Friday, May 21, 2010

Interview with Ellen Kushner

Recently I had the privilege of interviewing Ellen Kushner, May's SF/Fantasy Author of the month.

Q: Your Riverside novels have been called “fantasy of manners” – fantasies more concerned with social relationships then with heroic quests – how did you come to write these books? Who and what were your influences?

This is a huuuuge question - I'm afraid I'm going to punt you over to my website, where I've written an essay about just that:

Q: Your second novel, Thomas the Rhymer, is based on the 13th century story of True Thomas, an historical figure and basis of many legends and songs.

Obviously you did quite a bit of research; how did you choose among the legends and how did you make them your own?

I was obsessed with ballads and folklore from the time I was about 14. I read books, I listened to music, from the "hardcore" folk recordings of folks like Ewan MacColl, to Brit Folk Rock bands like Pentangle and Steeleye Span . . . . It was really my passion for these things that made me want to write Thomas the Rhymer, rather than the other way 'round. And it was great, while I was writing the book, that every time I needed a plot twist or new character, simply to be able to dip into the rich cauldron of folklore and balladry for it.

Q: I’m a big fan of your radio program “Sound & Spirit”. What is the relationship between your writing and your work on “Sound & Spirit”?

I feel like "Sound & Spirit" is really a novelist's radio show! So much of public radio now is straight up journalism. But on the show, when I talk about other times, other cultures, I'm not just reporting hard facts -- though of course my staff & I go to great lengths to ensure accuracy -- but really, I try to enter an imaginative space as well, and to use evocative language. With fiction, I'm always telling writing students that writing should be musical; it should be cadenced, and rhythmic. So getting to use actual music woven into my words to craft an hour of radio every week is a dream gig!

Q: The Fall of the Kings was co-written with your wife, Delia Sherman. How did this process work? Do you think this collaboration distinguishes this novel from your others?

I think there's no question it's a novel neither of us could have written alone. We challenged each other, we encouraged each other, we rewrote each others' prose . . . The result is something quite unique, I think! Delia will tell you she was trying to imitate my writing style from Swordspoint, but I feel what we actually did was to develop a "house style" that's really a combination of our shared influences, from Anthony Trollope to Dorothy Dunnett (and beyond!).

Again, in the interests of time, I'm going to send you to the "Letter" we wrote for our publisher's website about the nuts & bolts of our collaboration:

Q: I read that your first books were Choose Your Own Adventure books. I loved those when I was a kid! How did your come to write those books, and how did you go from there to your other books? (And which titles did you write?)

Writing my first novel took a lot longer than I expected, and I needed some income! I was at a World Fantasy Convention where a Bantam editor was looking for young writers to write CYOA books, and I said I was interested and sent in a proposal, which became Outlaws of Sherwood Forest (about a kid at summer camp who has adventures with Robin Hood - always a dream of mine!). There's a complete list of my 5 CYOAs posted on my Bibliography:

I get a huge kick out of the fact that people who are all grown up now actually remember reading them when they were kids. Thanks for asking about them!

Q: What are you up to now? Any more novels on the horizon?

I've spent the last couple of years working on a ton of fun projects, none of them a novel . . . yet. I've written a number of short stories (again, check out that bibliography), including a few in the Swordspoint continuum. One of them, "The Man with the Knives," was just published this month as a gorgeous limited edition chapbook with art by Thomas Canty:

I turned my children's book, The Golden Dreydl, into a play that's been performed for the last two years at New York's Vital Theatre. I'm working on a "historical magic realist klezmer radio drama" with Yale Strom & Elizabeth Schwartz, which I hope will go into production this fall. I even got to act in a reading of the first draft of my friend Chris Claremont's screenplay! And Holly Black & I are currently editing a new collection of stories in Terri Windling's "Bordertown" world, due out in Summer 2011. So life in New York is not dull. But I do need to get going on that novel.....

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