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An Interview with Philip Palmer

Philip Palmer

You know how sometimes life becomes so busy that you have to sacrifice a few less-important things to get focused on the really important ones? That’s what happened with Philip, and why this interview took so long to get onto the blog. 🙂 After all, the man is not just a SF / Space Opera Author; he works in TV too. 🙂 But in retrospect, Philip’s timing couldn’t be better – with his latest novel on the way, this interview will give his fans (and I am most definitely one of them) some insight into his thought-processes, and wont spoil Red Claw at all. 🙂 So, without further a-do, I give you Philip Palmer!

First of all, welcome to the South African SF-reading public, Philip, and thanks for taking the time to answer these questions. 🙂

It’s a real pleasure Dave.

Here’s my first question: Were you smoking something when you wrote Debatable Space? 😉

I’m tempted to try some illicit drugs as a way of calming myself down a little; my natural metabolism is WAY too high. But I prefer to use endorphins – Nature’s natural narcotic.

I do like safe formulaic writing – when I’m looking for something to read on a Friday night. But when I write, I want to take risks. We’ve all read so many novels, seen so many films; so I want to know, what else? And how else?

Will you please tell us a bit about yourself? Your work in TV, influences, etc?

I’ve had a gipsy life as a writer – a bit of this, a bit of that. I worked as a script editor, and a script reader – David Puttnam was my boss for many years, when I was a humble reader. I’ve been a TV development executive, a TV script editor, I wrote for the British cop series The Bill, I’ve even been involved in the production side of things, for a company called Lucky Dog.

Working in TV taught me about story – how to tell a story, how to brainstorm a story, and how you need to never underestimate your audience when telling that story. (Which of course most British TV shows do ALL the time – but it’s good to know your enemy!)

Will you please take us through the process of writing the book – what led to Lena popping into your head, any ‘eureka!’ moments where something worked even better than you thought it would, and seeing your book on the shelf for the first time?

I really don’t know where Lena came from; I just had that voice in my head, and I listened to it. I knew I wanted an “unreliable narrator”, someone self-deceiving, but ultimately loveable. And the moment Lena started talking to tinbrain, her remote computer – the tone and energy of the book was all there.

I started with a mind full of hazy ideas – solar yachts, space pirates, the notion of writing a story that was a yarn, not an interior monlogue. And then each section leaped into place as I continued through the book. The Cambria sequence was a particular delight for me.

Some stuff I had to work at – building up Peter Smith’s character, getting the balance between Lena’s thought diary and action-adventure. But most of it really was eureka stuff.

And I remember I went with a friend into Blackwell’s Bookshop on Charing Cross Road, just before the official publication date of the book – and found 3 or 4 copies on the shelf, which had snuck out early. My friend actually bought one, and got me to sign it! Now that was a good moment. Then a few seconds later, my wife phoned up to tell me the roof was leaking and we had an infestation of ladybirds in the bedroom. So I said, ‘Yeah, but who cares? My book’s on the shelf in Blackwell’s!’

The main concepts that you dealt with, such as Emergence and Primary Imagination; did they grow out of telling the tale, or did you know from the beginning that you wanted to deal with them?

Before I started writing, I did quite a bit of science reading to get my head in that space, and it was then that I became fascinated by emergence. It just struck me as the only answer I know of to that vital question; how does this stuff actually happen? Evolution explains how complicated things evolve, by surviving or dying out; but how do simple things get to be complicated things? Why isn’t the universe just a great big mush of mess? If entropy and chaos are the natural state of things then, huh? Explain a snowflake!

The concept of Primary Imagination is something that has always intrigued me. At University I was a huge fan of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who wrote ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, and who also wrote philosophy, and coined the phrase ‘suspension of disbelief’ to explain how we read and actively perceive fiction – and that phrase is still the best definition ever of the amazing magical thing that happens in our heads when we read a book, or see a film.

And it was Coleridge who coined the phrase Primary Imagination – based on his reading of Immanuel Kant – and guess what, it makes absolute sense. We each of us create the world, every time we look at it. We find pattern and beauty when we perceive matter that is actually made of atoms inhabiting weird quantum states, we see colour because of the way light interacts with our eyes, we make the real “real”. How cool is that?

You’ve given life to some incredible characters in DS; did any of them ever sneak up and surprise you with something you hadn’t planned?

Kalen’s ‘miaow’ was a bit of a shock to me. And Alby was the character I loved writing most – because he is so unpredictable, and hard to define, and so effortlessly powerful. I would love to have a friend like Alby.

You spoke of Michael Crichton’s novel Prey in the ‘Extras’ section at the back of DS; what are your opinions on ermergence and the ‘Hollywood’ threat of AI? (I say ‘Hollywood’ threat because it’s such a money-maker there)

Prey was indeed a great influence – Crichton (bless his memory) is such an uber-nerd that he actually has a reading list at the back of the book – which I devoured voraciously. The reading list proves he knows what emergence really is – a powerful ‘theory of everything’ for biologists. But he’s also smart enough to know that you can’t have a book without a villain; so he quite shamelessly uses emergence as a way of creating monsters.

I can’t be judgemental about that – I use the same approach myself all the time. You take the truth – great concepts in science – profound ideas – then you make a rattling good yarn out of them. So though I don’t really think emergence and nano-technology are any kind of urgent threat to us; it’s cool to write stories in which that is so!

You left clues all through the novel as to the final fate of Peter; how was it writing the particular character that did the deed?

The clues were particularly cunning because I didn’t really know that was going to happen at the end. But, without giving anything away – I wanted magic in the closing sections of the book, and hope I achieved that .

Lena is vibrant and emotional and utterly fearless (when it suits her); Will Lena (and Flanagan, and the rest of the pirates) ever return? We certainly miss her (all of them) already. 🙂

I’d love to write another Lena and Flanagan book, and hope to do so. I’d be wary, to be honest, of making a series of books about the characters – because that might make them seem ordinary, and it’s their extraordinariness that defines them.

But I do have a notion for a follow-up novel, featuring Lena’s son (a son she didn’t know she had) in cahoots with Flanagan and Lena, on a mission at the far edge of the galaxy…But I have a bundle of other ideas too, so I’m not sure which ones I’ll write next.

And finally, what’s next for you, and for us? Already working on the next novel?

I’m having a joyous time at the moment writing my third book, a noir sci-fi novel set several hundred years later than Debatable Space, in what I call the Exodus Universe. It’s a detective drama, a murder story, it has killer aliens, it has it all really! That should be ready to send to my editor (DongWon Song) in the autumn I hope.

Meanwhile – book number 2 is to be published later this year. It’s called RED CLAW, and it’s similar to DEBATABLE SPACE, despite being totally different in every single respect. It’s not a space opea, it’s a thriller set on a planet rich in deadly aliens. And the main characters are a bunch of scientists who, like me, are geeks; geeks in peril no less.

Orbit have put a lot of work into designing a cover and approach for the new novel that will, we hope, make it stand out. The cover is “pulp”, but with attitude; and it’ll be published in the rather snazzy “B Format” – the paperback format that’s used for Iain M. Banks’ books here in the UK.

RED CLAW is my love song to the old fashioned ‘bug eyed monsters’ genre – the twist being, each of the bug-eyes monsters in my story has a Latin name, and a beauty all its own. It’s really a novel about the joy of discovery, and the naturalist’s love of nature – with a bunch of killer doppelanger robots shooting the hell out of everyone along the way.

Thanks, Philip, for giving up your time to answer these questions, and for writing such a brilliant novel! We wish you all the best!

A pleasure – and let’s keep in touch.

If you haven’t had a chance to read DS yet, and are wondering what DS is, check out my review of the excellent debut here. 🙂

debatable-space

I’m sure the wait for the interview was worth it, don’t you agree? 🙂 And I’m sure you’re all looking foward to Philip’s second book for Orbit, Red Claw. If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the cover; and go ahead, have a good laugh! I know I did! 🙂

redclaw5

Check out Philip’s website here for further updates from him, and check out Orbit’s website here. 🙂

You can also order Debatable Space here (US) and here (UK), and pre-order Red Claw here (UK).

Be Fantastic!

P.S. Did you know that John Jarrold is Philip’s agent? 🙂

 
3 Comments

Posted by on April 11, 2009 in Interviews

 

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An Interview with Jasper Kent

Hey all, received this yesterday already, but my net-connection was giving me some uphill, so I’m posting it today. 🙂

Jasper Kent

Jasper Kent

Welcome to the South African SFF scene, Jasper! 🙂 First of all, will you please tell us a bit about yourself – the Jasper Kent that we readers don’t know?

I trained as a physicist, I work as a software consultant and my ambition has always been to be a composer. Also, I keep rats.

Can you share with us what the spark or collection of ideas was that led to Twelve?

I think it was a copy of the painting of Napoleon on the Pont d’Arcole by Baron Gros. I’d just put it up on my wall when the idea first came to me. Bonaparte looks somewhat drawn and wan in it, and I think that was what gave me the idea of Napoleonic vampires.

My first thought was to do something set in Spain, after many of the Sharpe novels, but I was also reading The Brothers Karamazov at the time, so that’s what brought Russia to mind.

Also, somewhere at the back of my mind was a story from the comic 2000AD called Fiends on the Eastern Front, which was about vampires in the Second World War. I haven’t consciously taken anything directly from that, but I think the idea of vampires in wartime has stuck with me since I read that (many years ago).

Can you give a snap-shot of what a general writing-day is like for you?

I usually get to my desk about nine and start by going through email and anything else I can find to waste my time. I’ll usually start writing about eleven. If I haven’t got going then I’ll break for lunch, but if I’m firing on all cylinders I’ll carry on straight through till about eight or nine at night, perhaps later. On a bad day, I’ll usually be happy if I get 3000 words done, but sometimes I can churn out as many as 6000-7000.

Twelve is replete with the vivid imagery that fills Russia – how did your trip go, and were there any funny or strange incidents that occurred while you were there?

I’d actually already completed Twelve before I went to Russia, though I did have time to do some redrafting based on what I’d learned. Ideally, I’d prefer to visit a location both before and after writing, but visiting afterwards allows me to be very specific about checking details. Moreover, it meant I could do some research for the sequel in advance.

Perhaps the most unusual fact about the trip was that I travelled out there all the way from England by train. There were various reasons for the choice, but one was to get a clearer impression of just how far Moscow is from Western Europe, and the journey that the French had to cover. I was in Warsaw less than a day after setting off, and yet the journey still wasn’t at its halfway mark.

The really strange thing about the journey was the fact that Russia and Belarus have a different gauge for the rails from the west. You might think that at the changeover in Brest, the easiest thing would be simply for the passenger to get off one train and onto another. Instead, they split up the train carriages and roll them all into a shed where the wagons are jacked up off the old bogies, the new ones are slid under and the wagon is lowered down again. And all this with the passengers still in the carriage! I’m glad I was forewarned.

In general, both Moscow and Petersburg were fascinating, though both have been through a lot in the last two centuries, so one has to be careful not to confuse what is and what was. Having said that, since the end of the Soviet Union there has been a lot of restoration done, often with whole buildings being recreated as they originally were.

There was one slightly spooky thing that happened while I was in Moscow. While I was in the hotel restaurant one evening, I noticed I young lady sitting at the bar, chatting up another, male guest. Since she was Russian and he was Belgian, their only common language was English, so I was quite able to eavesdrop. She was quite obviously a hooker, and so it was surprising that she was allowed to operate in a 3-star hotel. But the odd thing that I realized when they had gone was that, though I only saw her from the back, from that angle her description exactly matched that of Domnikiia, most notably the long, dark brown hair. Read Twelve to understand just how eerie that is.

What were the themes you wanted to explore in Twelve, and were these themes there from the beginning or did some of them grow out of telling the tale?

When I started writing, the biggest thematic idea I had was the idea that if you recruit soldiers to your cause who have no ideological reason for fighting with you, then once the battle is won, they may turn on you. At the time I was particularly thinking of how the Mujahedin, whom the USA encouraged to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, to a degree transformed into Al-Qaeda. Whilst that feature of the plot is obviously there, I quickly gave up any attempt to press the analogy.

Ultimately, the key theme can be summed up in a single word – faith. This really came along quite late on. Although there are plenty of elements that relate to it in the plot, it only became crystallized in my mind as a major topic after an early conversation between Aleksei and Maks on the subject.

The other big theme is one that I can’t sum up in a single word, or even a phrase – so much for being a writer – and anyway, I’m not going to tell you what it is, because it would give too much away for those yet to read it.

What, in your opinion, is the fascination with supernatural beings? Immortality? A suspension of morals?

I think it is a suspension of morals, but not in an entirely obvious way. Essentially, I think that all horror – books and movies – is black comedy, and the skill is to make sure that nobody laughs (unless you intend them to – League of Gentlemen, Theatre of Blood etc.). But ultimately, nobody is expected to take it seriously – or at least to take the events themselves seriously. If you write about horrific events that are or could be real – serial killers and so forth – then you have to be much more careful about not doing anything that’s in bad taste or exploitative. Let’s face it; this is just entertainment.

Thus, I think, the use of supernatural beings allows me as an author to feel safe that the reader is suspending judgment on my own morals. Nobody is going to wonder if there is any germ of reality in the less salubrious characters I write. I think it’s similar to the reasons we tell children supernatural fairytales, not real ones.

Twelve is written in Aleksei’s voice – when writing in the first-person, have you ever found that your voice comes through more than the character’s voice?

I’m not too worried about that. Aleksei is a much bolder character than I am, so if I were to come through, it would be in Aleksei NOT doing something or NOT saying something – and that’s fairly easy to fix. Occasionally, perhaps, Aleksei does think a little too much, where others in his place would act, but that all adds to his character. Generally, if I had something to say, I’d get Maks’ to say it.

From your point of view, what is the greatest aspect of storytelling? And are there any real story-tellers left?

Before I started writing, I always thought it a bit strange when some authors, discussing their work, dwelt on this aspect of ‘storytelling’, but now I realize that, at least for my style of writing, storytelling is the key thing. Fundamentally, I’m not trying to say ‘here’s an interesting character’ or ‘this is a troublesome moral dilemma’, but ‘here’s an unusual thing that happened to some people.’ Once I’ve got the reader’s attention with that, with the desire to know what happened next, then I’ve got a framework from which I can hang all those other important things such as character and philosophy. Of course, that’s not the only way to write, but it’s how I do it.

Philip Pullman is the name that jumps to mind when thinking of a great, contemporary storyteller – also Boris Akunin. There are dozens of others too.

How is work progressing on the sequel to Twelve, Thirteen Years Later? And will it have anything to do with the Decembrist Revolt?

An early draft of Thirteen Years Later has just gone into the publishers, so I’m bracing myself to react with calmness and reason to suggested changes. And yes, as the name suggests, it’s set in 1825, which saw two major historical events in Russia: the death of Tsar Alexander I and the Decembrist Uprising against his successor. Aleksei manages to be involved in both.

And if Twelve could be described in a word as being about faith, then Thirteen Years Later is about resurrection.

Finally, any words of advice for aspiring writers? For instance, if you could go back to yourself at the beginning and say…?

I don’t think there’s much, if anything, I’d tell myself to do differently. I started writing seriously five years ago, and now I have a novel about to be published, so I can’t really complain, or wish I’d done it another way.

The only advice I’d give, is to pick and choose from the advice you’re given. I do some things that other authors have suggested if they feel like they’ll work for me, ignore others, and make a lot of it up for myself.

Thanks, Jasper, for taking the time to answer these questions, and we all wish you continued and greater success with Twelve and all your future projects! 🙂

Twelve

Twelve

For more info on Jasper and Twelve, go to Jasper’s official website, and read my review of Twelve. 🙂

 
3 Comments

Posted by on December 9, 2008 in Interviews

 

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An Interview with Terry Brooks

Terry Brooks

Terry Brooks

This interview happened thanks to Shawn Speakman – a great guy, a writer too, and a friend of Terry, and Suvudu, and David Anthony Durham… 🙂 Thanks Shawn! And thanks, Terry, for taking the time; much appreciated!

Welcome to the South African fantasy-reading public, Terry, and thank you for agreeing to do this interview! First off, when you burst onto the scene and changed the fantasy genre with the publication of The Sword of Shanarra, were you prepared for how your tale was going to change your life?

No one is ever prepared for something like that. I was just looking to publish the book and hope that someone, somewhere might find it as interesting as I did. I was very naïve about the business. I didn’t now any authors or publishing people. I didn’t know what the New York Times Book Review was. I had never heard of Publishers Weekly. So when all this happened, I didn’t appreciate what it meant. It was several years before I fully understood.

Being such a prolific and stable author, do you think that the genre has changed for better or worse?

Who the heck knows? I’m only prepared to say that it’s changed, and it will keep changing because that’s the nature of things. Publishing and writing is not what it was when I broke in, but I don’t know that it’s any better or worse. Just different.

When you conceived of the tales that would take place in The Four Lands did you already know that The Word and the Void and Genesis of Shanarra were waiting to be told?

No. Even after I wrote the three books of Word & Void, I didn’t know. At least, not consciously. Subconsciously, I might have known lots of things. But I can’t be sure of that now. What I do know is that after writing the three books of Word & Void, ending with Angel Fire East, I knew that if I went back into the series, I would do so from the perspective of the Knights of the Word after their dreams had come to pass and their efforts to save humanity had failed. When that time came, somewhere around 2003, it occurred to me for the first time that the world of the pre-
shannara Great Wars and the world of the dreams of the Knights of the Word were awfully similar. So what if the two were the same? What if I combined the series? I thought about it awhile, then talked to my editor. She said I should go for it. So I gave it a try and it worked.

Looking back, is there anything you would have changed or done differently, if you could?

I would have quit my job as a lawyer and started writing fulltime sooner. But who knows how that might have affected things? You can’t change history piecemeal – you have to accept that changing one thing might change everything. So I guess I wouldn’t do anything differently.

You’ve written adaptations for Hook and Star Wars: Episode One: The Phantom Menace; did you get to meet with Steven Spielberg and George Lucas while working on those projects, and if so, how much leeway did they give you when working with their scripts?

I wrote Hook first, before I knew better. I never got to meet Steven Spielberg or anyone who wasn’t some low level functionary. I got almost zero cooperation for the people I did meet. I was given no leeway on writing the book from the screenplay. The critiques offered in the end came from three different people with three different sets of corrections. The project was a royal pain in the butt from beginning to end, even though I thought I ended up with a pretty good story. Working with George Lucas was entirely different. I did get to meet and talk with him at length, and his people were entirely cooperative and helpful with what I needed. I was given great latitude in adapting the story and actually told by George to write some original material about Anakin. Writing Phantom Menace was a joy.

Genesis of Shanarra: The Gypsy Morph has hit South Africa: will you please give the readers who have not yet bought the book a taste of what they can expect from the novel?

Sure. Nuclear attacks, chemical warfare, conventional warfare, excessively polluted air and water, and various other forms of environmental destruction have creatred the perfect storm for a collapse of civilization. Governments are gone or have been superseded by militias and terrorists, and what remains of humanity either lives in the wilds or on the streets or in fortified compounds. The story, which began with Armageddon’s Children and The Elves of Cintra, concludes in The Gypsy Morph. It is told through the eyes of a band of street kids, through Knights of the Word, who seek to save some remnant of humanity and through demons in service to the Void. These elements come together in a final battle that determines if anyone will survive a cataclysmic destruction of what remains of the old world.

Were you ever able to offer any input into the design of the US covers for your novels, and what do you think of the UK cover designs?

I do have cover approval over the US editions, so I have input into those. England does their own, and they do ask for my comments. But I let their marketing people make those kinds of calls. They know what sells better than I do.

Dark Wraith of Shannara has been selling incredibly well here in SA (if not everywhere where it was published) and has really opened the door to graphic novel adaptations of SFF books: are there any more plans along those lines, perhaps in the world of Landover or The Word and the Void?

Nothing at present. But I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of something more a little further down the road.

It was reported a while back that Shannara may be hitting the cinema screens in the future; can you comment on whether that is still going to happen, and whether you will have any input in the process?

The Shannara series is under option at Warner Brothers where Mike Newell had been brought in to direct. The last I heard, he was going to work on Shannara as soon as he finishes work on Prince of Persia. I am available for input if called upon. I have already given some comments on ideas for filming Elfstones of Shannara, which will be the first movie.

Finally, what is next for Terry Brooks (and all of us)? 🙂

I have finished work on a new Magic Kingdom novel, which will come out in late August 2009, and I am presently at work on the first of two new books in the Genesis of Shannara cycle. That should take me through 2011. I’ll see if I’m in the Home or not by then.

Thank you, Terry, for giving up some of your time for this interview! We all wish you the very best, and more worlds of wonder that you’ll let us explore with you!

Genesis of Shannara 3 - The Gypsy Morph

Genesis of Shannara 3 - The Gypsy Morph

For more info on Terry Brooks, go check out his official website, and to go check out Shawn Speakman’s work, well, you can see it a Terry’s site, David Anthony Durham’s site, and most importantly, his own site! 🙂

 
5 Comments

Posted by on December 5, 2008 in Interviews

 

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I was Interviewed!

Follow this link, and you’ll find a great blogospere-interview that Mark Thwaite over at the Book Depository did with me (thanks to Mark Chitty!). 🙂 It’s officially the second time I’ve been interviewed (ever – the first time was years ago over at the Wheel of Time site, WOTmania), and it’s pretty cool. Although, come to think of it, I could probably have found a better pick of myself! 🙂 Hehehe!

Also, check out this link, too: it’s Mark’s own literary blog, and always worth a read! 🙂

Nothing new to report yet, but I’ll let you all know as soon as I do have something. 🙂 And Jasper Kent’s Twelve is bloody good! Pun intended! 🙂

Be Fantastic!

P.S. the interview at WOTmania is down the page a bit, on the right – I went by Evad Bel-Burg in the chat-room there. 🙂

 
2 Comments

Posted by on November 19, 2008 in Announcements

 

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An Interview with Russell Kirkpatrick

This interview took a while to get, and that was all my fault. 🙂 Russell had (many moons ago) agreed to the interview, and I took my sweet time to send him the questions, largely because life got in the way, but here it is now! Enjoy! 🙂

Russell Kirkpatrick

Russell Kirkpatrick

First off, welcome to the South African SFF-reading public, Russell, and thank you for doing this interview! 🙂

Firstly, would you please tell us a bit about yourself?

Basic stuff first. I’m 47 years old, married with two boys at university. I did a PhD in Geography and I teach part-time at the University of Waikato. I run an atlas-making company, and we are currently finishing an atlas of Bahrain.

Those are the bare bones. To add flesh to the bones, I need to tell you that I’m obsessive, passionate and driven. I read a great deal – three novels a week. I’m a huge music fan, play golf to a two handicap, enjoy almost every sport, collect Lego and Cornishware, and absolutely adore immersing myself into long-running projects. Making atlases and novels is my idea of heaven.

What can readers expect when they pick up one of your books?

Again, the simple answer first. I write within the epic fantasy tradition: that is, large-scale fantasy with world-changing events. Fate of the world in the balance and all that. I make no apologies for this. What’s the point of fantasy if we can’t occasionally imagine ourselves at the nexus of events?

But the more fundamental answer is that readers should expect to be immersed in a complex world with memorable characters. They should prepare themselves for moments of surprise and terror, and they should be aware that I am trying to move them. They should be prepared to do some work, too. My books contain a great deal of ‘set-up’. If I can’t make you care for the world and its people, why should you care what happens to it? So there are times when you will wonder why I’m not cutting straight to the gory bits. Be patient: I intend you to get there in time.

You’ve completed your first epic fantasy series, and have embarked on a new series – what were the lessons you learned as a storyteller during the process of writing these novels?

Across the Face of the World

Across the Face of the World

This is a question I have thought carefully about over the last few years. I’ve heard a number of authors talk disparagingly about their early published work, as though they wish it would disappear. I don’t feel like that, even though I believe I’m a much better writer now than I was in the 1980s when I began Across the Face of the World.
So yes, I’ve learned lessons, chief among them being to take risks with the storyline and characters. My first series was carefully plotted, and as a result runs in a linear fashion. I decided not to do this with my second series, and instead I have given the story and characters greater autonomy. The result is a story with much greater depth, and characters that are more prone to surprise – even to surprise me.
In my first series the map dictated the story, and with the second series the story dictates the map. Subtle but crucial difference.
I really knew very little when I began to write. I had no idea, for example, about Point of View, and the first series is written by accident in Third Person Omniscient, which is rather rare these days. I don’t think I would do that again, but I like the feel of the narrative it created.

You are also a cartographer, and your novels have some of the most detailed and life-like maps of any epic fantasy out there – how important, in your opinion, are maps to the genre?

Less important these days, as writers move away from epic fantasy to embrace quirky and fascinating alternatives. I’m certainly not an advocate for maps in fantasy novels – I’ve seen some dreadful ones. You know what I mean – all pointy witch’s hats and silly names and half a dozen villages, so ridiculously simplistic that the first impression the book gives you is how much poorer this fantasy is than reality. Why would you want to read a book like that?

If you’re going to use a map, make it big, make it complex, make it consistent, make it believable, cram it to overflowing with stuff you’ve imagined so that people will believe that your world is a viable alternative to the one they live in. You’ve created a new world, and your readers are like explorers venturing into an unknown land, You’d give them the best map you could, wouldn’t you?

With fantasy changing as a genre and the emphasis turning to grittier, un-formulaic storylines, what do you feel began this shift, and do you see it as a good or a bad thing?

In the Earth Abides the Flame

In the Earth Abides the Flame

‘Too much of a good thing’ is what began the shift away from traditional epic fantasy. Certain successful fantasy authors seemed – shall we say – reluctant to finish their profitable series, and a storyline that might have taken a chapter in Book 1 now takes an entire book. Then we get sequels and prequels and even after the authors pass away the machine they’ve set up doesn’t stop. Sons or friends continue the series. And each instance whittles away the readership for good epic fantasy.

Well, if we’re going to behave like that. we’ll get what we deserve. Reader interest will shift to authors who can finish their stories with economy. As for the amount of grit in current stories, I can’t say I have a preference. Depending on the story, such visceral writing can be entirely appropriate. Where it fails, though, is when it becomes a device in itself.

There’s been a lot of talk about moving away from formula towards originality. Who could object to that? Well, I’ve read some of these ‘original’ stories, and my opinion, is that if you read the blurb on the back of a book and it says ‘original’ or ‘chock-full of ideas’ or some-such-like, avoid it like the plague. The story is the thing. If originality is a story’s major merit, be prepared for an experience akin to eating gravel. Lots of interesting sharp edges, but in the end indigestible. By all means look for originality, but where you want freshness is in the author’s voice. There’s nothing original to be discovered in the field of human conflict, which ought to be at the heart of all good stories.

The Right Hand of God

The Right Hand of God

What have you found to be the best way of relaxing during or between projects? Are there ever enough hours in the day? 🙂

Never enough hours in the day. I seldom go to bed having done all I want to. I am already regretting how short life is. So, what is this word ‘relaxing’? What does it mean?

Well, there’s golf, I suppose, but I never play golf with anything other than full intensity, so there’s no relaxing in that. I do gardening like I’m killing my worst enemy. I listen to music for stimulation, not relaxation. Actually, I suppose I’m at my most relaxed working on a nice map.
I do enjoy travelling. That’s relaxing. Hiking is relaxing – if I can make myself walk rather than run. Occasionally I get time to make a Lego model (usually Christmas day). That’s marvellously relaxing. And reading, of course, though I get so drawn in by a good book I can barely breathe.

With more and more books being released as e-Books, do you think that the printed word will ever be replaced with bytes, buttons and screens?

Eventually the printed word will be replaced by something. Actually – though I know this isn’t the answer you were after – I think the printed word is being replaced as we speak. The students I teach at University are barely literate, even the best of them, because they get their information by watching, not reading. They consume television and movies and YouTube. Each of these is a wonderful thing, but you only learn to write by reading, and the evidence of these essays sitting on my desk at the moment tells me how little these people read. The printed word, and the imagination it inspires, is being replaced – has been replaced – by the snappy one-liner. You know, the Indiana Jones come-back. The hero has time to deliver the witty comment even while wrestling with the snake. Hollywood is crushing the life from the novel industry, and it is a real shame. A tragedy.

Path of Revenge

Path of Revenge

Are there any authors, both in the genre and out of it, whose work you follow?

A myriad, actually. I’m a voracious and uncritical reader. I find it frigheningly easy to immerse myself into a novel. First time I read Clavell’s Shogun I went around for a week afterwards grunting in bastard Japanese. But there are some authors who I think are really worth reading. C.S. Lewis, of course, who underneath all the religion had an acute eye for character, and for what makes us tick. Julian May’s 1980-95 masterwork, the interlinked ‘Saga of the Exiles’ and ‘Galactic Milieu’ is universe-encompassing space opera with the redemption of a devil at its heart. Glenda Larke, a lesser-known author, writes with unparalleled acuity, and she knows how to make the most of a novel-sized idea. It’s a tragedy she’s not more widely known. Dan Simmons and Alastair Reynolds are the best of the current science fiction storytellers. Guy Gavriel Kay writes the most lyrical work I’ve ever read, and produces nothing but gold. Lois McMaster Bujold is without peer at characterisation. And Terry Pratchett is our leading moralist. If you know his work, think about what I’ve just said for a moment. I could go on …

With bloggers such as myself (and so many others) doing what we do, are the days of critics working for magazines and such numbered?

I doubt it. The world is hungry for critics, for good and bad reasons. We enjoy hearing from experts, and we love reading about Big Names being torn down with cynical words from critics. In fact, it’s become something of a global sport these days. Critcs say the most outrageously hurtful things under the guise of ‘fair criticism’’. I read reviews that say nothing about the book but everything about the author or the genre or about the critic. How is that helpful to the reader? And that’s what many of these critics become: purveyors of hate and jealously.

Having said that, there are also critics – in the print media and on line – who are really worth reading. They actually read a book and not just the blurb on the back cover. They can identify the target audience, and explain how successful the book is in meeting that audience. People who can do that will never have their days numbered.

What have you got coming up next that we can all look forward to?

I’ve just written the last word of my second series, The Broken Man. It’s darker, pacier and altogether more challenging than my first series, and this is deliberate, as it explores the shadows the first series threw into relief. I’m taking a couple of weeks to catch up on work I’ve left outstanding – such as on-line interviews – and will then immerse myself into a new world, one that stretches over time as well as space. With the tentative title of ‘Time Traders’, it is as much science fiction as fantasy.

Finally, since most of those who read fantasy have a brilliant book inside them, waiting to be written, what advice do you have for them?

Write it.

I mean that. There seems to be this realy strange view amongst authors that we ought to put as many obstacles in front of prospective writers as possible. Tell them how difficult it is to get published. How you have to write a million words before you can call yourself a writer. How you should do everything you can to put a writer off writing, and if they stick at it despite our advice to give up, then they have a true calling.
Arrant nonsense, all of it. Writing is its own reward. I wrote two books with no intention of getting published. I wanted to explore this world I’d made up, so I sent some characters out into the snow to see what they’d find. Why not write as a hobby? Worry about publishing and all that stuff after you’ve written a good story.

Writing is ninety per cent perseverance, and ten per cent talent. There are a million brilliant but half-fnished novels buried in the backs of drawers. Be one of the ten per cent and finish what you start. If you enjoy the process, you’ve already been paid off. And if you don’t enjoy it, find a hobby you do enjoy.

Thanks, Russell, for giving up your time to answer these few questions.
🙂 We all wish you continued success and beautiful characters and worlds. 🙂

Dark Heart

Dark Heart

And here’s a treat (which you may or may not have already seen) – the blurb for the third book in the Broken Man series!

Broken Man, Book 3: Beyond the Wall of Time
The Gods have broken through the wall of time and are now bent on ravaging the world. Only a handful of people understand what is actually happening, but they in turn are under the control of the malevolent Husk. Stella, a queen in hiding, has to deal with the potentially traitorous Undying Man. He has offered to help, but of course has his own agenda. Noetos still seeks revenge for the deaths of his loved ones, but is yet to realise his enemy is one of his companions. And the unconventional cosmographer Lenares is the only one with the power to prevent the Gods destroying the world – if she can get the others to believe her. The queen, fisherman and cosmographer must travel to Andratan to confront Husk. But whether they can break free of his hold on them, and defeat the Gods, is another matter entirely.

For more info on Russell, follow this link to his site. 🙂

 
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Posted by on November 3, 2008 in Interviews

 

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An Interview with Drew Karpyshyn

Drew Karpyshyn

Drew Karpyshyn

I was lucky enough to have been able to get a reply from Drew via his website a few weeks ago, and here is the interview that was born. 🙂
Great guy, and an excellent writer!

Ascension

Mass Effect: Ascension

Welcome to the South African SFF scene, Drew, and thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions! 🙂

No problem – I always like chatting with fans who enjoy my work.

First off, would you please tell us a bit about yourself? What you were
doing before the tales your wrote were published?

I worked a number of jobs before I finally started getting paid for my writing. I was a furniture mover, I drove a truck dropping off newspaper bundles, I worked as a bank teller and loans officer… but none of it was very fulfilling to me. So I went back to school to work on a Masters degree in English. During that time, I signed a contract with Wizards of the Coast to publish my first novel. Shortly after that I was hired by BioWare to work as a writer on their games. Things just sort of took off from there. I never actually did finish my Masters degree. I figured I was getting paid to write, and it just didn’t get any better than that, so I gave up school and I’ve never gone back.

Can you remember the one book you read that created this urge in you to write and share your tales with the world?

As long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I don’t think there was any one book that really flipped a switch; I was writing stories as soon as I was old enough to put pen to paper and scratch out letters.

Your published work includes much more than what you’ve contributed to Star Wars; would you please tell us about everything else you’ve accomplished?

In addition to my two Star Wars novels (Darth Bane: Path of Destruction and Darth Bane: Rule of Two), I’ve also written two fantasy novels for Wizards of the Coast (Temple Hill and Throne of Bhaal), as well as two Mass Effect novels (Mass Effect: Revelation, a prequel to the BioWare video game and Mass Effect: Ascension, a bridge between the first Mass Effect game and the second). I’ve also been a writer on the Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights series of BioWare games, and I was the lead writer on the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect games.

I’m currently working on a third (still untitled) Darth Bane novel, and with BioWare I’m the lead writer on the Mass Effect 2 video game. I’ve also published a number of sci-fi/fantasy short stories, though I haven’t had time to work on any short stories for the past few years – the games and novels (plus golf) eat up most of my time.

You’ve worked in big-name industries, Forgotten Realms, Star Wars, and the gaming industry with BioWare (much of the time); in terms of support with the projects you’ve tackled, which industry rates as the best?

I’ve been lucky, in that I’ve always been able to tell exactly the kind of story I’ve wanted to in all of my work. BioWare is great because they’re one of the few video game companies that focus on story, so writers are full-time employees who start on a project on day one and stay with it to the end. As far as my Star Wars experience, I’ve been fortunate enough to be the only author working in the Old Republic time frame, and the people at Lucas Books and Del Rey have allowed me to write about what I want, how I want.

Your name is part of two of the biggest games in the gaming industry, Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect; what are the things, in your opinion, that yourself and BioWare did right to make these games such a success?

A key element to both games is story integration. There are games that have great gameplay mechanics and fantastic visuals, but they might lack story and characters. Other games have brilliant story, but the game itself is subpar. Both Kotor and Mass Effect managed to combine story, graphics and game play in a way that allows the whole to be greater than the mere sum of the parts. It also helps to have incredibly talented people working on the project. Many of the same senior people who worked on Mass Effect also worked on Kotor. We’re lucky enough to have the the right mix of talents and personalities – we compliment each other well.

Your contributions to the Star Wars saga have focused attention on a great character, Darth Bane; can you tell us how it came about that you were chosen, or allowed, to write Path of Destruction?

I’ll be honest – it’s not easy to break into the Star Wars novels. There are so many talented writers looking to work with the world’s most well known and popular franchise. Fortunately, I had an in – my work on Kotor. Once the game was released and became a big success, I approached Lucas Books and Random House/Del Rey with the idea of having a novel set in the Old Republic time period… something none of the novels had explored before. Based on my work in KOTOR and my first two novels with Wizards of the Coast, the powers-that-be decided to give me a chance.

But I didn’t want to focus on the KOTOR characters or time period. I felt
that, between the games and comic series, that story was already being
told. So I focused on another fascinating time period – the moment when
the Old Republic, with thousands of Sith and Jedi, changed forever. The
logical choice was to make a novel focusing on the man responsible for
that change; a novel that explored the Sith and the dark side in a way
that hadn’t really been done before.

The second Bane novel, Rule of Two, hit shelves in paperback on the 28th of October, and you are working on the third untitled novel; how does it feel to know that you’ve made your own much-loved impression on the GFFA?

Obviously it feels great. I love that fans have embraced the Old Republic time period, and whenver I see an action figure or minature from the Bane novels or Kotor I get a giddy little thrill, because I know I’m partly responsible. There’s something cool about knowing you’ve contributed to Star Wars, because it’s become such a fixture in our culture. My characters and stories will live on long after I’m gone… it’s almost like a small piece of immortality.

Working for BioWare must be one of the best jobs in the world; can you take us through a general day?

It’s a great job, but we work hard. As the lead writer, most of my mornings are consumed with meetings. I meet with the artists, the
cinematic designers, the level designers, the audio and voice over people, the other writers… anyone who is contributing to the game. It’s
important that we all stay on the same page, and everyone understands the vision of whatever we happen to be working on. In the afternoon, if I’m lucky, I get a chance to do some actual writing for the game. Unfortunately, this only happens about 2 or 3 days a week – often my writing time has to be put aside for more meetings. Anytime you get 100+ talented, passionate people working on a game, it’s going to be difficult to keep everyone moving in the same direction. So all the leads on the project (Lead Designer, Lead Artist, Lead Animator, the Project Director,etc.) find themselves struggling to balance meetings with actual content creation.

One of my friends told me that he cried like a baby at the climax of the
first Mass Effect game, and that the game in general was brilliant; what were the themes you all wanted to explore with Mass Effect (the game, as well as the two novels you’ve written), and why do you think the game would have such a powerful reaction with players?

Revelation

Mass Effect: Revelation

We had several themes we wanted to explore in Mass Effect, and I think their universal relevance is what made them come across in such a powerful way. Humanity’s struggle to find their place in the greater galactic community reflects the struggle we all go through to find our place in the world. The nature of morality and whether the ends justify the means is another timeless theme explored throughout film and literature. And the potential threat of artificial intelligence or synthetic life is something modern society is already struggling with, so we wanted to reflect that as well.

Finally, we know you cannot yet speak about where you are taking Bane in his third outing, but do you have any other plans, writing-wise, or can you drop hints about any other exciting projects on the way?

I can’t say too much about projects I’m involved with… I don’t want to get fired or sued. I can say that in addition to the third Bane novel I’m also working on the second Mass Effect game, but I can’t comment on any other BioWare (possibly SW related) projects at this time. (I think you all know what I’m talking about…) I am also working on the first book in my own original fantasy setting, and of course I spend a lot of time working on my golf game.

Thanks, Drew, for taking the time to answer these questions, and we wishyou only the best of luck, great success, and many more books! 🙂

Thanks for the opportunity to speak to all your readers. If they want to know more about me or what I’m working on, they can go to my website at http://www.drewkarpyshyn.com – it’s all Drew, all the time!

Star Wars Darth Bane Rule of Two

Star Wars Darth Bane Rule of Two

 
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Posted by on November 2, 2008 in Interviews

 

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An Interview with Karen Traviss

Karen Traviss

Karen Traviss

First off, welcome to the South African SFF-reading public, Karen, and thank you for doing this interview! 🙂

Nice to talk to you all in SA!

Would you please tell us a bit about yourself?

Not much to tell, really. I’ve been writing fiction for a living since 2004. Before that, I was a journalist, and I worked in PR, but as that was political PR, you can probably count that as fiction too. I sometimes wonder if my characterisation skills actually developed as a result of having to make politicians look like reasonable, honest human beings. A few of them really taxed my creativity on that front….

You’ve completed your Wess’har War series (among many other projects): will you please give us an intro to the series?

It’s about what happens when humans blunder into a rumbling on-off war between aliens a long way from Earth. Not only do we find we’re not the top of the food chain, we also find that our morality is not the morality of the militarily dominant species, and that they find us pretty disgusting. Inevitably, we screw up badly, and they decide we’re a threat that has to be dealt with. There are no heroes or villains in the series, just different perspectives, the very tight third person point of view of each character, so it’s not a series for readers who like nice clear-cut good and evil. Nor are there any answers in it, because I don’t have any. It’s all questions. The characters that most readers regard as the heroes of the series are a disgraced cop, a war criminal, an alien warlord, and a combat-stressed veteran commando. That tells you a lot.

What were the themes that you wanted to explore with the Wess’har War series?

All my novels, tie-in or creator-owned, are about the politics of identity. I didn’t have a label for it until a reader who’s an academic pointed that out to me. They’re all about how we identify ourselves and the line between “us” and “them”, the “them” being anything we can treat badly or exploit. It’s all about otherness. You’ll see exactly the same questions explored in my Star Wars or Gears of War books, or anything else I write – it’s something that works in tandem with my tight-third-person POV style. You’re in each character’s head as the books progress, and you only see the world as each sees it, no authorial intrusion, so it’s up to you as the reader to decide who you believe. I create characters (and develop the ones I inherit) using a twin technique that’s a mix of biology and psychological profiling – I ask myself what kind of person would find themselves in certain niches – who would want to take a one-way trip to an alien world? – then work out the psych profile, and let them loose to interact with one another. It’s much more like computer modelling or games than conventional novel techniques, and the characters really do drive the plot to places I not only don’t recognise but also to places where I wouldn’t want to go personally. I don’t bolt a plot of my choice into the characters. That makes for a very different kind of book.

I’m an ethicist, a critic tells me, which means I explore all my stories in terms of ethics. I still think like a journalist, of course, so if anyone tells me “These are the good guys,” my instant reaction is, “Yeah? Says who? Why?” I don’t take anyone’s word for anything, and I don’t take well to unchallenged assumptions. For example, Star Wars – the vast majority of Star Wars fiction is centred on Jedi, so we just get the Jedi PR view, and nobody sees themselves as bad – not even serial killers. We all think we’re right, and we all think we’re good people. But if you look at yourself, or the Jedi, through someone else’s eyes – someone who hasn’t fared well at your hands, or theirs – then you’ll get a very different picture. So I introduced the idea to SW that the Jedi might not have been the heroes they thought they were. As a journalist, looking at them cold (I knew nothing about SW before I started the books, and I’m not a fan) the Jedi struck me as exactly the kind of cult I’d want to investigate and whose funding and resources would be of great interest, if you get my drift.

What have you found to be the best way of relaxing during or between projects? Have you ever wanted to just pull your hair out and demand more hours in the day from the universe? 🙂

When I find a “between projects” moment, I’ll let you know. I haven’t had a break since October 2004. I have to have one soon, or I’ll drop. I’ll probably do something like take up gliding or some other thing I’ve never thought about before, just to see what happens.

Looking back on your career, is there anything you would have done differently or changed, if you could?

Well, there are only four years to look back on, but if you go by the number of books I’ve written in that time, yes, I suppose that’s a lifetime’s writing for most people, so, okay, career. There have been a few books I’ve absolutely loathed writing for various reasons, and at a basic human level I wish I’d never signed on the dotted line. Readers won’t even be able to guess which ones they are, because it never shows in the books; every book is written to utmost of my ability. It’s not actually the books per se that are negative experiences, but the accompanying factors that are actually a bigger part of writing a novel than the writing itself.

At a professional level, though, I know that the bad things in life teach you a lot more than the good ones, so they’re necessary. I now understand exactly what I dislike and should avoid doing, so I make better choices about what I do in the future. The negative experiences have also been useful for testing my own judgment – there was one case where my inner voice said, “You know this is going to be a serious pain in the backside, don’t you?”, but I did it anyway, and it was, so I learned to trust my instincts better.

I run on business plans – this is business, not art – so I’m used to evaluating outcomes and adjusting plans accordingly, and there’s no point writing if you don’t enjoy it. There are much easier ways to earn a living. The more I define what gives me pleasure in my working day, the better the quality of my life. For example, I know now that I really enjoy working with a games team – I’ve had the time of my life working on GEARS OF WAR with Epic. I also know now that I’m not actually an SF writer – I’m a military writer who happened to start with SF, and the military/ political thing is likely to be the constant in my career, not the genre. You only get to know that by trying things and finding out what you don’t like.

You’ve been on many book tours and have had to sign many books: is there any tour that stands out in particular, one that you really enjoyed?

Actually, I’ve only done a few, and only in the USA. I love the actual events – meeting readers, giving talks – but I hate the travel in between. The sooner someone invents a matter transporter, the better. I’m still twitching from the Great Chicago Airport Foul-up of 2007, also known as the Voyage of the Damned. I won’t bore everyone with the logistics disaster story, but we (me and artist Matt Busch) finally got to Indianapolis an hour after the event was due to start, and by that time the airline had lost my luggage – and | was due in Florida the next day. The situation was saved by the magnificent folks of the local 501st Legion garrison, who made sure I was fed, took me shopping for emergency supplies and clothing, and generally looked after me. I have the best fans on the planet – bless them.

Finally, how do you think the science-fiction genre has changed over the decades, and do you think it has changed for better or worse?

I don’t read novels – I don’t read any print fiction other than comics – so I can’t judge by that, or comment on quality, because that’s going to be highly subjective anyway. But I can judge by sales and what I see happening in the SF community. (At least what I see peering through the window, because I’m not part of it, not in the UK or in the US.) I’m disappointed to see what non-media SF has become. It’s dying sales-wise, agents tell me, and I think it’s only got itself to blame; it created its own ghetto and seems to delight in making it hard for casual readers to get in.

You shouldn’t have to have a body of special genre knowledge before you pick up a book in order to get something out of it – that’s like setting an entrance exam. But that barrier seems to be there, and so a lot of SF has lost out to SF/ fantasy tie-ins and other media because it’s failed the general reader in terms of creating immersive stories. It’s the kind of attitude I see aimed at TV series like Battlestar Galactica. “It’s not SF!” the hard-liners shriek. Well, I say it is SF and the kind we should be aiming at if we want more people to get into it, because BSG is accessible to casual viewers as well as self-identifying SF fans. BSG is about people and situations we can relate to, and SF is just a stage setting for those things. And “accessible” is not a dirty word – what kind of genre doesn’t want to appeal to as many people as possible? We’re not running an exclusive country club here. We’re seeking a shared experience. I write for general readers, deliberately so, not only because that’s the only way novels will survive in the market, but because I actually want to reach as many people as I can. Believe me, I’d rather write a million-selling book for a modest advance than accept a million bucks for a book that sold to only a couple of thousand readers.

Books have to be primarily about people – about characters. The time has long gone when you could trot out a story about a gizmo and the idea of the gizmo alone would make readers gasp. We live in a world stuffed with damn gizmos, our pockets and homes are full of them, and we know what they do and that they haven’t always made our lives magically better. But we still have trouble understanding other people. So that’s where the sense of wonder lies, the unknown country to explore.

The worst lie SF ever told itself was that any story where you could take out the science and the story still worked was just “skiffy”, and hence inferior. By all means go on writing “ideas and gizmo” SF, but don’t be surprised if most people don’t buy it. Novels are about the human condition – even if they’re about aliens. Characters – people – are what sell books to most readers..

Thank you, Karen, for giving up some of your time to answer these questions for us, and please keep those incredible novels coming! 🙂

My pleasure!

Gears of War Aspho Fields

Gears of War Aspho Fields

Star Wars Republic Commando Order 66

Star Wars Republic Commando Order 66

Go check out Karen’s website here, where you’ll be able to explore (and purchase!) every book Karen has written. 🙂

Also, here’s a link to her blog post on character creation; Karen spoke about some of the topics she covered in the blog post in the interview, but for all us writers out there, I think it’s great to see another POV, so to say. 🙂

Also, here’s another link to a great blog post, also on her blog. Deep, interesting reading, trust me. 🙂

Once again, thanks to Karen for giving up her time for this interview! 🙂

 
1 Comment

Posted by on October 16, 2008 in Interviews

 

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An Interview with Christopher Paolini

I had no idea whether this would realize or not! 🙂 This is all thanks to Daniel Rabinowitz, Sales and Marketing Manager for Random House Struik South Africa – he sent us an email about a letter that Paolini had written to his fans, and I replied by asking if it would be possible to do an email interview with Paolini. After a few weeks, I got the reply, with the interview questions answered! 🙂 So, thanks to Daniel and Christopher for making this happen! 🙂

 

Christopher Paolini

 

First of all, South Africa welcomes you, Christopher, and let me tell you, we can’t wait to read Brisingr!

 

Thank you. I can’t wait for you to read Brisingr, too!

 

 With Eragon and Eldest now under your belt, and millions of copies of both books having sold world-wide, and the movie adaption of Eragon, did you ever think that simply telling the tale you had in your head would lead you where it has?

 

The creation of Eragon was a personal journey, my attempt to write a book that I would enjoy reading myself, and the first part of a larger story. Publication was the furthest thing from my mind. I certainly didn’t know how big a project I had tackled, but as I poured my heart and soul into the story, writing it soon overshadowed other activities.

 

I have been blessed with good fortune in many ways, but the success of Eragon and now Eldest is based upon years of hard work and sacrifice, by myself and my family.

 

What was the first thing you did after writing (or typing) the final words of the first Eragon manuscript? Did you celebrate or take it easy?

 

When I finished the first draft of Eragon, which took a year to write, I sat down and read it through for the first time. As you can imagine, I was pretty excited. However, I quickly realized that the manuscript was unpublishable. The story was there, but the technical aspects of the writing needed serious help.

 

I spent a second year and rewrote the book, fleshing out the dialogue and the characters and the descriptions. At the end of the second year, I gave Eragon to my parents, neither of whom had read it before. Fortunately, they fell in love with the story and decided to help me self publish it. Before that happened, we spent a third year editing the book and preparing it to go to press.

 

After a fourth year spent marketing the book around the U.S., Eragon was acquired by the publisher Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers and it went through another round of editing. I learned a lot from this process, which was reflected in the manuscript for Eldest.

 

What were some of the more challenging aspects of writing Eragon?

 

The hardest part of writing Eragon was working on such a long project. I’m a slow and steady writer, so it’s necessary for me to put in long hours each day to complete a novel. It helps me to have a routine. I get up, eat breakfast, write until late afternoon—with a short break for lunch, exercise, then eat dinner and relax with a movie. I often write again in the evening. Yes, it’s a lot of work. But the plot and characters are so interesting that I seem to live their lives as I write.

 

Was there any time, after the huge success of Eragon, that you had to take a step back for a moment and suck in a few breaths to steady yourself again?

 

Those moments have been far and few between. Once a book is completed, I’ve taken some time off, and then I find myself getting anxious and restless. I’ve been writing long enough to recognize that there’s only one cure for those symptoms: beginning the next book. I have a story to tell and it wants to be told.

 

Would you please take us through the highs and lows (if there were any lows) of writing Eldest?

 

In Eldest, I decided to challenge myself by writing from several points of view. Because I had never done this before, I found it both exhilarating and a bit scary. I also developed my invented languages more fully, which took a tremendous amount of time.

 

Were there any times that your characters surprised you? Times when they may have done something or when the plot turned in a direction that made you think ‘Huh?!’ or ‘Now that will work like a bomb!’ ?

 

It happens all the time. I’ll be in the middle of a paragraph or a sentence, and suddenly I’ll realize that, no, Eragon would do this, not that. It’s a wonderful experience, because in that moment, the world and the characters seem to have a life of their own, and I feel as if I’m just transcribing the character’s own words, instead of inventing them myself.

 

Did you celebrate in the same way when you finished Eldest, or did you go bigger or calmer?

 

One of the fun things I did earlier this year was attend the Bondurant School of High Performance Driving, where I had my first experience driving a Corvette on a race track. And I also treated myself to a Damascus steel knife. It reminds me of something an elven smith might forge.

 

Would you please take us through Brisingr, give us a little taste of what we can expect?

 

Brisingr is the continuation of the adventures of Eragon and the dragon Saphira, as recounted in Eragon and Eldest, the first two books of the Inheritance cycle. In it readers will discover a ship made of grass, a forest made of stone, and a rose that is a star. And they’ll battle terrifying enemies and view the world through the eyes of a dragon!

 

And finally, how is the outlining for Book Four going?

 

I’ve completed the outline for Book Four last month. I’m very clear about the direction of the story, how it will conclude and the path each character will take.

 

Thank you for giving up your time for this interview, Christopher, and I’m sure that I speak for everyone who has fallen into the world you created when I say that we all wish you well that we can’t wait to dive into Brisingr!

 

Thank you for the opportunity to answer your questions. I look forward to visiting South Africa someday. I am interested in Cape Town, Table Mountain, the beaches on the Cape, and the South African people.

 

May you soar on dragon wings,

 

Christopher Paolini

 

 

Brisingr

Brisingr

 
2 Comments

Posted by on September 25, 2008 in Interviews

 

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An Interview with the Legendary Dr. Ben Bova

Dr. Ben Bova

Dr. Ben Bova

 

 

The first books by Ben Bova that I ever read (and let me tell you, this was before I had read Lord of the Rings or 2001: A Space Odyssey, and probably just after I had finished The Belgariad) were the Orion books. To say that I was stunned and over-whelmed would be an understatement; nothing like this had ever blazed through my imagination before! The fact that I had to catch up J didn’t scare me in the least, and I knew that I had discovered an incredible writer (as had everyone else who had picked up a book by Ben Bova, and as do new readers!). J So, having always wanted to sit with Ben Bova, I was incredibly honoured to have the chance to email him with a few questions and have them answered! Ladies and Gentlemen, Dr Ben Bova. J

 

 First off, it is an honour to be able to have a bit of your time, and welcome to the South African SF-reading public! J Mars Life (the third book in the series) is on bookshelves world-wide right now; can you please give us a taste of what we can expect?

 

MARS LIFE continues the story of Jamie Waterman and the human exploration of Mars. Some twenty years have passed since the end of RETURN TO MARS, and the Mars Project is threatened by funding cuts provoked by the New Morality, which is utterly hostile to the discovery of an extinct intelligent Martian species.

 

How has your life changed since you began exploring space? Would you be among the first (If you could) to set foot on the Red Planet?

 

I’ve found legions of readers not only among the science fiction community but among scientists, students, and many others who don’t ordinarily read science fiction. Most moving of all, several young persons have told me that my books have inspired them to make their careers in science. That’s powerful! And yes, I’d get on a Mars rocket just as soon as I could grab a toothbrush and a clean pair of socks.

 

Ray Bradbury once said that you were the writer who would have the greatest effect on the world; did your publishers keep that as a surprise or did you know he’d said that, and how did it feel to be acknowledged in that way?

 

I knew about Ray’s generous comment before my publisher did, and I was floored by it.

 

You’ve written about a very wide range of subjects (in both fiction and non-fiction) and explored many different themes; which of these was the most interesting or challenging for you?

 

The search for life on other worlds. My non-fiction book, FAINT ECHOES, DISTANT STARS, was a very difficult challenge because I had to deal with both the science and the politics of the field of Astrobiology.

 

In your opinion, has the Science Fiction publishing industry changed since you were first published, and was it for better or worse?

 

The field has certainly changed. It’s become much bigger, although most of the growth has not been in “hard” science fiction, but in the softer kinds of stories, fantasy, and horror.

 

Which Sci-Fi concepts do you see as having the best chance to be translated or engineered into reality (as what happened with Arthur C Clark and communication satellites)?

 

Lunar bases and military operations in orbit.

 

Out of all the worlds you’ve explored and all the characters you’ve created, do you have a favourite place and person?

 

No. That’s like asking a father which of his children is his favourite. They are all dear to me. I do have a favourite novel, though, which is not science fiction but rather contemporary fiction about scientists. It was originally published under the title BROTHERS; Tor Books will bring out a revised and updated edition in January under the title THE IMMORTALITY FACTOR.

 

Was it your intention to have your Grand Tour novels work together, as an almost alternative-history record of the future?

 

Yes!

 

Are there perhaps any authors whose work you follow? Both in the genre and outside it?

 

Most of the authors I read are dead, including many of my dearest friends.

 

What was your first memory of looking up at the stars and knowing that you wanted to be there and know everything there was to know?

 

I was 11 years old, on my first visit to a planetarium. When the lecturer turned on the stars he turned me on, too.

 

If you could use an Einstein-Rosen Bridge and time-travel back to your younger self, just as you were preparing to publish your first novel, is there any advice you would want to give? (For the uninitiated, an Einstein-Rosen Bridge was the first term ever used to describe the theoretical ‘worm holes’ that may exist throughout the universe)

 

Plenty! But it’s very personal and not for publication.

 

Finally, which worlds are next for you (and for us)? J

 

I want to return to Jupiter and see if humans and the Jovian Leviathans can communicate and learn from one another.

 

Thank you more agreeing to the interview and giving up your time for us, Dr. Bova, and for giving us those first-class tickets to the Solar System! J

 

You’re entirely welcome.

 

 

Mars Life - Ben Bova

Mars Life - Ben Bova

Now go and have a look at Dr. Bova’s website! http://www.benbova.net/
 
1 Comment

Posted by on August 15, 2008 in Interviews

 

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