I was really glad when I was able to secure an interview with Celia S. Friedman, and I'm happy with the way the Q&A turned out! Many thanks to Betsy Wollheim for helping me get this opportunity.
Yes, I'm shamelessly pimping yet another Michael Whelan cover for this post!;-)
- Without giving too much away, can you give us a taste of the tale that is FEAST OF SOULS?
Well, there are many tales, and many characters, all interwoven into a greater tapestry, but I shall pick out a few:
In a world where the cost of magic is one's own life-force, a group of seemingly immortal sorcerors called Magisters appear to have cheated the system. But now the illness of a royal prince threatens to reveal the secret they guard above all else -- the true price of their immortality -- and they find they must hunt down one of their own kind before outsiders learn too much. Prince Andovan, meanwhile, not content to die quietly in bed, catches wind that sorcery may be behind his illness and fakes his death so that he will be free to go off and hunt down the one who is robbing him of life. Meanwhile a young girl named Kamala, hardened by a lifetime of poverty and abuse, struggles to become the first female Magister, little knowing what that transformation will cost her... All while an ancient Evil that was thought to be destroyed long ago begins to stir anew, corrupting kings, shattering alliances, and ultimately threatening to unweave the very fabric of human civilization
That's the short summary, anyway :-)
- What can readers expect from the subsequent two volumes of the series?
Complete and satisfying stories in each volume, first of all, as I believe that is required of any good trilogy! The story of Kamala will continue, as she becomes a key player in the strange and shadowy internal politics of the Magisters...the truth behind various myths will be revealed, as an ancient Enemy that once destroyed all of human civilization returns to finish the job...the origin of the Magisters themselves will be discovered, and their link to that Enemy...a mystical bloodline will awaken to its full potential, but not without asking the ultimate sacrifice of its warriors...and a full host of characters, noble and common, male and female, mortal and mystical, will be drawn together in a last desperate effort to save their world.
All very dark, very intense, and hopefully very satisfying!
- What do you feel is your strength as a writer/storyteller?
Reviewers and fans both praise my world-building and my character development, and I'd have to say those two things are what I am proudest of. In all of my books I try to create a world that is so complex and fascinating that my readers hunger to learn more about it, and then I let it unfold as the story does, a true journey of adventure for the reader. I also feel that strong characters are the most important element of any novel, because if we don't care about the people at the heart of an epic, how much do we care about what happens to them? This trilogy has some of the best characters I have ever created, and also the most varied: Kamala, a calloused child of poverty and desperation, determined to become a true sorceror at any cost; Andovan, a prince who has sworn to defy the expectations placed upon him, and make his own fate; Gwynofar his mother, whose bloodline holds the secret to an ancient mystery; Danton his father, who does not yet realize that court has been infiltrated by unhuman agents; Colivar of the Magisters, who knows more about the creatures called Souleaters than any sane man should; and the so-called Witch-Queen of Sankara, an elegant and seductive companion to Magisters, whose corruption by the Enemy is one of the key plotlines of volume 2.
- In an era in which authors change publishers quite frequently, you have spent your entire career with Daw Books. What made you remain with the publisher that gave you your first chance?
That answer's easy. Betsy Wollheim is a brilliant editor who is perfectly tuned in to my work. She has been a vital part of my creative process from the first day we sat down together over In Conquest Born. Readers do not realize how much of a difference good editorscan make, but they do, and when you find a good one you hang onto her.
- How rewarding is it to see that The Coldfire Trilogy is still in print and has been re-released in trade paperback?
That is actually one of the key selling points of DAW to its authors; they will keep books in print for as long as there are readers interested in them. That is very rare these days, and it's one more reason I am happy to keep writing for them.
- Although The Coldfire Trilogy remains a fan favorite, your scifi works are not so well-known. What can you tell potential readers about THE MADNESS SEASON, IN CONQUEST BORN, THE WILDING and THIS ALIEN SHORE?
I'm not sure what "not so well known" means; In Conquest Born has a quarter of a million readers and has been published in five countries!
What readers should know is that the same qualities that they enjoy in my fantasy are there in my science fiction as well: big themes, compelling characters, and worlds that I try to make so fascinating they are a story unto themselves. In Conquest Born was my first novel and is probably my most famous, a sweeping epic of interstellar empires that have been at war for so long, they have forgotten the cause. Against that background two enemy generals, male and female, become bound together in a vendetta so intense it borders on sexual obsession. The Madness Season is a mix of sci-fi and fantasy, the story of an almost-human Terran (well I don't want to give everything away!) who is forced to leave the Earth after it is conquered by aliens. Thus he must come to terms with his own identity even as fate pits him against Earth's conquerors. This book is especially popular with young readers, and won a Books for Teens award from the New York Public library, for its focus on coming of age issues, albeit in an unusual setting. The Wilding is a sequel to In Conquest Born, so if you like the first book, read the second. This Alien Shore is a fun book, in which humanity has been split into numberless genetic variants, all potentially at war with one another, and hackers spar in the datacurrents of an Outernet to which human minds are directly connected. The main characters in this one are a young girl who must flee her home planet and make her way among "alien shores" as she tries to find out why various corporations want to get hold of her, and an autistic computer security specialist who must leave his familiar home ground to hunt down the source of a virus that...well, imagine what computer viruses could do if human brains were part of the internet, and you get the picture. Lots of fun.
Many fans who "only read science fiction" or "only read fantasy" have told me that they love all my works, so I guess I am doing something right!
- I must admit that what initially compelled me to pick up BLACK SUN RISING was Michael Whelan's gorgeous jacket painting. How important is cover art to you as an author?
Well it is something an author has no control of. I feel very fortunate that DAW felt I was worthy of Michael's art, and there is no question his beautiful paintings help get people to look at my books. That's why he is so successful as an artist.
- Characters often take a life of their own. Which of your characters did you find the most unpredictable to write about?
I'm not really from the "characters take on a life of their own" school. Generally speaking when I envision a character, I have a sense of where he needs to go, and since that journey serves my greater story, it's pretty important he gets there. Sometimes however I do create a secondary character with no intention for it to play a central role in my story, and then realize it has much greater potential than I thought. High Queen Gwynofar in Feast of Souls is one of the best examples of this that I can remember. She came into being because I needed a full royal family to give my story depth, but it soon became clear to me that she had the potential to be the lynchpin for a whole new set of plotlines, and so I developed her with that in mind. I have to say at this point she is one of my favorite characters in the trilogy.
Her story will culminate in volume 3.
- Were there any perceived conventions of the fantasy genre which you wanted to twist or break when you set out to write The Coldfire Trilogy? How about with The Magister Trilogy?
I like to break them all, quite frankly. Nothing is sacred in my books. 99% of all fantasy bores me to tears, because it all reads the same, so I try my hardest to come up with new ideas. My willingness to mix genres means I can draw upon themes from fantasy, science fiction, and horror at need, taking the best from each
- What was the spark that generated the idea which drove you to write both The Coldfire and The Magister Trilogies in the first place?
This question is so long and complicated that in the interest of keepign my promise and getting this out to you tonight I'm gonna put it aside. if I have time to morrow I may try to tackle it (man you ask long questions!) but if not I hope there is enough material in the rest of this to keep you going.
I THINK my web page http://www.csfriedman.com/ has a link off Black Sun Rising to author notes that talk about where BSR came from.
- What would you say was the hardest part of the entire process involved in the writing of the The Coldfire Trilogy? Each new addition revealed yet more depth to a series which has shown just how rich and complex it truly is. Maintaining some sort of balance between Damien Vryce and Gerald Tarrant must have been tricky at times?
Nope. Their relationship was the seed around which that entire tale was built, I never had trouble with it.
The hardest part of any novel is travelling. That is, your characters have to get from point A to point B and you can't just skip over it, but you also don't want to bog down in descriptions that don't matter. I remember reading a book by Dan Simmons in which characters on their way to the climax of a pretty intense novel fly over Romania, and there is a loooooooooong description of the Romanian mountains. Until finally one character turns to the other and says, "you know, this is all pretty tense, it's hard to concentrate on the landscape."
Yeah. Like that.
- What's the progress report pertaining to the second volume of The Magister Trilogy?
- In light of the current market, are you tempted to write one of those enormous fantasy epics which continue to be the most successful series at the moment?
Uh...I thought this was one :-)
Unless you mean those endless epics that just go on for book after book after book? No. I will never, ever write one of those. It would bore me to tears.
I don't read them, either.
- Given the choice, would you take a New York Times bestseller, or a World Fantasy Award? Why, exactly?
Apples and Oranges! The Times Bestseller translates into mainstream readership, which is one kind of success. World Fantasy Award means that the readers who know your field best have chosen to honor you, which is another. Frankly, I hope to write books that will appeal to both groups.
- Honestly, do you believe that the speculative fiction genre will ever come to be recognized as veritable literature? Truth be told, in my opinion there has never been this many good books/series as we have right now, and yet there is still very little respect (not to say none) associated with the genre.
I'm not sure what you mean by "respect". Harry Potter made millions, and is generally acknowledged to have gotten a whole generation of children interested in reading. Phillip K. Dick novels get re-released every time a movie is made out of one of them. Fantasy novels appear time and time again on the New York Times list and get serious reviews in professional journals. Amy Tan writes bestselling novels with Chinese ghosts as main characters.
I think we are well past the point when fantasy and science fiction are "not respected", but perhaps a little slow to realize things have changed.
I think we are
- If you could go back in time, what advice would you give the younger C. S. Friedman concerning her writing career?
"Quit your other job sooner. This is way more fun."
- How would you like to be remembered as an author? What is the legacy you'll leave behind?
I want to write books that readers will think about long after they put them down. I want to get them so involved with my characters that they can't sleep at night, wondering what will happen to them. I want to explore themes that make readers reflect upon the nature of life, the universe, and everything. I want there to be a world full of readers saying, "hey, i don't usually read fantasy (or science fiction), but this book is great!"
- M. John Harrison recently wrote this post on his blog:
"Every moment of a science fiction story must represent the triumph of writing over worldbuilding.Worldbuilding is dull. Worldbuilding literalises the urge to invent. Worldbuilding gives an unneccessary permission for acts of writing (indeed, for acts of reading). Worldbuilding numbs the reader’s ability to fulfil their part of the bargain, because it believes that it has to do everything around here if anything is going to get done.
Above all, worldbuilding is not technically neccessary. It is the great clomping foot of nerdism. It is the attempt to exhaustively survey a place that isn’t there. A good writer would never try to do that, even with a place that is there. It isn’t possible, & if it was the results wouldn’t be readable: they would constitute not a book but the biggest library ever built, a hallowed place of dedication & lifelong study. This gives us a clue to the psychological type of the worldbuilder & the worldbuilder’s victim, & makes us very afraid."
Needless to say, a multitude of people disagree with Harrison's postulation. What's your take on Harrison's post and the concept of worldbuilding in general?
Well, honestly, I think any meaning in that question is concealed by obscure writing in this post. At first it looks like he is talking about creating a universe, and of course I would disagree, as I feel that is absolutely central to any fantasy or science fiction work. But as you read more closely, it appears that what he is calling "world building" is in fact a style of writing in which you spend time describing your world to the reader. If that's the case, I agree with him, though he's using an awful lot of words just to say "don't bore your reader with nonessentials."