Frequently asked questions
Questions about the books
- Q: Who is your favorite character in Fire Logic, and why?
- A: Zanja is the character I most identify with, because her way of making sense of the world, through intuition and imagery, is similar to mine. Also, one of the characteristics I most admire in anyone is sheer dogged persistence which, in the face of overwhelming odds, becomes a kind of heroism that seems terribly undervalued. Zanja loses everything – not just people she loves, but her entire culture, history, and reason for being – and yet she is able to transcend her loss and rage and begin her life again. But another character in Fire Logic, Norina Truthken, surprised me. She's a disagreeable, controlling, terrifying person – and yet she ended being marvelously fun to write about.
- Q: Did you know the outcome of Earth Logic when you started writing the book?
- A: Actually, I didn't have a clue. Usually when I start a book I have an idea what the central issue is, how to start, and how to end (and not much else). But with Earth Logic I didn't even know that – I just started writing. At the time, my life was at its most crazed, and I had to get up every morning at 3AM and write for three hours, then take a shower and go to work. I wrote in short bits that I could finish in one sitting, maybe five pages or so, and each bit was in a different time, place, and point of view.
- After I had a few hundred pages of that stuff I started trying to put the pieces together, and it was only then that I figured out how to end the story. I actually had to end several stories at once, which was impossible, so I came up with endings for each of them separately and then started trying to make all the endings happen together. It wasn't until the third revision that I managed to get the bits into chronological order and to eliminate all but three or so points of view. The first thing I wrote ended up being chapter 14 in the final version. Other than that chapter, the four folk tales, and the epigraphs, nothing else of the first draft survived – not a single word. – Back to the top
- Q: According to your elemental profile, your elemental make-up includes very little Water Logic. Did this make Water Logic a harder book to write?
- A: For a while I feared it would be impossible. When I was working on an early draft of the book, my friend Rosemary Kirstein, who's in my writer's group, said that in order for the plot to work, the protagonist, Zanja, needed to learn to think in a water-logical sort of way – Zanja, a crosser-of-boundaries, had to cross the boundary into an alien way of thinking. Of course, for her to cross that boundary, I had to do it also, and this was not good news.
- Fortunately, in this non-Shaftal world, a person's elemental make-up is just a metaphor. So I was able to call on my varied (or random) life experiences and remember the times that I vaguely understood how music works, even just for a moment; or the rare occasion that I actually enjoyed mathematics; or the process by which I had gradually become able to be funny.
- I also was able to spend a couple of hours talking to a friend, Mike Manning, who is an accomplished musician and mathematician.
- But the most helpful part of my research was serendipidous: by chance I discovered that Karen Joy Fowler, whose book Sarah Canary is one of my favorite books of all time, is essentially a water witch – she's practically 100% water. So Sarah Canary became my model of Water Logic – what it sounds like, what it looks like, how it works. – Back to the top
- Q: Do you have Air Logic all planned out? Do you know how it's going to end? Any clues?
- A: The 3-D movie in my head is playing bits and pieces of scenes, and I'm starting to get a vague idea of the plot. Of course, the problem of the rogue air witch, which first crops up in Water Logic, will be resolved. But a lot of the story will be about Chaen, including her memories of her lost family and farmstead. (I really want to know more about the everyday life of a gigantic Shaftali farm family.) Zanja will indeed cross one more boundary, but this time she won't leave Karis behind (and sex will be involved). Something bad might happen to Emil. As for the ending, I could write the epilogue right now, but I have no idea what'll happen in the final chapter. It'll come to me...it always does. – Back to the top
Questions about writing
- Q: How does teaching writing affect your own writing?
- A: It makes my universe continue to expand. It reveals how important small things can be. It reminds me how much of everything is beyond my control.It exhausts me. It energizes me. – Back to the top
- Q: Do any of your writing ideas come to you in your dreams?
- A: My dreams are chaotic, dull, and rarely worth remembering. But good ideas do come to me in daydreams, fugue states, brown studies, and lengthy car trips. – Back to the top
- Q: Why DO you do all those terrible things to your characters?
- A: It's because terrible things happen in war zones, not because I like misery and horror. In fact, I had to rewrite certain scenes many times because I couldn't bring myself to make things as awful as they needed to be. – Back to the top
- Q: Do you do any research for your books?
- A: I make it all up. That's the advantage of writing fantasy. And that's also the disadvantage. I do look into technical topics like steel-making and ship's rigging, but I do as little as possible, and usually not until the final revision. But this question is a sort of chicken-and-egg problem, for I also am researching all the time because I am, as one of the students in Water Logic says of himself, a curious fellow. When I'm wondering how people learn things, or how fractals work, or what exactly we mean by “truth,” or what electricity is, or why power causes stupidity (or vice-versa), I'm not doing research for a book, but whatever I learn almost always ends up in a book. – Back to the top
- Q: I like the fact that your characters have a three-dimensional quality to them, they're not in the tradition of black and white (either all good or completely flawed). I'm wondering how this ties in with your life – can you read people easily or are you creating rounded characters because you don't see that enough in real life, or...?
- A: I don't understand people at all well, but I'm very curious about them. I don't understand myself either, but I'm interested, in a benignly amused sort of way. So I create characters who aren't easy to understand, who don't fully understand each other, and who are often baffled by themselves. Nevertheless, my characters are lot more sensible and comprehensible than any real people I know. – Back to the top
- Q: Are your characters based on real people you know?
- A: The characters have to be based on people in order to be people-ish, but I'm not writing portraits. Some of the characters are inspired by real people, though I don't realize it right away. Karis is a lot like my wife, Deb, but she also is completely different from her. Medric is similar to another friend of mine, but is much more extreme. My Welsh corgi, Widget, inspired me to put supernatural dogs into Water Logic. (The breeder, when I told her that, responded that corgis are supernatural.) – Back to the top
- Q: How do you choose names for your characters?
- A: I look at the books on my shelves and put together random syllables from the titles until I come up with something that sounds good. Naming places isn't any more scientific, and I hate the process just as much. – Back to the top
- Q: What's it like to come to the end of a series? Are you sad, or can't you wait to move on to other characters?
- A: My books feel alive until I decide they're finished, and then it feels like they die. By the time I finish the series, it will have taken as long as it takes to raise a child and send her away to college. So I suppose I'll feel a lot like my mother felt when I left home – dazed, lonely, vacant. And yes, I'll also be more than ready to move on to the next project, ready to invent a new world and discover strange, surprising things I haven't yet dreamed of. – Back to the top
- Q: Do you have any special writing rituals (times of day/night; special pens/paper; special location, etc)?
- A: I have routines and preferences, but I wouldn't call them rituals. I write on glue-top pads of college-ruled paper using a fat orthopedic pencil and 0.5mm leads. But I can and do write with different devices on different surfaces or on the computer. I usually write in the morning while curled up on a comfy sofa, but I've done a lot of writing in hospital waiting rooms, in campgrounds, in coffee shops, and on airplanes. I do need to be well rested and reasonably healthy, but that's not surprising. I guess the short answer to your question is no. – Back to the top
- Q: How long does it take you to write your novels?
- A: It only takes a year to write the final version, but I have to write a few thousand pages of drek first, and that takes as long as it takes. Years and years. Too long. Longer with every book. Writing may be the only human activity that gets slower and harder with experience. – Back to the top
- Q: Do you think having lesbian and gay protagonists affects a novel's publishability? Who decides what's publishable anyway? (Rude version: Is lesbophobia good for business?)
- A: I don't know if lesbophobia is good for business, but I'm pretty sure it's not good for my career. However, I need to point out that the characters in the Elemental Logic books would find our habit of categorizing people as gay/lesbian and otherwise to be quite bizarre. Yet these books are being published and read in this world, where we idealize love between opposite sexes and demonize love between same sexes. The effect of these values must be overcome every time one of these books is published, reviewed, sold, read, or recommended. Sometimes the book doesn't win. – Back to the top
Questions about Laurie
- Q: What kind of tea do you like?
- A: I know this will sound kinda crazy, considering how much tea is drunk in Shaftal, but I hardly drink tea for a variety of reasons, and so am sadly, sadly limited in my knowledge of what the hundreds of different sorts of tea even taste like. Given the choice of any tea of any sort, I would probably most like the one with an exotic name that sounds like it belongs in a fantasy novel. – Back to the top
- Q: Teaching demands your attention and energy, your spouse and dog demand your attention and energy, and your writing demands your attention and energy. How do you refill?
- A: I don't.
- Q: Why didn't you live in Boston during the 2.5 long, long, horrible years I was there? I mean really, what's the deal?
- A: How could living in Boston possibly be horrible?