Friday, April 30, 2010
Greg Bear on writing and City at the End of Time
Greg Bear has authored more than 30 books, won many Nebula and Hugo awards and was named “Best working writer of hard science fiction” by The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. I have read and reviewed several of his books. I love character-driven plots and he is a master. I just reviewed City at the End of Time at Mostly Fiction. You'll also find my review of Quantico there.
To read more about Greg Bear, visit his website.
AW: Your writing tends to cross genre lines. Do you think pigeon-holing novels into sub-genres helps or hurts their exposure?
GB: It’s a publishing quirk, designed to reach audiences with allegedly fixed tastes--or at least to avoid confusing them. I think the tastes of younger audiences are much broader than these categories allow, but modern bookstores rarely mix and match--and so we confirm both the conservatism and the prejudices. However, book sales in some formats have declined considerably in the last ten years, showing that many potential readers have been lost to other entertainments and media.
AW: What other genres or mediums would you like to expand into?
GB: I’ve thought about writing all sorts of fiction, and even non-fiction, but I’ll need to build a considerable nest-egg to continue expansion--though Quantico was quite successful, and Mariposa is selling as well. Quantico, and Darwin's Radio before that, caused me entirely unnecessary problems with one of my publishers. Now, however, I seem to have a good audience for suspense thrillers with a sf angle... It’s all about track record, I suppose.
AW: Your Foundation and Chaos was my favorite book in the Foundation sequel trilogy. Can you tell me what it was like writing a Foundation book?
GB: Very interesting and enjoyable. I read Gregory Benford’s first volume, of course, then re-read much of Isaac’s shelf of books, including his autobiographies and essays, and uploaded as much as I could of his amazing personality. Soon enough, I seemed to have Isaac sitting on my shoulder... A very charming presence indeed. I listened closely to his suggestions, and he gave a little on certain things I thought were interesting to explore. David Brin wrapped it all up for us! Janet Asimov was very supportive and helpful, and that made the project much easier for all of us.
AW: How do your ideas for novels begin? With a "what if," a world, a character, or a sociological concept?
GB: All of that at once! It’s difficult now to piece together exactly how a story pops up to be written, but it usually has all of those elements inherent in its premise and set of characters.
AW: In City at the End of Time, did you have drawings, paintings, maps or other visual aids to keep your descriptions consistent across chapters and POVs?
GB: I had a few maps and some quick sketches to work with, nothing extensive. I used to keep a notebook on each novel, but now, I mostly include notes and updates and such in the computer file, to remind me they need to be looked at and integrated. In a way, City at the End of Time arises from one of the first novels I sketched out in my college days, an early effort entitled Shannedar. Very little of that work now remains in the finished product--but the metaphysical implications of a universal library were already fascinating to me.
AW: City at the End of Time is complex with far reaching story lines and numerous POVs. Did you initially write it in sequence?
GB: For the most part, yes. The story expanded and grew more complex with time, and I kept discovering new questions and consequences, so some sections are folded in later, as usually happens with my novels--but the writing was mostly linear.
AW: How much tweaking do you do in rewrites? How many times do you rewrite a novel before you're satisfied with the result?
GB: Every day I look over work from the previous day and rework it. Every few days, I skip around through the manuscript both to correct and to reorient myself to what I’ve done, how characters develop and interact, how plots are moving along.
AW: What are you working on now?
GB: Main project at the moment: the first of three novels describing the origins of the Halo universe. There may also be some media and even “transmedia” projects in the near future that will also take up my full attention. Being three people would be handy!
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