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Amazon UK Interview (2000)

Page history last edited by PBworks 15 years, 9 months ago


An interview with Steven Erikson.


Steven Erikson has set himself the task of writing 10 linked fantasy epics of impressive bleakness and viciousness; his first two novels Gardens of the Moon and Deadhouse Gates are impressive steps on the way to achieving this. He talks about them to Roz Kaveney.




Amazon.co.uk: Both books describe themselves as tales from The Malazan Book of the Fallen--just how many of them are there going to be?




Steven Erikson: After Gardens of the Moon my publisher gave me a contract for nine years on the assumption that I will write a book a year, which means that the series will run to a total of 10 books.






Amazon.co.uk: How much, at this point in the series, do you know in advance? Is the plotting a matter of busking as you go?




Erikson: I try to make each of the novels stand alone, but I am aware of an overall story arc that shows up as a subplot in all of them. Spontaneous creativity has its role as well; I have goals for each scene and I find new stuff all time as I proceed--if I over-planned I'd lose patience.






Amazon.co.uk: Do you have the equivalent of Tolkien's appendices tucked away somewhere?




Erikson: I have notes for the series by the boxload--sometimes I have to search for names and how I spelled them when I thought of them. The long-standing notes are all background stuff rather than plotlines. As I start each individual book, I write notes for it about where it is set, what happens, where the big scenes are and where its plot is going in terms of the overall structure of the series.






Amazon.co.uk: This is a very dark universe indeed by the normal standards of heroic fantasy. Why?




Erikson: I read widely from all genres, and I always liked the Gothic as a form. I wanted to go for atmosphere in my work, for giving the environment in which the story happens an emotional content--this might have taken me into horror writing. A lot of early fantasy had a tendency to produce crisp clean worlds of absolute good versus absolute evil; when I read this sort of thing, I wanted more scepticism, a greyer, darker universe.






Amazon.co.uk: The only other fantasy writer this bleak is Glen Cook.




Erikson: Oh yes, I am a huge admirer of his work, which is easier to get in Canada. I was doing a degree in writing and film studies and reading a lot of Vietnam war literature for coursework--Tim O' Brien, Gustav Hasford etc. Someone suggested Cook's Black Company books to me and I saw the similarity with Vietnam novels--there is the same sense of a small squad of men doing dirty work, of the poor bloody infantry, and there is the same dry cynical tone that we find in Gustav Hasford's The Short-Timers, the book on which Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket is based, the same surreal incidents and characters named after their function in the group like Joker, or Croaker. It is the right tone for a novel which reflects a real world which includes wars like Bosnia, where there is no good and evil, just shades of gray.






Amazon.co.uk: There was an eight-year gap between the writing of your two fantasy novels--what did you learn in that time?




Erikson: During those years, I published three books under another name, including a long, complicated contemporary novel. What I learned from this is that there is no real clash between the so-called literary conventions and fantasy and that fantasy is more fun. Fantasy is not easier in terms of intellectual effort, just very different to write. One of the expectations of the modern literary novel is that you will employ style as an art form in itself, sometimes at the expense of other values. Language becomes what the reader is looking at. In genre writing, language has to be transparent, a vehicle of communication and nothing more, so I don't have to sweat over every word and sentence. I am now finding it easier even in my contemporary fiction to incorporate subtext in ways that do not shake the reader out of the story.






Amazon.co.uk: RK In both fantasy novels, you keep a lot of narrative balls in the air at once.




Erikson: I got tired of the tendency of some fantasy to stay with a single character, because it makes that character more important than the world around him. I wanted to write fictitious history and show a whole world, not just kings and queens, but the whole social gamut and trickledown effect of power--and show how a thief can affect everyone up to the gods. I wanted a sense of how everyone is tied up together so that in Gardens of the Moon we have sympathies with both besiegers and besieged. In each of my books we are looking in at characters during a specific period of time and so I wanted a sense of everyone as having histories either side of what we see--then to pop out and go somewhere else.






Amazon.co.uk: There is also the question of world building.




Erikson: I draw lots of maps. I often precede the creation of a continent with a map and go from there as a way of grounding myself in the imaginary world. I draw on my anthropological background because I wanted to make my world make sense geophysically and culturally. I looked at the Forgotten Realms maps and was impressed by their beauty and appalled by their lack of sense. You have to give your cities and realms a background of population movements and an agricultural hinterland.






Amazon.co.uk: You have a background in anthropology and archaeology.




Erikson: I have done a lot of archaeology fieldwork, mostly in Canada, on sites ranging from over 8/9000 years old through to the arrival of Europeans. I was most interested in transitional sites with an influx of artefacts drawing on European stuff. My specialty is stone tools and rock arts--flint knapping; I shall be playing around with that in the third novel and bringing back Toal the undead character in Gardens. Just as the Inuit have many words for snow, Toal's words for stones and rocks reflect his entire world view. What I bring to fantasy from all this is a notion of social evolution and the impact of distinct cultures on each other and notions of the varieties of magic, from sympathetic shamanistic stuff to the more complicated kinds. I also wanted supernatural beings whose powers were more like wave fronts than lightning bolts, many of them mortals moving up in the world to Ascendancy and God-like status, and to have a sense of that which is lost in the process of becoming greater, whether in terms of magic or power. There is always a risk of dehumanization, you just have to read the papers to see that.






Amazon.co.uk: Will any of the novels provide backstory for what we have seen so far?




Erikson: I know that people are interested in the backstory of the emperor and his assassination, but I want to go forward. There will always, though, be a sense of who these people are and where they came from and, at some point in the next novel, Whiskyjack will tell the story of how the Bridgburners came to exist as a group.






Amazon.co.uk: What about the Empress?




Erikson: I think that she is interesting because she is kept remote--if you want a sense of risk and danger to a character, keep them at arm's length. I don't feel able to write from the point of view of someone infinitely powerful .






Amazon.co.uk: How do you plan to keep things fresh over 10 books?




Erikson: I will have to consider and do it book by book; this is more on my mind with the third novel because I am going back to characters with whom readers have familiarity. The more I write, the more I have to hope and trust that I will not fall into a rut.






Amazon.co.uk: What is your background for the military stuff?




Erikson: A lot of it is research. When I did my degree, I had classics and Byzantine history as minors so I read a lot of eyewitness accounts of battles. I read Macdonald Fraser's Flashman books which led me to read up on the Indian Mutiny and the Great Game. Deadhouse Gates owes a lot to the Indian mutiny. From reading about the Vietnam War I got that sense of a God-like technological superiority hanging over everyvbody as an indiscriminate sword that the soldier on the ground has to live with. The tactics and so on derive from war gaming. The sense of threat comes from travelling in Guatemala in 1983 when there was a murderous government and local militias and uprisings. The sense of whole villages messily dead at the start of Gardens of the Moon comes from an actual village I found full of dead people, the sense of strangeness while I waited for truck with corpses behind a wall. Small details stay with one; I remember that the only thing left alive was a goat that was tethered and crying out as it was devoured by fireants.

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