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Orson Scott Card Interview


Question
What kind of impact did the following things have on your writings: upbringing, religion, family, parents, wife, children, editors, and friends? Which influenced you the most and why?

OSC Answers
Wow, this is a tough one, if only because an adequate answer would be a book-length memoir. And the worst thing is, the writer is the last person to be able to detect the important influences on his work. My temptation is to simply say that I can't answer this. But I'll come back to this after looking at the other questions and see if there's at least something useful I can say.


Question
What were the major themes of your early plays, and stories?

OSC Answers
I don't have "themes." I don't think fiction is the proper place for themes, anyway -- if a writer has a "theme" in mind, chances are he should write an essay. But if by "theme" you mean the general "matter" of the stories, my early plays were all aimed at the Mormon audience, particularly in Utah (where Mormons are thick enough on the ground to have a hope of developing a large enough audience to support Mormon theatre). Thus they tended to be dramatized stories from the Book of Mormon, the Bible, LDS Church history, or (in rare cases) contemporary Mormon life. Thus "The Apostate" and "Of Gideon" were from the Book of Mormon (as were some unproduced plays as well), "Stone Tables" was from the Bible, "Liberty Jail," "Fresh Courage Take," and "Father, Mother, Mother and Mom" were from Mormon history, and "Across Five Summers" and the unproduced "The Ph.D." were more contemporary, the former from the memories of my mother and father growing up in Salt Lake City, and the latter set at BYU and based on my own experiences there. (Unproduced because it was pretty savage and also rather inept, having been written without the perspective of intervening time <grin>.)

In contrast, my early science fiction stories were definitely not Mormon, since I was explicitly trying to write to "the world" and not to "the Church." Mormon beliefs and concerns crept into my work anyway, because I'm a believing Mormon and what seems true to me is always going to be more or less consonant with Mormon theology as I understand it and Mormon culture as I have experienced it. But the language and the "matter" are not LDS in those early works. Since then I've done some explicitly Mormon-related things -- Homecoming being a retelling in sci-fi terms of the first part of the Book of Mormon, Folk of the Fringe being an extrapolation of Mormon pioneer culture into the future, and the Alvin Maker books drawing their basic structure from an allegorical version of the life of Joseph Smith. And of course there's my novel Saints. Right now I'm writing an explicitly Biblical novel, Sarah, about the wife of Abraham, as a followup to my novel adaptation of my play from 1973, Stone Tables. But ... in no case does the reader have to decide whether or not to believe in Mormonism in order to appreciate the story. Whereas with my college-era plays, I can't think that a non-Mormon would be remotely interested in them ...


Question
Is your religion Mormonism a major influence in your works. Because from what I read it seems that it is?

OSC Answers
Oops. I accidentally answered that question with my previous answer <grin>.


Question
What work or works do you think helped you grow as a writer the most. When did this growth occur?

OSC Answers
I'm assuming you mean which work written by me. But as with the first question, this is something that the writer himself is not fit to judge. I can't tell which are my best works even now. I know which works were very difficult challenges, posing problems that required great resourcefulness to solve. But that doesn't necessarily mean I "grew as a writer." Indeed, I have no idea what "growing as a writer" would mean. Every book has required of me whatever skills, techniques, and story elements I could develop to solve the problems posed by the tale I was telling. In that sense I grew, about equally, from every one. But did I grow in wisdom and understanding? Heavens, I can't begin to guess the answer to that. For all I know, I haven't grown a bit in all these years. Only my weight fluctuates <grin>.


Question
Why the Sci Fi Field?

OSC Answers
At first, it was because I knew something about it (while it was never even half my reading, I had read enough to know basically what the rules of the genre were) and because sci-fi had an open short story market. Unlike literary writing, which has only a few paying venues which are usually editor-dominated or taken up by established famous names, science fiction constantly reopens itself to new writers because, while story-writing pays, it doesn't pay much, so once you get a bit of a name for yourself, you start writing novels in order to make enough money to live. Thus the established names are constantly leaving the short story market, which opens it up to newcomers. That was my analysis of the situation, anyway, as my theatre company was failing in 1975 and I was desperate to find some way to augment my salary as an editor at BYU Press.

And I was correct. Later, though, I found that the reason to keep writing science fiction was that the audience for sci-fi is the most open, the least rule-bound audience in America today. Whereas mystery writers learn over and over that if you depart from an established series, readers generally won't follow you, and romance and literary writing are so utterly rulebound that it isn't even fun to read, let alone write, science fiction almost demands that you keep reinventing yourself as a writer, finding new matters and new manners over the years. Yes, there are famous series -- but few writers are forced to continue writing within those series. I have been free to write things as widely disparate as Wyrms, Pastwatch, Ender's Game, Memory of Earth, Lost Boys, and Enchantment -- all without losing my core audience, and each different venture bringing in new readers. Thus what began as a commercial project -- writing for money within the genre most likely to be open to me -- has now become a literary pleasure -- writing for an audience that doesn't expect or even want the same book over and over again.


Question
What points are you trying to get across to your readers. Any philosophical or religious views that you stress?

OSC Answers
Well, now we're back to "themes." My characters sometimes wrestle with issues -- but I find that as soon as I catch myself pushing one point of view, I feel bound to put in plausible characters who believe very different things, and present their case as well. I learned the lesson of Polonius -- when Shakespeare had a list of cool platitudes, all of them more or less useful and true, he put them in the mouth of a fool ... and then killed him! <grin>. Themes, "morals," lessons, philosophies -- those are poison to the enterprise of storytelling. That is, they will inevitably be present, but the story should control the ideas, and not the other way around. Being true to human life is the only imperative; ideas will take care of themselves.


Question
What first attracted you to writing?

OSC Answers
It was the only thing I ever did that people wanted me to do again.


Question
Some people view your books as religious fiction, do you? Why?

OSC Answers
Most people who take that attitude do so out of hostility, in order to dismiss my books by putting them in a category that they don't have to take seriously. If somebody can read my books and seriously believe that all that's going on is "religious fiction," he has serious reading problems.

At the same time, I do have a religious project -- but it has nothing to do with converting anybody or even discussing religion. It's simply that in my experience, every human being, if you probe deeply enough (and sometimes not all that deeply) has a core of beliefs which, if challenged, they will defend fanatically. Not only that, but they seek out likeminded others and form communities, even if they steadfastly refuse to call them "religions." This religious aspect of life is so universal and so important that I am contemptuous of the fact that the vast majority of American writers today, in every genre, basically deny this religious side of life. Instead, the only time they bring up religion it's to mock it by making its practitioners either venal hypocrites or brainless fools. Once this was a "brave," revolutionary, anti-establishment position (i.e., 1880), but now it IS the establishment view, and writers who have religious beliefs still adopt that pose in their writing. Well, I prefer to be honest with my characters, and show their religious life as well as the other aspects of their nature. So religion comes up more often in my books than in most writers' -- however, as I said before, I never require my reader to decide whether he believes in the characters' religion, and more often than not I don't believe in the characters' religion either! But by bringing religion into the story, and treating it as a serious part of the characters' experience, I am free also to criticize religion in important, noncliched ways. Thus some people take Reverend Thrower in the Alvin books or Han Qing-jao in Xenocide to be anti-religious in the way I use them in the stories. But I think of them simply as characters who express their core personality in religious terms -- they are who they are, but they seize upon the religious values of their surrounding culture in order to make sense of their view of the world and their efforts to satisfy their own needs.

In this latter sense, and only in this latter sense, is my fiction religious. But since my characters also have family relationships to a far greater degree than the rest of American fiction (writing lots of family relationships is very very hard, and so most writers avoid it wherever possible), one could just as easily -- and far more plausibly -- say that I write "family fiction." But then, "family fiction," like "religious fiction," has come to mean something quite different from mere fiction about characters with a family life or fiction about characters with a religious life.


Question
Do you ever plan to return to theatrical writing, and how did that writing help you grow as an author.

OSC Answers
I have already returned to theatrical writing in two ways. Two years ago, I wrote "Barefoot to Zion" with my composer brother, Arlen Card, as our contribution to the LDS Church's celebration of the sesquicentennial of the entry of the pioneers into Salt Lake Valley. It was a hit, and it whetted my appetite for more theatrical ventures. And I have spent the last three years learning how to write screenplays (by writing them, the only method of learning that works <grin>), and am finally on the verge of getting several of them produced.


Question
What do you hope people get from your books?

OSC Answers
Entertainment that has touched them in ways that they care about.


Question
Anything else you want to tell me.

OSC Answers
Just that I went back to the original question about my life and what has influenced my fiction, and I still see it as a question that can only be answered with despair. It's simply not something a writer can do more than guess at. It will take a biographer, not me, to adequately begin to answer that question. What makes it worse is that the branch of criticism that I find least interesting, after decoding symbols and metaphors, is the search for influences. So not only am I unable to guess which aspects of my life influenced my fiction, I don't even care about the answer to that question. And what I don't care about, I find it impossible to write. Alas, this applies even when responding to an interview. So despite that omission, I hope my answers are of some help to you.


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