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A Conversation With Steven Gould and Laura J. Mixon
An interview with Jayme Lynn Blaschke
2000

© Steven Gould and Laura J. Mixon
Steven Gould and Laura J. Mixon
Steven Gould
Steven Gould has been publishing fiction since 1980 when his first short story, "The Touch of Their Eyes," was published in Analog. Since then, his stories have appeared in Analog, Amazing, Asimov's and various anthologies. His novels include Helm, Jumper, Wildside and Greenwar, written with his wife, Laura J. Mixon.

Steven Gould Website
ISFDB Bibliography: Steven Gould
SF Site Review: Blind Waves
SF Site Review: Helm

Laura J. Mixon
Trained as a chemical engineer, Laura Mixon found her way into environmental engineering and consulting after a two year stint in the Peace Corps. A devoted writer of science fiction since she was a child, in 1995 she quit to pursue her writing full-time. She has written four books -- Astropilots, Glass Houses, Greenwar (which she cowrote with Stephen Gould), and most recently, Proxies. She lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with her husband (Stephen Gould) and their two children.

Laura J. Mixon Website
ISFDB Bibliography: Laura J. Mixon
SF Site Review: Proxies

Greenwar
Wildside
Helm

Art: ChoppingBlock
Proxies
Blind Waves

From the high desert writers' enclave of Albuquerque, New Mexico, the husband and wife team of Steve Gould and Laura J. Mixon have established themselves as two of the most promising new novelists of the 90s. Gould made a name for himself in the 80s with his short fiction, landing on the final ballot twice for the Hugo award and once for the Nebula. Mixon's 1992 novel Glass Houses was serialized in Analog, and her much-anticipated follow up, Proxies, came out in September, 1998. Gould's recent book, Helm, hit the bookstores in the summer of 1998, and 1997 saw the release of the pair's first collaboration, the near-future techno-thriller Greenwar.

Greenwar is different from the work either of you've done in the past. What brought that about?

Mixon: When Patrick Nielsen Hayden, my editor at TOR, read Glass Houses and said he had a project for me that was a pet project of his publisher -- the environmental thriller. He believed that if they got the right book out there, they could really, basically have a new, exciting genre. This was a big thing he wanted to make happen. I said "Hmm, it's an interesting idea -- I'll give it some thought." So I started bouncing ideas around Steve. We both discovered that he had a whole bunch of stuff to bring to the project, and that it really was turning into a collaboration. I think we were both intrigued by the challenge of doing a techno-thriller. I think there's a significant affinity between techno-thrillers and science fiction, but there's a significant difference, and we wanted to give it a try.

Your book, Greenwar, from the title alone, is obviously inspired somewhat by Greenpeace. What's the connection there?
Gould: I think it clearly comes in. Greenpeace is the perfect example, and the reason why we called it Greenwar, obviously is a play off of Greenpeace. Because we're talking about civil disobedience, but what the book also discusses, is the point where civil disobedience becomes criminal and terrorist behavior. We're covering some of the ground that Edward Abbey did in The Monkeywrench Gang. One of the characters is an ex-Greenpeace member, and has now become an investigative enforcement agent for the Environmental Protection Agency. The other major character is the designer of this offshore facility, this benign technology -- ocean thermal energy conversion facility -- that turns out to be the target of the terrorists.

How real is this technology?
Gould: Oh, this technology has existed for over thirty years. There's a major plant on the shore of the big island of Hawaii. For this technology to work perfectly, you have to have a temperature difference between deep water and surface water of a minimum of 36 degrees. What happens is you use the warm water to vaporize a refrigerant -- say ammonia or freon or something like that -- and the cold water to condense it. You drive the turbines with the evaporation. In effect, it's solar power, because the water temperature is driven by solar heating on the surface, with cold water down below.

Mixon: I believe that all alternate energy power sources are going to become much more widespread. They're in some ways much cheaper, for a number of reasons much more viable. In many parts of the world, in fact, wind power is now competitive with the traditional, carbon-based power sources. Because in order to have a sustainable economy, we can't use up everything -- we're going to hit a brick wall eventually. So what is that transition going to be like? That was one of the things we were playing with.

So you're both developing a more overt social consciousness in your writing?
Mixon: Well I don't think you can have a good story if you focus too much on any kind of message. I think the book has to be about the people, and it has to be about the things that you care about. What comes first has to be the story and characters. But there's no doubt that any writer worth their salt is going to be writing about things they care about. Steve, any thoughts? No thoughts? He just likes to blow things up.

So all the explosions are attributed to Steve?
Gould: Seriously. Every single one. In the very front of the book, it talks about, to a certain extent, how we did the collaboration. And one of the things it says is that I wrote certain key diving scenes because while Laura is now a certified diver, I have far, far more years experience diving. So I wrote a lot of the diving scenes and I wrote the explosions.

Steve, your novel Helm touches on a lot of these same issues, doesn't it?
Gould: Helm's about the destruction of the Earth's ecosystem, the entire ecosphere. Billions of people dead. And there are like 7,000 people on the moon in facilities designed for 900 people or so. From there, with that cheery beginning, it jumps 350 years and 28 light years. It has a young adult protagonist. It has multiple viewpoints -- it's not a first-person novel like my other two novels, and its got a lot of Aikido, which is one of my interests.

Another young adult protagonist? Your first two books, Jumper and Wildside, had strong young adult appeal as well.
Gould: There is no doubt whatsoever that I have been deliberately trying to walk a line between young adult and adult fiction. I'm not trying to exclude anybody. I very much try to include adult readers, but I also try to write books that will appeal to younger readers who can identify with the characters. Because, as you said, we're looking at 16-, 17-, 18-year-old protagonists. In fact, Wildside, my second book, was awarded the Hal Clement Award for best young adult science fiction novel.

Mixon: I wanted to comment that I don't see you as so much walking a line or not excluding adults. I see you, in your fiction, as including younger readers in stories that are appealing to a broader adult readership. You start in a position that is adult, and you broaden the concept to include things that are going to appeal as well to younger readers.

Gould: I get equal recognition from both. I get lots of e-mail from adults, a lot of nice ego-stroking from the adults. But those books were also chosen by the National Library Association as best books for young adults. There are like 90 books selected each year, but only five or six of them are from within our genre. Both Jumper and Wildside were chosen, so that's a very nice thing.

You mentioned earlier that you are certified scuba divers. How'd you get involved with diving?
Gould: When I was in junior high, my father -- he's a military officer -- was stationed at Fort Shafter in Hawaii. He had a three-year tour of duty in Oahu, and we went diving every weekend. In fact, the entire family got certified, but my mother can't stand to get deeper than... If she can't put her hand out of the water, she starts to panic. So even though she went through the certification process, she kind of lost it on the check-out dive and never really did more than snorkel. But everyone else in my family scubas.

And that's carried over to the next generation?
Mixon: That's right. Emma keeps asking "So, when can I scuba dive?"

Gould: We haven't really been able to scuba dive since before the girls were born.

Mixon: But we hope to get back into it when the girls are a little older.

So what's the most memorable dive you've been on?
Mixon: It was my first big diving trip. We took this long boat ride out to these islands, we go underwater -- Steve and I, we're diving buddies -- and we come around this corner. And there's this sheer cliff that goes down over a hundred feet. We're floating there, and all the sudden I look over at the wall beside us. There's all these little cones, millions of them, with little black eyes. Little heads come out, and they're red. They're fish, little red fish with black eyes. An entire, enormous wall of little fish staring at me. It was a fish condo. And there were these little crabs walking around. It was such an incredible experience.

Gould: I was diving off Cozumel and especially in the warmer areas, you get this surface layer of phytoplankton, which is kind of foggy and not as clear, like right at the surface, possibly as much as 10 feet deep. We went into the water, and coming down through the phytoplankton it opens up down below, because the sunlight doesn't penetrate and they don't congregate there. We're over this reef face that goes down. From one side it's like 50 feet down from the surface, and on the other, it's 3,000 feet deep. And you could see a shaft of light coming down because of the layers opening up above. This light was stabbing down, and I could see easily 200 feet down the face of this cliff. I really had a sudden moment of panic, because the water is so clear that it really feels like you're suspended, you're hanging, and any minute whatever's holding you up is going to go away and you'll go plunging down into this eternal abyss. Flying is probably the thing I most like about diving -- especially free diving, without scuba tanks.

You've both collaborated with other writers before on short fiction -- Steve, with Rory Harper, and Laura with Melinda Snodgrass. How is that different from working with your spouse?
Mixon: Well, when you write for yourself, all of the arguments are inside your head. When you write with somebody else, you have to both come to a consensus. We didn't have knock-down drag-out fights, but there was definitely this period where we had to work hard at coming to some kind of method that we were going to use to come to agreement and carry things forward that really satisfied both of us.

Gould: I didn't find it all that much different from working with Rory -- but Rory's a really good friend. There was a lot of respect involved, and we had similar levels of experience as writers. I imagine it was different for Laura working with Melinda, who has a different kind of writing experience.

Mixon: Well, she's got a lot of collaborator experience. She's done a lot of collaborations, so I may have learned some of those tricks about collaboration from Melinda. She's so much the professional. She's so easy to work with. She's just got so much creativity. The thing is, you have to be really flexible and you have to be willing to work with the other person and forget the other person's idiosyncrasies.

Gould: I don't have any idiosyncrasies!

Mixon: Of course not, dear. That's why it was so easy to collaborate with you.

According to conventional wisdom, writers shouldn't be married to writers. It seems to work for you, though.
Gould: Well, the problem with being married to another writer -- there's a couple of issues there. One of the problem issues is economics. Essentially it's a situation that occurs in the two-freelancer households. When one member of the partnership has a steady income, such as a regular job, that steadiness will offset the extreme irregularity of the writing life.

Mixon: It's very hard, and that can make a strain. As they say, financial strain is the single leading cause of divorce, because that kind of strain is extremely difficult to deal with.

Gould: There's also some problem with two people who are "creative." I don't know if we've run into that, per se, but when people are working on projects -- especially when they're deep into a project -- they're very distracted, it's hard to concentrate on anything else, and sometimes it's hard for them to put what they need into the relationship and family to keep it going. So when you have two people doing this at the same time...

Mixon: I think one of the wonderful things about being in a partnership with another writer is that we understand that. We can cover for each other. There's no sense of resentment that "Oh, he's just goofing off" or "She's not pulling her weight."

Gould: If they're lying on the couch with their eyes closed--

Mixon: --as long as they're not snoring--

Gould: --they could be working. They could easily be working, and they need to be left alone and not pestered about the dishes.

Mixon: We share an office, and there's this really nice feeling when you work at home. Writing is a very lonely profession, and when you write books, you don't get feedback for years. When I was an industrial engineer, I got feedback on a daily basis. It can be very lonely, and to have somebody right there in the office working too -- I just, look up and I look over, and I just kind of smile. So I think the thing about "don't marry a writer" is -- they're full of it. I think the smartest thing I ever did was to marry a writer. Period.

You both write full-time. How difficult was it to take the plunge to become a full-time writer?
Gould: It's a very hard thing to do, especially with the contemporary publishing scene. It is not very easy to make the break. Laura and I moved to New York City when she got this really big job opportunity, a lifetime opportunity to be vice president of environmental affairs for a very large company. So I was able to stop working for a while and just write, and during that time I got to finish Jumper.

Mixon: I think for me, the decision to go full-time was very easy. The implementation of it was extremely difficult. Steve's first book came out in 1992, and we started hearing it was doing well in 1993. By that time he'd already sold Wildside and was working on it, so there was just this incredibly long lag time before we knew, yes, his career's going to be strong enough for us to afford for me to quit my job and get my career going. But living in New York, we knew we couldn't afford for me to leave that job and for us to stay there. So then we had to figure out how we were going to get out, and when. It was really tough getting out of New York and getting settled in a place where we could afford to live and be freelancers.

Gould: It might've been easier if we hadn't had two kids right around that time.

Mixon: But that's not something that I at all regret. In many ways having kids gives you all kinds of life experience, and the opportunity to sort of see a human being from the ground up.

Raising children is a full-time job in and of itself. How does this writing household operate on a daily basis?
Gould: To maintain some sort of sense of fairness, we have to schedule fairly vigorously. We have a little written schedule of whose turn it is to write and whose turn it is to watch the kids. For a while we also paid for childcare, but that just gets too expensive, and so instead, we've developed links to other parents. There's a lot of childcare swapping with our friends, and we'd like to do more.

Mixon: The hardest thing about being a freelancer is lack of structure. So if you have parenting responsibilities that you're sharing with somebody else, and you build a schedule, you have instant structure. And children need routine and children need structure, so you can actually make it work to your advantage. We've perfected the art of tag-team parenting.

You both had distinctive debuts. Laura's novel Glass Houses was serialized in Analog. What did that do for you?
Mixon: That was my second novel. My first novel was actually Astropilots, which came out from Scholastic and Omni back in 87. Glass Houses was my first adult SF, so I think it's fair enough to call it a debut novel. I think it was a help to me, to keep me motivated, when I was able to sell it to Analog as well as to TOR. And it got a lot of very good reviews, which was unusual for a paperback to get that kind of attention. It helped to reaffirm my desire to be a writer. My full-time job in New York, which was a very high-pressure office job, and my desire to have kids made it hard to be a writer. I would get 15 minutes a night to write a single paragraph, spending all my weekends, taking every moment I could to do writing. There was this long period where I was just toiling and toiling and toiling. I wrote much of the first draft of Greenwar that way in New York. It was like the long dark time of the soul, literally, because I was doing most of my writing at night after Emma was in bed. I was often so exhausted, and just pushing myself to keep going. And the fact that Glass Houses had gotten such very good critical attention, I think, helped me go through this time.

Steve, before you started writing novels, you'd developed a strong reputation as a short story writer. That began back when Theodore Sturgeon helped you get your first sale.
Gould: I don't know how much actually he was responsible for getting the sale, per se, but he was definitely someone who suggested I send this story off to Analog. He read it at an early AggieCon as part of a writer's workshop, and was very encouraging at that time, and I was always very grateful to him. Interesting enough that my debut was also in Analog. In fact, Laura had met Stan Schmidt, the editor of Analog, socially through me, before she ever sent Glass Houses to him. By this time I'd sold half of my short fiction, over 10 years, to Stan Schmidt. Then we moved to New York City where we were within driving distance of where he lived, and we did a couple of outdoorsy-things together. We tubed the Esopus. It sounds like a medical procedure, but it's a particular river in upstate New York where you can go tubing through rapids.

Now that you are a novelist, do you miss writing short fiction?
Gould: I do miss it. I do miss writing short stories, and I've made a definite decision that the next thing I write will have sections that will be sellable as short fiction.

Mixon: I've tried that, and I don't have it. Of course, I've never really had the knack for short stories. Glass Houses was my version of a short story. I started it out as a short story, and it ends up as a short novel. I think it's because Steve's got the skill. He knows how to craft a short story, so I believe he can write a novel and have extractable sections in it.

Laura, your novel Proxies was one that'd been a long time in the making. Would you call it a labor of love?

Mixon: Yeah. I got the original concept in 1982, and started the book in 1984. I think that because it was a very complex book, it took me a while to really have the chops to handle that kind of complexity and pull it off. I feel really good about it, but you never know. Writers are never very good judges of their own work. It took a long time before I got it to where it satisfied me. It had been hard. I got to page 352, and got stuck for a long time. What happened was, I took time off to work on Glass Houses, and then after that, Patrick said he wanted Greenwar first. So I didn't get back to Proxies until after I finished. So there were some big period there where I wasn't working on it, but that was good. Glass Houses, I think, helped me with my pacing, which was a problem with the earlier draft, and my focus. I learned how to focus in on a scene and really give it some narrative traction. Greenwar taught me how to handle a greater number of viewpoints and a larger scope. And then I was ready to go back to Proxies and clean it up. I found there was still something there I cared about and wanted to write about.

With both of your solo careers in full swing, does the future hold any more collaborations?
Mixon: If we came up with an idea that we both had something to say about. But right now I think--

Gould: --we each have visions, things we want to do on our own. It's hard to maintain those visions in a collaborative format.

(This interview first appeared in the October 2000 issue of the magazine Interzone.)

Copyright © 2000 by Jayme Lynn Blaschke

Jayme Lynn Blaschke graduated from Texas A&M University with a degree in journalism. He writes science fiction and fantasy short fiction and has several in-progress novels lying around in various stages of decay. His non-fiction articles and interviews have seen publication in the U.S., Britain and Australia. His website can be found at http://www.exoticdeer.org/jayme.html


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