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Interview with Ellen Kushner

Posted on 2008.01.16 at 23:01
Current Mood: frustratedfrustrated
Current Music: Twilight zone on T.V.
For those of you who are Ellen Kushner (Swordspoint ) fans, there is an interesting interview with her, including observations on world-building and writing.  Check it out here.     
For those of you who haven't read any of Ellen Kushner's books, well, I just have to put my hands on my hips and say, "And you call yourself a slasher!"  Seriously, if you love fantasy and slash, you'll love Swordspoint, The Fall of the Kings, and Privilege of the Sword.  She also has written a wonderful book called Thomas the Rhymer, which won a World Fantasy Award.  (It is well done and possibly more acceptable to the general public as the lead characters are firmly het.)

Anyway, in this interview Ellen said something about writing that first draft that I REALLY need to take to heart.  She wrote "Bash it out now and tart it up later" on a card and pinned it over her computer.   So, I did the same thing.   We'll see if it works.  LOL.

Also in that interview she had a link to an article called, "The Watcher at the Gate" about the self-sabotaging of the inner critic.  I missed that link in the article the first time around, so reproducing it for you here.


nienna_weeper at 2008-01-17 06:18 (UTC) (Link)
"Bash it out now and tart it up later"

I like that a LOT.
elfscribe5 at 2008-01-17 17:49 (UTC) (Link)
Good words to live by. I've told myself the same thing many times. Somehow can't seem to do the bash it out part.
erfan_starled at 2008-01-17 07:06 (UTC) (Link)
Yay! (*bashing it out while cannot imagine tarting it up*) Loved this entry.
elfscribe5 at 2008-01-17 17:51 (UTC) (Link)
I find the bashing out part the really hard work that I fuss over and put off. The tarting up part is fun. (Kinda like putting kohl on Elladan. hee.)
erfan_starled at 2008-01-17 18:49 (UTC) (Link)
grondfic at 2008-01-17 10:17 (UTC) (Link)
I absolutely adore Ellen; and second every word about her novels.

A long time ago, she published (in rather obscure fantasy anthologies) a couple of short stories concerning one Lazarus Meridon - which FELT like they were set in the Riverside-verse during the Time of the Kings. I never heard anything more about these tantalising snippets, and wish I could have known more.

The thing about Ellen's stories is that you feel that there's a HUGE amount that goes on in and around, that she knows very well, but doesn't include! This makes for such DEPTH and TEXTURE in her writing! (Only - like a kid with the sweeties - I want to know it ALL!)
elfscribe5 at 2008-01-17 18:21 (UTC) (Link)
Hi grond,
I do love Ellen's world with her differing social classes and long history. You're right, it seems she's thought about it in greater depth than appears in the stories - so like Tolkien's world, makes for lots of fic possibilities. I'd love to see you dabble in that world.
I didn't know there were other short stories from the ones I've read in my edition of Swordspoint. I wonder how to get a hold of them?
Minuial Nuwing
minuial_nuwing at 2008-01-17 14:58 (UTC) (Link)
Bash it out now and tart it up later

I love it! Unfortunately, the only time I take that advice is when I'm writing a smut scene. Maybe I'll make myself an index card, too...

elfscribe5 at 2008-01-17 18:22 (UTC) (Link)
I don't know that it'll work, but I can only hope.
keiliss at 2008-01-17 18:05 (UTC) (Link)
"Bash it out now and tart it up later" is how I write, which is why very few people see my first drafts (you had that dubious pleasure, once, lol) She clearly does a much better job of the tarting up than I ever will though.

elfscribe5 at 2008-01-17 18:25 (UTC) (Link)
Hi Kei,
Unfortunately, I agonize about the bashing up as I'm doing it to the point that it's being tarted up. Good point about that is when I'm done with a first draft, it's pretty finished, except for the inevitable futzing, bad point is it takes me forever. I used to write much faster. Oh well, enough whining. First drafts are not meant to be pretty and should be raw and bad. Hope all is well and that Snowdrop is perking along. *g*
keiliss at 2008-01-17 21:23 (UTC) (Link)
Snowdrop's doing good - been very busy *gi*. I think writing probably takes as long either way - I just find if I sit and polish as I go along, I lose touch with the picture I'm trying to describe.

Probably a short attention span, yes :|
laesmeralda at 2008-01-20 16:06 (UTC) (Link)
Thanks ever so much for posting this, dear, it is timely for me as I try to return to writing.

I read Swordspoint based on your recommendation a couple years ago and loved it. In addition, the experience involved discovering the odd thread afterward that Ellen Kushner went to my college, which not that many people do. Anyhow, as a result of too much to do when I finished that book, I've not gone searching for her others, which I will do now. I so enjoyed reading the interview you linked to, then realizing that I've listened to her on public radio without knowing who else she is. I concur wholeheartedly about the Watcher. Hope that you're well, and I'll be in touch in the real world this week if at all possible.
elfscribe5 at 2008-01-20 18:21 (UTC) (Link)
Hi there E. Hope the holidays were good for you. So glad you enjoyed Swordspoint. I know you'll love both Fall of the Kings and Privilege as well. Mmm, I'd forgotten, if in fact I knew it that Ellen Kushner went to college there. More linkage. I heard her episode about Tolkien on Sound and Spirit (lol, I first wrote Sound and Fury) because my dad taped it for me long before I read her books and I didn't make the connection until later. Funny.
menel at 2008-01-22 03:00 (UTC) (Link)
I am mightily embarrassed to have neither heard of Ellen Kushner or Swordspoint. ::hides::

My only defense is that I don't read a lot of fantasy with the exception of Lord of the Rings and Terry Pratchett's Discworld series. But you've certainly piqued my interest and I'll be sure to check her out the next time I'm at a bookstore. I bet I'll only be able to find Thomas the Rhymer since it sounds like the most 'mainstream' novel. Bookstores here are so FRUSTRATINGLY orthodox. Remember my crazy search for The Persian Boy? And Mary Renault is such a HUGE figure. To this day she's only available in ONE bookstore. Hmph.

To redeem myself, I'd like to say that I love "The Watcher at the Gates" by Gail Godwin. I integrated it into my introductory essay-writing course for college freshmen last year. Students respond to it well. And who can't love that allusion (intentional or not)?
elfscribe5 at 2008-01-22 17:36 (UTC) (Link)
There is a trickle of mainstream published fantasy novels out there with gay main characters, but not too many. Mercedes Lackey wrote a trilogy with gay protagonists as did Lynn Flewelling, but I felt they were both fairly typical fantasy fare. Ellen Kushner's series is one of the few that I think is really good. There are a number of reasons why I love them. One, in Ellen Kushner's world, gay sex is acceptable and not even particularly remarkable, except as another point of gossip. In fact, bisexuality is the norm. Therefore, sexuality, whether het or slash sort of blends in, rather than becoming an issue. (Hopefully, the world of the future.)Secondly, her books are quite well-written, peopled with very well realized and engaging characters. Her Alec character is one of a kind. I especially love that most of her characters are smart. I've read too many stories, particularly in fantasy or sci fi, where you want to scream at the characters, "why the hell are you doing that? Are you an idiot?" Also her world is not set in the typical post-Tolkienesque medieval realm but more like Renaissance Europe and it has a fully developed class system, with the elite on one side and the underclass on the other. I enjoyed that. Her characters are very real people with virtues and foibles. She characterizes Swordspoint as a novel of manners, and like Dangerous Liaisons, much of the plot can turn on the arch of an eyebrow. There are a few plot problems with her first novel, Swordspoint. In particular one main character sort of disappears halfway through, but that is more than made up by its strengths.

Fall of the Kings, co-written with Ellen's real life partner, Delia Sherman, takes place in the same world about 70 years later than Swordspoint and focusses on the world of the university in which the main character is engaged in the pursuit of truth about the past with the novel approach of searching for actual documentary evidence rather than utilizing the usual method of his colleagues who rely on endlessly analyzing the classic treatises of later historians. As an academic I know you'd love it. And there is a lot more to it: intrigue, politics, ancient history.

Privilege of the Sword is her most recent book, but actually takes place maybe 10 years after the events in Swordspoint, so it might be fun to read Swordspoint and then Privilege and then Fall of the Kings. PotS's main character is a woman, and she's a great character. And of course, all the books have main characters who are gorgeous, lusty boys.
All of them can be had at Amazon for modest prices and you can get used copies at a steal, although personally I think it is good to support people like Ellen Kushner who are writing good quality slashy books.
menel at 2008-01-23 03:49 (UTC) (Link)
Mercedes Lackey? Lynn Flewelling? Good grief, I don't know these people. o_O

But since you described their work as "fairly typical fantasy fare," I don't feel terrible. I suppose that's why I don't read much fantasy to begin with. So much of it feels derivative and not very well-written. Much of sci-fi is the same, but I'm more 'tolerant' of it, or at least have made more of an effort in the sci-fi genre. To be fair, all genre fiction has its pitfalls, but fantasy and sci-fi seem to get more than their fair share. >_<

Ellen Kushner, however, sounds like a true exception. I was sold on the idea of a world where bisexuality is the norm. Plus, the description of a Renaissance-type Europe, class system and all, greatly appeals to me. Where was it inscribed in stone that fantasy must take place in Medieval-type times? Is it all the requisite princesses and dragons that keep us in the world of Arthurian legend? And let's not forget, 'a novel of manners.' I do so love the machinations and subtlety of those worlds. You've reminded me that I don't own Dangerous Liasons. Must do something about that...

It's a good suggestion to read the three novels chronologically. (I actually do prefer to read things chronologically when it's possible.) The only problem with that is I'll end up reading Fall of the Kings last and you're right, it's the one I'd be most interested in since it's set in the world of the university and has all those terrific ingredients. It sounds like The Name of the Rose meets Possession with hot, lusty men! How can you go wrong? LOL.

Anyway, I'll do my best to buy Ellen Kushner at a proper bookstore. Amazon orders are quite rare for me (relatively speaking) since I refuse to pay for international shipping. (I did once and the price coupled with the local tax was exorbitant.) That means I have to wait for friends or family to come back to Manila and bring my stuff back with them. In the meantime, I'll look for her in the local bookstores. As much as possible I support writers as well. Although I do a fair amount of secondhand book shopping, it's for different reasons, usually for the joy of the unexpected find. The Persian boy really was an exception. I was getting so desperate that I was searching for it EVERYWHERE. Hopefully, Ellen Kushner won't be the same.

Thanks for all this info!
elfscribe5 at 2008-01-24 01:03 (UTC) (Link)
Wish you luck in finding them. I didn't know you lived in Manila. I have a relative who lives in Calapan. Cool.
elfscribe5 at 2008-01-26 04:27 (UTC) (Link)
You could read Fall of the Kings first and it wouldn't be terrible as it is enough different with almost all different characters, it is a generation later than Swordspoint and everything is explained but some references like the ghost of the swordsman would not carry the same weight. There are little things in the subsequent books that harken back to Swordspoint almost like little things dropped into a Star Trek movie for fans to slaver over. Hope you find them. If not, I'll be happy to find them over here and send.
I love to share my obsessions. *g*
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