Recently, Elizabeth Moon, author of The Speed of Dark and The Hunting Party, participated in an interview for the Plaza of the Mind. Ms. Moon was kind enough to take some time and answer some questions concerning her works and general interests.
[The Plaza of the Mind quotes appear in Bold-type, Ms. Moon’s in normal-type]
Who are some of your favorite authors?
This is a problem question, because I have a lot of writers I like, and any list will leave out too many. Also, favorites change with time--my favorites in my twenties may not be my favorites now (especially in some areas.) John McPhee (Coming into the Country, Basin and Range, Giving Good Weight, many others), Lewis Thomas (Lives of a Cell and others), Gregory Bateson, Gerald Durrell, John Keegan, Churchill...all nonfiction writers. In fiction, Jane Austen, Willa Cather, G.K. Chesterton, Anthony Trollope (for the Barchester novels), Surtees for the hunting novels, Kingsley's political novels (but not Water Babies), Dorothy L. Sayers (novels and nonfiction both), Nevil Shute, Mary Renault, Helen MacInnes, Lawrence Durrell. Many other mystery writers, thriller writers, and some mainstreams (I like one of Jane Smiley's novels enough that I read three more, and gave up on her.) Moving more into our end of things, Tolkein, Garner, Norton, LeGuin...and into current writers, Bujold, Shwartz, Friesner, Turtledove, Hemry. But the list isn't complete, and I don't want those not named to assume I don't like their work.
Are there any films that have inspired you?
No. There've been films I enjoyed, but none that sparked my own creativity.
Would you ever consider allowing one of your novels to be turned into a film?
Certainly. In fact, I've had options (but, so far, not a movie.)
If they were to make a film of any of your works who would you want to direct?
Haven't a clue. As I said, I'm not a movie-person, and I barely know one director from another. Well, OK, Peter Jackson...and if he were wanted to do The Deed of Paksenarrion, I'd be ecstatic, but aside from that...I'm a dud where movies are concerned.
You have a great talent for creating a sense of place what do you attribute this talent to?
Reading lots of books in general, and good books in particular. Almost everything I know about writing (as opposed to the business of writing) I learned from reading. Among the writers I wanted to write as well as were Nevil Shute, Helen MacInnes, Mary Renault, and Lawrence Durrell. Later, that would expand to many more, from each of whom I learned something.
The space ship in the Hunting Party was one of the most realized I have ever read. I know that there aren't too many books written on space faring yachts, how did you make it so realistic?
Topology. All human-use spaces contain some of the same things: places to eat, sleep, meet, excrete, exercise, and all the modern ones also contain the technology that supports them: air supply and circulation, heating and cooling, power for the lights, plumbing for potable and wastewater, etc. So if you consider a ship--an "ordinary" ocean-going ship--a space-ship is basically a ship stretched and pinched into a shape that lets you put an airtight skin around it and the additional things a spaceship needs that an ocean-going yacht doesn't. There are *lots* of sources for the insides of ships, including glossy magazines full of pictures of expensive yachts I can't afford to set foot on. So all you have to do, as a writer, is the stretchy-putty topology thing, plus the "what will a spaceship need that a planetside yacht doesn't?" and then put into it the things rich humans invariably want to have around them: comfort, beauty, etc.
How long have you been fencing?
About ten years now. If I practiced more, I would be better at it...
What does a day in the life of Elizabeth Moon like?
Highly variable, but it always includes writing time--at least five days a week. I wake up at first light, unless sick (disgusting, isn't it?) and usually do first-draft writing in the morning. If it's going well, it may continue through the day, but if not, I'll stop somewhere around 2000 words, plus or minus a few. Afternoons, if not consumed in first-drafting, are for correspondence, editing, and other chores. Plus a midday (winter) or late afternoon (summer) period of work on the land. Twice weekly there's music: choir practice on Wednesday night, church on Sunday morning...I try to sing at both services, especially if we're doing Mozart or another composer I like.
And sometimes I just goof off. Not too often, or the books wouldn't get written but...sometimes. Typically when it's good weather for photography and there are likely to be interesting things out on the land.
Your works concerning the future of humankind are for the most part optimistic. Do you share this optimism in your everday life?
Moderately. There are many reasons to feel pessimistic right now...but there have always been perfectly rational reasons to feel pessimistic, and pessimism per se doesn't accomplish anything. Making any worthwhile changes requires some level of optimism to balance the recognition of problems...some motivation to try for change.
I noticed in your biography that you are an only child. I am also an only child and for a few years of my childhood I spent most of my time almost exclusively in my own head, creating insanely complicated science fiction scenarios [that are now too embarassing to attempt to document]. Do you feel that being an only child has given you any singular abilities as far as creating imaginary worlds is concerned?
I'd like to think that, but many excellent writers grew up with siblings. Would Gerald Durrell have been as good a nature writer if he hadn't had Lawrence Durrell as an older brother? And would Lawrence have written those brilliant "place" descriptions in The Alexandria Quartet if he hadn't had a younger brother fascinated by nature and natural beauty? I do think having some unstructured time--free time to daydream as well as write the daydreams down--is important to developing a healthy imagination, whether you're an only child or in a crowd of brothers and sisters.
Are there any subjects that you have not written about that you would like to?
Tons. I am blessed with curiosity and great pleasure in learning and doing...so there are many things that interest me...and that seem to beg for me to write about them. Time is the problem.
What is your favorite part about being a writer?
Those times when the story is fully alive and galloping along effortlessly. When I write faster and faster until my elbows seize up and I realize I haven't moved from the computer for six or seven hours. I don't outline, so I don't know what's going to happen until the book takes off...I'm reading it avidly even as I'm writing it.
What is the strangest fan interaction you have ever had?
The most unusual (I wouldn't call it strange, exactly) was an invitation to ride with a foxhunt in England, thanks to the foxhunting scenes in Hunting Party. They assumed that I must be a foxhunter, to have written it so well...in fact, I wasn't, but I did have a lifelong experience with horses. I explained that I was a total novice, and they invited me anyway. It was the most fun I ever had on horseback, even though I wasn't fit enough despite six months of lessons. The people were wonderful--kind, generous, welcoming, absolutely delightful--and they gave me one of the best experiences I ever had, not just during the hunt. (Though, when my horse was acting up, one lady kindly offered to change mounts with me. I stuck with "Jack the mighty hunter" but very much appreciated her offer.)
The Speed of Dark was quite good. I just recently finished it and was overwhelmed by your sense of character and detail. To what do you attribute the sense of detail and understanding that you were able to portray?
We have an autistic son, now in his twenties. Since there was no early intervention available when he was little, and inadequate special education in local schools later, I did all his therapy and also homeschooled him for over a decade until he and the school had arrived at a point where transition to public school was successful. I had made copious notes on his language, perception, and how he thought (and thus arrived before professionals did at an understanding of how sensory processing problems impact language and social skills.) When I started this book, he was sixteen...and sixteen years of 24/7, 365 will give you a lot of data to play with. I figure it's equivalent to a 50 year career (of 40 hour weeks) in the professional fields that deal with autistic children. The character Lou is not much like our son--he's higher-functioning and less exuberant--but there are spectrum-wide similarities.
Are you working on a new project?
I'm working on two: the final volume of Vatta's War, titled Victory Conditions, which will be out next spring, and a short fiction collection for which I will write a new short piece, in the Vatta's War universe.
Did you find it easy to begin your literary career?
Good heavens, no. Why do you think it took me until 40 to make my first fiction sale? I had almost papered the room with rejections before making that first one.
You seem quite generous with your time, agreeing to interviews with smaller publications.
Why not? And, it's a nice break for another kind of writing, if it doesn't take too long.
You said that you learned how to write by reading, did you ever take any English courses?
I took only the English courses required for my other degrees...freshman English at Rice and a survey lit course later.
Do you enjoy the business end of your writing career?
Some of it, but not all.
Do you ever do reading tours of your work?
Yes. When a tour comes up, it's listed on my website.
What is your least favorite part of the literary world?
Have you had the chance to meet any of the authors who have inspired you?
Only two: Andre Norton and Ursula K. LeGuin
Are you ever recognized in public?
Only at conventions and bookstore events.
What is your favorite style of architecture?
Varies with the purpose of the building and the setting. I generally don't like "modern" glass-and-steel boxes, and I don't like housing styles that are out of place in their setting (Tudor in most of Texas, faux-"Spanish" in the wooded East, etc.) Log cabins are great where they belong; Arts-and-Craft houses where they belong, Tudor houses where they belong, etc. I look at proportion (outside, against the landscape, and inside, in each room) for gracious proportions and shapes, at utility (does the building efficiently serve the purpose for which it was designed), at construction quality (from choice of materials to workmanship) and then...does it ring my bells with little grace notes. I've seen buildings in many styles that do, and others that don't.
What is your favorite kind of food?