Orson Scott Card Interview
Did anything substantial happen in your childhood that affected your writing?
The real question here is: Am I aware of particular childhood events that shaped
my writing? And even within this question, there are several ways of interpreting
what you mean by "writing."
A. Childhood events could have shaped the subject matter or content of my
This is the area most likely to be unconscious. I had a reasonably happy
childhood, but because misery and fear expand to fit the available events, I
naturally had about as much angst as I was going to have anyway, only about
more trivial events. I was a "smart kid" (i.e., compliant with authority and capable
of working ahead of grade level') who got along great with adults but had a harder
time fitting in with kids my age. As athletics became more and more important, I
became less and less involved with other boys. I found that most of my close
friends were girls, because girls valued talking and were more aware of the culture
and did not judge me by my athletic ability. I also had a few close male friends
with whom I could talk about anything. Those feelings of not fitting in, that sense
of myself as being an intellectual rather than physically active, and that closeness
to girls and participation in the society of girls explains much about the subjects I
write about and the types of people I understand best.
B. Childhood events could have shaped the manner in which I write, the style or
I have very verbal parents, both gifted teachers; in addition, my father was talented
in visual arts and my mother in music and drama. I grew up surrounded by arts of
all kind, and above all I lived in a family where excellent grammar was used with
a high level of vocabulary. We were all aware of the subtleties of language and
we delighted in them, enjoying each other's wit and forming a community of
raconteurs that I have rarely found matched outside my own family (one of the
rare matches being my wife's family <grin>).
Also, growing up Mormon gave me a natural affinity for science fiction, the one
genre in which the Practical Man is the most common hero and great ideas, both
practical and cosmic, can be addressed. Also, Mormon children are highly
educated in scriptural stories and the language of scripture, so that the music of the
King James version and the voice of Joseph Smith in the Book of Mormon and
other Mormon writings were a regular part of my language experience. The result
was that I often resort to an incantatory voice that echoes elements of scripture.
C. Childhood events could have helped determine whether or not I chose to
become a writer and whether, having chosen, I had a chance to succeed.
Yet at the same time, I loved rough and ready exploration in the creeks and woods
and orchards near my home in California and wandering through the Arizona
desert when my family lived there. I actually enjoyed physical activity, I was
simply too lousy at it to make it fun to play sports with other boys -- but solitary
things like hiking, climbing, even shooting baskets, those I enjoyed. And I
learned that the most important ideas in my life I couldn't talk about with anyone,
because nobody would get it and those few who almost got it didn't care. Though
I could get as lonely as anyone, I was profoundly introverted and loved my
solitary time -- especially my reading time. And yet I was also a born performer
and loved to speak or sing or (later) act for audiences. Give me an audience of ten
thousand and I'll be fine; set me down at a dinner with two strangers and I'll be in
hell. It is my love of solitude and my devotion to reading that led me toward a
career as a writer. You have to have absorbed a lot of language for the music of it
to be part of your soul, and in order to have all the tools you need.
In addition, my parents -- especially my mom -- were pathological encouragers.
They really made us kids believe we could do anything we really worked at. We
were imbued with confidence and did not fear to try doing anything that looked
interesting. And whatever we did, they were there, rooting for us, or in the
background, helping us succeed. I saw my dad be resourceful in any kind of craft,
able to design anything we needed. Both my parents were people who made
things happen -- I saw how they organized to accomplish tasks and enlisted the
support of others in their projects.
How do you express your beliefs in your writing?
I don't try. When telling a story, a person's innate beliefs will be revealed
unconsciously, without effort or thought. In fact, it is only lying that can be done
deliberately, and even when trying to tell the truth, if you control the story in order
to make a point or express a belief, you will end up lying because your effort to
control will suppress the natural expression of your unconscious beliefs. In short,
when you deliberately try to express your beliefs in your fiction, you end up
expressing only what you believe that you believe, not what you actually believe
without even realizing that it is possible to believe otherwise.
So I concentrate on telling a story that feels right and true to me, using whatever
tidbits of information or invention feel interesting at the time, and trust that my
core beliefs will be revealed without my being aware of them.
Does your family influence your writing?
Beyond the childhood influences mentioned above, my family does influence my
writing in two ways. First, my wife is my first reader on everything, and her
responses of doubt, confusion, or distraction are my best guide to whether I'm
actually telling to an audience the story that I wish to tell in a manner that will be
Second, the knowledge that my wife and children will be reading what I write
makes it impossible for me to write something I would be ashamed to have them
read, both in matters of decorum and in matters of truth and honor. I can't even
attempt to write a cynical story designed just to make money, because I know I
would deserve their contempt. Whether they would actually show me such
disappointment I don't know -- I have never written in such a way as to deserve
When you first started writing stories, did ethics ever come into your stories?
Did you write about right and wrong?
Stories are always about causality -- that's what makes them stories instead of
catalogues and lists. Why do things happen as they do? Why do people do the
things they do, say the things they say?
So storytelling is always an assertion about reality -- specifically, about the causal
connections between events across time.
But storytelling is also about value, for a reason just as innate and unavoidable: To
tell a story is to declare that these events are worth telling. Especially when the
story is made up, the writer is making the assertion that you will find what
happens in the tale interesting. That is an assertion of value -- of what matters
enough to spend time reading about it (or watching it on stage or screen).
Combine those two elements, and you're talking about truth (reality) and worth
(value) -- why people do things, and which things are worth doing. It is as
impossible to tell stories without making (usually unconscious) assertions about
right and wrong as it is to speak aloud in a vacuum.
What is your ethical system? What do you think is right, wrong etc.
My entire body of work constitutes my best attempt to answer that question. In
those stories you will learn more about what I really believe than you will ever
learn from asking me direct questions, for the questions will elicit only what I
know, consciously, that I believe, while my work reveals my deepest beliefs,
sometimes in ways that I have not yet detected myself.
Of course, everyone has the ethical system they believe in (i.e., they judge
themselves and others according to this standard) and the ethical system they
practice (i.e., when forced to decide, this is how they actually act -- even if they
beat themselves up for it later because it's so different from what they believe is
right). I suspect that my fiction is far more likely to reflect the morality I believe
in than the morality I live, insofar as they are not the same. And yet ... I think
maybe both moral systems are revealed, since when being truthful about
characters, I will often have them act as I would actually act, rather than always
acting as I would wish that I would act.
In any event, I am keenly aware that my most-admired heroes -- Ender, Alvin, a
few others -- are much better people than I am. This makes me very
uncomfortable when people assume that I am somehow the moral equivalent of
characters they love and admire. I have neither their wisdom nor their goodness.
But I care very much what goodness is, and so do my best characters, even when
they don't measure up. Perhaps that is the mother of virtues: To know what honor
is and value it, even when one cannot live up to it. Perhaps this is why I have been
so deeply disturbed throughout the entire Clinton presidency, from his first
emergence as a candidate until the present day: He is, if anything, the opposite of
my virtuous characters, not because he's the most evil person in history (he's far
from that) but because he seems so utterly devoid of knowledge of and interest in
what honor is. The question doesn't exist for him. While for the characters I
admire most, the question is the only one that matters, ultimately, and they judge
their own actions by that standard, even when they don't always live by their
concept of honor.