Tuesday, February 24, 2009


The wonderful Catherynne Valente has a book out tomorrow. Here's the trailer:

Here's the short story that the book grew out of, Palimpsest

And a brief interview:

What was your inspiration for writing Palimpsest?

A couple of years ago, Ekaterina Sedia was putting together this anthology called* Paper Cities*. It was an anthology of urban fantasy, not exactly the kind that has a woman in leather pants on the cover, or exactly the kind Charles DeLint might write, but decadent, bizarre urban landscapes. She asked me to make her a city. I was a bit burned out on making up fantasy cities, as there are a number of them in my last novel, *In the Cities of Coin and Spice*. So I started taking apart the idea of a city in my head, what a city is, what it contains. And ultimately, all a city is is people. So I began to plan a city that lived as a virus, a memetic virus and a physical one, that would manifest as a mark on human skin, something that looked like a streetmap. From there it was a short jump to the idea that such a virus could be sexually transmitted--cities are also complex networks of connections between people, and to turn that around, to have a city created by complex connections rather than creating them, was fascinating to me. Hence, Palimpsest was born.

Who are your favorite authors and books now and when you were growing up?

Growing up I loved fairy tales and folktales of all kinds. My mother bought me endless collections, and read to me from really weirdly diverse sources: Plato, Beckett, Apollinaire--and me not 10 years old. This is why I am the way I am, in a nutshell. I still love folktales and seek them out--these days I love John Crowley, Maurren McHugh, Christopher Barzak, Theodora Goss, Jeff Vandermeer, Milorad Pavic, Borges...I'm trying to read more translated work from outside US/UK/Canada/Australia.

What is it about fantasy/science fiction that attracts you?

I am a lapsed classicist, so it took me a long time to even understand the idea of realist literature. To me, writing about vengeful gods, oracles, magic, half-human monsters and fell machines was just what you wrote about, if you wrote at all. To the ancient Greeks, that was just plain old literature. So fantasy and science fiction are just natural to me--that's what literature is. The rest is a poor simulacra of real life, and that just doesn't hold the power of creating a world from whole cloth, pinning it to our own, and showing where the two become interchangeable. I love the color and beauty of fantasy, the possibility of doing *anything*. To me, it's not a genre. Everything else is just a subset.

What (besides writing) do you do for fun?

I've recently learned to knit and become quite passionate about it--it's a kind of zen activity for me, it calms the mind and makes room for writing. I also cook all manner of mad things, blow glass, and make jewelry. I live on an island in Maine and we have a small sailboat called Persephone--so I sail, fish, and snorkel. I'm also a big gamer, both console and tabletop.

What sort of research did you do to write this book?/What kind of preparation do you do when you are writing?

Palimpsest was far less research-intensive than The Orphan's Tales, but I spent a lot of time in New York--I'm not a city girl, so I wanted to feel what that kind of urban world was like. I also researched urban planning and political psychology quite a bit, trying to create a city that felt real, even as it was magical and surreal.

What are you writing now?

I'm working on a retelling of a Russian folktale set in the Stalinist era
called *Deathless* and an epic fantasy trilogy concerning the kingdom of
Prester John from medieval myth.

What does a typical writing day look like for you? How long do you write, that sort of thing?

I usually walk down to the cafe near the ferry dock--I live on a small island of about 800 people and we only have one cafe--at around 8 or 9 am and write until they close at 2. then I'll come home and work on admin things, returning emails, interviews, and such, and any other freelance projects that I have on my plate. I find writing for 5 hours straight every day lets me get a lot done with a good amount of daylight left to me.

What is easiest/hardest for you as a writer?

Language is probably the thing that comes most naturally--I love rich, decadent language and my brain wants to make words like that all the time. It takes concentration and discipline to do otherwise. The hardest thing for me is keeping a linear plot going. I'm working on getting better at that--I do with every book, I think. But I always want to mess with traditional plot structures and take them apart, like a kid taking apart a remote to see how it works. I don't always know how to put it back together again, but damned if I don't end up with a sweet pile of melted electronics.

This isn't your first book; tell us a little bit about what else is out there?

My series The Orphan's Tales, novels of interconnected fairy tales, won the Tiptree Award and the Mythopoeic Award. I've also written three other novels: The Labyrinth, The Book of Dreams, and The Grass-Cutting Sword, as well as five collections of poetry. The newest of those is A Guide to Folktales in Fragile Dialects.

Buy Palimpsest


Jonna said...

Thanks for posting this great interview.

I'm looking forward to reading Palimpsest!

DKoren said...

Great interview! Thanks!