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What's New?
Interview with Orson Scott Card
America Online January 19, 1994


Question
I seem to see your name on everything from "Monkey Island" to "Living Scriptures" to poetry. How do you account for your variety while other authors are only novelists?

OSC Answers
A lot of other writers do a lot of other things. In my case, though, I didn't begin as a novelist and it simply never occurred to me to do only one kind of writing. I wrote plays and poetry in college, and only a couple of short stories -- which were always really plays in disguise anyway (you know, all dialogue). I only turned to fiction later and with much trepidation. I've also written for audiotapes, animated videotapes, plus essays, reviews, and anything else that I can think of. I'm working on an opera with my composer brother, and a musical drama with a longtime collaborator, and will be trying a serious movie script Real Soon Now. Writing in just one form would be kind of boring after a while.


Question
At the beginning of "Maps in a Mirror," you dedicated the book to "Charlie Ben, who can fly." Who is this?

OSC Answers
Charlie Ben is my ten-year-old son, Charles Benjamin Card, who has cerebral palsy and cannot walk or, except in the most rudimentary fashion, speak. However, from earliest childhood -- infancy, really -- he has delighted in being tossed in the air and caught again. It's harder now that he's older and far taller, but we still play that game. I think at first he loved it because at that moment of weightlessness at the top of the toss he feels the most freedom his body ever lets him feel. And now he loves it as much because it's something that I do only with him. We call it "flying," and so that's what the dedication refers to, on a literal level, at least.


Question
One of the more prominent characteristics of your style is religious influence. How do critics respond, and do you ever feel prejudiced due to the religion in your writing?

OSC Answers
Some critics think it's a breath of fresh air to see characters who have a religious and spiritual life and aren't despised by the author because of it. Others, of course, are sure that I'm trying to sneak my insidious Mormon agenda into the minds of poor, stupid readers. And a very small handful are astonishingly hateful toward my fiction (I've been called a "Mormon baby killer" in one publication because of the children who die in Lost Boys). For that matter, there are Mormons who hate my fiction for opposite reasons -- they're sure that I'm trying to sneak some evil satanic influence into the minds of poor, stupid Mormons. You can't please everybody. I don't use my fiction to proselytize. I use it to tell stories that I believe in, that are important to me. Because I'm a believing Mormon, there's going to be a lot of Mormon influence in my work; because I'm different from all other Mormons (just as I'm different from all other non-Mormons), there's going to be a lot of stuff in there that other Mormons aren't comfortable or familiar with. Ain't that the way it goes.


Question
"Ender's Game" is my favorite novel. Its style and pace made it impossible to take more than two days to read. The rest of Ender's trilogy are much slower and more philosophical. I even find it hard to picture the same Ender throughout. What caused this change, and how did you manage to do it and still manage to write beautiful novels?

OSC Answers
It isn't really the same Ender, any more than the adult is exactly the same person as the child in real life. There are shared memories, resemblances, echoes -- but I'm not the same person I was in college, or in high school, or in grade school. Nor is the adult Ender the same person he was in childhood. For one thing, he's a lot healthier and a lot more in control of his own life! The differences in the books arose because the books were not really a series. Both Speaker and Xenocide were under development without Ender in them before I finally realized that Ender should be a prominent character in them. The fourth and final Ender novel, which I will write as soon as possible (after Homecoming is finished and after Alvin 4, probably), titled Ender's Children, will be different still. [OSC note: The working title for the fourth Ender book, "Ender's Children," was changed to "Children of the Mind." It was published in 1996.]


Question
On the average, how long does it take you to write a novel?

OSC Answers
Three or four weeks of solid typing. Three to five years of thought and development. Both answers are true. Take your pick! I have to write in one continuous burst because otherwise I forget too much about what I've said earlier in the book; yet I can't just sit down and write from a new idea without planning and plotting it considerably first. So I usually have a dozen or more story ideas under serious development in my mind as I read and research and jot down ideas and outline elements. Then, when I start writing, it just flows out -- and, although I transform the outline beyond recognition, I do depend on that fundamental structure to make that flow of words possible.


Question
Do you ever struggle writing a story?

OSC Answers
Yes. Always, though, it's because I was about to make a mistake, and if I just hold off and think about it and wrestle with it and think of new ways of approaching it, I always figure out a way to do it, if not "right," then at least adequately.


Question
What dollar range can you expect for one of your novels currently?

OSC Answers
More than anybody deserves and less than I wish.


Question
I realize that it's essential to the effect of the story, but does it ever bother you to swear in your works?

OSC Answers
It's debatable whether it's essential, frankly. I thought it was necessary early in my career. Then, when writing Ender's Game, which I was dedicating to my then-seven-year-old son, Geoffrey, I realized that I hated listening to the kids in the book talk to each other, the mouths were so foul. That's how children in such a circumstance really would speak, I think -- but I couldn't bear to write dialogue that I wouldn't want to read aloud to my own child. So I cleaned it up -- even though it wasn't "natural." Since then I've generally maintained language that doesn't offend me -- though it still offends some, and seems impossibly mild to others. The major exception was the novel version of The Abyss, where I had to keep the level of language in the movie. That being the case, I went ahead and used a level of profanity throughout the novel that is unmatched in any of my other work. Am I ashamed of that? Not a bit. I don't think there are any bad words, just inappropriate words for certain situations. It's not the F word, for instance, that's bad -- it's using it to offend or hurt or degrade other people that makes it bad. (Words don't hurt people, people hurt people . . . <grin>). By avoiding offensive language in most of my books, I open them to a wider audience and don't lose many people on the other end. If in cleaning up the language I thought I was harming the story's truthfulness and power, I would simply sigh a bit about the people who would be offended -- and then put the words in anyway. Most of the time, though, offensive language can be left out with no harm to the story. One thing I don't do is use silly euphemisms. The way NYPD Blue is using "hump" in dialogue as a substitute for the F word is ludicrous. Better to avoid the word entirely rather than to put pathetic substitutes in its place.


Question
You have won more awards than I have been able to keep track of. How do you account for your success?

OSC Answers
Success? Am I dead yet? My stories received awards because the people who give the award liked them in large enough numbers and with enough enthusiasm to vote for them. That's not in my control, and it means nothing more than that momentary honor. If I were terribly impressed with myself for winning awards back in the mid-80s, should I now conclude that my writing has got worse because I'm no longer getting them? Should I suppose "Lost Boys" or "Unaccompanied Sonata" aren't as good as my stories "Hatrack River" or "Eye for Eye" because the latter two won the World Fantasy Award and the Hugo, respectively? There is a time in some writers' careers when those groups that give awards take pleasure in giving recognition to those writers, and it feels very good when they do it. But it doesn't mean that awarded writers are "better" or will last longer than those that don't receive awards. Some of my favorite books by excellent writers were ignored by award-giving bodies, but I'm not fooled by that.


Question
In your short story "Clap Hands and Sing," you talk of changing your past. Is there anything that you would change if you were to re-live your life?

OSC Answers
Sure. In fact, that story arose out of exactly the experience with a theatre company that I wrote about in "Clap Hands," though I would not have relived it as the story showed -- by the time I wrote it, both of the main characters were quite different from me and the friend involved. There are a lot of unkind things I've said or done that I wish I could undo; a couple of young ladies I broke up with in college in quite a heartless fashion that I wish I could undo. There are times I was angry with my wife or children that I wish I had kept to myself. There are stories and novels that I wish I could rewrite -- and some of them I have! There are times when I rebelled that I wish I had cooperated; times I cooperated when I wish I had rebelled. I know it's unproductive, but I brood often about the past and am often overwhelmed with regret. I'm always smarter than I used to be; I always know now much better how I should have lived my life then. Perhaps, though, that's encouraging -- maybe I really am getting wiser as I get older. Maybe sometime before I die I'll get it right.


Question
Piers Anthony writes in a horse pasture and Emily Dickinson never left her bedroom. Is there anything peculiar about your manner of writing?

OSC Answers
I have to get away sometimes in order to get a story started. The new surroundings trick me into getting down to work instead of hanging out having fun. I often go to rented beach places or to the home of my friends Clark and Kathy Kidd in Virginia. When I was in college, I wrote most of my plays sitting around in odd places in the Harris Fine Arts Center at BYU -- most often on the steps just inside the northeast door, where I sat waiting for my Dad to pick me up and take me home (I didn't get my license till I was nearly 23). In those days, though, I wrote on lined notebook paper; now, of course, I write on a laptop and can only do my writing where the computer can conveniently be set up. The only exception is that I often write hymns and poetry in church. I do listen to the speakers, but I find it impossible not to have my mind engaged in some activity, and hymn-writing seems the least inappropriate for long church meetings.


Question
Is there any one author that has influenced you most? Who?

OSC Answers
If there's one author, it's Joseph Smith. I read the Book of Mormon at a very early and impressionable age, and his other important writings soon after; because his writings are the foundation of Mormon thought, they had enormous weight and importance in my mind. Naturally, as I started writing I unconsciously began to adopt tropes and mannerisms of his in my own work, especially at moments that I considered especially weighty or important. If left to myself, I'd begin most of my narrative sentences with conjunctions, for instance, a very Smithian thing to do. The influence runs much deeper than stylistic quirks, however. And now that the quirks have been pointed out to me (first by Michael Collings, a fine poet who has also written critical studies of Dean Koontz, Stephen King, and <blush> me) I generally try to avoid the obvious ones. Besides Joseph Smith, I must point to Shakespeare -- not that anybody's likely to see the influence without my help! I read Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb early in my life, and along with fairy tales they were very important to me in those days. Later, I read all of Shakespeare's plays and acted many scenes and played parts in a few full-length productions. I loved and love his language, and many passages in my work, especially at climaxes or conclusions, are written first in blank verse before I spread them out normally on the page. Most important, Shakespeare taught me that it is possible to tell a story so clearly that every groundling can understand it, can care about and believe in it -- and at the same time write so densely and powerfully that the same works reward many rereadings and much study. That is my goal in all my works, to write with every tool I have acquired as a writer that is appropriate to the story at hand, but without ever making the story unnecessarily difficult for the untrained reader to receive it. Some elitist critics, of course, conclude that because my works can be read by just anybody that they aren't worth reading at all -- but that's fine with me. If I ever won the praise of the elitists, I'd worry that I had sold old.


Question
Has your writing always been excellent through high school and college?

OSC Answers
There are those who would question whether it is excellent now. Let's just say that in my family, we always assumed that if something needed to be written, we could write it. I got early encouragement from my parents, but all us Card kids knew we could write. That's one of my parents' greatest gifts to us, that language was an easy tool for all of us to use. It also helps that the Mormon Church provides so many opportunities for kids to write -- short plays, speeches, and so on. More in my childhood than now, but the opportunities are still there. So I not only wrote, I also had an approving audience. Both are essential to a novice writer.


Question
How would you suggest that a high school student could improve his writing (realizing that you have never seen a sample)?

OSC Answers
I don't have to see a sample to tell any writer how to improve his or her writing. When it comes to the substance of stories, the best way to improve is (1) Write, and (2) Read. When it comes to the substance of stories, the best way to improve is (1) Have a Real Life, (2) Question Everything, and (3) Learn Everything About Everything. What do I mean by the last three? "Have a Real Life" means to avoid associating only or even primarily with other artists or intellectuals. Instead, keep close contact with real people -- people who work for a living, whose worries are about other people's needs or demands and not about their art and whether it will be well-received. "Question Everything" means that you don't believe what you're told until you've at least thought about it, especially when people tell you what is important or good or why things happen. For instance, when a literature professor tells you that this book or that book is "good literature," don't believe it. Read it and decide for yourself whether it's worth anything. You may read it again later and decide differently, but no matter. Anything that you believe, you should believe because you worked out the answer for yourself -- even if it turns out to be exactly the same answer that someone else told you in the first place. I'm a believing Mormon, not because I didn't question what I was taught growing up, but because I did. "Know Everything About Everything" means that you never stop learning, ever, and any time you discover some area in your education where you have a gap, you must immediately labor to learn something about that subject, even if -- no, especially if -- the reason you know nothing about it is because it never interested you. Everything you learn will show up in your storytelling -- as will everything you don't learn.


Question
Do you have any special interests (besides writing and computers)?

OSC Answers
My first interest is my family. My kids have grown up into wonderful, fascinating people who are better company than anybody else I know -- and that doesn't denigrate any of my dear and fascinating friends. My wife, Kristine, is so much a part of me that I cannot imagine living without her; and yet she is also infinitely surprising. I am also endlessly fascinated by the people I work with in my church callings. Right now I teach Sunday School to a group of 15-to-17-year-olds who are bright and exciting and just at the age to care about the best questions. After that, I love to read; I love music (classical, country, rock, Brazilian, Hispanic, folk, medieval, gospel . . .) and sing and sometimes conduct our church choir; I love to ride a bike when it's safe and I'm in good enough shape to do it; I am devoted to movies; I am fascinated by politics and world affairs (there's a senator inside me struggling to get out) and will talk about them to any victim who can't get away in time. I say nothing of computers, because you already mentioned that.


Question
Is there anywhere I could get more information on you or your works?

OSC Answers
Michael Collings wrote a book entitled "In the Image of God" which deals with my writing, especially the religious influences that show up in my work. Beyond that, my afterwords in Maps in a Mirror are probably the most that anyone's ever written about my work.


Question
Is there anything that you would like to add or anything that you would like the world to know about you?

OSC Answers
No. I don't think the world is terribly interested in the things I've already said.


Question
How long did it take you to answer questions?

OSC Answers
Two hours, from one to three a.m. on the 15th of January.


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