FIVE QUESTIONS WITH ELIZABETH MOON
1 - Since you are once again publishing stories (and once again on the NYT bestseller list) in Paksworld, how have your feelings for the original series changed between the time when it was published and now?
For the world and its characters and the story...not at all. It's my firstborn, in terms of books. Are there things I would change? Not now, but I see things that--if I were writing the same story now--I would write a little differently, change a phrase here or a word there. Twenty-odd years on, I'm a more compact writer (the books are still long, but there's more in them.) But coming back to this world to write was like coming home to a place and people who had not, after all, become small and alien (the way it often is when you go back to a hometown after years away.)
2 - I saw in an interview you once did that you tend not to back down from challenges. Are there any challenges as a writer you feel you still need to defeat?
Defeat? No. Attempt, work on, try to meet, yes. Pushing my own limitations as a writer--trying to write better, more clearly, more precisely, more intensely--is a constant challenge. I haven't yet written the perfect book. I never will--no one does--but I can get closer. Maybe. With enough work.
Much of this work isn't about the writing craft as such, but learning more about how the world works--especially the people in it. To write effective characters, you have to experience people and discover what motivates them, what is the vector calculus behind their actions. What roles are played by religion (both general and specific religions) in shaping group behavior and in individual lives? How is group pressure applied in different societies to enforce (or attempt to enforce) conformity? Why are some people more susceptible to it than others? How and why do farmers think differently from insurance clerks...and more subtly, from home gardeners? How is a factory worker's feeling about a job different than that of a clerk in a convenience store? How many generations does a cultural habit of thought persist after a family has left that culture? A lot of observation, conversation, listening to others' conversations and reading goes into acquiring, bit by bit, a broader understanding of character. (Never quite broad enough.)
In addition, writers need to know as much about everything else as possible: from biogeochemical cycles to cooking, from plate tectonics to gardening, from the physics of sailing to knitting. So there's always a challenge to study more, expand the knowledge base, and then allow the new knowledge to cross-pollinate with the old. From such hybrids come new ideas, new expressions of old ideas, and (often) better stories better written.
And then there is the writing craft part. Reading better writers, reading across genres, learning from them...and then working on the work itself.
3 - It is increasingly difficult to find interview questions that haven’t been covered by/for authors who have embraced the Internet. Given the rapid expansion of online video, social networking and blogging how do you picture the role of the author in the future?
The primary role of the author will always be to write the book. However, the secondary role of author-as-public-figure is increasing with internet-enabled communication. Readers want--and now demand--direct contact with writers; they want a special relationship, just as they do with performers in music and movies and such. (And some writers now have bodyguards, something unnecessary and unthinkable thirty or forty years ago.) Publishers now say they are looking for writers with a "brand" or "platform" before they will consider publishing an unknown's book. For writers whose skillsets include these forms of self-promotion, this is good (until the point at which they don't have time to write their books.) For writers who don't have the skills--or desire--to be public figures, this is not good...and it's something writers talk about, while hiding in their caves.
Some of us insist that anyone who isn't comfortable "out there" is doomed to failure, that we must all acquire the self-promotion skillset, that we must all "engage" with readers: spend some time every day trying to be popular as public figures. Build that brand, that platform, leverage a winning personality into book sales. Be careful not to offend--wear the right ideas. Some of us insist that it's impossible for all writers to change themselves (for some the change is more radical than for others), and that readers will lose by not valuing writers primarily for their books, not their "engagement" with readers. And all of us recognize the time problem: that time spent blogging, on Twitter, chatting on Facebook or LiveJournal or whatever is time taken away from the actual writing, telling the stories given to us to tell. Even those who are best at it know that it limits their "on book" time.
I don't know what the outcome will be. I enjoy Twitter, email, blogging, etc....but I know it's easier than writing the story, and a temptation, when the story isn't going well. Always easy to hang out with friends or acquaintances online; always easy to tell yourself you "should" write another blog post, or read someone else's (thirty or forty someones...) and then...somehow the story stays unwritten. Without the story--without the book--there is no author, there's only another more-or-less interesting voice online.
4 - You have covered science fiction and fantasy in your writing, which was the most fun for you to write?
Both are fun to write, but in such different ways that it's hard to say which is more fun. (Though last year, reading one of Jim Gunn's books on the differences between fantasy and science fiction, I realized that I write fantasy in a science fictional way. Sort of.)
Science fiction allows me to play with imagined futures, invent technology, invent cultures that might grow from ours in a different environment, etc. For me, it's always in a setting that has our real-world history in the background--it grows out of this reality--and that's its limiting factor. It tickles the technically-curious parts of my mind, feeds off the little science I've actually done and the science journals I read every week.
Fantasy allows me to play with a world that is not connected to this one except psychologically, and draws on what I learned in my first degree (history, mostly ancient and medieval) as well as the experience of different cultures from my childhood. Here the fun is more in deep creation--instead of taking on a universe with existing rules, a world with an existing known reality, I can play "what if?" at a deeper level. A universe with different rules, a world that includes what we know isn't in this one. And in fantasy, I get to draw maps.
5 - If you could have one super power, what would it be?
Time control. I would take time away from those who are bored, feel they have "nothing to do" or are "killing time," and give it to those who are rushed, overworked, struggling to find a spare moment to rest or smell the roses. This time would be distributed in "pockets" apart from regular time, so those who needed it would not be interrupted by the outside world. Those from whom it was taken would be happier, as boredom is not a good feeling--for them life would suddenly seem brighter and busier. Those to whom it was given would be happier--they'd finally get a chance to breathe freely. The world as a whole would be happier because--as pointed out by others--it's often bored people who decide to do cruel things to amuse themselves. Bunch of people standing around bored and complaining about being bored are much more likely to tie cats' tails together or decide to go beat up someone "just for fun."
<interviewer Eric Hardenbrook>
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