karenmiller (karenmiller) wrote,
karenmiller
karenmiller

Fantastic Women: Lois McMaster Bujold (part the 1st)

And here we arrive at the third edition of the Fantastic Women series ... starring the truly extraordinary Lois McMaster Bujold. This interview will be split into parts because the LJ cut function is playing silly buggers ...

I've never met Lois in person, although (Fate allowing) I will have that knee-wobbling pleasure next year when I attend Worldcon in Denver. Many years ago now, a good friend encouraged me to read Shards of Honor, the first half of the two-book story of Cordelia Naismith and Aral Vorkosigan. (It concludes with Barrayar.) I couldn't get into it, as sometimes happens. Then, a little time later, prompted by some genie or other, I picked up The Warrior's Apprentice: and fell smack-dab face-first in love with that irrepressible, amazing character Miles Vorkosigan, son of the aforementioned Cordelia and Aral. And that was that. Instant conversion to squeeing Bujold fangirl. I went back to Miles' parents' story and found I loved that too after all. I read every Miles book I could find and waited impatiently for every new one, which I immediately bought in hardcover. I buy every new Bujold in hardcover. Bujold is Da Bomb.

For me, the single driving note of fabulousness about Lois' work is her characterisation. It's ... unparalleled. And she's no mean hand with a turn of phrase either. Lois is fearless when it comes to her characters' journeys. She has the ability to write funny, write sad, write ludicrous, write tragic. She writes people you desperately, desperately want to meet. She writes bone-aching humanity, with a profound understanding of the human heart.

There's a reason she's a multi-award winning writer. She is, quite simply, one of the best spec fic has to offer. Her most recent adventure is a new fantasy series, which in structure is like a two-act play: each volume is one half of the whole story. This is a departure for Lois, who usually writes stand-alone stories with continuing characters.

So now, without further ado, the incredible Lois McMaster Bujold in her own words ...

1. Give us a brief bio: The Fabulous Life and Times of You!

I was born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1949. I graduated from Upper Arlington High School in 1967, and attended the Ohio State University from 1968 to 1972. I have two children, Anne, born in 1979, and Paul, born in 1981. We resided in Marion, Ohio, from 1980 to 1995, and moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1995.

I've been a voracious reader all my life, beginning with a passion for horse stories in grade school. I began reading adult science fiction when I was nine, a taste picked up from my father. He was a professor of Welding Engineering at Ohio State and an old Cal Tech man (Ph.D.'s in physics and electrical engineering, magna cum laude, 1944), and used to buy the science fiction magazines and paperback books to read on the plane on consulting trips; these naturally fell to me. My reading tastes later expanded to include history, mysteries, romance, travel, war, poetry, etc.

My early writing efforts began in junior high school. By eighth grade I was putting out fragmentary imitations of my favorite writers -- on my own time, of course, not for any class. My best friend Lillian Stewart and I collaborated on extended story lines throughout high school; again only a fragment of the total was written out. The high point of my high school years was a summer in Europe at age 15, hitchhiking with my older brother.

I dabbled with English as a major in college, but quickly fell away from it -- my heart was in the creative, not the critical end of things. But an interest in wildlife and close-up photography led me on a six-week biology study tour of East Africa. Eight hundred slides of bugs; much later I also borrowed the landscape and ecology I had seen for background of my first novel. That's one of the nicest things about writing, all of a sudden nothing is wasted. Even one's failures are re-classified as raw material.

After college I worked as a pharmacy technician at the Ohio State University Hospitals, until I quit to start my family. This was a fallow time for writing, except for a Sherlock Holmes pastiche that ran about 60 pages. It was however a very fruitful time for reading, as my Staff card admitted me to OSU's 2 million volume main stacks, filled with wonders and obscurities.

Then my old friend Lillian, now Lillian Stewart Carl, began writing again, making her first sales. About this time it occurred to me that if she could do it, I could do it too. I was unemployed with two small children (note oxymoron) on a very straitened budget in Marion at this point, but the hobby required no initial monetary investment. I wrote a novelette for practice, then embarked on my first novel with help and encouragement from Lillian and Patricia C. Wrede, a fantasy writer from Minneapolis.

I quickly discovered that writing was far too demanding and draining to justify as a hobby, and that only serious professional recognition would satisfy me. Whatever had to be done, in terms of writing, re-writing, cutting, editorial analysis, and trying again, I was determined to learn to do. This was an immensely fruitful period in my growth as a writer, all of it invisible to the outside observer.

My first novel, Shards of Honor, was completed in 1983: the second, The Warrior's Apprentice in 1984; and the third, Ethan of Athos, in 1985. As each one came off the boards it began the painfully slow process of submission to the New York publishers. I also wrote a few short stories which I began circulating to the magazine markets. In late 1984 the third of these sold to Twilight Zone Magazine, my first professional sale. This thin proof of my professional status had to stretch until October of 1985, when all three completed novels were bought by Baen Books. They were published as original paperbacks in June, August, and December of 1986, leading the uninitiated to imagine that I wrote a book every three months.

Analog Magazine serialized my fourth novel, Falling Free, in the winter of '87 - '88; it went on to win my first Nebula. I was particularly pleased to be featured in Analog, my late father's favorite magazine -- I still have the check stub from the gift subscription my father bought me when I was 13 (a year for $4.00). "The Mountains of Mourning", also appearing in Analog, went on to win both Hugo and Nebula Awards for best novella of 1989, and The Vor Game and Barrayar won Hugos for best novel back to back in 1991 and 1992. My titles have been translated into twenty-one languages (so far).

I broke into hardcover at last with The Spirit Ring in 1992, a historical fantasy, and returned to the universe and times of Miles Vorkosigan with Mirror Dance, which won the Hugo and Locus awards in 1995. My next novel was a lighter series prequel, Cetaganda, serialized in Analog starting with the September '95 issue, then released in hardcover in January '96 by Baen Books. I had my first experience as an editor, along with Roland Green, putting together the anthology Women at War, published by Tor Books in 1995. Memory had hardcover publication in October 1996, and was a Hugo and a Nebula nominee. Komarr was published in June 1998, and was the recipient of a Minnesota Book Award in the science fiction and fantasy category. A Civil Campaign, the direct sequel to Komarr, was published in September 1999, garnered my sixth Hugo nomination in the novel category, and was my fourth Nebula novel nominee. Sample chapters of several of my SF titles are available at www.baen.com, along with a free download of the complete text of my award-winning novella "The Mountains of Mourning" in the Baen Free Library. A Miles adventure titled Diplomatic Immunity, May 2002, was a Nebula Award nominee.

A fantasy novel, The Curse of Chalion, saw publication in August 2001 from Eos/HarperCollins (http://www.eosbooks.com). It scored my seventh Hugo nomination for best novel, my first nomination for the World Fantasy Award, and won the Mythopoeic Award for best adult fantasy, given by this society. (http://www.mythosoc.org/a02remarks.html My acceptance speech is posted there.) Chalion saw paperback release in October 2002.

The sequel, Paladin of Souls, was published by Eos/HarperCollins in the fall of 2003. It was a Mythopoeic and a Minnesota Book Award nominee, won a Romantic Times 2003 Reviewers' Choice Award for best fantasy novel, the Locus award for best fantasy novel, and the Hugo and Nebula Awards for best novel. A third book in the world of Chalion, The Hallowed Hunt, was published by Eos in June of 2005.

Next from Eos in October, 2006 came an entirely new fantasy duology, The Sharing Knife. The first volume, Beguilement, was published October 2006, and the second, Legacy, in June 2007. A sequel duology will follow.
The Bujold Nexus, my own fan-run website, is at http://www.dendarii.com with more information.

2. What drew you to writing speculative fiction?

Answered above.

3. Describe a typical writing day.

Argh. There is no typical writing day. Nonetheless...

I use a sort of rolling-outline technique, largely as a memory aid, and work forward a small section at a time, because that’s all my brain will hold. I will start to work up ideas for a story from all sorts of sources -- other reading, history, film, television, my own life experiences, debates with friends about ideas or other books. When my eyes or brain burn out on reading, I’m quite fond of all the non-fiction DVDs I can get from the local library, science and travel and history. At some point, all this will spark or clot into notions for a character or characters, their world, and the opening situation, and sometimes but not always a dim idea of the ending. I will start jotting notes in pencil in a loose-leaf binder. By the time I have about 40 or 50 pages of these, I will start to see how the story should begin.

I then make a broad section outline, up to what I call “the event horizon”, which is how far I can see to write till I have to stop and make up some more. This is usually a chapter or three. I’ll get a mental picture of what scenes should go in the next chapter, and push them around till they slot into sequence. I then pull out the next scene and outline it closely, almost a messy sort of first draft. I choreograph dialogue especially carefully. Then I take these notes to my computer and type up the actual scene. Lather, rinse, repeat till I get to the end of the chapter and, my brain now purged and with room to hold more, I pop back up to the next level to outline again. Every scene I write has the potential of changing what comes next, either by a character doing something unexpected or by my clearer look at the material as it’s finally pinned to the page, so I re-outline constantly.

Making up the story and writing down the story are, for me, two separate activities calling for two different states of mind. Creation needs relaxation; composition is intensely focused. I do the making up part away from the computer, either while taking my walks or otherwise busying myself, or, when I get to the note-making or outlining stage, in another room. I do not compose at the computer, although I do edit on the fly, and the odd better ideas for a bit of dialogue or description do often pop out while I’m typing. Sometimes, they’re sufficiently strong that they derail what I’d planned and I have to stop typing and go away and re-outline; sometimes they’re just a bonus, an unexpected Good Bit, and slot right in.

I don’t write a certain set number of pages or words a day. Either I’ll have nothing outlined, or what I have outlined will be unsatisfactory and I’ll be stalled -- or doing invisible work, sometimes even invisible to me -- or I’ll have a fresh outline and be racing ahead to get it onto the page. I generally write a chapter in a few days, then go fallow for several days -- or, in a sticky bit or when interrupted by travel, several weeks -- then have another burst. I figure an average of two chapters a month for minimum professional production, more if I can get them, but even that is irregular.

I do most of my writing either in the late morning, or the late evening. Late afternoon tends to be a physiological down-time for me.

(To be continued ...)
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