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?"
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 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.
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?"
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.
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 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.
"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..."
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.