I know that many of you have been expecting this Q&A for months now. Needless to say, this one was probably the most eagerly awaited interview I'll be doing this year.
Unfortunately, somewhere between the release of Reaper's Gale and the time I forwarded Steven the questions, his father became ill. And sadly, his father passed away a few days back. I want to take this opportunity to offer my condolences to Steven Erikson and his family. I know how difficult it must be, and my prayers are with them.
I also wish to thank Steven for taking the time to answer our questions. Though the Q&A was delayed for weeks, I can't quite believe that he nevertheless found the time and the energy to go through this interview. He had much more important things on his mind, after all. . .
- Will we get a definitive timeline in any of the upcoming Malazan novels? How about posting something on malazanempire.com?
The thing with our timelines is that they're not definitive; both Cam and I are in the habit of wandering. Ultimately, there will be some kind of timeline, inasmuch as one is possible, but it's not a priority at the moment (for us -- I know the fans feel different!). We're both in the midst of writing the novels and doing our best to avoid anything egregious.
- Probably the most frequently asked questions you hear: Can we expect a map of the entire Malazan universe in the foreseeable future?
I expect so. There's been talk of that at Bantam, as well. We're also looking into an e-version of the Encyclopedia Malazica -- it's very impressive the efforts fans have made in that area and it would be remiss not to acknowledge such efforts.
- This may sound strange, but one of the most popular questions from fans remains how tall is Karsa Orlong. Could you please lay this matter to rest?
Probably a little over eight feet -- that's more or less how I envisage him when I'm writing.
- Your fans are also curious to know whether or not you will be touring to promote REAPER'S GALE. Are there any dates set? I know that Transworld are supposed to be flying you to London this spring. Are there any UK dates in the works, no matter how tentative?
A tad late for that now, huh? There tends to be little in the way of touring, but that might change in the future, as I close in on the end of the series.
- THE LEES OF LAUGHTER'S END was released earlier this spring by PS Publishing. Do you have plans to write more novellas set in the Malazan universe? If so, is there anything you wish to share with your readers to whet their appetite. In addition, will THE LEES OF LAUGHTER'S END be released by an American publisher?
The US publication of Lees is probably a couple years off. I should make clear that, while Lees follows immediately after Blood Follows, The Healthy Dead is a tale that occurs much later -- I have a sequence in mind but I'm not following it in terms of writing -- whichever of the half dozen or so planned tales strikes my fancy is the one I write.
- Speaking of the USA, can you perceive an increase in your readership now that Tor Books have published the first five volumes of the series?
I have no idea, to be honest.
- The Malazan Book of the Fallen is undeniably one of the most ambitious series ever written, if not the most ambitious. And the truth behind some of the plotlines is only now beginning to emerge. Were there times, especially while writing the earlier volumes, when you were forced to tell your editor, "Look, you'll have to trust me on this." Since he was the first person to see the series' potential, can you tell us more about your relationship with Simon Taylor?
Yes, all the time in the first few novels -- he's stopped asking, meaning either he's thrown up his hands in abject surrender or dismay, or both. I could not be more pleased with Simon as my editor. First off, he's one of the nicest individuals I have ever met, and what began as a working relationship is now a friendship. He also took a huge chance on this series -- when so many other publishers were shying away from its complexity -- that my loyalty is absolute. Bantam UK has done a great job with the books and they treat me very well indeed.
- In an era in which epic fantasy authors such as Jordan, Martin and Williams write a book every two or three years, you somehow manage to release a Malazan installment every year or so. And that's on top of coming up with a novella and producing The Dark to boot! What is your work ethic?
I write four hours a day six or seven days a week. There's no pressure on daily word count or anything like that, just the time invested. It seems to be working. Toll the Hounds is taking a little longer, due primarily to personal issues.
- Speaking of The Dark, can you tell us a little more about that project? Are you happy with the way everything has occurred? What can we expect from The Dark in the coming months?
That form of media is pure chaos -- trying to find a backer, especially here in Canada, is very difficult. Film and television is bound up in something called Telefilm Canada, which is a hotbed of mediocrity intent on perpetuating mediocrity (hence our moribund film productions, not counting Quebec which is on the right track and has balls besides). We've had battles with them on feature film projects as well -- to get funding one needs to sign on a 'script editor' from a rather short list of acceptable people. Now, try to imagine a script editor reading a script and coming back to the producer and saying: 'it's just fine'. If they did that, they'd be out of a job. Therefore, according to the script editor, every script needs reworking. It has to, since that's how they're paid. What kind of system is this? Where the demand is justified by the supplier and the customer (us) has no say in it? It's insane. Make work for shitty writers who can't hack it in the real world and for whom 'ambition' is a pejorative.
Can I go on? I will.
- There has been a palpable momentum shift in both THE BONEHUNTERS and REAPER'S GALE. It looks as though the first five volumes were meant to lay the groundwork for the rest of the series, but in the last two we've seen the storylines coming together and we're starting to get an inkling of how many of them are related. Is there more pressure now, as you must tie all those plotlines together and bring the series to a satisfying close?
No. Don't forget, I've known where this was going all along. The challenge now is to ensure that I deliver to the best of my writing ability.
- Both Cameron and yourself have explained in past interviews how intricately the 15 books you have planned from the start have been mapped out. Still, have the plotlines diverged much since you began writing the series? Were any characters added or further fleshed out beyond your original intention? Have you made any changes to your initial plans during the course of the writing of the series?
The overall arc has not changed, because it was kept rather simple. Specific details that are elaborations on that arc have indeed burgeoned and gone off in unexpected directions -- it's more the case of finding the repercussions and following them no matter where they end up, and this can be surprising and often is, which I suppose is what ensures that we as writers continue to find motivating in a series as long as this one.
- Characters often take a life of their own. Which of your characters do you find the most unpredictable to write about?
Unpredictability usually shows up in actual dialogue. As a writer, I have a fair sense of the characters, since when writing their points of view I am pretty much co-existing in their brains (which can, on occasion, be a scary place). But it's with dialogue that things let loose, generally in a humourous direction, although not always.
- In one of our interviews last year, you have said that following TOLL THE HOUNDS, we're looking at, geographically, new ground for the last two Malazan novels. And yet, events chronicled within the pages of REAPER'S GALE clearly show that many of the Lether storylines are still pretty much up in the air. Will you be returning to Lether again in future books, or will what occurs there be part of the narrative, yet more in a "behind the scene" manner such as developments in Genabackis have been portrayed since MEMORIES OF ICE?
The first part of Dust of Dreams will pick up where Reaper's Gale left off, to wrap up what needs wrapping up. That's the plan, anyway. It was either that or tack another hundred thousand words onto Reaper's Gale.
- Speaking of REAPER'S GALE, certain events demonstrate that a lot has been happening in Genabackis since MEMORIES OF ICE. Will TOLL THE HOUNDS go back in time to explain all that has occurred, or will it more or less follow the "current" timeline of THE BONEHUNTERS and REAPER'S GALE?
Toll the Hounds picks up after Reaper's Gale, although I do flesh in some background details.
- What's the progress report on TOLL THE HOUNDS? Are you confident that it should see the light about a year from now?
Well, as of two days ago (before my father died), I had just completed Book Three. One Book left.
- I'm curious about the spark that generated the idea behind the K'Chain Che'Malle? Who had the idea to turn dinosaurs into masters of technology and mechanisms?
Yikes, my memory's not what it used to be (I think, can't remember, actually). I'm fairly certain the K'chain was my invention; but Moon's Spawn was Cam's, and how the two ended up tied together I just don't recall. The short-tails were Cam's -- I'm fairly sure of that. A good example of how we elaborate on each other's creations, I think.
- Another question to which the answer remains unclear has to do with the Chaining of the Crippled God. In many instances readers are given hints that seem to indicate that there were several Chainings over the millennia. Is that the case?
Yes, several beating downs have occurred. The relevant one is the one where Hood sought to recruit Dassem, was refused, and took his daughter instead, thus triggering an obsessive need for venegeance that, well, persists.
- It's been a long and winding road, yet how satisfying is it to have Cameron's work being published alongside yours by Transworld? How cool is it to now have the opportunity to release the "whole" Malazan tale as it was originally intended between the two of you?
It certainly was the dream form the very first, and while it is indeed satisfying, I think it's worth reminding the readers that Cam and I are not clones -- we each have our styles and while we think they are complimentary, we also recognize that there are differences -- which should be valued rather than the subject of criticism.
- Cover art has become a very hot topic of late, especially in the wake of the uproar caused by the release of the US cover for THE BONEHUNTERS. What are your thoughts pertaining to that facet of a novel, and what do you think of the various covers that have graced your books? Do you have a personal favorite?
I very much liked the new Reaper's Gale cover. The ones with TOR certainly started out on the wrong foot and I think virtually everyone agrees on that. It can be difficult in that, even when I am asked for direction, and when I respond by describing what I'd like to see, an artist's interpretation can often prove very different. As for my ultimate favourite, I'd have to say the UK cover for Deadhouse Gates.
- 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?
I wrote my response to that question some time ago and have pasted it here:
Two observations come to mind. The first is that, with forty years of reading in the genre of fantasy and science fiction, I cannot recall one instance of a writer committing the flaws as described by Harrison, so either I have been extremely lucky or he has been profoundly unlucky. It is unfortunate he cited no examples to support his assertions, making any effort at rebuttal all the more difficult. In fact, the only writer who comes to mind who might be said to have gone overboard in his world-building is James Michener, and of course he set his novels in the 'real' world.
The second observation is this. Every writer world-builds. In every genre, including contemporary literary fiction; and indeed, when writing non-fiction as well. World-building is nothing more or less than the selection of details surrounding the characters, establishing a setting and with it a place in which to immerse those characters and the story of their lives. It is necessary, essential to story-telling. Further, is he asserting the notion that there is something uniquely flawed when world-building in the fantasy or science fiction genre, suggesting perhaps that the process is somehow purer when electing to write tales set in our contemporary world? If so, that would be an extraordinary, laughable conceit.
I generally read nonfiction while writing fiction; among the recent books I have read were two titles that do well to illustrate my point (that world-building exists in all writing); the first is the biography of a child soldier from Sierra Leone. The setting exists, as real as any other in this world, yet the narrative relating the author's harrowing life there is anchored in the details he relates, scene by scene, event by event. Is this a 'perfect' rendition of life in Sierra Leone? We can presume it is close; but we also accept that it is selective (founded on personal experiences): it is a world built exclusively on relevant details recollected by one person at one time and in a sequence of places. It is a rendition of experiences and memories and neither can be said to be purely objective, in that we are all subjective creatures. If this story had been fiction, set on another planet rather than Sierra Leone, and containing all the 'background' information required to give the tale its necessary context, would this be, in Harrison's eyes, yet another example of obsessive, extraneous world-building?
The other book also concerned Africa, and recounted a lifelong exploration of the continent and its peoples by a Polish journalist. Once again, he builds a world, selects his details to support his various interpretations of places, events and cultures. This too is selective and subjective. This too is world-building.
The point is, as far as I can see it, Harrison is beating a straw dog. In the narrow definition of world-building he provides (in the quote given and granted, it may be out of context with further elaborations deleted to the detriment of the author's argument), he ends up in effect railing at something that does not even exist, and if it does, is exemplified so rarely that attacking it is pointless. For what it is worth, I see this as yet another example of how the internet can legitimize virtually anything anyone chooses to say, even when, with a moment's thought, it becomes clear that what is being said is at best irrelevant, at worse nonsensical and fatuous.
Now, I am responding to the quote. I have not read Harrison. If he does not world-build in his fiction then he is unique in the history of literature and should be canonized.
I am not interested in joining some ferocious debate, not with Harrison and not with anyone else with an opinion, so I hereby conclude my commentary on this subject. Don't bring it up again.
- Anything you wish to share with your fans?
Thank you all for reading this series.