Interview by Scott Laming

Elizabeth Bear

Elizabeth Bear
Credit: S. Shipman

I’m not what I would consider a science fiction buff. This being said, I read more science fiction then fantasy. However, an expert in either I am not. So I visited Librarything.com and contacted one of the most popular authors on the site: none other then Elizabeth Bear, winner of the John W. Campbell (Best New Writer) and Locus award winner (Best First Novel for the Jenny Casey Hammered/Scardown/Worldwired series).

(Editor's Note: shortly after conducting the interview, Bear was shortlisted for the 2006 Philip K. Dick Award, for her novel Carnival. See the award shortlist.)



SL: So how did you get started writing?

EB: Oh, wow. Where to start? I've known I wanted to be a writer since I was in first grade, and figured out that people actually write books. I wrote horse stories, cribbed very heavily from Walter Farley, I'm afraid, and stories about dinosaurs. I was serious about the craft when I was in grade school. I finished my first "novel" - handwritten in notebooks - when I was 11 or 12. It was a plot-coupon style fantasy, tremendously bad, of course.

SL: Who would you say is your biggest influence?

EB: Walter Farley!

No, wait. Probably, honestly, Roger Zelazny. He's not my absolute favorite writer, although I do very much love his work, but I can see traces of his auctorial DNA in nearly everything I write.

Stylistically and thematically, there's a similar obsession with the extremes of human emotional and physical endurance and with mythological overtones. And I do consciously model certain things about my writing on his work. I deeply envy his ability to keep a narrative surging along, all the while juggling deft writing, nuanced characterization, and thematic depth.

I have a lot of favorites, though. 

SL: Would you describe yourself as more of a science fiction or fantasy author?

EB: Yes. (grinning)

I actually don't draw much distinction between them: to me, they're marketing categories. I know for some people it's a religious issue, but I tend to look at the genre tropes as tools: you use what you need to use to tell the story you need to tell.

Most of my books - SF and Fantasy, or speculative fiction, if you prefer - revolve around the kind of plotting you normally find in a murder mystery or thriller, and I usually have a strong relationship plot as well, or a series of them. I don't like to say "romance," because "romance" carries the assumption of a happy ending, or even a sexual relationship, and that's not always what I'm interested in. Sometimes they are parent/child or mentor/student relationships, or sibling, or close friends. We tend to privilege romantic love in our culture, but there are so many other interesting ways people relate to each other.

SL: Most underrated authors in SF&F today?

EB: Oh, that's always a hell of a question. There are a lot of fabulous writers who are recognized - last year, I would have said Robert Charles Wilson, but he's got a Hugo now.

Liz Williams. Sherwood Smith. Chaz Brenchley. Just to name some people I've read and enjoyed in the last six months.

Just don't ask me who the most overrated ones are!

SL: What's currently on your to be read list?

EB: I just finished Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys, which I enjoyed - not that he needs the plug from me. Right now the pile next to my feet-up chair is, let's see:

Um.

That's the closest pile.

SL: Do you ever find SF&F a bit of a "Boys' Club" or experienced issues as a female author in the genre?

EB: Not from anybody who counted. I mean, okay, women still receive a smaller percentage of award nominations, but in general I think we're doing very well in the genre. We joke a lot about girl cooties, and there are certainly individuals who won't read fiction by women...but I don't see any need to change people when it is easier to just roll over them.

That sounds very aggressive when I phrase it that way. But there are enough female editors and readers that even if men never touched my stuff, I wouldn't be in trouble. And I get lovely fan mail from men, so I know I have male readers.  

SL: What made you pick a cyborg Canadian as your main character for the Hammered / Scardown / Worldwired series?

EB: She showed up and asked for the job.

More or less, anyway. I knew what I wanted to write about, which is a human side of cybernetics that Cyberpunk often seems to have ignored. I wondered what would drive somebody to take those kind of risks, what the realistic aftereffects would be. I spent a lot of time talking to medical doctors and war veterans and psychologists, and Jenny was just the person who grew out of that.

She's Métis - Iroquois and French Canadian - because there's a thematic subtext in the books about multiculturalism and colonialism. And because that's who she is.

SL: If you could live in any science fiction or fantasy universe (or series) which one would it be?

EB: I can! That's the great part of my job.

Of course, the other half of my job is poking holes in Utopias....

SL: What's in the future for Elizabeth Bear?

EB: Oh, I have a really exciting couple of years upcoming. Currently, I'm working on a science fiction book proposal that I hope will be picked up by Spectra, and a space opera novella for a Science Fiction Book Club anthology. I'm writing full-time now, which is new and different and scary!

In 2007, I have four books coming out - New Amsterdam, a kind of funky alternate-history with magic from Subterranean Press; Whiskey & Water, the second novel in my Promethean Age fantasy cycle, from Roc; Undertow, a science fiction novel that's sort of Little Fuzzy meets The Italian Job, from Spectra; and A Companion to Wolves, a subversive Norse adventure fantasy that horribly subverts the telepathic companion animal subgenre, co-written with Sarah Monette (Melusine and The Virtu) from Tor.

In 2008, I have three books and a stand-alone novella planned: the third Promethean Age book, which doesn't have a formal title yet, but moves the narrative from modern New York and Connecticut to Elizabethan London; a science fiction novel for Spectra - if they pick it up!; and another fantasy, All The Windwracked Stars, for Tor. The novella is going to be published by Monkeybrain Books, and I have tentatively titled it "Bone and Jewel Creatures."

And then, as Gollum said, we shall see.

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