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By Patrick (2007-02-06)
Dear Mr. Simmons,
Let me begin by thanking you for being gracious enough to take some time off your undoubtedly busy schedule to answer our questions.
Q: Without giving anything away, what can you tell your readers about THE TERROR.
The Terror is based on the actual historical event surrounding the 1845 Sir John Franklin Expedition sent out to force the Northwest Passage connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans north of Canada. Both ships – HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, advanced icebreakers of their day with food and other provisions for five years in the ice if need be, with 126 crewmen aboard – disappeared completely. The following decades of English, American, and other search attempts constitute the largest search-and-rescue operation in history. All to no avail.
My novel The Terror is a fictional treatment of the days and years after these ships became stuck in the ice near King William Land (actually an island), more than 1,000 miles from any hope of rescue.
Q: At this point in your career, was it necessary for you, as an author, to step outside of speculative fiction and explore other interests?
No, of course it wasn’t "necessary" for me to "step outside of speculative fiction." I could make a living writing SF for the rest of my career. But anyone looking at my career to date will notice that actual SF makes up only a fourth or less of my published fiction.
One of the things I’ve worked hard to do in my 25-year publishing career – and the 24 novels I’ve published – is to reserve the freedom to write whatever kind of book I’m interested in writing. In that sense, many of my books that have been labeled genre novels – The Hollow Man, Carrion Comfort, Phases of Gravity, A Winter Haunting – are not comfortable in any specific genre. Most of my books, even the presumed solid-SF novels such as Ilium and Olympos borrowed tropes and protocols from many areas.
I have a track record of writing suspense- and historical-suspense novels – The Crook Factory about Ernest Hemingway’s summer of 1942 chasing spies and German submarines in Cuba is one example of the latter. The Terror was another such blend of researched history and suspense.
Q: What is it about polar expeditions that caught your fancy to such a degree that you felt the need to write a novel on the subject?
The combination of such terrible isolation and absurdly harsh conditions has always fascinated me. I’ve read true tales of Arctic and Antarctic adventures since I was a kid and still marvel at the courage and endurance such explorers showed. Our astronauts are brave men and women, but there’s nothing in our current space program in any way comparable to the extremes of isolation and hardship suffered by so many of the figures in the so-called Heroic Age of Arctic exploration.
Q: After what can only be called an illustrious and prolific career, what motivates you to keep on writing?
I’m a writer. Writing is what we writers do. The trick is never to write "just to keep writing." Luckily, I have enough ideas that fascinate me – and call me to research them (which is a great part of the appeal of historical fiction) – that one lifetime doesn’t seem nearly enough to explore a fraction of them.
Q: What do you feel is your strength as a writer/storyteller?
I think I have some strengths as both stylistic writer and as storyteller – the trick is not to slight the one at the expense of the other.
Q: What advice would you give a younger Dan Simmons concerning his writing career? Looking back, would you have done anything differently?
My earliest career decisions as a young(er) published writer – to continue to write the kind of book I want to write and not to bow to publishing or readership pressure to repeat myself, to make all final editorial decisions myself, and to take great risks (financial, career-wise) whenever necessary – have served me well.
I still tend to set my course by those same stars.