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INTERVIEW: A Conversation with Steven Brust

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 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.

On panels at conventions

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.

On picking books to write

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.

Paul: Steampunk?

Steven: It doesn’t grab me–yet

On his getting started in writing

Steven: Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light. I started getting serious about writing after reading it.

On Science Fiction Media

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.

[Note: Steven has written a Firefly novel and has made it available under a creative commons license on his website.]

On his novel ‘To Reign In Hell’

Steven: That’s my Zelazny tribute novel…I looked around for what Mythos he missed.

On writing his ‘Dragaera’ novels

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.

On reading

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.

Paul: Twain?

Steven: Twain is my favorite…his autobiography is absolutely delightful. It’s full of quotes for which I now have context.

On interviews

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.

On Television

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.

On Science and science fiction

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.

On Agyar, his vampire novel

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.

On Roleplaying

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.

On the Writing Process

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.



Steven Brust will be a guest at Comicpalooza in Houston Texas, May 27-29. He will be also featured at the Fourth Street Fantasy Conversation in Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 24-26. 2011

About Paul Weimer (366 Articles)
Not really a Prince of Amber, but rather an ex-pat New Yorker that has found himself living in Minnesota, Paul Weimer has been reading SF and Fantasy for over 30 years and exploring the world of roleplaying games for over 25 years. Almost as long as he has been reading and watching movies, he has enjoyed telling people what he has thought of them. In addition to SF Signal, he can be found at his own blog, Blog Jvstin Style, Skiffy and Fanty, SFF Audio, Twitter, and many other places on the Internet!

5 Comments on INTERVIEW: A Conversation with Steven Brust

  1. Ah, little bursts of Brustian reflections!

  2. I got really excited when I saw “Interview with Steven Brust.” That’s it?? I want more! I want facial expressions, actual questions, thorough answers… I wanna pick his brain, damn it! lol Please tell me there’s more to come! For one of my absolute favourite authors, these little tidbits are incredibly teasing.

  3. Alas, Ashley, my inexperience with interviewing, combined with the nature and flow of the conversation turned an interview into a stew of bits and pieces.  It was more excerpts from a conversation than a real full interview with questions and answers. 

  4. Howard Brazee // June 23, 2011 at 8:37 pm //

    Thieves’ guilds bug me too.    Very popular, but make no sense.   In our world they call themselves politicians.

  5. Thieves’ Guilds actually existed in (at least) 16th-17th century London.  They didn’t have any official recognition or sanction, but they did effectively enforce a monopoly on many kinds of crime.

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