Monday, June 30, 2008

Interview with Nancy Kress

Nancy Kress is the author of twenty five books (18 novels, 4 short story collections, and 3 nonfiction books on writing). Her most recent books are the collection Nano Comes to Clifford Falls and Other Stories (review) and Dogs (review).

Nancy graciously agreed to answer a few questions.

How would you describe yourself as a writer to somebody who has never read any of your work before but may be interested? What do you see as your particular strength as a writer?
I write character-driven SF, often about genetic engineering. The genetic engineering part is because I believe this is the future, and not such a far-away future. The character part is because although science is interesting all by itself ("This is how the universe works"), it only becomes stories when it happens to people that readers can either care about or feel an interest in (not necessarily the same thing).

Would you talk a little bit about the origins of your new novel Dogs? Specifically, what lead you to blend the terrorism subplot with the canine plague infecting Tyler?
Probably because both interest me. I know that's a vague answer, but the creative process, most of which goes on below the surface of a writer's mind, is something of a mystery to me. Still, after thirty years! In this case, I was interested in hot agents, pathogens that may cause plagues. I also lived for a brief time while young in an Arab country, and came to have considerable respect for Arab culture. I'm not knowledgeable to write about it from the point of view of an Arab, so Tessa seemed the right lens.

Outside of perhaps demonstrating America's vulnerability to highly original forms of terrorism, is there anything in particular you tried to accomplish with Dogs? Or, is there anything you would hope readers take away from the novel.
I would hope, first of all, that they enjoy reading it. "Enjoy" can have many meanings, and I don't necessarily mean "be entertained by." I mean be interested, wanting to know what comes next. That's what drives good stories.

Then, I would hope they take away a renewed sense of how global our civilization is. An African pathogen can reach the United States by plane in about eight hours. We dodged the bullet with Ebola, when it was imported with research monkeys to Reston, Virginia, in 1989. Who's to say we will be so lucky next time? You don't need terrorists; you just need a mutated hot agent.

Although we are vulnerable to bio-terrorism.

Can you talk about specific challenges you faced researching and writing Dogs?
Not too many challenges. The science is not gone into in great detail, and I had already read a lot about epidemics. Also, I'd read many books about how the FBI is structured and functions for my two previous thrillers, OATHS AND MIRACLES and STINGER. I lived in Maryland for six years. So this book didn't require as much research as, say, my Probability series did. And, of course, when a book is set in the present, a writer is saved from having to create an entire future world.

In Nano Comes to Clifford Falls you write that "Mirror Image" is your favorite story in the collection. Is there a particular story (or novel) of yours which you are especially proud of but hasn't received the attention you hoped it would?
Yes, "Mirror Image." I liked that story, on several levels, but it sort of just disappeared. Often a writer's preference is not a good predictor of public reaction.

Instigated by the announced Table of Contents of Eclipse Two, recent weeks have seen a good deal of conversation regarding an overall lack of female contributers to anthologies and magazines and the supposed "genderblindness" of editors. As the only woman published in Eclipse Two, what is your perspective on the short fiction market for women and what do you think can be done to improve it?
I didn't know I was the only woman in ECLIPSE 2. I looked at the last few issues of both ASIMOV'S and F&SF, and you're right, there are only one or, at the most, two female-authored stories in both magazines. I don't know why this is. We have so many terrific female writers: Connie Willis, Karen Joy Fowler, Elizabeth Bear, Lisa Goldstein, Kris Rusch, Mary Rosenblum, Vonda McIntyre... I could go on and on. I don't understand the situation.

Related to the previous question, have you noticed any changes in the short fiction market since you first began publishing in the early 1980's? Are there certain types of stories selling now that wouldn't have twenty years ago, or different opportunities available for publication?
Well, of course, twenty years ago we didn't have on-line magazines. In general, I think short fiction is more accomplished now. I look at my first few sales, and I don't think that a new writer could sell those same stories today. SF is deeper, more complex. It's also more willing to publish edgy stories. Connie Willis could not find a publisher for her child-abuse story "All My Darling Daughters" until she included it in her own collection, but that kind of story is published now. I just finished M. Rikert's "Holiday," in the Strahan Best of the Year, and it's creepy and powerful and way, way out there.

What is the one question you wish somebody would ask you and how would you answer it?
I wish someone would say, "Will you accept one million dollars for the movie rights to this novel of yours?" And I would say "Yes."

Thank you very much for you time, Nancy.

Thanks also to Matt Staggs for helping to set this up.


Anonymous said...

Cool last answer :D

Andy Wolverton said...

Great interview! Thanks for sharing it.

Joe said...

Thanks! It didn't turn out too badly, carried entirely by the strength of Nancy's answers. :)