Steven Brust is the author of over two dozen novels, including most recently, Tiassa, the latest of the Vlad Taltos novels set in his fantasy world of Dragaera. He also recently wrote the short story “The Desecrator“, also set in the world of Dragaera, available on Tor.com and elsewhere.
Steven was extremely kind enough to meet me and talk about himself, his writing, and a wide range of topics. Here are brief glimpses into some of the things we talked about.
Steven: I like a good argument, something that stretches my brain…Panels where you just give information are boring. Panels where actual conflict occurs are where learning happens for me.
Steven: I always take the approach that I write something that I want to read.
Paul: So you don’t write to market?
Steven: Writing to a market…I don’t know how to do that.
Steven: It doesn’t grab me–yet
Steven: Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light. I started getting serious about writing after reading it.
Steven: No Science Fiction Media worked for me until Firefly. Hollywood things everything has to be over the top, grandiose. Firefly came along and changed all the rules.
Paul: Did you like the Firefly film Serenity?
Steven: I liked it…I have a few gripes
Paul: What about the fate of Wash?
Steven: Yes, although I think it was a mistake, I understand why he [Joss Whedon] did it–to get the viewers to take him seriously. Wash is my favorite character.
Steven: That’s my Zelazny tribute novel…I looked around for what Mythos he missed.
Paul: Tiassa is composed of three novellas, right?
Steven: Yes, plus an epilogue and a prologue. One of the fun parts is having all these Houses, reflections of my personality. I like matching the form of the novels to the content. Dzur is about heroism, so we’ll flip it on its head. Finding ways to do that is fun.
Steven: The more you put in consciously, the more you put in that you didn’t intend, and the readers find.
Paul: Do you think you will do one for each of the 17 Dragearan Houses?
Steven: When I realized that I was doing a series, I thought that there will be Nineteen…17 Houses, plus two more, Taltos, and a novel for Vlad’s last job.
Steven: I thought I was going to be done after Phoenix, but now I don’t think I am going to get tired of them…I want to know what happens.
Paul: Who do you read?
Steven: I read nonfiction. I’ve gotten into the American Civil War.
Paul: Shelby Foote, author of a 3 volume history of the Civil War?
Steven: Yes, although he has his prejudices and doesn’t admit them…The good historian is up front about and very clear about his prejudices. James McPherson, in my opinion, is the best Civil War writer. His Battle Cry of Freedom is the best one volume history of the Civil War. He is very strong on the causes and effects.
Steven: Twain is my favorite…his autobiography is absolutely delightful. It’s full of quotes for which I now have context.
Steven: My favorite interviewer and my dream is to be interviewed by Terry Gross.
Paul: From Fresh Air.
Steven: Always, always interesting. A fabulous interviewer.
Steven: I watch House. And Burn Notice. Burn Notice has good lessons for an SF Writer.
Paul: Really? How?
Steven: In every episode, he [Michael Westen] gives you some spycraft. I don’t know how much of it is real…but they do a really good job of convincing you. That’s what you do for Fantasy and Science Fiction. That level of convincing so that the reader goes with it. You convince the reader of the [technology] by convincing the reader of how it feels.
Steven: It isn’t that Science leads to technology, it’s the dialectic that they drive each other. Science leads to technology, and technology leads to science.
Paul: Why don’t you write more Science Fiction?
Steven: Most of the tropes of Science Fiction don’t excite my cool detector. Cloaks and Rapiers excite my cool detector.
Steven: After reading Hôtel Transylvania [by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro] I thought I’d never write a vampire novel…but the pieces coalesced together. I wrote it in six weeks, the longest period of sustained inspiration.
Paul: Have you ever gamed?
Steven: In the 70’s Minneapolis was a weird place to game.
Paul: M.A.R. Barker?
Steven: I didn’t get to game with him, although I had friends who did…I was thinking of Dave Arneson. He helped create a little game called Dungeons and Dragons. He would create stuff and hand out mimeographed sheets…you didn’t buy a module, you created stuff yourself. That’s what you did, you did homebrewed stuff…
Steven: The actual origins of Dragaera were in a homebrew dungeon run by a friend.
Paul: Why make Vlad an assassin?
Steven: Vlad came from a character I created.
Steven: A lot of what you do as a writer–there is something you really like, but something about it bugs you, so you do it your way…I liked the Thieves Guild of Lankhmar but it bugged me that it was legal. It took the charm out of it. So I did it my way.
Steven: A book jumps up that says “Write me”. So I write it…The way I write–lots and lots of tiny bits that I can spin off, or just leave lying there
Paul: Do you like to listen to music when you are writing?
Steven: No. When I listen to music, that’s all I do. I start to pay attention to the music. I like to write to voices, a low level of conversation in the background. Movies that I don’t have to pay attention to, for example. That distant background hum is good to write to.