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Interview with Lois M. Bujold

by S.Lewis

From DreamWeaver's Dillema, 1996

This essay was generated from two phone interviews with Lois on July 11 and 27,1995. I had sent her seven pages of questions in preparation. I have edited and reorganized our conversations and deleted the extraneous parts, like most of my questions and remarks. If the structure or phrasing appears occasionally awkward, blame me. Any remnants of my part are in a different (blue) font, like this.

Suford Lewis

You've mentioned, in the essays reprinted here, something of your family and your father's career. Given the times, your mother probably had "hands full being a faculty wife and raising you and your brothers. What is your mother like?

My mother is still alive and thriving at 84, living in her own condo. I had a more difficult relationship with her than I did with my father. I was one of those teenage girls who did not get along with her mother. She was very much trying to turn me into something other than what I was. I was not following "the script" but she did a lot for me. C. S. Lewis observed that men were more inclined to respect peoples rights and women were more inclined to perform services. That fits my parents very well. My father was much more inclined to respect people s individuality and my mother was very much more inclined to do things for them. She was very active, and I got to do a lot of stuff because of the physical support I got from her. Heaven knows the hours she stood around while I got riding lessons.

My mother was about ready to go back to school when she had me. She never quite got through college; she had a couple of false starts, then gave up after the third kid came along. She was interested in painting at one point. I keep thinking she might start again, but she has not done so. There are some buried abilities in her somewhere; once she mentioned that she had been ambitious to be an architect, then decided out loud that this must have been the homemaking instinct at work. But I think-no-she really wanted to be an architect

I don't think she had her opportunities in the era in which she grew up, but the life she ended up with was very nice. For both my parents their lives represented a self-made step forward. They were both from Pittsburgh. My father's father had been a warehouse foreman. He had to quit school in the 8th grade to help support the family, because his father had died young. Su lie never completed his education, but some of his older brothers did and they went on to become engineers. My dad made it out of depression Pittsburgh on scholarship, then ended up at Cal Tech just before World War II

He had the most amazing set of teachers. All the top people were there at the time: Oppenheimer, Carl Anderson,...his Ph.D. is signed by Robert Millikan. The oil drop experiment Millikan! There was all that background, and that, of course, was where I picked up my caste for science fiction, because being an old Cal Tech man he read Analog (then Astounding) and other things. Back in the '50s and early '60s when I was just starring to read adult literature, this was what was lying around and available

My mother couldn't see how it would lead to anything useful, in her world-view, so it was like: "Why are you sitting around all day reading that silly science fiction? Can't you read something worthwhile, history or something?" I think it's only gradually beginning to dawn on her-at this late hour-that there is some utility to this art after all, now that I'm making a living at it. Since it was something my dad liked, it came recommended to me, and you could never have convinced me that it was not top drawer. My mother does not particularly relate to fiction anyway, and science fiction was just not comprehensible to her

I got through a couple of piano lessons-didn't practice. It became obvious that it was money down the drain, and mother being the economical sort, the piano lessons ceased. I have no musical talent whatsoever. It's not one of my native abilities. It was futile to give me music lessons, it just didn't stick

I had a pony. When I was about four we moved our to what was then country, but is now suburb-my entire childhood is paved over. Up the road, about a quarter mile, was the riding club, and next to it a farm where an old retired gentleman kept ponies. This was a magnet for me. In due course I managed to inveigle a pony, so I was into pony riding from the 2nd through 7th grade. We boarded the pony at Amor Bogens farm. That was a nice period of my life. I didn't appreciate it then because it seemed normal to me, but in retrospect it really was an amazing set-up: fields to ride over, being gone all day to the barn, on my own. I took care of my pony when I rode, shampooed him for the little horse shows they had out in back at the riding club, fun stuff

It was important for me; got me outdoors; it was something independent that I could do. I got my first taste of competition in the little horse shows. That was formative in some odd ways and, of course, I use all the horse stuff. I even manage to recycle it into my science fiction

It's ail real horse stuff. Anybody who has been through it recognizes when they are in the hands of a writer who's not confused about what horses really do. Somebody I knew held a foal to teach it that they were bigger than it was. That's something that is actually done. So that got immediately snabbled up and put in

It was j use me that rode. Everybody in my family had their own particular mode of transportation. My eldest brother was interested in flying and got his glider pilot's license at age 14. He's still in competition. In fact, I saw him recently on his way back from a glider contest in Utah or New Mexico, or somewhere out there next to Texas. That's still an avocation for him. His eyesight was not good enough for him to become a professional pilot, or I think he would have done that

My middle brother got interested in trains. He had this enormous model train set down in the basement. Whenever we went touring, he would always go cake pictures of the railroad yards. Trains are cool. I remember going on railfan trips with the family, back in my very distant youth. All the kids' hobbies were supported variously. Transportation was made available and permission was granted. You could do things in my family. I thought it was normal. Basically I was interested in horses and I went directly from horses to science fiction: Marguerite Henry, Misty of Chincoteague, et al., to Robert Heinlein with no intervening stops

My brothers are 6 and 8 years older than I am. I think I was not entirely planned, but my parents were glad to get a girl after two boys. There is enough age distance between me and my brothers that there is almost a generation gap. I graduated from high school in 1967 and hit college in the worst years from 1968 to 1972. They had already been through college and were out before things got really strange. So they belong almost to the preceding generation

One brother now has three sons and my other brother has a son and a daughter. But they were off and living out of state by the time those kids came along, so I don't have a whole lot of contact with my nieces and nephews. We live in different states so we just have the occasional holiday visit. That's not enough to have a very complicated relationship

My brothers both went to Ohio State, since my dad was teaching there. That was still the conservative football era, before the smell of tear gas in the morning and other events of my college days. 1971 was the year for Kent State and we had the National Guard on campus. The one incident that I particularly recall was the 11 o'clock class change: they thought it was a riot and fired the tear gas canisters, but it was only the students-forty thousand of them hit the pavement all at once-trying to gee to their next class

Those years were a very confused period. For someone like me who had no clear sense of what they wanted to do with themselves, it was really a waste of a college education. I wandered through majors. I don't know how many other people you know who fit that profile, I suspect quite a few. How many majors? Oh, six maybe. I never stayed with any of them for very long

The one I stayed with longest was biology, In retrospect, the most useful thing I ever did when I was a biology major was take six-week study tour to East Africa-speaking of the things we were allowed to do as kids. At the time I was particularly interested in wildlife and close-up photography, so I ended up with 800 slides of bugs. That was a fascinating trip

The landscape of East Africa got recycled into the landscape of the planet in Shards of Honor. When I sat down to write my first novel, that was in my mind. I was able to swipe it wholesale and stick it in the book. The ecological niches exist. The six-legged critters were sort of hyena-like creatures; the bugs, well, there's all kinds of bugs in East Africa. The vampire balloons were fun

I managed to escape an inordinate amount of education. They made us read Dickens back in high school. But I had already discovered that Shakespeare was cool before high school got to it. I remember how I discovered that Shakespeare was cool; I went to see the Royal Shakespeare Company when I was fifteen. This was-speaking of things that our parents let us do-when I was 15 and my brother was 21; we were hitchhiking in England

How this came about was that my parents had a trip to Europe planned. My dad was going to a technical conference in Paris and they were going to take the summer and drive around. My brother, who was always a scrounger and wheeler-dealer, got a cheaper plane ticket that would take him over three weeks sooner. Somehow I got attached to him and we were both allowed to go together and then meet our parents in Paris. My brother was trying to do it on $5 a day, which meant that we ended up in some very strange places

It was probably also the last period that it would have been reasonably safe for young people to go hitchhiking around the way we did. But the third night we were in England we ended up in Stratford and sort of stumbled into the Royal Shakespeare Company and watched Love's Labors Lost. It just blew me away. So ever afterwards I knew Shakespeare was great because I had seen it, myself. It was a revelation

The weeks hitchhiking in England were really interesting. France, I did not enjoy so well. We went by car through Germany, my parents visited some friends in Reutlingen ( about 20 miles south of Stuttgart and about 8 miles east of Tubingen - S.L.), and then my brother took off north-there'd been an exchange student one year in his high school from Finland, so he went off to Helsinki see her and eventually ended up hitchhiking all the way up around the Arctic Circle and back down Norway

My parents and I went south to Italy by car, and among other things spent a day in Venice-that, too, turns up in my work-so there were a whole bunch of things about that trip that bore fruit much later and in very strange, oblique ways. My initial and only exposure to Italy was then

Oh! those three weeks in England-this is not something that most people let their fifteen-year-old daughters do. I didn't become what I am by accident. It was because I was allowed to grow in a lot of ways that weren't necessarily available to everybody


I had a fling with fandom in my lace teens. I went to Midwestcon and Baycon in 1968. Between '68 and '71 or so, I was active in local Central Ohio fandom. I had been working in a bookstore, one of my first jobs, between high school and college. I hadn't started college yet. I didn't know what I wanted to do. It was actually the book department on the fifth floor of Lazarus, a downtown Columbus department store. It was one of my first ventures into employment. I'm not suited for employment. I'm much better off as a writer. I just worked for a couple of months, up until the Christmas rush

One of the fellows from the local science fiction group came in and we struck up a conversation in front of the SF section and he invited me to come to their meeting. I remember that meeting was in Ron Millers basement. There was Bob Hillis, interested in military history and looking not much different than he looks today; Darroll Pardoe, doing post-graduate work at OSU, and Lloyd Kropp, a graduate student in English at Ohio State. Later I met Bob and Betty Games. It was 20 guys and me. But, of course, I was 19.1 didn't know what to do with it; it was totally wasted on me. That was how I got introduced to fandom. I got to my first Marcon, then Baycon, then went around at St. Louiscon with Connie Reich (she became Connie Reich-Faddis later). She and I roomed together and split the cost

I did my first fanzine on John Ayotte's mimeo. Ron Miller contributed artwork to Lillian Stewart (now Carl)s and my Star Trek fanzine, StarDate. It went one issue. It was invitational. It's now a very rare thing, indeed, and of historical interest only. But it's interesting to see all of us baby artists getting our first fling there

Lillian went on to become, first a fantasy, then a romantic suspense writer and she's now making the transition into mysteries. Ron Miller went on to become a very excellent professional artist. Lloyd Kropp has since published, too. Fanzines now don't seem to be as story and art oriented. They seem to be letters and essays and so on. There doesn't seem to be the room for the fledgling talent there used to be. I think at one time it was a nursery for baby writers

It goes through cycles. There was a time in the early '60's when fanzines were more letters and essays, it's either swinging back or diversifying; NESFA's fanzine, Proper Soskonian, publishes fiction. NE5FA also runs a short story contest exactly to help fledgling writers.

I don't think there's enough outlets for amateur art. The trouble with being an artist or a singer or anything is, with reproduction, with CDs, music and radio, you're always competing with the best in the world. The audience can always flip on their CD or open their book and read the best there is. And you have to compete with that even if you're just a fledgling. It's very tough for an apprentice to get the kind of experience that they need to go on to grow into the full-fledged artist

When I came back as a pro writer, I had already been a fan and had some sense of what the etiquette ought to be. I think I was much better oriented than those writers who come in never having discovered fandom previously and then have to adjust

I started going back to Marcons about 1984, a couple of years before I was published, trying to make contact with people and get somebody to read my stuff. I met mostly new people, but the first person I met, practically when I walked through the door, was Bob Gaines whom I remembered from the old days. He and Bob Hillis and Betty Gaines reintroduced me

Most of my friends in Marion I met at Marcon because there was no way I could meet them here. We didn't work in the same job or cross paths in any way. I had to go to Columbus, the only place we would be brought together. Wes Mecz and R. J. Bicking and Laurie Haldeman are all people I met at Marcon, Barbara Gompf still lives in Marion and works at the Waldenbooks. Fandom gave me a social life that otherwise I had no access to. I like fandom. It can serve a number of purposes for people who are having trouble making connections in any other way. I needed more and Marcon helped me find it. So I have good feelings for fandom

Since I've gotten on the circuit, it's sort of first-come, first-served for conventions and I end up all kinds of unexpected places. I'm tending to look now for conventions in different time zones that send extra plane tickets so I can take my kids. But certainly Marcon, the old Columbus, Ohio, home town convention, was one that I hit every year. It was the hometown con for me. And then others, well, when they invite you as Guest of Honor, they don't usually invite you back the following year to be Guest of Honor again


Marion, Ohio, had its advantages and disadvantages. It's a quiet town of about 30,000. If it had a large state college instead of a large state prison, it would probably be quite a nice place live. It's a bit blue collar. It was a good place for the kids when they were small, but now that they are teenagers they were getting extremely bored. There's not much economic opportunity. We had moved up there for one of my ex-husband's ex-jobs about 1980, hit the Reagan recession about 1982, and there were just no jobs to be had

We had bought a house in Marion and we were not able to sell it and move out. The interest rates had skyrocketed and Marion was one of the places undergoing job shrinkage, so nothing was moving in terms of real estate. We became stuck there. It was an economic black hole and we couldn't get out. That was why I started writing-because I couldn't get a job. We had just had our second child and with a four-year-old and a one-year-old at home, hiring a babysitter in order to take a minimum-wage job just didn't work. It would have taken more than I made, so I had to stay home and be a homemaker and be poor. This got really unpleasant after a while

So I started writing out of desperation. Lillian Stewart Carl, who gets mentioned frequently in my biographical discussions, had started writing again-we used to write together back in high school-and she had done some fan fiction, then started to make some professional sales, and was working on a novel. My life had become very narrow during this period. Basically I knew only the parents of kids my kids age on one block of Spencer Street- a bit of a short horizon for me-but I still was keeping up the correspondence with Lillian, who lived in Dallas. I got the idea that if she could do this, I could do this too; after all, we used to do it together

So I started with a novelette and sent it off to Lillian for critique and she sent it on to Patricia Wrede in Minneapolis, who sent me back this wonderful 14-page letter of comment on my novelette-you've got it in the book here, the one with Chalmys and Anias, "Dreamweaver's Dilemma." Unrevised, I'm afraid. But it's a little slice of my history

"Dreamweaver's Dilemma" was the very first thing that I wrote as an attempt at a professional story as an adult, not counting all the things I did back in high school and college. It stems directly out of being stuck in Marion, Ohio, and having no job and no money and wanting something that I could do that didn't involve hiring a babysitter

I got some nice rejection letters on it. That was reasonably encouraging. Then I went on to the novel. That worked better. I think the novel is my natural length

I have written in various places over the years. First I worked when the kids were napping-then, of course, they got older and stopped taking naps. I was at this time writing all my first drafts in longhand; this was before I had a word processor. My first book and a half was transcribed onto my old college report typewriter. Actually Shards of Honor sorted in a spiral binder, but I soon switched to a three-ring notebook and would write in pencil. Then I could cart the thing around. I cook it off to the Marion public library to work, because it was the only place I could get quiet. I would break down and hire a babysitter or go out during some of the hours that my husband was home, and get in work sessions at the library

I wrote the first three novels before I sold any of them. So from the time I started in 1982 until the fall of 1985 I was getting zero dollars for this thing, except for the one short story that I sold to The Twilight Zone Magazine. I'm not sure that my family believed in it. My dad bought me my first word processor, a Coleco Adam if you can believe it, so he gave me some real practical support. He was a writer and technical editor, himself-300 papers, 17 patents-so I think he understood the process a little better than the rest of my family. But they stayed out of the way enough so that I was able to get the work done

My husband was neutral, pretty much. He wasn't against it. I was not necessarily believed in, but I was cooperated with. So, up through the time I finished Falling Free, I wrote in the library. And then along about the rime I started Brothers in Arms, my youngest child started school. Then I could work at home during school hours. I have worked at home ever since. I would either sit out on the front porch or up in my bedroom, or possibly in the living room. It was hard to find a space to be alone in

It's only in the last two years that I've been able to work directly on the computer, simply because I didn't have the physical space before. I was not alone in the house enough. Last summer I got a little tiny computer desk that I put in my bedroom by my dresser, and, when I put the end flap down, I could just open my closet door. That's been good because I finally had a room with a door I could close

Before, I had had my computer down in the back of the dining room, which was an ell into the living room. The only time I could work would be when everybody was gone, which was a little hard to arrange. I could answer letters and stuff when the kids were watching television, but I couldn't do first drafts on the computer. Moving it up to my bedroom allowed me to make the transition from writing in the notebook to writing directly on the computer, because I had that little bubble of private space, small as it was. And when I moved to Minneapolis, I got an office! My own room! Me and Virginia Woolf!

In Marion, the "brag shelf" was down in the dining room; now it's in my new office. It's kind of an archive. I've discovered that keeping this stuff has not only ego qualities, it has also some practical use in that you can always pull the book off the shelf and see when the first publication date was, copyright information and so on. That turns out to be valuable. I've got a copy of -the first edition of everything all lined up: the Easton Press, the Baen paperbacks, the British paperbacks, and all the German, Spanish, Italian... So I've got about two shelves going on to a third, now.. .various things, including copies of all the Analogs in which I've had serials

When I got my first Nebula, I kept it on the shelf over my sink for a while rather than on the mantel because I felt I could look at it more often that way. It did tend to get splashed a bit, which was unfortunate. When I won my first Hugo, it didn't fit on the shelf over my sink, so I moved them all to the mantel in a very nice symmetrical arrangement

Early in my career, one of my correspondents, who has, alas, now died, was a gentleman who lived in Newark, Ohio, a 76-year-old retired Army sergeant by the name of John Conlon. He read my stuff and we fell into a correspondence for a while. He sent me a photograph of Poul Andersons mantel with the note scrawled on the back "Poul Anderson Spaceport." It looked like it: There was this forest of spaceships, Nebulas, things 1 couldn't even identify, packed, one into the other. Gave me something to be ambitious for: yes! I want Poul Andersons mantel. It seemed beyond my reach at that time, but now when I look at my mantel, I think, oh I'm getting there! It's scary

Recognition takes a certain amount of rime. You have to be there long enough for people find you. It's just the way the award process works. The mechanics of it do not favor instant success. Once in a while you get a William Gibson. Usually, it takes longer to penetrate the market. 1986, the year my stuff first came out, was Orson Scott Card's year. He had been building his momentum up for the whole previous decade reach that point. That was the year it all bore fruit for him

I needed a similar run to get the momentum going. The recognition came in its due course. I think perhaps The Vor Game wouldn't have been my first pick, even at the time, for my favorite book to win a Hugo, but there is no such thing as a bad Hugo. I was extremely pleased when Barrayar won the following year, because that really was one of my favorites. It had the underlying structure... I remember sitting and watching the Hugo slide retrospective at Orlando, the year Barrayar won, and the fans are pretty darn good; they don't always pick the right books but they get the right authors. They recognize the right people, I think, in the Hugo process. It does sort itself out over time

Ones own favorite book changes. Usually you're in love with whatever the present or immediately preceding book is. Then you transfer your affections forward each new project, which is how you get excited enough to write it. The list is always shifting from the author's point of view. My very, very favorite-of-all-time book may be one I haven't written yet. Mirror Dance is my frontrunner for very personal reasons, but that may shift. It's that phenomenon: whatever you've worked on most recently is the favorite child

I have been invited to write both Star Trek and Star Wars novels and I have turned them down. Not through any sense of superior artistic merit or anything but simply because I write from the inside out; I can't write from the outside in. I can't do shared universe stuff because that isn't the way I generate story. The universe is the last thing I create and it's created to fit the story and the characters. So when you start with the universe, everything's backwards for me. I would love to be a hack writer, but I don't know how. I have a lot of respect for them. I think that it must be extremely hard to bend your mind around something not of you and make it work to do something creative. I think it's a heck of a lot harder than people realize

There was a time when I would have loved to have written a Star Trek novel, but it was long ago and they didn't want me then. Now that they do, I've grown beyond that; I have things of my own that I would rather pursue. And I do/ It's like one of those sad romance stories where two ships pass in the night. I have missed my opportunity to be a Star Trek writer


I do not have a typical writing schedule because writing is a rare privilege that I can't always arrange to have happen. I do not write every day. I wish I could. But let us take a period in the winter when the kids are in school. They'll get up and depart in the morning, and I'll get up and get coffeed up. If I've been on a roll, I will perhaps outline the night before. I find that my creativity works in stages. I've learned to use the outline as part of it. I will make a handwritten-in-pencil-in-a-notebook outline of a particular scene or group of scenes that I'm working on

I will outline and I will re-outline, in layers. I will start with a broad outline: this is the sequence of events for the next three chapters. Then these three scenes ought to make up the first chapter or thereabouts. Sometimes the scenes grow or shrink and I end up shirting them around from chapter to chapter. Then I will capture a package of scenes that looks like it should be about a chapter long. I will narrow down and I will work on it scene by scene. My basic work unit is always the scene. When I sit down for an actual session at the word processor, my outline will be of the scene that I am working on at that time

I script or choreograph my dialog sections, and will sit up in bed the night before and work our what these people say each other and what order it falls in, and scribble these down as little penciled notes. I will sit down the next morning with all these penciled notes at the computer and try to put it into a coherent flowing scene that goes from beginning to middle to end. Sometimes I'll get a whole scene in during a work session and sometimes it's broken up over a couple of days

I'm quite spoiled now. I'm working in big chunks. I used to have to break almost every paragraph because my time was much more cut up. Now I can actually sit and work for several hours at a stretch. It's quite luxurious. I will have my package of scenes, finally. Somewhere or another I will feel that I am at the end of a chapter, and I will hit my "Ah! that line! That line's a good one to stop on. Let's stop here." Then I print out my chapter and that's what gets seen by my test readers

I take my printed-out chapter, I read it to my writers' group, I try it on several friends, including Lillian and Pat-we've had this round-robin writer's workshop by mail for years. It gets critiqued and marked up and goes into the notebook to wait. When I have the book done, I go back through for another pass and try to put in all the corrections and changes and things that test readers have quibbled about, try to meet their objections. That will become the draft chat I send off to Baen Books

By the time Baen sets it, it's been gone over by half a dozen sets of eves besides my own, so Baen's editing rends to be not very invasive. They'll come up with things from time time that they want, like, beef up the bad guys' security. It rends to be at the macro level. They do not micro-edit, It works out. I'll make whatever changes Baen wants-which are not too onerous- and that is the final draft. When I see it again it will be galley proofs

Names are such a pain. I work on them. I comb the telephone directories. I stare into my refrigerator at brand names and try to do permutations on them. I wander around the house mumbling, "What should I call these people?" They might be called "X" through half a scene until I come up with the right name. I'm really sorry about the Vor system, and the way I set it up, because if I want to write a story that's set on Barrayar, so many people have names that start with "Vor" that it is almost incomprehensible. I have to find ways of limiting what we call these people so they aren't all Vorwhatever

Dialogue is one of those things which I have to have that inspired moment for. I have to be able to sit down and visualize, hear it in my head. I get the characters talking to each other in a room in my head and write down what they say. It does not come from the logical level of my mind. There's a lot of writing that you can do logically: OK, they're having a fight scene, they have do this, this physical action has to follow that physical action, and it doesn't require inspiration. But dialogue seems to require more, it seems to come out of the back brain somewhere, and the conditions have to be right. That's one of the reasons I choreograph and script dialogue. I'll get a piece of it going and get it captured and written down, and once I have the flow of it, then I can sit down and write the full scene with all the "he said"s and "she said"s and get all the tags put in and the actions and the eyebrows and what-not

Dialogue is very much like writing a drama or a screenplay. It's a very fast form of action and very subtle. Tones of voice and odd things that people say can alter the course of how the action flows. It's tricky. It's the trickiest bit to write and the most challenging. I'll make several passes through it before I get everything in the right order, all the good bits that I've come up with will be arranged properly to flow one into another

Sometimes the characters will come up with some comment or something that I hadn't planned at all. It jusc falls out onto the page and there it is. It works much better that way. I love it when it's coming straight out of the back brain. Then it's almost always right. The part of my mind that writes is not linear, although it has to go through this linear process and be put down line by line. It's something really global and complex and chaotic that pops that stuff up out of apparently nowhere, but it's not really nowhere. I think Marvin Minsky is onto something with his mentation model of different actors that go off and process, generate things and present their results to the mainstream every once in a while. He's a very bright person. People s heads do not work in a linear fashion. It's more complicated and interesting and fun than that


Next to science fiction, mystery is my favorite genre. Science fiction, fantasy, and mystery were what I read: the Sherlock Holmes stories, Dorothy L. Sayers, mostly British mysteries. I never got into hard-boiled detective, but I loved the British stuff. The intellectual challenge versus the forces of darkness a la Sherlock Holmes. Somehow that has a deep appeal, not only to me but to many other people in our culture, I suppose that's why it's so popular. Mystery is something I think in terms of. It's internalized for me. It's what I think of as a fun story. So when I sit down to write a fun story, I fall back on the things that I thought were fun. And mystery was definitely one of these

I have to tell you something about the Sherlock Holmes pastiche, which you sucked out of my desk drawer for this Boskone Book. It was the only thing I wrote after college, but before my professional period started, back when I was working at OSU hospitals. (I should, by the way, apologize for the fact that it seems to be missing the last couple of pages. All I had of it was a bad photocopy, the original is long lost, I couldn't for the life of me remember how I wound it up, and this year has been too insanely busy for me to even try to patch something on.) But this piece taught me something profoundly important about writing, probably the most important thing I ever learned, that has nothing to do with the writing process or anything I've ever heard mentioned in literature class

I wrote it in longhand in about two weeks, during breaks at work and at home, and typed it up. There followed the immediate and perpetual problem of getting someone-anyone!-to read it. I was working on the eye surgery unit at the time, but I'd struck up conversations with a patient visiting from another floor, whom I'd spotted reading colorful paperbacks-westerns, but close enough. So I asked him if he'd read it. To understand the rest of this story, you have to go now and read the opening couple of paragraphs of that pastiche. All right, done? So. He read the opening page, put it down, and wandered off

Too late, I recalled he was visiting from oncology, where he was being treated for a vicious cancer. I wanted to fall through the floor. In my eagerness to Be Read, who I was being Read By never even crossed my mind, nor that it might give him this unintended but obvious hurt

No, writers can't be held responsible for how any random loon may misread them, but I have never since forgotten that writing and reading are two ends of one process; every pitch has a catch, every song an ear, every bullet a live target that bleeds and cries. Writing is a live-fire exercise

It was the beginning of my now much deeper understanding of just exactly how readers complete what I do, and how much I need them, and why I feel something close to a moral imperative to "give delight and hurt not." I wouldn't be a critic for any money

Looking back, I've read the Mark Twain, Alexandre Dumas kind of classics, but most of my reading is genre reading. I've never internalized literature with a capital "L." That is not my idea of something to read chat's fun, that people would buy. It's outside of my experience, almost. So I tend to write the things that I have read: mysteries, science fiction, fantasy, history, of course, lots of that, not too much other non-fiction, no true crime, for example. What goes in is what comes out. Oh-and romance. I came late to romances. I didn't start reading romances till I was in my twenties. Well, and I admit to some Henry James

I don't know where my military images and metaphors come from. I was in the Civil Air Patrol for six weeks in high school, but that was a short-term effort. I have read some military history. The first thing that started me in that direction was seeing Lawrence of Arabia. The picture came out when Lillian and I were in junior high school. We went to see it seven times. Then I immediately went out and read Seven Pillars of Wisdom, which when I was 15 was just way over my head but I read it anyway. It's one of those books I reread every decade because it keeps changing

I was interested also in WWII during high school, I think probably triggered by television shows char caught my interest. I can remember watching Combat and The Wackiest Ship in the Army and of course there were all those WWII films kicking around at the time. I read about all those WWII prison camps, and that, of course, later came out in the story "The Borders of Infinity" when I wrote my prison camp story

Science fiction action-adventure was what I used to read back in my teens, so it's imprinted. The Flandry stories were among the very first that I read, and the early Heinlein, Asimov (the R. Daneel Olivaw mysteries: The Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun)-speaking of the venerability of SF mysteries as a genre, those were the two Asimov stories chat I liked the best, much more than The Foundation Trilogy-the sort of stories that were in Analog in the early '60s, those were my joy at the time

I went to write, really, harkening back to those late '50s, early '60s kinds of adventures, before the New Wave hit. I've made an end run around the entire New Wave; that whole science-fiction-goes-literary period was about the time that I stopped reading it. There were a whole bunch of reasons for this but the science fiction that I imprinted on was of the early '60s and of course the 40s and '50s was all lingering on the library shelves that I was reading from at that time. So, I'm really grounded in a somewhat older period

I missed the '70s and early '80s because that was a period I was reading everything else, all the stuff that my mother thought I should have been reading earlier. At that point I was playing catch-up, reading everything from The Confessions of St. Augustine to Georgette Heyer. I would think the influence of Georgette Hever would be hanging out all over, but only if you had read enough Hever to recognize it. That sort of romance element is in there

The kind of darkly literary stuff is where I dropped out. It is not something that I loved and seek to reproduce or re-create fur a new generation of readers. I spring back to something older and brighter and shinier, but run through the sensibilities of my life, which has taken some odd turns and which has produced some odd directions in my art. You can't really go back to the level of unconsciousness that was available to you in 1964


I picked the Russian, French, British, and Greek background for Barrayar out of the air. I was working on Shards of Honor and it was still almost a hobby. Aral Vorkosigan sprang full blown and started generating the world around himself, speaking of character-centered! Really the center of my universe is Aral Vorkosigan, because I had this character and I had to explain him. Who was he? How did he get where he was?

He came from this planet, so this planet had to have this history in order to produce this culture, in order to produce this man. I started from Aral and reasoned backward into Barrayaran history. We had a very dark and tormented gothic hero here, and I had to explain him to myself and to the reader, so he had to come out of his culture and history. Why Russian? Well, I don't know. It just seemed like a good idea at the time. It's got that very melancholy air to it. At the time there was more tension between the US and Russia and I wanted something threatening, so I gave him that aspect. Cordelia mentioned three or four other enemies it could have been when she was looking for the people who had burned up her base camp. It turned out to be Aral

The cultures of the Barrayarans, the Betans, etc are from reading and my grasp of history. The Barrayarans have the European culture; they're descended from Russian, British, Greek, and French roots, but in terms of their history and the shape of their culture, they're based on Meiji Japan. It had its own time of isolation; it had its development of a military caste; and it had its very traumatic re-opening to the outside world. This was the historical pattern that Barrayar had. Now, Japan had never suffered an invasion at that point, and Barrayar did, which gives them a little more of a Russian flavor because the Russians have been invaded so many times, and in so many directions. It is a blending of those two histories, of Japan and of Russia, with various and sometimes logical results-not always salutary results, but logical results. The idea of Barrayaran culture comes from those two things

"Vor" was just a nice sounding syllable chat fell out of my head onto the page. It's vaguely reminiscent of the German "von," so it has an aristocratic tone to it, and it is also reminiscent of war or warrior, and the sinister or militaristic air to it seemed right. Later I found out it is also Russian for "thief." For aristocracy, that's usually how they get started in life

I started off with a less clear idea of how my aristocracy worked man I later developed, so I'm not consistent. People who want to nit-pick in my aristocratic titles can Find things, I'm sure. After playing around with it a little, I decided that there's only one title of nobility on Barrayar and that is "Count" and it is descended not from the Roman term for county but from the term "Accountant." They were the original tax collectors for the central government and general arm of authority. Other political duties accumulated as history went on. A count's son is a count, his wife is a countess. Other children have the courtesy title of "Lord." The heir of a count uses the last name: "Lord" Vorkosigan if you were the heir of Count Vorkosigan. Everybody who is not themselves the heir of the count would be "Lord" or "Lady" firstname. The count's heir would be "Lord" lasmame and their wives would be "Lady" lasmame. I think by the third generation the tide would be left off

The mutation problem on Barrayar began with the initial colonists. It was an isolation problem. They did not have proper medicine to deal with it. Their technological level dropped too quickly for them to be able to do genetic corrections. They were stuck with whatever distortions they got out of the gene pool unless they wanted to cut them out, on the somatic level, so to speak. There were probably a variety of genetic insults that they were subjected to. There would certainly have been toxins, maybe radiation. I have not gone back into the history of Barrayar in enough detail; and if I ever do, I will have lots of turning room for the various things that could be causing the high level of mutation to the society. There's plenty of potential causes. Everything from allergies to the native flora and fauna to natural radiation to extra radiation exposure during the colonization process. You name it; it could have been lots of things. I have not gone into specific details because if I ever do want to write another story, I want to be able to make my choices then

Cordelia could have gone back to Colony between Shards of Honor and Miles's later life. It would have been a guarded sort of state visit. She would not have been able to travel as quite the private person she would have liked to. I imagine that sometime after about the first five years or six years after she emigraced Barrayar, they probably got all that legal stuff ironed out. Besides, she's no longer a Betan citizen; she's a Barrayaran subject. With that too, the lawyers probably spent a couple of years arguing about it. Miles has dual citizenship. I'm not sure if that works reciprocally. I think the Betans recognize his dual citizenship, but I'm not sure the Barrayarans do. t Colony understands variation and Barrayar resists it

I have no idea what happened to Commander Cavilo after The Vor Game. She may or may not come popping back in as needed. Miles is going go in a somewhat different direction after Memory and I just don't know what the possibilities are. They're very wide open at this point. Cavilo is just one of the many loose ends in my universe. There are more of them with every book

I feel Escobar has a strong Spanish background-Spanish or Latin American-ethnically and culturally. Beyond that, we haven't seen enough of it to know. There are no pure colonies in this universe, Everything's a little bit mixed by the time wormhole jumps are invented. There are practically no pure stocks left draw from. So you have colonies which are largely European or largely Latin American or largely Arabic, but then there'll be a sprinkling of other genotypes in the pool of colonists

Cetaganda also has some oriental models. I was very interested in Heian Japan, a ninth century period of high culture, with, among other things, the first novel being written-by a woman, Lady Murasaki Shikibu-The Tale of Genji, a Japanese classic. I was interested in their culture and I was interested in Chinese culture during that period and during the later period of the last Manchus around the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I had some structural, cultural ideas that I took from them and they got blended with some very high tech ideas about genetic engineering and the ways people would live, given technological reproduction. It all came together in my head and bloomed into the Cetagandans, who have this high culture, hierarchical society, all of which has these biological explanations once you get down underneath the surface glitter. All those things came together to form Cetaganda

It was fun to do the Cetagandans because what I had presented about them so far was a very incomplete and sort of "thumbnail" sketch. When I came to actually set a story on Cetaganda, I wanted to break my own mold, I wanted to defy the expectations that I had already set up in the readership. Okay, when we really get to this culture, what does it really turn out to be? Because things are never what you think they are on the surface. It's fun to get inside Cetagandan society and show how it worked and why it was completely different from what anyone had been led to expect

I'm a great believer in the idea that assumptions should be challenged. You're always wrong and you never have the whole picture. Mistakes are interesting. "Interesting" in two senses: as used in the old Chinese curse and as in Midwestern politeness. In this region of the U.S. whenever you're presented with something that is really ghastly, but you're coo polite to say so, you say, "Oh! Interesting!" It's a blending of those two things

My short description of Jackson's Whole is that it must have been settled by libertarian space pirates. It has no government. Everybody says they wane a world with no government. Well, here's a world with no government. How do you like it? That's my cake on Jackson's Whole. It's a variation. What are all the possible variations of human society? Well, let's have a world with no government at all and see what it turns into. And what it turns into is a sort of collection of corporate clans who do everything that they can get away with. It's an interesting place. You could have a good life on Jackson's Whole, if you were smart and lucky. And ruthless

There's got to be somebody supplying the doughnuts and growing the coffee and doing the ordinary work. No society exists without a lot of people doing ordinary work. Maybe they'll get together in associative groups to prevent themselves from being ground down. I think the trick on Jackson's Whole is: are you allied with a house which will serve and defend you or arc you houseless? I think that the underclass on Jackson's Whole are individuals who for some reason arc not properly associated with one of the houses and do not have their "protected" place in society. But I haven't gotten into a really serious examination of Jackson's Whole. If I'd done a story on Jackson's Whole which was about that, then we'd probably learn a lot more about those kind of derails

If I write another story set there, we may explore some other aspects of their society. Every society has thousands more aspects than you could explore in one novel. And I've already implied several planets and millions and billions of people; the number of stories you could tell is absolutely astronomical-even without getting out of Miles's own time-plus all the other ten thousand years of potential timeline to explore

Bel Thorne and the Betan hermaphrodites just appeared. It seems like a very obvious, easy, early genetic engineering project. There are real hermaphrodites. This is something that nature already does. There are people born double-sexed or with their sexes somewhere in between the two ends of the spectrum of male and female. There are quiet arguments going on at the moment about children born with ambiguous sex-usually the doctors assign them to one sex or another, and surgery and hormonal treatments take place, and they are slotted into one sex or the other. Sometimes doctors make a mistake. A woman doctor who's doing research on the subject is arguing that these people should be allowed to be what they are. They should not be required to choose their gender or be forced into one gender or the other

It's something you don't hear much about with modern medicine because it's corrected now. It used to be a little more common. For example, the Romans considered these births to be god-touched individuals. They would have a career cut out for them as an acolyte, or to be worshipped. There's a bit in the Satyricon about kidnapping the hermaphrodites from the shrine and getting into all sorts of trouble. It just struck me as one of the quick and easy sorts of genetic engineering chat would result in a different kind of human being. In Miles's universe, instead of having aliens, what we will have is ten thousand years of assorted genetic engineering which will result in an explosive speciation of human beings across the galaxy. Within a very few generations, starting before Miles's time and continuing on, the aliens will be us. We'll be all sorts of future descendent things and it will be happening very rapidly because we're skipping the normal pace of evolution and speeding it up through technology

The advantage of one hermaphrodite marrying another hermaphrodite is they understand one another's problems relating to the world of the monosexual. I imagine they're not ghettoized, but they would tend associate with each other. My idea was that they were originally thought up by somebody to be the solution to the inequality-of-the-genders problem; that everybody would become hermaphrodites and that it would "catch on." But it didn't. It fizzled. Somebody thought it was a good idea ac the time, and so here are all these descendents who had no choice but are setting alone just fine now, thank you, and enjoying being the human beings they are

A few experiments gone awry will teach. Every law on the books exists because somebody tried something and it worked out really badly. As more genetic experimentation goes on, more and more taws will be created to try to deal with the problems that are created. These laws will take different forms in different societies, according to their different histories. There's going to be a lot of laws and a lot of4ifferent social choices made about how to deal with this technology and its consequences

The person who is the recipient of the genetic engineering, when it is a child, is the one person who doesn't get a vote. The parents may choose for the children, but the children don't usually get to choose for themselves. Retro-genetic engineering is certainly going to be possible also as the technology develops. "Whether they have quite gotten to that in Miles's time I have not said. It's an ethical question, whether you're changing yourself or changing somebody else without their permission

On Earth, as we see in The Vor Game, the sea level is higher. A dike holds back the sea from London as in Holland. At high tide, the sea level is so much higher than the Thames river level that they have to do something to get it pumped up and out. That's my idea of what's going on. Normally sea level would be low enough that the river flows properly, but at high tide, it would create a flood. I'm sure that a hydraulic engineer would have lots of arguments about that

The general principle ought to hold water, so to speak. That's the hand-waving part in that story. The general rule in science fiction is: if you can't be right, be vague. I chink I'm vague enough so that those people who are experts can fill in the blanks properly and people who are not can fill in the blanks improperly but they'll be satisfied because they don't know any better

Were I writing a story about somebody who was a hydraulics engineer, who was involved with keeping the dam working and saving the city, then I would have to get into the technical details because that would be what the story was about and they would be justified. But you don't want gratuitous technology in your stories, described in detail, because there's so much of it

The only technology that should be described in detail is that upon which the plot hinges directly; what the story is about. In this case it was background setting, the story was about something altogether else-the conflict that was taking place in the foreground. You get the short drift, just enough description to create it. You don't examine it unless you're going do something with it

That was the giveaway in "Weatherman" that the main crisis was not going to have to do with the weather: you didn't describe the technology in enough detail so that the reader could get involved in the drama of weather prediction.

No. The story was not about weather prediction. It was about power and Miles's problems with people who had more of it than he did. The weather officer pan was basically background stuff. The foreground was the clash of both ethics and personality between Miles and Metzov

Miles looks like he ought to be in a techie position. He's got the brains for it. The other thing about a techie position for which you have the brains and nobody else does, is that others have to leave you alone or you can do horrible things to them. There is a power inherent in techie positions, as anyone who has grovelled before somebody capable of fixing their computer problems has discovered. You have to stay on their good side. A techie position is an obvious sort of thing to put Miles in, except that his personality is not cut out for it

That's how you get up a plot. You take your character and you do the worst thing to him chat you can think up forhim. It has to come out of his personality. What is the worst thing you can do to Character A will not be the worst thing you can do to Character B. They'll have some other set of personal horrors that will cake the plot off in a different direction. So the plot becomes a kind of character scalpel, a living autopsy by which you lay them open and examine their guts and find out what they're made out of. It's coldblooded sometimes

Shards of Honor and other romances written like that, because they take apart the two major characters and display them to each other, are really the most satisfying romances. The characters ^et to know each other much better than they would normally ever do.

By the end of the book, Aral and Cordelia knew a lot about each other and so did the readers. It's character study Character study is a valid purpose for a novel. It's not the only purpose, but it is certainly a valid one. Shards of Honor is very much a character study. Mirror Dance is character study to the max. This is a book about the inside of Mark's head. That's a very short way to sum up that book

Mirror Dance is about being who you are. I can describe it thematically as an extended meditation on the subject of identity, principally through Mark, but also through the subplot. Parallel characters such as the Durona group and the two brothers. Fell and Ryoval, are another examination of that theme. Ivan is yet another slice of it. That book has got more structure in it than anything I've ever done and much of it was produced unconsciously. It will give some psychologist or litterateur many happy hours trying to find where all the structural lines, details, and struts lie inside it

The reader has to reach past the surface because the book is also a fast-moving, fast-paced action-adventure, and if you read it so fast that you never "et down to the other levels, it's perfectly possible to miss what is motivating the characters. I don't think it's quite possible to slide over it once you pet into the book. It might be possible to slide over it. I'm worried about that, actually

The book is not about its plot. The book is about its characters and about its theme. The plot is merely there to be a rack to lay all this out on

There's no set pattern whether I decide what the events are or what changes characters will undergo. It's a continuous feedback loop. I will have some idea where I'm going with the plot. Sometimes, I will know what the emotional result I want is and I will arrange my action to create it. This is almost working on the thematic level. It usually works very well and is very satisfying. Sometimes, I will have a set of actions in mind and the emotional result will be what surprises me. The emotional or symphonic pattern of the novel is the template that I am trying to create-the actions, the plot, is created to fit that rising and falling succession of emotion, of growth, of theme

"What's the worst thing we could do to Miles this time?" is a wonderful source of plots! Stories can be either plot-centered or character-centered. Either can be satisfactory. Usually a plot-centered story lends itself very well to multiple viewpoints. Then you jump from character to character, wherever the plot is most interesting. So you follow the line of the plot and that is the backbone of the story

With a character-centered story, you are following a person; where that person is, is always where the story is. That lends itself to single-viewpoint stories. Most of Miles s stories are single-viewpoint because they are usually following Miles. The adventures are got up to display the character, the character is not created to display the adventures. I think this gives it a much more organic and emotionally powerful mix, myself

I've done it the other way around. Ethan of Athos was more plot-centered and The Spirit Ring was a little more plot-centered. It can be done either way, but usually I do character-centered and usually that's why it's single-viewpoint, because they follow the character and what's happening to him is the story

I knew, even back when I was working on Shards of Honor-before I'd really thought about Miles's story at all-that Aral and Cordelia would have a son who was physically handicapped. That went with their situation. What's the worst possible thing you could do to these people? That was it. Give them an heir who does not fit the Barrayaran norms and then see what happens. And Bothari came into it. The first scene I thought of for The Warrior's Apprentice, the grain of grit around which the pearl forms, was the death of Bothari. It was the first scene chat I visualized: that Miles and Bothari would be out somewhere and Bothari would die defending Miles. Bothari was very central to that book, although he got shoved a little more to the side when other things accreted. That was really the central story of The Warrior's Apprentice: Miles and Bothari. The Worrier's Apprentice acquired its title very early, too. The idea of the plot is The Sorcerer's Apprentice, the young man who goes out and discovers he can start things bigger than can finish. Things have very strange sources; sometimes you can identify them and sometimes you can't. Sometimes you can identify them but you don't want to tell anybody

Miles is very alive. I'm extremely pleased with him. He's also a transition character. He's in a patriarchal culture with Victorian warrior values, that he's trying to live up to. But he is also "a sensitive human being." His mother s from Beta Colony and Beta Colony is like Southern California to the max - well, maybe not Southern California any more, because it's going strange and wonky in its old age-but very politically correct, very liberal, but with certain hidden illiberalities. Miles is a touchstone for anyone who is struggling with our own changing culture

That's the metaphorical aspect of it. Barrayar is us. It is a culture which has undergone wrenching change in a very short time, which is, of course, the story of the twentieth century. This is why science fiction is the literature of the twentieth century. Its the one literature that addresses, metaphorically, the main problem of our era. This is enormous and rapid change-too rapid for ordinary human lives, used to much slower rhythms of change-to assimilate. That's the fascination of science fiction for twentieth century readers, it's about our problem. Barrayar is very much a sort of twentieth century place in that they have gone very rapidly from the past to the future and are finding the transition rather painful. Interesting, but painful

Two memory snapshots: the editor's own father on army reserve exercises on horseback with 75 mm artillery in the '50s; and another 25 years later, suited up to get into the cockpit of a jet fighter.


I have gotten translated relatively quickly. It's coming along very nicely. There was even a short story translated into Chinese. That was because I'm a soft touch. A young gentleman from China who was an exchange student in the College of Business, at the University of Dayton, was at an SFRA conference I was at. He asked if I would donate something to their struggling first Chinese prozine. So I gave them a short story in return for some copies. I got myself introduced to the Chinese audience. I have some copies down in the basement of "Aftermaths" in Chinese. It's very mind-boggling

"Aftermaths" was chosen because it was short. The three little Putnam stories, which are the only other short stories that I have, were fun, but I thought "Aftermaths" was more representative of the body of my work. It gives more of a sense of what the Vorkosigan stories are about. This depends on how well it was translated, which I will never know. I will never know what people are gaining from those little chicken tracks on the page as they read them

No foreign fan mail has trickled back to me. I don't know whether it goes to the translators or whether they don't write, but I have not gotten any direct feedback. 1 pick up a few things on the computer net. Every once in a while somebody will send me a computer net printout and I'll see some conversation, but most of these people are reading the books in English anyway. I did get a fan letter from Vladivostok, but, once again, the fellow was reading the books in English; they had not yet appeared in Russian. I'll be intrigued to see if I get some feedback from the former Soviet Union

The translation editors don't seem to want this or that in particular. They seem be just picking them up wholesale. I don't know if they re reading them or if they're buying them off a list. I just wrote an introduction for the Russian edition of Shards of Honor and The Warrior's Apprentice, which was published as a two-for-one volume, the first thing out in translation in Russia

I haven't run into the "Tool of Satan" problem because I don't think any of chose people have read my books or heard of me. I tend to get more heat from within the genre. There are certain people who want the books to be something else. They don't want action-adventure; they want a certain kind of dark social vision, perhaps, or a certain kind of technical focus; they want the books to be something else, more to their taste. Those I run into, now and again, and they're unhappy. It ought to have been some other book. There isn't a whole lot you can do about those people except try to figure out what writer it is they want to be reading and shoo them gently in that direction: go read him, you might like that


I did the most research for The Spirit Ring, the fantasy novel, because it was essentially a historical set in a slightly altered Renaissance history. I had all the research you would have to do for a historical romance before I could sit down and write the book. So, my most heavily researched story is not science fiction at all, it's fantasy. Certain of the other books were heavily researched, Falling Free was. I deliberately set out to write an Analog-type story with as much engineering and real science as I could get into it. And indeed, succeeded in selling it to Analog, afterwards. Proved to myself that, yes, I can do this thing

I found that the best way to do research is to talk to people who know. They can tell you the good stuff. Then they tell you these anecdotes that you would never think to ask about-you can steal them, too. I thoroughly enjoyed the personal contacts that I made researching Falling Free. Most of the Miles books are not heavily researched. They are character-centered stories and things are sort of made up on the fly as needed for the plot. I don't do a lot of technical research for the Miles stories because most of them don't turn on technical points. They will turn on points of characterization or ethics or something like that. There is a lot of biology background mat I have, that I use. But I don't necessarily look it up

I did not have all the details of Barrayar at the time that I wrote Shards of Honor. When I wrote Shards of Honor, I overshot the present ending. It was my first novel and I really wasn't too clear on structure or what I was doing. The characters got up the next day and the story went on! I found the end of Shards of Honor by stopping where I was and going back and finding a better place to end that didn't get into the next story. Where I stopped in. 1983, at the end of the manuscript of the book (which was then called Mirrors, it did not acquire the title Shards of Honor until it was already in the publication process), I stopped ac the scene in about Chapter 8 of Barrayar where Cordelia has just had the conversation with Dr. Vaagen and they have decided not to have an abortion, but to try to transfer the fetus to the uterine replicator instead. I knew that there was more trouble to come and that Cordelia was involved in it, bur I had no idea of how the story was going to go after that

I went up the attic six years later and looked ac all this scuff and realized that I had the start of a novel here, that what I had cut off was actually the start of the next book-which was why I had cut it off where I did- and I really ought to go and finish this second story. I had a whole mess of material that was the start of Barrayar, and I went back and interpolated

I had a much different idea of how the plot should go after that than I had initially had. Although I did have the vision of Captain Negri falling out of the lightflyer and expiring on the lawn at Vorkosigan Surleau. That was in my mind, but not on the page, yet. So when I was doing Barrayar, I took all these old carbons and took them apart and put in the new scenes where they needed to be and used as much as I could of the old scenes. So, in a sense, you could say that I won a Hugo with my first novel. But only in a sense. Barrayar was a much better book six years later than it would have been if I had tried to write it immediately after writing Shards of Honor, Much better. It all came together very differently and in ways that even surprised me, and I was extremely pleased with how the book worked

At the time, I had planned to do more after The Spirit Ring the same history. I may, instead, take some of the ideas and go in a different direction rather than continuing with the same characters. Possibly make up a self-contained world with a Venice-like city in it and take it from there. This will give me more elbow room and a different tone to the story. There is, in a historical, a somewhat dark tone if you're at all true to the times because previous historical times were in many ways not fun, particularly if you were female. I could get a world with a lighter tone if I cut free from the historical models, or at least from being too slavishly and closely accurate to those historical models. It would be a lighter, brighter fantasy

I skipped over all those nasty bits in The Spirit Ring. We just didn't look at them. This is, in fact, how it's done today. Its an interesting sort of moral/ ethical problem. How far back in time, how far out in space do you allow yourself to care? Because if you take it out and back far enough, you will always be able to pick up enough horrors for it to be an overwhelming and crushing burden. Everybody cuts it off somewhere. The question is, where do you cut it off; do you cut it off just the other side of your own skin; do you think about your community; do you think about your nation; do you think about the planet? Worrying about the whole planet and doing nothing except protecting your own skin has no moral clout from my point of view. It's just pretend virtue

My own view of historical cause and effect is chaotic in the mathematical sense. We have root causes that are too slow to measure but have visible effects-you know, the butterfly wing thing-so that if you even make small changes, the ultimate result would be enormous changes. Part of the fantasy of it is the idea that you can make any changes and not have a totally different world. That's like cheating, to have close to our own history and yet allow it to have been different

I didn't want to do generic magic. I wanted to go back to the actual historical roots and have the magic work the way the people at the time thought it worked. So I read some of the historical accounts. There's a fascinating account in Benvenuto Cellini's Autobiography in which he describes going out with some people to work an incantation to summon a demon. I'm still trying to figure out, reading it, who was having whom on about the thing. They managed to scare themselves half to death. So, there were ideas about how magic worked. Of course they thought magic worked like magic. One of the things I discovered very quickly was that the modern reader demands that magic works like physics. They want magic to work logically; they want cause and effect; they want conservation principles: that you can only get as much out as you put into it. For the twentieth century reader you need this physics-like magic for it to convince them that the magic is real. They don't want the magic to work like magic, which was really frustrating because it cut me off from my historical model. So I ended up with a blending between the way the people of those times thought magic worked and the way people in our time think magic ought to work: a hybrid magic

Benvenuto Cellini was an utter egotist. I think he was very close to being a sociopath, but not quite. He abided by the rules of his times, which are not the rules of our time. Some things he was doing, when you pick up on them your mouth hangs open like the audience watching "Springtime for Hitler" in The Producers. Good book

There were three main sources for The Spirit Ring. The original impetus for the book was from what I believe is a Ph.D. thesis.' The other two are The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini2' and De Re Metallica 'The Ph.D. thesis is a volume that has come down through my family, published by the Folk-Lore Society of London in 1907. It is an examination of die tale of the Grateful Dead. I described it in the afterword of The Spirit Ring, me fast-forward version of which goes: A young man goes out to seek his fortune and comes across a situation where the body of a debtor lies unburied until his debts are paid. He forks over his grubstake and gets the guy planted, and goes on down the road to further adventures in which he is helped by the grateful ghost of the dead man. There are fifty different versions. It combines with other folklore pieces and you find it in twenty countries across twenty centuries. Its one of those fundamental human patterns, right there next to boy meets girl. Its very common and apparently one of those biologically based tales that appeals across all sons of cultures and all sons of times. I read this thing and all these son of dried-raisin-versions of what used to be stories, in this dry academic style, and I bethought myself of the Ace fairy tales and the Andrew Lang colored fairy tales and the modern retellings of the old fairy tales in novel form. I thought I would like to do something like that with it

I thought of various ways of playing it. It could be set any rime. You could do a hundred different books on the same basic theme, including a cryonic version in which somebody gets frozen and thawed out as an act of charity or vice versa. I've already used those themes recently in Mirror Dance, so I've probably killed that one for myself. Between Cellini and the Dead book, I finally settled on the late fifteenth century. The other source that went into it was De Re Metal/tea by Agricola, a Latin pen name for a German by the name of Georgius Bauer-Bauer= farmer = Agricola.

Bauer was a scholar and a metallurgist in sixteenth century Germany and was one of the authorities on mining and metallurgy as it was understood then, prior to the discovery of the periodic table of the elements. Everything was done by recipe, by rote, by trial-and-error. They had all kinds of incorrect physical theories about why things worked the way they did. It was the foundation. It was a start. It's fascinating to contrast Agricola and Cellini. In each book the man who wrote it is inherent. If Agricola were alive today, he'd have a pocket protector and a slide rule: one of these self-effacing techie types. But his book is entirely about his subject and he recedes behind the material. He's in there, but he's all behind it, while Cellini is always parading out in front of ^Autobiography, front and center

Agricola was clearly a prototype of the modern engineer. As I based Prospero Beneforte on Cellini-as Cellini presents himself, loosely, cleaned up quite a bit to make him a little more palatable-so I based Thur Ochs, the young miner, on Agricola as you saw him through his text; an obviously serious, intelligent, and conscientious person. So I got my two characters out of those two sources. Interestingly enough, the kobolds came out of Agricola. Somewhere about halfway through the book, there is a footnote on the subject of kobolds. It's a quote taken from one of the other books that Agricola wrote that Hoover had translated, a description of kobolds as they were believed to be by the German miners of the day

The kobolds were not generic. They came out of historical sources. These are what the people of the time actually believed they had. These little mountain brownies or creatures that lived in the rocks. So I rationalized them a little and, lo and behold, I had my kobolds popping up. It's amazing when you read these historical things, where you find your ideas: way down in the footnotes. You have to read the footnotes-you never know what you'll find. In this case I found kobolds. That was a fun book ni research. I'd like to do more like it. We'll see. I done quite know in what direction I'm going next at this point


My time-line for the prehistory of the Barrayaran universe is that in the twenty-first century, perhaps the early twenty-second century, there was an initial push for interstellar colonization and they got out some ships, not exactly generation ships, but ships that cook twenty years to get there. A couple of nearby stars were attempted to be colonized; "nearby" meaning within forty light-years of Earth. One of these was Alpha Colony, which looked biologically promising but failed utterly, like Roanoke, where they found carving on a tree and no other sign of what had happened. Another was Beta Colony, which was a howling desert world and looked much less promising, and upon which people lived as if they were digging their spaceships into the soil. That turned out to be, oddly enough, more successful. Beta Colony was colonized from the United States

There was some son of late twenty-first, early twenty-second century disaster that put everybody out of the space business for a little while, and Beta Colony was cut off for a bit, not that they ever had much contact beyond the initial colonization. But it did not lose its technology, its history, or its contact. There was a hiatus and the wormhole jump drive was discovered and exploration began explosively in all directions, but no wormhole jump to Beta Colony was discovered right away. And, in fact, the route from Earth to Beta Colony was quite roundabout when they finally did punch through and get access again. I don't go into astronomical details. People who know that stuff can fill in appropriate correct ideas and people who don't need not be troubled with it. Get the reader to do the work, or not, if they choose

This disaster wiped out Cleveland, and maybe some other cities I dislike, and then put America out of the space colonization business. So Beta Colony has actually descended from the United States but everything else is descended from more mixed world cultures. Not that the U.S. isn't a mixed world culture to start with. That's what was going on before wormhole jumps. The Chalmys DuBauer character in "Dreamweavers Dilemma" is an ancestor of the DuBauer who appears in Shards of Honor.

When the disaster happened, one ship went back to try to make contact with Earth and see what had happened. They sent him back, although he left children on the colony. By the time he got back to Earth the dust had settled and a whole new ballgame was in progress/ In the back of my mind, I was working out Chalmys's history. I had him make a couple of other sub-light trips to Beta Colony, which is why he is out of phase in terms of his age. They were travelling close enough to the speed of light, sub-light, for Einsteinian dilation effects to occur, so he ended up visiting his own great-granddaughter when he eventually made it back to Beta Colony, But everybody he'd known was dead by then, and so he returned to Earth and eventually retired when the wormhole jump piloting started. His job became technologically obsolete

Up to the point where the latest published story in the timeline ends, Mirror Dance at the time of this interview, is all chat I'm committed to. It could go anywhere after that. Now when I'm writing prequels, I have to fit die story in on both ends and that is a challenge all of its own. As far as where Miles's universe is going to go and where Miles is going to go-it's not fixed. I do not have an outline. I do not have a story bible. I do not have a grand coherent vision. I am writing Miles's life and I do not know any more about what comes next than he does. It's something that I have to find out by writing it. It is created as it happens, book by book

I've worked out just bits and pieces of the past. I have the genera! template of the thing. I have some specific ideas, but anything that isn't in print is potentially changeable, malleable. So if I do want to sit down and write a story, I can make it fit the history. I try to keep my universe as open-ended as possible so that it does not constrain the stories that I need to cell. I try to leave myself as much turning room as possible. I do not have lots and lots of backstory written down somewhere

The trouble with the universe is that it's so rich. We could jump on our horse and gallop off in all directions. There's a thousand different sideways and backfill and prequel and sequel directions that I could go with just the material that I have now, leaving aside making up anything new. And I don't have that much time. I can only write a book a year. I've discovered that what drives my choice of what to write has more to do with the theme that I want to work on than with plot points that I want to work on. So each book, regardless of where it sits in the series, does really have a different theme or a different take on a theme. I will select the adventure chat appeals me according to what ideas I want to be thinking about for the next year. What transformations are happening in my life have something do with what transformations go into books. I can't predict where that goes because I've got to be learning faster and taking more in to keep it fresh

There will be years when I don't have something new to say. When that's just going to be all I can do, I'll produce a workman-like book that year, and then the next year I'll have something more profound to offer. But if you're going to have a career that's twenty or thirty books long, they are not all going to be equal when you're done. You'll have your up years and your down years. It all works out over time

I don't think I'm ready to franchise it out. Writing the rule book is exactly the opposite of the way I work. It's one of the reasons I haven't done that yet. I write stories from the inside out. I start with the theme, the characters, and I find that I assemble the plots and the setting last, around everything else as they are needed. The setting, once its assembled, feeds back in in various ways, but I do not start with the setting. Now people who set up, "Let's write a story in this universe," work exactly the opposite way. They start with the universe and set everything inside it, constrained by this artificial box they put around their story, which means that the characters' themes are constrained in ways that may be detrimental to their full flowering

There are autobiographical things throughout my novels, and they seem to be getting more autobiographical as I go along. I am far more conscious of the way my life feeds into the arc and the transformations and transmutations that take place. I can sort of see the process, now. It is still unconscious but I'm quicker at spotting it. I done want to interfere with it in any way. Don't stop! Its working. There are autobiographical things in little bits and pieces in the books, but the underlying pattern of all of them together, the thematic autobiography, is getting clearer as I go along. The first books were more generic, more modeled on other books; the more recent books have been more direct, more original

There are elements of me in all of the characters, good and bad and indifferent. There are elements of me in Bruce Van Atta in Falling Free. There are elements of me in all the characters that are alive, somewhere. There is a level of me that hadn't gone into the books before that went into Mark. That's why he's so unusually alive

That's no more or less true of Cordelia than it would be of any of the other characters. Any of the other major characters. There's a lot of me in Miles; there is a lot of Miles that is wish fulfillment. Sometimes you make up characters that are you and sometimes you make up characters that you wish you were. Miles, for example, can remember everybody's name! I can't. He has a sense of direction. I don't

All these characters are necessary because you cane fit it all into one character. There's elements in Mark that did not belong in Miles, it would have distorted him as a character too much. All the experience of being a mother could not have been put into Miles or Mark. Its an interesting process. Somewhere under the skin I think arrises have a relation to people with split personalities because you peel off pans of yourself to deal with different situations. And then re-integrate them as needed. Art is much simplified. It's the nature of the thing. But you can get some wonderful effects, nonetheless

This is the thing about science fiction: it doesn't take things straight, it mutates, it transforms. It's very transformative art and almost creates metaphors out of things, but you have to start from somewhere. Somewhere under there; there has to be some content. I like that working-on two-and-three-and-four-levels-at-once aspect of it. I particularly enjoy the multi-leveledness of science fiction