So I've been dancing around the idea of a y/a endeavour - unsure, but also undecided. You just never know...

Since one year has passed since the release of The Silences of Home, what has changed in your professional life?

Actually...not a whole lot! I'm still waiting for my books to be picked up by publishers outside Canada (ah, that elusive U.S. deal), and my sales in Canada continue to be tepid, and there's no mass market release of Silences on the horizon yet. I feel a bit like I'm in a holding pattern, somewhere above my next career development - whatever that will be! But people I trust assure me that it'll just be a matter of time; that I've written a couple of good books that'll gradually start garnering more attention.

In terms of my actual writing process, this past year, things have changed. I'm still only writing in the afternoons for about two hours, as I did when I wrote Silences, but I'm grappling more with concentration and material. (The concentration issue could be due to the fact that I'm such a known quantity at the coffee shop where I write. Anyone remember what happened when Norm used to walk into Cheers?) As I've mentioned elsewhere, writing Silences was a smooth, nearly effortless process. I've felt nothing like that since. I'm not complaining, mind you: I've only written two books, and it's not at all surprising that the writing of subsequent ones will feel different. But it has been hard. I spent about six months planning my next book, then started writing last September - and I stopped writing, about a month ago. Not forever: I'm sure I'll return to the idea (especially since more than 200 pages have been written!). But it wasn't working, for a variety of reasons that were new to me. I'm now back to the planning stage, with a whole new concept. This also feels like a lack of focus, somehow, and it's unsettling. But I'm dealing with it, one anxiety attack at a time! ;)

A positive note to finish this answer on: I'm finally feeling like my books are getting read, by considerably more people than before. This is probably thanks to the Internet, where I took up e-residence about a year ago, on my own website and on Not only are people reading the books; they're also discussing them, and I'm able to follow it all in ways I couldn't have, a year ago. For example, A Telling of Stars was picked as Book of the Month for May on sffworld, and I know this was because people are more familiar with me, now that I have a forum there. And both books have also been recommended for a wotmania book club. This is good stuff, and I'm grateful for it.

Speaking of this work-in-progress, anything that you can tell us about it? Is it markedly different from the prior story you were writing in terms of plot, style, or feel?

Yes to all of the above! It's funny: just after I'd started writing my ancient-Mediterranean-inspired book, I also started posting about it online, answering readers' queries about it, etc. Then, six months later, the thing stalled. Or I did. Whichever: I'm not writing it any more. So now I'm spooked, maybe - wary of giving away too much, or leading people to expect that I'll be writing something I don't end up writing. Let's just say that my current project is still in the planning stages; that yes, it's very, very different from my prior attempt, as well as my first two published books, and that this is extremely exciting. Ask me this again in a few months; if I'm making amazing headway and am absolutely certain this book will continue to develop, I'll be a bit more generous with the details! ;)

You bring up your experiences with online sites such as sffworld and wotmania. Tell us, what are some of the themes from your books that you've noticed people have talking about that you yourself never really had considered when you were writing the books?

I find it's not so much the themes as the interpretations of them that have sometimes caught me off guard. Telling has been mentioned on several evangelical Christian websites and blogs, by people who claim to have been moved by themes of forgiveness and personal redemption. The themes themselves were ones I was aware of; the interpretation was a surprise. Gender issues also come up a lot. I wasn't attempting to be provocative, when I made Telling's protagonist an 18-year-old girl; I was simply writing what started out as a very personal, quasi-autobiographical story. Then the readers weighed in. "Why a female main character?" asked one male interviewer, with an "aren't I causing trouble?" glance; shortly after this interview, the book was mentioned, in glowing terms, on a website devoted to feminist fantasy. While I don't necessarily mind the plethora of literary criticism-inspired readings of my books, I do want to make it clear that I never explore my themes in any sort of didactic fashion. I had no intention of writing a Feminist Novel - which brings me to your next question.

A recurring topic that I've seen at various sites and blogs deals with gender and fantasy. Over at your official forum, you once addressed that issue in regards to how certain readers were reacting to your books. Would you mind telling us about some of those reactions and to what degree gender plays a role in your fantasies?

My books feature some pretty strong female characters, and some matrilineal societies. They also include a few conflicted, sensitive male characters. This is an organic thing, not a calculated one - as I mentioned above, I had no desire to make gender an overt thematic issue. However, reader reaction to these characters has definitely been overtly gender-based! One reviewer was critical of my male characters because "there wasn't a Conan in the bunch"; another reader called them "ciphers, every last one." The language of the books, and the kinds of stories they tell, have also been both praised and condemned along gender lines. "Quasi-poetic, feminine, self-indulgent" said one of Telling's reviewers; "lyrical and moving and deeply feminine" said another. Which is really, really interesting, to me. Are there masculine and feminine ways of writing fantasy? Do most male authors write fast-paced, workmanlike prose about battles and power politics and kings, while female authors stick to "quieter", more character-driven tales and lusher language? And are there masculine and feminine ways of reading fantasy? These topics feel like quicksand, to me: compelling, impossible to ignore, but also dangerous. I detest generalizations, but I also think it's disingenuous to insist that gender isn't an issue, in fantasy. It is. For a long, long time, genre was written mostly by men, and read mostly by men. That's changed (in fact, some statistics show readership being predominantly female, now), but there's still a certain level of discomfort or even puzzlement when it comes to gender roles. Why else would that interviewer have asked me "why a female protagonist?"

You mentioned the gender thread on my forum. The subject initially took the form of a poll, which asked whether male readers identified more with male characters, and female readers with female characters. The answers seemed to show that male readers generally do have more interest in reading about protagonists of their own gender, while female readers don't really care. Since I myself have no hard-and-fast answer to the gender question, I'll end with a question of my own, posed in that same thread . Something for readers of this interview to ponder!

"Do male/female readers tend to identify with protagonists of their own gender because they might reflect the readers' own experience - or is it because these characters play broader gender roles with which the readers are more comfortable?

Very good question, very tough to answer, but I’ll provide my personal response as a comment to the post. And now, I had planned asking this ever since we began this interview, but now it might seem to be an odd juxtapositioning of questions, especially after your thoughtful response above, but here's a recent picture that I would like for you to explain. What is going on behind the scenes to make that picture such a sight to behold?

Ah. Yes, well, behind the scenes...

Ad Astra 2006. 25th anniversary year. Many genre luminaries, many scintillating panels and readings and impassioned philosophical discussions at the hotel bar. But THE event of the convention was the Sunburst Award auction. The Sunburst Award ( a highly coveted Canadian literary genre prize. The auction: an array of genre-related memorabilia. The auctioneers: two oddly attired women with loud voices. Or not so oddly attired, considering it was a con, and the day of the masquerade, at that. Lesley Livingston was in the purple sequins, and I was in the pink (also the name of a classic album by The Band, but I digress). We talked. We strutted. We attempted to channel the many hot alien women of the original Star Trek series (who inevitably ended up tearing Captain Kirk's shirt with their scary 1960s nails). We sold some fantastic merchandise - and then we sold ourselves. Yup. In order to raise funds for a prestigious literary award, Lesley and I offered ourselves as dinner companions to the highest bidder. We stood in front of the crowd, then, and waited, and babbled a bit, into the odd silence that had fallen. Peter Halasz, co-founder of the award, finally made an opening bid. Something pretty modest, if I recall correctly - and I do, because the winning bid was also somewhat modest. But at least there was another bidder. A bidder who was sitting in the back row, but who was about two feet taller than everyone else; a shaggy-haired, legs-in-the-aisle guy whose brain was palpably large. "$35!" this man called - and thus it was that R. Scott Bakker won Lesley and Caitlin at an auction. There were photos, afterward - in the bar, of course. I don't believe he ever did buy us dinner. I expect a refund of $17.50 at some point.

It was fun. I mean, really FUN. And I'm glad there are pictures. At least I think I am... ;)

Fun, yes, I believe ‘fun’ would indeed be the word to describe this! Thanks again for explaining this and thanks again so much for agreeing to do this interview with us, Caitlin. It’s been a pleasure as always and we would like to wish you the best of luck with your career and most importantly, with those near and dear to you.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Interview with Jeff VanderMeer

Jeff agreed to do an interview for us, and in a really short time the interview was done. I will use this occasion and thank him openly for accepting this interview, but much more than that for a very friendly and pleasant conversation. It was a pure pleasure working with him.

Veniss Underground:

Q: One of the blurbs on the back of the Prime paperback edition of Veniss had a reference to the tale being a retelling of the Orpheus/Eurydice myth. After reading the book, I have to agree with it. Did you set out to retell that myth as part of your story, or did it just develop during the course of the writing?

I wanted to use the Orpheus myth as a general compass for the last part of the novel. To give me a little focus, and because myth is such an integral part of the story anyway--in terms of mythic resonance and in terms of the creatures that the bioneer Quinn creates. So what I did was read and re-read various versions of the myth so it was firmly embedded in my brain and then only start writing after it was no longer in the forefront of my thoughts. That way, it came out kind of naturally without being a rigid structure imposed on my novel.

Q: Veniss is one of the very few works that I've read that utilizes second-person voice. Was this something you planned from the beginning, or did it develop over time and many drafts?

I tried to write from Nicola's point of view in third person and in first person, and I couldn't make the character come alive. More important, I couldn't get the plot moving. So that section of the novel I considered placeholder text while I worked on the third section with Shadrach. At some point, I realized how Nicola's point of view fit into the story and into Shadrach's section, and at that point I also realized that second person made the only sense for her perspective. Once I went back and started writing her POV from second person, her character came alive and so did the book. I rarely use second person because readers react to it in such diverse ways, but I do think it's a legitimate method of getting into a character's head and to also get into a certain dreamlike tone of writing that can be the best way to tell certain stories.

Q: What were the origins of Veniss and how different did the final version of the story become from what you envisioned when you began work on it in the 1990s?

Veniss started out as a short story about a man who wants to buy a genetically modified meerkat. That fragment of story I left alone for a few years while I developed other stories set in the Veniss universe. Finally, I went back to the story fragment and realized I had a novel about the limits and cruelty of selfless love, among other things.

Q: Veniss is close to how I imagined Hell. But I am curious about this one: how would citizens of Veniss imagine Hell?

That's a very interesting question. I think the citizens of Veniss do live in Hell, in a very real sense. That they don't think of it specifically as Hell doesn't make it any less so. I would imagine the people living aboveground have less of a sense of the Hellishness of their existence, because they're used to it. This makes me think of whether we would know if we were literally in Hell? Some real cities are as close to Hell as you can get on Earth. Some days, you can open the newspaper and it very much feels like Hell or purgatory. But, honestly, what if Earth were some kind of massive madhouse purgatory? One could make a compelling case for it, I suppose. Although I'm not much of one to believe in an afterlife or an afterworld.

City of Saints and Madmen:

Q: You have stated that this book is really a mosaic novel. For someone who is unfamiliar with your work, how would you explain the connections between each of the stories found within?

Major characters in one story pop up as minor characters in another. The city of Ambergris itself is a major character binding the stories together--the history of the city. Then there is the interference of the author himself, who in some sense becomes trapped in the city, whether you want to take that literally or figuratively. Several of the stories also require the context of previous stories in the book to make full sense to a reader.

Q: How did your experiences living abroad during much of your childhood affect your writing, not so much as in regard to settings and descriptions, but on how your characters relate to the places around them? How much of the author's general experiences can be found within the experiences that the characters have as they live and interact with the city of Ambergris?

There are two general ways in which my characters relate to their surroundings: with suspicion and with nonchalance. Or feigned nonchalance. Very few of them react with wonder, but there is another character who does react with wonder: the reader. The reader has the pleasant position of being outside of the action and therefore not subject to it. So the terrible horrific beauty of much of Ambergris engenders suspicion (or fear) or, due to sheer familiarity, indifference in Ambergris' inhabitants. But, again, the reader has distance and can fear for the characters or register their ennui--but at the same time can enjoy the utter strange terrible exotic quality of the setting. And yet, that's the irony for me, because many of the oddest things that happen in City of Saints are taken from our own history or from things that happened to me personally while living abroad. If you truly see the world we live in, then you have to acknowledge that beautiful and horrible things happen all around us, moment to moment, even if hidden within the most seemingly mundane of settings or events. Too many of us are too deeply enmeshed in the societies in which we live to see this clearly, however. So on some level, when readers respond to some of the odd stuff in Ambergris by sensing a resonance or echo of the real world, they're acknowledging that it's not as outlandish as it might at first seem.

Q: The upcoming US release of Shriek: An Afterword is related to one of the stories found within City of Saints and Madmen. Would a different perspective be gained if Shriek were to be read before City, or would it be best just to read the novella within City first?

Shriek is a stand-alone novel, but additional frissons of recognition and interconnectivity will result from reading City of Saints first. They are very different books and they open up the reader's mind in very different ways. So, in a sense, it also depends on what you like. How you like to have your reality tinkered with. I intend the Ambergris Cycle to consist of City of Saints, Shriek: An Afterword, and the forthcoming novels The Zamilon File and Fragments from a Drowned City. The effect once I've finished the cycle in reading them from beginning to end will be simply a duplication on a larger scale of the effect of reading City of Saints--the pieces do stand alone, but when they lock into position in the reader's mind, there is a synergy and epiphany and resonance that is far greater than the weight and significance of the individual books.

General Questions:

Q: The life of a writer often is a very poor one in financial terms. What sorts of jobs and interesting experiences have you had during your writing career and which experiences would you say have influenced you most as a writer?

I've worked as an assistant manager at a remaindered bookstore, as an editor and notes taker for a publisher of accounting and airplane training manuals, as a proofreader and editor for company that compiles city codes of ordinance in book form, and, most recently, as an editor and writer for a website that provides practice English passages for students who have to take state standardized tests. They've all had intensely odd moments. And until last year, I never made as much from my writing as from my day job, so I agree with your statement entirely.

I'd say that these experiences influenced me most as writer in the most prosaic of ways--they've provided some form of financial stability so in my off hours I could focus on my writing. I cannot write without a stable home environment, so this is essential. And one reason why I do not plan to ever quit some form of day job. I need that anchor, because even large publishing houses can be late with a check, and I also have no wish to be told what to write by my publisher. Which is the kind of control you may have to give up if you don't have some other source of income.

In thinking back over my various job experiences, the overriding feeling is one of the absurdity of it all. At the bookstore, someone once taped condoms into the backs of all of the young adult romance novels. I once led a midget to the juvenile fiction section. Our manager was nuts and would have us rearrange the fiction section by color patterns rather than by author, for example. Or, working for the airplane manual publisher, I would spend a week trying to get hold of Michael Jackson and see if he would be willing to do public service announcements touting small aircraft use. Or, working for the city code company, I would get calls like one from a man in a large city who wanted me to change the existing ordinances so he could make handguns in his basement. "Are you the city attorney?" I asked. "No," he said, "I just need to make handguns in my basement." At my current job, I was once hauled in to the sheriff's office for sending my former employer a message pellet that was mistaken for a bomb. That was fun. So, all of this just reinforced my sense of the absurd. I find it very difficult to take systems--political, religious, social--very seriously. I take individuals very seriously indeed. But not systems.

Q: You have been lumped together in some reviews as being part of the New Weird, but yet in interviews, you have eschewed that term. For the general reader curious to know what type of fiction you write, how would you characterize your style in a few sentences?

Fiction isn't about naming but about avoiding being named. If a piece of fiction can be neatly and accurately labeled, then either the labeler is missing something or the fiction itself is in some way lacking. And yet we are obsessed with labeling, with naming. We label to sell fiction. We label to promote our own academic careers. We label because we want to stir up controversy. But all these labels obscure what is true about a great work of fiction: that it is organic, it is not one thing. It is a fish swimming through a reef, not a fish gutted on a dock.

My style is intensely visual, but with the visual not a stand-in for characterization or for plot. My style comes out of the sense that images have resonance, and that image can be a catalyst for action or character, but it's also flexible because each story requires some variation of a style to be effective. People have called my style "baroque" or "lush", but within this particular sub-spectrum of style there are many different ways to tell a story. And more of my recent fiction has had a more stripped-down style. So it's somewhere between Mervyn Peake and Martin Amis, probably. I'm not as stylized as Angela Carter, although I love her work.

Q: You are currently part of the panel of judges that will choose the winning selections for the 2006 World Fantasy Awards. What are the general criteria for the books being reviewed and how many submissions have you had to browse through?

I appreciate the delicacy of the question! The general criteria is quality fantasy first published in 2005, in novel, short fiction, novella, anthology, artist, and other categories. It's up to each judging panel to define "fantasy" and its boundaries. So far, I would guess that we've gotten about 400 books, but I expect we'll get another 400 or so before we finish the process.

Q: If you were pressed to name five authors that influenced you (not necessarily in your writing style), which authors would you choose? Also, which authors would you point out to readers as being ones that might deserve consideration from readers here?

Edward Whittemore, Angela Carter, Vladimir Nabokov, Martin Amis, Mervyn Peake. But that list changes all the time. There are too many influences. If you're a savvy writer, you need to collect as many influences as possible. But if I have to take the work of five authors to a deserted island with me today, it would be those five. Tomorrow it might be Michael Moorcock and four others. Just depends. Whittemore is especially obscure and deserves to be read.

Q: If your books were mistakenly shelved in the self help section of a book store, what help would be derived from your books? Would this help actually be helpful, or are injuries likely?

I think my books would put the problems of the person looking for self-help in perspective. After reading my books and the problems of the characters within them, they would say, "Huh. Well, okay, so maybe I won't put my head in an oven. These people overcame far worse problems than the ones I face." Or the general dislocation of reality might be too much and it might plunge some of them into an everlasting madness so profound and utter that they would achieve a kind of happiness simply by having been so completely embedded in an elsewhen/otherwhere that the real world would fade away, revealed as a false prison. Or they might get about a page in and say, "This is crap." You never can tell with readers, even unintentional ones.

Q: The last question is the traditional question of the OF: If you owned monkeys, how many would you own, and what would you name them?

I do own a monkey. His name is Evil Monkey and his girlfriend is Ape-Gone-Wild. Although "own" is probably too strong a word--I have a monkey named Evil Monkey, let's just say. And he's prone to collecting the heads of writers he doesn't like, but then returning them in a fit of guilt.

But if I did actually *own* monkeys, they would be woolley monkeys and there would be four of them, and they would take great delight in trashing our house while we were gone. They would climb up the chimney and drop out of it in great chuffing snuffles of black dust. They would terrorize the cats and try to take the car out for a spin. They'd converse with the mailman and chase away Jehovah's Witnesses. They'd get into the liquor cabinet and, drunk, repaint the walls a nice banana color. In the evenings, they'd curl up on the couch and watch the Simpsons while drinking banana dacquiris. In all ways, they would live contented and full and unselfconscious lives while in the little office in the back, I would be typing away, the music up loud, trying to drown out the wonderful din and play of their monkey business.

Thank you again for your time, Jeff. I hope you liked the questions and wish you the best of luck with your work.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Upcoming interviews

Within the next couple of weeks, we are going to start posting full and partial interviews that we've conducted recently for wotmania. Lotesse, our newest Admin and our main interviewer, will be conducting an interview shortly with Michael Moorcock, while Jake and I will be working with Pat from Pat's Fantasy Hotlist to interview respectively Jacqueline Carey and Caitlin Sweet. So keep checking back to this Blog frequently for these and other future interviews, which we will still continue to post simultaneously at wotmania.

In the meantime, for those that did not have the chance to read it at wotmania last year, below is an earlier interview with Caitlin that I conducted almost exactly a year ago. Hopefully, this will whet your appetites for the upcoming interview that Pat and I are doing:

Thanks for agreeing to do this interview, Caitlin. If you don't mind, could you give us a brief biographical sketch to give us a clearer image of the person behind the pen?

I was born in 1970 in Quebec, where my father was a university English professor. We moved to Lausanne, Switzerland when I was two and stayed there until I was four. After these four years of French living (apparently I was bilingual when we came back) we returned to Canada - this time to Toronto. My parents still live in the house where I grew up: lots of stability there!

I was not an active child. I willed myself to get nosebleeds every time we played baseball in gym class, and I generally attempted to be sick for swimming lessons. I read books while I walked to school - which was, luckily, very close to my house. I read books at family gatherings, in the car (Lord of the Rings on a summer trip to Maine), in my bed in almost total darkness. I burned my biology and math notes at the end of grades 10 and 11, respectively, when I officially finished with these courses. There was no resistance by my parents to this course-dropping. My father taught Latin and Greek mythology as well as English (my bedtime stories were Greek myths, with most of the gory parts removed or toned down). My mother had a degree in Library Science. (Incidentally, my six-years-younger sister is currently doing her PhD in English lit.) They never seemed to doubt that I'd have some sort of writing success someday. If they did doubt, they never let on. I was extraordinarily lucky to have such support, right from the beginning.

I did a BA in Humanistic Studies at McGill University in Montreal. Humanistic Studies was basically a liberal arts thing: I had to take a certain number of credits in English literature, literature in a language other than English, music and art history, geography...It was fantastic. It was because of this degree that I discovered Spanish literature. These books changed my life - seriously. Coming in contact with literature that was utterly surreal (Borges and Lorca) and magic realist (Márquez) was like discovering an entirely new form of fantasy. It's likely no coincidence that I started writing fantasy again, after a long hiatus, near the end of my degree.

I taught English in Mexico after graduating. I'd been accepted to a comparative literature MA program, but decided (along with my then-boyfriend, now-husband) that I wanted to go somewhere and actually use the Spanish I'd learned. Living in Mexico was a strange, wondrous, fraught experience. After we returned to Canada I kept teaching English, to mostly Korean and Japanese students. A few years went by; I needed a change; I applied to the University of Toronto and got a job as an administrative assistant at the Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design. I had this job for five years, during which I also had two children (meaning much of my time at U of T was spent on paid maternity leave!). After I returned from my first leave I decided I needed to haul my long-neglected A Telling of Stars manuscript out from my basement - which I did. I found a literary agent, thanks to the lovely Internet connection at work, and printed out several dozen versions of the manuscript - and then, after getting my second Penguin contract in 2003, I quit.

I'm now a full-time mother (my daughters are 5 and 3) who writes every afternoon from 1:45 to 3. This schedule will change next year, when I should have a bit more time every day in which to write - but it's worked so far.

You said that your father taught English and mythology. By any chance were you exposed to Irish mythology, at least in passing? Because when I was thumbing through my copy of A Telling of Stars, I couldn't help but notice how a few names (the Alilan in particular) seemed to have close parallels with Irish mythological heroes, such as Ailil (from the story of Deirdre of the Sorrows).

I was indeed exposed to Irish mythology, mostly thanks to my maternal grandparents, who made many trips to Ireland and always brought me back books (knowing me well, as they did!). But I'd definitely classify this influence as "in passing," since I haven't done any re-reading of the myths as an adult. I may have echoed the name unconsciously, or entirely randomly - but I'm very glad you noted it. I really enjoy the points readers make about my books - points I myself didn't know I was making. Deirdre of the Sorrows seems an entirely appropriate myth for Telling to evoke!

We were talking earlier in email about the character of the Keeper, found in A Telling of Stars. Without spoiling too much of the story, would you like to tell the readers here about how you came to construct that character and his role in the story?

I'd just finished my BA when I started on the Keeper section of the book. I was still reeling from the experience of reading the Latin American greats - and I was living in Mexico. I now think of that part of the book as an homage to the concept of time I'd encountered in Borges and García Márquez. "Remember the future and imagine the past" - Carlos Fuentes said this in a lecture he gave at McGill, and it stayed with me. Time loops as much as it flows; it circles back and leaps forward, and humans just don't understand it very well. Keeper is a character who does understand it. He, and the fortress and gardens he tends, are alive in moments of all time - moments Jaele, the protagonist, becomes entangled in. She considers him a prisoner - but she also begins to see that he has a sort of power, as he slips them both in and out of the present. I liked the ambiguity of his role, and of the setting.

Keeper's fortress and gardens were influenced by Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy, too. I was deeply affected by Peake's depiction of Titus Groan's castle: a sprawling, vast, decrepit place where you could always stumble upon a room or indeed a wing you'd never seen before. This sense of a place that's not exactly fixed, that could never really be rendered on a map, was precisely what I wanted to capture in the Keeper section.

Very cool! I was wondering about the exact nature of Keeper's power and to learn that you were thinking in part of what Borges, García Márquez, and Fuentes were describing in their stories is an added touch. But I'm curious about your comments regarding Peake: Are there any other elements in your stories that you would attribute to a fond reading of the Gormenghast stories?

I mentioned the sprawling, labyrinthine, apparently chaotic nature of Gormenghast castle; these adjectives also apply to Peake's narrative. I frequently refer to the plot of Telling as "organic" - meaning I didn't set out the details of the story beforehand, but let characters and setting lead me. This was the feeling I had reading the Titus books. Peake knew his places and people intimately, but the plot in which they were involved didn't unfold in linear, strategic fashion. (The third book in his trilogy, Titus Alone, is a really, truly problematic book in which chaos overwhelms any vestiges of plot.)

I too have read Borges, Lorca, and García Márquez and have recommended them to the readers here. But if you had to sum up in a few words the direct influence that these three authors have had on your writing, what would you say that you've taken from them?

A passion for the tangible power of narrative. Words, written and spoken, are incredibly transformative (in both wonderful and horrible ways) in Latin American fiction. I've also been influenced by the power of place in these stories. Houses, rooms in houses, towns, trains, the pampas of Argentina - these locales are rendered with care and intensity; they're vivid, often surreal, always essential to the lives of the characters in them.

You say that you learned a passion for the tangible power of narrative; that words, both written and spoken, are transformative - how would you say that you've applied this to your stories and the characters within?

In both Telling and Silences, the most obvious embodiment of the transformation-through-narrative idea is the Alilan. They are the capital T "Tellers," whose spoken words conjure images that seem entirely real to their audience. The Alilan are aware of the dangerous potential of this gift: Tellers are forbidden to use their words to make changes in the world. Of course, rules are made to be broken...

In Telling, Jaele often uses stories and words to significant effect. She utters words in the Keeper section that provoke a devastating (if ambiguous) change; her conversations with Ilario allow him a measure of peace and acceptance he hasn't ever had. He, in turn, teaches her how to write and urges her to write of things that matter to her; this ends up being extremely liberating (though also very difficult) for her. Lastly, Jaele herself becomes a Teller of sorts, as she recounts her story to an audience desperate for words and change.

In Silences, the words that aren't spoken (or, more specifically, written) are frequently more powerful than the ones that are. This is the distortion side of the transformation coin: when the truth is altered or simply not recorded, the stories that remain will of course be false. There's power and peril in this kind of narrative, too - though there remains the possibility that even untrue stories can be a vehicle for positive change (as is the case with the legend of Queen Galha and its effect on Jaele).

What was it, if "it" can be defined, that led you into reading and later writing fantasy?

"It" was an imprinting thing - something that happened so early I can hardly pinpoint time or place. That it did happen is thanks to my parents, who read me fantasy before I could read it myself, and certainly before I realized it was "fantasy." (Everything was just "story" then.) And thanks to my childhood friend Debbie, who gave me a copy of Lloyd Alexander's The Black Cauldron for my seventh birthday. That moment I remember, probably because I was so intrigued by the cover (the one with Taran, sword drawn, peering anxiously at the nasty cauldron and its three witchy keepers). As soon as I discovered that this was the second book in a series, I nagged my mother to buy me the first, which she did - and that was that. I devoured the Prydain Chronicles, and shortly after that, I started to write stories. Really, really long stories. Too long, in fact, for my grade two teacher (who was probably just plain tired of reading them, and of supplying me with more and more Hilroy notebooks!).

My reading of fantasy began early, before genre definitions apply - and so did my writing of it. I wrote "once upon a time" stories, and stories in which someone has all sorts of surreal adventures, only to discover they've been dreaming (I thought this a very sophistical literary trick when I was seven). By the time I was about 11, I had become aware that fantasy was its own genre. By the time I was 14, I was aware that fantasy had zealous detractors and zealous defenders. "Read Judy Blume," my friends demanded, and I tried, but I just didn't get it. "Read Dickens," my English prof father urged, and I tried, but again didn't get it (until several years later). Which isn't to say that I read and enjoyed only fantasy. But fantasy was most definitely where my heart was, as a young adult.

Something changed when I got older. I moved from y/a to adult fantasy, and started finding that the adult books just weren't satisfying me in the same way that the y/a ones had. It seemed there was less wonder, less care taken with language and characterization. I started understanding what fantasy detractors meant when they claimed all fantasy was "escapist." Lots of battles, lots of complicated lineages and magic systems - but, to me, very little real magic. I stopped reading fantasy, mostly. And I stopped writing it. I'd written my first novel-length work at 14, another at 15, another at (yes!) 16 - but after that I wrote only historical fiction for a few years, and after that (late high school, first two years of university) nothing at all. I didn't write again until my third year at McGill, in 1991 - not coincidentally, just after re-reading the Prydain Chronicles yet again. It was amazing, the rush I felt: the reinvigorating sense of wonder and possibility. I decided to begin something. A fantasy story I'd attempt to imbue with the sensibility of the y/a books I'd loved, but a story for me, at 21 years old. This story became, over the course of six long years, A Telling of Stars. It was difficult, slow going - but it was also such a joy. I'd returned to fantasy - the reading of it as well as the writing - and it felt good.

Does that answer your question?

Which authors have had the most influence on your decision to write fantasy?

I've already mentioned Lloyd Alexander. Early on there were also Eleanor Estes, E. Nesbitt, C.S. Lewis (the box set with the Pauline Baynes covers!), Susan Cooper, Ursula LeGuin, Alan Garner. Another huge influence on my early writing was Rosemary Sutcliff - not a fantasy writer, exactly, but her historical novels were as beautiful and awe-inspiring to me. As were Mary Renault's, which I read a bit later.

I've found through many conversations with other authors that they are as much readers within (and without) the genre as they are writers. As a reader, what sorts of things have you found in fantasy/science fiction writing that have appealed to you and which they would you wish to see more authors use in telling their tales?

I've always found a distinctive use of language very appealing. Obviously, there has to be a compelling plot to go along with the words - form over function definitely doesn't do it for me. But what I find so inspiring about the genre is that form can mirror function in a way it just can't in mainstream literature. Magical events can be described using magical language. (It's almost a kind of narrative-sized pathetic fallacy.) I certainly don't think that stylized prose is a requirement of fantasy story-telling - but I do think that the language of fantasy can and should be used with just as much polish and care as that of any other type of fiction.

When you state that the language of fantasy can and should be used with as much polish and care as any other genre of fiction, is this in reference to critical reviews of the genre and the styles (or possible lack thereof) that is perceived as being inherent in the genre?

I tend to attempt to defend fantasy against pejorative "critical reviews." Sometimes, though, I find myself straddling a tenuous line: I defend fantasy to its detractors, but I also understand some of the detractors' criticisms. One of these, as you've mentioned, is the low quality of genre writing. Now, there are certainly enough examples of badly written mainstream books to go around, and I'd extend my "polish and care" demand to them, too - but, frankly, it's the ghettoized genre stuff that gets blamed the most for sloppy writing. So I insist, "There's wonderful writing in that crazy section at the back of the store!", and also, "More fantasy should achieve narrative polish, panache and rigour!" It's a pretty bipolar existence.

In your first book, A Telling of Stars, you introduce a group of people, the Alilan, who seem to make the world come alive with their stories. Any insight as to the connection this might have with stars, or would that be spoiling the story too much?

The Alilan (who worship twin Goddesses of Earth and Fire) believe that stars are the fires of their dead ancestors. The connection between storytelling, memory, grief and redemption is extremely strong in the book - and that's all I'll say!

I recently read and really enjoyed your second book, The Silences of Home. I noticed it was markedly different from A Telling of Stars in both form and content. In which ways were these differences the result of the story being told and what other ways were more due to authorial development?

I started A Telling of Stars when I was 21, broken-hearted, mad at bad fantasy and desperate for all kinds of catharsis. The language I needed to use to tell this story was intensely poetic. The story itself was simple, plot-wise, but complex in emotional ways.

Fast-forward 12 years. Telling was finally done (i.e. edited, bound, on shelves!) and I was ready to write another book. I knew it would be connected to the first - but I also knew right away that its tone and content would be almost completely different. The story was not going to be related to my own cathartic needs. It would have to be complicated: lots of characters and shifting points of view, lots of tension and different kinds of resolution. I needed to plan this one. Minutely. I needed timelines and chapter synopses and point form lists of all sorts (hardcore fantasy readers who've read Silences may be thinking, "She thinks her plot's complex??" But it was. For me!). When I finally started writing, the language I used was different too. Less poetic description; more dialogue. The book ended up being longer than Telling, but it was also somehow less wordy.

So, as to your query: The kinds of stories Telling and Silences were determined the language I used to tell them. They were also written many years apart, meaning my "voice" was bound to have changed. I love that the two books are set in the same world, but so different; and I love the reasons for this.

Related to the above question: How do you respond to reviews and criticisms of your work? Have there been comments on your style and content that you've addressed in The Silences of Home?

Reader reaction to Telling was pretty polarized. Re: style: "What a joy to read such beautiful writing!" and "What a load of quasi-poetic twaddle!" Re: content: "How great that there are no wizards and battling armies!" and "Where's the plot?" I expected this polarity, and the negative responses didn't devastate me (too much!).

While I was writing Silences, I was aware that my different approach to content and style might make the book more accessible to more fantasy readers - but this wasn't what made me write it the way I did. I won't be disingenuous and claim that the prospect of reaching more readers didn't excite me - it did, and does. But the differences in approach were not the direct result of negative feedback to Telling.

Relatively simple question: What are some of the silences referred to in The Silences of Home?

The empty spaces left by absent friends and family, and by words that might (or should, or could) have been spoken. The sudden strangeness of a place that was once beloved and familiar.

You said above that reviews of your books have been rather polarized. I'm curious, what would you say to those readers who seem to have been very quick to dismiss your approaches toward telling your stories?

I'd say: If the kind of fantasy I write isn't the kind you like to read, don't trash it - try a "not my thing, but it's a big genre" approach and move on. Or at least be considered about your criticisms: give me something reasonable and respectful to react to.

More and more fantasy/science fiction authors these days appear to be depending upon internet sites such as wotmania to get the word out about their books. What are some of the good and bad things that you've noticed about sites such as these?

My first online writing experience was becoming a member of the Del Rey Online Writers' Workshop - something that galvanized me into starting the search for a literary agent. I "met" people on that workshop who are friends of mine today (Scott Bakker and Karin Lowachee, to name two). They gave me confidence, convinced me that the first three chapters of A Telling of Stars actually made them want to read more. Who knows how long it would have taken me to get my query letter written if I hadn't found this forum.

I've recently dipped my e-toe back into the vast genre pool that's out there/here on the Internet (via my forums at and - and again, I can say that I've felt welcomed, supported, encouraged. It's tempting to feel isolated as a writer - artistic, driven, misunderstood - whatever. But after a few minutes and days on a respectable online forum, you realize you're most definitely one of many. It's a comforting feeling.

And yet...for me, anyway, it's possible to feel too comfortable - and overwhelmed by all those other voices. About three months after I'd joined the Del Rey workshop, I left it. I was working on agent-requested revisions at that point; on a practical level I just couldn't keep up with the demands of the site (I was supposed to critique every writer who'd critiqued me). My head also felt like it was on the verge of exploding, all the time. I was getting so many different reactions to my writing, and I felt I had to navigate through them: choose the ones I wanted to act on, dismiss others. This became really, really confusing and time-consuming. Three months in I had to say, "Enough: now I have to get back into my own brain and just write." I'm feeling the same sort of semi-explosive sensation now. It's wonderful, talking and writing about my books, hearing about other writers' books - but I'm also feeling the need to burrow away somewhere and get on with the next one.

As usual, the Delphic oracle gives the best advice: "Know thyself" and "All things in moderation." (There's a bad "moderator" pun in there somewhere!)

Speaking of Scott Bakker, and because I know he will be reading this interview, are there are any funny/weird stories involving him?

Funny/weird and Scott Bakker in the same question…Hmm…

I can honestly say there’s been no weirdness of any sort. Except perhaps for that incident at TorCon involving him, five girls, and the “hey, chiquitinis!” comment. And the infamous “so hot, so smart; whaddya say?” encounter at the autograph signing at last year’s Ad Astra. And the time last summer when his sweet illusions/delusions about the essential goodness of the female mind were rudely shattered at the Fran's Diner on College Street in Toronto. And there’s been an awful lot of beer, and goofiness of the most erudite kind. So funny and weird, yeah – but mostly just cool, cool beans.

Other than that, my lips are sealed!

*whistles innocently*

And moving on now...

What questions, if any, would you like to have the readers here consider, whether it be about your works, your writing, fantasy in general, or even life, the universe, and everything?

(42's the answer, of course!)

Is "magic system" an oxymoron?

Who are/were your Fantasy Greats? Has your love of their work limited as well as inspired you, as either reader or writer?

What has surprised or intrigued you about the work of any new fantasy authors you might have come across recently? Do you like to be surprised by the books you read, or do you prefer familiarity?

What kind of escape do you look to fantasy to provide?

How does fantasy inform your "real" life?

And now for something completely different: The traditional wotmania "Monkey Question" (Aren't you just thrilled right now that this is the last question?):
If you were to own several monkeys and/or midgets, how many would you own, and what would you name them?

I'll go with the monkeys. I'd have three. (Three is a mystical number, especially when it comes to non-human primates.) Their names would be Gurgi, Chewbacca and Animal, in honour of my favourite childhood hirsute creatures. Or, going with the Star Wars theme, I might call them Sidious, Vader and Maul - because those are kick-ass monkey names.

Thanks, Larry. Not just for the monkey/midget question: for all of them. You've put a tremendous amount of thought and energy into crafting this interview, and you've made me think really, really hard about a lot of things. Gracias.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Well, I don't know about you, but...

Just found this to be amusing and thought I'd share. Happy Easter and don't do what Picard wouldn't do!

Edit: Because I'm in the sharing mood this Easter season, I do have one more pic to share, just because one devoted 'stalker' friend of mine needs a double dosage. So here we go, a bit more old-school:

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Q&A with R. Scott Bakker, Round 2

Hello Scott,

This was probably asked before, is maybe obvious or a RAFO, but I'm curious nonetheless.

Cnaiür's final fate is somewhat ambiguous. It's said that "absolute darkness" engulfs him, after Cnaiür thought that he would cut the "final swazond" into his throat.
So, does that mean that Cnaiür actually killed himself?
Or did he simply pass out, maybe after drifting into complete madness.
Will we see Cnaiür again in the next series?


The infamous Cnaiur ending. All I can really say is that it surprised me as well. I did have a different ending planned.

Your books abound in religious imagery and clear parallels with Christianity and Islam in particular. You have a 'christ figure', a holy crusade, and an apocolypse (I assume anyway - I haven't gotten to TTT yet). I'd like to see a general response to religous issues you bring up, including some the specific parallels you include. How do you feel about religion? I assume that you began writing before 9-11; how (or did) this event change the direction of the story?

This isn't intended to be an ambush question - you tackle some 'deep' and important issues in your books, and I'm curious to see your response.

Even if this was an ambush question, I think it would totally be fair.

9/11 actually didn't change the story at all, only the context of its reception. Believe it or not, religion is only the incidental target of critique in my books. Certainty is the real target, and it just so happens that it's the coin of the realm in most religions. As a skeptic, I think its obvious that nobody knows what happens when you (inevitably) die, and so on, and I also think that this is a GOOD thing. Whenever we get our hands on some absolute warrant - God says this or God says that - we humans tend to do ugly things. Doubt prompts questions, and questions prompt dialogue.

Personally, I hope there's a God, but I don't believe in one. I think hope is enough.

Considering your books, I too consider this a fair question. I just wanted to 'comfort' you in the fact that I'm not some self-righteous guy waiting to throw scripture at you and your response. I never considered religion to be a direct target of your books at all, just a particularly appropriate vehicle to use in your commentary on certainty. Certainty in today's world takes many forms, and religion is one of the most visible. I've alway enjoyed works that challenge absolutes. Well hope is preferrable to certainty. I too consider myself a skeptic (which is better than considering myself a cynic as I did a few years ago), though I fall more on the side of their being a God, it's just that the humanity of religions often leads to an ass-backwards expresion of beliefs.

I like it when people throw scriptures at me. It gives me an excuse to throw arguments back!

In a recent discussion about TDTCB (linked), someone brought up that The Prince of Nothing can be a difficult series for women to read. In the world you have created, women are not treated well - it is a decidedly male world. I don't feel that the series is sexist, or anti-woman in anyway, however, I'd be reluctant to recommend it to women. Comments?

The Prince of Nothing is as much about epic fantasy as it is an epic fantasy, which is why I take - or try to anyway - the whole notion of a prescientific world very seriously. Prescientific worlds give us many things the modern world seems to have stripped from us - most importantly, I think, the illusion that something human inheres in the external world. Our ancestors didn't simply stamp their hopes on the world about them, they imposed their bigotries and fears as well. In Tolkien, for instance, the external world is racist, through and through. It is an objective fact in Middle-earth that some races are more valuable than others. In Earwa, the external world is sexist, not simply in the minds of the characters who dwell in it, but to the pith - much the same way Biblical Israel or any number of scriptural worlds are likewise sexist. The Prince of Nothing self-consciously explores this as a problem, and as such, I would hope that it's something women would want to read. The problem is that so many people confuse depiction for endorsment.

Well, I took the time to read some of the old interview and Q&A's you've done here - good stuff. Anyway, a few more basic questions....

-What's the next book coming out? When? Tells us about it.

-Have you begun any work on The Aspect Emperor? Do you still think of it as a duology? Anything more to say about the Title_That_Cannot_Be_Named? Duology?

-Do you have any upcoming appearences? Tours? Specifically down here in the states...Arizona?

My next book, Neuropath, is all but completed - I still want to rewrite the final chapter. But that's Top Secret.

I've been doing groundwork for The Aspect Emperor for a couple of months now. My submission deadline for the first book is early 2007. And yes, I'm pretty sure it will be a duology.

I don't have any US tour plans I'm afraid. You have to be a BIG fry to warrant that kind of grease!

Another poster at this site asked this 'simple' question, which I'm going to present for you to answer:

"What is science fiction?"

*ponders asking the corollary of what is fantasy, then decides that might be tempting Fate*

You do realize I have a splitting headache, Larry? But I need to know precisely what you're talking about before I attempt to define it. What, exactly, is 'science fiction'?

I was being facetious and asking a question that I knew couldn't be answered without more detailed operationalization. But I was thinking back to our 2004 discussions about how we should go about trying to see if we could establish a framework of 'defining' that nebulous thing we call 'fantasy.' I thought maybe you'd remember that and then say much the same about 'science fiction,' except that it's on the other side of the Rift created between the Great Chain of Being/Scientific Method shift in people's understandings of the world around.

And how evil of you, wanting me to answer a question asked of you!

I mean, like, yeah, what the hell do you think this is? A Q&A or something?

But then you already know my answer to the question. I see both fantasy and science fiction as 'telltale' forms of fiction, places where the more significant travails of modern life come to the narrative fore...

I was hoping this would be the place where you'd buy me a nice 1.5 liter bottle of Grey Goose and have it shipped to my address. I agree, except I would add that 'fiction' itself becomes part and parcel of human manipulations and explorations of what Is and what is Possible. Needless to say, that 'definition' gets me in a lot of trouble.

I'm not sure I understand. Don't you think that SF&F is peculiar in it's own right?

I see it as nothing more than a 'flavor', not as a sui generis type of deal. When all fictions, whether they be a hymn of praise, a biography of a dead person, or a novel, appear to deal with matters such as tone, mood, characterizations, and creating a response from the recipients, it's just a matter of the means and modes employed to communicate with others.

SF/F deals with hopes and fears, dreams and nightmares, but is it really any different in substance (not in degree, but in kind) from a Dickens novel that deals with a boy (say, Oliver Twist) setting out into the wide world? I just see SF/F as having a more concentrated dosage of those elements I mentioned above, but not to the extent where it's so different from a Bildungsroman (for example) that one cannot see similarities between the pacing, style, characterization, plot (if applicable), and so forth.

After all, didn't I note that there are similarities between a Cnaiür and an Achilles? Yet one is labelled an Epic poem/myth possibly based on history and the other is an Epic Fantasy.

I just hold that what we label as 'science fiction' or 'fantasy' is just one means of addressing certain concerns that we have about manipulating our world or of our fears of being manipulated. But what else would a cultural historian say in regards to writings but that they are parts of a larger human record?

If you're saying that SF&F are simply kinds of communication, then certainly, but if you're saying that there's nothing special about SF&F, then I think you have some 'splainin' to do. In fantasy the world itself is fictional, which is just to say that fantasies are fictions all the way down. To use the ten dollar philosophical word, the ontology is not given. You don't think this is significant? SF&F are direct 'folk responses' to the greatest upheaval in knowledge in the history of the human race. Namely, the rise of the scientific worldview. But myth only seems fantastic from a modern standpoint. It was scripture in its day. The similarities you allude to are underwritten by some rather drastic differences in 'lifeworlds.' I think you would agree that the various modalities of written communication have far broader concerns than those pertaining to manipulation. The question here is the significance of the differences that distinguish those modalities.

I'm almost embarrassed that I don't have such profound questions, but ony plot related ones; that's what really interests me, though.

Was Xerius' mother Istriya a Skin Spy from the beginning of the series, or did she become the replacement for Skeaös sometime later?

And, why did the Consult take the faces of certain people?
I thought at the beginning that the Skin Spies wear the faces like a mask. But later it's made clear that they can appear as anyone with a simple adjustment of their facial limbs.

And is it correct that they can change their bodies in the same way? (though, why had the Istriya Skin Spy male genitals then..)

Nothing wrong with story questions! It's all about story, ultimately.

Yes, Istriya was a skin-spy from the get-go. The idea is that the Consult places its operatives much the same as modern intelligence institutions do, which is to say, opportunistically. Maneuvering someone with a high profile into a position where they can be replaced is sure to be a tricky and serendipitous matter. Yes, they can change their bodies, only the process is more lengthy, which is why Kellhus is able to notice the differences in stature between the old Sarcellus and the new in The Warrior-Prophet. Unfortunately, they cannot change their genitalia at will, much to the relief of clinics worldwide...

If I remember correctly we learn in the Encyclopedic Glossary that the Inchoroi gave the Nonmen a certain medicament, so that they achieved immortality. A side-effect was the Womb-Plague, though, that killed all their women.

Is this medicament and the Plague connected to the black seed of the Inchoroi and maybe their flight to the world of the series?
Does that mean that the Inchoroi took this medicament themselves, thus becoming immortal, but also steril and that any female Inchoroi died?

And if the Inchoroi knew this effect of the medicament, did they intentionally poison the Nonmen, or did they have good intentions at the beginning?

These are interesting questions, but as I keep saying (ad nauseum, I'm sure) on the Three Seas Forum, the 'Mist of Time' are a realistic feature of the world. Motives are the most difficult thing to reconstruct in ancient history - if not impossible.

And, for the time being at least, I'd like to keep the Inchoroi and their history off-screen. Sorry, Etzel!

How do you feel about genre labels and the respect, or lack there of, authors receive do to these labels? What do think the origins of these labels are?

I recently read something where you said an old professor congratulated you the successful publishing of your 'children's books'. Ouch! Did they even read your books?

We're hardwired to label. Just think of how much proccessing time it saves: with labels you can identify and dismiss with a single breath. No thought required. It's good to remember this when complaining about being the victim of a label.

The typical response from the genre community is to say, hey, these labels are unfair because not all epic fantasy and so on is crap. The response for the literati is usually, 'Sure, but most of it is, isn't it?' For them, it remains a sound negative generalization, even if it means a few jewels get swept into the dust pan.

For me the problem lies in the consequences of so many people in so many positions of institutional power ascribing to this negative generalization. I think it has the effect of funnelling talent away from subject matters that appeal to the public at large. To be taken 'seriously,' I've learned, you do NOT write epic fantasy, which is to say, you do not write for the public at large, but for a special public, with the insight and education to appreciate fiction that challenges. In other words, the literati quite literally MAKE their generalization true, and as a result, we have quite extreme cultural divisions - which they then wring their hands about and blame on the very corporations that publish their 'literary mainstream' works.

I would like to know how you define magic realism, what you like/dislike about it, and which works you've read that you believe that fall into this category.

Yes, I know this might lead to a multi-page essay, but if I'm not working, I'll have the time to reply back, because I think I want to see where we agree and where we differ on our opinions on this subject.

Magic Realism is to Borges what Epic Fantasy is to Tolkien. That's one way of looking at it. I've read a couple of articles on the various sub-typologies one could make in the genre, but like any group of family resemblances, there's sure to be interpretative disputes.

I'm not at all well read in the genre, though I seem to remember taking a couple of courses where it figured large. I've read some Borges, Marquez, Carter, Rushdie, and a couple of others.

What I find so interesting is the allergy to spectacle, the aesthetic of the 'quotidian fantastic,' that seems to characterize what I've seen of the genre. Which leads me to my question to you: are there any magic realists you know of who use the tropes of commercial fantasy? Since 'exploring the fantastic' seems to be their goal, you would think they would.

You're talking about the lack of, well, awe, that comes with genre fantasy, in magical realism?

I don't know if 'exploring the fantastic' is the magical realist writer's goal per se - especially since Marquez, every so often, denies being a magical realist at all - but if you're looking for a magical realist spectacle, you could try Chitra Bannerjee Divakaruni's Mistress of Spices. It's a loud novel - not in the bad sense of the term - and it could fit, quite easily, into the commercial fantasy sections.

Or so I think.

What interests me about this is the stigmatization of subject matters. I think it's clear why the 'masses' love spectacle, but I can't shake the suspicion that the 'learned' dismissal of these things has far less to do with the privileged relation between the mundane and the profound (I really have no idea where this attitude comes from) than it does the good old-fashioned socio-psychological need to advocate.

Personally, I think most spectacular writing tends to be ornamental only because those with interesting things to say are funnelled away from it by the prejudices of the literary establishment. My suspicion is that 'Magic Realism' is simply fantasy limited to what the literati deem 'credible' subject matter. As a result, those with interesting things to say, tend not to say it to the 'masses.' And this kind of stratification, I think, is not only unfortunate, but potentially dangerous.

It can be, but making analogies like that without firm understandings of what Borges or Tolkien are about can lead to dangerous sets of assumptions. Another way of interpreting it could be (and again, this will tread on dangerous interpretive ground) is that one views the world as is, as real but with characters that cannot be real, while the other sees the characters as real, but the world has a sense of unrealness.

It appears prominently in much of Isabel Allende's work, somewhat in Julio Cortázar's fiction, and also in Ben Okri's The Famished Road. Those are the 'classical' tales of that thing called Magic Realism, but these examples almost all emerge from writers who were living in places in which a social/gender/ethnic group of which they were a part experienced hardship and prejudice from the dominant cultural force. Hell, I think I'm about to get into a Neo-Marxist interpretation of this (but in this case, there's some validity to this and I had a lot of grad training under disciples of E.P. Thompson), but I believe a lot (not all, but a lot) of Magic Realist works serves to underscore a relationship between a dominant superstructure and a sometimes oppressed but never in power substructure. Sometimes the values of one flow to the other, sometimes they are in conflict, and when I read works such as García Márquez's Cien años de soledad, with his focus on the villagers of Macondo and the Buendia family, I see this expression of dynamism in how the characters react to the power of the Catholic Church, the warring Liberal and Conservative factions, and the intrusion of American multinationals like United Fruit. I think that is something that has to be considered when reading a work of Magic Realism - what is the relationship between the Elites and the Plebs on the cultural as well as on the narrowly-defined political level?

Well, Charles de Lint is often considered to be a Magic Realist and many of his Newford stories do contain tropes such as sprites, elves, unicorns, and so forth. And have you started reading any of Jeff VanderMeer's works recently? Seriously, there are elements of both an exploration of our world as contained within the ethos of a created world and an exploration of values within such a structure.

And I asked that question about Magic Realism because I think it potentially is one of the most valuable forms of literature we have going for us. It's more than just mere allegory, although there are certainly more allegorical examples to be found within Magic Realist works than in most other places. I see it, as a semi-recovered quasi Neo-Marxist cultural historian, being a series of texts focusing on the stuff of myth AND on how these authors are relating their hopes and fears within a very real and concrete sociocultural-political framework that they themselves cannot help but notice.

Hopefully, this will spark some responses, yes?

It all comes back to the relationship between language and reality. I think self-conscious, intellectually grounded explorations of this relation are important, but I'm far more interested in 'folk forms,' in the unconscious ways communities frame these relationships. Commercial epic fantasy is a perfect example of just such a form. I think this is where the narrative rubber hits the socio-cultural road.

I had no idea that de Lint had any kind of literary reputation among the literati. Are you sure they don't just think he's another 'fantasy writer'?

Again, I agree that this kind of commentary is interesting, but so long as the bulk of voting consumers have no interest in it (because of its eschewal of generic tropes and spectacle), I'm curious as to how it can be significant. How are these writers, in the English speaking world at least, reaching out instead of in?

You're showing your Branch Derridan roots here, with the reference to the relationship between language and reality Not that I disagree, because I see the form of Reality being shaped by the associations implicit in Language. As for the relationship between the Patronized and the Folk Forms (for this goes back millenia), I agree there is something to be explored there as well. I just see it as a more dynamic and fluid relationship than what many portray it as being. From more and more 'genre' works addressing concerns found in the real world to a 'rediscovery' of how utilizing Imagination can drive narrative, there just seems to be more of a blending than what was present a few generations ago. Modernism sometimes has ruled all of this with its dead hand, but I see a liberation of sorts taking place in a variety of fields.

Depends on whom you consult. I think the problem is that Modernists have become too entrenched in certain positions of influence and it creates a more monolithic appearance than what truly exists. Of course, I could be influenced from having a grad professor who was a Postmodernist (no hyphen!) and who taught a course on the History of the Novel (sadly, I couldn't take it that semester due to another class I needed at the same time) that dealt with how to explore viewing the Novel as a communication device. But in a private talk with him once, he did persuade me to reconsider how I read Moby Dick, noting that there was much more there than a boringly 'realistic' tale.

Depends on what you mean by 'reaching out'. There are a lot of real-world concerns that interest readers and more and more, I've noticed both magic realist and 'full-fledged' genre writers integrating in more and more subtle and profound ways these issues in their writings. But as for a perceived eschewal of generic tropes and spectacle, it depends on how one defines that. I want to be sure that I know what you mean before I address that.

I think there is a 'liberation' of sorts going on. What I would like to do is give the forces of light a rationale! A reason why they should continue fighting the good fight. Ambiguity and complexity need to be communicated to everyone, not just those trained to appreciate them.

By reaching out, I simply mean writing fiction that interests more than those with cultivated reading tastes. Whenever I find myself in the company of English professors or literary writers, comments on the 'sorry state of commercial culture' always seems to come up, and I always ask, 'So what are you doing about it'?

It's an old and vicious social cycle. Mass attitudes have mass consequences. When the bulk of the literary establishment continually denigrates commercial culture, they are literally training the next generation of gifted communicators to avoid it. Action becomes a joke. Fantasy an embarrassment. All the things that appeal to general audiences become radioactive for writers who prize ambiguity and complexity (unless, of course, packaged in a 'more serious' format - which is to say, in a way sure to scare away your average reader). The system is literally rigged to prevent literary-minded writers and yarn-oriented readers from communicating.

Would you ever be interested in coming down to the States and giving guest lectures? Not that I have any self-interest there...

I guess that would all depend on where and when and who's buying the beer!

If you would honestly be interested, I think it would be excellent- just based on your books and postings, I imagine you're a good speaker.

Pennsylvania perhaps, addressing a high school or college audience? I'll buy you as much as you can drink..though I'll probably regret those words.

You might want to wait until I can actually draw a crowd!

This is a bit of a protocol question, but it's been bouncing around in my mind since I was 0.5-way through TDTCB.

Can women be of the Few? If so, what happens to them upon their awakening? (confinement, banishment as a witch, summary execution by local cretins/sorcerer schools?)

If women cannot be of the Few, why not? (physiological contraints, psychological issues, not enough, *ahem*, "life-force?" )

Women certainly can - just the way they could be great poets or philosophers or artists in our own history. Thanks to the oppressive society they find themselves in, they just never have the opportunity to develop their abilities, and if they do somehow find their way to 'witchcraft,' they get burned alive if they are caught.

Thanks for answering our questions, Scott. I admit, I had certain women (e.g. Hypatia of Alexandria and Christine de Pisan) in mind when I posed the question. I wonder if Kellhus' New Earwa Order will allow (force) a more gender-balanced power structure.

And now, back to nursing my own vicious hangover.

Vicious hangovers should never be nursed, unless you happen to want a hale and healthy vicious hangover!

Are you going to follow up TPoN series with another trilogy, or will it be a stand alone novel?

Will your next book be in the same world as TPoN? Same characters?

If so, do you have plans for a different realm? If not, will you write in the world of TPoN in the future? Maybe at a different time in that worlds history or future?

The story picks up some twenty years after The Prince of Nothing with a duology entitled, The Aspect-Emperor, which I just so happen to be working on now... I have a want or wish or hope or whatever to write a little standalone set several years before The Darkness that Comes, er, Before - something that might make that book more accessible. I really worry sometimes that I'm building a seven book series on feet of clay.

Given that I am interested in philosophy, and am interested in college level teaching, how does one become a philosophy professor?

You just started your undergrad, right G? I seem to remember you being a highschool prodigy or something a couple of years back!

It's not an easy racket to break into. The thing you need to do is MAKE A PLAN. You want to ring all the bells you can as an undergrad - even publish in undergraduate journals if you can. But most importantly, figure out what you want to work on, and then, WHO you want to work with as a graduate student - preferably someone at a good university. Your philosophy professors should be able to point you in the right direction.

I was just talking to a friend of mine who's been several years on the sessional merry-go-round (which is to say, having no luck landing a tenure-track position), and he says there's at least 200 applicants for every job he applies to.

See, the difficult thing at this point is that I can't really demonstrate the interest. Environmental science, you can go clean a river as a high schooler. Politics, you can go work on a campaign as a high schooler, etc. But philosophy...not quite so simple.

Also, as to making a plan, how can I do that now, when I know so little about the system, or what I should plan on studying? Plus, I have some interest in double-majoring in philosophy and history/political science. Is that feasible, or would I go insane?

Sheesh. You have a long time to sort out your priorities yet! When I was your age all I could think about was getting some...

If you're serious though, all you can do is get the best damn grades possible to get into the best university possible. But for some reason, I suspect this is already part of your plan.

Because I know some people are eager to hear an answer about this (I half-expect a form of RAFO), so here's your chance to shoot this down:

Cnaiür's ultimate fate at the end of TTT was left unclear. I've read a few posts here and there speculating that the Consult is going to use his body/mind in some form of construct (which made me think of how the evil King Zarkon ended up becoming a giant Robeast in the Voltron series - did you ever watch that in the 80s?). Can we get a shootdown on this or an ominous....wait and see?


Not a form of... Just R. A. F. O.

*evil snicker*

(Yes, I do snicker)

How did the recent Ad Astra convention go and do you have any 'interesting' stories you'd like to share with us about that experience, both with other authors and with the fans you met there?

Well, I should apologize, because I got drunk and missed my autograph signing session. Such an idiot.

Other than that, I bought a couple of floozies in sequin go-go skirts for thirty-five dollars. (Apparently there's photos floating around somewhere). I secretly farted during my 'SF and respect' panel, but it was okay, because most of the panellists didn't show up. Umm, I got real drunk drinking malt beer in the green room. I had a great conversation with Karl Schroeder about nihilism and neuroscience...

It was a very cool time.

Do you like any of the people you write about? I love the multiplicity of your narrative, I like the fact that I can lean almost any way in whether I like or dislike a character. But I'm agog with the wondering. I don't necessarily mean Do you approve of any of them... Would you pick someone to be, for instance, a beer buddy? A morning-after-beer buddy?

Obviously anything involving 'morning after' and Serwe sounds interesting... In all honesty, I think I would be too afraid to party with anyone other than Achamian and Esmenet.

That said, a part of me actually loves ALL the characters - even the most deranged or wicked. I've just been with them for so damn long they seem like family, which means I'll likely never get a clear-eyed perspective on them.

Afraid for your sanity/virtue/insert vulnerability here? Nobody else will, either, if that's any consolation.

It shouldn't be.

Fear for my sanity. Laugh at my virtue.

Otherwise, I'm afraid my vulnerabilities have already been exploited...

Will the future books continue to take place in the regions seen in PoN or will they explore new areas beyond the edges of the maps?

I watched Slither with my brother last week and cracked him up at the very beginning with the asteroid by saying: 'That's the thing about space. You just never know what's coming.' Now that our world is sealed shut, all we have is space to play the timeless narrative function of 'terra incognita.' But for our ancestors, the unknown always lay just beyond the horizon, and what was worse, horrible things actually did come rumbling in now and again.

Earwa is the same way. In The Aspect-Emperor the story moves into the ruined wastes of the Ancient North, but everything is still ringed round with darkness.

I know you and I had a brief discussion on this back a couple of years ago, but I think it would be edifying for others to hear you explain how you view the Gnosis within the body of your text (as I don't think it's the same as Gnostic groups from the early Common Era). As I read TTT, I noticed more and more explication on the nature of objects and their relationship to a Reality - care to elaborate a little bit further on this?

Also, how does the Dûnyain Logos fit into an understanding of the world? I understand the 'magic' is based on Heidegger, but is this something you can explain at length here, or will this be another topic that will have to wait until a future Eärwa book is written?

Sheesh! How did I miss this question? Sorry about that, Larry.

One of the overriding themes of The Prince of Nothing is the role of knowledge and belief. One way of looking at the story is as the coming together, not so much of Kellhus and his father, but of the Logos and the Gnosis in Kellhus.

This plays into the allegorical dimension of the work. In a sense, the Gnosis and the Logos are two sides of the modern knowledge coin: the secret, inaccessible content, and the powerful, world-transforming method. I could go on and on, but this is basically how the two categories relate to each other and our world.

The Heideggerean stuff has to do with the metaphysics of Earwa: I wanted a fantasy world that explicitly turned on the type of 'intentional thinking' which is implicit in pretty much every pre-scientific scriptural world you could imagine. I wanted Earwa to typify the kinds of worldviews we cooked up before science forced accountability on our theoretical claims. Heidegger's account of Being-in-the-world, or Dasein, seemed to provide a good departure point for that ambition.

And here's the question (which I notice you address in passing in the trilogy): Does this 'secret knowledge' save or does it damn or does it depend upon the Intent of the person wielding this secret knowledge? After all, the historical Gnostics emphasized the saving, redemptive features of the secret knowledge that they sought, while other categorizations of such searches turned toward more nefarious end-goals.

And I think it's interesting to note how Kellhus and Moënghus view this intersection of the Logos and Gnosis. Quite telling, yes?

Indeed, that's how I perceived it. The Circle within the Square within the Triangle. But then comes the issue of the Outside. Shall that be addressed more in the upcoming Eärwa novels?

Interesting, as this turns into not just an exploration of a pre-scientific mindset (from the vantage point of there being some sort of discontinuity between the pre- and Scientific worlds in how the world(s) is/are perceived) but also into a look at how one can try to construct a fantasy world that straddles the two, with the author at one point trying to understand the created world that has a value system so alien in places from the world we know and live in. I wonder how many readers have commented upon this perception.

It's a secret, known only to the possessors of the Metagnosis.

The two worlds are antagonistic. This is actually a good way to summarize the dilemma of modernity - and, I might add, another reason to see fantasy as peculiarly significant cultural response. Tolkien laid it all out in The Lord of the Rings, and the best part is that he had no idea he was doing it.

Evil'd that whole thing work out?

Did you and Jeff have to look up the words to Kum Ba Ya, or did they just come naturally?

There's still the question of just WHO had the flash of insight that led to the cure for Barum-barum disease, but aside from that, our lawyers seem happy, and the natives of Walumkomwiki no longer flash their bare buttocks at Westerners, which is the important thing.

Naw, I'm still not sure what happened with all that. Thanks to my years of teaching, I have the bad habit of grading the arguments people make against me. I seem to regularly offend people when I do this.

'How'd' is not a legitimate contraction, by the way...

When I decide not repress my Texas dialect roots, any academic professional's ears will bleed.

Hmm...what role did the fermented buffalo milk play in all this?

It's really tragic to see legitimate cultural beliefs eradicated in this manor. The world is clearly a lesser place now that the Walumkomwiki no longer expose their bare buttocks. If I weren't such a lazy westerner myself I'd proabably do something about it.

The impersonal nature of the internet only exacerbates this.

I always use the analogy of walking down the sidewalk, where people cut you off all the time, and road-rage on the highway. There seems to be some crucial dimension of interpersonal feedback that's missing, and that inclines people to be far more cynical and defensive than they would be otherwise.

First, have you considered setting up a blog? I for one would be a frequent reader.

On a serious side, have you read the recent 'story' that Dan Simmons posted on his website that has since been taken down? It focuses on some rather extreme views - and there has been some interesting response. Linked is a good post summarizing things and showing the original story.

And just because I feel I should lighten things up again:

You bring up beer a lot - what are your drinking preferences? Has drunk writing ever come back to bite you in the ass? When?

I don't think I could do it. I'm not sure why, because I certainly have opinions, and I certainly love to broadcast them (even if it is to the TV, as my wife constantly complains), but the blog thing just doesn't appeal to me.

Huh? There's a non-xenophobic way to read what he's saying, I suppose. How different is the story, for instance, from Atwood's A Handmaid's Tale, where a fundamentalist coup leads to the overthrow of American democracy?

Aside from Bush taking over the marketing for Islamic extremists - I often wonder how much his firm charges - my understanding is that this notion of fundamentalism sweeping the earth is belied by the statistics. According to the most credible surveys of religiosity in America, for instance, religious affiliation has been declining about 1% a year since the 90's. Even the evangelicals, with their aggressive marketing tactics, have only been able to break even.

Something like that, anyway.

Anyway, if I were to bet on any 'ideology' sweeping the planet, it would be consumerism. People like stuffing their faces, and radical religious convictions are bad for business.

I was reading Caitlin's report of the 2006 Ad Astra convention, where I see a composer has written some music based on Esmi!

Sounds pretty cool

Did you know about this beforehand or was it a complete surprise to you?

YES! It was - is - a very cool tune. Martin Springett is an extraordinarily talented man, and I count myself lucky. I knew that he was working on something, but I had no idea he was actually going to play it. A very pleasant surprise indeed.
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