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An Interview with Author Orson Scott Card

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A while back, Orson Scott Card was kind enough to leave a comment on one of my posts about his story "Stonefather" (released recently in novella form). We had a short e-mail conversation after that and he graciously agreed to let me interview him.

Orson Scott Card is the author of such important works in science fiction as Ender's Game, Empire, Seventh Son, Magic Street, and many, many more.

Q: What was the inspiration for the "Stonefather" short story and your upcoming book The Lost Gate?

OSC: I invented the world of Westil back in 1976-1977, at the time I wrote my story "Sandmagic," set in that world. I created a series of maps showing the history of the world; I invented a magic system that I loved and wanted to use.

What I didn't have was a story. Now I do. "Stonefather" was a plunge back into the world, to see if there was a story that was not so dark as "Sandmagic." I think it worked exactly as I wanted it to. Meanwhile, the story I'm going to tell in The Lost Gate and its sequels is set in the interface between Earth and Westil (and, as will be revealed, yet a third world).

Orson Scott Card at Life, the Universe, & Ever...Q: Most of your books seem to have common themes, such as everyday magic and redemption. Many of them also involve characters in difficult situations making tough choices. What draws you to these themes in your writing?

OSC: I don't think of these as themes – certainly I don't plan them. To me, the thing that makes stories interesting is tough choices. I'm drawn to good people having to choose between bad alternatives. (Maybe that's why I feel so much in harmony with K.J. Parker's writing – long, deeply detailed human stories about people who are really trying to do good things and always ending up causing horrible ones.)

But what you said about "everyday magic." I never thought of it that way. But since magic is always a "supernatural means to power," it occurs to me now for the first time that maybe I'm unconsciously extrapolating the way we Mormons live our religion into the way my fictional characters use their magic. That is, we live our religion in a practical way, and believe that our daily work is a natural part of our connection with spiritual things. Indeed, our concept of what is "spiritual" has zero mystical content. It's just a fact of life. So maybe that attitude inadvertently shows up in my fiction. Certainly I feel no affinity with fantasy novels that get all mystical about magic. To me, it never feels "real" – as even fantasy must feel real in order to engage our concern and belief.

Q: With all your successes, are you more careful with what you publish these days for fear of offending your fans? Or are you still experimenting and exploring writing and stories for the fun of it?

OSC: I have very good readers: With the exception of Empire, I've never had any kind of heated response. And even with Empire, it wasn't my fans, it was those who have declared themselves my political enemies who chose to detect political bias in it. (There wasn't any – I simply created the characters as I believe they would be, and the overall "message," insofar as there was one, was absolutely non-partisan.)

So I never write with any kind of fear of offending. My readers may not care equally for all that I write, but neither do they condemn. Some books sell lots of copies; other books sell less; but I have to write the stories I believe in or care about. I wouldn't know how to write any other way. Each book and story then must find its own audience.

Of course, I'm not an idiot. If I can think of a story in the Ender universe and write it well, it will go a lot further toward feeding my family. But I can't write endlessly in that universe – I need to write other things, too, or my soul would dry up. So I write those. And I have such wonderful publishers that all the different stories get published.

Q: You are a prolific writer with a long career. Where do you find the inspiration for your various stories and settings?

OSC: All stories come from the relationship among people and between them and their communities. I get excited about writing in a milieu to exactly the degree that it allows me to tell stories in which those relationships are compellingly interesting and truthful.

Q: With the Internet in all its forms (blogs, websites, Twitter, wikis, etc.), what role does it play in how you pursue your writing and do research? And what would you recommend to other writers as they pursue their own writing goals?

OSC: I exploit the folks who come to my website at Hatrack.com. With their help, I'm able to be reminded of what story threads I've left hanging between sequels; they also help me avoid inconsistencies among the books. It's a great help.

Plus, the Internet allows me to collaborate far more easily when I'm working on a multi-person project. Things fly back and forth instantly.

Q: I know the Ender series has been looked at time and again to be made into a movie, but hasn't happened as yet. If you were going to tackle the adaptation of one of your works as a television series, mini-series, or movie (on television or on the big screen), which of your works would you attempt and why?

OSC: Apart from my seemingly lifelong work creating new scripts of Ender's Game and its related storylines, the stories I most want to see adapted as films or other screen work are my romantic comedies: Magic Street, Enchantment, Homebody, Treasure Box. These were written to be movies. They would work brilliantly, if only studio executives were capable of understanding how stories actually work. Instead, they read scripts in terror, unwilling to jump at anything that doesn't sound like every other picture ever made.

Q: How does the game market (computer and console as well as roleplaying games) influence your work as an author?

OSC: Not at all, except when I'm engaged (for hire or as a partner) to write for a videogame or write novels related to a game world. The gaming world imitates what I write, not the other way around. Long before the public had access to the Internet, I wrote about multi-player online games, for instance, and have turned out to be quite right about the way it would work, even if I missed some details (like how graphic and action-oriented the games would be).

Q: I read in a 2007 interview you did with Gaming Today that you were a Civilization 2 addict. I can identify and have had my own Civilization addict through several versions of the game. Have you played anything recently, computer or console game-wise, that you've enjoyed?

OSC: I keep trying to quit. Your question is like asking an addict if he's found any cool new drugs. I try not to.

Q: Lastly, I'm guessing that since you've been hard at work on Lost Gate, you've had little time for pleasure reading. However, I'm wondering who some of your favorite authors are at the moment?

OSC: On the contrary, I HAVE to read in order to keep my brain full. I already mentioned the brilliant K.J. Parker. I also just read Neil Shusterman's brilliant new novel Antsy Does Time – and don't forget his Everlost. James Maxey's Bitterwood and Dragonforge are wonderful; I delighted in The Magicians and Mrs. Quent by Galen Beckett. And everybody should be looking forward to Ken Scholes's Lamentation – it is astonishingly original and unforgettably moving. And I'm assuming that everyone has already read Patrick Rothfuss's The Name of the Wind.

Add to that my constant reviewing of mystery novels and other books of all kinds in my "Uncle Orson Reviews Everything" column, and I think my answer to this question is covered.   

I'd like to thank Mr. Card for being so gracious to answer my interview questions. And I'm very excited to read The Lost Gate when it comes out from Del Rey in Fall 2009. Mr. Card was nice enough to let me read a chapter of that book that I will hopefully get a chance to post a review of it very soon!

p.s. Be sure to check out Stonefather in its novella form that was just released! And if you've not read his other works, check those out as well!

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About Fitz

Fitz is a software engineer and writer who lives in Colorado Springs, CO, with his family and pets, trying to survive the chaos!