ABC Talks To: Fantasy Author Steven Erikson

steveneriksonThe masterful Steven Erikson has a new book out in his bestselling Malazan Book of the Fallen series: Dust of Dreams.

He very kindly obliged Do You Read Me? with an exclusive interview, answering questions submitted by you, and us (mostly Tiemen actually).

Achieving Authenticity: ABC interviews Steven Erikson

dust-of-dreamsRead any good books lately?
I Re-read Chaucer and Sir Richard Burton lately, as research for the Bauchelain & Korbal Broach novella I just finished. That was a blast.

Tell us about where and when you write.
I write four hours a day, usually in the afternoon (I’m a late riser), at a local pub or cafe — the ones run by friendly, accommodating people who don’t object to my taking up a table and occasionally plugging in my laptop.

Do you listen to music as you write?
I do write to music, which I keep stored on an iPod Touch, working through various playlists in the course of an afternoon. Although sometimes I end up looping a single playlist over and over again (usually when I am in the zone and cease to notice).

malazanWhat is the biggest challenge of building a fantasy world?
The biggest challenge is achieving authenticity (but then, that challenge faces all writers of fiction). For me, the only way of finding that authenticity is to immerse myself in a character’s point of view, choosing to walk in their shoes, to see what they see, etc. From that position, I seek to engage in the created world in a manner no different from how you or I engage in our own.

On another level, any created world needs to possess its own internal consistency, and it needs to make sense at its most basic levels — culture, religions, geography, biology, history, politics, and so on. When these elements are neglected in fantasy fiction it’s woefully obvious.

The best thing about creating a fantasy world, is, I imagine, taking on the role of an all-creator, a god if you will, beginning from the ground up.

We know you have a background in anthropology, and were wondering how this influences your writing? For example, do events in the real world affect what you put into your fantasy worlds?
They have a huge impact, though they tend to sift through in ways that are not always obvious. While anthropology is part of that it’s not the only topic that affects me. I absorb politics, environmental issues, sociology, psychology, biology, physics — you name it, if it interests me or makes me think it invariably shows up.

The notion of the fantasy genre having nothing to with the real world is one to which I do not suscribe. I am interested in the human condition and I work hard to effect a continual cross-pollination between the two worlds, real and fictional. In many ways, in fact, my writing seems to be an ongoing dialogue between the two.

Lots of writers have recently brought out genre bending titles. Would you consider writing in a different genre?
Genre bending titles? Forgive me, but what’s that? I picture guys in dresses at the signing table.

The thing about genres is that they were invented by, and exist for book-selling purposes, a means of categorizing stuff, finding the right shelf in the store. They also give critics and reviewers an easy excuse for not reading something.

As writers, we get stuck wherever and then, should we do something that doesn’t fit what we’ve done before, we get told we’re doing something different and then asked why did we do that, at which point we get confused looks on our faces because secretly we know we didn’t really do anything different except maybe change the setting.

I’ve written all kinds of stories and a lot of them don’t fit anywhere. I expect I’ll continue to do so.

karsa orlongDo you really dislike any of your characters?
I can’t imagine ‘disliking’ a character, even the most despicable ones. It’s one of those strange (probably alarming) traits that I think a writer should possess: the ability to wear uncomfortable skin, to think uncomfortable thoughts, to keep judgement away from what is presented on the page.

All too often I read stuff where the author’s attitudes and opinions batter their way into the story, manhandling characters like puppets of propaganda, and the whole thing just falls apart and becomes an easy target for well-deserved mockery and derision. For me, that author’s level of presumption is inexcusable on numerous levels. Ever met anybody who has all the answers? Me neither. I have, however, met plenty of people, writers and non-writers, who think they have all the answers. Apart from being invariably obnoxious, I usually find that a dozen or select queries lays bare the insupportable assumptions of their beliefs (read: delusions). When they start thumping the table and getting red in the face, you know you have made your point. As you might conclude, I can’t stand fanatics of any stripe.

So, the notion of ‘dislike’ makes me uneasy. I hold to my own own ethical standard in my fiction, and to some extent the story I tell cannot help but reflect that. But I’m not out to convince anyone of anything. I’m exploring ideas, coming at them from every angle I can imagine, and I let my characters have their own opinions (many of which I do not personally share). One thing I won’t do: I won’t take all the ones I don’t like and prop them up against a wall with blindfolds on, then shriek “Fire!” Fascistic artists seems something of an oxymoron, at least to me.

As for characters I enjoy writing, sure, there’s plenty of them. Well, all of them, in fact. Even the nasty ones.

Who would win in a fight?: Karsa Orlong or Chuck Norris?
You mean, if they were married or something?

How did you come up with the idea for Warrens?
I honestly can’t remember. We were working out a new take on magic for our GURPS game. [The Malazan world was originally created by Steven Erikson and Ian Cameron Esslemont in 1982 as a backdrop for role-playing games using a modified version of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. — Ed.]

Who would win in a fight: Bent or Karsa’s dog?
The real question is: how fast can Scamper run?

Can you give us any more information on the background of the Bridge Burners? (Specifically: Were the BBs a regiment, a company, a legion or something else? Were they part of the 2nd or the 3rd army? When Korbolo and Dujek commanded them, did these two just command the BBs or the army that the BBs were part of? Is Aragan a BB?)
Yikes, you’re asking me? Cam [Ian Cameron Esslemont – collaborator and co-author] is better at answering that stuff than I am. My recollection is they were an elite company that moved armies a couple times. In the time that they were attached to Dujek’s Host, overall command was his; while that role once belonged to WJ. And Aragan is not a BB. We don’t know what Aragan is, or will be, for that matter. But I can sort of see him right now, behind a desk, head in his hands…

What is up with the Moranth and their armor? I’m not talking the colors, but the possible permanent attachment or constant wearing of it.
I’m not sure. I think (hope) Cam will explore these issues when he writes his Darujhistan novel.

This next question has nothing to do with books or writing, but is a controversial point of discussion in the ABC warehouse: in the case of a worldwide Zombie Apocalypse, what would be your weapon of choice and your mode of transportation?
I fully understand the relevance of this question. I prefer teeth and walking, since my best solution is to join them not fight them. As an undead I could write books until body parts start falling off (uh, that’s sort’ve the case now).