Orson Scott Card
Best known for his science fiction novels Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow, Orson Scott Card has written in many other forms and genres. Beginning with dozens of plays and musical comedies produced in the 1960s and 70s, Card's first published fiction appeared in 1977 -- the short story "Gert Fram" in the July issue of The Ensign, and the novelet version of "Ender's Game" in the August issue of Analog.
While Card's early science fiction stories and novels were earning attention (Card won the John W. Campbell Award for best new writer from the World Science Fiction Convention in 1978), he supported his family primarily by writing scripts for audiotapes produced by Living Scriptures of Ogden, Utah.
Later, in the mid-1980s, he wrote the screenplays for animated children's videos from the New Testament and Book of Mormon, while the novel version of Ender's Game and its sequel Speaker for the Dead were winning the Hugo and Nebula awards.
Card's writing ranges from traditional sci-fi (The Memory of Earth; Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus) to biblical novels (Stone Tables; Rachel & Leah), from contemporary fantasies (Magic Street; Enchantment; Lost Boys) to books on writing (Characters and Viewpoint; How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy). His "Tales of Alvin Maker" series (beginning with Seventh Son) reinvented medieval fantasy in an American frontier setting.
Meanwhile, Card's commentaries on subjects from literature and film to restaurants and consumer products appear weekly in his column "Uncle Orson Reviews Everything" (published by the Rhinoceros Times in Greensboro, NC, and then online), while his writings on culture, politics, and world affairs, online at "The Ornery American" (www.ornery.org), are a part of the new blog journalism.
Card's first collection of poetry, An Open Book, appeared in 2004, and that same year, in Los Angeles, he directed a production of Posing As People, three one-acts adapted by other writers from short stories by Card.
Card's first venture in writing illustrated novels is the comic series Ultimate Iron Man for Marvel; he will also be scripting the comic book prequels to Advent Rising, a videogame he helped write.
Card offers writing workshops from time to time, and recently committed himself to a longterm relationship with Southern Virginia University, where he teaches writing and literature. His "Hatrack River" website (www.hatrack.com) also offers free writing workshops, for both adults and younger writers.
Growing Up in the West
Born in Richland, Washington, in 1951, he was named "Orson" for his grandfather, Orson Rega Card, who was a son of Charles Ora Card, the founder of the Mormon colony in Cardston, Canada, and Zina Young Card, a daughter of Brigham Young. Orson Rega's childhood was spent in a pioneer household with American Indians as frequent visitors, and the family credits Blackfoot neighbors with saving his life as a baby.
Even though Card is only two generations removed from Mormon pioneers, his own growing-up years were more like those depicted in Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine.
Card's parents, Willard and Peggy Card, first moved to San Mateo, California, when Scott was an infant. Then, when a back injury forced them to abandon Willard's sign company, the family moved to Salt Lake City while he completed his bachelor's degree. Then they returned to the bay area of California, buying a house in the little town of Santa Clara.
It was long before the word silicon meant anything more than another name on the periodic table of elements: To young Scott, living in Santa Clara meant attending Millikin Elementary, then wandering through orchards and exploring dry creek beds with his friends, or hopping on his bicycle and riding down to the Santa Clara library, where he devoured all the books in the children's section and then sneaked into the adult section to discover the then-new genre of science fiction.
But Card was always eclectic in his reading. At eight years of age, he read The Prince and the Pauper, which first attracted him to English history. (He soon got over the disappointment of learning that Tom Canty did not exist.)
Other historical novels -- YA novels about the Civil War and French and Indian War by Joseph Altsheler, the Williamsburg novels by Elswyth Thane, and Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind -- drew Card into American history, and when his parents gave him Bruce Catton's brilliant three-volume The Army of the Potomac for his tenth birthday, he had his first experience of the reality (rather than the romance) of war at every level.
At about the same age, his older sister was required to read William L. Shirer's The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich in high school, and passed the book down to Scott. The account of the political and diplomatic maneuvering and of the war itself was fascinating; but the story of the holocaust was devastating.
Alongside fiction and history, Card also read scripture -- the Book of Mormon and the Bible -- and collections of sermons by Mormon prophets. He was also fascinated by histories of medicine and by books about the exploits of archaeologists. So when he advises young writers that their best education is to try, through reading, to "learn everything about everything," he is only counseling them to embark on an endless quest that he began in childhood and continues to this day.
Meanwhile, Card inherited a love of performing from his mother. Card was a boy soprano with enough of an ear to make up harmonies as he joined in family singalongs; he grew up in a house filled with music ranging from Lawrence Welk to Scheherezade, from Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons to church hymns.
Above all, though, was the music of Broadway -- Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, George and Ira Gershwin, Oscar Hammerstein, Lerner & Loewe, and many others. In the Card family, Broadway was always only just next door, and because in those days the Mormon Church also greatly encouraged the production of plays, he was surrounded by the flurry of rehearsals and performances.
When Willard Card took a position at Arizona State University in 1964, the family moved to Mesa, Arizona, just in time for the 1964 presidential election. This was where Scott was first initiated into political activism. When the organizers of a mock political debate in the junior high school turned up not one student who admitted to being for Lyndon Johnson (Mesa was one of the most conservative towns in a pro-Goldwater state), Card volunteered and did his best to present LBJ's case to the student body. It was Card's first experience with the notion that it might be possible to be a Democrat....
Card had played French horn and tuba in California, and marched in school bands in Arizona playing E-flat alto horn and sousaphone (at different times).
When a family friend, Owen Peterson, then a new Spanish teacher at Scott's junior high, bought a set of the Great Books, he had no children of his own and so chose Scott to enter the scholarship competition that the Great Books then offered. Scott plunged in and had his first acquaintance with Plato, Aristotle, Euclid, Plutarch, and many other writers of the ancient world. He eventually won a thousand-dollar scholarship; the money was quickly gone, but the reading was a lasting gift.
The Utah Years
At age 16, Card moved with his family to Orem, Utah, so his father could take a position at Brigham Young University. After a year at Brigham Young High School, a private academy associated with the university, Card graduated from high school at the end of his junior year. He won a Presidential Scholarship to BYU which he entered as an archaeology major.
He soon realized that he was spending all his time in the theatre department, however, and changed his major. It was as a theatre student that he first began to school himself to be a writer. "It's the best training in the world for a writer, to have a live audience." Not to mention the actors: "If an incorrect reading of a line is possible, the actor will invariably find it." Even now, Card says that he doesn't so much write his novels as improvise them in front of an invisible audience. "I'm constantly shaping the story so the audience will know why they should care about what's going on."
Like many young artists in love with their art, Card resented all the hours that the university required him to "waste" on general education requirements; as a novelist, however, he found that those were the most useful parts of his college education.
Only a few credit hours shy of graduation, Card left for Brazil on a two-year mission for the LDS Church. Serving in the cities of the state of São Paulo (Ribeirão Preto, Araraquara, Araçatuba, Campinas, Itu, and São Paulo itself), Card became fluent in Portuguese and fell in love with Brazilian culture.
He returned home to his family in Orem and quickly finished up the remaining work for his bachelor's degree in theatre. Meanwhile, he founded a repertory theatre company and was the first to produce plays at "The Castle," an outdoor amphitheater that was built as a government project during the Depression, located directly behind the state mental hospital in Provo. The rent was free; the other expenses were met by Card personally selling a hundred season tickets at $20 each.
The plays at the Castle were a success; unfortunately, an attempt to run a fall season at a remodeled barn in Provo came nowhere near paying back the money Card borrowed to finance it, and after limping through another break-even summer season, Card closed the company. It was because of the expenses of the company, and the hopelessness of repaying the debt from his meager salary as a copy editor at BYU Press, that Card set his hand to writing science fiction. The result was "Ender's Game."
But it took a couple of years to see any payment from that project, and in the meantime, Card changed jobs to become a staff editor at The Ensign, the official magazine of the LDS Church. He moved to Salt Lake City and he and two friends at the magazine -- Jay A. Parry and Lane Johnson -- avidly traded story ideas and read each other's work. They also took a very long lunch one day to see Star Wars on its first day in Salt Lake City, a memorable event because it marked the creation of science fiction as a blockbuster film genre rather than a mere branch of the horror genre.
Meanwhile, though, Card had dated, sometimes quite seriously, but kept returning to the first woman he dated after returning from his mission, Kristine Allen. Kristine's father, James B. Allen, was a BYU professor of history and also an Assistant Church Historian for the LDS Church. Card learned much from Kristine's father, but fell in love with his daughter, and after three years of up-and-down courtship, they got married in May 1977.
Their first child, Michael Geoffrey, was born in 1978, and as other children were born -- Emily Janice, Charles Benjamin, Zina Margaret, and Erin Louisa -- they were all given at least one name in honor of a writer that Scott and Kristine admired: Geoffrey Chaucer, Emily Bronte and Emily Dickinson, Charles Dickens, Margaret Mitchell, and Louisa Mae Alcott. (Their third child, Charles Benjamin, was afflicted with cerebral palsy and died soon after his seventeenth birthday. Their fifth child, Erin Louisa, died the day she was born.)
Scott and Kristine first lived in Salt Lake City, but after he left fulltime employment to support himself as a writer, they were free to move, first to Sandy, Utah, and then to Orem. Meanwhile, Card pursued the hobby of higher education, earning a master's degree in English from the University of Utah in 1981.
They moved to South Bend, Indiana, that summer so Scott could begin doctoral work at Notre Dame. Unfortunately, the recession of the early 80s dried up Scott's income for one long year, forcing them to seek fulltime employment.
Offered two jobs, one at Coleco in Hartford, Connecticut, and the other with Compute! magazine in Greensboro, North Carolina, they chose the latter and thus began their sojourn in the American South. The job at Compute! lasted only nine months; their love affair with Greensboro is still going on.
Life in the South
It was in Greensboro that their last three children were born and two of them died; it was in Greensboro that their children have all gone to school. They have been active in the local Mormon community, and in recent years Card's columns for the Rhinoceros Times (reprinted online at Hatrack.com and Ornery.org) have brought him more involvement in the community at large.
But Greensboro is only home base. They travel often, having taken their kids on many visits to New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Washington D.C., and other American and Canadian cities and towns, as well as visits to London, Paris, Barcelona, Rome, Florence, Berlin, Leipzig, and Jakarta -- and one wonderful summer in Provence.
Son Geoffrey is married to Heather Heavener Card and lives near Seattle, where he is a game designer for Amaze Entertainment (Samurai Jack: The Shadow of Aku and Shark Tale) and Heather is a tutor and substitute teacher. Daughter Emily is an actress, poet, singer, and audio producer in Los Angeles. Zina is living at home, attending school, and playing videogames and chess.
Meanwhile, Card continues to ply his trade as a writer, including efforts to get good films made of some of his books. Ender's Game is in development at Warner Brothers, and other film projects are at various stages. Meanwhile, Card remains an avid watcher and critic of film and television, as well as books and music.
on the art and business of science fiction writing.
Over five hours of insight and advice.
Recorded live at Uncle Orson's Writing Class in Greensboro, NC.
Available exclusively at OSCStorycraft.com