de Martha Wells
aux éditions ActuSF
Interview with Martha Wells
Martha Wells : I discovered science fiction very early, when I was still in elementary school. A lot of the children’s books I liked had SF and fantasy elements, like the "The Children of Green Knowe" books by L.M. Boston, and I read a lot of young adult SF and fantasy novels. My favorite authors from that time were Robert Heinlein and Andre Norton. I think Andre Norton was a very big influence on my work.
Actusf : How and when did you decide to become a writer ?
Martha Wells : I wanted to be a writer from a fairly early age, but when I was in college, I went to a writer’s workshop run by Steven Gould (author of "Jumper") and that’s when I started to seriously think about it as a career. It took a while for me to be able to become a full-time writer. I worked in computer support and as a programmer and web designer up until a few years ago.
Actusf : You mainly write Fantasy. What do you like in this kind of literature ?
Martha Wells : My university degree is in anthropology, and I’ve always liked folklore and mythology. I really enjoy the world-building aspect of fantasy, and creating the culture from elements of real cultures around the world, and figuring out the mythology and magic the imaginary world would have.
Actusf : Your books seem to often be inspired by historical novels. Is there a particular reason why ? What do you like about period pieces ?
Martha Wells : I’ve always enjoyed historical novels, particularly historical mysteries, set anywhere from Ancient Rome or Egypt, all the way up to noir detective novels set in the 1930s. I just like that feeling of a window onto another time and place. It’s similar to what I like best about SF and fantasy, the feel of being able to experience whole different worlds.
Actusf : You seem to know French history very well. What kind of relationship do you have with our country ?
Martha Wells : I got interested in French history a long time ago when I was reading The Three Musketeers and the other Dumas books, and Jules Verne, and I just always liked the culture. When I started writing, there was a lot of fantasy set in a sort of generic Middle Ages time period in a generic England, without much flavor or color. I’d always preferred fantasy set in different places, with different backgrounds and legends (like "The Bridge of Birds" by Barry Hughart, which is set in Ancient China, or "Imaro" by Charles Saunders, which is set in Africa.) I decided I wanted a setting that was a slightly later time period, so I could use the developing technology, such as firearms, printing presses, etc, and integrate it with the magic. From the reading I had been doing on 17th century France, I thought it would make a great setting for a fantasy novel, and I ended up using it as a basis for the world of Ile-Rien in "The Element of Fire." That first came out in the US in 1993. I also used elements from other European cities in the same time period, and the fairy folklore used in the novel is from Britain.
Actusf : Let’s talk about The death of the necromancer : how was the idea of this novel born ?
Martha Wells : I’m also a big Sherlock Holmes fan, and I love mysteries set during that time period. ("The Patient’s Eyes" by David Pirie is a recent favorite) I wanted to do a fantasy mystery set in that time period, and decided to also use Ile-Rien, and just set the book at a later time in that world’s history. That turned out to be a lot of fun. I could build on the history of the city that I had already come up with for "The Element of Fire," and expand on that. I also did research on Paris in the 8th and 19th centuries, particularly the building program by Baron Hausmann, to figure out how the city would have changed.
Actusf : Could you talk about Nicholas Valiarde. How do you view him ?
Martha Wells : I wanted him to be a Moriarty-like character in some ways. I also wanted the hero of "The Death of the Necromancer" to be someone who in another book could just as well be the villain. Nicholas was in some ways difficult to write, because his emotional reactions were difficult for me to figure out. There’s one scene where the characters pass through the square where Nicholas’ foster father was hanged, and I originally had Nicholas looking away from the place where the gallows stood. That just didn’t seem right, and I tinkered with the scene, until I finally realized that what Nicholas would have done was gone to that spot every day, until he could look at it without feeling anything.
Actusf : How did you build your imaginary Vienne ?
Martha Wells : I started with 17th century Paris in "The Element of Fire," with touches of London, Vienna, and other European capitals of the time. Then for "The Death of the Necromancer" I had the city develop and age in the way Paris and the other cities had up through the 19th century. For one example, in "The Element of Fire" the city wall is a defensive fortification ; in the later books it had commercial buildings built up to it and there are suburbs and estates spreading out from it.
Actusf : Your books contain a number of influences, such as historical motifs or the author Lovecraft. Did you intend to include so many different things ?
Martha Wells : Some of it is intentional, some it just reflects the reading I was doing at the time. I read a lot of historical novels, folklore, and non-fiction history and archeology.
Actusf : You were nominated for the prestigious Nebula award for this novel. I imagine that gave you a lot of happiness ? An acknowledgement of your work ?
Martha Wells : It really did. It’s the only major award I’ve been nominated for, and I didn’t expect it, and it very much took me by surprise. I was very happy about it !
Actusf : What are your plans ?
Martha Wells : I’m working on another fantasy novel right now, and I’m hoping to have it finished this year. I’ve just published another media tie-in novel, "Stargate Atlantis : Entanglement," and I have fantasy short stories coming out in the next three issues of the magazine "Black Gate." (There’s information about it at http://www.blackgate.com) All three are about the characters Giliead and Ilias, from my novel "The Wizard Hunters." I also had a fantasy short story in the anthology "Elemental," which was a charity anthology published to raise money for Tsunami Relief. The story was called "The Potter’s Daughter," and was about Kade, one of the main characters in "The Element of Fire." That story will be reprinted in the anthology "The Year’s Best Fantasy #7" from Tachyon Publications.
Actusf : Last question. In a few days, it will be the 70th anniversary of Lovecraft’s death. Was he an important writer to you, if so, why ?
Martha Wells : I think he was somewhat influential, because I did read his work fairly early on. I liked the fact the stories weren’t just horror with frightening images, that he developed a whole cosmology so that the horror elements all fit in and make sense. I think I was probably more influenced by Andre Norton. She wrote both fantasy and science fiction, and she was the first, or one of the first, writers to use a lot of the concepts that are fairly standard in fantasy and SF today. I think she was very ahead of her time.