Interview with Steven Erikson

The second part of Patrick’s Q&A with Steven Erikson. The first part can be read here.


“Slim” volumes that they are, do you still believe that you can put out one Malazan book a year?

Steven Erikson: I don’t see why not. The actual writing of the novels takes about eight months or so. It’s the editing and preparation that can take a while, as well as the launch windows the publishers prefers at any given time.

Are there any tentative plans for another fantasy book/series following the completion of the Malazan saga?

SE: I’ve a few thoughts on this, but nothing definitive. I know I have three independent novels on tap, but even then, I’m hardly decided on which order to write them in. It still feels far away (though it isn’t).

Many people have been complaining about your latest book tour, especially about the fact that very little was made in terms of advertisement. Hence, for future tours, many of your readers would like you to consider letting it be known as far in advance as possible. Do you have any idea where THE BONEHUNTERS promotional tour will take you? Any tour dates in Canada or Australia?

SE: Presumably you mean the TOR release of Memories of Ice. As far as I know, the US west coast junket was first in the works the previous summer. Originally the idea was for ten days/ten cities, but to be honest I nixed that notion — ten days away from Reaper’s Gale was too long. As for The Bonehunters, I’m not aware of any touring for that one. I’m doing a local launch here in Victoria, with Scott Bakker, in March, but that’s about it.

Steve Stone’s Malazan artwork is very distinctive. How important is cover art for you? Do you have any say in the matter?

SE: I am generally asked what kind of scene I want depicted, which is nice and, I think, rather rare. And I can then comment in a limited sense on the ‘first draught’ of the work. This is the case with Bantam UK; with TOR I’m pretty much out of the loop which could be more my fault than anyone else’s (I’ve not tested the extent of my influence on those and, admittedly, have no real inclination to do so). For my two cents’ worth, a cover should strive to represent the tone and atmosphere of the novel in question, with an eye towards its intended audience. The problem with the first TOR edition (GoM) seemed to be (if I heard correctly) the cover gave the impression of a juvenile-audience quasi boddice-ripper with swords, plate armour and Tom Cruise. Not quite what was between the covers, alas.

Could we get a map of the world for someone to scan and post online (obviously at malazanempire.com)? Many fail to see how hiding the layout of the known continents furthers the story for the benefit of the readers.

SE: I’m not deliberately hiding anything. The version I have of the map needs redoing, a huge task. In its present form I’d need an oversized scanner which I don’t have. I’m very particular about my maps. Re-drawing the world map, which I have begun, is damned time consuming. If I could find a decent map-maker program…. as it is, I have to do it by hand.

We know that Reaper’s Gale is set on Lether and that Toll the Hounds will take us back to Genabackis. Are you willing to reveal the locations of the final two volumes, or is that too spoilerish? Will we get to visit Korelri during the forthcoming books?

SE: Korelri is Cam’s territory. I can’t really give much away, apart from saying that after TOLL we’re looking at, geographically, new ground for the last two.

What archeology dig sites have you been involved in, and what was found?

SE: This could be a long answer. I’ve worked on anywhere between fifteen and twenty-five projects (brain hurts trying to recall all of them). Some were surveys, which meant walking farmland, riparian brush and beach, mapping petroforms, tipi rings, medicine wheels, pushing through boreal forest and canoeing around precambrian shield lakes and rivers. And finding sites. By way of excavations, see the previous list for environments/settings then add sites in cities, jungle and tropical scrubland (kinda halfway between desert and savanna).

The projects ranged from paleolithic camp-sites, quarries, etc. right on up to fur trade era (1800s). Among those there were some very nice rock art sites for added flavour. Cam and I were co-workers on a number of those projects, by the way. For me, archaeology was always a paid vacation. I thrived working outside all summer long (except one project in the heart of Winnipeg overseeing a crew of fifteen diggers). I loved the camp environment, sleeping in tents, getting eaten alive by mosquitoes, chased by bears, and of course hanging out with the rest of the crew (gods the beer we drank). Alas, as King says, time moves on.


We have been told that Kruppe comes entirely from you. Are there any characters which come entirely from ICE?

SE: Hmm, is this an issue of interest? Let’s see. I could be wrong here and there. Cam was Whiskeyjack, Hedge, Trotts, Coll, Murillio, Turban Orr, Simtal, Vorcan, Draconus, Osserc, the Emperor, Dassem Ultor, Rhulad, Fear, Trull (different names for those three), Envy, Baruk, the Seguleh, Kallor, Prince K’azz, Cowl, all of the Crimson Guard with exceptions noted below, Leoman of the Flails, possibly Kalam, the Crippled God, the Queen of Dreams (second time round), and a number of others whom none of you have met yet.

In the context of those above, I was Fiddler, Mallet, Quick Ben, Kruppe, Rallick, Rake, Brood, Dancer/Cotillion; among the Crimson Guard, uhm, Fingers, Blues and Jorrick Sharplance, and a bunch of others.

These were game-created characters. Many others are entirely independent of our gaming, devised for novel/story purposes exclusively (Temper, Kiska, Paran, Crokus/Cutter, Icarium, Mappo, etc)

Where are all the mages? In Gardens of the Moon, it seems as though each army should have a cadre of High Mages, but by House of Chains, they’re a scarcity. Dujek’s Host was cut down to Tayschrenn after Tattersail’s death, but Tattersail & Calot’s earlier conversations implied the presence of more High – and presumably low – Mages. A minor point, but the Malazan Empire seems rather shorthanded in the powerful sorceror department, and I’m curious as to why.

SE: It is indeed short-handed when it comes to high mages, even middling ones. Consider it this way. There are squad level mages in the armies, plenty of them. Most are mediocre but some aren’t. Those who aren’t have seen with their own eyes the appalling attrition rate among ‘noted’ mages. Accordingly, they’re keeping their heads low because they’re not stupid. We touch more on the mage-situation (specifically with Tavore’s army) in the next novel. As it stands, apart from Tayschrenn the only other High Mage is one you all know well. Bad times indeed for the empire.

If you were to read the Malazan books as an independent observer, how would you rate them compared to the other well-known fantasy series?

SE: Difficult for me to say. I guess they’re different in some crucial ways, most of which have been discussed by fans at length. I probably play around with subtext a lot more than your run of the mill fantasy novel (at least those I’ve slogged through out of boredom or some similar reason); but the better ones out there do that as well. I was told, long ago, that the stranger the world you’re writing about, the clearer and cleaner the language must be — ‘windexed language’ as it used to be called (and maybe still is). But I found a way around that, by making certain characters players of language — in dialogue and monologue, and with those I can let loose on the linguistic games, puns, etc I can play with self-consciousness and metaphor and deliberately twisted analogy and simile. Messing around with voice is one of things that has always interested me as a writer. Multiple points of view unleash that like the hounds of hell. Also allows for plenty of misdirection, which is even more fun. Of course, every bit of writing, every sentence, every paragraph should function to serve more than one purpose. If there’s just one (advancing action) it should probably be short and precise; otherwise if it’s establishing setting, or if it’s dialogue/monologue/characterisation, it should carry more than one level of intent and communication. That’s a rule I follow, any way. Maybe that’s unusual among writers, but maybe not.

When R. Scott Bakker’s The Darkness that Comes Before came out, your blurb proclaimed that something remarkable had begun. What are your thoughts on The Thousandfold Thought?

SE: It sits on my desk. I have a hard time reading quality fantasy when I’m trying to write the same. Needless to say, I have amassed quite a backlog.

Among active authors, you are without a doubt the one that “pimps” other people’s works the most: Bakker, Kearney and now David Keck. What is so special about Keck’s In the Eye of Heaven?

SE: First off, the notion of ‘pimping’ is bloody offensive. To date, I have officially provided quotations for six writers: Cam Esslemont, Paul Kearney, Scott Bakker, Tim Lebbon, David Keck and on James Barclay’s latest. There is one unofficial salutation that I know of and that’s for Glen Cook’s latest (it was drawn from an interview I gave — first I knew of it was when buying the novel at the local bookstore). Does that make me profligate? Not even close. From the beginning I made it plain that I would ‘endorse’ someone else’s work when I enjoyed reading it. I have received other proofs (unsolicited for the most part) that I have not responded to, because the work in question did nothing for me. So, to spare us all from my going on with the first half of your question by verbally ripping your head off, let me proceed to the second one.

I have seen multiple versions of David’s novel, including the very first draft when I was an external thesis advisor when David was taking a writing degree in England. With each successive version, I was witness to a burgeoning of craft and vision that ultimately produced one of the grittiest medieval-setting fantasy novels I’ve ever read. This is dark, dark fantasy. Claustrophobic and compelling at the same time. And since even now, months after reading the last version, it still sits in my head, it clearly made an impression. Hence, I provided a quote.


Do you know if Tor Books plan to one day reach a point where they and Transworld can simultaneously release a Malazan novel?

SE: That should be coming — TOR is releasing every eight months. By the tenth we should be in sync.

Who are your favorite fantasy authors/series?

SE: Oh I’ve listed them many times before, I’m sure.

Do you have any idea, using ballpark figures, how many books the Malazan series has sold so far?

SE: No, and I put my fingers in my ears when the subject comes up.

Any word on The Return of the Crimson Guard by ICE?

SE: It goes, although I could not tell you when it’ll be ready. You’ll have to ask Cam that.

What’s the latest news on the Chain of Dogs movie?

SE: Right now all of Chris’s energies are directed at The Dark. Projects as massive as Chain of Dogs will take time and plenty of groundwork before anything’s set. He’s got another feature film that Cam and I wrote to deal with first — since it’s already on the Telefilm funding track. And two other FF scripts where we’ve had a hand in at the writing stage. Writing up the 12-minute episodes for the Dark has been a blast (kinda like Bridgeburners in space!).

Just a couple final comments on the Malazan site. I checked in a while back and followed some fascinating threads (the q&a with Paul Kearney, for example) and one that jumped out at me was the thread on politics in fantasy writing. Cogent stuff. I am aware to some extent of Goodkind’s objectivist dogma and his belligerent defense thereof. Years back I read through all of Ayn Rand’s stuff, met Leonard Piekoff (the ‘inheritor’ of the movement at the time) and then, in my usual obsessive fashion, I researched Rand herself. One of her first tenets is: if one perceives a contradiction, one must challenge one’s own assumptions. To follow: there are no contradictions. Now, that intrigued me, because clearly she lived in a different world from mine. The final nail in the coffin was reading about her personal life, wherein the greatest contradiction possible was revealed in a torrid, nasty list of backstabbings and betrayals and outright malice. And it occurred to me, if an idea collapses in its practciability then it’s got problems (Thatcher took it to a similar extreme when she asserted that society does not exist, then promptly set about destroying every notion of society she could find). While Piekoff was very much a gentleman, most Objectivists OOTC (out of the closet) that I have met have come across as not only belligerent and arrogant, but also diffident, judgemental, inflexible and cold. All this tells me is that the philosophy attracts people with pre-existing proclivities (like Nazis to a swastika); and in the end the philosophy serves to justify the person’s most egregious characteristics, no doubt to their own smug satisfaction. Leading me back to re-consideration of the tenet mentioned earlier.

Didactic fiction is a bore. I have always believed that Rand’s first novel, We the Living, was also her most successful in the literary sense, all the more impressive for it having been written in her third language. Now, she made no bones in her later novels that the form existed in service to the theme. In We the Living, it was the other way round and for me far more powerful for that reason. A shorthand approach to her form of libertarian take on things can be had by reading Vonnegut’s ‘Harrison Bergeron’ or of course Heinlein’s ‘The Roads Must Roll.’ Both pretty much sum up Rand’s ideas and in a lot fewer words.

Didactic fiction is a bore, but it’s also impressively popular. Wish-fulfilment writing has always had its place, where the good guys win and the baddies, being weak and leftist and obstinate and pretty much useless in the face of manly rigour, are squashed flat (yeah, been reading Ringo again). Where it fails lies in its author’s aversion to challenging his or her own assumptions (ironically) through the sweating-blood process of writing. As far as I’m concerned, if your theme survives the telling of the tale, then you effed up bad — you weren’t ruthless enough with yourself, with your most cherished beliefs. You didn’t let your characters challenge them, tear them to pieces (as they are wont to do); you didn’t let the story demand its own truth (which may be that there are many truths); in short, you took the coward’s approach to writing fiction. But damn, it sells books, don’t it?

Cheers to all,

Steve


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Interview by Patrick
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