The Bujold Nexus

Tumble Junket to the Planet Barrayar
The Lois McMaster Bujold Interview

This long e-interview with Michael Lohr was initially done in early 2007, when I thought it would be in support of the Legacy launch. It got lost in the shuffle, and didn't finally appear on the website The Internet Review of Science Fiction till much later, so we updated it in early 2008; it finally went up there in late Spring.

Lois McMaster Bujold is an acclaimed science fiction and fantasy writer and in my opinion is one of the most underrated novelists writing today. Her novels are engaging, taut and just down right entertaining. A native of Columbus, Ohio - land of distraught, near suicidal Buckeye sports fans - Bujold now makes her home in the frigid land of Minnesota; Minneapolis to be more exact, the home of Prince, Neil Gaiman and Husker Du, or was it the Pixies. Anyway...

Discovered from the slush pile by the late, great Jim Baen himself (one of the greatest editors in science fiction history), Bujold has not disappointed. She has won the prestigious Hugo Award for best novel four times, matching Robert A. Heinlein's record. Her novella "The Mountains of Mourning", perhaps one of the best science fiction novellas ever written, won both the Hugo and the Nebula Awards. Her fantasy novel, The Curse of Chalion won the Mythopoeic Award for Adult Literature. The same novel was a finalist in 2002 for the World Fantasy Award and her novel Paladin of Souls won a Hugo and a Nebula, her fourth and second respectively.

Lois McMaster Bujold is a very talented writer in the finest storytelling tradition. Her books are filled with visionary worlds, robust characters and mythic adventures. Her creation of the primary religious text from her Chalion novels, The Fivefold Pathway of the Soul, unto itself could be the focus of a dissertation.

LMB: I feel constrained to point out, The Fivefold Pathway is a book that exists in the world of Chalion, not in ours; readers should not hit Amazon looking for it. (Shades of The Necronomicon!) But if it feels to you as if it ought to be real, I've done my job properly.

ML: Your novel series The Sharing Knife is hitting the shelves as we speak. Without giving too much away, could you tell our readers a little about it?

LMB: The Sharing Knife began as a single fantasy-romance novel, divided into a duology for publication due to length. Since my original vision for it was completed, it's grown by two more volumes. The first, split story was titled The Sharing Knife, Vol. 1: Beguilement and The Sharing Knife, Vol. 2: Legacy, which were first published in October 2006 and June 2007, respectively.

The second pair of books are a bit more rounded in structure, as they were written to be a duology from the get-go: Volume 3, Passage, is due for hardcover release April 22, 2008; the fourth and final volume, Horizon, which is now finished and turned in, is slated for February 2009. The latter pair were going around with the working title of The Wide Green World for a time, but my publisher Eos preferred the unified series title so as not to unduly confuse booksellers, and book buyers. It's appropriate -- this really is one long story divided into four volumes, although each duology pair and each individual volume also have story arcs that reach some closure within them. Think of four hoops in a row contained by two hoops all contained by one hoop; the main over-arching thematic hoop will only be discernable once the four underlying parts are all in place, but there's plenty to entertain a reader at the other story-levels while waiting.

So all four volumes will be in readers' hands within the space of three and a half years, there will be no delays in manuscript delivery, and even if I get run over by a bus tomorrow, the tale is complete. I hope y'all appreciate this.

The Sharing Knife begins as the tale of two people, Fawn Bluefield, a young farmer girl running away from home for some very traditional reasons, who meets Dag Redwing Hickory, a seasoned soldier-sorcerer from a nomadic people called the Lakewalkers, who are dedicated to hunting down and killing a recurring supernatural menace called by his people, malices, and by hers, blight bogles. The sharing knife of the title is a critical magical weapon to this purpose, and the revelation of just what the knives are and how they work is part of the plot.

When both characters are caught up in a malice hunt, a peculiar accident happens to one of Dag's sharing knives, which binds the couple together for a time until the mystery can be solved. Propinquity leads to romance leads to, eventually, troubles (and growth) and a new engagement with their world that neither of them could have imagined at the tale's beginning. The Sharing Knife does not have a villain-driven plot, but it does have a strong direction-of-movement, so I didn't find it felt any different in the day-to-day writing than my more tightly-plotted books.

The books and the series have also been my chance to play with genres, attempting to blend fantasy and romance. This turns out to be a trickier proposition than it looks, as the two genres have different focuses, reader expectations, structures, and scopes. The focus of a romance is normally personal: it's the tale of a successful courtship, beginning when the two protagonists meet and ending when their relationship, explored and tested by the plot, is finally confirmed by a lasting commitment. By the end, the reader expects to understand that couple. The focus of a fantasy is normally its world, which may almost be considered another character; we expect to meet that world, get to know it, be shown what makes it different. By the end, the reader expects to understand that world.

Threats in a romance are to the central relationship; in a fantasy, to the world and nothing less, to the limit of whatever scope the book shows, which can range from a hundred-acre-wood to multiple universes. The fantasy reader expects the book's world to be in danger, and the book to be about the characters who will save it -- no others need apply -- i.e., not some other characters down the block or over the hill or in a different generation. Which rather answers that essay by Ursula LeGuin about fantasy vs. Mrs. Brown. (Although the ornery woman in the back of my mind mutters, "Yeah, try and make The Wind in the Willows fit that template, sure!")

So I deliberately set myself the problem of weaving these two disparate structures together in The Sharing Knife. This is in part aided by the two protagonists being themselves representatives of the two main cultures of their shown world, so I can explore those world-aspects through them. Whether I've succeeded will be for the readers to say when the whole work comes out -- the reader responses so far seem to be interestingly bifurcated. Some folks relish the blend; others become as hysterical as a toddler who discovers his peas are touching his mashed potatoes. Well, you can't argue taste; but The Sharing Knife is much to mine.

At the end of the first two volumes of The Sharing Knife, the matter of the romance was resolved to my satisfaction and that of its mother genre, which was mainly what I first set out to do. I might well have left Dag and Fawn there, at least for a time. But the matter of the world still begged some questions, hence the second duology, Passage and Horizon. These are both journey stories -- one a river journey and the other a road trip, both American classic tropes, very appropriate to the American-inspired frontier fantasy world setting of these books -- continuing from the end of Legacy, still with Dag and Fawn as viewpoint characters. (Which latter is, I suppose, a spoiler, but really, not much of one.)

As the reader-response to the first two volumes has come in, with their very deliberate genre-mixing, it has been borne in upon me how intensely political both science fiction and fantasy are as genres. Personal or lyrical plots need not apply, at least not at the higher sales levels. This is not to say the politics presented are necessarily very sophisticated -- they can be crude, antique, outmoded, simplified, fringe, goofy, just plain wrong, or not even wrong -- but fantasy and science fiction fans do seem to demand that their books revolve around, and their favorite characters engage with, political concerns in order to seem "important" to them. I would even go so far as to say, if romances are fantasies of love, and mysteries are fantasies of justice, F&SF are fantasies of political agency. (Male teen power fantasies being just a very visible subset of this broader category.) I'm still mulling over all that this implies.

ML: In your Chalion novel series your concept of the five-fold gods reminds for some reason of the Hindu mythos, primarily due to its avoidance of duality and the central scarcity of any central yin-yang principle. How much time do you take to focus on the creation of myth and folklore for your novels?

LMB: In Chalion, quite a lot. I deliberately set out to make that world's religion non-dualistic, as I think dualism generally is one of the main mistakes of traditional Western philosophy. It seems to be a compulsion so universally rooted that I suspect it must be biological. People seem to insist, whenever there is more than one of anything, to attempt to shove the items into some hierarchy of value, assign superior or inferior status to them, and scramble to align themselves with the top. Whether it makes any sense or not. Books, food, art, races, genders, gods, cultures, religions -- if you can you name it, people will try to make it a counter in status games. People also have a veritable passion for the fallacy of the excluded middle -- choices shall be cut down to two, sirrah, no more, and you'd better pick the right one.

In part, I suspect this is a heritage of people having to process an infinitely complex world with enough speed to make survival-critical decisions before being eaten by the oncoming saber-tooth. Make it simple, make it fast, you might make it to tomorrow morning. But making it simple doesn't necessarily make it true.

So I chose a system of five gods to resist dualism, and to align with a lot of things in the natural world, including the fingers of the hand and the four seasons (and the leftover bits). The Chalionese religion makes deliberate provision for the untidy parts of life, unlike more Procrustean forms of belief that attempt to chop off the untidy bits to make practice fit the theory.

And, of course, my characters in Chalion being as much like real people as I can make them, they immediately invented a religious heresy that re-inserts dualism...

A less obvious feature of Chalionese theology, one that I think not many readers have twigged to, is that in Chalion the world created the gods, not the other way around. The gods are the highest-order emergent property of the world. So there is an unbroken line from foundation to apex, from the fundamental structure of the universe, through physics, through chemistry, through bio-chemistry, through life, through brain, through mind, through to the gods. The gods of Chalion are continuously generated by their world, remember it all, have evolved, and continue to evolve. If I continue the series, I hope for a chance to follow out this line some more, and see where it leads.

As a more general answer, I tend to do just-in-time world building; I make things up as the book in progress needs them, which means that to a large degree my worlds are created by the stories moving through them. Which makes my worlds largely un-sharable, unlike those of writers who start with an enormous amount of world-building, and then construct a story to explore it.

ML: What is your opinion of ebooks as opposed to hardcopy editions? I remember hearing back around 1999 or 2000 that this new medium would overtake book publishing and render books obsolete in five years, but as of 2007, this has not happened, and doesn't appear to be plausible. Do you think ebooks will exist much like audio books, as a supplement to the actual hardcopy book?

LMB: So far, e-books seem to be falling into a supplemental niche just like audio books, yes. Tree books are mortgage money; e-books are (still) pizza money. Although I note with bemusement that ninety percent of my audiobook sales now take place as internet MP3 downloads, for people to play on their i-pods and what-not, rather than the bulky physical media of discs. I hadn't expected that to change so much, so fast.

As the generation comes up for whom reading off a screen is the default norm, and as reading devices improve, I expect to see more e-books sold, or at least downloaded. I'm not sure how much this will help the economics of individual living writers, as given the infinite shelf space in such e-book stores as (who are adding about 120 new titles a week), a writer finds their books competing for reader attention not just with one season's releases, but with a century's worth of offerings. Time for people to read in is still only issued 24/7, a hard limit. You do the math...

ML: Do you believe there exists the quintessential science fiction novel? Some would argue that for fantasy, J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy is just such a work.

LMB: A few years back, I read a review in which the reviewer made the enthusiastic assertion, "All books should be Towing Jehovah!" (He was dissing one of my books at the time, which is how I happened to be reading it.) Which gave me a mental flash of an entire Barnes & Noble superstore filled with nothing but various editions of Towing Jehovah. The hardcover, the paperback, the trade paperback, the limited leatherbound... the Towing Jehovah Cookbook... the Towing Jehovah Pop-up Book... Losing Weight by Towing Jehovah... The Annotated Towing Jehovah... The Towing Jehovah Companion... Son of Towing Jehovah...:

I think even the book's author James Morrow, once he got over the first flush of economic thrill, would be appalled (I've met Jim, who is a very nice man, even if he does writes books that are not to my taste).

I am increasingly of the opinion that there is no such thing as a quintessential book in any category, toward which all authors and all books should convergently aspire (and suspiciously closely matching the personal tastes of the asserter), and that the notion that there ought to be is pernicious. It's just another example of the compulsive hierarchy-building that I wrestle with in the Chalionese theology. Every book should be itself, to the top of its bent.

The question, "Is this book good?" should always be countered with the question, "Good for what?" The words "good" and "bad" are merely modifiers, and have no intrinsic meaning till they are attached to something very specific. There is far more than one purpose in reading, and far more than one kind of good book for those purposes. Literary monogamy is not required: you're allowed to love more than one.

Or, in short: No.

ML: As a heralded science fiction and fantasy novelist and supporter of the genre in general, do you feel that speculative fiction, as a medium, can change the way people look at the world, especially in such dark, pessimistic times we live in?

LMB: Social engineering is the province of sermon or propaganda, not of art. When art changes the way anyone looks at anything (which it may, as a side-effect), it's a very uncontrolled consequence, shifting -- even with the same text or image -- with every receiver in every different time and place. The writer shapes, but does not control, the reading. The most a novel can do is let the reader see how one writer looks at things, which the reader is then free to take or leave as they please. Indeed, more and more as I read, I have the sense not of entering another world, but of entering another writer's head. There are some people's heads I care to be in, others I don't. But I no longer mistake them for the world.

To put it another way: I am not a literary Neo-Platonist. I do not believe there is a disembodied Ideal Book/Genre/Whatever. I've defined genre as "any group of works in close conversation with one another", which is genre from the practitioner's point of view. Genre is a consequence of the way a lot of folks are looking at the world and reading and writing about it -- transactional, a continuing feedback loop. Genre is an emergent property of this process, and therefore -- if it's live art at all -- always changing and growing.

Obviously, the conversation has the possibility of devolving into a bad or destructive feedback loop; likely the best way of averting a downward slide is to encourage as much variety as possible, to buffer the system.

ML: Much like British novelist Storm Constantine, you push boundaries and explore concepts of gender, gender equality, homosexuality and social justice in your novels. Is this interjection of social issues into your writing deliberate?

LMB: As you may guess from the trend of my answers so far, no. I am interested in people, in what goes on inside their heads. My main thematic interest is probably identity formation -- how folks get it, lose it, change it. The rest of it just comes along for the ride. As I once described one of my characters, I'm as apolitical as I can be and still be conscious and walking around.

That said, no writer can escape writing their own world-view. It's a default, like breathing. One might hold one's breath for a time as a stunt, but it would be hard to sustain. World-view is inherent in the very choices of what topics and people the writer is interested in enough to write about at all, in the choices of heroes and villains (or lack of them), in the kinds of problems the characters are given tussle with, in the other genres the writer has internalized or rejected, absolutely in the world-building, which is the writer's psyche projected onto the page. F&SF doesn't need "symbolism" in the sense that the literary genre uses it; it's all symbol here, folks, wall to wall. No work can exist and not have all these aspects, but they aren't necessarily a conscious agenda.

ML: Literary pundits always opine for the next great American novel. Is such a creature just myth or does such an ideal truly exist? And can a genre novel succeed in gaining such a stature? Some say Kurt Vonnegut achieved just that with Slaughterhouse Five.

LMB: I thought the Great American Novel was supposed to be Huckleberry Finn?

It's all a myth. Publisher hype, mostly. And, dear lordy, stature according to whom? Who is this faceless authority that you are letting set itself up as the arbiter of your thoughts? And why are you doing this, again? Actually, I know why: it's "Reading for Status", again.

Well, actually, that's unfair to the folks who are either honestly looking for or to share some good reads that excite them, or looking for a fine argument as a fun art form in its own right. Both those are legitimate uses of literary discourse, I think. It's not all one-upsmanship.

ML: What has been your favorite novel or series to write? Why?

LMB: As other writers have said, that's much like being asked to single out one's favorite child. I've liked all my series (or I wouldn't have written them!), but for different reasons.

I've always played with genre boundaries, which were artificial constraints to start with. I've long imagined the sort of snooty SF critics who claim, "We want to see writers stretch the boundaries of the genre!" taking one look at my work and crying, "No, but not like that!" (I suspect they really want to see SF link upward to genres of higher status, like mainstream, and not, say, sideways to mystery, or worse, downward to romance.) Within the Vorkosigan series, I've played with romance, coming-of-age, mystery, military fiction, Golden Age engineering, and satire, for starters -- SF is a very malleable genre, rather like whichever blood type is the universal receiver (AB, iirc), able to accept transfusions from all sources. How many genres can I fit in one series? Well, let's see...

As I've branched out, I've started to collect series structures, as well. The Vorkosigan series has a structure I first saw in the Hornblower books -- individual stand-alone adventures which, taken as a collection, form the larger story-arc of one character's life.

With the Chalion series, if I ever complete it as planned, I'd like to try a closed thematic structure -- one book for each of the five gods and their concerns, all in the same world but not necessarily closely connected, which frees me to move over a much larger range of times, places, and persons. Since a lot of readers like series because they allow longer connections with favorite characters, this rather goes against the grain, but hopefully would offer compensatory rewards.

The Sharing Knife series, as it has developed, is my first series of the type "one giant continuous story arc cut into sequential volumes" -- like, most famously, Lord of the Rings. "Tetrology" is a perfectly good word, however, and will do for it. Right now (now that it's finished, and I'm past the hair-tearing stage), I'd have to say this series is my current favorite; it certainly gave me huge pleasure in the writing of it, to circle back to your question above.

ML: Have you ever considered writing a novel void of magical realism and fantastic elements? Ever consider writing a horror novel?

LMB: Horror is not a genre I read or have internalized. Why should I spend a year of my precious remaining time writing a book of a sort I don't care to read?

As for the other, it's not intrinsically ruled out. Right now, I have all the genre work on my plate I can handle for the next two (or four) years, but who knows what I'll be or want to say five years from now? Not me, to be sure.

ML: Have you ever been tempted to write "movie tie-in" books like Terry Goodkind or R.A. Salvatore did (both wrote bestselling Star Wars novels)? If you were asked to do so, would you sign on to write such a novel?

LMB: I was invited several times early in my career to do collaborations or tie-ins, considered it, and always said no. The first couple of times, the original books I wrote instead won me my first major awards, which was a lesson to me; I've never wavered since.

I wouldn't do it for money, now, since I can do well enough in that department on my own; I might do it for love of a particular subject, but it's more likely I'd just carry off the inspiration and do something else with it altogether. Wherever else my ideas start, I've found they have ways of mutating into themselves as soon as they're in motion.

ML: What is your definition of meaningful literature? Genre gets a very bad rap at times for being, what some consider, disposable.

LMB: In order to answer this question, one must first define the terms "meaningful" and "literature". When you have done so, come on back.

(This reminds me of the scheme whereby two parents, in order to get some time alone from the kids, tell them that when they find all one hundred pennies the parents will scatter in the grass, they can come back inside. And then scatter ninety-nine pennies...)

Broadly, there seem to be to be two kinds of great books, and a lot of linguistic confusion engendered because people keep trying to conflate the two categories: books which are great because they are greatly loved, by many readers over time or perhaps only by a few, but no less passionately for that; and books that are historically important because they change the way other books are written. Not infrequently, a book may be both (Don Quixote, anyone?), but students of literature tend to concentrate on the second sort, and I think they are right to do so.

In general, it takes a deal of time to see if a book or writer will have the latter sort of impact. And sometimes books that pass the test with flying colors, such as the works of Arthur Conan Doyle or Georgette Heyer, still get excluded from consideration, but in that case one suspects that the excluders are merely, shall we say politely, inadequately informed, and may be disregarded.

And then the writer gets one of those letters, as I suspect most writers do -- paraphrased from memory, because I can't lay hands on the original just now -- "Dear Ms. Bujold, I want to thank you for the very great joy your work gave my husband during the last six months of his life..."

Joy to the dying? Where does that fall on any intellectual grid of "literary merit"?

And then you realize that we're all dying, here. And so...

ML: You've been nominated and won many awards over the years. Have you ever been taken aback by a nomination, one that came out of left field and surprised you?

LMB: The Mythopoeic was one, since I'd never heard of the award before I was informed that The Curse of Chalion had won it. I've learned more since; some nice folks over there at the Mythopoeic Society.

The two major genre awards, the Hugo and the Nebula, have enough public discussion leading up to them that an observer can usually tell, if not which books, at least if a book is in the pool from which the nominees are likely to pop up.

ML: Some of your peers have been struggling with J.K. Rowling envy over the last few years. Have you found yourself giving consideration to writing a children's fantasy book, or do you quickly dispose of such notions?

LMB: I'd like one-tenth of JKR's success -- but no more. There's a degree of hoopla beyond which a writer could hardly call her life her own, I suspect. And much of the aim of my career has been to make my life my own.

I would write a children's book if an idea or set of characters came to me that demanded such a form, but I'm not, presently, looking for work in that quadrant.

Economic jealousy in a writer is not a pretty sight; I try, not always successfully, to keep it out of my own mirror.

ML: What is your methodology for writing a novel? Do you complete a structured outline first or do you just start writing and let the story tell itself?

LMB: I use a sort of rolling-outline technique, largely as a memory aid, and work forward a small section at a time, because that's all my brain will hold. I will start to work up ideas for a story from all sorts of sources -- other reading, history, film, television, my own life experiences, debates with friends about ideas or other books. When my eyes or brain burn out on reading, I'm quite fond of non-fiction DVDs, science and travel and history. At some point, all this will spark or clot into notions for a character or characters, their world, and the opening situation, and sometimes but not always a dim idea of the ending. I will start jotting notes in pencil in a loose-leaf binder. By the time I have about 40 or 50 pages of these, I will start to see how the story should begin.

I then make a broad section outline, up to what I call "the event horizon", which is how far I can see to write till I have to stop and make up some more. This is usually a chapter or three. I'll get a mental picture of what scenes should go in the next chapter, and push them around till they slot into sequence. I then pull out the next scene and outline it closely, almost a messy sort of first draft. I choreograph dialogue especially carefully. Then I take these notes to my computer and type up the actual scene. Lather, rinse, repeat till I get to the end of the chapter and, my brain now purged and with room to hold more, I pop back up to the next level to outline again. Every scene I write has the potential of changing what comes next, either by a character doing something unexpected or by my clearer look at the material as it's finally pinned to the page, so I re-outline constantly.

Making up the story and writing down the story are, for me, two separate activities calling for two different states of mind. Creation needs relaxation; composition is intensely focused. I do the making up part away from the computer, either while taking my walks or otherwise busying myself, or, when I get to the note-making or outlining stage, in another room. I do not compose at the computer, although I do edit on the fly, and the odd better ideas for a bit of dialogue or description do often pop out while I'm typing. Sometimes, they're sufficiently strong that they derail what I'd planned and I have to stop typing and go away and re-outline; sometimes they're just a bonus, an unexpected Good Bit, and slot right in.

I don't write a certain set number of pages or words a day. Either I'll have nothing outlined, or what I have outlined will be unsatisfactory and I'll be stalled -- or doing invisible work, sometimes even invisible to me -- or I'll have a fresh outline and be racing ahead to get it onto the page. I generally write a chapter in a few days, then go fallow for several days -- or, in a sticky bit or when interrupted by travel, several weeks -- then have another burst. I figure an average of two chapters a month for minimum professional production, more if I can get them, but even that is irregular.

ML: I've heard that your fiction is influenced by the life and times of Benevenuto Cellini, the writings of Agricola and the ancient Finnish folk tale, the Kalevala. Is this true and if so why do you find these works so intriguing?

LMB: Ah, research. You see, most writers like to read. The great thing about my job is that I can read all the books I want, and get paid for it! Indirectly. Sometimes very indirectly. Fiction, non-fiction, junk fiction, you name it, some writer has found grist for their particular mill from it. And history, lots.

That said, not everything I read triggers an idea-rush. Or does so right away. My reading falls roughly into two categories. The first is general cultural filter-feeding, where I just sop up whatever randomly catches my eye, which then goes into the mental compost, sometimes never to be seen again. It's a sort of Drunkard's Walk through whatever aspects of my world impinge on me. Later, when a set of ideas is beginning to form up into a potential book, I'll do much more directed reading.

For example, after I finished the first two volumes of The Sharing Knife, I was in a fallow period with two possible books completing for my attention, its sequel The Wide Green World (as I thought of it back then) or the Father's book for Chalion. One involved a lot of reading about the mid-American river systems before the advent of the steamboat, the other a lot of reading about the Bow Street Runners and the development of the modern police system in Britain. I kept interlibrary loan very busy for about three months, raiding academic institutions all over the country for me. Then the Sharing Knife sequel/s pulled ahead, and I set the other interest aside. For now.

Cellini's famous autobiography was a book I read at random decades ago, that reared up out of the compost when the time was right to join some other books as described in my afterword to my early fantasy The Spirit Ring. Kalevala was part of my directed research reading for background for my novel The Hallowed Hunt.

Reading non-fiction for research is always a thrilling gamble; you don't know, when you lug home the next stack of volumes from interlibrary loan, some of which haven't been checked out since 1936, if you'll find what you think you want, find nothing, or, best of all, find something you never would have imagined.

ML: Your Vorkosigan series was said to be heavily influenced by Russian folklore and history. What is it about Russian folklore and history that captured your imagination?

LMB: I'm not that widely read in Russian history, but since I posited that the original colonists of my fictional planet Barrayar were Russian, it does feed into the development. But in a moment of either luck or inspiration (since I started the books in 1982) I didn't assert that the home country of these 22nd Century emigrants was still the Soviet Union. Anyway, the readings I have done on Russia feed the same appetite for "long ago, far away, exotic" that my readings about the histories of China, Japan, India, or Britain do.

On the moral continuum of science fiction and fantasy from "The purpose of fiction is social engineering of the real world!" to "The purpose of fiction is escape from the real world!", I'm afraid you'll have to put me pretty far over on the "escape" side.

ML: Is there a certain character from your novels that you feel especially close to, almost as if they were a real flesh and blood person?

LMB: All of my point-of-view characters share this, or I wouldn't be able to get inside their heads to write them. In a way, to write them I have to step inside of them, put them on like a coat; remember where they came from, what they think of it all, what they did and said last; then and only then does what they have to say next begin to flow out. In less detail, I also need to know some of that about the non-viewpoint characters, or I won't know what they will say next, either.

Naturally, whichever characters have had the most time on-stage have the most weight of history with me. Dag and Fawn were very present to me, because of course I had to keep holding them in my head till the book -- four books! -- were done. Right now, I'm trying to re-boot Miles Vorkosigan, who has been AWOL for a rather long time.

Some of the very great relief of finishing a book is because I can finally stop remembering it. Have you ever had to remember a phone number till you had the chance to write it down? Like that, except hundreds of pages.

ML: Have you ever developed an idea for a novel from watching a television show or movie and expounding upon said idea to the point that you develop an original conception? Something where you've thought, "what a cool idea, I could do something with that." For instance, I was told of a famous writer who once derived a great idea for an eventually bestselling fantasy novel from an episode of a Smurfs cartoon.

LMB: Oh, sure. All writers do this, all the time. Although an idea as written seldom has a single point-source; usually it's some form of cross-fertilization between disparate and unlikely juxtapositions.

ML: New York Times bestselling novelist Tom Clancy once stated that his favorite novelists to read were science fiction writers but that he personally would never write science fiction because you don't make any money. What is your primary, gut reaction to this statement?

LMB: Well, no one said it would be easy... That said, I make enough for me, and I write what I want, and I'm gaining an increasing command over my own time (tho' that last has more to do with my kids growing up). It'll do.

Although I've discovered as my career advances that "take the money and run" is not an option for a responsible writer. By the time one's latest book arrives on bookstore shelves, a lot of other folks have bet their own time, money, and reputation on its success, only starting with its purchasing editor and publisher. The book needs to succeed for them, as well. So I've discovered that some degree of financial independence doesn't actually free me from needing to compete, after all, and that I still care.

It's a good idea for any writer, though, to become aware of what level of sales constitutes success for one's chosen genre, so as to avoid either inflated expectations, or selling oneself short. "How far is up?" can be a confusing question to answer.

ML: So tell us, what new projects are on the horizon?

LMB: Now that the last two volumes of The Sharing Knife are in the bag, the next thing on my plate is a contract for a new Miles Vorkosigan novel for publisher Toni Weisskopf at Baen Books. It's in the pre-writing, delicate development stage right now, just starting to generate scribbled notes in my notebook, much interrupted by the onslaught of preparation for the Passage launch and tour and about a million other PR and career-maintenance chores. Doing PR (like this interview) is fun in moderation, but, like attending science fiction conventions (which are also fun), can start to eat one's writing alive if allowed to get out of hand. Anyway, I expect to write the new Miles book in 2008 (it's off to a later start than planned, so work on it will likely slop over the end of this year) for publication late in 2009. Probably.

Other highlights of 2008: I will be Writer Guest of Honor at the 66th World Science Fiction Convention in Denver, Colorado, in August, and in November I will be a guest speaker at the UPC Awards in Barcelona, Spain.

I wish to thank Lois McMaster Bujold for taking the time to do this interview. To learn more about Lois, her novels, the Vorkosigan series or the Chalion universe, go to her official website: Her novella "Winterfair Gifts", most of her early Vorkosigan books, and her recent fantasies are available in ebook format from Fictionwise. To read her multiple-award-winning novella "The Mountains of Mourning", go to the Baen Free Library

If you have not read a Lois McMaster Bujold novel, I would suggest you do so immediately. One cannot call themselves a fan of science fiction and fantasy literature and not have read one of her novels.

LMB: Certainly one can! It would be nice if more folks added me to their range, however. (N.B. -- beware of letting a novelist have the last word...)

© 2008 by Lois McMaster Bujold

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Last updated: December 16th 2008