The OF Blog: The wotmania Files: Interview with Steven Erikson (2/20/2003)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The wotmania Files: Interview with Steven Erikson (2/20/2003)

This interview by Kory is perhaps the first of the "big" interviews conducted by the wotmania staff (before this blog was created and became the co-host for dozens of interviews). This interview took place well over a year before Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen (itself a partial inspiration for this blog's name) was first published in the United States. If memory serves, only the first four volumes (out of a present eight) were released anywhere at this time and no mention of his collaborator, Ian Cameron Esslemont, was made here or in any other contemporary interview that I can recall. But perhaps there are things to enjoy in this six-year old (well, as of Friday) interview:
Hello Steven,

First let me say that we at Other Fantasy, particularly the members of the Erikson Reading Cult , welcome you and appreciate your time. Following is a list of questions I'd like to hear from you first hand on. I have not focused too much on the story line itself, as that is done regularly in the MB, most recently in the ongoing GotM discussion.

1 ) The big question; Why no U.S. publisher? Many of our members have fits trying to find your books, invariably having to import them from the UK or Canada.

--- A US publisher is in the works, I think, maybe. The concensus has been the books have been too complex for US audiences (!) and it seems that once the decision was made, it proved difficult to go back on it. It'll come

2 ) Do you write under the name Steven Erikson as an identity change for yourself, or simply to distinguish your fantasy work from your adventure work in the marketplace?

--- My publisher in the UK who was publishing my stuff as Steve Lundin didn't want any confusion, so they asked me for a pen-name. I chose my mother's maiden name, in her memory, and for the fact that she loved reading fantasy novels -- the romantic ones, such as Burroughs, Carter, and so on. I have grown quite used to it now.

3 ) You have an extensive education, which appears to allow very believable development of cultures. What real historical people mean the most to you, relative to the creation of Malazan?

--- That's a hard question to answer. I pull inspiration from every culture & history I've studied. Different for different books. As a student, I had some favourites: Byzantine, Roman, Greek (Bronze Age), Sumerian, Norse, Hunnic, British Empire Colonial period, the 'Plains Indians' or North America....

4 ) There are many fascinating religious and / or spiritual beliefs in the series. Where do you pull the ideas and background for these from? Do any of them speak to you personally?

--- Anthropology began with assembling lists of belief systems the world over, it only got messy when anthropologists started to try to explain them. I tend to approach it with something like inquisitive wonder. The human mind manifests its imprint in extraordinary and myriad ways, but what it all boils down to is the means by which a human person (and by extension, their culture)reconciles his/her relationship with nature. And while some belief systems seem outwardly simple, they never are. For the cultures I invent in the Malazan world, I start with the basic individual/nature relationship, folding in whatever factors of geography and environment I happen to think of, and then tie it in with a supernatural element made real (which is what all fantasy does, I guess). Do any of them speak to me personally? They all do.

5 ) Many first time readers are overwhelmed or lost by GotM. We are constantly assuring and urging them to continue on with the series, as the pace picks up dramatically in DHG and beyond. There have been discussions as to why this is; do you see the pace and style of GotM as necessary for the information presented, or do you feel there is a tangible change in your style after the first book?

--- Ah, Gardens of the Moon.... Well, eight years passed between the first writing of Gardens and its publication, then another year before Deadhouse Gates came out. In the meantime there had been a number of rewrites (mostly for style), and four books of contemporary fiction written and published in the interim. From the very start I knew I would hit the ground running and that's certainly how Gardens came across to virtually every person who reads it. Oddly enough, it didn't seem that way to me. Granted, it starts with a short prologue with some mayhem going on in the background, then launches into a long chapter that describes the wake of slaughter, only to then switch continents, jump years ahead, and drop everybody in the midst of an exhausted campaign with a beat-up sorceress and a bunch of suspicious soldiers. Hmm, looking at it that way, yeah, I guess it's a lot to swallow. Gardens was something of a romp, stamping fairly roughshod on a number of fantasy cliches and tropes that had always irritated me. I wanted intrigue but wasn't prepared to take sides. I wanted the full gamut of actors, from the frighteningly powerful to the lowest street punk, and then I wanted to push the dominos in the opposite direction because that made it more fun. And I wanted an egalitarian world (but I'll touch on that ater). It was written how it had to be, a chapter in a long, elaborate conspiracy, in a world that had begun long before Page 1 and was sure to continue well past the last page. At the same time, yes, there has been a tangible change in subsequent books. I was rather careless on occasion with details in Gardens, and I'm still trying to clean some of that up. Luckily (he said with gnashing teeth) my readers don't miss a damned thing.

6 ) Blood Follows has been reviewed on our site, I started it last night myself, and is an exciting addition to the series. Do you have more of these planned and if so, when and how many?

--- I have a few more in mind. Working with Peter was a delight and I hope to continue that relationship indefinitely. The challenge is finding the time to write them! With luck, I should have the second novella, 'The Healthy Dead' done by April. If I can squeeze out one a year for the next five or six years, I'll be happy.

7 ) We have the common understanding that you plan to publish one book in the Malazan series per year, up to book 10. Is this accurate?

--- Yup.

8 ) Would you share with us a typical writing day? You seem to be amazingly prolific, I wonder at the pace you must set and how it could be possible to maintain.

--- I write about four hours a day, sometimes more, sometimes less, five days a week. I write at a friendly local bar where I can plug in my laptop. Lattes keep me going. I start the session with revising and editing all that I had written the day before, then, with the momentum rekindled, I press on. The first two-thirds of a novel, for me, take the most work. The last third is where the plot-driven resolutions arrive, and I write that stuff fast, tying and snipping tidy every thread (hopefully) and delivering all that I'd set up in the preceding two-thirds. Accordingly, my pace picks up momentum as I go along.

9 ) Do you have any plans outside these characters? In light of my previous question it seems impossible, but greedy as we are for your work I feel the need to ask if you have designs on another world yet.

--- No designs yet. Oh, I've a few stand-alone novels in mind, but only as concepts with a few dozen pages of notes. Who knows when I'll get to them.

10 ) Your handling, or rather lack thereof, of different races and genders is extremely refreshing. Is it intentional on your part to allow characters to be judged on their abilities, rather than superficial characteristics? That is, are their varying backgrounds and ancestry juxtaposed against their actions to make a statement on the irrelevance of those backgrounds relative to their abilities?

--- Very much so. I wanted a world where magic worked, and not by virtue of birthright or gender, but through discipline. In such a world, gender-based hierarchies of power cannot exist. You can't shove a woman into a kitchen if she can open a warren and level the city, can you? So, meritocratic. That was the idea. It then occurred to me that, in such a world, the oddity of that kind of society isn't an oddity, and so need never be pointed out by way of contrast. In other words, no one talks about it. I am eternally pleased that readers have picked up on it. But I knew they would. No need for sign-posting of any sort. Write it as given and leave the rest to the readers. Also, I was weary of endless royalty in fantasy novels, and endless lost birthrights, of wide-eyed farmboys in whom the blood of gods lurked. Stay on the farm, lad, it's cozier.

11 ) Kruppe. Do you love him as much as we do? I wonder if he was to be a central player from the beginning, or did he evolve in your mind as the story unfolded?

--- Kruppe couldn't be anything but central, at least in his own mind. He's great fun to write, because his game is with language. The opening scene where he encounters his vices and virtues did indeed come out of nowhere, but it certainly set the stage in my mind for how he was going to be from then on. In Gardens, he was certainly my foremost vehicle for taking the piss with fantasy cliches (him and the whole Crokus/Challice thing). In a sense, Kruppe became a kind of narrator/orator in a Greek play, always ready to comment on the goings on with a sly wink. Sure I love him, and revel in how irritating he can be (just like Iskaral Pust).

12 ) How about a complete map? Do you have any plans to map the story for us? The use of geography in your story is brilliant, but some of us still need a picture to sink it all in.

--- We were working on an Empire map for House of Chains, but I wasn't ready with it in time. It's in the works. As for the entire world, probably not for a while. With every book, my editor and I weed out those maps that aren't crucial to the story. Otherwise, there'd be page after page of them. Leave that for the Encyclopedia Malazica, which is also in the works.

13 ) When can we see some more Lundin works? Have you moved away from the name, or are you working on a different set of projects there?

--- Lundin's on hiatus. For who knows how long.

14 ) For Larry, a cut & paste request..."One little question regarding Gardens of the Moon. In the prologue, there is mention of a scarred commander from the Third Army. I originally thought this was Whiskeyjack, but he's mentioned as being from the Second Army. Has this commander been seen elsewhere, or am I misreading the passage?"

--- Whiskeyjack was in both the Second and Third Armies, at different times.
It should have been clearer.

Thanks Steven,

I sincerely appreciate your time in responding to these questions. They will be added to the permanent articles/interview section after spending some time at the top of the page as an Announcement. I have included a link to your site here as well, many of our members reside in both places already.


--- Thanks for the questions, and for reading the novels.


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