Tags: bibliography

Snow White

Genre Chick Interview: Stephan Pastis

Who wouldn’t want to know more about a man who visits you every day and hangs out in your kitchen? This month, I cozied happily up to Stephan Pastis, fellow Greek and supertalented creator of the irreverently hilarious comic strip Pearls Before Swine.

I had the hardest time trying to find a conference room in which to interview Stephan–it’s what I get for scheduling an interview on Monday morning. I finally found an empty closet with a phone jack in which to make my call. And I’m very glad I did; Stephan is just as cool as you’d imagine him to be. We talked about everything from Greek mafia hits to Garrison Keillor to Bucky Katt to Stanley Kubrick, and we decided exactly who Spartacus was.

And then I remembered to press record.

Warning: A few crocodiles were harmed during the recording of this interview. But it’s okay, because we un-died them afterwards.

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Alethea Kontis: What’s the first thing that pops up when you press “play” on your iPod?

Stephan Pastis: It’s the Bob Dylan album Time Out of Mind. But if you go by which artist is the most played, it’s probably U2.

AK: You’ve mentioned a passion for Hemingway in other interviews you’ve done–what are some of your other favorite contemporary authors?

SP: Historians like Robert Caro, Doris Kearns Goodwin, David McCullough…when I do find an author, I tend to pick up absolutely everything he or she has written and immerse myself in the author’s work. I just did that with Stanley Kubrick, actually–I watched something like 13 Stanley Kubrick films back to back.

This year, my goals are to read up on Roman history, Mayan history, Thomas Wolfe, William Faulkner, and I want to cover architecture. I know nothing about architecture.

AK: Is there a reason you don’t have characters named “Dog” and “Cat,” or did you make some sort of secret pact with Darby Conley?

SP: Dogs and cats are two animals that have been historically too covered on the comics page, so I have to sort of watch that. That said, I do have a new character who is a dog on a leash that I’m really warming up to, and in the next few months there will be a cat who is a very interesting character.

AK: When you sit down to write your strips, do you find that art imitates life, or that life imitates art?

SP: I do the strip in such a way that it’s not a one-to-one relationship. I don’t see something and it goes into the strip; I sort of let the subconscious run free and what comes out comes out. You know that zone you get in when you’re in the car on a six-hour drive, and suddenly you wonder where the last four hours went? That’s the zone I’m usually in when I’m writing. I make up these scenarios and put them down. Afterwards, things tend to happen in real life that seem to reflect that. And since I write the strip about eight months in advance, by the time it runs everybody thinks that I wrote it after the event…when it’s usually the other way around.

AK: Do you still have the cartoons you drew as a kid?

SP: I do. For some reason, most of those cartoons were based on television commercials.  There’s one in particular I remember about the Fruit of the Loom dying in the hamper.

AK: Does picture book star Danny Donkey have a publisher yet?

SP: That would be great, wouldn’t it? People have asked me about that one, and if there would be an Angry Bob book. They couldn’t be by me, of course–they would have to be by Rat. Maybe I’ll compile “Rat’s Complete Writings” someday.

AK: How many times has Crocodile Bob died?

SP: Well, Angry Bob has died 19 times. I know that because there are nineteen strips–they are all numbered. I call them “Author One” and “Author Two.” I think the last one is “Author Nineteen.” The Crocs, oh boy, that’s a harder question. I don’t track them and I should. There have probably been about 50 to 60 croc deaths. They’ve died an awful lot. I know Larry died a few times, too. I just conveniently keep going. I don’t even bother to un-die them. I make no pretense about having any sort of continuity in my strip.

AK: Now, Larry, he’s the one with the wife, right?

SP: There’s definitely a family–I have to ask my son this sometimes because I forget their names–but I think his wife’s name is Patty and his son’s name is Junior. Where they live I don’t really know…somehow they’re next door to Zebra, and the Fraternity of Crocs is next to Zebra and I don’t think they’re in the same house. The Lions are on the other side of Zebra, and now he has Hyenas, so the whole thing’s all mixed up.

AK: Zebra really does live in a bad neighborhood, doesn’t he? Croc Speak is the best, though…the favorite phrase going around here is: “You shut mouf, woomun!”

SP: (laughs) That’s a popular line. I used to hear “Hullo, zeeba neighba,” but now I hear “You shut mouf,” or “Peese shut mouf.” I like when they say “Peese.”

AK: Since I’m recording this, could *you* please say something in Crocodile Speak?

SP: See, I don’t talk like other people hear it. When I do it, I always ruin it for other people. I say, “Hullo, zeeba neighba. Leesen…” and hear something like Russian, but I know that’s not how other people hear it and I end up spoiling it for everybody.

AK: You’ve never accidentally said, “You shut mouf, woomun!” to your wife, have you?

SP: Oh, wow. Wouldn’t that be something? I don’t think she would be my wife anymore. I do talk Croc to my kids…it’s probably pretty annoying for them. I don’t think they listen to me.

AK: Is there a reason you chose crocodiles over alligators? Do they live in the Southern Hemisphere?

SP: That’s a good question. Why didn’t I make them alligators? I know crocodiles are bigger, so they’re theoretically more menacing…which makes these guys all the more lame.

“Croc” is just a good sound. A lot of it is based on sound. It’s all rhythm. If you’ve ever watched a stand-up comic–especially the old guys who were really good at it–if they were going along and it came close to the punch line and they said the wrong word and then restated it, the joke was ruined. If it’s just a joke, the word doesn’t matter, but it has the same effect as a pianist hitting the wrong note. You cannot recapture the song. Once you have people in your rhythm, they will find stuff funny even if it isn’t necessarily so.

Sometimes people will ask me to put their name in the strip, but the real reason I don’t is because usually rhythmically it doesn’t fit. “Bob” is such a great word. It’s short, it’s funny, it’s a stupid verb, it’s a whole bunch of things. Anything that’s palindromic or repeated syllables: Fifi, Gigi…those are funny. I don’t know why.

AK: Do you have a lot of storytellers in your family? (Being Greek I can’t imagine you don’t…)

SP: Oh yeah, there are relatives who definitely like to tell stories. No writers, though; I don’t know where I came from. Milkman, maybe.

AK: With all the morbid humor, do you have an undertaker in the family?

SP: Wait let me think about that a sec…no. But you know, coming from a huge family you go to tons of funerals. I’ve been a pall bearer maybe 10 times. And when I’m bored waiting in the wings I talk to the undertakers. They are really creepy. I remember one who took great pride in how well he applied makeup. That scared the $%#* out of me. That’s just wrong.

AK: How did your parents react when you told them you wanted to write comic strips?

SP: They weren’t worried because I had the law thing going–I had done school and grad school and had the degree. It was a side thing I did once I already had done everything. If I had said it to them when I was a junior in high school, I think it probably would have worried my mom, at least. But because of the way I did it, what’s the worst that could happen? I could just go back to being a lawyer.

AK: In some way, shape, or form, do any of your characters reflect anyone in real life?

SP: Ummm…er…ew…yes. Rat is clearly me. He’s the most natural voice for me by far. If I had my way, I would do only Rat strips. You would not want to spend a whole weekend with me. I would annoy you. Pig is me, but he’s also [my wife] Staci to some extent, like the interplay I see sometimes reflects our conversations. Goat is definitely me: smarter, quieter, wants to stay away from everybody. The Zebra and Crocs are nobody. The Duck is me insofar as I hate my neighbors.

If the characters are going to be believable, they all have to be you. Sparky told me that once. I didn’t really understand what he meant then, but now I do. Otherwise, you don’t have a real good grasp on them. Really, you don’t know anyone like you do yourself.

I cannot write from the female perspective; I can’t do it convincingly. They turn out very one-dimensional. I admire writers that can switch genders. It’s an amazing thing. I’m hoping my relationship with my daughter changes that. I think she changes how I interact with females. I think she’s changed me, so I think she might be reflected eventually in a character.

AK: Good for her! So…what is the meanest thing Rat has ever done?

SP: Tearing Cathy’s head off and sticking it in a closet and declaring that her strip had become funnier since she could no longer speak. If I could take something back, it would be that, because I now know her and I feel extra bad.

AK: Do you ever “okay it” before you do a parody of another strip?

SP: I do now, only because I know almost everyone. Bil Keane is actually writing the intro to my next book.

AK: Do you feel impeded by today’s political correctness?

SP: Oh yeah. Other than Hi and Lois, there’s not a single cartoonist who won’t tell you that. It impedes you like crazy. If not for that, I would say “sucks” and “screwed” all the time. I could have references to sex or drugs. It’s like playing a piano and they only give you the black keys. I want to have South Park or Family Guy’s rules. I got to go to the Family Guy studio one time, and I was looking through the storyboards. Every joke I saw I thought: “This would end my career, this would end my career, THIS would end my career…”

AK: Perhaps when you retire you can go out with a bang. Why is it that comic strip writers (Gary Larson, Bill Watterson) tend to suddenly retire?

SP: My theory on that is that it’s akin to novel writing. There is a natural length a novel should be. There’s a reason you don’t see 4,000-page novels. There’s a natural arc that even the best writers have to close up at some point. It’s about the 15-year mark. Peanuts and Doonesbury went a little beyond that, but by and large there seems to be something magical about the 15-year mark. The secret is to really expand your set of characters, which is something both Sparky and Trudeau did.

Originally published at AletheaKontis.com. You can comment here or there.

Snow White

Genre Chick Interview: Shannon K. Butcher

Shannon Butcher’s contemporary romance novel No Regrets
debuted last winter. Its follow-up, the sexy thriller No Control
, has just released, and it is already a favorite in the Secret Inner Circle of Ingram’s genre book club. Join me as I talk to Shannon about the Delta Force, chasing tornadoes, and life with her husband, author Jim Butcher (The Dresden Files).

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Alethea Kontis: In No Regrets, your heroine is a genius cryptologist and your hero is a Delta Force operative–do you have a background in military or math or ancient history?

Shannon Butcher: No, I don’t have any personal background in the military or ancient history, but I took plenty of advanced math while getting my engineering degree.  In fact, I was only one class away from a minor in math, but I just wasn’t willing to stick around for another semester to get it.

AK: Were there any new challenges (or talents) you discovered while writing your second book?

SB: My second book was all about panic.  I’d sold it, but unlike the first one, it wasn’t written, so when I realized I had to write a second novel of publishable quality, I panicked.  I wasn’t sure I could do it.  The panic made me buckle down and write like crazy.  I finished the thing in 23 days and proved to myself I could do it.  The confidence I gained has been invaluable to me.

AK: You’ve gone from tornado chasing to engineering. What led you to contemporary romance? Have you always been a writer?

SB: I’ve always enjoyed writing, but it was never something I did outside of high school English assignments.  If it hadn’t been for my husband, Jim, I never would have even considered writing as a career.  He would be talking about how there was something wrong in one of his stories, but he didn’t know what.  I wanted to help, but had no clue how, so I told him that if he taught me what to look for, I’d help him find that illusive “wrong” he was looking for.  After a few years of having him teach me writing craft, I decided I wanted to see if I could write my own books, so in 2003 I did.  My early books sucked pretty hard, but No Regrets was the ninth book I finished and it was the first one I thought was good enough to try to sell.

AK: Tell us a little bit about your tornado-chasing days. (How cool is that!) Does anything scare you?

SB: I chased tornados as part of an undergraduate research project, and it was a fabulous experience.  I got to go up into military aircraft as well as chasing them on the ground in the instrument-laden cars we referred to as “geekmobiles.”  I experienced plenty of motion sickness, but never once felt afraid.  The scientists we were with knew their stuff and were careful of where they allowed us to go.  I always felt safe, so fear was never an issue.  It’s a lot more frightening waiting to see whether or not readers are going to like my stories than it ever was chasing a tornado.

AK: What would be your ideal writing environment? Where do you normally write?

SB: Right now I write in the living room in my comfy chair, but we’re building a house and I’m actually going to have an office!  With doors!  Of course, the comfy chair will have to go in there.  Mostly, I just need quiet to write, but I can do it anywhere, which is good considering how much we travel.

AK: What sort of research do you do for your books?

SB: I research only as much as I feel is necessary to make the story realistic and believable since I’d rather write than research.  I check facts and tend to use a lot of writers’ references like the Writer’s Digest Howdunit Series.  Luckily, I’ve lived in several states (I’ve actually moved across state lines eight times), so I don’t have to do too much research on the places I set stories since I’ve lived in most of them.

AK: What are the pros and cons of having a husband who is also a writer? I imagine your dinner conversations cover some interesting topics…

SB: Other than the fact that one of us always has a deadline looming, there aren’t a lot of cons to being married to an author.  We both have flexible schedules and really understand the demands of each other’s job.  Plus, there’s the added benefit of having a live-in critique partner.  We tend to talk about people that don’t exist and events that never happened more than the average couple, but it works for us.

AK: What were your favorite books as a child?

SB: I used to read a lot of science fiction and fantasy, like [J.R.R.] Tolkien, [David] Eddings, and [Roger] Zelazny.  I didn’t read my first romance until 1998, but since then, I’ve been totally hooked.

AK: What’s next for you?

SB: Writing romantic suspense is great fun, and I plan to continue to write those for as long as people are willing to read them.  In addition, I love paranormal romance, so I hope to have the opportunity to publish some of those soon.

Originally published at AletheaKontis.com. You can comment here or there.

Snow White

Genre Chick Interview: Hillary Robson

If you were a superhero, who would YOU be? I found the answer from Tennessee local Hillary Robson, co-editor of Saving the World: A Guide to Heroes, an in-depth essay book about the hit TV show Heroes.

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Alethea Kontis: Tell us a little bit about Saving the World. How did it come about? How did you get involved in the project? What was your role in co-editing?

Hillary Robson: Saving the World was born at last year’s meeting of the Popular & American Culture in the South’s annual convention, as Lynnette [Porter] and I had breakfast. We were both already huge fans of Heroes (even three episodes in) and knew it was a keeper–we’d both started taking notes while viewing and thought it would be a great book subject. We started looking at different people to contribute based on their talks at PACS. I’d worked with David [Lavery] & Lynnette on Unlocking the Meaning of Lost: An Unauthorized Guide. The three of us work extremely well together, so it seemed a natural thing to embark on another book, and so we did.

We all had some ideas on what we’d like to see in the book. I knew I wanted a chapter on fandom, as it’s my favorite area of scholarship, and we knew we’d like to compare it to Lost and other series, and of course the comic genre–so we just took areas and developed from there. As far as the co-editing, the first part was allocation: looking at different subjects and inviting scholars to contribute, and the rest was reading through and seeing the delightful fruits of our labor. All of our contributors are amazing writers and scholars, and we were quite lucky to work with such a talented bunch.

AK: Who is your favorite Heroes cast member? Have you ever met any of the cast in person?

HR: My favorite cast member right now is Elle–she’s complex and multi-layered, and I have a bit of a girl-crush on Kristen Bell–she’s amazing. I’m also a huge fan of Adam; I want to know more about him so that I can ascertain if he’s diabolically evil. I have to admit, I have always liked the evil characters better–perhaps because they are all capable of redemption, but mostly because they’re so *bad* that it’s fun to watch.

I haven’t ever met a cast member, but my co-editor Lynnette has–she’s met and interviewed quite a few, and I’m jealous!

AK: Were you ever a cheerleader?

HR: No. <frowns> I lack coordination, and I’m a total klutz. Plus, I’m pretty sure I’d break something if I attempted to do a split. I’d be a hazard to the team if I were a cheerleader. It’s better for the world that I never, ever, attempted.

AK: Are you a comic book fan? (If so, any faves?)

HR: I like comic books. I especially like seeing them brought to life on the screen, but I don’t have any die-hard favorites. I usually read them after seeing them (most recently, 300) because I’m fascinated with adaptations. I never really read comics until the X-Men movies, and that was because I’d heard so many fans grumble about the way the canon was changed.

AK: What do you think the Average Joe could do today to save the world?

HR: They could start by sending in some pencils to help end the Writer’s Strike! It’s gonna ruin my world if it goes on much longer (sigh!).

AK: What New Year’s Resolutions did/will you make for 2008?

HR: New Years resolutions. Well, I’m trying to reduce the amount of coffee I drink, while at the same time I made a resolution to be more productive because I have a lot of unfinished projects I need to do. As I type this, I realize that I might not be able to accomplish productivity without coffee, so I think I’m going to just say I resolve to be more productive and spend less money at Starbucks.

AK: What was your favorite TV show as a kid? Any favorite old characters?

HR: Well, my favorite TV show from 9th grade on was The X-Files–still a huge favorite. It brings back more nostalgia for me than any other show. I loved Scully and Mulder, and of course, the Cigarette Smoking Man (Evil characters rule!). Going back further, I was a huge Quantum Leap fan when I was a kid– that was an amazing show and so much fun to watch.

AK: If you could have any superpower, what would it be? (I ask everyone this, but it seems exceptionally appropriate here…)

HR: I was asked this in an interview once, and I said I wanted Skylar’s power. I’m pretty sure I freaked the interviewer out because he instantly thought of eating brains. I love the idea of adopting anyone’s powers, but personally, I don’t want to use it for evil. So I’ll go with Peter’s powers of acquisition since he doesn’t have to kill anyone. I might like the evil ones, but I’m not evil… I promise!

Originally published at AletheaKontis.com. You can comment here or there.

Snow White

Genre Chick Interview: Alethea Kontis (!)

For a change of pace, my fellow Genre Chick Janet turned the tales and did a fun little interview with *me* about Sherrilyn Kenyon and my work on The Dark-Hunter Companion.

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JY: So, let’s go ahead and get the obvious questions out of the way: how long have you known Sherrilyn Kenyon?

AK: Sherri and I met in 2002, sometime between Fantasy Lover and Night Pleasures. My friend Nicole and I were huge fans of her short story Dragonswan that had appeared in the Tapestry anthology. We fell in love with it enough to look the author up online… and what do you know… she lived right around here! She used to work at Ingram Entertainment! And she was appearing at a local signing the next week!

It was a small enough event (pre-Dark-Hunter days) that Nicole and I had plenty of time to chat with her. I remember leaving the bookstore thinking, “It’s a shame she’s a rich and famous author. She’d be a great person to have as a girlfriend.” (This was well before I knew much about authors… or about being one.)

I had left her my card, but I never thought she’d actually get in touch with me… The rest is history.

JY: What’s she really like?

AK: A sister with a really great wardrobe. (grin)

I was with Sherri at a signing one time where a woman actually cried upon meeting her. Sherri held her hand and said, “Oh, no, sweetie. I’m really nobody special. My boys throw up on me just like everybody else.”

That’s what Sherri’s really like. She’s a workaholic woman like you and me, with a loving husband and three rambunctious children. She works out, has migraines, pays her bills, and puts her corsets on one lace at a time. (Did I mention her fabulous wardrobe?)

JY: How were you chosen to write The Dark-Hunter Companion?

AK: After reading the manuscript of Sieze the Night, I told Sherri that she needed an encyclopedia of all the people in her books, because I was beginning to get confused. The world was just SO complex… she’s amazing enough to keep it straight in that brain of hers, but the rest of us mortals are just not that smart.

About a year later, she called to tell me that her publisher had approved the idea of a compendium of the Dark-Hunter universe, but they didn’t want her to write it. I congratulated her and asked who they had in mind. She told me they were expecting my proposal on Monday.

JY: One of the most noticed aspects of The Dark-Hunter Companion is the voice in which its written: The Companion is written as if it were an instruction manual for the new Dark-Hunter. What inspired you to choose this voice and what was its impact on the book?

AK: If you’re familiar at all with William Goldman’s The Princess Bride (Sherri and I can pretty much quote it by heart), then you know about authors who “write in parentheses.”

If you were to transcribe the routine of a stand-up comic, most of the punchlines would be in parentheses. If you look through this interview, you’ll find more than a few of them. Notes you pass to your friends in class have lots of parentheses. E-mails have parentheses. English teachers don’t like people who write in parentheses. (My English teachers hated me.)

The Companion screamed to be written in parentheses. Quick-witted, brutally honest, smart-assed, tongue-in-cheek… it was me, but with an extra helping of jaded sarcasm. And some of the most fun writing I’ve ever done!

JY: At most recent count, the Dark-Hunter series has thirteen books and almost a dozen short stories set in an amazingly complex universe. How did you go about corralling all that information?

AK: Like any Capricorn worth her salt, I went about it systematically. I started reading the books and making notes in the front of a notebook. I read the short stories and made notes in the back of the notebook. I went online to the myriad Web sites and copied to a document every shred of information I could find. I sent my parents and friends on fact-finding missions. Then, based on my outline and that wealth of information, I had to piece it all together.

I had never written anything non-chronologically before. It was an interesting learning experience.

I also had a ton of post-its (I want to marry Arthur Fry) where I would list questions for Sherri to answer. I don’t think there were *too* many phone calls where I asked her to explain things… but I wasn’t on the receiving end of those calls. She was very patient with me, and having her at my disposal was invaluable.

JY: Did you discover anything about Dark-Hunters that you didn’t already know? Any “Aha!” moments?

AK: Of COURSE I did.
And if I told you I’d have to kill you.
And then you could turn into a Dark-Hunter and kill me in revenge… and then my patron gods would get upset and curse you further… and it’s just a downward spiral from there, really.
Best not go there.

JY: I know you make a killer baklava… where did you find those other yummy recipes?

AK: I grew up with a French mother and a Greek father. Our next-door neighbors (and very best friends) were a bunch of Cajuns. We’d have fried oyster po-boys on New Year’s Eve, and moussaka on Christmas. Our Thanksgivings were a thing of beauty.

I never EVER thought that one day I’d be diving into my recipe box as research for a book where all these cultures just happened to collide. But like my mother says, everything happens for a reason.

JY: If you were a character in the Dark-Hunter universe, which one would you be and why?

AK: Funny you should ask this question–usually it’s “Who’s your favorite Dark-Hunter?” (Vane, hands down.) But I’ve actually given this quite a bit of thought. I wouldn’t want to be a Dark-Hunter or Were-Hunter or Dream-Hunter, but immortality is certainly a fine trait. Maybe a goddess? I wouldn’t want to be a big, high-profile goddess, though. (I leave that to Sherri.)

Back when I was writing AlphaOops: The Day Z Went First, my publisher asked me if I knew the answer to the question: “Why is the alphabet in the order that it is?” I did hours of research and couldn’t come up with a reasonable answer. Is there a Goddess of the Alphabet? I could happily be the Goddess of the Alphabet. That seems fitting.

As far as men go, I think I’d like to date one of the Dolophoni–I’m a big fan of karmic justice. Especially when I’m not the one who has to mete it out.

Originally published at AletheaKontis.com. You can comment here or there.

Snow White

Genre Chick Interview: Robin McKinley

In 1985, Robin McKinley won the Newbery Medal for her novel The Hero and the Crown. In just a few decades, she has traversed the world of legends from fairy tales to elementals to vampires. In her latest novel, Dragonhaven, she explores–you guessed it–dragons. Ever a lover of girls with swords and magic that turns beasts into princes, Genre Chick Alethea Kontis hunkers down by the fireside with her tale-spinning heroine.

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Alethea Kontis: You are known for–as Tamora Pierce so eloquently put it–your “kick-ass heroines.” Was it a challenge to slip into the mind of a 14-year-old boy?

Robin McKinley: Oh, I’m so glad someone has asked this! (I’ve been waiting nervously for someone who likes my “kick-ass heroines” and also has a rather narrow view of things to accuse me of Betraying My Audience. I get Betraying My Audience letters with every book for one thing or another, and this seems to me the obvious iniquity about Dragonhaven. I like your approach much better.)

The short answer is: yes. The story arrived in first person–thus far my stories have always arrived in whatever POV each wants to be told in–and I felt a little uncertain about it. I fooled around briefly with trying to convince it to go into third, but it wasn’t having any, and I realized pretty quickly that I, for my own sake, needed the enforced intimacy of first-person narration to get inside Jake’s skin.

I found the experience not unlike his experience of sharing his head with dragons. In some ways we understood each other completely and in some ways we didn’t fit at all. I realize there will be readers who do not find Jake among my most convincing protagonists; for me, he’s been utterly and completely real and solid and himself, and I love his story, but writing it has given me blisters in areas of my writing anatomy I’ve never had blisters before.

AK: Many of your past works (Beauty, Spindle’s End, Rose Daughter) have been inspired by fairy tales. What was the inspiration for Dragonhaven?

RM: Dragonhaven started life as another Fire Elementals short story–my husband Peter Dickinson and I are theoretically supposed to produce Air, Earth, and Fire to go with the Water: Tales of Elemental Spirits that we’ve already produced. Years ago. I’m just not very good at short stories. My last novel before Dragonhaven, Sunshine, started life as a Fire story, too. The one I’m working on now also started life as a Fire story.

AK: What do you think fascinates people about dragons?

RM: To paraphrase Jake: 80 feet long, flies, and breathes fire. What’s not to be fascinated by?

AK: What’s your favorite dragon legend/story?

RM: I had a comment on my new blog a few days ago that made me laugh, where the poster said that she might declare me her favorite author except for her crippling indecisiveness. I posted back that I was going to quote her: I don’t do favorites generally, because of my . . . crippling indecisiveness. The world is full of depressingness and garbage, but it’s also full of wonderful stuff, and I’m not sure I even want to know what my single favorite this or that is.

I will tell you instead that the first dragon story that drifted across my mind, thinking about dragon stories, is Kenneth Grahame’s The Reluctant Dragon. I am often drawn to things–people, stories, animals, whatever–that go against type. Grahame’s dragon was the first against-type dragon I’d met, a very long time ago, when I was only familiar with the standard princess-eating, village-razing, knight-contesting kind, and I imagine there was a small snick as it slid into an against-type dragon niche in my mind.

One of the strongest wellsprings of my own story telling is this idea of against-type: my obsession with girls and women who do things (briefly deviated from for Dragonhaven) is all about the against-type of the useless fluffy, fragile, or feisty heroines of the books I read growing up. And to my curmudgeonly middle-aged eye, there are still far too many of these still being written–or if they’re not quite useless, the girls are still second-rate to the guys.

AK: In Deerskin, the heroine raised a litter of orphaned pups; in Dragonhaven, Jake is burdened with the responsibility of an orphaned dragon. Does any of this come from firsthand experience? Have you ever had to raise an orphaned animal?

RM: No. The nearest I’ve come is the occasional litter of puppies (when the owner is looking for a patsy and I’ve been too slow to get out of the way) whose mum has absconded early. This is dramatic and demanding enough, especially when all six or eight or 3,012 of them fall ill at once (and if one puppy in a litter falls ill, chances are they all will), and gives the imagination plenty to work with, when the Story Council drops something about an orphaned animal on you.

AK: Did you do much Native American research when creating the rich background of the Arkhola Indians of Smokehill?

RM: How interesting you should ask this. Because the answer is yes, but I thought I’d thrown it all out again by the final draft–that the few bits of Native American pseudolore left are pretty conventional. There was a lot more of it in some of the early drafts. For one thing I had a go at creating more of the Arkhola language. The Arkholas are in the Lakota/Dakota/Sioux group, so I tried to find out something about those languages (which are supposed to be rather a bear for us Indo-European types) not for vocabulary but for some sense of shape and structure.

The London Library, rather bafflingly (you never know what the London Library will or won’t have), has this massive, arcane, folio-sized series on Native American languages. I checked out the Sioux volume and had a wonderful time. I didn’t learn a thing–it was all way, way beyond me. But it was thrilling the way being let in on a big important secret is thrilling.

AK: How do you typically do research for a novel?

RM: Upside down, backwards, and frequently too late. My experience with the Lakota languages will do as an example of the first. There are a few useful things I know in my “real” life (I’m not prepared to say absolutely that my writing life isn’t the really real one, and the one with laundry and dishwashing in it is the shadow life), like cooking and gardening and domestic animals, which I can draw on. Mostly, however, stories come with all sorts of bits appended that I don’t know about.

The trick is to learn enough of the story to know when and what to research, but to start looking things up before I think I’ve figured out so much of it that I’ll be in big trouble if the encyclopedia doesn’t agree with me. My most famous example of too late is when I lost about six months’ work on The Outlaws of Sherwood when I got a piece of old English law wrong. I’ve never lost that much again. But getting stuff encyclopedia-right is surprisingly necessary in a lot of fantasy, too, or in the kind of fantasy I write, where the fantasy grows out of the encyclopedia stuff. This includes, I should perhaps say, before I’m inundated with e-mails from people about all the look-up-able stuff I’ve got wrong over the years, changing the factual stuff because it’ll make a better story my way. This is a little more contentious in Sunshine and Dragonhaven because they’re alternate-reality rather than so-called high fantasy.

I’ve been somewhat taken aback at the things people want to scold me about. Um. It’s fiction. It is, in fact, fantasy fiction. You did notice there were dragons/vampires in it?

AK: What was your favorite book as a child?

RM: No, I don’t do favorites. See above. But the first one on what would be a long list which crossed my mind after reading your question is Brighty of the Grand Canyon by Marguerite Henry. I was a monumentally horse-mad child, and Henry wrote a lot of horse books, so my favorite one by her is . . . about a burro. Go figure. I guess I liked all that rising above adversity stuff. There was a period in my young life when I was reading this book every day. And every day the ending made me cry.

AK: What is your favorite work of art?

RM: First one to cross my mind is a silly one: the Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens in London. It is such a glorious, over-the-top example of High Victorian Tosh. When I was still a tourist here, the pilgrimage to the Albert Memorial was a necessary part of every visit. Then when I arrived to marry an Englishman and stay, it was all wrapped up in plastic, for restoration. It was wrapped up in plastic for years. I even contributed £25, partly for the pleasure of deciding which fingernail-paring of gold leaf was mine, after they unveiled it again. It was a curious small piece of the acclimation processes, too. I’d walk through Kensington Gardens and there it would be, still looking like a Christo installation. And I’d think, if I were only visiting, this would almost ruin the visit. But it doesn’t matter. I live here.

AK: If you could be any superhero, who would you be and why?

RM: I’ve fallen out of the superhero loop, so I’d have to invent one. Presumably they’re doing superheroes (and superheroines) more interestingly against-type now too. (Note, just by the way, that my Word spell check accepts “superhero” but not “superheroine”.) One of my blog readers has just informed me that Joss Whedon is doing an X-Men series. (I believe my response may be described as squeal. I’m learning all kinds of things, running a blog.) Maybe you should ask me again after I’ve read it.

AK: Who are/were your heroes?

RM: I’m not sure I do heroes any more than I do favorites. I’m too interested in the feet of clay, the shadow side, the doubts and fears and frailties, the stuff that makes it hard to be heroic, and sometimes just hard to get out of bed in the morning.

AK: How are your roses? (Did the crazy rains in England this summer get to you?)

RM: My roses are doing surprisingly well, given the weather. We had a hot April, which meant all my midsummer roses were out in May. Then it rained more or less non-stop for most of three months. There are more roses than one realizes that will flower even in a downpour so I’ve still had roses this summer and there is this to be said for a tiny garden: you can see all of it from your kitchen window, in the dry. The funny thing is that several of the once-flowering midsummer ones were so confused by the cold wet summer that they’ve put on an autumn show, like they think it’s next year already.

Originally published at AletheaKontis.com. You can comment here or there.

Snow White

Genre Chick Interview: Jeff Carlson

If you like to sleep at night, stay away from this book!  Jeff Carlson’s pulse-pounding debut novel, Plague Year, has turned the world of science-fiction thrillers completely upside down. The undaunted and unafraid Genre Chick Alethea Kontis dons her hazmat gear and gets extreme with the Bionic Man.

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Alethea KontisPlague Year has one of the most terrifying and original high concepts I’ve ever come across. What is wrong with your brain that you could even think up something like this?

Jeff Carlson:  The setting was easy: that the only safe places on Earth are above 10,000 feet because of a nanotech plague. I literally built this story from the top down. I’m a life-long backpacker and snow skier, and as a writer, I’m always on the hunt for cool ideas. My brother and I had just had one of those incomparable powder days among the cliffs and trees of our local resort. It was time to leave because we both needed to be at work the next morning, and I thought, “What if we couldn’t go home?”  We’d been snowed in before, but I began to think, “What if we could never go home again?”

AK: And yet you seem so optimistic…

JC: It’s funny. I’m a very upbeat guy, but now that the book is out, I do get strange looks from people who are wondering if they ever really knew me–or from strangers who assume I’d just as soon kill ‘em and eat ‘em.

AK: Did you freak yourself out while writing this book?

JC: Plague Year is extremely tense. There wasn’t any other way to write it. If you change the world so that no warm-blooded life can survive below 10,000 feet, things get ugly in a hurry. To start with, the biosphere goes out of whack. The insects take over. Imagine an ant swarm as big as a city block!

More important to the story, though, human beings are among the smartest, toughest creatures on the planet. In a crisis, some people will fail. But there are always others who rise to the occasion. Any occasion. To me, that’s fascinating.

AK:  Your heroes, the survivors, are all strong and intelligent characters, but they’re also deeply flawed.  What was it like living with these people as you worked on the novel?

JC:  It was great fun! I was safe in my house with plenty to eat, electricity, a hot shower and a car, my laptop, you name it.

I’m always a reader first. Writing is an extension of that. I wanted to see what happened, and with Plague Year, I was able to use all three classic elements of story: man against nature, man against man, and man against himself. The environment is lethal. The people are murderers. And everyone has to find a way to live with what they’ve done to stay alive.

AK:  Do you work in a nanotech lab? What was your background for the science involved in Plague Year?

JC:  The nanotech in the book is 100% real. There’s a lot of eye-popping material being published in the field right now, and I also attended talks on the subject and then mercilessly hounded the speakers afterward.  Thank God for e-mail.

We’re still a few breakthroughs short of building a prototype like the one that gets loose in Plague Year, but here’s the thing: there are also hundreds of private labs around the world that aren’t publishing their work. Some are military. Others are quietly developing medical technologies like the one in the book, and nobody really knows how far they’ve advanced.

Plague Year could happen tomorrow. That’s the freaky part.

AK:  You were recently a winner in the prestigious Writers of the Future short story contest, and you’re also collaborating with New York Times bestseller David Brin on a new adventure series. And you’re writing a sequel to Plague Year that will be published next summer. Are you about to burst into fire?

JC:   Probably! The amount of stuff I’ve learned in the past year is enough to explode anyone’s brain.  I’m only held together with Band-Aids, caffeine, and jalapeño bagels at this point.

First of all, I could not more strongly endorse the WOTF contest to any aspiring writer. They pay great, you’re published in a sharp-looking anthology with phenomenal distribution, and, most important, they fly you in for eight days of hardcore writing workshops. It’s like being strapped down for a thousand injections of writing basics, tips, secrets, and opportunities.

David has also been a mentor. It’s awe-inspiring to be working with someone whose books warped my mind as a kid, and I’m soaking up as much technique as I can handle. Our new series, Colony High, is a great big classic adventure in the vein of Heinlein’s Tunnel In The Sky, and I for one couldn’t be happier with the project.

As for my sequel War Day, it ratchets up the all-or-nothing stakes from Plague Year to an even wilder ride.  I like to think these novels have it all. There are insect swarms, mad scientists, commandos in hazmat suits, large-scale invasions for safe ground, lost cities, lies and betrayals, and new surprises.

AK:  Word is you’ve got some fun stuff on your Web site?

JC:  Readers can find a free excerpt of Plague Year and one of my favorite short stories on my Web site, along with upcoming tour dates and a lot of other goodies like a science-fiction trivia contest. Top prizes include the chance to name a character after yourself or a friend either in War Day or in Colony High. See you there!

AK:  I usually end with asking who’s your favorite superhero, but… is it true you have a titanium skeleton like Wolverine?

JC:   Who have you been talking to? Yes. You’ve learned the truth! But now Defense Intelligence is going to cart you away to a nice, quiet cell.

No, seriously. After a couple surgeries, my right leg is still reinforced with a 14″ rod, a 4″ plate, and a large handful of assorted screws. I got a little too excited after two days of fresh snow and forgot that I was skiing, not paragliding. There’s actually a great photo from the day before on my Web site if anyone’s curious. Big air, baby.

Originally published at AletheaKontis.com. You can comment here or there.

Snow White

Genre Chick Interview: Anne McCaffrey

The reigning Grand Dame of Science Fiction, Anne McCaffrey is known to many as “The Dragonlady.” To me, she is the permanent resident of at least two entire bookshelves crammed full of cherished (and often re-read) titles. I leapt at the chance to interview this fascinating woman who has done more in her 81 amazing years on this planet than most folks could hope to accomplish in several lifetimes.

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Alethea Kontis: The bio on your Web site says you wrote your first novel in Latin class. Was that a Pern novel?

Anne McCaffrey: No, I did not write Eleutheria the Dancing Girl in Latin while in class. If I had, I might have done better, though I still got a B in the course. I must say that Latin has been an ineffable assistance to me all my writer’s life.

AK: Your first in-print publication was a response to the portrayal of women in a male-dominated science fiction genre. How did you feel when you got the acceptance for your first book?

AM: I felt totally euphoric when I got the message from Betty Ballantine that she was going to publish Restoree. I really had got tired of the dreary way in which romance was handled in SF. John Campbell explained that Astounding published more science-oriented stories because that was the readership he had to satisfy. Fortunately, those readers grew up and wanted more rounded stories, inclusive of romance. There are now ever so many more women writing SF&F and making a living out of it.

AK: What worlds do we have left to conquer?

AM: We still have to conquer war, or maybe conquer peace and make it stay.

AK: If you could go back in time and meet a young Anne McCaffrey, what would you tell her?

AM: I’d tell my younger self to go out and get more sex while I was young enough and pretty enough to attract guys.

AK: What one piece of advice do you most often give to new writers?

AM: For wannabe writers, READ.

AK: Who is the most interesting person you’ve ever met?

AM: The most interesting person I have met through SF is Koolness, the slurper. First appearing on my chatline.

AK: If you could meet one of your characters, who would it be?

AM: Robinton, probably, as I had an intense crush on the man I used as his model.

AK: Which was your most difficult book to write? The easiest?

AM: The most difficult was, I think, Dragonsdawn, as I had to lay the ground work for any future novels. Dr. Jack Cohen came to stay with me, he is a generalist scientist (knows enough about the other ‘ologies’ to give you a basic understanding.)

The easiest was Dragonsong because I had it all worked out in my head before I started to write. I actually knew several girls, and fellows, whose families did not appreciate their innate talents nor would they help them.

AK: What took you to Ireland?

AM: What took me to Ireland were the 3,000 wet miles between me and my ex-husband, and a good school system for my two younger children. Alec, the eldest, was already heading for college. And Charlies Haughey had set up an artist’s tax exemption scheme which, when I was not earning much, was invaluable.

AK: How do you think your background as a character actress helped in your writing process?

AM: Well, I also did a lot of stage directions, as well as acting, and being able to see from behind different eyes was a substantial asset in writing scenes.

AK: Based on what you’ve seen and what you know now, what do you wish for the world to come?

AM: Peace is what I wish for. I’ve been writing through I don’t know how many wars, little or big–doesn’t matter. People get killed and wounded and lives are torn apart, as well as real estate.

AK: What’s most difficult: riding a horse, riding a dragon, or riding a Rio3 [mobility] scooter?

AM: Riding the Rio scooter, of course. I have no brakes; you just lift your finger off the go-plate. But it has already dumped me three times because I didn’t get a smooth enough pavement in changing directions.

AK: What’s your favorite ice cream?

AM: ANY of the sherberts.

AK: If you could be any comic book superhero, which would you be?

AM: I wasn’t allowed to read comic books as a child, though I’d sneak a look at the Phantom when I was in the stationery shop. So I don’t know. “Dragonlady” has been a label put on me, but Lordy, what wouldn’t I give to look, and maybe even act, like Milton Caniff’s Dragon Lady from Terry and the Pirates.

Originally published at AletheaKontis.com. You can comment here or there.

Snow White

Genre Chick Interview: Kevin J. Anderson

his month, Genre Chick Alethea Kontis puts on her best cowgirl hat and learns how to wrestle sandworms from real-life superhero Kevin J. Anderson. Whether master of ceremonies, mentor, or writing machine, this “Mister Anderson” is always at the top of his game.

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New York Times-bestselling author Kevin J. Anderson is a fantastic guy and a machine, all in one neat and tidy package. He juggles other worlds (like Star Wars, X-Files, Dune, and Krypton) along with his own books (like the Saga of Seven Suns series), the books he writes with Rebecca (the Crystal Doors trilogy), and other offerings like Slan Hunter, where he finishes the last book in SF legend A.E. van Vogt’s catalog. He also keeps a MySpace page (as well as a blog and a newsletter), mentors a young man with Asperger’s Syndrome, donates hundreds of books a year to charity auctions, and appears at libraries and SF conventions all over the world.

I spoke with him at a recent convention to ask a few things about the inner workings of the “Great and Powerful Kevin.”

Alethea Kontis: Was there ever a time when you weren’t writing?

Kevin J. Anderson: Between the ages of one and four, I don’t think I was writing. But I do remember I started writing when I was five–I’ve been writing or storytelling ever since then. There was never a time when I wasn’t absolutely convinced that I wanted to tell stories or be a writer. Since I was five, it’s what I wanted to do, and my whole life has been on that track.

AK: What books did you read as a kid?

KJA: The very first book that I ever read was H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine. And then I quickly read The War of the Worlds after that. I read children’s science fiction-type books–there’s a whole series about a kid named Danny Dunn who got into adventures where he met aliens, or turned invisible, or shrunk down to a dinky size. There were a couple of books by A.M. Lightner: Rock of Three Planets and Space Plague. I loved those books when I was in second grade.

It was many years later, when I was a many-times published novelist that I found [Lightner's] address in the SFWA membership directory. I thought, “I should write her a letter and tell her about that.” The very next month, I got the issue of Locus that had her obituary in it. She was about 90 years old and had died in a nursing home. I’m really sad I didn’t write her a letter.

I read Frank Herbert’s Dune when I was 12. I just loved it. I read it again when I was in college, and I’ve read it again about 10 more times since then.

AK: What difficulties did you have with The Last Days of Krypton?

KJA: The biggest difficulty was trying to tell the strongest story using as much of the Superman mythos as I could. There are so many contradictions itself in the universe–from all the different comic incarnations, to the Christopher Reeve movies, to the new Superman Returns, to the Smallville TV show–all of them have varied interpretations.

I got to pull all the things that I thought were all the coolest parts of Superman history and wrap them all together into a big story. It’s just a big space opera on an alien planet with a cool, almost Greco-Roman culture. One of the things people think is strange is that in The Last Days of Krypton they’re all ON Krypton. It’s a book about Superman, but nobody has superpowers. Nobody flies in this book. Nobody gets shot at by bank robbers who then throw guns at them at the end of it.

AK: How have libraries helped you and/or your career?

KJA: We’ve done many talks at libraries–I love the Friends of the Libraries system and the speaking programs that they have. We’ve traveled around to a lot of different places–whether it’s our hometown, across the state, or to many different states–we’ve been to the ALA convention in SF a few years ago…

I think libraries are great because of the librarians. In all my books, nothing goes above PG, so they know they can recommend them to everybody, whether it’s a Star Wars book or an X-Files book. Librarians get people hooked on my books. There are kids who come in who don’t like to read but are assigned to read a book, and librarians will recommend one of my Star Wars books. The kids already like Star Wars, so they gobble up those.

I’ve had people come up to me that say they never liked to read until they read my books.

AK: With all the work you’ve done in the Star Wars universe, have you ever had George Lucas on speed dial?

KJA: I’ve spoken with him, met with him a couple of times, but never on speed dial.

AK: Is there anyplace where you would not write?

KJA: In a vat of acid, or a boiling cauldron, or on the hospital bed while undergoing open-heart surgery. But probably, those are the only limitations.

AK: Do you sing in the shower?

KJA: I plot stories in the shower.

AK: When was the last time you bought your wife [author Rebecca Moesta] flowers?

KJA: My wife generally likes balloons, but I did buy her balloons and flowers on her birthday about two months ago.

AK: Good man. Do you really live in a castle?

KJA: I really live in a castle with five turrets, three fireplaces, a portcullis, a suit of armor, a sword in the stone, a big fountain, flagstone floors… it’s not a real castle, though, because we actually have plumbing and heating that works.

AK: If you could be any superhero, who would you be?

KJA: I’ve always had a soft spot for Green Lantern. He’s got his ring, but the cool thing about the Green Lantern is that his powers come directly from what he believes he can do. I’ve always believed I could do things… and when I set my mind to it, I usually accomplish them. Green Lantern sort of symbolizes the way I view my life. If you have your goal and you devote you entire attention and talent to it, you will overcome any obstacle.

Originally published at AletheaKontis.com. You can comment here or there.

Snow White

Genre Chick Interview: Sean Williams

Ever the world traveler, Genre Chick Alethea Kontis takes us into the Australian Outback for this month’s interview with New York Times bestselling author Sean Williams. Find out what a cool place Australia is, how fascinating twins can be, and whether or not writing a book is harder than becoming someone’s other half.

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The dashing Sean Williams is a world-renowned fantasy and science fiction writer, a New York Times bestselling author, and an award-winning Haikuist. By the time you read this interview, he’ll be someone’s for-better-or-worse half as well. (Cheers, Sean!)

He’s played in the Star Wars universe and the hard science fiction world of Geodesica, but for the Books of the Cataclysm, he returns to his eloquent epic fantasy roots. The Hanging Mountains, book three in the series, comes out in hardcover this month from Pyr Books.

Alethea Kontis: You’ll be hitched by the time this interview hits the virtual stands, so what’s more difficult: writing a book or planning a wedding?

Sean Williams: Definitely the wedding. Writing a book may take longer, but I don’t have 100 people watching me while I do it. And I get to edit, afterwards. One wrong word during the vows could be disastrous!

But seriously, getting married has turned out to be one of the easiest things I’ve ever done. It’s amazing how simple it all is when you’ve met the right person.

AK: The Hanging Mountains is third in the Books of the Cataclysm series. How many more books will there be?

SW: There are four Books of the Cataclysm in all. The Devoured Earth is done and dusted and has, I humbly think, the best ending to any of the series I’ve written to date.

When I finished the companion trilogy, The Books of the Change, I knew I had to write more. The characters had left so many things unsaid. But now their story is complete. I feel incredibly happy about it, which is how I know that I’m all done there, at last.

If you add the two series together, that makes seven books and nigh on a million words. It seems absurd that it could take so long to say anything, but life is like that. Really profound truths have to be crept up on; they take time to sink in. When it comes to the human heart, there’s no such thing as a quick fix.

AK: What was the inspiration for the Books of the Cataclysm?

SW: This series is, in part, a conscious attempt to bring out my romantic side, having been challenged by a friend down here to have more mushy stuff in my books. Books of the Cataclysm and the hard-SF Geodesica series of a couple of years ago were the result. (I am a big softy, underneath the big spaceships and apocalypses.)

AK: How different was writing this series from writing the Geodesica books?

SW: Writing books featuring spaceships and a million-year romance should be different to writing ones with inside-out afterlives and post-apocalyptic magic-users, but in actual fact, it wasn’t, really. Fundamentally, every novel is about people. All the characters in both these series tap deeply into issues I was working through at the time: family and fatherhood, relationships ending or beginning, one’s relationship to home, and so on. I love science fiction and fantasy, but at the end of the day, each story had to be about the main characters’ intimate journeys. My love for them kept me writing. After that point, it’s just a matter of sitting down every day until it’s done. Easy!

AK: The “mirror twin” is a fantastic concept–do you know of that ever happening in real life?

SW: Oh, they’re out there. Here’s a link: http://library.thinkquest.org/4210/mirror.htm.
Perhaps as many as a quarter of all identical twins are mirror twins, meaning that they are reflections of each other–right down to internal organs and hair-whorls. Only brains are never reversed. Cool, huh?

AK: Why do you think we’re so fascinated with twins?

SW: About half my stories explore the notion of individual identity–where one person stops and another starts–via copies, clones, and what have you. Twins provide a real-world example of this kind of idea really being put to the test. I went to school with a set of identical twins, and their similarities (and differences) were a constant talking point. I was particularly drawn to the notion of Mirror Twins in The Crooked Letter. How would it be to see your sibling’s face every time you look in the mirror? What would that do to your head? Strange things, I’m sure.

I think our fascination stems from the possibly over-rated illusion we all generate–that our conscious selves are discrete, self-aware, unique beings that can be defined and understood. The reality is, as always, much more complicated. Twinship hammers home just how rickety our assumptions actually are. If someone shares the same genetic code as you and has the same upbringing as you, what makes him or her different from you? Why aren’t they you? Who are you, anyway? Impossible to answer, possibly, but impossible not to ask the questions.

AK: Do you have any siblings?

SW: I have a younger sister who lives in a different city. She’s just started writing herself, which is a very exciting thing. Not fiction, but a nonfiction piece exploring one aspect of military culture. It sounds fascinating. I hope she finishes it soon. (Get cracking, sis! I know you’ll be reading this ‘cos I’ll send you the link.)

AK: How cool is it to live in Australia?

SW: I’m not a big fan of our government down here, so sometimes I have mixed feelings about being an Australian, but the culture and the locale are terrific. We’re very spoiled here, by the weather, our lifestyle, our multiculturalism, and our relationship with the arts. More people read books here, per capita, than most other western countries. I think that’s cool. Our wine is fantastic (especially where I come from, down the bottom and in the middle). And we have terrific food. I shouldn’t really say this, since we’re over the continent’s carrying capacity already, but I reckon everyone should move here. This really is the lucky country.

AK: Have you ever been on a whirlwind, multi-country European vacation?

SW: You’ve forced me to expose the reason why I can’t write fantasy in the Tolkein mode. Apart from a brief trip to London, I’ve never been to Europe. Ever. And you can only write what you know, so that leaves me with only a few choices: write what I do know (South Australian landscapes), do lots of research (which doesn’t sit well with my inherent laziness), or actually get off my butt and travel.

I do actually travel a lot, but I’m not really a whirlwind kind of person. I’d much rather pick one spot, stay there until I’ve absorbed it, and then move on. The twins in The Crooked Letter are pursuing all the things I didn’t do at their age: back-packing, sleeping in hostels, doing it rough, having crazy love affairs. I was too busy writing and failing university to afford that kind of adventure.

AK: Where have you never been that you would most love to visit?

SW: That’s an easy one: Antarctica. It’s more like Mars than anywhere else on Earth. What could be cooler than that? (Pardon the pun.)

AK: How did you check your Swedish?

SW: Very lazily (of course). I was living with a girl at the time whose father was from Sweden, so she had a conversational fluency that hopefully came out in the dialogue. But for her, I reckon I would’ve been stuck with dictionaries and an online translator–which is never entirely convincing. I still live in fear, though, of a Swedish reader e-mailing me to say, “You know that line ‘Sluta det nu‘? That so doesn’t mean what you think it means.”

AK: What was your favorite book as a child?

SW: Hmmm. Either Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising or Alan Garner’s The Weirdstone of Brisingamen. Or both. Can I call a tie?

AK: How have libraries helped you and/or your career?

SW: Libraries and librarians have had a huge influence on me. I spent years of my life inside libraries, reading my way through various sections of the catalogue. My father’s best friend was a librarian; I even dated one for a while. So I view the profession with great affection. Here’s a link to a speech I gave at the launch of a fundraising drive for Adelaide Universty’s Barr-Smith Library to prove it.

A couple of years ago, I visited the famous library in Seattle, Washington, where the books are organized in a giant spiral so you can walk uninterrupted from one end of the Dewey Decimal System to the other. I can’t begin to describe how cool I think that is.

AK: If you could be any superhero, who would you be and why?

SW: The Flash or Peter Petrelli from Heroes–although that one’s kind of like the Three Wishes trick answer. What super-power would you like to have? The power to absorb all super-powers, of course. That’s cheating. <grin>

Originally published at AletheaKontis.com. You can comment here or there.

Snow White

Genre Chick Interview: C.E. Murphy

She looks like a superhero, she travels all over the world, and her books will seep into your subconscious and make you wonder about your wildest dreams. Meet Genre Chick Alethea Kontis’s new best friend, urban fantasist C.E. Murphy–author of Coyote Dreams (The Walker Papers).

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I met Catie Murphy on a bus. We were both staying in the overflow hotel at last year’s World Fantasy Convention, and we were the first ones on the shuttle bus. (Well, technically it was my misfit friends and me.) Catie–with her Rogue X-Men hair, her sharp wit, and her bubbly laugh–fit right in with us. How could we not adopt her?

In the urban fantasy world, Catie is known as Cate Dermody and C.E. Murphy–author of the Walker Papers Series. I thought I’d share a little of Catie’s exquisitely wonderful uniqueness with you–may it take you even less time to fall in love with her.

Alethea Kontis: You were born in Alaska, but you currently live in Ireland. What are the biggest similarities? The biggest differences?

C. E. Murphy: Alaska’s pretty laid back. The Irish, however, have made being laid back an art form. “Do the Irish have anything like the Spanish siesta?” the joke goes. “Yes,” says the Irishman, thoughtfully, “but without that terrible sense of urgency.” A while ago my brother-in-law and sister were waiting impatiently for a coffee stand to open–it claimed it opened at 10:00, but at 10:00, and 10:05, and 10:10, it still wasn’t open. Finally, my brother-in-law said, “Well, maybe it’s just not 10:00 enough.” Indeed, that seemed to be it, because the shop opened at around 10:15, when it was 10:00 enough.

The obvious difference (besides the accents) is winter. I’ve been in Ireland 15 months and I’m still waiting for winter to arrive. That’s awesome beyond belief.

AK: What kind of research did you do for Coyote Dreams?

CEM: I’ve had a fantastic time researching The Walker Papers series in general. My usual approach is to decide on the basic elements of the story–I’ve read more books on shamanism than you can shake a stick at. I find out as much as I can about those elements, and then, well-armed with knowledge, I rearrange it all to suit my own needs. I’m fully aware that with those stories I’m turning things on their heads, but I like to think I’m doing it out of a place of at least passingly familiar scholarship. For Coyote Dreams, I did a lot of reading about butterflies and Navajo world-creators and African trypanosomiasis and… you get the idea.

AK: If you had a spirit guide, what form would it take?

CEM: I actually did a spirit quest a while ago. Now, I’m from Alaska. You’d think I’d get a wolf or a polar bear or another Charismatic World Wildlife Fund animal like that. A bald eagle. You know, something cool and Alaskan-y. Failing that, I really like tortoises. I had hope.

Nope. Frog. I got a frog. Actually, it was kind of cool. I’m not a visual person at all, so having anything come hopping toward me from the blackness behind my eyelids was pretty awesome.

AK: Have you ever had any super-strange or prophetic dreams?

CEM: No, but I do periodically get really bad cases of déjá vu. Unfortunately, these mostly seem to be while in a car when someone else is driving, and I’ve never commented on what I sensed was about to happen. We hit a dog and got in a car wreck (on two different occasions), and I saw it coming both times. I’ve learned that if it happens again, I will speak up.

AK: How have libraries helped you and/or your career?

CEM: I was maybe the only kid in the world who thought the best possible way to spend a summer was volunteering at the library. I volunteered at my local library when I was nine and 10 (and usually cut recess as often as possible in the dead of winter to go to the library), and I loved it. I shelved books. I read things nine-year-olds shouldn’t. I got to see the inner workings of the library. I got to work behind the counter and check books out for people. It was awesome beyond belief. I read a lot, early, and fast, and by the time I was about five, the librarians all knew my name and would let me check out more than the allotted four books. (Once in a while they’d get a new librarian who’d try to keep me down to four books! The horror!)

AK: Did you believe in magic as a kid?
CEM:
I don’t remember especially believing in magic, no. What I do remember is believing in stories. Stories are magic, and you can tell stories with magic and they’re real, which is absolutely unconnected to whether magic itself is.

AK: Jim Butcher loved Urban Shaman, the first book in your Walker Papers series. That rocks! So what do you think of the Dresden Files TV show?

CEM: AHAHAHAAH I LOVE IT AHAHAHAHAHAH

<ahem>

Sorry. I just watched the first six episodes at the beginning of this week, and I was so very happy with the show! Jim’s a friend of mine and has been for many years, since well before he got published. I would’ve been just kicking my feet and squealing for the sheer joy of seeing “Based on the novels by Jim Butcher” come up on the screen (I actually knocked my dinner over the first time that came up, in fact), but I really think they’re doing an awesome job of keeping true to the spirit of the books. I cannot wait to see more.

AK: You also write Harlequin Romances as Cate Dermody. Is it difficult to switch between C.E. Murphy and Cate Dermody?

CEM: I have The Walker Papers (Luna), The Negotiator Trilogy, and a new Del Rey series in 2008 (starting with The Queen’s Bastard), all under the Murphy name. I also have a new urban fantasy trilogy (Old Races Trilogy) coming out over the course of 2007-2008. That one’s about a New York City lawyer who finds the perfect man–except he’s a gargoyle and wanted for murder. The first book in that trilogy is Heart of Stone and will be out in November.

I have The Strongbox Chronicles trilogy under Dermody. I think all four series have distinct voices of their own. The Walker Papers share the most in common with The Strongbox Chronicles, because I think Jo and Alisha are the most action-adventure-y of the heroines, but they sound nothing alike. So voice isn’t too hard to deal with.

Probably the biggest hurdle for me is getting enough romance into the Dermody books–my tendency is to write romantic subplots rather than romantic plot-plots, but fortunately, that’s what rewrites are for.

I actually don’t have any more Dermody books planned right now, but that’s okay. I think C.E. is keeping me busy enough for the moment. I’m delighted to report that I’ve signed a contract for the next three Walker Papers. Joanne Walker will be back in 2009!

AK: Your husband is a chef–what’s the most delicious meal he’s ever made for you?

CEM: Oh, good grief, that’s an impossible question. Ted makes these little teeny tiny fried potatoes that are insanely good, or he makes this rockfish risotto meal, or… One year when I said I’d like tacos for my birthday, he created an entire Mexican feast. Tacos, enchiladas, refried beans–I was overwhelmed. It was great!

AK: What is your perfect writing environment?

CEM: I suspect it involves palm fronds and cabana boys and somebody else actually doing the work part, but I haven’t ever actually been in that situation, so I can’t be certain. I’ve got my Captain’s Chair, which is now two years old and continues to rock my socks, and unlike in that photo, I actually have my own office now. We don’t own the house, so I don’t have my artwork up, but I do have a bunch of my Rogue and Gambit figurines out, so it’s the right sort of area. Pretty much a small office without a lot of surface space to clutter up: my Captain’s Chair, my art, and a window to look out make me very happy.

AK: Who’s your hairstylist? (‘Cause you have the best hair ever.)

CEM: (Laughs) For those who haven’t met me, I wear my hair (currently fairly short) with a bleached “Rogue” stripe at the front, a la Anna Paquin in the X-Men movies. (I’ve been doing it since before the movies, though: I’m a complete geek and have had a crush on Rogue in the comics forevah.) I’ve had the bleaching done professionally the last couple of times because I can’t find the right kind of lightener in Ireland, but typically I do it myself. I melted it once (did you know hair can melt? It can! It gets stretchy and gooey and quite awful!) and shaved my head to deal with the results, so I am now very, very careful. But hey, you live and learn.

AK: If you could be any superhero, who would you be?

CEM: (looks at her previous answers)
(looks at Alethea)
Guess.

Originally published at AletheaKontis.com. You can comment here or there.