Thursday, February 23, 2006

Five Questions with...Elizabeth Bear

We're back with Elizabeth Bear. For more interesting discussions about publishing and life in general, make sure to visit her Live Journal.

What is your daily writing process? Do you plot and outline an entire manuscript or do you create as you type?

Um, yes. *g* Or, more specifically, every novel is determined to be different. I've written books for which I had a chapter-by-chapter outline, and those in which I had no idea what happened next. The story itself dictates the structure; if I know what happens, I can outline--or signpost ahead, as sometimes I jump ahead and write scenes out of order. If I don't know, or I don't know enough, then I go after it in a linear fashion, so I can discover what happens along with the characters.

My plotting technique, however, is to keep breaking things until I can't see a way out. And then try to write the end of the book.

I do use notecards through the end of the book, one for each unresolved plot point, so I don't drop things along the way.

Jenny Casey from Hammered, Scardown and Worldwired is an unlikely heroine. Fifty years old with an artificially constructed body that’s starting to unravel – not the type of person one expects to be saving the world. Did Jenny enter your mind fully formed (and unraveling) or was she a character you fleshed out as you wrote?

Jenny showed up. With her carpet bag and her distinctive manner of speaking instact. Over the years, I've tried to get her to talk to me in third-person and in past tense, and she won't do it. She's curt, sarcastic, trenchant, and doesn't suffer fools gladly, and she tells stories in this very raconteurish "No shit, there I was" style (which is, of course, canonically the way all war stories start)--and she's been that way all along. Also, she's a great protagonist to write because she's prone to flaming out. She doesn't just screw up--she screws up on a kind of epic level.

And characters who do that--without, you know, being forced into "too stupid to live" plotlines by the writer; the mistakes have to be honest, in-character mistakes--are a precious resource. Because you can get them into the most unholy situations. Cautious people are harder to destroy.

I tend to write in defiance a lot, and Jenny's in some ways a reaction to that trope--that you have to be young and pretty and special and a bit naive to protag. So she's middle-aged and crusty and cantankerous and cynical and a bit of a maintenance alcoholic, and she has Baggage. Because I'm contrary.

What kind of research did you do for your Promethean Age series which begins with Blood and Iron? Blood and Iron deals more in the magical realm with the likes of wizards and faeries. Did you expand on what may or may not be already known about these magical creatures or did you put your own spin on things?

Oh, man. I did a lot of research. I mean, a *lot* of research. The oldest Arthurian legends I could find--as well as more modern versions, history, politics, world myth, secret societies real and fictional--everything from the School of Night and the Hellfire Club to the Golden Dawn ad the Diogenes Club (You can kind of see how the Prometheus Club gets its name, come to think of it--I wanted something period enough to seem a little hokey and pretentious to a modern ear) more biographies of Elizabethan notables than you can shake a stick at, Roman/Germanic history, Chinese legendry, the life of Vlad III of Wallachia (aka Vlad Dracula), English history... my Faerie is part Froud, part Shakespeare, part Yorkshire legend, and part Cirque du Soleil.

I have to pause to acknowledge Brian Froud--not so much the Pressed Faeries or Goblins stuff, but _The Land of Froud_ and his earthy pastels--as a heavy influence on how I *see* Faerie, anyway, because I grew up on his artwork. My mother was a huge fan, and so am I. I actually type this with a framed print of his piece "Tapestry" staring over her shoulder at me, and she looks rather a lot like my Morgan Le Fey.

A lot of modern fantasy treats magic as something desirable and the Industrial Revolution as a kind of bugaboo; it craves a return to magic and specialness. But to somebody of that pre-IR era, fairy was serious and scary business. You could lose your child, your heath, your life, your wealth--contact with fairy, with the otherworld, destroyed people. Or remade them. The natural world has been romanticized as living in it has become safer. But it will still kill you. And Faerie is a personification of that ruthlessness.

You know, ruthlessness isn't even the right word, because it indicates agency. And what nature, and by extension Faerie, must bring to the table is really not ruthlessness, but indifference. A blizzard doesn't care if it kills you. It just kills you.

And it was important to me to show that. But I also wanted to show the struggle from the point of view of the Fae. Which was tricky. Because from a human perspective they are the villains of the piece. But I'm strongly enough influenced by the likes of Zelazny, say, that I think the trope of showing the otherworld from the perspective of a normal human that the reader is expected to identify with is, well, unnecessary. I'd rather kick him in neck deep and put him in the head of a Mage, a Faerie, a wolf, a changeling grown to adulthood. Which is not to say there aren't kidnapped childen and poets galore, and the odd nod to Tam Lin and True Thomas.

I have five books of this thing written, and ideas for a bunch more. It's just huge, and I hope the marketplace will support my noodling around in that world for a good long time.

Jenny Casey or Seeker of the Daoine Sidhe – in a battle between the two, who would win and why?

In a knock down fight, it would likely be Seeker. As magic doesn't exist in Jenny's world. On the other hand, that steel hand might prove an advantage when dealing with the Fae.

And she's a sneaky old broad. You never know.

What’s ‘up next’ in your career?

Well, the Promethean books start coming out from ROC in the summer, and I've hopefully just delivered CARNIVAL to Spectra (Estimated publication this fall), unless they want more revisions. That's a science fiction novel unrelated to the Jennyverse, which is kind of the unholy collision of Joanna Russ and Robert Heinlein, if you can imagine such a thing. It's a Libertarian feminist dystopia. With spies.

There's a short fiction collection (THE CHAINS THAT YOU REFUSE) forthcoming from Night Shade in May, and there's some assorted short fiction in anthologies and magazines over the next year or so, including a 25K novella in Subterranean, which I'm told will be illustrated by Tim Truman. (This is me making geek faces and bouncing in my chair at the prospect. Tim! Truman!)

In current projects, I'm starting work on UNDERTOW, which is the last book I have under contract to Spectra, and which looks to go all parabolic on me. Then I have to figure out what to do next in terms of science fiction--possibly a novel in the same setting as the Jenny books, but not a direct sequel, which has the working title of SPINDRIFT. Because man, I still have aliens I want to play with. All I've got for that, though, is a fantastic Clarissa Pinkola Estes quote: "When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But that is not what great ships are built for."

Also, I have about twenty incomplete short stories that really need to be written, thank you.

I'm not writing any more Promethean Age books until I sell the ones I have written, but I have two novels cowritten with Sarah Monette--a YA historical mystery featuring Kit Marlowe, who now appears in four books and a novelette I've written, because I'm sort of obsessed with the man, and a deconstruction of Fuzzy Telepathic Companion Animal Fantasy-- out looking for publishers, and I have put together a proposal to try to sell a not-a-trilogy of Norse Steampunk Fantasy collectively referred to as "The Edda of Burdens." So maybe somebody will want that. *g*

That should keep me busy for the next few years, I think.

Thank you, Elizabeth!! I don't know about you, but I've just added another author to my To Be Purchased list.


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