Interview with Guy Gavriel Kay

Q: It seems that you derive as much inspiration from the extensive research associated with the creation of each new work as from the actual writing process. Do you believe that the old adage “the journey is more important than the destination” applies to you when the time comes to write a new tale?

I think there must BE a journey, for the writer at least as much as for the reader. The sense of a writer discovering what a given book is, or wants to be is – I have always believed – a major element of what the reader, in turn, finds compelling. Craft and art and patience play their roles, but research is a part of craft, for me. It is also, honestly, the fun part …when I’m researching a book I am relaxed and even excited … all I’m doing is learning stuff, no responsibilities! The danger for me is of yielding to ‘grad student syndrome’ … the temptation to read just ONE more book or article, email ONE more person with a query … instead of starting the writing.

Q: You have been writing novels for over two decades. What has changed the most in the fantasy genre since you began your career?

This one is a slam-dunk: undoubtedly the emerging dominance of the YA fantasy, post Rowling, post Pullman, post Snickett, and the more general emergence in a huge way of YA as a literary phenomenon. When I grew up there were children’s books (which were often read to you, including something like The Hobbit, or Narnia) and then by 12 you were, if a reader, reading ANY book. It has been said the Victorians invented childhood in the ‘modern’ sense. I think the Baby Boomers invented the categorization and simplification of pre-teen and even teen literature. I hear this from librarians all the time, and they aren’t all that happy about it. Fantasy is NOT responsible for this, but it has certainly surfed that YA wave.

Q: What advice would you give a younger Guy Gavriel Kay concerning his writing career? Looking back, would you have done anything differently?

It is hard to address this, actually, as the market has changed so much from when I started. And a lot turns on what the younger writer wants to achieve. Given how you’ve phrased the question, I’d caution against a too-narrow focus on trends and tastes within any genre … if the writer’s ambitious in a real way, he or she needs to shoot at a harder target. If the interest is purely commercial, finding a niche, rather than the sort of thing I did with TIGANA (and then even more with ARBONNE) in shifting away from a high fantasy start is not a ‘smart’ move … but it felt essential from a creative perspective not to start cloning myself early.

Q: 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?

No.

Q: How would you like to be remembered as an author? What is the legacy you’ll leave behind?

Legacy-assessment is really for others and, by definition, needs time and perspective. We know with certainty that some major titles of this year or last will be out of print in five years, and some books that are minor right now will get shelf life, perhaps because the writer achieves something major in a few years and pulls up their backlist. My hope is that I’ve made a contribution to the expanding of the horizons of fantasy, the perception of what it is capable of doing, the blurring of boundaries defining genre and mainstream art. I dream of the books staying around, lasting, being in bookstores (or maybe eBooks!) and enjoyed when my grandchildren’s children learn to read.

Q: 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.

This is partly answered in the previous question, as to hopes or ambitions. I actually think the genre gets more credibility than ever these days, and that has a lot to do with demographics … a generation coming of age for whom the fantastic (or sf) are simply core elements of their culture, whether in books, films, television.

But it is important to separate the appraisal of an 8 or 9 volume fantasy series from the assessment of a new book by Ian McEwan or Richard Ford. (Or even a Cormac McCarthy that can easily be named a sf novel.) When you write and publish to rubrics, formulas, heavily associated with a genre you WILL create a barrier for those who have not yet grown easy with those rules or templates. It is difficult for the L.A. Times or the Toronto Globe and Mail to review volume six of a series unless that series has already made a colossal impact on the culture (Harry Potter, Lemony Snickett – which takes us back to the YA dominance). One form of ‘respect’ for the fantastic is simply the increasing acceptance (in English – it has existed elsewhere for some time) of ‘using’ such elements by writers regarded as mainstream. I’m optimistic, actually.

Q: Now that many purists and aficionados consider you one of the best fantasy authors in the world, is there added pressure when it comes down to writing a new novel?

That’s a kind thing to say, by way of preface. Thank you. The pressure’s largely internal, and has been, really, from TIGANA on. I’m not prolific, but there seem to be ten novels now, and that implies an increasing burden of trying to maintain standards. It gets even heavier when you make yourself (as I have) something of a ‘moving target’ … trying to NOT repeat, to shift terrain, moods, themes.

If you think about it, just because an author wants to try something new, why should one of his readers automatically want to try it? You run a risk, whenever you do this. The late, very fine Canadian novelist, Brian Moore, was once asked in a television interview, why he hadn’t been even more of a bestseller. He thought about it for a moment on camera, then answered, ‘I think perhaps because I don’t do the same book each time out.’ As consumers of art we are a conservative bunch … we want the writer, musician, painter, filmmaker to ‘do to us again’ what they did to us before. So this, for me, becomes another layer of pressure when I realize that a given book -such as YSABEL now – insists on being a departure.

Q: Given the choice, would you take a New York Times bestseller, or a World Fantasy Award? Why, exactly?

It sounds too glib to say ‘both’ and unfair since you made it a choice … so I’ll opt for the NY Times, in part because it would reflect a measure of success in achieving those blurred borders and boundaries between genre and mainstream that I’ve mentioned above.

Core fantasy, of the multi-volume saga sort, DOES hit that list, but that’s not what I’m writing, so success there would carry implications for what I’ve been striving towards. Having said that, let me offer a nod towards the WFA … David Hartwell, John Douglas, and their colleagues … have attempted from the beginning to do their own ‘stretching’ of what fantasy is, in the nominations and winners, and I genuinely applaud it.

Q: The fact that you have an official website on the internet is an indication that interaction with your readers is important to you as an author. How special is it to have the chance to interact directly with your fans?

I’m deeply touched by it, derive way too much pleasure from – say – the ‘denizens’ at www.brightweavings.com, and I’m also sometimes worried about author-fan interaction.

We’ve moved more than ever towards a ‘branding’ culture, the writer’s personality and style can start to matter as much (more?) than the quality of their work, or – maybe a better way to put it – can affect or filter HOW the work is responded to. The online world, the blogosphere, has radically shifted the landscape and we’re still sorting out what that means. Writers can be ‘out there’ on their own site or commenting on each other’s blogs on a daily or many-times-daily basis. Even if you don’t go that far, the very fact that I’m ‘here’, Pat, on your site, represents a shift over the last number of years. I’m trying – I think we all are, though with widely different personalities – to negotiate this transition, and find a comfort zone that balances privacy, focus on work, and the pleasures and benefits of interaction.

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Interview by Patrick
fantasyhotlist.blogspot

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