The OF Blog: April 2003

Monday, April 28, 2003

Robin Hobb Interview

For Kory…
During the last couple of weeks Kory and I were working closely together with Robin Hobb to bring you this interview. I know it’s not much, but through working on this interview I made a friend in Kory that I now somehow feel lost without (which I had never thought would or could happen with an ‘online personality’); and so I would like to dedicate this interview to him, to Kory.


Robin Hobb was born in California in 1952, and majored in Communications at Denver University, Colorado, and she now lives outside Seattle. Robin Hobb has also been writing books under the pseudonym Megan Lindholm, her real name though is Margaret Alice Lindholm Ogden.

The books:

The Farseer Trilogy
* Assassin's Apprentice
* Royal Assassin
* Assassin's Quest

The Liveship Traders
* The Ship of Magic
* The Mad Ship
* The Ship of Destiny

The Tawny Man
* Fool's Errand
* Golden Fool

The Synopsis

Assassin's Apprentice (The Farseer Trilogy, Book 1) Filled with enchantment and evil, heroism and dishonour, passion and adventure, Assassin's Apprentice, marks the debut of the most irresistible new voice, in high fantasy to appear in years...

Young Fitz is the bastard son of the noble Prince Chivalry, raised in the shadow of the royal court by his father's gruff stableman. He is treated as an outcast by all of the royalty except the devious King Shrewd, who has him secretly tutored in the arts of assassin. For Fitz's blood runs the magic Skill - and the darker knowledge of a child raised with the stable hounds and rejected by his family.

As barbarous raiders ravage the coasts, Fitz is growing to manhood. Soon he will face his first dangerous, soul-shattering mission. And though some regard him as a threat to the throne, he may just be the key to the survival to the kingdom...


First of all let me say that we at Other Fantasy welcome you and greatly appreciate your time. You are an author who we are all greatly interested in hearing from (understatement of the year!) and thank you for giving us this opportunity. The first set of questions are designed to not focus on the story line of your books themselves, but to give our readers an idea of what it is like to be an author. The second set of questions is somewhat more specific, and comprises mainly requests from your numerous followers on the board.
Thank you once again.

On writing

1 ) First of all, could you share with us the basics of you and writing. How much do you write on the average day? Do you set yourself a target that you set out to achieve for the day, or the week, or even the year?

The answer to this is probably going to be a bit skewed. Yesterday, I finished (finally!) the manuscript for Fool's Fate. I'm 4 ½ months past my deadline; so, there has been a major push to finish this book.
Turn the computer on at 7 and off at 11 at night. Eat, sleep and breathe writing the book. I'm not going to claim I was typing continuously during those hours, but I was 'writing' in the sense that when the prose slowed down, I'd take a break and eat or mow the lawn or whatever.
I've completely lost sight of what a 'normal' writing day is. My target for the year is at least one book. In a good year, I write several publishable short stories as well.

2 ) How much do you write that you personally later edit out? How much and what sort of things does your editor usually edit out?

This depends on what I'm writing. In a novel, I sprawl, and I know it. Luckily I have incredible editors standing by to yank my chain and say, "this is moving much too slowly" or "You're repeating information we already have."
In a short story, I'm the opposite. I ruthlessly edit and cut out everything that does not describe the setting, advance the plot or offer a character insight.
Prose as Megan Lindholm is much leaner than prose as Robin Hobb. "Cut" by Megan Lindholm, currently available at the Asimov online site is an example of how I write when I'm in the 'tight edit' mode.

3 ) Many of our readers are aspiring fantasy / Sci-Fi writers. What tips would you give them for submitting a work that's more likely to be accepted?

Proper manuscript preparation, whether its an electronic submission or on paper is key. Writer's Market is a good resource for getting those basics.
Make the manuscript as perfect as you can in terms of grammar, spelling, and punctuation, etc. Yes, the story is the important thing, but those sorts of errors are like a fence between your reader and the story. Don't make a reader work his way past those things. Familiarize yourself with the market before you make a submission. And always be courteous.

I know those are mechanics rather than comments on content, but content is such a wide topic that there is no way to address it here.

4 ) Do you keep up with what other authors in the genre you are putting out, or do you tend to read material from outside of the genre in your free time?
Any authors that you are particularly fond of at the moment?

My reading has been sacrificed lately to my writing hours. I've done no pleasure reading at all for several months now, and I've really missed it.
I read within my genre, within YA (because some of the best writers are working there) and a lot of non-fiction for research. I also love a good police procedural or detective novel and some of the mainstream.
Favourite author right now is George RR Martin. I believe that his Song of Ice and Fire is a masterpiece in the making and we are fortunate to be right here watching it grow. Recently I read Coraline by Neil Gaiman; that's a gem. I subscribe to several of the magazines because I think the short fiction in our genre is what keeps it vital. And I continue to re-read Lord of the Rings with pleasure.

5 ) How precisely does one go about submitting a story? How long did it take for 'The Farseer Trilogy' to be approved?

Again, Writer's Market is an excellent resource for this sort of question and most libraries in the US have a copy or two. Use the most recent one. It talks about format of a manuscript, and who is buying what, and how long the story can be, etc. etc. A site with a lot of useful information about submitting books and stories is the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America site at I highly recommend it.
But there is no substitute for reading in the genre. Read the magazines before you submit to them. Usually, there's a paragraph in the front of the magazine under the masthead that tells where to send manuscripts. And before you send a book manuscript off to an editor, familiarize yourself with the publisher's line of books in the genre.

I honestly don't recall how long it took to hear back from the editor regarding The Farseer Trilogy. I had been writing for Bantam as Megan Lindholm, so they knew me and I naturally went to them first. That's not quite the same as an 'over the transom' manuscript. When I first began writing as Megan Lindholm, way back when, I began by writing short stories and tried to establish some credentials there before I went on to submit books. I think it was an excellent discipline for writing, as well as something that can be presented to an editor when you are first pitching a novel.

6 ) Is there any work out there that you've read and thought 'oh, I would've loved to have written that'?

Oh, yes. I read Tolkien, oh, about 1966 I think. And it was like an arrow through my heart. I'd never read anything like that before, never even imagined that anyone would write a book like that. I remember my sorrow when I finished it, that there was no more of it to read, and I also remember thinking, 'I'll never, ever be able to write anything as good as that.'

7 ) Do you ever use ideas that fans send in to you in regards to the storyline? Even a little one?

Nope. Not that readers don't have good ideas, but they don't fit my brain.
For me, writing is intensely personal. I usually have a very strong idea of where a book or story is going from the start, and to change in the middle would be like, well, like suddenly deciding to turn a meat-loaf into a salad, or getting half way through knitting a scarf and deciding to make it into a dress. It just wouldn't work. In a sense, story DNA doesn't mutate like that.
I get ideas for side trips, and I've had characters suddenly show me that they weren't who I thought they were. But in each case, I’ve felt like I was following the Story, not suddenly deciding to control it and do it a better way or different way.
To put it another way, if I tell four people the story of The Three Bears, and then ask them to write it down, I will get four radically different stories. At any family gathering, when Uncle Joe tells a story, Uncle Pete is going to say, 'oh, that isn't how it was at all!' I can't possibly write your idea. By the time it enters my ear, goes through my brain and comes out of my fingers, it's turned into my idea, and you probably wouldn't even recognize it.

8 ) How do you come up with some of the more 'adventurous' names for the characters in your stories?

I don't know. I don't know exactly where characters generate in my brain, but usually when they step out onto the stage, they have a name they bring with them, and often a life history. And I'm stuck with it. Or sometimes, like the Fool, the character only unfolds as the story does, and I don't know any more about him than the reader does.

9 ) Do you outline your books before you begin writing them?

Yes. I do because my contract says I will. Do I like it? No. Do I feel obligated to stick to it? No. Is it helpful? Much as I hate to admit it, yes, it is. Because when I've painted myself into a corner, it's always nice to look back and say, 'oh, yeah, there is a possible way to end this book.' And then you kick a hole in the wall.

10 ) Your characters seem so alive that the reader literally weeps for them at times. Many consider this your finest strong point among many other qualities. How do you create characters that the reader genuinely cares and treasures?

Every character is the main character. Even if they only have a bit part, for the time they are on stage and moving around, the writer has to remember that for that character, 'Life is all about me.' We've all read or seen on a screen characters who only exist to die at a dramatic moment, often taking a bullet for the hero. Or love interests who exist only to be rescued, or villains who live only to be defeated. Climb into a character, and suddenly even the villain is wondering what is for dinner tonight and wishing he hadn't worn these uncomfortable shoes or even wondering why everyone is mad at him when his intentions are so good. If you put on the villain's skin, you have to love him or at least understand him. Same is true for the innkeeper or the squire or the king. A character should only do what the character would do if the choice was his. If he is doing something simply to advance the plot, then it's all going to fall apart.

11 ) When you create characters, how much do you know about them? Do they ever go off in directions you hadn't expected?

They walk in, name and resume in hand. I have no idea where they come from.
And from that point on, they often seem to do as they please in the story.
At the moment that the Fool was declaring, "We are here to save the world, you and I," I had no idea what he was talking about. But having said those words, he wouldn't take them back and I was stuck with them. Luckily, he knew what he was talking about and proved to be right.

12 ) Lastly for this section, what advice would you give to a young and aspiring writer?

Get an education. Read. Experience life. Learn to type with all ten fingers. Listen to people. And please, don't think that fantasy means you can write anything you want as long as it's exciting.
I just stopped reading a story where the hero was tracking a herd of deer that were headed up into the mountains, in winter. Now, in a story like that, how can I believe that the writer knows what he's talking about when he tells me about the unicorn or magic horse or whatever fantastic element there is if he hasn't stopped to find out when or if deer wander about in herds and what they do when winter is coming? So. Get a foundation under your writing. A tiny village isn't going to have an artisan who makes his living specializing in doorknockers. A medieval farm family didn't harvest its entire farm in one afternoon. Make your economy and geography make sense.
And remember, it's not what you don't know that makes you look dumb.
You'll be smart enough to look that up. It's the ignorance you are unaware of that will trip you. Re-read you manuscript looking for blithe assumptions and do the research.

Specific: The cut & paste questions...

13 ) An extremely popular question shall we say...will you write any more novels set in the farseer world?

When I finished writing Assassin's Quest, I was absolutely certain I was finished with Fitz's story. I was wrong. So, no more absolute answers. 'I don't have any more ideas for that world right now' is the closest I can come. When I wake up tomorrow morning, that answer may have changed.

14 ) What benefits to the story did you find when you chose to write Farseer in first person?

Immediacy and reader identification. But it isn't like I planned it.
Fitz stepped out onto the stage and started telling the story that way. So that's how I wrote it. It was horribly inconvenient at times, because I could never say, "Meanwhile, back at the castle, thus and so was happening." I could only tell the reader what Fitz knew at that moment.

15 ) How, after so many books, have you maintained your momentum unlike so many other writers in the genre who became bogged down in their own work?

I'm four and a half months past my deadline. I think I just slogged out of the bog, so I can't exactly claim to be virtuous in that area. Part of it is that I get paid when I turn in the book, and I've become accustomed to things like eating and sleeping inside a house, so I try hard to make sure I can continue to do those things by completing my work on time.

16 ) In the Liveship Traders the reader can sense your love for the sea and passion for sailing. What experiences led you to this?

I married a sailor. Worse than that, the son of a son of a sailor, as the song goes. So the attic is full of old charts and we have log books with his fourth-grade scrawl in it from when he lived aboard the family fishing boat, and we have all sorts of maritime flotsam and jetsam around the house.(Six barometers. You can never have too many barometers, you know. Dividers in every desk drawer. Fids inside the clothes dryer.)
Currently, he somewhere between here and Hawaii on a WWII vintage tug pulling two barges.
So, it goes with the territory.

17 ) The boy we once knew has become an older man with the insights and the wisdom that one could only know personally. Would you call the evolution of Fitz a reflection of yourself?

Well, I hope that as I got older I got wiser. But the sad part is that at 40 you look back at 20 and wonder how you could have been so naïve, stupid and dense. And at 51 you look back at 40, and wonder the same thing.
My mom used to warn me, 'What goes around, comes around.' Now I tell my son that whenever his little girl cuts a particularly good cookie. I don't think you can understand your parents until you are one. And then all the stuff you did as a kid seems completely different from when you were doing it.

18 ) What is specific to wolves that make their appearance in fantasy frequent and given such a bond with man and higher level thinking skills? What specifically did you find attractive about making a prominent character a wolf?

When we first moved to Alaska, my little stateside border collie Bindy ran off or got lost. I was nine and that was a terrible loss for me.
Then this big, rangy animal with weird eyes showed up to take his place and literally just moved in with us. We later found out from people in the area that he was a pack animal (as in dog that carries a pack) that was more than half wolf that had had a falling out with his previous owner. Bruno became everything to me. So that's my personal link.
I think that there are certain animals (canines and horses for example) to which humanity has a sense of connection. Taking a stab at it, they may represent our link to the natural world, and become a sort of extension by which we think about the animal parts of our natures and the roles they play in our lives. Or maybe not. This is just off the top of my head.

19 ) Why did Micheal Whelan stop doing the covers?

That would be an excellent question to ask Michael Whelan. We talked about it and I completely understand his reasons. But I don't think I should speak for him.

20) Finally, what is next for Robin Hobb?

At the moment, I'm going to clean the house, answer email, take care of my yard and pack for the Netherlands. Right now, I feel completely written out. I've got another story in my head, but my hands are really tired right now and I know I still have the entire editing process to get through.
So I don't have any grand projects lined up just yet.

Thank you one again for your time and we all wish you the best if success in the future.

Fool's Fate

“Last night, I finally sent off the last chapter to the editors. Fool's Fate was finished at 1018 pages, far longer than I expected it to be.
To answer the most frequent question I've received: The book was originally scheduled to be released in summer 2003 in the Netherlands, Autumn 2003 in the UK and Australia and January/February 2004 in the US. Obviously, as I have turned the book in 4 1/2 months late, these publishing dates may be difficult to meet. I will try to post information on the website( as the book moves through the editing process.”

Monday, April 07, 2003

Jack Ketchum Interview

Well, here's an interview I am sure everyone will enjoy! Jack is a very straight forward guy who deals with some of the toughest topics out there. He is ever the voice of victims, and his stories see that they get their due. He has several new projects underway, but has taken the time to answer a few questions for us.

Below, I have some headings where you can post further questions. Jack will be stopping by next week to answer them.

Here's a blurb from his homepage to introduce him:

Jack Ketchum is the pseudonym for a former actor, singer, teacher, literary agent, lumber salesman, and soda jerk. He is also a former flower child and baby boomer who figures that in 1956 Elvis, dinosaurs and horror probably saved his life. His first novel, Off Season, prompted the Village Voice to publicly scold its publisher in print for publishing violent pornography. He personally disagrees but is perfectly happy to let you decide for yourself. His short story The Box won a 1994 Bram Stoker Award from the HWA and he has written ten novels, the latest of which are Stranglehold, Red, and Ladies' Night. His stories are collected in The Exit At Toledo Blade Boulevard and Broken on the Wheel of Sex."

Thanks for coming in! Read, post questions and enjoy


1 ) I am curious about the book Off Season. It was a story that pushed the limits of graphic horror, with its inclusion of cannibalism and raw terror, and has become one of your most well known books. Unfortunately, many other very good subsequent novels by yourself suffered due to the publishing industry's refusal to publicize or even print many copies of them. It almost seems as though they were either trying to get even with you for sliding the first graphic one by, or were simply afraid to continue to support work at that level of intensity. Either way, it brings two questions to my mind.

1A ) What is your opinion of this, or any kind of censorship? As far as I have been able to gather; the entire run of Off Season sold out (400,000 copies), an unexpurgated edition is doing well now, and a sequel did well too. It seems there was both critical acclaim and commercial success for the book. Shouldn't the book, and the author's subsequent works, be supported despite a publisher's personal opinion of the material?

Ideally, sure. The written word ought to be an open forum. Censorship shouldn't even be an option. But look what happened to Ellis' AMERICAN PSYCHO. His original publisher actually dumped him! On the other hand, I knew -- even more than Ballantine -- that I was taking a risk with OFF SEASON. What was it Baretta used to say? "If you can't do the time, don't do the crime?" I figured I could do the time.

1 B ) Have you ever wished that you had held back the Off Season novel until after you had made a name for yourself, instead of having that book create so many obstacles for the next few novels?

Nah. Unbeknownst to me -- unfortunately, since I'd have loved to have known at the time -- the book that caused me so many problems also made my reputation with the readers. I have no regrets at all. Besides, you can't think like that. At least I can't. A book either comes to you or it doesn't. It's like a woman you meet -- somebody great comes along, you can't say to yourself, well, she's terrific, but I think I'll go after this other
woman first. By the time you get around to her she'll probably be long gone.

2 ) Your next novels deal with, in your well known hard-hitting style, topics such as; the environment, abortion, Vietnam, battle of the sexes, and other various victims. What issues are dearest to you? What drives you to tell a story?

I don't like cruelty in any form. Wether you kick a kid, a woman, a dog, a homeless guy, or an employee, you're an asshole. I like pointing that out to people. I like identifying the nature of cruelty in its various permutations, and I like devising strategies for fighting back, win or lose.

3 ) You donate stories to several charity publications. How do you select which of these to participate in? Is it simply a matter of who comes to you, or do you seek any of them out yourself?

If I think the charity is worthwhile I'll donate when asked -- stories, manuscripts, books or galleys for auction, whatever. You want money for the Charles Manson legal defense fund count me out. You want money for the Republican party shove it where the sun don't shine. My personal favorite is animals, spaying and neutering in particular. Some years ago Matt Johnson at Obsidian was trying to put together a book called BEYOND THE CAGE and the proceeds were to go to that. I was in on that. But when Obsidian folded nobody picked it up. I wish somebody would. Anybody listening out there?

4 ) You have won the Horror Writers Association (HWA) Stoker Award twice, in 1994 for The Box and last year for Gone. How important to you personally is this? Do you feel any redemption for the hard times you went through in the early years now that you have been recognized for your work?

I was delighted to have the awards. It's appreciation from the reading community and that's always very welcome. But "redemption for the hard times" comes every time I publish and every single day I don't have to put on a goddamn tie to trudge off to work.

5 ) Red is being published, for the first time in the US, by Overlook Connection Press. You had 3 novels published in the UK, 2 of which were later renamed (Roadkill to Joyride and Only Child to Stranglehold) and issued here as paperbacks. Will we eventually see those two done over in the US as hardbacks too? How pleased are you that Red is finally coming out here?

I definitely hope to get ROADKILL AKA JOYRIDE and ONLY CHILD AKA STRANGLEHOLD back in print as hardcovers. But I think that since there were three editions of both these books -- British hard and softcover and U.S.softcover -- publishers aren't beating down my door to buy the rights to them. I figure that will change fairly shortly, though, as fewer and fewer copies are available in circulation. I'm very proud of RED. I think its themes are important ones and that I handled them fairly well. And its reader reception has pleased me immensely.

6 ) Gauntlet Press is re-issuing Cemetery Dance's publication of Right to Life as a trade paperback. The original story deals with pro choice / anti-abortion issues, along with kidnapping and slavery. This edition includes two new stories, what are they about?

One's about a little girl who saves her mother's life with a 911 call. The other's about a ghost, a bitch, and a cat.

7 ) Speaking of Barry Hoffman at Gauntlet Press, he seems exceptionally excited about your new book with him, a joint venture between you and Ed Lee. I am curious, because of his excitement while talking about it, how Barry is to work with on a project (especially one such as this which requires so much collaboration)?

Barry's always easy to work with. He's efficient, he pays on time, and looks out for your interests in matters such as cover, design and publicity. In this case the book, which is called SLEEP DISORDER by the way, is pretty much already finished -- we've just got a few touchups to do on the new story.

8 ) On a similar note, this is not your first collaboration with Ed Lee. There is Triage and Eyes Left through Cemetery Dance, and probably just tossing ideas around between you, out now as well. What draws you to Ed Lee? Were you looking for an author to collaborate with?

TRIAGE isn't really a collaboration. Each of us has a stand-alone story in it based on a jumping-off notion by Richard Laymon. But Lee came to me a few years back with a story he wasn't satisfied with -- I'D GIVE ANYTHING FOR YOU it was called and he asked me if I'd like a shot at fixing it. I said sure.
Then we did it again. Then I had a story I wasn't happy with and HE fixed it. So it just went on like that. What we do is generally somebody writes the basic story, somebody cleans it up, and then sends it back to the first guy for final edit. Maybe one more tweak after that and we're finished. I think we work pretty well together as a team. Ed's real good with plot and story, which isn't always my strong suit, and I'm maybe a little better at character. He ups the wattage on the Good Ol' Sex and Violence, I tone him down a little. He tends to write long, I tend to write short. Works for us.

9 ) Most of your short stories are collected in the Subterranean Press' edition of Peaceable Kingdom. Has this undertaking inspired you to produce more short stories? What role do you feel the short story plays, either in the genre or for the author?

I'm very proud of how PEACEABLE KINGDOM came out. I think Bill Shafer orchestrated a very good mix. But what inspires me to write more short stories is that I keep getting asked to write them. I have a hard time saying no I guess. I remember all too well when nobody was asking. Or else, as with PEACEABLE KINGDOM, the reissue of RIGHT TO LIFE, or SLEEP DISORDER new stories are just part of the deal. I've even upped my asking price to keep demand down a little. Not that I'm complaining about demand, for god's sake. Far from it. But one of these days I've REALLY got to cut it the hell out for a while and get on to another novel.

10 ) I was collating my old collection of Swank the other day and was pleased to come across some of your work as Jerzy Livingston. These stories, featuring the oddly likeable bad guy Stroup, will be collected in Delirium Books edition of Broken on the Wheel of Sex. Recently you resurrected Stroup briefly in Triage. Could you give the readers not familiar with Stroup a run down on the character? And, have you thought about bringing him out to play again?

You have a collection of Swank? Wow, cool! Well, here's how I describe Stroup in my introduction --

"His name was Stroup. No first name, just Stroup.

That was another play on words. Stroup was Proust sounded out phonetically and scrambled. Arguably the most sensitive writer in history I turned into a schmuck of almost leaden sensibilities. It was Stroup's lot in life to understand practically nobody, least of all himself and certainly not women, yet to pursue both women and his own satisfaction with dogged determination. Without having a clue as to what might actually bring him either one.

A boozer. A loser. A homophobe. A highly questionable friend and unreliable lover. Misogynist as hell and for the most part proud of it.

That was my guy.

In the bars back then you met him all the time."

When TRIAGE was published I got a letter from F. Paul Wilson saying the story had him laughing out loud, and that I absolutely HAD to put Stroup in a novel. I wrote back saying I didn't know if I was capable of sustaining that level of curmudgeonliness --- if that's a word -- throughout an entire book. And I still don't. We'll see. Maybe some day.

11 ) This book is not released yet, and will include a new story featuring one lucky reader who pre-orders the book. Have you selected a reader yet? How much effort will be made to make the reader recognizable in the story? Do already have a role for the reader that is selected in mind?

I haven't written the story yet. It's on the near agenda, though. I think that what I'll probably do is go ahead and write the story, leave one man and one woman unnamed, and then insert some characteristics specific to that particular reader. I don't really know. The notion's new to me. Kinda fun, though.

12 ) You have been queried numerous times on the origins of the pen name Jack Ketchum (leader of the Black Jack Ketchum Gang in the late 1800's, he was hanged in Clayton, New Mexico for "assault on a train" ). I have not heard the origins of Jerzy Livingston, care to share that?

When I first started working for the men's mags I'd sometimes have more than one piece in any given issue -- there one issue where I had three -- so I'd use my own name but then I needed a pseudonym. I come from Livingston, New Jersey and I'd been reading Jerzy Kosinski. (sp?) I liked the in-joke. Hence, Jerzy Livingston. The other pseudonym was Bruce Arthur. I liked that because it was a stroke mag and it sounded so mercilessly gay.

13 ) What is your reasoning behind pen names; do they have different styles, appeal to different readers or just fun for you?

Well, I sorta just answered that. But there is another reason for my picking Jack Ketchum. I liked the three-punch in the syllables. Bop. BopBop. I love things that come in threes.

14 ) The story The Transformed Mouse is an adaptation of the Indian fable Panchatantra (Biting Dog Press). This seems to be a departure from the style you have become known for. What is the story behind this fable, and what excited you about adapting it?

THE TRANSFORMED MOUSE began its life as a children's book, way back in the late '70's. I had done one before that, called THE SANDCASTLE, which got me my first New York agent, Henrietta Neatrour at Collins, Knowlton and Wing.
Since she was very excited about the first book, this was meant to be a follow-up. But she was never able to sell SANDCASTLE so MOUSE just languished in a drawer. Over the past year or so I've been going through my files, saving stuff, tossing a lot of stuff -- I had a 3x5 card, forinstance, that simply said THE WOODS. Huh??? -- and came across MOUSE and it still read well to me, but I thought it would be fun to come at it from a more adult point of view. So I rewrote it, keeping the structure but changing the language. Biting Dog bit. Sure, it's a change from my usual stuff. But read PEACEABLE KINGDOM. Read BROKEN ON THE WHEEL. I'm all over the place anyway. And that's what makes writing fun.

15 ) You have sold movie rights in the past, as many authors do, but now it looks as if QLP Productions is going to make a movie out of your novella The Passenger (originally named Joyride before that title was taken by the re-issue of the UK novel Roadkill, this story appeared in Nightvisions 10 and the paperback of RED). Any word on the progress? Are you involved in or concerned about the production? How exciting is it to have a story picked up
for film?

I've had many options in the past but only THE PASSENGER has gotten this close to actual production. The operative phrase, though, is "close to." Meaning that I'll believe it when I see it. It's the nature of the movie business. I don't get my hopes up. I just happily take the money and wait and see. My only real involvement is that I wrote the original screenplay and then did a first revision, mostly beefing up the character of Micah Harpe.

16 ) On the topic of movies, you seem to enjoy attending New Jersey's Chiller Con. Would you enlighten our members about what this convention is and why you participate?

When I first started going to ChillerCon it was basically because it was convenient -- located right across the Hudson River. I could get there by bus. At the time almost no writers attended -- it was all movie folk. Doug
Winter maybe. F. Paul Wilson. I couldn't sell a book if my life depended on it. Now that's changed. I tend to sell a good number of books and sign a whole lot more so it's well worth my while attending. I also get to judge
the costume contest now and then and rub shoulders with the likes of Dee Wallace Stone -- very lovely shoulders, by the way.

17 ) I am hoping to attend this year's HWA convention in June. Will you be attending again? What will you be participating in and, if I can make it out there, what events can't be missed?

Yup. I'll be there. I have no idea what the schedule will be yet. Usually I do a panel discussion, maybe a reading. Probably be the same this year. And then of course there's the Stoker Awards. P.D. Cacek and I will be hosting them. Don't expect black tie, though unless HWA wants to spring for it. (Hint, hint.) More likely you'll get a Charles Bukowski teeshirt.

18 ) Another regular event for you is the Northeastern Writers' Conference (Camp Necon). I see on your home page that you plan on attending in July of this year as well. Is this open to the public like HWA? What highlights are planned, for you as a participant or the attendees, or can be regularly expected there?

NECON's always a lot of fun and unique among conventions. I call it "writers behaving badly." The attendence is limited so while it's open to the public it's not ever going to be a huge circus like ChillerCon. It's four days of picnics, panels, readings, drinking -- quite a bit of drinking -- and basic silliness on the lovely campus of Roger Williams College in Rhode Island.
You get to socialize with writers and editors from all over the country, people you hardly ever see except for this one time of year. There's a "talent" show, alternated with "That Damn Game Show," and a Roast. We stay up late, rise when we feel like it, and after four days, drag our sorry asses home.

19 ) You have received critical acclaim and personal support from many of the genre's biggest names. Who do you read?

Here's my reading list for 2003 so far...

Anbinder, Tyler -- FIVE POINTS (history)
Lee, Edward -- MONSTROSITY (novel)
Keeley, Edmund -- INVENTING PARADISE (history)
Stone, Tom -- THE SUMMER OF MY GREEK TAVERNA (biography)
Clegg, Douglas -- BREEDER (novel)
Leonard, Elmore -- TISHOMINGO BLUES (novel)
Franzen, Johathan -- THE CORRECTIONS (novel)
Wright, T. M. -- COLD HOUSE (novel)
Sarrantonio, Al -- ORANGEFIELD (novella)
Crowther, Peter -- DARKNESS, DARKNESS (novella)
Doolittle, Sean -- DIRT (novel)
Bukowski, Charles -- LOVE IS A DOG FROM HELL (poems)
Moore, Alan & Campbell, Eddie -- FROM HELL (graphic novel)

I may do the new Carl Hiaasen next, I dunno. Something that doesn't have hell in the title. And yes, writers have been very good to me. The late Mr. Bloch. The almost-but-thank-god-not-quite-late Mr. King.

20 ) What is on the computer today? Is there a new story itching to be told?

Finish the story with Ed Lee. Write the story for BROKEN ON THE WHEEL OF SEX. Beyond that, I'd rather surprise you.

Well, that about does it. How'd I do?
These were good questions -- you did your homework and didn't make me repeat myself for the umpteenth time, for which I thank you.



You did wonderfully, of course. I loved the candor and appreciate the time you put into this project. I look forward to seeing you in next week to reply to any questions posted. Thanks for everything!!



Saturday, April 05, 2003

Steven Erikson Q&A

Gardens of the Moon

It is mentioned in GotM that Pale was under siege for 2 to 3 years. Some on this board have questioned several things most notably that there did not seem to be any case of starvation or disease which would be normal in such a siege. How did the people of Pale get their food and other supplies? (I think we are wondering how the people of Pale managed to stand up to the might of the Malazans for such a period).

The city of Pale was being supplied via Moon's Spawn for a time. Also, it's cadre of mages were formidable, providing other avenues of resupply.

Mr. Erikson,

After Laseen killed Kellanved and Dancer, she led or tolerated some purges in which nobles were killed.

Why wasn't the House Paran affected by these purges since they are nobles and live in Unta?
I considered that the noble purges happened especially in important cities like Unta.
Or were mainly nobles in the army killed, and not e.g. wine merchants like the Parans, because the Captain in chapter one of GotM says to Lorn, if he would be a noble he wouldn't be alive?

I only read book one and two until now, maybe it was already explained then I missed it and apologize!

In any case, thanks for your answers!

The purges were indiscriminate. Many nobles died, others escaped or bought their way out. If there was an ulterior motive, it may have related to the military corruption specifically.

Deadhouse Gates

Mr. Erikson, while writing about Felisin's downfall in the otataral mines, have you been inspired by the numerous accounts of Soviet Gulag survivors? Reading her passages, I had an impression as if I were re-reading Another World by Herling-Grudzinski, which IMHO is a beter book than the acclaimed Gulag Archipelago by Solzenitsyn. It also reminded me of memories of Nazi concentration camps survivors.

Have you ever read any of such books/stories? Your desciption was pretty realistic, I must say.

Thank you very much for visiting us and (hopefully) answering my questions.

I've read The Gulag Archipelago (in its entirety, if you can believe that!) As well as a number of other similarly themed works (including fiction; odd, how a short book like Cancer Ward of A Day In The Life.... could convey the same message with the same impact as ten thousand pages of nonfiction). But all that years and years ago. Influence? No doubt, but not consciously so. I think the message is, it pays to read. Things stick.

Seven cities: more steppe-ish or desert-ish?

A mix of the two. Wherever a civilisation has existed long enough, there will be a degradation from fertile plains to desert, and this was certainly the case for the Holy Desert. Steppes and worn down mountain ranges surround the Holy Desert. In other places, the distinction is mostly one of elevation, although over-farming and deforestation took their toll.

Did Quick Ben know the Crow people well enough to predict that Coltaine would pass it on to Duiker,prefering to be reborn in the traditional way of his people and thus having no need for it himself? Or was that an accident of history?

Purely an accident of history. Quick Ben's desire was to see Coltaine use the amulet. Even had he known or understood about the Wickan mythos, what value in waiting twenty years for the pay off? The Empire needed able commanders, and needed them right away!

At Coltaine's first council in ch.2, pg.79, he asks Duiker about the Seven Cities High Fist:"Tell me of Pormqual. You have met him?"
Duiker says:"I have."

But in ch.21, pg.851, when Duiker arrives in Aren, he recognizes Rel but then we read:"The man besides him was probably High Fist Pormqual..."

If Duiker met Pormqual, he should recognize the High Fist without doubts; especially if Duiker was at the Aren court some time as the talk between him and Rel (ch.1, pg.49) indicates.

Did Duiker lie at the council, did he completely forget Pormqual's appearance or is it just a mistake in the book?

Mistake. mea culpa.

Memories of Ice

Hello, Mr. Erikson.

First of all, thanks once again for taking the time to visit our site and answer some questions. It is much appreciated, as well as refreshing to see such dedication to the fans from an author.

I am wondering: when you wrote the first three books, did you have the connections in mind already, or did you add them as you wrote? For example, in GotM there are chapter-heading quotes from Felisin, who is of course a main character in the second book (though I didn't notice the connection until I glanced through GotM at a later point). Another example would be the accidental (?) drawing of Fener into the world by Heboric in DG, which affects the Grey Swords directly in MoI. And of course there is Nightchill, her past, her curse, etc., and how the third book is tied directly to the first book in this aspect. Was this all planned from the beginning, or did you come across the connections, smile, and make it fit? I am curious, since my own writing is a combination of the two, with surprisingly more of the latter.

It's a tough call, but the details you cited were set up. At the same time, without doubt others just up and wave frantically during the actual writing. In some cases, I would swear it's all in there somewhere, and as a writer the struggle comes in accepting how simple and obvious everything really is, when, dammit, it's supposed to be hard. Plot is cause and effect, line em up and watch em fall, and the pattern can branch every which way. The key is to take those ones riding out and away and gradually curl them back until everything meets nice and tidy at the end. Across the ten book series, within each novel, within each section, each chapter, each scene. I write in loops, starting with the small ones, which together make up bigger ones, and closing each loop is a matter of echoing whatever opened the scene/chapter/section etc. That's my actual writing. I plan in the opposite direction. Insane, ain't it?

Two questions on Kallor:

What is he? As in race and source of sorcerous ability.

How was he able to destroy his Kingdom? Does he have that much power, or did he access something/someone else's power.

Kallor's origin and the source of his power is never specified, because it is something that has to wait for the appropriate moment.

House of Chains

Both Deadhouse Gates and Memories of Ice were swimming in human circulatory fluid - mmm, Tenescowri, mmm

Before HoC was released, I had come to the conclusion that to out-bloody MoI could lead to your parodying that book, if you were not careful.

Whilst the ending of HoC was very bloody, we didn't experience it in anywhere like the same fashion. Was this just the way it came out, or were you aware that you really had to try a less bloody approach?

If so, will you maintain the DG/HoC style of reporting mass blood-letting, return to MoI style or try something else entirely?

Interesting question. Yes, House of Chains was to have a messy battle, but always off-stage, because you're right, it's too easy to fall into the trap of needing to outgun what went previously. The real story of House of Chains was a personal one, between Tavore and Sha'ik. It seemed imperative, incumbent in fact, that the closing conflict would reduce to the two of them, alone on the field.

As to future tales. All right, here goes. For each book, there's a movie in my head, or, rather, a short clip. A scene, an effect, an atmosphere, and that scene appears first, before anything else. Anything. It takes shape and demands that it be the dominant moment of the novel. Not necessarily the most dramatic or bloody or violent. Often not, in fact. That scene has certain requirements before I give it the stamp of approval. The entire story has to exist in it, via some form of resonating symbol. It has to manifest, in a single image, the heart of the theme. Most of the time, that scene is what I am writing towards, meaning it shows up near the end. The only exception was Gardens. Quiz time. Find it.

In Memories of Ice, the rise of Moon's Spawn near the end was the image that arrived first and foremost. So, the known and the unknown, the past rearing massive and deadly into the present, power unveiled and in its unveiling destroying itself, and so on. In Deadhouse Gates, there was an arrow.... In House of Chains, the two sisters. Granted, there are other big scenes, and some fought with the principle ones for dominance. Writing these things is a melee of the fiercest order....

Future novels have their own scenes, the only one not in very sketchy mode is the one I'm working towards now, in Midnight Tides. As for messy battles, battles are messy. There are times to show it and times not to, and I do my best to get it right. If I can stay mindful, it'll never be gratuitous. Fingers crossed.

Heboric was attacked and wounded by three of Korbolo's Talon. Who saved him and dealt severely with the Talon?

I thought Cotillion and either Lostara Yil or Apsalar, as the male uses "lass" when talking to his colleague, but then why would Cotillion's shoes smell of the grave?


I don't have the scene at hand, but if I put something in like shoes smelling of the grave, then it's likely the temporarily active dead Bridgeburners.

One little bit struck me as I'm re-reading HoC now: The apparent attacks on the Theloman by the T'lan Imass and Icarium's intervention. Will we be seeing more and more of Icarium's forgotten past, like we have in the first four novels, in upcoming books like MT?

Icarium and Mappo will certainly feature in subsequent books. But not in Midnight Tides.

That vision Heboric has - is this directly related to the rift that brought the Crippled God into the world, or something else?

I would like to give you an answer, but then I'd be giving too much away. Honest. As it stands, though, it certainly seems that way, don't it?

Blood Follows

After reading this novella last month, I was struck by how similar the basic religious beliefs seemed to be to those of the Malazan-controlled regions (same pantheon, comments about how people "worship" Hood, etc.). Will we see in the future novellas more divergence in religious practices (e.g. will there be a god/goddess that these people hold as a Patron)?

Also, will the future novellas help explain more how Mancy and the necromancers arrived outside Capustan in MoI?

Theft is not very far from the Malazan Empire, backwater though it may be, and there no real isolation apart from inertia between the various cultures and belief systems. Other parts of the world, however, have very different systems....

How did Mancy and co. end up on Genabackis? They show up in the damndest places, usually at the damndest times. There will be additional novellas forthcoming....

General Questions

Hello Mr Erikson,

I was wondering as to your approach to writing. Do (or did) you develop the ideas for the plot first and then fill in the characters or are you more character based with those coming first? Or was it a combination of both?

Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions.

I've touched on some of the process I undertake in writing in a previous question, so apologies if this sounds like I'm rehashing old stuff. Most of the impact I am looking for in any given scene is intended to come from characterisation. Plot provides the structure and the mechanics in which personal revelation, epiphony, conflict or meaning is found -- in which the human condition is given a context. Which drives which is sometimes a little unclear, which I hope kind of reflects the real world. Individual scenes can weigh in on either the character side or the plot side, depending on the effect desired. There's times to ruminate, then there's times to let fly (I would have said 'let er rip' but you're a Brit and that means something else to you, don't it?).

Anyway, as I go on I find it harder to separate the two elements of fiction. Some overall plot arcs took shape early on, but so did some characters. While on a page by page basis, some characters are invented on the fly, as are some plot-lines. Gotta keep myself entertained.

So tell me, you missing a good bacon battie as much as I am?


Who is your favourite character? Is that the same as your favourite to write about?

From the interview you did for us (thanks) I imagine it would be someone along the lines of Kruppe or Iskaral Pust?

Generally, my favourite character is found in the work I'm presently writing. If that wasn't the case, I'd be in trouble. I certainly enjoyed Kruppe and Iskaral Pust, but their games make specific demands on the writing; whereas, someone like Mincer, or Cuttle, or the Mott Irregulars, or Lady Envy, they're a bit more relaxing. I am sometimes overfond of understatement, and I enjoy inarticulate characters if only for the mystery of their presumably murky thoughts. It's hardly un-noticeable, but I like working with pairs, usually opposites in some way, but perfect for each other in others. Like Lostara and Pearl. Is that proving a problem or will it become one? I have no idea but I hope not.

Hello, Mr. Erikson.

Though I see your books as firstly entertainment, is there perhaps a hidden meaning or message you are trying to convey through your books, or would you rather leave it up to the reader to interpret the meaning, if any? Thanks.

If by hidden meaning or message you mean theme, then yes, there are themes driving the novels. The great advantage to writing fantasy over other genres is that you can (and I'm sure I've said this before, somewhere) you can make the figurative literal. You can animate symbols and watch them clash (that's a pun, and yes, it's bad). Anyway, while I am interested in and so aware of themes, I also try not to think of them too much. Subtext should be just that: beneath the text.

At the same time, regardless of my intentions, readers will take what they take from a story. Which is why it needs to work on all levels, beginning with flat-out entertainment. It's an erroneous but common belief among 'serious' fiction writers that big themes can stand in stead for entertainment. It can't. Never could. And then they complain when no one reads their stuff.... yeesh.

1) Will we get to visit the Assail continent in a future book?

2) Approximately how many pages will "Midnight Tides" be?

3) You've stated that "The Bonehunters" will focus on Tavore's army, and "Toll the Hounds" will be a return to Darujhistan. "The Crippled God" is pretty self-explanatory. The only books we know nothing about so far are "Reaper's Gale" and "Dust of Dreams". Any teeny-tiny hints you can give us? Does the Queen of Dreams feature prominently in "Dust of Dreams"? Is the Reaper a new character, or someone we've seen before?

Keep up the fantastic work! Your books are amazing.

How many pages? Hard to say. The usual. Hints, eh? Very difficult to do, as much as I might like to. Midnight Tides is the middle book in the series. It's a mountain range full of peaks, and much of what will follow in subsequent books derives from this particular story. Not to say I've forgotten all that came before. Everything's headed in the same direction. No lie.

Anyway. Nobody named Reaper. Queen of Dreams is a name that has no direct bearing with Dust of Dreams, the title. Not to say she's ever very far away....

I made a post down the mb about this, but think I should ask the author:

1. how do explosives work in the world?

2. are Moranth the only people with knowledge on making explosives?

3. what are the different types of explosives, and what are their, um, "special purpose". (cussers=landmines, etc.)

As far as anyone knows thus far, the Moranth have a monopoly on alchemical munitions. Here and there in the first four books there's been a few details on their nature, and their names which are somewhat self-explanatory: cusser (the big one, the one nobody should ever throw), sharpers (shrapnel grenados), burners (incendiary), smokers (smoke), and sharpers (shaped charge). Generally, exposure to air ignites the contents of each munition. The fun lies in devising means of piercing the clay shell (or spike, in the case of a sharper). Throwing's simple, but slow-fuse stuff is a bit hit and miss.

Special purpose? Well, the Moranth liked dropping them from high overhead. Later variations were created via the demands of the Malazan sappers (ie the sharpers). Originally, before the dominance of the Silver caste among the Moranth, the munitions existed to counter sorcery, or, rather, to kill sorcerors. Now, since the Silver are mages, the munitions are strictly export items only, and it seems supply is drying up....

Many of your charatcers throw out intriguing/philisophical thoughts. Do you always agree with these thoughts, or do you just throw them out and let the readers think on them?...or is just what you think the character would be thinking in a certain situation (Duiker's thoughts turn rather cynical while on Chain of Dogs)?

That's what happens when you abandon certainty. The flaw of trying to see things from every possible angle turns out to be useful as a writer of fiction (while irritating people with strong convictions no end, sigh), and I suppose there's a cheery optimism to seeing the bright side that sadly often evades my self-awareness.

Opinions and perspective are malleable things, irrevocably contextual. I try my best to walk in the character's boots/moccasins/three-toed feet, and so narrow my vision until I see things from their eyes.

At the same time, who am I kidding? Everybody has views, after all, and a writer without some strong (possibly twisted) sense of injustice is a writer with little to say. But I'm suspicious of black and white views, on anything, and it's no secret that that suspicion shows up in my fiction as a kind of ambivalence. Gardens portrayed the Malazan Empire as the bad guys. Deadhouse had them the good guys. Which one's right? They both are.

As for a character's philosophy or world view, I try to keep it distinct and internally consistent, while recognising that people change their minds all the time. Even so, Duiker's growing cynicism was certainly a product of the ordeal he was suffering on the march. While Felisin's inability to recognise people who cared was a direct result of the betrayal that sent her to the mines and her experiences once there.

So, keep an eye out in case various characters start seeing the world in unison -- give me a shout of warning, because that's the last thing I'd want.

Hello Mr. Erikson,

Is Cotillion called "The Rope" simple because a rope is a common tool for an Assassin, does the name refer to his use of a garotte, or to something else?

His weapon of choice is a rope. See him at work and play in House of Chains.

Many powerful, high-ranking people (both Adjuncts, Paran) are young...why is this?

Also, what is the average lifespan of a Malazan (or does being a mage, touched-by-a-mage increase longevity?)

Never really thought about those three. All soldiers, though. Paran reached rank of captain, but that was during a serious dearth in combat capable officers, following the purges. Tavore's initial acumen was political in nature, a matter of positioning herself. Lorn was slightly older, and in the prime of her martial skills.

Mages can slow down their ageing. Alchemies are available. Some people are too stubborn to get old.

Can we expect to see the other members of this select band of the Emperor's Old Guard in more than vignettes, as you progress through the books? The Crusts for example. Assuming of course that the Captain of the Ragstopper and the Keeper are Cartheron and Urko Crust.

Aw you guessed. Bigger appearances? Maybe.

In GotM, the Sorry/Apsalar thread deals with one stratagem by Shadow to get even with Surly/Laseen. The overall impression I got was revenge on Laseen for what she had done to Kellanved and Dancer.

In DG, Shadow is still lending support for the Bridgeburner's revenge on Laseen.

In MoI, the revenge issue is really muted.

In HoC, there appears to be almost common cause between Shadow and Laseen as part of a much wider strategy against the Crippled God and what he/she/it represents.

Is this change in emphasis:

1. Simply another example of your delightful way of forcing us to change judgement as you offer additional information?

2. Along the way, Shadow realised that there were bigger issues to deal with, and the manner of their realisation will be made clear to us in later books?

3. You changed your mind after GotM?

A twisted mind never changes. really. Shadowthrone, don't forget, isn't entirely rational. Or he doesn't appear to be. Not yet, anyway. See my comments regards ambivalence.

Mr. Erikson,

Some characters in the books have "normal" names like Dujek, Ganoes or Crokus and some have names with a meaning, e.g. Sorry, Topper or Surly.

In the first talk between Topper and Paran, Topper mentions "chosen names" which are not very formal names. Topper seems to be his chosen name, but Paran doesn't want to tell him his chosen name since "Paran will do".

This indicates that chosen names are something like a common custom in your world. Everyone can choose a name which fit their personality and describe it a bit.

Is this right, and has every character, who has a name with a meaning, also a real name? Or am I wrong, and chosen names are just the first names, some with a meaning, some not?

Some people end up with chosen names, others keep their originals. There were trends.... Also, I'm a huge fan of Dickens.

I'm only on Memories of Ice, but is there something special about Pearl as a name ?

In Garden of the Moon, there's Imperial Demon named Pearl.

In Deadhouse Gates, there is a Claw named Pearl.

In Memories of Ice, there is a mage named Bluepearl.

Is Pearl the Malazan equivalent of John or do you just REALLY like the name ?

The Claw named Pearl and Pearl in House of Chains is the same man. As for the demon, I wanted a name that would strike contrary to its physical appearance,and Pearl seemed to fit. Wait till you meet Garnet.

This is just my idle curiosity peeking through - hope you don't mind.

In general, what time of day do you prefer for writing? Also, do you write your first drafts directly onto a computer/laptop, or do you write by hand to begin with?

One more thing: I've noticed that your writing style includes many more one-line paragraphs than most writing I've encountered. I'm wondering if editors mind this at all, since my own writing tends toward the same (if not quite to such an extent as yours).

As always, thanks again.

I used to write from about ten in the evening till two or three in the morning. Having a kid changed all that. Now I write from about noon to five or so, composing on a laptop (except Blood Follows, which I wrote by hand). Session begins with a read-through and edit of the previous day's work.

Someone told me once about someone else saying that someone who writes at night writes from their heart and gut; whilst someone who writes in the morning writes from their head (presumably their brain, too). Is it true? No idea. I write with my hands.

Single line paragraphs? My editor's never commented on it. It sounds crass, but it's important to pay attention to how text looks on a page. Big blocks tire the eye and slow the reader's pace (and maybe the writer's too). I tend to shorten my sentences and paragraphs when writing action sequences, or when doing internal monologue, with the latter usually as a closer.

Just one more question, Mr. Erikson.

I think I have read in another interview with you that your world has a system of meritocracy which doesn't distinguish between men and women. Though I like this, how does this impact the birth rate in your world? A women takes nine months (I assume it is the same in your world) to have a child, yet men can have make dozens and dozens in that time. And so I would expect the thousands and thousands of women as well as men dying throughout the Malazan Empire to have a very negative impact on the birth rate. Is this the case, and if so, to what extent?

Thanks in advance.

It evens out. While there are women in the military, it's not in such numbers as to seriously affect birth rates. Armies generally comprise a very small portion of a total population. Everyone else is getting on getting on and whatever.

The Malazan Encyclopedia: is it possible to give a few hints as to what might be put in? just a few?

Well, we're thinking more maps. Lots more maps, in a variety of scales and various degrees of reliability. Full character descriptions to date. A timeline. A list of sources of quotations. Illustrations.

I have a dim recollection that the Paran siblings were supposed to provide a common thread in the series. Is this still the case? If it is, you have been a bit careless in losing one of the three, or does Felisin Younger replace Felisin?

BTW, if I have not said it before, thank you for creating the series. I won't gush, as I have recently finished re-reading the four, and am now in severe withdrawal.

They remain a thread. Which in my mind at least does not necessitate their presence in every novel, nor even that they stay alive.

First of all, I don't know whether you have already answered these questions at, but I haven't had much time to read them lately. If you have, please say so and I will go there and read your replies.

1st problem:

Jaghut Wars. In GotM Tool says he fought in all 28 jaghut Wars, whereas the prologue to MoI implies there were 33 of them. Could you tell us if that difference is intentional or it's an editing mistake? Personally, I loved someone's suggestion that Imass are counting backward, with the number indicating the remaining Jhags living

2nd problem:

Dragnipur. It may be just a matter of interpretetion or simple semantics, but at the end of book 4 of GotM, K'Rul tells Kruppe that at the time it was forged, nobody could oppose it, but it had been a long time ago, even before his time. In the prologue to MoI, however, Draconus says he is almost done with Dragnipur and that dialogue is in fact the beginning of K'Rul's end. Is this also a bug?

As always, thank you for your time Mr. Erikson.

Gardens will haunt me to the end of my days....

In GotM Tattersail is said to be 219 years old, Is this do to her being a sorcerous? If yes are all people who deal with warrens expected to live longer? If no then could you please explain why she is so old?

Most mages live longer than your average Pearl.

What is the current status of Midnight Tides? How many pages have you written so far? Is it still on target for a December release? Any idea of what will be on the cover?

Any news on the U.S. publishing front? Why are American publishers so short-sighted and brainless to pass up on publishing your fantastic books?

I think I'm on schedule. About five hudnred pages done and counting.

I believe a deal's been done for the US, with a reissuing of the books starting in 2004.

Thank you for writing an enjoyable story, and thank you for taking the time to actually answer the questions people have. Please keep writing as high quality as up to this point.

Oh, and a question, do you enjoy the praise?

It's the nature of the beast that every criticism stays in the head longer than praise (mine, at least). But I try to stay mindful. I am delighted to have found people who enjoy the fantasy fiction I enjoy, and I'll do my best to keep delivering.

I've heard many people give plenty of reasons to read your series. As I have yet to purchase the books, what would be the one reason you'd give as to why I should buy and read your series.

BTW, I think it's great that you're taking the time to do this. It truly shows you care about your fan base. That in and of itself does set you a bit apart from most.

Ack! I have no idea. It depends on the kind of fantasy fiction you like, and I don't know what kind that is.

But here:

Damsels and princes and ogres and farmboys and kidnapped or abandoned royalty and mystified reincarnated wizards and god-chosen heroes and elves, dwarves, halflings, orcs, and evil and good and white and black and helpful sidekicks.

Forget it.

I just want to say I LOVE your books. I volunteer at my local public library, and I got them to order all of the four books of the Malazan Series. Now they're the only books in my state that have them.

Dang it! When will they be available on the American market?

As mentioned earlier, 2004, I think.

Tuesday, April 01, 2003

Robert Sawyer Interview

Robert J. Sawyer has accumulated 28 major awards for his writing: US (Nebula), Japan (Seiun), France (Le Grand Prix de l'Imaginaire), Spain (Premio UPC), and Canada (Aurora). He is the first author in history to win this entire set of awards, and has been nominated for the Hugo 6 times as well! Born and raised in Canada, he originally considered a career as a dinosaurian paleontologist. Later he decided on a career in writing, his other passion. He stayed in Canada, earning a degree as broadcaster, specializing in script writing with extra studies in psychology. During this time he sold his first story, and now has 15 novels and many short stories under his belt.

Read the interview, he touches on many topics of interest while we cover his career. At the end of the interview I have headings for topic or writing questions. Please post anything you would like further comment on from Robert J Sawyer there, he will be in April 14th to reply.

Thanks for coming in!!


1 ) With all of your success garnering awards, do you have any insight into what it is that sets your books so far apart from your contemporaries?

Well, that's a very kind question! I think there are two significant things about my books. First, I write science fiction that can be read by anyone, not just habitual SF readers -- that said, I never soft-pedal the science-fictional content. Still, I consider my greatest achievement not the Nebula Award -- although that was nice! -- but that my novel Calculating God was a national top-ten mainstream bestseller in Canada, and hit number one on the Locus bestsellers' list, the principal barometer for SF-category sales; that meant I was indeed properly serving both my intended audiences.

Second, I have a mission statement as a writer, something I honestly think many of my colleagues have never bothered to formulate. My mission is to combine the intimately human with the grandly cosmic. Many SF authors concentrate on one or the other of those things; few take it as their brief to really try to give equal weight to both.

2 ) In the past you have instructed university-level writing; could you describe your current Writing Workshops program?

I'm on the creative-writing faculties of both the University of Toronto and the Banff Centre for the Arts -- but my total teaching commitment to both institutions is only eleven days a year. At U of T (where, by coincidence, both my parents taught for many years), I do the science-fiction section at the annual four-day Taddle Creek Writers Workshop; at Banff, which is my absolute favorite teaching experience, I do seven days each spring teaching SF writing as part of the Banff Centre for the Arts' "Writing with Style" program. Banff is a ski resort, and one of the most beautiful natural locations in the world; I just adore it.

At both programs, we do Clarion-style workshopping: everybody reads manuscripts by the other workshop members in advance, then we do round-the-table critiquing, during which the author of the piece under discussion has to stay quiet. I provide a critique last, so as not to prejudice anybody else's critique, and then the author has a chance to rebut or reply, if he or she sees fit -- and I always tell them that "I'm sorry it went over your head" is a perfectly acceptable response to a critique. Most people come to these workshops with the idea that the principal benefit is getting a bunch of critiques, including one by an established pro, of their writing, but in fact the real benefit is in learning to look at writing critically through analyzing other people's work, and learning how to apply those techniques to your own work. By the end of the sessions, almost everyone sees their own work in a new, objective light, and that helps them enormously.

I'm very proud of the students I've had, including Pat Forde who wrote the phenomenal novella "In Spirit" that was in Analog last year; Robyn Herrington, who sells frequently to U.S. anthologies; Doug Smith who went on to win an Aurora Award; and Derwin Mak, who has brought his special brand of SF to a variety of out-of-genre markets.

3 ) From April 1 through June 30 you will be serving as the Writer in Residence at The Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy. What does this entail and what type of people participate?

Writer-in-Residence programs are common in Canada and many other countries, but less so in the States, where there isn't as much tax money to support the arts. They're win-win scenarios for all concerned. A library or university pays an author a full-time salary for a period of time, and during that time the writer devotes typically 40% of his or her time to residency duties, and the other 60% is subsidized time to work on a writing project.

Now, just what are "residency duties"? My main task is to read manuscripts by beginning and experienced writers in the community, prepare critiques of them, and meet with the writers in a private one-on-one hour-long session, going over the critiques and answering any questions the writers might have. There's no charge to anyone for any of this.

At the Merril, the submissions are limited to 15 standard manuscript-format pages -- a short story or a chapter from a novel, or maybe a novel outline. Anyone, from anywhere, can submit manuscripts, but the author must physically come to the Merril, in downtown Toronto, for a critique. I've got lots of Saturday hours in the summer at the Merril, so people in the northeastern US and Eastern Canada might consider making a summer car trip up to Toronto for this, and maybe catch a Blue Jays game, as well. Full details on the residency program are at:

4 ) What exactly is The Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy?

In the early 1970s, Judith Merril moved to Toronto, to protest US involvement in Vietnam. In the 1950s and 1960s, she had been the most influential editor in science fiction, doing the annual "Year's Best" anthologies, and compiling a landmark anthology called England Swings SF that introduced the British "New Wave" -- a move toward softer, literate, psychological tales that explore inner space -- to the U.S.

In 1971, Judy donated her 5,000-item SF collection to the Toronto Public Library, which agreed to expand the collection and house it permanently. The collection opened to the public under the name "The Spaced Out Library." About ten years ago, the name was changed to The Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy -- the precise formulation of that name was actually my own coinage, at a meeting of the Friends of the Merril Collection. The Merril Collection has grown to the world's largest public-library collection of SF, and is also the repository of manuscripts for numerous authors, including Guy Gavriel Kay. It's a phenomenal institution.

5 ) You involve many of today's scientific and social issues in your stories. In Nebula winner The Terminal Experiment you deal with abortion, immortality, and the afterlife. What is your opinion of the likelihood of an afterlife?

Honestly, I think the chance of an afterlife for my books is fair to midling -- thanks to institutions like the Merril, some scholar will be going through them long after I'm dead. But as for a personal afterlife -- an immortal soul -- I don't believe I have one. When I die, I expect to be worm food. That said, I'm fascinated by why, since the dawn of consciousness, the bulk of humanity has believed in a mind that survives the death of the brain; it's a belief that goes back at least 40,000 years. My latest novel, Hybrids, deals head-on with that very question: what bit of wiring in our brains makes us predisposed to religious notions. Hybrids will be out in September 2003.

6 ) You have promoted the possibility of nanotechnology allowing immortality, barring destruction of the body by outside forces. How far into the future do you think this type of science is, and should we develop it?

My brother-in-law and his wife are expecting twins later this year. I expect enormous life prolongation during their lifetimes; I would not be the least surprised if they live to be 200 or more. Actual immortality -- you'll live forever unless your body is totally destroyed -- is probably farther off, but I don't see it as an intractable scientific problem. Should we be developing this? Sure! All of us who are getting older notice that our perspectives get deeper, and we gain a little more wisdom every year. The human race could certainly use some people who've had centuries to develop perspective and wisdom.

Of course, you can't have immortality, continued births, and no space program. Going hand-in-hand with living extremely long lives is the need to move out into the universe; you can't have an infinitely expanding population confined to a little hunk of rock.

7 ) In The Terminal Experiment, you used an Islamic character to support some of the philosophy. What is your reasoning for using this particular character?

Hardly anything in my fiction is autobiographical, but that one element is. The relationship between Peter Hobson and Sarkar Muhammed is very much patterned on the relationship between myself and one of my oldest and closest friends, Shaheen Azmi. Indeed, my real brother's name is Peter, and Shaheen's is Sarkar. We've been buddies since high school. Shaheen is devoutly Islamic, and I'm not devoutly anything. Our conversations about quantum physics, the meaning of life, and so on have been among the most rewarding I've ever had, and The Terminal Experiment seemed the perfect book to work that stuff into.

Also, just as a matter of principal, I think it's important to have ethnic diversity in science fiction. Toronto has been officially recognized by the UN as the most multicultural city in the world; it would be unrealistic not to have a widely varied ethnic cast in my novels, most of which are set there.

8 ) At different times you have characters representing creationism or evolution. How do you reconcile this in your mind? Do you find one more likely than the other?

Oh, there's no question in my mind whatsoever: evolution as proposed by Darwin and Wallace -- with random mutations giving some creatures an advantage in the struggle for life, and those advantaged individuals having disproportionately more offspring -- is absolutely how life on Earth developed. Evolution is true; young-Earth creationism -- the view that the world was created 6,000 years ago by a supreme being -- is false.

My point in Calculating God was to get a third alternative that's been floating around the scientific community for a number of years into the mainstream of public thought: intelligent design. Now, there are two levels of intelligent design. One says that there is some admittedly contestable evidence that a guiding intelligence set down the fundamental parameters of this universe: the ratios of strengths between the four fundamental forces (gravity, electromagnetism, and the weak and strong nuclear force), and so on. I think that position is fascinating, and I do think the evidence for it is credible, although there are alternative theories that are also credible.

The second level, what I call strong ID, says that not only do the fundamental laws of physics show signs that an intelligence was on hand twelve billion years ago, when the Universe began, but also that that intelligence has carefully engineered a variety of biological systems, including the cascade reaction the produces blood clotting, the motor structure of the flagella and cilia that move sperm and bacteria, and so on. I find those arguments interesting, but less compelling, because I'm the first to admit that there's a lot of basic science to be discovered still.

But I'm more a social commentator than anything, and what I find particularly fascinating is how parts of the established scientific community, and dogmatic elements of the skeptical community, have gone to great lengths to discredit strong ID via ad hominem attacks on its proponents and by rhetorical dishonesty, lumping ID under the label of Creationism, and then dismissing it by saying we've already dealt with creationism, instead of rising to the challenge of actually defeating -- if they can -- the ID theory through the scientific method. That parts of the scientific world and of the so-called skeptical movement are behaving as dogmatically and as unfairly as the religious right is a real problem, which needs to be exposed to the maximum possible light.

9 ) Many of the purposes of religion are to guide us through moral dilemmas. As science advances do you find it less important for us to have these guidelines?

Quite the contrary! Every big moral issue we face today is fundamentally rooted in science and technology. Abortion wasn't a big issue until the middle of the last century, when it finally rose above the level of butchery of the mother -- setting aside any question related to the infant. When science made it possible for pregnancies to be easily terminated without putting the mother at medical risk, we then were suddenly in the midst of a huge debate about when life really begins.

Likewise, the current war in Iraq is a huge moral issue -- but the war itself is putatively over "weapons of mass destruction" -- that is, the fruits of modern science -- and it's being fought with the most sophisticated machines ever built by humans.

Where religion fails as a moral teacher is when it doesn't keep up with what's happening in science and technology. Despite the impression one gets from the media, in terms of religion there is exactly the same demographic breakdown among scientists as there is among the general public: the same percentage of atheists, of devout, of questioning, and of pure nuts. There really is no battle between science and religion; rather, there's only a battle between open-mindedness and dogma, and there are those guilty of the latter equally dispersed in both realms.

10 ) The Neanderthals in your new series (Hominids and Humans of this trilogy are out now) practice sterilization of criminals and those containing 50% or more of the criminal's blood. Do you believe that this culling of the gene pool would be a superior way to deal with current criminals and the further evolution of our species?

I'm not advocating the sterilization of criminals, but, as a childless man who has had a vasectomy, I perhaps have more openness to the notion that reproduction isn't everything. And I do believe that we will have to face the moral issue of being able to identify predispositions to violence, psychopathy, pedophilia, and so on, through genetic markers. Should we sterilize people just because they have those markers? I don't think that would be right. Should we sterilize people who actually exhibit the behaviors those markers predispose them to, in order to reduce the concentration of those markers in the gene pool? Well, science fiction is about presenting a smorgasbord of possibilities, and that's what I'm doing. I'm putting out on the table one possible solution, and basically saying, "Let the debate begin."

11 ) These Neanderthals also live is a society that is without any religion at all. What drove you to visualize such a society?

Everything about my Neanderthal culture is drawn from the actual paleoanthropological record. We used to believe that Neanderthals buried their dead with flowers, indicating perhaps a belief in an afterlife, and that they worshipped cave bears. But both of those notions have been totally discredited. The truth is that even 10,000 years after our own ancestors -- Homo sapiens -- had developed religious notions, the Neanderthals had not.

That said, certainly I had a fictive agenda in exploring this. The idea that any intelligent species must develop religion is sort of a knee-jerk belief for us; I don't think it's necessarily true, though. And religion is responsible for so much of what goes on in our world. The people who flew planes into the World Trade Center believed they would be rewarded for doing so in an afterlife; George Bush has publicly declared that he's on a mission from God in the current invasion of Iraq. Certainly, if religion is shaping our history, it behooves us to ask if that's a good thing -- and whether or not it was inevitable.

12 ) Frameshift has elements of genetic diagnosis of peoples' potential health. Do you see this as an approaching dilemma for us in the near future?

It's a dilemma right now -- the characters in Frameshift that are dealing with diagnoses of Tay-Sachs disease and Huntington's chorea are facing real problems that exist today. We can diagnose those diseases, but we can't cure them. It's going to get worse as time goes on: our ability to identify bad genes will become very sophisticated, but cures take a lot longer to develop. Frameshift was very much my wake-up call to the world about that.

13 ) Also in that story, there are further issues raised about cloning. What path do you believe we should take with this rapidly advancing technology?

There is nothing inherently evil about cloning. A clone is just an identical twin born at a different time. The only restraint on cloning should be on the growing of full, brain-intact bodies for the purpose of raising transplant organs. Should people be allowed to clone themselves and raise them as children. Sure, why not?

14 ) In addition to scientific quandaries, this book deals with social issues. What do you see for the future of socialized medicine?

Socialized medicine is fundamentally government-run health insurance: it says that every person is entitled to health care regardless of their genetic predispositions or economic status. As a Canadian, I've grown up with socialized medicine, and it does work. More, in the genetics age, I firmly believe it's the only thing that makes sense. Traditional insurance is based on shared risk: a bunch of people putting money into a pot, and individuals drawing it out as luck and happenstance make necessary; if you're the poor sap who gets cancer or heart disease, you win the money. Well, in the future, we will know at birth who is going to get cancer and who is going to have a heart attack, based on genes. In that case, it's no longer shared risk -- because we don't all share the risks. In such a world, socialized medicine makes sense economically and in a humanitarian sense.

15 ) Factoring Humanity touches on topics ranging from infidelity to child abuse and recovered memories. Do you draw on any personal or near experiences when writing about topics like these?

Actually, my own life is wonderfully happy; I've never had a real personal tragedy, and I recognize how very lucky I've been. But many of my friends have faced such thing, and I've certainly drawn on their experiences. Still, fundamentally, readers should realize that writers just make this stuff up; it's not autobiography -- it's fiction. That said, as a writer, I want to explore raw human emotions, and those are never more on display than in cases of family troubles.

16 ) The advances in computers, genetics and medical science are creating huge quantities of data on people. Do you see us losing any semblance of privacy, and to what extent do you find our loss of privacy a detriment to society?

Yeah, I'm with Scott McNealy of Sun Microsystems, who said, "You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it." There's just no way to preserve traditional privacy, so let's find the advantages of the new paradigm: constant monitoring means the end of rape, child abuse, assault, theft, money laundering, and so on. Now, don't get me wrong. Although I'm to some small degree in the public eye, I do like my privacy. But, really, if you wanted to know how much money I make, or where I live, or what things I'm allergic to, or how many traffic tickets I've had, there's not much I can do to keep you from finding out. The trick is to make sure, as my friend David Brin says, that the new world order is transparent in both directions: yes, the authorities can keep an eye on us, but we can keep an eye on the authorities.

17 ) What do you think of the current state of sci-fi? Are there any other authors out there that interest you?

I'm extraordinarily proud to be an SF writer these days, because of the phenomenal quality of the work my colleagues are doing. This is a literature of great value, thanks to the work of such writers as Robert Charles Wilson and Nalo Hopkinson and Jack McDevitt and Mike Resnick and Scott Mackay and Connie Willis, and so many others. SF may not be in the best economic shape it's ever been in, but it's absolutely creatively the healthiest it's ever been.

18 ) How about when you were coming up, which authors guided you to the sci-fi genre?

Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, David Gerrold, Larry Niven, and James White had huge impacts on me. One of the greatest joys of my life has been getting to meet all of those fine gentlemen, except Clarke, and to get to count David Gerrold as a friend.

19 ) You have done one short story collection, Iterations, which came out last year. This book is packed full of award winning stories; do you have any plans for another one?

I'm not a prolific writer of short stories, but I've got about 60,000 words of uncollected stories right now, and at the rate I'm going I should have enough to make another 100,000-word book in a couple of years. I really like doing short fiction -- I just wish it paid better!

20 ) What is on the computer screen now? The third book in the Neanderthal Parallax, or something else entirely?

I've finished Hybrids, the third book; indeed, I wrapped it up in December 2002. I'm in negotiation now for a new two-book contract with Tor for a couple of standalone novels about one of my favorite themes, artificial intelligence. And I'm under contract to a major Hollywood animation company to write the series bible for a revival of a very well known animated SF series -- I'm not at liberty to say which one just yet -- and I'm having an absolute blast doing that.

Also, I just resold my long out-of-print Quintaglio novels -- Far-Seer, Fossil Hunter, and Foreigner -- to Tor, which will be reprinting them starting in 2004. I'm going through the old versions of those books to see if there's anything I want to change, having not looked at them in a decade. So, I'm busy, and I'm having a blast. What more can a writer ask?

Thanks so much for taking the time to do this for us Rob! I sincerely appreciate it and look forward to seeing you here next week to look over the members questions.


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