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Deep Magic, Issue 28, September 2004

Page history last edited by PBworks 12 years, 9 months ago

Deep Magic, Issue 28, September 2004, Steven Erikson Interview


Source: http://www.deep-magic.net/issues.php?issue=28


Steven Erikson



Age: 44

Residence: Winnipeg, Canada

Martial Status: Married

Children: One boy, 13

Hobbies: Fencing, hockey, canoeing

Favourite Book or Author: Homer


Professional and Educational Information


First time you tried to get something published: 1981, a short story entered in a contest in Winnipeg, ‘Wooden trucks’- 2nd place

Authors Most inspired By: Homer, John Gardiner, Steve Donaldson, Roger Zelazny, R.E. Howard, E. R. Burroughs, Glen Cook, Mark Helprin, G.K. Chesterton, Anonymous (Beowulf, Gilgamesh…)

Schools Attended: University of Manitoba, BA-Anthropology/Classics/History; university of Victoria, BFA-Creative Writing/film Studies; University of Iowa, MFA, Writer’s Workshop

Published works (fiction/non-fiction/obituaries) Fiction: as Steve Lundin: ‘A Ruin of Feathers’, ‘Stolen Voices’, ‘Revolvo’, ‘This River Awakens’; as Steven Erikson: ‘Gardens of the Moon’, ‘Deadhouse Gates’, ‘Memories of Ice’, ‘House of Chains’, ‘Midnight Tides’, ‘Blood Follows’, ‘The Healthy Dead’

Website URL: nada


Q: Tell us the story of how your first book was published.

A: My first book ‘A Ruin of Feathers’ is something called a story cycle- a dozen or so short stories involving the same character. It concerns an archaeologist working and travelling in Central America in the early Eighties. About half of that book compromised my master’s thesis at Iowa. My external advisor was a visiting writer named Peter Nazareth, and he suggested I send a few of those stories to a Canadian publisher, TSAR. My hope was that TSAR would buy one for their magazine, instead, they wrote back saying that they wanted the whole series. Writing that (given there was no advance) was made possible by a grant from the Canada Council. One oddity was that TSAR used one of my oil paintings for the cover. Ha! Don’t expect that to ever happen again.


Q: How does the internet affect your relationship with readers and/or publishers?

A: The internet has changed (potentially, if the writer is prepared to actually communicate with readers) the relationship between artists and audience, and mostly in a good way. The sheer volume of feedback is unlike anything previously seen (signings don’t really count, I think), and it’s global. Until lately, I’ve been in regular contact with the fan-based site, Malazanempire.com, doing Q&A sessions every six months or so, I’ve not been on the site for some time now, though I do intend to return to it. This has proved a busy year; not counting two reprints (Gardens of the Moon and Blood Follows) I have five books coming out this year (!).

At the same time, there’s a real danger of getting caught up in the whole thing-writers don’t need much in the way fo excuses to procrastinate, and the internet poses a luring invitation. Additionally, man all those opinions! Sometimes you read great stuff, other times one’s jaw simply drops at the sheer inanity of commentary (very rare on my fans’ site of course) and you sit there, baffled, confounded, discombobulated, even. But it’s a good and humbling reminder that both geniuses and idiots have opinions.

Publishers are more and more taking advantage of the internet for purposes of promotion, free promotion at that, and that makes sense. The world runs on word of mouth after all.


Q: You’ve set out on an ambitious 10-book series. How did you choose ten (as a magic number) and what are you going to do if new ideas come to you while writing book 6 for instance? How do you plan to balance this “inexorability” with fresh ideas?

A: When I plotted out the series arcs, ten seemed a safe number-I had two late novels in it that were completely open with regards to story, just titles which meant that if I stumbled onto anything new story-wise, that I could incorporate into the series, I had the room to do so. Forward planning and all that. I now have one left for such potential (since the other had since been earmarked for one of these ‘new’ notions). Also my plotting leaves enough room for improvisation within each novel anyway, I hope. Inexorability needs to be balanced with spontaneity, I think, else we all lose interest.


Q: Do you have any favourite characters? (yours of course)

A: I hit on temporary favourites while writing each novel. But in general, I’d have to say Karsa Orlong, Shadowthrone, Kruppe, Iskaral Pust, Tehol and Bugg and Seren Pedac. New list: Udinaas, Fiddler, Bottle, Cutter/Crokus and Scillara (there’s a hint regarding the sixth novel).


Q: What influences have helped you become the writer you are?

A: Esoteric ones, in terms of writing. Here for the first time, I’ll try breaking it up into categories:

Story Struture: Ernie H. and John Steinbeck

Dialogue: Zelazny/Cook/Hasford/Chesterton

Sentence Rhythm: Gardner/Homer/the anonymous writers of Beowulf and Gilgamesh and other epic poems

Theme: not ideas, but moral imperative: John Gardener

Myth-building: Stephen Donaldson

Characterisation: Donaldson/Cook/Hasford/Alice Munro (anyone care to nail down that link?)/Tim Powers/Paul Kearney

Exposition & Setting: any Russian writer you’d care to name (it has to do with animating the environment and the obsession with symbols)

Point of View: a number of exceptional teachers of craft, including W. D. Valgardson and Jack Hodgins


Q: What have you been reading lately?

A: Science Fiction and non-fiction, I keep switching back and forth. I am obsessed with Mars novels, planet colonisation novels and dystopic fiction. For non-fiction, it’s all history stuff, endless amounts, mostly ancient history at that.


Q: How much of your time do you devote to writing?

A: I put in four to five hours a day, in the afternoon (I’m not a morning person), five days a week. I can’t take a session any longer without burning out, and in that 4-5 hour session I write anywhere from three to twelve pages on my laptop, double spaced, 10-point Times New Roman. When I go to bed I lie there for an hour of so writing the next scenes in my head, and sometimes I actually remember some of that. Each session starts with rereading what I wrote the day before, then picking up where I left off, hopefully back in the momentum thing. Since I write in cafes, I plug in earphones and listen to whatever, so long as it’s not what everyone else is listening to.


Q: When you have a time where you don’t think you can write another word, what is it that gets you going again?

A: Oddly enough, I don’t get those. It just comes out, all over the page (figuratively).


Q: How does it make you feel to be compared with other authors? (i.e. George R.R. Martin and Glen Cook)

A; Depends on the comparison being made! Honestly, it’s great. I know where my own influences came from, and to see such writers being kind to my stuff means more than I can say. Writers pick their audiences, in a way, the people they’d like to write to, write for, and to then discover that it worked, that it reached them, is a singular reward. Just as an aside, I’ve not read Martin and probably won’t until I’m finished my series – he’s the one I seem to get compared to the most and that makes me nervous – better I not see what he’s up to book-in-book-out. I do understand we both kill off characters. Cool.


Q: What is your view on violence and strong sexual themes in fantasy literature?

A: That there’s a whole lot more violence that sex going on; and maybe it reflects our strange Western notion that deems as acceptable, graphic violence in the media (film, television, etc), but goes haywire if too much skin is shown. I mean, what’s with that anyway?

In terms of fantasy literature, well I would hope that it is in keeping with the rest of literature (while acknowledging that young people read a lot of fantasy) – what most kids learn they don’t get from books, they get it from the school playground, at home, from the tube. What books can do better than those other forms is provide an ethical context, in other words, actions have consequences are what one has to live with, god or bad, for the rest of their lives. In my fantasy novels, there’s violence, often explicit but never pointless. Humanity – in every sense of the term-requires, or needs, or maybe even demands, a redressing of imbalances. For acts of violence there must in turn be gestures of humanity.

Now, plenty of books out there don’t bother, and as a result they consciously or unconsciously offer up nihilistic vision of the world – and that’s a cop-out. The writer’s either lazy or an outright coward. What I mean by that is: the writer has not worked hard enough, has not applied sufficiently mindful diligence to what lies beneath the story they’re telling, to the world view they’re offering up for display, to the attitudes revealed by their particular takes on reality. A writer who thinks he or she has all the answers is nowhere near knowing the right questions never mind the answers. And a writer afraid or unwilling to challenge their own belief systems needs a little humility before next putting word to page. With some kind of mindfulness of the human condition operating in the writer, there is no subject that cannot be tackled, as far as I’m concerned.


Q; What trends are you seeing in the genre these days?

A: Hard to say (it always is, until well after the fact). Art is both reflective or reality and reactionary to it. We’re seeing, I think, the insipid rise of fascism in the world right now, both on an individual, social community scale and nationally and internationally. Drawbridges are up and fear strides the night. And to paraphrase Yoda, we all know where this will lead.

Someone once told me (and I don’t even know if its true) that historically, the genre of fantasy reaches its peak during times of world strife, stress and war. As a expression of escapism? Could be. A measure of the desire to turn away, at least for little while? Maybe. Of course, in most fantasy novels, evil wears no disguise, and the god are never ugly and always win in the end. So it might be that fantasy reaches through, to some inner need for clarity, to a world less confusing and in its way less frightening.

Mind you, if that’s the case, then I’m in trouble, cause my fantasy novels explore a world of disguised evil, the ugly good and the beautiful bad, and victories that prove anything but.



pax malazica

steven erikson


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