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Author Q&A: L.E. Modesitt

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Mr. Modesitt it's a pleasure having you on DM, and i'd like to thank you for taking time out of your buisy schedule to answer questions :happy:

 

 

what sort of material do you draw your creative influence from. do you listen to certain musics, or movies. also, how do you develope a characters personality, do you draw from RL people you know

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I'll try to answer several of your questions in one posting.

 

Recluce,Gender, and the Future of the Saga

 

Actually, I haven't gotten away from gender issues at all in the Saga of Recluce. The very latest Recluce book -- Arms-Commander deals with a number of those issues... and needless to say... there have been at least a few readers who didn't like it.

 

I'm somewhere in the middle on the question of "character control," because I know my characters well enough when I start writing that they end up largely where I felt that they would, but a number of times I've ended up changing the path they took to get there because it became obvious for various reasons [their character, the acts of others, culture]that what I'd initially considered wouldn't work or might not be true to their character.

 

I have plans for at least one more Recluce book, although it's likely to be more than a year from now before I can get to it, given what I'm already committed to writing.

 

Writing in the Present Tense

 

As a number of readers have noticed over the years, I'm one of a handful of writers who regularly writes books in the present tense. It's not for shock value, or to do something different, but because each tense has strengths and weaknesses. Third person past tense, which is the "traditional" tense, especially for F&SF, is the most accepted and the most forgiving. It's the easiest to handle, and it can cover a multitude of sins, and it allows a great deal of exposition without it being that obvious. Three person present tense, on the other hand, can be unforgiving and requires a tight focus on what is happening "now" close to the character. For certain books and characters, I've found that it is better suited for what I had in mind for the character and the story.

 

Styles

 

A number of my science fiction books are written in what might be called a harder-edged style than my fantasy works. That was a deliberate choice, based on the story and the characters. In some books, such as Archform:Beauty and The Eternity Artifact, the style changes with the character narrating that section.

 

Sources and Research

 

There's no way to pin down all the sources from which I draw. I read a tremendous amount of non-fiction and science periodicals; I worked full-time in a range of occupations for more than twenty-five years before I became a full-time writer, and I'm married to singer, opera director, and academic whose brain I pick as much as possible.

 

I don't generally lift characters "whole" from people I know, although there are one or two exceptions where characters contain large "segments" of people I know, the most obvious being Anna Marshall and Johan Eschbach. I don't listen to music at all when I write; it's far too distracting, although certain musical themes and elements have made their way into my books.

 

 

Recommendations

 

I don't do the total "light-hearted" books, but one I recently read and enjoyed that has an uplifting tone and ending, at least to me, was Mary Robinette Kowal's Shades of Milk and Honey.

 

 

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.

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What other authors do you think have most influenced your own work - and what other authors do you admire?

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Most likely, every author I've ever read has influenced what and how I write, either in a negative or positive way. In the F&SF field, I tend to admire specific works, rather than authors. Some of those that influenced me stand out at the moment [others might stand out at a different moment], and those are Creatures of Light and Darkness(Zelazny), Soldier, Ask Not!(Dickson), The Stars My Destination(Bester); The Left Hand of Darkness(LeGuin).

 

I also have great fondness and respect for the poets William Butler Yeats, T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, W.H. Auden.

 

 

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.

Edited by L. E. Modesitt

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He might have already left, but I'll throw one out there in the off chance he's lurking around.

 

 

So what do you do with the time that you aren't writing? Any hobbies like hiking, piano,...painting?

 

Also, after you finish a book, do you "go crazy" and take a vacation or something, or do you jump write in and start something new?

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He might have already left, but I'll throw one out there in the off chance he's lurking around.

 

 

So what do you do with the time that you aren't writing? Any hobbies like hiking, piano,...painting?

 

Also, after you finish a book, do you "go crazy" and take a vacation or something, or do you jump write in and start something new?

 

Mr. Modesitt will be with us through the 25th

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I'm not much of a "hobby" or "gadget" guy, nor a collector. I do take a fairly long morning walk at a good pace through the hills near the house, combining exercise and pleasure, pretty much every morning before I get cleaned up and start writing. I did paint at one time in my teens and twenties, but gave it up because my physical abilities weren't equal to my mental concepts... as was also the case with playing the clarinet. The same was true of wood-working. But, in the end, what I find enjoyable is the life of the mind in a healthy body, and I try to keep both mind and body in shape.

 

 

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.

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... my physical abilities weren't equal to my mental concepts...

 

Had to LOL at that - story of my life :P

 

I hope you don't mind multiple questions from the same people, but here goes another one:

 

Would you like to live in any of the "worlds" you have created? If so, which one?

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Over the years, I've been asked that question a number of times, and I have to answer indirectly. There is a Chinese curse, and it is a curse, that runs, "May you live in interesting times." As a writer, I write about "interesting times" in the worlds I've developed. Interesting times are times of turmoil and conflict, and I've lived through enough interesting times in my own life that I have no desire to live in interesting times elsewhere. in addition, as I've noted before, although I don't generally emphasize this side of my writing in talking about it, because, despite my cynicism, I'm an optimist by nature, all of my books have a dark side to the cultures I'm depicting... if you as a reader look closely. Anyone who thinks I write about pollyanna worlds or characters isn't looking beyond the obvious. Just take Lerris, in The Magic of Recluce. By the end of the second book, he's lost all but one person of all those he loved and who loved him. Or Anna Marshall of the Spellsong Cycle... or Rhenn of the Imager Portfolio...

 

The human toll is high in my books, and that's because of the cultures and situations, and I'm really not interested in living in those situations.

 

 

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.

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Thank you for a very interesting answer! I have noticed the dark side of your worlds, hence my interest in asking that question :biggrin:

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Do you enjoy doing book tours and other aspects of the public life of an author, or would you rather be at home writing?

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I like meeting people when I do tours and conventions, but I dislike the actual travel, largely because from where I live any appearance, except in Las Vegas or Salt Lake City, requires air travel, and that's gotten to be more and more of a hassle. I generally have been traveling for book-related appearances 4-6 weeks a year, and for me that's about all I really want to do. More than that gets physically exhausting, in addition to cutting into writing, and I still get a feeling of satisfaction from creating and completing books.

 

 

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.

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Mr. Modesitt,

 

You have been publishing SF/F since before the internet and PCs. How has writing changed in that time? How has the market shifted in style and preference?

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One thing I'm curious about is, where would you recommend that someone new to your work start reading? (I usually recommend 'The Magic Engineer,' but I might be biased as that was the first of yours that I discovered.)

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I was first published when the most advanced method of physically producing a story was the electric typewriter, and indeed, my first story was written [because I've always written prose on a keyboard of some sort] on a portable electric typewriter, a Smith-Corona, as I recall. Technology, in the form of the computer, has indeed made a change in writing... and indeed in the entire publishing business. Those changes, as with most changes, have not been uniformly good. The good news is that I don't have to retype an entire manuscript for each draft, and for each set of editorial requests. The computer does make the production of a manuscript and subsequent revisions much easier, but it also has resulted in changes in the editorial process. Because changes can be made more easily, it seems to me that editors are asking for more changes. Second, it has changed the entire submission process. When I started writing, anyone could send a manuscript "over the transom," if you will, to almost any publishing house, and the likelihood was great that it would be read. It might be rejected, but it would be read, and that was, in fact, how I first got published, with blind submissions to magazines and then to publishing houses. Today, while this is still possible in the magazine field, only one or two major publishing houses [if that] now accept unsolicited manuscripts, and that means that new writers have to either find agents or network well enough to get an editor at a publishing house to agree to look at a manuscript. Why has this happened? Because the computer made production of a manuscript so much easier that publishing houses found themselves deluged with manuscripts. Since publishing is a comparatively low margin business, the publishers have effectively pushed the "screening" of manuscripts back onto agents. In my view, this has tended to stifle originality, because agents are in business for the money, and most don't feel that they can afford to spend time and effort to send a manuscript that has limited appeal to a score of editors -- at least not every often. It took me more than a few rejections to find an editor who liked what I wrote, and even to this day, only a comparatively small number of editors like my style. I suspect that I'd have an even harder time breaking in today, and so will new writers whose work doesn't bear a similarity to other work already published.

 

The other difference I see is that young writers tend to be more imitative in their style, but I honestly can't say whether it's because the market only publishes imitative fiction or because that's the majority of what's being written.

 

Another difference lies in the distribution system. When I started, there were roughly 1,500 book wholesalers in the United States. Today, there are literally only a handful. This means that a handful of buyers determine what goes into the wholesale markets. In addition, the wholesale market has shrunk enormously. Thirty years ago, the main publication for a F&SF novel was in paperback, not hardcover. For high midlist or low bestseller list authors, 20 years ago, initial paperback print runs used to be 50,000-100,000 copies. Now, they're 20,000-50,000... and in recent years, publishers have decided not to print mass-market paperbacks of books that haven't sold well in hardcover. Ebooks, of course, were unheard of, and it will be interesting to see to what degree they either supplement or supplant hardcovers and mass-market paperbacks.

 

Although Tolkien came out in the US while I was in college, fantasy was almost non-existent as a genre when I started. Now, by some accounts, it's three quarters, if not more, of the F&SF market... and publishers are having a difficult time in finding good hard SF novels.

 

I could go on and on... but those are some of the more notable changes.

 

 

 

L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

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One of the problems I have in recommending a "first" book of mine for readers new to my work is that even in one of my series the style. POV, and tense vary from book to book. In the Saga of Recluce, for example, the first book [The Magic of Recluce] is told in first person past tense. The second [The Towers of the Sunset] in the third person present tense, and the third [The Magic Engineer] in the third person past tense. I didn't even think about those differences when I was writing the books. In fact, I didn't even consciously think about that until I wrote this. I chose those tenses and viewpoints because, to me, they made sense for the story I was telling. Unfortunately, some readers are thrown by that kind of variation, and it makes recommending a "first" book difficult.

 

Based on current reader reaction, however, I'd actually recommend Imager, the first book in The Imager Portfolio. For more traditional fantasy lovers, in the Recluce Saga, I think, for today's readers, I might actually recommend the first book [chronologically] in the saga, Magi'i of Cyador, although I'm still quite fond of The Magic of Recluce, which was the first Recluce book I wrote, although the events in it come late in the timeline.

 

 

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.

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Obviously, a writer needs to know the technical tools required to construct sentences, paragraphs, stories, chapters, and books, and if you're a poet, you need a thorough knowledge of rhyme, meter, and verse forms (in which areas all too many "modern" poets are lacking), not to mention a wide reading knowledge of not only the genre or forms in which you hope to write, but an even wider reading knowledge in non-fiction and the genres in which you never intend to write. I say this because, while I read science fiction from an early age, I never intended to write it. So I read pretty much some of everything and a great deal of history and science and politics and mysteries and thrillers, not to mention "serious" literature, and, of course, poetry.

 

In addition, I believe that every writer should cultivate a core basis of in-depth knowledge about something other than the craft of writing, call it detailed subject matter expertise. Most good writers have exactly that, and what that subject matter expertise is varies greatly. These sorts of knowledge are most valuable because in the end, as a writer, you not only need to know how to write, but you need to know enough to portray people, societies, cultures, and the institutions and technologies, not to mention the economics and politics, that support the culture in which you set your story.

 

It also helps to have a profession other than writing. One of the greatest advantages I've had as a writer was that I didn't write a novel until I'd been working full-time at other things for almost twenty years. Too many young writers [but definitely not all] run out of background and experience before they run out of life, and that leaves them burned-out shells at an early age.

 

Hope this helps.

 

 

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.

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The next book that will see print will be Scholar[November 8th], the fourth book in The Imager Portfolio, and the first in a new "subseries" which takes place hundreds of years before the first three books. Yes, I know... the dreaded "prequel" books... but these are far enough back that readers won't find spoilers in the first three books, and in fact they may find their preconceptions pushed askew. After that will come the sequel to that, Princeps, which is scheduled for release next May [2012]. And after that will be the third book about that character, which is completed, but not through final editorials, which means that I don't have a publication date, but it's likely to be in early 2013.

 

In between that I have two new stories appearing in anthologies: "The Bronze Man of Mars" in a collection entitled Under the Moons of Mars, which is a tie-in to next year's John Carter movie, and "A More Perfect Union," appearing in The Mad Scientist's Guide to World Domination. I'll also have a "theme" story appearing online at Tor.com most probably sometime next year.

 

After I finish the four volume Imager Portfolio subseries, I'm committed to a science fiction novel for Tor, and after that I hope to do another Recluce novel, but... we'll see.

 

 

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.

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photo-girl-jumping-for-joy3.jpg

I would like to announce that Mr. Modesitt has graciously offered to extend to his Q&A until Thursday September 29th! :smile: So feel free to continue questioning until then. Let me start it off.

 

You mentioned that your past experiences have helped you in your writings. Have you made the conscious choice to pull certain experiences into a story, or has it been more of an afterthought that you notice after the story is finished? I am curious as to where the artistic skills shown in Imager came from and will we ever get to see this work. :cool:

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There's an old saying about writing what you know. With the exception of metal-working in the Recluce Saga, I've had some experience with the crafts and skills and professions portrayed in my work, although my experience with music is based on years of exposure to the profession through my wife [and several years of very bad playing of the clarinet on my part]. Needless to say, the first book which had metal-working in it took longer because of the research. I took up painting when I was in high school and painted in oils, on and off, for a little more than ten years. I do have a few paintings hanging in a basement back hall, which probably represents more exposure than they deserve, but that's all the showing they're ever going to get. There is a certain artistic background in the family, since my uncle was a most successful commercial artist [his rendering of "Uncle Ben" still adorns rice packages after almost 70 years], but my physical abilities as an artist weren't anywhere close to his skills or up to my mental concepts, as I mentioned earlier, and I haven't painted in years [except walls]. I also no longer do woodworking, although my daughters do share a cradle I crafted all too many years ago.

 

I do make a conscious decision to write about skills, crafts, and abilities I know, but that's so that I can portray them realistically.

 

 

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.

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Speaking of artistry, your covers have been aweome. Do you have input, with the cover art at this stage in your career? Or is that still left up to the Marketing Dept? Would you like more control? Do you have friendly relationships with the artist(s) that do them?

 

 

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The choice of the artist is left up to the art director at Tor, and there's some back and forth between my editor and the art director. I generally get a look at the preliminary sketch, but in recent years, I've not had problems with this process [we won't talk about some of the covers earlier in my career, since one, in particular, was a disaster]. I did press to get John Picacio to do the cover for my short story collection [Viewpoints Critical, and Tor was kind enough to commission him to do it -- and I still think that cover is awesome.

 

As a matter of fact, I've only ever met three of the artists who've done covers for me, but my relations with those three have been most cordial, and I actually have original cover artwork from each of them.

 

I don't really need more control, so long as I continue to get sketches, just so I can make certain that the cover represents the "spirit" of the book.

 

 

L. E. Modesitt, Jr.

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