Q: After what can only be called an illustrious and prolific career, what motivates you to keep on writing?
Nobody will pay me to do anything else.
Q: What do you feel is your strength as a writer/storyteller?
I’ve always concentrated on the inner life of the characters, so the readers feel as if they’ve lived inside somebody else’s skin.
Q: EMPIRE seems to be rather different from your previous works. What compelled you to write such a novel?
I try never to write the same book twice. I hope all my novels feel different from all my other novels. This time, though, the difference is one of genre — Empire is a “thriller,” which means it centers far more on action and adventure than most of my other work. Also, it’s quite contemporary, which means I have to fit it into the real world rather than simply making up whatever details I need.
Q: Without giving anything away, what can you tell readers about EMPIRE?
An officer working at the Pentagon has been assigned to guess what plans terrorists might use to cause mayhem in the DC area. He is shocked when one of his plans is actually used by terrorists to assassinate the President — meaning that somebody in the Pentagon has leaked his plans to the enemy. What is more devastating is when this turns out to have been only a prelude to the conquest of New York City by, not foreign terrorists, but Americans in an attempt to start a blue-state-vs.-red state civil war. Instead of taking sides, the heroes of Empire try to quell the war before it can get fully started.
Q: What advice would you give a younger Orson Scott Card concerning his writing career? Looking back, would you have done anything differently?
Actually, I think I — and my agent and publishers — have done about as well as we could at every stage. Even the mistakes were what allowed me to learn to do better the next time — so I can’t even wish I hadn’t made them!
Q: What was the spark that generated the idea which drove you to write both the Ender series and the Tales of Alvin Maker?
The Tales of Alvin Maker was a deliberate attempt to answer Spenser’s Faerie Queene with an epic poem in the American vernacular, using American folk magic as part of the setting. The resulting poem, “Prentice Alvin and the No-Good Plow” became the root of the Alvin Maker series.
“Ender’s Game” began when I was sixteen and had just read Asimov’s Foundation trilogy. I thought: I want to write a science fiction story. My brother had just come back from a stint in Korea, and using his experiences in training and in the military, plus what I had learned from reading over the years, I tried to imagine how one might train soldiers for combat in the three-dimensional battlefields of space.
Q: Will MASTER ALVIN bring the Tales of Alvin Maker series to a close?
No matter how long the seventh volume is, it will be the last one. Which is not to say I can’t do additional side-stories, like “Grinning Man” and “Yazoo Queen,” which have already been published separately from any of the Alvin Maker books.
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?
Not just tempted. I have wanted to do so for a long time. But I love working with contemporary fantasy, where characters from our world have to deal with magic from other times and places, as in Magic Street and Enchantment. So … look for something rather soon from my “Mithermages” universe (only “Sandmagic” has been published from that world, though a soon-to-come anthology edited by Gardner Dozois will include the story “Stonefather,” which is one of the best I’ve written in years).
Q: What project will you be tackling next?
Mithermages, as soon as I get the Ender Christmas book done. Not to mention my rewrite of Taming of the Shrew. And the retelling of Hamlet for a ghost-story anthology. Just little things.
Q: Any news about the ENDER’S GAME movie? Any details you wish to share with your fans?
Still under option at Warner Brothers. I’ve written a script that I believe would make a great film. Hope they see it the same way.
Q: How would you like to be remembered as an author? What is the legacy you’ll leave behind?
If I’ve pleased readers in my own time, that’s all I can hope for. To have any of my works transcend my own era and continue to speak to future generations is merely a bonus, to be neither aspired to nor counted on.
Q: Do you have a different approach when it comes to writing fantasy or science fiction?
Do you mean a different approach BETWEEN those two genres, or different from others? If the latter, then both SF and fantasy require world creation that uses up a lot of expository space that contemporary novels don’t require. Yet they also give a great deal of freedom to the worldmaker to hone and sharpen a society in order to make a clearer contrast with the present day.
Between sf and fantasy, though, the differences are paper-thin. If you’re writing fantasy well, it will be as intellectually rigorous and inventive as science fiction — perhaps more so, since every speck of belief in magic systems must be earned and re-earned throughout the book, while scientific speculations don’t require as much support to be accepted by the reader.
Q: You frequently blurb novels by new authors such as David Farland and Brandon Sanderson. Is it important to you to give those newcomers a hand with a positive review?
I don’t give newcomers a hand. I give honest comments on brilliant books. If they happen to be newcomers, that just makes me hate them more, even as I praise their books .
Q: L. E. Modesitt, jr. claimed that Tom Doherty is one of the most underappreciated men in fantasy. Do you agree with his assessment?
I don’t think Tom is underappreciated by authors or booksellers. We know he’s a wizard of a publisher — working with him is the reward you get for writing well and treating people nicely. The general public may not know about him, but then why would they? The publisher’s job is not to stand in front of his writers, blocking the view — rather it’s to put their work on the stage, well-lighted, curtain open, for the audience to admire, without ever noticing the publisher at all. If Tom Doherty were famous with the general public, it would be at the expense of the books he publishes. So he does not seek fame for himself.
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.
The last thing we need is the respect of the academic-literary establishment. Look how they’ve killed the readability of the books that follow their dogmas! Who wants them working the same ugly magic on our books? We made up our own rules, and our rules work better than theirs. The real question is when the academic literary establishment will finally realize that we do our job and their job better than they do.
One might even say that the very best of the literary writers — Anne Tyler, Richard Russo, and now Diane Setterfield, author of the brilliant The Thirteenth Tale — achieve many of their effects because they share some of the key values of the best of the fantasy writers: The willingless to let characters act nobly, an intensity-with-clarity in their language, and magnificently thorough and fascinating world creation.
Interview by Patrick