Author interview with Steven Erikson
Steven Erikson is an archaeologist and anthropologist and a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His Malazan Book of the Fallen series, including The Crippled God, Dust of Dreams, Toll the Hounds and Reaper’s Gale, have met with widespread international acclaim and established him as a major voice in the world of fantasy fiction. The first book in the series, Gardens of the Moon, was shortlisted for a World Fantasy Award. The second novel, Deadhouse Gates, was voted one of the ten best fantasy novels of 2000 by SF Site. He lives in Canada.
Hi Steven, welcome to The Book Plank and for taking your time to answer these few questions for us.
BP: First off could you give us a short introduction as to who Steven Erikson is? What do you like to do in your spare time? What are your likes and dislikes?
SE: ‘Steven Erikson’ is the pen-name an early publisher of mine insisted I invent to distinguish my ‘Fantasy’ writing from my ‘serious fiction.’ They never understood that I took writing Fantasy seriously (most of the time). Since then, Steven Erikson has waged a relatively quiet but sustained campaign for the legitimacy of the genre. Epic Fantasy is at the core of all literature. It’s where it all began. As for spare time, what spare time? As for likes and dislikes, well, I tend to express those in the stories I write. Best place for it.
BP: Your first book, Garden of the Moon, was published back in 1999, did you know when and where you decided that you wanted to become an author?
SE: It was back in ’83 that I first entertained the notion of becoming an author. That was the year I got accepted into an undergraduate creative writing degree at the University of Victoria, and on the heels of that acceptance, I dropped out of a Master’s program in archaeology. Incidentally, I got the news (re UVic) from my mother, over a bad phone line, with her in Winnipeg and me in a sweltering phone booth at the Telephone Station in Belize City – at loose ends after the dig I was working on wrapped up. That was a perfect moment.
BP: Why did you choose to publish your books under the pseudonym of Steven Erikson?
SE: See above. Curiously, after Gardens of the Moon came out and gained some notoriety, that previous publisher came back to me and said that they’d changed their mind and were not happy for me to use my real name. By then, alas, it was too late.
BP: You wrote the first book in the Malazan Empire of the Fallen series, transforming the Malazan World from table top to a book. This must have been a daunting task, how did you go about planning and starting to write it?
SE: It took a number of iterations, first as a possible world-book for roleplay gaming, then a film script, and finally a novel. At that youngish age, nothing is daunting. Ambition blazes, impatience consumes, and all you want and need is permission to do it (which is what a book deal gives). Granted, it took a while for all of that to happen – eight years before I found a publisher for Gardens of the Moon.
BP: The Malazan Empire of the Fallen books have garnered a lot of success, had you ever dared to imagine that it would be such a success?
SE: I don’t really know how to measure success. It’s still a rather polarizing series (and Willful Child is going to be the same, I’m sure). In terms of outward symbols of success, there are virtually none: Gardens of the Moon was shortlisted for a World Fantasy Award, but didn’t win, and none of the other books in the series even got that far. The tenth and final novel was released without much fanfare – I didn’t even get a US tour on that one. So, the whole thing felt as if it had dropped off the edge of the earth. And yet, so far at least, it continues to find readers, which is in the end the only worthwhile recognition a writer could want.
BP: Now for the last question on the Malazan series, who is your favorite character?
SE: They all are, and I miss them.
BP: OK, your latest book, Willful Child is something completely different. Space Opera and Science Fiction. Why? What gave you the idea to write it?
SE: I have been a Trekker since before the label ever existed. As a child I watched the first run of the Original Series. As a published author, I have always wanted to write in that universe. I always read SF while writing Fantasy (to keep away any possible influences in tone and voice and story; and because I love SF), but I always found the idea of writing SF somewhat intimidating. I don’t have a physics background beyond high school (and that was a long time ago!). I’m not the guy to invent an FTL drive, or talk about vectors and momentum and mass and all that hard-core stuff. But I love the idea of space and exploration and encounters and all the rest. Willful Child came about in the wake of a Star Trek novel I began and then abandoned, and an SF series I co-wrote with some friends called The Dark, originally intended to air on the web. But even that isn’t really where it all began. I have an irreverent streak, especially when it comes to things I dearly love. Having lived in the UK, I observed first hand that very British style of humour that takes the piss out of the things one likes. Anyway, Willful Child’s been in the works for about a decade, as an idea, until eventually I dropped everything else and wrote the damned thing, more or less inventing details on the fly. The deplorable and irrepressible character of Captain Hadrian Sawback more or less barged onto the page, in all his cringing glory, and he gave me permission to let loose.
BP: With The Malazan series being such a success, did you have any added pressure when you were writing Willful Child?
SE: Not particularly. The pressure that exists regarding Willful Child is the sure knowledge that it’s going to trigger very strong opinions. Humour’s tricky business, it’s very personal. I wrote what amused me and can only hope that it amuses someone else, too, enough of them to make the novel a success, which in turn gives me permission to write more adventures in Hadrian’s universe. I’m hoping that it finds an audience, especially since I have two follow-up novels already planned.
BP: You have been writing mainly Epic, heroic fantasy, was it hard for you to switch to writing Science Fiction?
SE: No! It was a blast. The book pretty much wrote itself, barreling along at light-speed. Seventy-five thousand words in three weeks. I find that when I’m writing for laughs, it goes fast. It’s all off the cuff, in a way, once I decide on the angle of humour I’m going to take. Willful Child is cringe comedy. Laughter with a wince.
BP: Willful Child will be published on the 6th of November, if you would have to sell your book with a single sentence, how would it go?
SE: What if a starship captain’s only role model was James Tiberius Kirk?
BP: Did you encounter any specific problems when you were writing Willful Child?
SE: Well, we’re dealing with a sexist character, a creature of the ‘Sixties. But of course the sexism of the ‘Sixties has never really gone away. If anything, it’s gotten uglier (thanks to the anonymity of the internet). So, Hadrian was going to be offensive, and that was going to hit or it was going to miss, and reactions were likely to be extreme. The only rule I held to with him was that with respect to sexual encounters, whatever he did and whatever happened to him was going to be consensual (even when it goes horribly awry). The man’s an eternal optimist. He just wants to get laid. All the time. With anyone. Hadrian owes more to the literary legacy of Flashman than Buck Rogers, along with a blend of the Stainless Steel Rat, James Bond, and Maxwell Smart (and for you anglophiles out there, Allan Partridge).
BP: Which part of Willful Child did you find the hardest to write about?
BP: Besides the hardest part of Willful Child, which chapter, scene or character did you enjoy writing about the most?
SE: Well, I had a lot of fun with the ship’s alien doctor, Printlip. Basically a giant beachball with lots of arms and lots of eyes-on-stalks and two feet clad in Dutch clogs, who deflates when speaking. Hadrian’s not very nice to him, but then, just maybe, Printlip’s not very nice to Hadrian either.
BP: If you would be given the chance to retract any passage from Willful Child or make one final adjustment, would you do so? And if yes, which part and why?
SE: Hmm, that sounds like a leading question. You fishing here? The key to writing a novel like this one is that the restraints need to be shucked off – there is no way I could write it being fearful of what might offend people or disgust them, or whatever. In fact, there’s so much that’s offensive about Hadrian, it’s kinda the point of it. Besides, if Hadrian’s got a hate on for kittens, that’s his problem, not mine.
BP: Now that Willful Child will be published soon, do you have any other projects that you wish to pursue in the near future? Can we expect more non-Malazan books?
SE: I hope to do more Willful Child novels (The Wrath of Betty, The Search for Spark, etc); and I have in mind a non-comic Earth-based military SF novel).
BP: Everyone enjoys fantasy and science fiction in their own way, what do you like most about it?
SE: I like a story well-told and well-written, and I like to feel that the author’s done some serious thinking about what they’re up to.
BP: If you would have to give your top 5 favorite books, which would they be?
SE: I’ll select five that are relevant to Willful Child. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday; any of the Flashman novels (but especially Flashman! And Flashman and the Great Game), as well as Frazer’s The Pyrates; and Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
BP: And just lastly, can you give us a sneak peek as to what will be in store for the readers of Willful Child?
SE: “We humans have been the butt end of galactic jokes ever since we stumbled into space. Well, that ends now. Space … it’s a helluva place to kick some ass!” -- Captain Hadrian Sawback, AFS Willful Child.
BP: Thank you very much for your time Steven and good luck with your future writing!