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Orson Scott Card Interview


Question
Are there any colleges in particular that you believe have good classes for writing improvement?

OSC Answers
Not really. The best improvement in writing comes from writing - the more you do it, the more you recognize and solve problems on your own, the better you are at it, without any help at all from others.

However, in most cases you should not be thinking about "improving" your "writing" at all -- just as, in bicycling, you don't think about improving your pedaling. Instead, you should concentrate on the road ahead -- the analogy being that you should concentrate on the story you're trying to tell, on being inventive and on presenting the story clearly, without even a thought of style or grammar or <shudder> vocabulary.

Writers who are thinking about their writing usually write badly; even when they write well, the stories are rarely worth reading. But writers who concentrate on telling a story they care about and believe in, as clearly as possible, usually come to discover that they have a distinctive voice that other people recognize as uniquely their own -- a voice that they didn't "create" but that instead emerges from their own natural style of speech. Indeed, just as everybody has different voices in their speech (the "telephone voice," the voice we use with babies, the voice we use with lovers, the voice we use with parents, the voice we use with friends, with teachers, with policemen, etc.), without even meaning to most writers who are concentrating on clarity and story creation will have as many voices as they need.

In college classes, however, you are invariably told to concentrate on precisely those things that should be ignored so they can emerge naturally -- on symbols, on style, on "theme" -- while the things that you should be thinking about, and which, to a degree, can be taught -- invention, structure -- are ignored. In fact, it's considered bad form even to bring them up in many a college writing class.

Having said that, I must say that I have known several excellent writing teachers. But even they, to a degree, have been at least partially afflicted with these flaws. It has to do with the attitudes toward literature and what makes literature worthwhile in the culture of college English departments. It is rare to find someone who takes part in such a department yet remains immune to the myopia and self-love that afflicts that culture -- and the culture of literature departments throughout the West.


Question
At what age did you decide you wanted to be an author? Have you been writing since childhood?

OSC Answers
I've been writing since childhood, but never thought of it as a career (mostly I was a poet, you see, and no one in his right mind thinks of poetry as a career <grin>). I entered college as an archaeology major, having given up on several other career thoughts. Quickly I switched to theatre, however, since I was spending all my time in the theatre department anyway. In the midst of trying to learn to act and direct, I found myself taking most pleasure -- and having most success - in doctoring scripts and adaptating non-dramatic stories into dramatic form. Soon I tried writing scripts of my own, and before long I realized that if I had any particular knack in theatre, it was in the area of writing.

Then, when I realized that you can have a hit play and lose money, I tried my hand at fiction writing and the first story I wrote after becoming serious about it, I sold. It was "Ender's Game."


Question
Did you have a favorite author that inspired you to write?

OSC Answers
I had many favorite writers at different stages of my life, and none of them inspired me to write. Quite the contrary -- favorite authors inspired me to read. What inspired me to write, the actual event that triggered me to write my first original script, was seeing a play that I hated. I thought, "That story deserved to be told better. Even I could have done a better job!" And then set out to prove it.

As I tell my writing students today: There are two motives for becoming a writer: "I wish I could write like that," and "If that can be published, I can write!" The first motive makes you derivative, imitative; the second, original and a bit arrogant and rebellious. Arrogant and rebellious are traits that help you forge a writing career; derivative and imitative are usually not.


Question
Who has been your greatest supporter? Mother, father...

OSC Answers
My mother's greatest natural talent -- and she had many great talents! -- was the gift of encouragement. She could make anybody feel proud of their accomplishments. And she did it without fawning or flattering -- she honestly found something good and praised it warmly. Not only her children, but everybody else she has come in contact with has been helped by that gift. My father was supportive in a different way -- he was always ready to lend a hand, give a ride, build, paint, photograph ... whatever it took to get any project finished. He was resourceful and clever in his solutions to problems, and you always knew that he would come up with a solution, so any project I undertook, my dad was there.

My wife has, over the years, become the most perceptive and helpful editor I know, not only of my work but of the work of other writers.


Question
Would you suggest writing as a career to anyone?

OSC Answers
I don't have to. Those who should be writing as a career already know it.


Question
How long does it take you to write a novel?

OSC Answers
Years to think of it. About six weeks to type it.


Question
Do you ever completely redo a novel? As in, are you just disappointed how one turned out, so you just start over?

OSC Answers
I did rewrite my first novel from beginning to end -- after it was published. That's why "Hot Sleep" is not in print, and "Worthing Chronicle" (as part of the collection "The Worthing Saga") is.

But I have never had to completely redo a novel in manuscript, because I get it right the first time. On the other hand, I have often thrown out openings -- sometimes a hundred pages or more -- and started over, saving not a word of the first draft. Because of the beginning doesn't work, there's no way to save the rest of the book. And if I ever found myself with a finished novel, and discovered that the beginning didn't work and the whole thing had to be done over, I would do it without hesitation.

Many teachers, however, teach their students that they should write multiple drafts. Perhaps this is true in essay writing (though I doubt it), but it is absolutely not true in fiction writing. In fiction writing, any mistake you make, in terms of what happens in the story and why, will cause new errors in every later scene, and therefore it must be fixed before you go on. If you have the attitude, "Oh, I'll fix that on the second draft," then you're dead. The story will fail. The fiction writer must write each scene with the iron determination to get it right this time or he will not go on. If you do that, then when you get to the end, you will have done it right ... the first time.


Question
Not sure how to word this one, its a bit personal, but about how much money does a writer make, say per book?

OSC Answers
Writers are paid a percentage of the sales of the book, usually a royalty of 6-10% of the cover price on paperbacks, and 10-15% of the cover price on hardbacks. Publishers also usually pay an advance against those royalties, usually beginning at about $3,000 but conceivably reaching the millions in the case of writers with proven track records. The author then receives no royalties until the book has sold enough copies that the publisher has made back the full amount that was paid to the writer in advance. Once a book earns out the advance, then the writer resumes receiving royalties on each copy sold. If a book never earns out the advance, the publisher eats the loss -- the author does not have to repay the advance. But you can be sure the publisher won't pay such a large advance the next time! Indeed, some writers actually turn down high advances because they'd rather receive the money through royalties and never have to worry about the publisher suffering a loss if the advance turns out to have been too high.

If a writer receives an advance before turning in the manuscript, and then never produces the book, the writer does have to return the money advanced. That's why many writers yearn for the day when they are making enough from royalties that they can refuse advances and simply write whatever they feel like writing and offer it to publishers as a finished work.


Question
Is writing your full-time career?

OSC Answers
I live entirely from the sales of my writing, yes.


Question
Are you coming out with any more Ender books?

OSC Answers
There are no sequels planned to Children of the Mind, the last of the novels about Ender Wiggin. However, the Shadow series, set in the same future as Ender's Game but following Bean and other characters from Ender's Game, will continue until we have four books, "Ender's Shadow," "Shadow of the Hegemon," "Shadow Puppets," and "The Shadow of the Giant."


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