Who is your favorite teacher from high school and what is the one life long lesson you learned from him/her?
My favorite teacher from high school was my ninth grade English teacher Mr. Robert Ellis, who was a war veteran with a bad back and taught English to General Course students those who would work in trades or be secretaries). When the College Course English teach told my parents after the first week of school that if I stayed in her class she would fail me because I wrote like Faulkner (whom I had never read) and she hated Faulkner, Mr. Ellis took me into his class. There I learned grammar, the diagramming of sentences, how to set up a letter or a manuscript, He was very strict, very fair, and I to this day credit him for giving me the tools of my trade.
How much time do you spend researching your story before you decide on a plot?
Your question is a tricky one, for sometimes the plot is decided by the research, sometimes by the characters. In a biographical novel such as I, the Sun, done before the internet, I spent several years from the day I decided to write the biography of Suppiluliumas, until I completed the book: I hired Calvert Watkins from Harvard as my consultant; he translated into English ancient texts on sorcery and provided research support and material. I most like mixing historical data, myth, and and my own story, wrapping my story around a set of givens, but sometimes the characters are so strong that they override any mechanistic attempt to create a plot driven story. With my new Rhesos of Thrace book, where conflicting myths exist and some critical links between myth and history are missing, I am greatly enjoying choosing among historical options from the time of the climax of Trojan War (1188 BCE), and the later action (4th Century BCE), and that book as been over a year in the making and will take another six to eight months. So I suppose the short answer is that for me there is an iterative function plot and story (research is a form of story), so than when I end up writing, I know that X and Y must happen somewhere in the section I am writing, but how the characters get those events accomplished is up to them.
What was the genesis of your latest book?
My latest finished book (Not counting my Author’s Cut series of expanded and revised books from the 20th century) is The Fish the Fighters and the Song-girl, part of my Sacred Band of Stepsons series. When I finished The Sacred Band, I wanted to write an anthologized novel that both took my characters to ‘farther realms’ and allowed me to collect my last iconic stories from the 1980s bestselling Thieves’ World series by placing them in a new novel framework in which those stories would be flashbacks. To do this, as I had done once before with the book Tempus, I introduce a new and overarching framework and a second timeline so I could start in media res using the device of a new novella, and yell a new story while flashing back to the older ones. In this way, I took my characters north to ‘farther realms’ and began a new phase of their adventures. I also, finally, have all my TW stories in two volumes, so people don’t need to look for eleven paperbacks. The genesis of this project was the desire to move into new territory with my characters while consolidating all the remaining stories of their past lives.
What kind of music do you like? Who’s your favorite artist?
My favorite musical artist is my husband, Christopher Crosby Morris, whose music is a fusion of avant garde and traditional American styles. Along with Chris, I love Bach, Corelli, Miles (before Bitch’s Brew), The Meters, Alice and John Coltrane.
With which of your characters do you most identify?
Now that is a loaded question. At different times in my life, I have identified with different characters, and thus written their books: in he Silistra Quartet, I identified with Estri, as she passes through the worlds of men; in the Kerrion Consortium series, with Shebat, who falls in love with a sentient spacecraft. As I grew in experience, I wrote about females with skills at parity to men, but never females who were the same as men. I suppose, of all the characters, I identify most with Tempus’ sister-in-arms, Cime, from the Sacred Band series. Intellectually, having nothing to do with being male or female, I identify with Tempus and his Herakleitan ethos. Suppiluliumas of Hatti taught me more than any contemporary about war and leadership. And now, in Rhesos of Thrace, I have a character called Salmakis, with whom I also identify strongly. I’ve been writing so long that my books examine questions that vexed me or enthralled me, in an investigative process. If I had to step back, I would say that heroism per say is what most interests me, and I try in my way to embody the heroic ethos in my work — so what I identify with is not a character, but a philosophy.