Interview with Orson Scott Card

This Interview has been provided by Orbit, and is printed with their permission.

Orson Scott Card is one of the true stars of SF and fantasy writing. His Ender saga and Homecoming series have won both the Hugo and Nebula awards, and his books make regular sorties into the bestseller lists – last year’s ENDER’S SHADOW proving no exception. This month sees the publication of its stunning follow-up, THE SHADOW OF THE HEGEMON, as well as the reissue of the first three Tales of Alvin Maker. And somehow Orson has still found the time to chat with us.

Who or what inspired you to become a writer?
There are two reasons why anyone becomes a writer. One is: “That book was so good, I want to be a writer so I can create something like that”. The other is: “If that piece of crap can get published, then I sure can”. I think the second motive is the more productive one, for instead of imitating you’ll be forging your own path. The truth is, both motives have some part in every writer – a love of literature mixed with contempt for or resentment of certain rules or schools of thought.

Did you have any other jobs prior to becoming a full-time writer?
I was a copy-editor and rewriter for a university press and a religious magazine. There’s no better training than trying to find the core of someone else’s idea and restructuring it so it will actually work. And by being a copy-editor, I learned all the rules that I now break when it suits my purpose.

Of the books you have written, do you have a favourite?
Every book was the best I could do at the time I wrote it, and every book was a story I still care about and believe in. There are personal connections, though, which make some of them have a particular sentimental connection. For instance, Lost Boys is my only semi-autobiographical work, so it brings back a couple of important years in my family’s past. Saints is the story of my ancestors. Enchantment may be my best novel, period; Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus may be my best science fiction novel; the Alvin Maker books are a pure joy to write; the Homecoming series was my reinvention of a story that is very important in my life, and I think it absolutely succeeded; Hart’s Hope may be my very best writing (though it’s also my darkest book); and so on, and so on. By the time I’m through with a list of “favourites,” I usually end up having listed every book I wrote …

What is your favourite book?
My favourite all-time work of fiction: Lord of the Rings. My favourite all-time nonfiction book: Guns, Germs, and Steel. Ask me again next week, you’ll get a different answer. My favourite recently-read novel: Sean Stewart’s “Nobody’s Son”; my favourite recently-read nonfiction was a new biography of Benjamin Franklin.

Who is your favourite contemporary author?
My favourite contemporary author is Richard Russo. He doesn’t write enough, however, so in between I look for books by Ann Tyler, Sue Grafton, James Lee Burke, Robin Hobb, George R.R. Martin, Robert Crais, Robert Parker, Dave Wolverton/David Farland, Octavia Butler, Lisa Goldstein, Jane Yolen, Charles deLint, William Sleator, Robert Cormier, William Goldman, Stephen Saylor … these are writers that are dependably excellent. And the list of dead authors that are worth discovering or rereading is even longer.

What book would you make compulsory reading?
I would punish elitist English professors by making them read Ulysses over and over until they admit that it’s a long, well-written joke on literature. I would require people who think they hate science fiction to read Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis trilogy. I would require people who read only science fiction to read Nobody’s Fool by Richard Russo or Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Ann Tyler. And I would require people who never read at all to read William Goldman’s The Princess Bride or Robert Cormier’s I Am the Cheese. In truth, though, the world would be a better place if everybody just read Leonard Pitts’s book on fatherhood.

What are you reading now?
A new biography of Chaucer, alternating with Endymion by Dan Simmons.

What is the first book you can remember reading?
The talking animal books by Thornton W. Burgess. The first grown-up novel I recall reading was The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain, which made me a life-long anglophile and student of English history – and yes, I can usually name all the rulers of England in order (at least from Edward the Confessor on) and tell you something about each one’s reign.

What book do you consider to be the most overrated?
Ulysses, obviously. It was an elaborate prank, and our supposed intellectual elite continue to fall for it. And, though you didn’t ask, the most overrated movie is Citizen Kane, which is merely of historical interest as an exercise in creative vanity. It is false, mean-spirited, over-directed, badly acted by Orson Welles (he needed a better director), and makes a childishly obvious psychological point that makes me laugh when I hear people take it seriously. The list of overrated films goes on to include Philadelphia Story, Pleasantville, American Beauty, and many others.

What about the most underrated?
Most underrated book: Dave Wolverton’s “Golden Queen” trilogy. I think of this as one of the great works of science fiction, and therefore of contemporary literature, and I am disappointed that it has not yet received its deserved place. The most underrated film is “Twister,” which is commonly used as the obvious example of bad writing – which shows how little its disparagers know about writing. In fact, it is a superbly written film that manages to create a true ensemble of characters whose dialogue can be listened to again and again – unlike films like Independence Day and Titanic, whose writing becomes more and more grating on each reviewing. There is more good writing and good acting in any ten minutes of Twister than in, say, all of Citizen Kane.

Who is your favorite character (from a book)?
Samwise Gamgee.

Do you have a favourite film?
Such a list is never complete, because there are some that simply don’t come to mind when writing it. The first thirty are roughly in order (it changes from day to day), but the others could all plausibly be in that top thirty on other days.

1. A Man for All Seasons2. Far from the Madding Crowd
3. It’s a Wonderful Life4. A Lion in Winter
5. Silverado6. L.A. Story
7. Grand Canyon8. The Player
9. Poltergeist10. Singin’ in the Rain
11. Saving Private Ryan12. The Human Comedy
13. Howard’s End14. Sixth Sense
15. Nobody’s Fool16. The Matrix
17. The Sting18. Young Frankenstein
19. All of Me20. My Best Friend’s Wedding
21. The Shop around the Corner22. Heaven Can Wait (Warren Beatty version)
23. Big24. Say Anything
27. The Hudsucker Proxy28. The Madness of King George
29. Sense & Sensibility (Emma Thompson version)30. Gandhi

One Magic Christmas; Parenthood; An Ideal Husband; The Wizard of Oz; Robin and Marian; Zeffirelli’s Romeo & Juliet; A Period of Adjustment; The Shawshank Redemption; Braveheart; Being John Malkovich; Terminator 2; Empire of the Sun; The Court Jester; You’ve Got Mail; A Fish Called Wanda; Pitch Black; Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid; Twister; As Good As It Gets; Nashville; Three Kings; The Iron Giant; Roxanne; An Affair to Remember; Meet Me in St. Louis; The Lion King; Ben-Hur; The Dirty Dozen; Body Heat; Sex, Lies, and Videotape; Galaxy Quest; Aliens; Oliver!; Who Framed Roger Rabbit; High Noon; Shane; Monty Python and the Holy Grail; The King of Kings (silent version); Laurel & Hardy’s March of the Wooden Soldiers; The Breakfast Club; Fast Times at Ridgemont High; All the President’s Men; Three Musketeers/Four Musketeers (Michael Yorke version); Prince of Egypt; Old Yeller; Becket; Castaway; Ransom; Some Kind of Wonderful; The Good Son; The Omen; How to Steal a Million; To Catch a Thief; Lawrence of Arabia; Dr. Zhivago; Raiders of the Lost Ark; Star Wars; The Empire Strikes Back; American Graffiti; A Walk in the Clouds; Sleepless in Seattle; Barefoot in the Park; The Odd Couple; Rocky; Dumb & Dumber; The Dead Zone; The Great Escape;; Stalag 17; Twelve Angry Men; The Natural; Slaughterhouse Five; Phantom of the Paradise; Sabrina (Harrison Ford version); Witness; Big Daddy; Die Hard; That’s Entertainment; Romancing the Stone; Persuasion; Clueless; Emerald Forest; Broadway Bound; Biloxi Blues; Funny Girl; The Jerk; A Simple Twist of Fate; Heathers; The Gods Must Be Crazy; Mission Impossible 2; The Wedding Singer; Zardoz (a guilty pleasure); Pride and Prejudice (multi-part TV); Horatio Hornblower (multi-part TV).

Which novel would you like to see filmed?
I’m looking forward to Lord of the Rings. I would also love to see Nobody’s Son, Mohawk, The Golden Queen Trilogy, and Richard II. Not to mention my own books and stories: Pageant Wagon (as a sung-through musical), Stone Tables, Enchantment, Homebody, Ender’s Game/Ender’s Shadow, Wyrms, Treason, Hart’s Hope, Treasure Box, Sarah, Dogwalker, Fat Farm, Red Prophet, Saints.

What music do you listen to?
I listen to music constantly while writing, cycling through two hundred cds on a “jukebox” player. My tastes are eclectic. The jukebox includes classical ( including Bach, Beethoven, Satie, Stravinsky, Chopin, Debussy, Barber, Copeland), folk-rock (including Janis Ian; Joni Mitchell; various configurations of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young; James Taylor; Jackson Browne), rock (including Bruce Springsteen, George Thorogood, Sting, Genesis, Tom Waits, Mike and the Mechanics, Leon Russell), country (including Lyle Lovett, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Lorrie Morgan, Emmy Lou Harris, Vince Gill), Brazilian (including Caetano Veloso, Maria Bethania, Simone, Djavan, Chico Buarque), traditional pop (including Michael Feinstein, Tony Bennett, Barbra Streisand), Broadway and film (various cast albums and soloists, film music by my brother Arlen Card, and two cast albums for which I wrote the lyrics, “Stone Tables” and “Barefoot to Zion”) and some of my favorites that defy category (like Shirley Eikhardt, Bruce Cockburn, Beth Nielson Chapman, Ruben Blades, Grayson Hugh, Darden Smith, Buster Poindexter, Patti Scialfa, Mark Cohn, and Robert Stoddard, whose great album “December Tales” has been important to me all this past autumn). And this still leaves many dozens unmentioned …

Which decade would you most like to live in?
I have lived in the only decades I could have lived in, and hope to live through at least a few more. In all my study of history, I have never found a time or place I would rather have lived than now. I am especially grateful, however, to have known the fifties, before we began to poison our own civilization – or at least before the effects of the poison began to be felt.

What is your greatest extravagance?
I buy way too many books.

How do you relax?
I play games – with my family and friends, or alone at the computer.

What makes you stressed?
Politics. Lies or stupidity in the press.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Laziness.

How would you like to be remembered?
I hope I am remembered by my children as a good father.

What do you think of the Booker Prize?
As a reward for writing books that only elitists can admire and nobody can love, it does an excellent job.

What historical figure do you most admire?
It’s hard to think of one that I admire without qualification. And some that I might pick are, to me, religious, not historical figures, and my faith is caught up in my understanding of them: Jesus Christ, Joseph Smith, Moses, Brigham Young. Others aren’t so much historical as literary: Shakespeare, Twain, Austen, Dickens, Chaucer, C.S. Lewis. I do have unqualified admiration for George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, “Stonewall” Jackson, Eisenhower, Cincinnatus, Solon, and Socrates (at least as they are presented in the available sources). And I think Richard III has received the worst and least justified slander of any historical figure.

Which contemporary figure do you identify with?
I don’t really identify with any of these, but I admire them greatly: George Bush, Sr., Daniel Patrick Moynihan, John Paul II. And not so well-known, but well-deserving of my unstinting admiration, are Robert Backman, Dallin Oaks, Sheri Dew, Eugene England, and Richard Cracroft. I disqualified family members from this list, or my father and mother would have been at the head of it.

What is your favorite quotation?
“Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

Copyright© 2002 Orbit. All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. The interview has been provided by Orbit and is printed with their permission.

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