Lois McMaster Bujold is one of the most highly awarded science fiction/fantasy writers in the world. The Authors Road recently stopped by her house for a chat!
Watch it here!
Thanks to everyone who submitted questions earlier this month! Find out more about Peter’s writing, his inspiration and a hint at what happens AFTER The Daylight War…
1. Where do you get your inspiration to start writing?
Everywhere. My own life experiences; the comics, books, music, movies and television I enjoy; people I know, etc. This is the nature of art. We absorb the art of others, filter it through our experience, and create something new that clay.
2. How long do you spend writing each day?
That depends. When I am in the zone and focused, I produce around 1,000 words a day. Other times, if I am on promotional tours or otherwise occupied, I can go frustrating weeks without significant progress. I have become a small business in many ways, and at this point, more than half of my work time is taken up with keeping that running. My assistant, Meg has been a huge help in that regard, freeing me in many ways to make 2013 much more productive than the previous couple years.
3. Do you have a plan for your characters when you start writing, or does it evolve as you write?
I have a very meticulous approach to story structure, probably much more so than most other writers. When I began writing, I used to freewrite, which is to say I just sat down and started writing prose, making the story up as I went along. I would jot down cool ideas as I had them, but mostly I just let the prose take me where it would.
This was a terrible approach. A lot of very successful authors freewrite, but for me it tended to make the story wander away from the main narrative thread, losing tension as I explored whatever path my current mood took me down. Looking back, it’s no wonder that no one was interested in the books I wrote in that fashion. For all the good stuff they contain, there are deep flaws.
I have since begun writing what I call stepsheets, which are detailed breakdowns of every chapter in the form of bulleted lists where I describe chronologically all the pertinent events, background/worldbuilding I want to thread in, character motivations, and bits of dialogue I want to include. This is done for the entire novel, often before I have written a single paragraph of actual prose. It allows me to step back and view the story as a whole, moving parts around to allow for proper pacing and flow without having to do a ton of rewriting later. Only when that skeleton is adamantium strong do I begin slapping meat onto it.
This is a long and arduous process. For instance, the stepsheet for Daylight War was over 200 pages, and a completely separate file from the 850 pages of prose in the final novel. However, I feel it is a process that consistently delivers the results I want, so I can’t complain even if it means I write slower than other authors. I think of the story of the grasshopper and the ant, and do what works for me.
4. Why did you choose to follow a different protagonist’s point of view in each chapter?
It’s interesting to note that the original draft of the Painted Man was entirely in Arlen’s POV, and he first met Rojer and Leesha as adults when he rescued them on the road. It didn’t work, and made it really difficult to tell the full story. Giving Rojer and Leesha their own perspectives was, I think, what really made the book work. Leesha’s story, in particular, took off. She practically writes herself.
With Desert Spear, I wanted to get away from those characters a while to tell the other side of the story. I knew people thought of Jardir as a villian, but that was only a surface impression from seeing a few of his actions out of context. Giving his full story not only vindicates him and his point of view in many ways but it also sheds a darker light on some of Arlen’s own actions.
In Daylight War, we see Inevera get the same treatment. Mysterious and terrifying in Desert Spear, we once again go back and get to know her life in detail. I think by the end she may well be everyone’s favorite character.
5. Do you draw any inspiration from real life historical events?
All the time. I am always reading world news, and studied a lot of older work in the process of wtiting these books, including Sun Tzu’s Art of War, The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi, accounts of King Leonidas of Sparta’s war with Xerxes, Skaka Zulu’s conquest of Africa, and the Tokugawa Shogunate. I also did a fair amount of research into world religions, but that’s always been a hobby of mine. I have a nicely growing collection of the Men-at-Arms and Warrior books from Osprey publishing, which are wonderful references for historical arms and armor. I also use Wikipedia all the time to answer quick research questions.
I love fantasy because it gives writers an opportunity to pull interesting facets from history and real world culture without the need to adhere too strictly to actual events. Every culture in the world has its own mythologies that define it in many ways. That’s something that has always fascinated me.
6. Is there a language of wards? Do they have a sound and could they be spoken?
No, though there are grimoires to catalog them and their various effects. Many wards have had their meanings lost over the years.
7. Has becoming an author led to any experiences you didn’t expect?
So many. Getting published is surreal enough, but seeing some of the amazing things my fans do for the creative contests on my blog are breathtaking. Before being published, I had barely left the US, and then only to the the UK and Canada. Now I have been to Portugal, Poland, France, Australia, Germany, and all over the US. adding stamps to my passport has been incredible. I hope one day to visit every one of the 20 something countries I am published in.
And let us not forget Author D&D. I am still geeking out about it: http://youtu.be/uFy8wWQ1tdw. This year’s game is being edited as we speak!
8. What were your favourite books last year?
One of the most unexpected and difficult aspects of being an author (and an active parent of a child under 5) is having unfettered access to almost any book I want, often well before its release date… and no free time to read them. It reminds me of the old Twilight Zone episode “Time Enough, At Last” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time_Enough_at_Last) where Burgess Meredith is a book lover who is constantly thwarted from reading.
That said, I did manage to sneak in a few this year. On paper, I read Mark Lawrence’s King of Thorns and CS Friedman’s Legacy of Kings, both authors who I love and have written blurbs for in the past.
I also read an early electronic draft of Myke Cole’s Fortress Frontier, which drops in the next week or so. It is the follow-up to last year’s Control Point, and is even better than the first book.
If you are a comic book fan, I read some great stuff this year, including Locke & Key, Invincible, Walking Dead, Fables, and Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre.
I listen to audiobooks while I exercise, and really enjoyed Year Zero by Rob Reid and Timeless by Gail Carriger, as well as Dominion, a Coldfire novella by CS Freidman that brought back all the stuff I loved about that series.
9. Any hints as to what will happen in book four?
Shit gets real. Human v. human violence finally comes to a boil even as the demons make a concerted effort to stamp humanity back down into the mud.
George: Historical books are a little grittier, which is one of the things I wanted to do when combining the two; to take that sort of gritty realism you find in a historical novel and combine it with the imagination and wonder of Fantasy.
I have thought about writing historical fiction myself, when I interviewed Bernard Cornwell for Harper a few months ago we talked about this. For me the frustration in writing real historical fiction is that if you know history you know how it comes out. You can write about the actual Wars of the Roses and you know what’s going to happen to those princes in the tower and you know what’s going to happen at the battle of Bosworth Field. With my books I like to keep them a little off balance. Ultimately you don’t know what’s going to happen to the kids in my books or who’s going to live or die or end up with their head on a spike.
But the reading experience can be quite similar. Jane has been reading the Accursed Kings series by the great Maurice Druon – a wonderful series of historical novels. One of the great things for me when I read them was that I didn’t know a lot of the history. You know, French people may know all of this but for me it wasn’t something that was covered on our history courses, nor presumably, in history courses here. I didn’t know who these people were, even only the most abstract terms, or how this was going to come out. That was a very similar reading experience to a fantasy novel.
Jane: They read incredibly fresh. We’ve just bought the world rights to publish them because they’ve been out of print since the sixties, I think it’s going to be great fun to make them available to people. They read as if they were written yesterday, they’re really sharp and funny, as well.
The brothers Goncourt said: “History is a novel that has been lived…” I think that’s a really good quote but I feel also that with A Game of Thrones, you feel that every character in your books has a life that goes on behind the scenes: they’re not just walking out on stage and playing out what you want them to play out. You do see them as real people. How much of that elaboration do you have in your head before you set out writing your characters?
George: I’m not actually deluded enough to think that they are real people. I know that I’m making them up. It seems obvious but I’ve met some writers over the years that have peculiar views on the subject and seem to think they’re receiving emanations from other dimensions or something. I don’t buy into that but certainly when I’m writing these characters and living with them they achieve enormous reality to me.
You know, many years ago I wrote a short story, a novelette actually, that won the Nebula award called “Portraits of His Children”. It is about a writer and his relationship with his characters. Its sort of a cliché that characters are a writer’s children but there’s a great amount of truth to it. At least for a writer like myself; the characters I have created over the years are a part of me, are a part of my life. They are not me, but they are created by me and are a part of me. The analogy with the children has a certain apt-ness to it.
Jane: Well you’re a cruel father
George: I take after the Romans; they had the whole “paterfamilias” thing going on there. If you were a disappointing son “I’m sorry son you’re disappointing me would you please commit suicide”…“Yes dad I’d be happy to”. We’ve lost some of these traditions over the years.