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Sean Russell
Photo © Beth Gwinn

Who or what inspired you to become a writer?
bullet I made the decision to become a writer at he age of ten. I was one of those kids who read books by flashlight under the blankets at night. You just couldn't stop me from reading. I think the desire to do this amazingly magical thing myself grew rather naturally out of my passion for books.

When did you first decide you wanted to write fantasy?
bullet The short answer is 1984, when I began The Initiate Brother. I've always read SF and fantasy, but my first book, which thankfully remains unpublished, was actually a mainstream novel. But for that one exception, it seemed that whenever I was considering books I would like to write I came up with ideas for fantasies. It wasn't really a decision. I think the genre chose me.

Which SF/fantasy novels have influenced you the most?
bullet Well, Lord of the Rings was probably the biggest influence, by far. I'm still in awe of what Tolkien accomplished in those books. Frank Herbert's Dune had a big impact when I first read it - which would have been in high school. The world building in both of these books really impressed me: not just the complexity of the worlds but the skill with which the authors managed it. All of the information the reader needed was slipped into the text in very subtle ways. Both books were also wonderful exercises in intelligent story telling.

What kind of preparation went into creating your own vividly imagined world?
bullet I generally think about books for at least five years before I start them. For my earlier books, which have vaguely historical settings, I did enormous amounts of research. In the case of The One Kingdom, though, a lot of the world was created as I went. I rewrote the river sections of the book seven times, so there was a certain amount of trial and error until I was satisfied with it.

Tell us a bit about the world and the mythology you've created for The One Kingdom - where did your inspiration come from?
bullet The One Kingdom developed from two different ideas that I had been thinking about for a long time. One idea was to have a group of characters going down a river on a raft repeating, in strange ways, many of the same adventures that Huckleberry Finn experienced but in a fantasy setting. The second idea was about two feuding families who'd split a kingdom (there were two feuding families in Huckleberry Finn, as well). I thought about these ideas for a long time before I realised that they would fit together. The river sections evolved the most. There are only the smallest traces of the original idea remaining. The characters on the raft became the Valemen travelling down the river on a boat, haunted by what they believe is a river spirit. The two feuding families started off more like the Capulets and the Montagues but when I began to write the history of the families they evolved and the whole matter became much more complicated.

The story finder is one of the central characters of the book and he is rather like an archeologist going to certain places and "finding" the stories that men created there. This was a way to fuse the geography and the history together, which made the landscape even more enchanting in my mind - it is full of stories. At the base of this is the idea that our history haunts us even when it is forgotten.

When I sat down to write The One Kingdom I was faced with the problem of trying to write a "high fantasy" in the spirit of Tolkien but not in the manner. I had taken such care with my early books to distinguish myself from the many Tolkien imitators, but at the same time I had always been drawn to the idea of trying to do a high fantasy. The One Kingdom is my attempt to capture the feeling of Tolkien in a book without using the now too familiar devices of the genre.

Which do you find more important: character or story?
bullet I think they're equally important, to be honest, and also interdependent. Once you've developed a character sufficiently the story starts to be impacted by who that character is and what they might do in any given situation. You find yourself going back and forth adjusting characters so that the requirements of the plot can be met and vice versa. It's an endlessly fascinating process, I find.

Do you have a daily routine when you're writing a novel?
bullet To some degree. I usually start work in the morning between eight and nine and work till five or six with a couple of breaks in there for lunch and a walk or some exercise. I don't think the structure of your day is as important as discipline. The discipline of writing, for me, is keeping in contact with the material - keeping it simmering on the back burner even when you're doing other things.

What do you do to relax?
bullet I have a two year old son so relaxation is a thing of the past. I used to hike, ski, sail, ride my bike, see a lot of movies, dine out, walk on the beach, and travel.

How do you think the fantasy genre will change over the next ten years?
bullet It's difficult to say. The mainstream has really been impacted by fantasy. There are so many books with elements of fantasy in them, now - largely from the magic realist school. I think we're seeing that working the other way as well, with very literary books being published in the fantasy genre. Sean Stewart's Mockingbird is a perfect example. It could easily have been published in the mainstream, yet it fit very comfortably into the genre as well, but only because the genre is growing to contain many more kinds of books. I think we'll see that continue. The genre will become more diverse in the future.

What advice would you give to budding fantasy authors?
bullet I suppose I would tell them to try to make their own mark in the genre. Find their own place in it. Don't be satisfied to do something that has been done a dozen times before. The possibilities of fantasy are almost limitless.

This interview first appeared in the free Orbit Newsletter.
You can subscribe to it at their web site.
Copyright © 2001 Orbit, an imprint of Little Brown Company

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