The Steven Brust Interview
The Quantum Muse staff, largely through the ingenuity of the Web
Goddess, managed to wrangle an interview with Steven Brust. He was very
kind, and never once threatened to call the authorities or asked us
to sit further away and stop spilling beer on him.
Go buy his books at once. If you haven't already.
I mean, they're brilliant on their own merit and all, but he deserves
some good karma for enduring this interview.
Quantum Muse: We'd like
to thank you for allowing us to interview you by e-mail, even though
you grumble about it. We've had trouble crossing state lines so it's
difficult for us to do interviews in person, especially since the
"interview using a blunt object" incident.
Steven K Zoltan Brust:
Speaking of blunt objects, I'm depending on you to correct my spelling
errors and typos. If this thing goes out as I write it, I will...mmm...be
QM: Steven, which of
your works is your favorite? Don't give us that silly answer that
they are like your children and you can't pick one over the other.
SKZB: Those who say
that, mean it. It isn't silly. But it isn't true for me. My favorite
is The Phoenix Guards, or perhaps the combination The Phoenix
Guards and 500 Years After.
QM: You've been a writer
for quite a few years now. Does your family still hope you'll grow
up and get a real job?
SKZB: Oh, lord, no.
The supported me from day 1.
QM: What are you working
SKZB: The Viscount
QM: As that rounds out
the direct parallel to Dumas' Musketeer trilogy, do you plan to stop
there, or is this something you might play with from time to time?
SKZB: I don't know.
I'll just have to see what comes up and bites me, so to speak, as
wanting to be written.
QM: In a genre where many authors
seem to hit on a formula and crank out a dozen repetitive volumes in
a series, you defy stereotyping. You have written on vastly different
subjects, from the revolt of the angels to the tale of an assassin,
to a vampire story to a story about a group of artists. Even the Vlad
Taltos series uses varied viewpoints and styles, and your writing seems
to take a different tack with each book. How much of an effort is this?
Do you need to struggle to stay fresh or are you following your natural
desire to stretch you abilities and grow with each work? Or do you suffer
from some kind of multiple personality disorder?
SKZB: It isn't that complicated. I
wrote the first book because I wanted to read it, and no one else had
written it. To the extent that I have a formula, that's it. Once I've
written a book, I don't need to write it again, so I write a different
one I wish someone else had written.
QM: That's a simple but profound way
to put it. I think the biggest reason that I posed the question (and
the biggest reason I recommend you to other readers) is that you seem
to be the exception in Fantasy. Many authors seem like one trick ponies,
or that they are trying to milk a series for ever. I find your approach
refreshing. Probably the only other Fantasy writer who I think was similarly
versatile was Zelazny.
SKZB: Well, you certainly aren't going
to make me an enemy by comparing me to Zelazny. As for there being a
lot of one-trick ponies, you are missing something: Many of the writers
who do the most interesting stuff aren't the ones who get a lot of coverage
or a lot of sales, because having a series is damned near necessary
of commercial success. Sad, but true. I didn't know that when I started
doing the series, and I've never consciously made a decision to do anything
for commercial success, but it seems to be the case. What I do that
is, ,perhaps, different from some, is that I'm using mysteries as a
model. That is, the idea of completely independent adventures involving
re-occurring characters has been going on in the mystery field at least
since Arthur Connan Doyle. That my characters change and grow, and that
events in the past have effects that carry forward, just tells you which
sort of mysteries I like.
QM: Having tried many approaches,
do you have a favorite? Do you prefer first
person or third, or the letters format in Freedom... or what?
SKZB: Depends on the book, of course.
I mean, that's the whole point. Part of the fun of this stuff is finding
the right way to tell a story, and watching how the story and the way
the story is told bounce off each other and change each other. Certainly,
first person is more natural to me, but I could never have written,
say, Brokedown Palace that way.
QM: Have your publisher and agent
been supportive of your experimentation, or do
you have some blackmail photos?
SKZB: My agent and both publishers,
Ace and Tor, have supported me in this. Especially Tor. In fact, Tor,
through Patrick Neilsen Hayden have been pushing me to stretch my limits
more. I think this is a good thing.
QM: Hungarian folklore plays a large
part in many of your stories. Where and when did you become interested
in it? Was it a prominent part of your upbringing?
SKZB: Well, I'm of Hungarian extraction,
so I gradually began to acquire more and more Hungarian things: A vest,
a small wine collection, a Hungarian dog, and so on. The interest in
the folktales was part of that.
QM: Have you been to Hungary? If so,
was it before or after the breakup of the old Cold War status quo in
Eastern Europe? What did you think of it? Forgive me, I was a History
major before I was an editor.
SKZB: I've been there twice, but not
since end of the Stalinist regime.
QM: "Phoenix Guards" and
"Five Hundred Years After" are extremely fun homages to Dumas.
Is he a favorite author, or did some other reason motivate you to work
in that style?
SKZB: He is one of my very favorites.
And The Phoenix Guards was a classic case of what I mentioned
earlier: writing a book I wanted to read.
QM: Although it seems to fall outside
the conventional boundaries of fantasy, The Sun, the Moon and the
Stars is a very enjoyable look at the creative process and at the
relationships in a group of friends and colleagues. Could you talk to
us about your reasons for writing it? How did you enjoy the experience?
SKZB: Thanks. It was easier than I
thought it would be. The book tells the story of writing the book. At
some point, if you're writing, you are going to find yourself wondering
why you are doing this, what you hope to achieve. Being who I am, I
made the question the theme of a book and wrote the book to explore
it. I guess I figured some stuff out.
QM: Which authors influenced you most?
SKZB: Zelazny, Twain, Dumas, Robert
QM: Who or what in your own life influenced
SKZB: Well, certainly my writers group:
Nate Bucklin, Emma Bull, Kara Dalkey, Pamela Dean, Will Shetterly, Pat
Wrede. All have been very helpful in training the editor who lives in
the back of my head. The guy's still pretty weak, and needs more work,
but he's improving.
QM: You were involved in the internet
in its early stages back in the eighties. We at Quantum Muse like to
see the Internet as empowering the masses.
SKZB: Have you ever considered what
a horrid word, "empowering" is?
QM: With shame and regret, yes I do.
I look at that sentence now and am embarrassed. This is what comes of
writing and reading editorials when I should be busy with fiction, lovemaking
and heavy drinking. I will make every effort to correct this unfortunate
SKZB: Excellent, grasshopper.
QM: The rhetoric in some of our early
editorials borders on that of a Marxist rally. How do you see the Internet?
Do you think the cheap, broad access to markets, e-books and Print on
Demand are good for writers, readers and literature, or do you feel
that the threats to copyright make it a danger? Don't you appreciate
it when we give you such evenhanded, unbiased questions with no indication
of where our sympathies lie?
SKZB: Heh. For me, it's a tool, an
amusement, a resource. But if I had to answer, then I'd say anything
that makes communication easier across cultural boundaries, and anything
that makes human knowledge more accessible to more people, is a good
QM: Ok, so we're a bit revolutionary.
Fine. And I know they pay you and all, but don't you think it's time
we assaulted the ivory towers of the Industry that let The Chronicles
of Amber fall out of print so I can't replace my dog-eared copy
of Guns of Avalon when they could offer it forever with POD technology
and still make a profit, the bastards?
SKZB: The stupidities of the publishing
industry sometimes astonish me. A classic case of what Marx called,
"The anarchy of capitalism."
QM: Apart from writing, you are also
a musician. How does one influence the other? Is the experience similar?
Who are your favorite musical influences?
SKZB: I was raised on 30s and 40s jazz,
and folk music, like Woody Guthrie and the Weavers. I'm an unabashed
Deadhead. I love Dave Van Ronk and Greg Brown. And, really, I don't
think the music has much effect on the writing. I use music to relax.
It doesn't feed into the writing in any way that I'm aware of.
QM: I'm surprised. Music seems to play
a large part in the stories themselves, or at least the characters'
tastes in music tend to tell a lot about them.
SKZB: Well, yeah; I'm mean, that's
just a kind of cheat, but one I like. In fact, one of the fun things
in writing is finding interesting ways to reveal character. I still
recall with a certain smugness a scene in Brokedown Palace where
I described each character sitting down, and used that to give clues
as to personality. Stuff like that is fun. I need to do it more.
QM: It is obvious from your writing
that you are familiar with fencing. Will you tell the world (and my
buddy Larry) that epee is for tall skinny wimps and real men fence sabre?
SKZB: Epee is for tall skinny men and
women--not wimps. Sorry. Sabre is for guys like me, who are short, wish
they were quick, and really enjoy being flashy and showy. I loved sabre.
Also rapier, which I studied in stage combat in college--epee target,
point and edge, no right-of way. Fun!
QM: You collaborated with Emma Bull
on Freedom and Necessity, and with Megan Lindholm on The Gypsy.
How did you find the experience compared to working alone? Don't worry,
we won't tell them what you say. And neither will any of our eight readers.
SKZB: The thing is, with any book,
you have fun parts to write, and difficult parts. With those books,
I just wrote the fun parts, then stopped and let my collaborator go.
They were both high points of my writing career to date. I loved them.
QM: Some genre writers also work in
mainstream literature. Are you contemplating such a move yourself as
a way of making real money?
SKZB: What is does "mainstream"
mean? In any case, I'll write something that isn't sf or fantasy as
soon as I feel a desire to read a particular story that hasn't been
written that isn't SF or fantasy. It could happen at any time, or not
QM: Do you have a favorite place to
SKZB: Uh...at my computer?
QM: Where do you see the S/F and Fantasy
world heading? Should we worry?
SKZB: Frankly, I have no idea. I don't
keep in touch with that sort of thing. It would be very nice if I could
continue to make a living at this, because I love what I do. But I have
to say I have no idea.
QM: If you had 20 millions dollars,
would you spend it on a trip to the space station, or would you just
SKZB: I would not waste it. I would
make good, solid investments in drugs and hookers.
Actually, I think I'd build a paddlewheeler on the
Mississippi. I'd like that. I could be very happy on my own paddlewheeler
on the Mississippi.
QM: Would you like to be the Chief
Financial Officer for Quantum Muse? Those are both more fun than anything
SKZB: How long will it take me scam
twenty million dollars?
QM: Did you ever have a real job?
What's it like?
SKZB: I've had many. I prefer this.
QM: Do you go to high school reunions
just to flaunt the fact that you are a writer and way cooler than your
QM: What's your best advice to beginning
writers? Other than start running now and don't look back.
SKZB: When in doubt, always ask yourself,
"If I were reading this, what would I like to see next?"
QM: Does most of the S/F and Fantasy
world take itself too seriously or not seriously enough?
SKZB: How seriously you take yourself,
at least as a writer, is exactly how seriously you have to take yourself
in order to turn out your best book. Some need to believe they are writing
literature for the ages, or else they get sloppy. Others need to believe
they are writing throw-away crap, otherwise they freeze up and can't
do the work. As for the fans, well, I once heard an interviewer ask
Jerry Garcia how he felt about all of these Deadheads putting all of
their time, energy, and money into the Grateful Dead. He said, "Where
do you think my time, energy, and money goes?" That's about
how I feel. I put a lot of effort into this stuff, and it would be really
small and silly of me to be upset or contemptuous because other people
put effort into digging out what I've put in there. It is very gratifying.
It pleases the hell out of me.
QM: How would your describe your agreeing
to be interviewed by Quantum Muse:
(a) A kindness to a struggling on-line publication.
(b) The low point of a night of binge drinking.
( c) Quantum Muse who? I thought this was Rolling Stone
SKZB: Oh, I dunno. I just suck at saying,
QM:A weakness that underhanded editorial
types like myself will continue to exploit. Thanks again.
SKZB: You're welcome.
QM: Would you mind buying the next
SKZB: If you'll pay for the hookers.
Here is a selection of novels by Steven Brust:
Reign in Hell
Sun, the Moon, and the Stars
Hundred Years After