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уторак, 01. јун 2010.

Nightflier's Interviews - Daniel Abraham

Možda u poslednje vreme retko objavljujem nove unose, ali zato imamo sva intervjua - jedan za drugim - sa poznatim i priznatim svetskim piscima, članovima književnog kružoka Critical Mass, čiji je najpoznatiji član GRRM.

Denijel Ejbraham je u neku ruku nastavljač Martinove tradicije pripovedanja. Njegova tetralogija Long Price spada među najlepše napisana ostvarenja epske fantastike u poslednjih deset godina. Rekao bih da samo Kej Kenjon ima lepši stil od njega. Elem...

NF: There is one thing that I ask all the authors that I talk to: What made you want to write in the first place? What is your favorite book? How did you got published? Who are your favorite writers? Do you have any role-models in the literature?

DA: My dad always read to me when I was a kid. I mean always. And everything. He's fluent in Spanish (which I'm not) and he'd read me Enrique Anderson Imbert stories he translated on the fly. Max Beerbaum. One time when I was in middle school, I stayed home one day, and he read me Sayers' Strong Poison cover to cover in a sitting. I wanted to write my own stories by fifth grade.

Favorite book is hard, because after a certain point, they stop being comparable. I love Camus' The Plague. I love Walter Tevis' Queen's Gambit. I love Peter Beagle's Tamsin. I love early Robert B. Parker and The Demolished Man and Catherynne Valente. When I was in high school, I read David Eddison until the spines broke.

I got published through what jay Lake calls psychotic persistence. I sent out stories and collected rejection slips for about 10 or 15 years and managed two semi-pro sales. On the strength of those, I got into the Clarion West workshop, and things really picked up after that.

My favorite writers gets to be difficult territory, partly because I know some of them personally. Walter Jon Williams -- especially his Dread Empire's Fall series -- is a master craftsman. I love Guy Gavriel Kay. I've only read about 50 pages of Charlie Huston, but if the rest of the book is that good, he'll be in the running.

I don't have a role model in the sense of someone whose work I'm particuarly trying to emulate, but as far as the guy whose career I'd like to have -- or something close to anyway -- it's be Elmore Leonard. He's mastered his craft, knows all the tricks, writes good books, and supports himself doing it. What's not to like?

NF: I almost never read short stories - and that means novellas as well - but now I find myself looking forward to your Leviathan Wept collection. "The Cambist and Lord Iron: A Fairy Tale of Economics" is one of the best short stories in the recent years, but today's market is not very friendly to short stories and to those who write them. So, what made you interested in the first place in writing stories and is it difficult to get them published?

DA: The nice thing about writing short stories is that you can fail quickly. Short stories are different than novels, and knowing how to write a solid short piece doesn't guarantee you'll be able to write something longer that's any good. But there is a lot overlap. I started with short storied because I was trying to learn how to write at all, and cranking something out in a week, seeing how it failed, and then cranking out another one, and seeing how it failed, and again and again was just less time consuming than spending a years writing a novel to see how it failed. That said, I've written or co-written ten novels now, and I'm still figuring out that skill set.

NF: Do you yourself read short stories or do you prefer longer form?

DA: I like both. I think they do different things. Short stories can pack more of a visceral punch than longer pieces, but longer pieces can create a long-lived experience and mood better than short stuff.

NF: "The Cambist and Lord Iron: A Fairy Tale of Economics" was included in Fantasy: The Best of the Year 2008 by Rich Horton. Have you read other in that collection? What do you think of "The Teashop" by Zoran Zivkovic?

DA: I've read about half of them. The Teashop was the one with the woman who ordered tea made from stories, and every time she drank, someone came and told her part of the story, right? I liked that one. It reminded me of "The Phantom Church" by Ana Blandiana (one of my favorite ghost stories of all time, so that's pretty high praise).

NF: Among Serbian fans there is no greater praise than to be called good writer by GRRM. You have become a member of his Critical Mass group and you contribute to the Wild Card series - how did it came to pass? What's it like to work that closely with world's greatest living fantasy writer?

DA: I met George when he was organizing the Nebula awards in Santa Fe. I was the guy who drove Nelson Bond and his wife the hour from Albuquerque to the ceremony. So George and I were acquainted. But then he was one of six instructors I had at Clarion West, so I got to hang out with him for a week and talk about the craft and business of writing. Apparently he thought I was all right.

Knowing him can be a little weird, though. I mean he's George RR Martin. I got in trouble at my second job for reading The Pear-Shaped man when I was supposed to be working. He did Fevre Dream and Tuf Voyaging and Sand Kings, and that was *before* he hit it out of the park with A Song of Ice and Fire. The man's a legend. He's above the law.

But he's also not the guy I hang out with. When I'm going out to dinner, it's with George, the guy with all the knight miniatures. The guy who disagrees with me about Babylon 5 and Battlestar Galactica. He's a good guy. Smart. I enjoy his company, but it's George, you know? He's cool. If I was hanging out with George RR Martin, that'd be something different.

NF: About Wild Cards - I love the new direction of the series, but somehow I always find myself looking for Sleeper or the Turtle. I suppose that those characters will not make any appearances in the future Wild Card novels, but I feel like those new Aces are not as larger than life as Old Guard? Was that intentional? Is it possible for the heroes of the eighties to exist in the 21st century?

DA: We've talked about this a lot. The problem, I think, is that when you start a project like Wildcards, it gets defined by the first characters you meet. The Turtle and the Sleeper and Fortunato aren't particularly more interesting than Bugsy or Curveball or Rustbelt. But the 80s heros are the standard against which everything else is measured, and in the ways that they're different, they aren't meeting that initial expectation. It happened with comic book superheroes too. The only three superheros that have had uninterrupted runs since the early days
are Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. And because of that, they have an iconic status that, say, X-Men or Moon Knight are never going to touch. Even the really great second-tier ones -- Spiderman, Swamp Thing -- don't have the same gravitas as the big three. They can't.

There's actually a whole field built around questions like this called Behavioral Economics. One of the things they've shown is that you peg your expectations to first experiences. So if the first bottle of wine you buy -- the one where you go in the store with no freaking clue how much wine costs -- was $20, you're going to set that as normal. And once it's set it's really hard to change.

And yes, 80s heroes can exist in the 21st century, but not in Wildcards. Because in Wildcards, time passes. People age. A character who was in his middle 30s in 1987 is pushing 60 now. Keeping that part of the Wildcards world realistic carries a price.

NF: Among the fans there is a sort of consensus that Brandon Sanderson is the heir to the late Robert Jordan's tradition of fantasy. During the Jordan and GRRM were considered to be two sides of the same fantasy coin. Now there is some talk that the same can be said of Sanderson and you - that the Mistborn trilogy and your Long Price quartet represent two very different approaches to fantasy, but with equally great results. Have you read Sanderson? How would you compare your work with his?

DA: I love Brandon's stuff. Yes, Mistborn and Elantris were a very different litereary project than The Long Price Quartet, but he's damn good at what he does, and I respect the work he's doing. Actually, we did come cross promotion back when we were both at Tor. You know how
often a paperback will come out with the first chapter of the next book? We swapped it so that his book came out with the first chapter of my next book, and mine came out with the first chapter of his. We both wrote notes about why we liked the other guy's stuff. Tor didn't come
up with that idea either. That was us.

As for comparison, I think the Long Price books are really trying to use the idiom of epic fantasy to say things that aren't usually said in this sandbox. Brandon, on the other hand, I feel embraced and embraces the real strengths of the genre and utterly owns them. Shorthanding it, I'd say his books are celebratory and mine are consoling. But we're both young pups. I know my interests have changed since I started the Long Price books. I expect his have and will. And you can bet I'll buy his books when they hit shelf.

NF: Price quartet was lauded as most original fantasy of the decade. It certainly got my attention and it found the place among my favorite books. It generated a huge interest all over the internet and it was well received amongst the fans. So, what next? Do you intend to revisit the same world?

DA: Oh no. That story's done. There's nothing more to be said there. The new project is both more familiar and more difficult. The nice thing about lighting out for the territories and doing something so original, no one's seen it before is you can't really be compared to anything
unfavorably. The Long Price Quartet isn't anybody's second-best Asian-flavored semi-literary set of four stand-alone stories that build on each other to make a larger argument about mortality and the epic nature of a normal life. It's the one that's like that. The new project -- The Dagger and the Coin -- is scarier for me. It's overly stealing from everything I think is deeply cool and using it to make gumbo. The difference between the Long Price books and the Dagger & Coin ones is the line between doing something really new and doing something familiar really well. I just turned in the first one, and I'm waiting for notes back from my editor, so I'm a little nervous right now. But I have hopes for it.

NF: Your urban fantasy, The Black Sun's Daughter, was published under the name of M.L.N. Hanover. A lot of readers assumed that the author is female. Do you think that women have the advantage when writing urban fantasy? Who is closer to you as an author - Laurell Hamilton or Jim Butcher?

DA: Actually, I think women have an advantage writing the kind of urban fantasy I wanted to write. Clearly Jim Butcher (and Mike Carey and Charlie Huston) are doing good, successful work. But the thread in urban fantasy that turns my crank is the uncomfortable relationship
between women and power. When you look at the work that's grown out of specifically Laurel K Hamilton and Joss Whedon, I think it's really the venue for the sticky, difficult feminist conversation about what power means and how it fits with being a woman. And a relationship to
traditionally masculine power, which it to say violence, that I find fascinating and frankly unhealthy. I am a skeptic of masculine power, and along with being a set of, hopefully, entertaining stories about engaging characters, I want the Black Sun books to be my comment on that subject.

And yes, I think women are more likely to connect with that conversation if they think a woman's writing it. I've had letters from readers who've said they wouldn't have picked the books up with a man's name on it, but that they went on to like them.

NF:Why did you use a pseudonym anyway? Do you think that your reputation as fantasy and sf writer makes it harder for you to be successful in urban fantasy subgenre?

DA: It's the same thing we were talking about with wild cards. There's a set of expectations and context that come with a name. If you picked up one of the Black Sun books expecting a Long Price-like read, it doesn't matter how well I've done with the urban fantasy. It's going to disappoint you. Having a new name for it helps reset those expectations. Or I hope it does.

NF: What is your take on the fragmentation of the genre anyway? We have urban fantasy, paranormal romances, military sf, military fantasy, dark fantasy - you name it. Does that makes things easier or more difficult for an author? Do you get up in the morning and say "I'm gonna write some paranormal military sf romance today"?

DA: I don't think it matters much. The fragmentation of genre is, I think, an aritfact of having a public that's actually reading and buying a lot of books. Back in the 60s, I'm told it was possible to read every science fiction book that came out in a given year, because there were really that few of them. Now, it would be physically impossible. What we've gained from that is a huge, rich literature where people can really follow the thread that turns their crank. What we lose is a
shared context with other readers who haven't had to read something they might not otherwise because it was kind of close.

As a writer, I like having a lot of people buy a lot of books.

NF: Who are your favorite authors today? Is there a novel or a story by some other author that you wish you have written?

DA: My favorite authors right now are Ted Chiang and Peter Watts. There are some others that I think are very, very good -- David Anthony Durham, Maureen McHugh, Catherynne Valente, Paolo Bacigalupi, and on and on and on -- but if I'd written Chiang's The Story of Your Life or Watts' Blightsight, I could quit and get a day job.

NF: I have a theory that if a man wishes to be a great author of fantasy and science fiction he needs to fulfill two conditions - to be fat and to have a beard. Joking aside, how much time do you spend writing? Do make any sacrifices because of your work? Do you get to go on vacations, sport events? Do you have time for nice meals or do you eat junk food? Do you plan to grow a beard?

DA: In one sense, I'm rarely not writing, in that I'm chewing projects over in my head. But as far as ass-in-chair hours, I drop the kid off at school at 8:30, I pick her up at 3. Five days a week, I've got office hours.

I don't feel I've sacrificed more for my work that way thatn I'd have sacrificed to technical support if I were still taking calls. It's my job, and I'm lucky to get to support myself with something I'd be doing anyway. I do go on vacations, though they're often on my couch. I eat
nice meals and junk food both. And I appear to be genetically incapable of growing an emotionally satisfying beard.

NF: Any words for those who aspire to become published writers? Anything wish to add?

DA: Read a lot, read what you enjoy (not what you think other people would approve of you for enjoying), write a lot and expect most of it to suck for a long, long time. And don't do it for the money.

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