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By Patrick (2006-05-01)
Given the choice, would you take a New York Times bestseller, or a World Fantasy Award? Why, exactly?
Oh, man, do I have to choose? Can't a girl have it all!?!
Hmm. I'll go with World Fantasy. Much as I'd revel in the cold, harsh cash afforded by a NYT ranking, I'd revel more in the acclaim of members of the fantasy community I've always admired and enjoyed so much. Seriously!
The fact that you have your own forum 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?
Incredibly special. I was a bit of a latecomer to the online scene, but thanks to the admonishments of other authors (Bakker foremost among those) and fans, I finally did get my website going, a year ago. My sffworld.com forum followed a little after that. I was utterly blown away by the welcome I found there, and by the generosity of the readers who had no idea who I was, initially, but went off and bought my books anyway. And it's such an amazing thing, to be able to answer questions they have, or respond to comments and criticisms, directly. Like, within minutes! Yes, I'm still a bit wide-eyed - and it's fantastic.
Are you surprised by what little support you receive from the Canadian media? R. Scott Bakker and Steven Erikson rank among the best fantasy authors out there, yet both of them appear to get very little recognition in their own country. Only Guy Gavriel Kay seems to have gone through that obstacle, and that's after years of producing exceptional novels.
The Canadian publishing industry is incredibly small. The Canadian genre publishing industry is microscopic. So no, I'm not that surprised about the lack of media exposure. My first novel was reviewed in the Globe & Mail, which is Canada's national newspaper, but my second wasn't. I got to appear on a few TV shows (Breakfast Television, Richler Ink), do a few readings...I didn't expect much more than this. In Canada, there's a limited amount of review space, and most of it's devoted to international heavy-hitters, or to that odd bird that's known as "CanLit," written by a handful of well-known authors, and whichever up-and-comings manage to fit that mould. Fantasy simply has no "open the paper on Saturday morning to check out the book reviews" kind of presence, here. This is terribly disappointing, but not surprising. Which leads me to your next question:
Honestly, do you believe that the fantasy 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.
I'm not holding my breath, sadly. I think that we may see more fantasy authors being accepted in that elusive "crossover" way, which will give them a much broader audience. I'm always interested to see where certain authors' books are shelved, in bookstores: I've found Gaiman, Tolkien and select others on the "Fiction" shelf, far away from that genre section at the back that most buyers of "real" fiction would never deign to set foot in. Putting Gaiman and Tolkien in the Fiction section is a value judgment, and I don't think this is likely to change. You never know, though: perhaps with authors like Gaiman (and Rowling, too) ascendant, in pop culture terms, fantasy will start to get read more, respected more. I've been told many, many times, "I don't usually read fantasy, but I LOVED your books." Which, while it may be a back-handed compliment, is also an indication that people will pick up something they've heard or read about, even if it's not something they'd normally choose. So I guess it's a matter of keeping the online reviews and interviews coming, and the websites up, and the fans clamouring - maybe the rest of the world will catch on!
What made you choose to write an epic fantasy? Were there any perceived conventions you wanted to twist or break? Why do you think that epic fantasy has such a vast and fractured fanbase -- those who either rabidly support or denounce a particular author?
I don't think I've actually written any epic fantasy, yet! I enjoy reading fine epic fantasy, from time to time (and I agree there's lots of it - don't get me wrong), but I don't feel able or even really willing to write it. So far I haven't been interested in working with absolutes, maybe because they too often come off like stereotypes with capital letters. Good and Evil, Magic, Power, True Love, Quest, Battle, Big Finish - I've read and believed in these narrative elements, but I've also, and more often, read and been annoyed by them. I love the escape inherent in fantasy, but I find that the fantasy that usually works best for me involves ambiguity. My own books reflect this, particularly Telling, which was my attempt to turn stereotypes on their head. I wanted to write about a frustrating relationship, a quest that didn't quite work out, a bad guy who maybe wasn't. Silences is similar; the characters are neither fully good nor fully bad, and none of them is evil. This is perhaps (and here's another segue!) why my books often don't appeal to people who adore epic fantasy.
So: why is the fanbase fractured...Because fantasy readers are so accustomed to being defensive about reading genre at all that they naturally get territorial with other fantasy readers, too? Because despite the breadth of interpretation inherent in the term "fantasy," some readers are adamant that one author, or one sub-genre, are the Platonic Forms of authors and sub-genres? I'm not actually sure. All I know is that all the in-fighting belittles the genre. Opinions are fine. Differing tastes: no problem. But it seems so unnecessary, to attack authors or other readers; to savage books that don't conform to one's own tastes, and to savage other readers' preferences. What I do like to see is healthy, constructive, rigorous debate - something that also happens, in fantasy circles. Thank goodness.