Q: What made you want to write about gems and gem-cutting? Is this a longtime interest?
A: I’ve always had a mild interest in gemstones, particularly those with evil reputations, like the Hope Diamond. The interest was crystallized (pun intended) at a World Fantasy Con in Baltimore, where I met Lloyd Eshbach, who’s not only a pioneer writer/publisher of SF and fantasy, but a more than competent lapidarist. I was admiring some of his settings, and he was talking about having been a traveling salesman for the Moody Bible Institute after WWII, for chrissakes. But it worked out okay, because he could hit a lot of these little gem shops converted from trailers, and he said, with a mildly sharkish grin, “I knew precious stones, and they didn’t.”
At that point the hot flash came, and I said, has anybody done anything on gems in fantasy? Other than the occasional story where a big mother gem is the mcguffin, where, say, you’ve got a traveling gem trader who loves these gems of evil repute, not believing in their danger. He got that Writer’s Gleam in his eye, I told him I was there first, walked around the corner and caught Betsy Mitchell, my editor for The Empire Stone. I said to her, “We’ve got this travelling trader in jewels, who deals preferably in the stinky-repped ones, and he happens to look like Fabio, except he’s a dwarf.” And Betsy…as if it was obvious…went for it.
Q: You must have done a lot of research on jewel-cutting to write The Empire Stone.
A: Did the usual book research, also spent some time with some master gemcutters, getting dumb questions answered. The biggest drawback of this is that they assumed I’ve got a LOT more money than I do, because they kept hauling out perfect-cut ten carat diamonds, and wonderful unset star sapphires and dangling them under my nose. Which makes me hope that everybody buys The Empire Stone. Twice.
Q: What was one fact you uncovered that you found fascinating?
A: The most interesting thing I found was the amount of math that goes into the cutting of the facets. It’s a very precise thing. A jewel is cut in facets not just to provide beauty but to increase the amount of light within the gem. Another interesting thing I learned was the whole way the ancient tin miners of Cornwall worked. You get the idea that in a medieval society everything was very cut and dry, but there were all these little societies within the larger one where you could do what you pleased. Peirol’s family was based on that type of society.
Q: If you could choose one jewel for your loved one, what would it be and why?
A: A big honker of a diamond—we could sell it and go live in Rio. I’m really partial to star sapphires, too.
Q: The hero of The Empire Stone is a dwarf. Why did you decide on this particular characteristic?
A: I like the idea of my heroes, or anti-heroes, or semi-heroes, to have some problems. So why not a dwarf? Every little person I’ve ever met seems to be hellaciously bad-a**ed. Their intransigence is admirable.
Q: Who are your literary influences?
A: Literary influences…in fantasy, Lord Dunsany, James Branch Cabell, Fritz Leiber, Robert E. Howard. In general fiction, William Burroughs, Hank Bukowski, Thomas Pynchon.
Q: What drew you to writing?
A: I discovered you could actually get paid to lie. Plus nobody bothered you, if they knew you’re a writer, for standing on the corner with a dull expression, picking your nose.
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