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By Patrick (2006-01-21)Patrick has talked with Steven Erikson about his books and the future. This is the first part of a two part Interview , the second part can be read here.
Dear Mr. Erikson, Let me start by thanking you for being gracious enough to take some precious time off your indubitably busy schedule to answer these questions. But with the imminent release of THE BONEHUNTERS, know that your fans are extremely excited about this chance to hear from you in person.
Is there a character that you particularly enjoy/enjoyed writing? Why is that? By the same token, is there a character that you absolutely don't like writing about? For what reason?
Steven Erikson: For me it's important that I enjoy the characters I write about, or rather, those whose points of view I am using. I need there to be something intrinsically interesting in them. Often it's nothing obvious, either. In real life, people don't tell you what their character is -- it's revealed, in increments, through what they say and what they do. In that sense, character is subtle, and I certainly try to make it so in my fiction. So, I'll have either a full history of the character I am using, or just its bones if that person is 'new' to the series. By bones I mean there's a sense of their history, but not all the details are fleshed out -- that comes as I write them at the first draft stage -- so I try to start with the same feel of mystery that exists with every new person each of us meets in real life. Anyway, I don't not like writing about any characters, even the despicable ones. As for favourites, again it's a subtle thing with me, as each character delivers something different. For Karsa Orlong, for example, it's his barrelling through things, both verbally and physically, and often in ways that undermine the cliches regards 'barbarians' or, even more pleasing (for me), undermines the genre's conventions. On a quieter side, I did enjoy writing both Apsalar and Scillara in The Bonehunters: that they are thematic opposites with romantic ties to one character in particular only makes it more fascinating.
I'll never pound anyone over the head with characterisation -- turns out there's some of my readers who'd rather I did just that. Oh well.
What do you feel is your strength as a writer/storyteller?
SE: Yikes. Setting things up then doing the unexpected, I suppose. With well-buried motivations among many of the major players in the series, I think I can continue to surprise readers. There's a few of those instances in The Bonehunters, including what I'll call an inverted double-bind stick-the-knife-in reversal thing (think the phrase will catch on?), that's clearly set up one way only to ... well, don't want to give too much away here.
Years ago, when I was learning the craft of fiction at university workshops in Victoria and Iowa, I observed a peculiar aversion to certain elements of narrative fiction; principally, plot and drama. Neither, it seemed, belonged in serious literature. This was the era of kitchen-sink stories and Carver wannabes. Plot was for genre; better the characters did nothing and talked a lot but talked about nothing while doing it, all of which was supposed to lead to some profound epiphany but mostly led to blank looks from others in the class. As for drama, well, drama was out. This was also the time of the ascendancy of the Cynical School of Fiction. Wherein we were taught that true drama doesn't exist, and any attempt at drama in fiction was in fact /melodrama/. In other words, because the world was the way it was, and fiction was its truest reflection, there was no such thing as 'earned emotion' -- nothing hard and heavy in fiction was in fact honest. Why? Because it was hard and heavy, of course. So there I was, quietly railing against such notions and writing 'serious' fiction that had people actually doing things and had things actually happen and they were often hard and heavy and the response was as you'd expect. The only loud kudos came when I wrote flat out comedy, probably because my comedy was of a cynical, sarcastic nature. Only what I was laughing at was not always what everyone else was laughing at.
One might say I fell into genre writing in order to use both plot and drama, and there might be some truth in that. It's hard to be analytical about such things. After all, I love reading Homer and Homer's full of drama. Nasty, brutal drama. It may also be a case of wrong place, wrong time. Which is probably the most likely, so I'll stop now.
What author makes you shake your head in admiration?
SE: Lots and lots. John Gardner, Gustav Hasford, Mark Helprin, Atwood (no, just kidding on the last one. I shake my head all right, just not in admiration), some Doris Lessing. In fantasy, I think Robin Hobb is a very clever, very subtle writer. Alas, I'm not reading much fantasy these days, although I enoyed Tim Lebbon's new one and I'm very interesting in how reviewers will take David Keck's first novel..
Prior to its American release, Tor Books allowed you to take care of a number of inconsistencies found within GARDENS OF THE MOON. Are there any plans to do the same with the UK version?
SE: None of which I am aware. There weren't many -- one big gender correction, though -- but the rest was pretty minor.