We are down to the final two interviews in the author series. They’re with a couple of amazing writers, though, so we’ll be ending on a high. Please welcome C.J. Cherryh to her first visit to Zen DiPietro Science Fiction!
Zen: You started writing at the age of 10, because you felt frustrated with the lack of the kind of science fiction you wanted to see. How do you feel about the state of science fiction today?
C.J.: There’s SO much science available. It’s our job as sf writers to understand it, bring it to a practical story level, capable of being understood by people without science expertise, and make it good story. We’re the bridge to popular understanding. Colored lights and sfx are not the be-all and end-all of sf: knowledgeable, exciting story is.
Zen: Have any of the genre’s recent movies or tv shows particularly impressed you?
C.J.: Not that much, since Galaxy Quest. That was a tongue in cheek high point. Though Fringe definitely had some good stuff.
Zen: Which of your stories would you most like to see brought to live on the big screen?
C.J. Chanur is probably capable of fitting the big screen, given CGI, and the story would translate.
Zen: You’ve been quoted as saying, “A new writer coming out these days is in a terrible spot if they write complex books.” Can you elaborate on that?
C.J.: In a nutshell, publishers are increasingly answering to committees, who don’t know that much about sf or science and whose focus is on popular culture. SF either has a pop culture hook that can be explained in two sentences to a group of non-field people—or it doesn’t get bought. There are occasional exceptions. But a ‘deep’ book has an uphill battle. Don Wollheim said media success was the biggest danger sf faced…and he was right.
Zen: Digital publishing has changed the trade into something entirely new. What are the best, and worst, things about that from your particular perspective?
C.J.: The best is that voices find a way to be heard. The worst is—it coincides with a lack of emphasis on spelling and grammar in the school systems. You have on the one hand the English expert who will copyedit your work—but are they adept at fiction, which has a completely different set of grammatical considerations than, say, a scientific paper. You have on the other—Aunt Sophie, who loves you and would never hurt your feelings, for a first reader. That, or a writer’s group who believes that criticism means finding all the fault you can. [The actual meaning is finding both virtues and faults.]
Zen: Has there ever been an idea that you weren’t sure you could successfully translate into a book?
C.J.: Cyteen, until modern genetics gave me the environment.
Zen: Speaking of translations—the language in your Foreigner series is very developed. So much so that there are plot points that revolve around the nuance of the language. How much of that language did you actually create?
C.J.: Well, all of it. 😉 If you mean is there a whole spoken dictionary, no. I have an idea of the structure of it, and the general pattern of it. But not a large unpublished dictionary. I have a strong background in linguistics myself, so I do apply knowledge to it, but my writing all lands in the books.
Zen: We all have our pet peeves. Are there any tropes that you particularly dislike?
C.J.: End of civilization stories, particularly with zombies. They’re soooo unsanitary.
Zen: If you could have a cameo in any science fiction show or movie (past or present), which would you pick?
C.J.: Oh, probably the original Star Trek. I did have a literary walkon: Diane Duane used a disguised version of my name for a communcations officer.
Zen: Of course, everyone always wants to know what you’re working on now. Can you share any hints?
C.J.: Working on Emergence, a Foreigner novel to follow Convergence; and will be working on Alliance Rising, a new Merchanter novel for the first time in decades.
I write full time; I travel; I try out things. The list includes, present and past tense: fencing, riding, archery, firearms, ancient weapons, donkeys, elephants, camels, butterflies, frogs, wasps, turtles, bees, ants, falconry, exotic swamp plants and tropicals, lizards, wilderness survival, fishing, sailing, street and ice skating, mechanics, carpentry, wiring, painting (canvas), painting (house), painting (interior), sculpture, aquariums both fresh and salt, needlepoint, bird breeding, furntiture refinishing, video games, archaeology, Roman, Greek civ, Crete, Celts, and caves.
I’ve traveled from New York to Istanbul and Troy; outrun a dog pack at Thebes, and seen Columbia lift on her first flight. I’ve fallen down a muddy chute in a Cretan cave, nearly drowned in the Illinois River, broken an arm, been kicked and tossed by horses, fended off an amorous merchant in a Turkish tent bazaar, fought a prairie fire, slept on deck in the Adriatic, and driven Picadilly Circus at rush hour. I’ve waded in two oceans and four of the seven seas, I’ve seen Halley’s Comet from Australia’s far coast, and I want to visit the Amazon, the Serengeti, and see the Erebus volcano in Antarctica. I’ve seen the Northern Lights and experienced tornadoes and a small earthquake. I choose to live downwind of five active volcanoes, (one of which has just waked up) and directly atop the evidence of world-class cataclysms: lava flow and Ice Age flood. I love snow and cold, and with my good friend Jane Fancher, I took up figure skating at 61. I took silver (to her gold) in my first small competion six months later. We practice the sport daily, and we both have ambitions to compete in adult Nationals…if I can ever get my outside back edges steady.
I see this planet as part of the whole universe: I’m stuck on it a while, and until I get the chance to get off it—(I want to do a flyby of Mars and take a look at Nix Olympica and the Vallis Marinaris, personally; and I want to see Titan and Saturn’s rings and the Red Spot on Jupiter)— I don’t plan to neglect where I am either, and I’m keeping a constantly updated list of wonders this planet has to see.
Official website: www.cherryh.com