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09-17-10: Mary Robinette Kowal Interviewed at SF in SF on August 21, 2010

"Trying to figure out how you can get around the restrictions is what makes fantasy and the Regency for me very interesting."

—Mary Robinette Kowal

I would in general term the sort of interviews I do at SF in SF as "pick up" interviews, because time constraints generally require me to keep them in the vicinity of ten minutes. But sometimes you can lose track of time which is shat happened last month when I sat down with Mary Robinette Kowal to talk about her reading from 'Shades of Milk and Honey.' I looked at the time on the recorder and found we'd been speaking for nearly twenty minutes.

Kowal proved to be utterly engaging as she and I discussed her reading from 'Shades of Milk and Honey.' As ever, we discussed her research for this historically-based fantasy, but more than that, we also talked about how hard it was to write in-period. There are so many considerations that one must take into account that it seems much more daunting than one would expect. In Kowal's case, she had the very language itself to consider and the fact that words we take for granted in the 21st century, and not just those referring to technology, are often of more recent invention than one might expect.

Kowal is obviously very enthused about her subject, and about the period she's writing in, but she's not stuck there. She and I talked about other projects on her plate and she really has some interesting ideas rattling around in her mind. But these ideas strike me not only as interesting, but ultimately marketable. As you listen to her talk you'll find yourself wondering, "Why didn't anyone else think of that before?"

You can hear our conversation by following this link to the MP3 audio file.

09-16-10: Cecilia Holland Interviewed at SF in SF on August 21, 2010

"...a free woman like that in a society which was really very cramped and really very limited would just be like a phoenix..."

—Cecilia Holland

Cecilia Holland is a legendary writer, a writer's writer for a reason. She's not simply intelligent, she is also quite eloquent. But for all her verbal expertise, she comes across as engagingly accessible. She has the ability to unearth the bits of history that are fascinating when written as fiction and the wit to invent stuff that ensures a ripping yarn in terms of story. But of course, with any writer of historical fiction, research is the key.

What's really interesting about Holland is how many different periods of history she works in. When I spoke to her at SF in SF on August 21, we talked quite a bit about her work on Eleanor of Aquitaine. But she was also working on her Viking novels, including 'Kings of the North.'

While some writers make sole use of the Internet, Holland manages to travel and see a lot of the places she writes about. Of course, all this makes for a very interesting conversation about writing. She also talked about how her living circumstances somewhere here in the Bay area contribute to her fiction.

Mostly, though, we focused on her novel 'The Secret Eleanor.' Holland was quite passionate about this woman beginning with her first goal of erasing Katherine Hepburn's turn as the queen from her readers' minds. You can hear our conversation by following this link to the MP3 audio file.

09-15-10: Panel Discussion for SF in SF on August 21, 2010: Mary Robinette Kowal, Cecilia Holland and Terry Bisson

"Cecilia has built a whole career out of historicals; your first is sort of a historical; is that the direction you're going in, or just something you did?"

—Terry Bisson

Is it just me, or are the panel discussions getting better and better at SF in SF? Last month's panel was superb, and you're going to hear that with this podcast, even as I process this month's audio. There was, of course a lot of simpatico between the two authors. But there as an equal amount of entertaining intelligence out there in the audience, which Terry Bisson was astute enough to elicit.

In fact, Bisson went for questions from the audience pretty quickly, though he went back to his own bottomless well of comments soon after. Robinette Kowal and Holland were deeply engaged, Bisson was inspired and I was getting it all on — uh, sorry I had to check, getting it all on Ultra II Compact Flash.

One of the joys of doing this SF in SF gig is for me how easy it seems now that I've got all the gear in place, ready to use, and so well-sussed that I never worry about sound. I will qualify that a bit; I worry enough to make sure everything is set up correctly, and that the levels are good, but once I get that far, I always know how the gear sounds after the fact. I used to bring headphones, and probably would now, if I remembered. But the fact of the matter is that if I forget them, and I generally do, I no longer fret. So long as the little bars bounce around correctly on my super-outdated and super-clunky Marantz recorder, I know I'm good.

To my mind, one of the great aspects of these panels and podcasts are the writing tips offered by people who have sold real books to real publishers and had them published and sold in real bookstores. Somewhere in the space between all these words, there is something better than any writing class you could ever hope to take. You can tune in to this particularly entertaining classroom experience by following this link to the MP3 audio file.

09-14-10: Cecilia Holland Reads at SF in SF on August 21, 2010

"Keep going with me and everything will be fine."

—Cecilia Holland

Cecilia Holland is a legend, and truly a writer's writer. I've heard her name from more writers whose work I respect than just about anyone else. She's also incredibly busy. When she appeared at SF in SF late last month, she had not one but two big new books out. 'The Secret Eleanor' (Berkley ; August 3, 2010 ; $15) is her take on Eleanor of Aquitaine, while 'Kings of the North' (Forge ; July 6, 2010 ; $27) is a sequel to 'The High City,' set in England during the era of the Viking invasions. She told us that the former was getting all the notice, so she chose to read from the latter.

What followed, when Holland took us into her story, was a practically perfect lesson in how to write. In the scene she reads from her novel 'Kings of the North,' Knut, a surly, hot-tempered warrior, finds himself not so much in a pickle, as ... well in a pickle that a pickle could identify with. What follows is a closely observed and beautifully written piece of fiction, funny as hell and full of bravado.

And well it should be, since we are, after all, talking about Vikings. Holland's work really has the ring of truth to drive it. She's a very careful researcher who immerses herself in her history, and as a result, has the ability to immerse her reader as well. 'Kings of the North' and 'The Secret Eleanor' are both set in tumultuous, turbulent times, and Holland's skill is that she can write about those times in a timeless manner.

The key to this is, and I think readers can hear it in her reading, the fact that we always think we are living in the most tumultuous of times, that capital-E End is just over the horizon, and we'd all better get our act together because whatever comes next is a transformative experience. And as we all know, whatever comes next is always...tomorrow.

You can hear Holland read from 'The Kings of the North,' featuring an impressive name cloud, by following this link to the MP3 audio files.

09-13-10: A 2010 Interview with William Gibson

"I might be one of the first generation of science fiction writers to come to the writing of it with a head full of academic critical theories..."

—William Gibson

I was a johnny-come-lately to the latest William Gibson book and tour. Generally, I keep abreast of these things, but this one arrived quicker than I expected, and I found myself scrambling to get time to talk with Gibson. With a fair amount of hemming and hawing, I was granted half an hour. That's not long enough to book at KQED, and the hotel was out, so, I turned to Borderlands Books. Jude, of Borderlands, was kind enough to agree to arrive early so that I could speak to Gibson there, back in the stacks.

For my part, I'd been up early, at 2:30 AM. Gibson arrived early and kindly agreed to sign the stock at Borderlands, then we retired to the back of the store for a conversation only interrupted once by an eerie wailing of what sounded like children chasing dogs in the schoolyard behind Borderlands.

I had pages of notes about my impressions from 'Zero History' queued up on my iPad, but the conversation took an early left turn and instead we talked about the prose and craft of science fiction. I had wanted to follow up on something that Gibson said to me the last time we spoke, which was his feeling that had be showed up at his editors desk in his post-'Neuromancer' state, pitching a novel in which the 21st century found a world devastated by a sexually-transmitted incurable plague and hammered by local wars, he would have been tossed out on his ear with such an untenable vision of the future.

Of course, thinking back, he did deliver the future of 1984 in a 1984 that was nothing like the '1984' described by Orwell. Science fiction gets it wrong, he told me, in a variety of ways. But mostly because in a science fiction novel, the writers tend to like to make science a hero.

In the half hour that followed, Gibson and I talked about pretty much everything other than his latest novel. Turns out he's a fan of Mervyn Peake, and while you might ask "Who isn't?" there are vast, endless shelves of those who have knocked off Tolkien while ignoring Peake. You might also wonder that Gibson, a science fiction writer, found an interest in Peake. Both operate, though on the same level of language. Gibson, like Peake, brings his surreal genre vision down to the prose level.

This was really a rewarding conversation for both of us, and a great way to start the day. We did, yes, we did in the end talk a bit about 'Zero History.' I made one comment in reference to it, and Gibson's answer is a hoot. I trust it will help sell a book or two, and justify his time to his publisher. I also trust my listeners will particularly enjoy this interview, which they can find by following this link to the MP3 audio file.

New to the Agony Column

01-23-15: Commentary : Jake Halpern Pushes 'Bad Paper: Chasing Debt from Wall Street to the Underworld' : Non-Fiction 21st Century Noir

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Jake Halpern : "...he goes to Las Vegas to this debt-buyers' convention..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 193: Jake Halpern : Bad Paper: Chasing Debt from Wall Street to the Underworld

01-19-15: Commentary : David Shields and Caleb Powell Assert 'I Think You're Totally Wrong' : The Power to Bicker

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with David Shields and Caleb Powell : "I read no book reviews any more; the level of discussion is really pedestrian." David Shields "I'm just saying it's a conflict of interest!" Caleb Powell

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 192: David Shields and Caleb Powell : I Think You're Totally Wrong

01-17-15: Commentary : Charles Todd Expects 'A Fine Summer's Day' : We Interrupt This Program...

Commentary : Charles Todd Engages In 'A Test of Wills' : The Politics of Passion and Policing

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with Charles and Caroline Todd : "...let them be themselves and sort it out..." Caroline Todd "'s more on a personal level..." Charles Todd

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 191: Charles Todd : A Fine Summer's Day

01-13-15: Commentary : Rosalie Parker Unearths 'The Old Knowledge' : The New Old World

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with Ray Russell and Rosalie Parker : "I thought I'd write something for fun.." Ray Russell "..there was a side of me of that was interested in the strangeness..." Ros Parker

01-12-15: Commentary : Richard Ford 'Let Me Be Frank with You' : The Default Years

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with Richard Ford : "...most of our politicians are morons..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 190: Richard Ford : Let Me Be Frank with You

01-06-15: Commentary : Bessel van der Kolk 'The Body Keeps the Score' : Human Trauma

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with Bessel van der Kolk : "...being able to see what happens in the brain really helps us to understand certain things..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 189: Bessel van der Kolk : The Body Keeps the Score

01-03-15: Commentary : Rebecca Lloyd 'Mercy and other Stories' : "You humans are practiced executioners." Zanti Leader, The Outer Limits

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Audio Review of Rebecca Lloyd 'Mercy and other Stories' : "Our knives and monsters are ever ready, and as real as we need them to be."

12-30-14: Commentary : Kathy Freston 'Quantum Wellness' : : Tipping Points

12-29-14: Commentary : Kathy Freston Embraces 'The Lean' : Series of Successive Approximations

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with Kathy Freston : "...visualize how you'd like your life to look..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 188: Kathy Freston : Quantum Wellness, Veganist and The Lean

12-19-14: Commentary : Mark Samuels 'Written in Darkness' : Sinkholes of Despair

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Audio Review of Mark Samuels 'Written in Darkness' : "This is an abyss that is not content to merely gaze back."

12-16-14: Commentary : Christopher Hobbs and Leslie Gardner 'Grow It, Heal It' : Natural and Effective Herbal Remedies from Your Garden or Windowsill

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with Christopher Hobbs : "I want to integrate both the traditional uses and the traditional wisdom and knowledge and experience with modern science."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 187: Christopher Hobbs : Grow It, Heal It

12-09-14: Commentary : Tad Williams Is Caught 'Sleeping Late on Judgment Day' : As Below, So Above

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with Tad Williams : ...Heaven and Hell couldn't be an open, on-going dramatic conflict; it would be more like the Cold War."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 186: Tad Williams : Sleeping Late on Judgment Day

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