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Interview with Orson Scott Card

Interview with Orson Scott Card

Actusf : Let's talk about your fantasy book, Enchantment. How did this story come into being ?
Orson Scott Card : Enchantment began as a film project. My business partner, Peter Johnson, had optioned a brief scene in which a modern man finds sleeping beauty in a forest clearing. It wasn't a story, but the image was a powerful one. We decided that I should write it as a novel first, then develop it as a screenplay. That was the original impetus to write the book. So I owe that forest image and the contemporary setting to someone else -- everything else in the book is mine.

Actusf : This book is based on a tale. As a writer, do you think it is a perfect tool to start building up a story with ? Why ?
Orson Scott Card : The problem with fairy tales as sources for modern stories is that they're so brief and so iconic. They are stripped to the bone. But a novel has time to develop ideas, settings, situations, and, above all, characters and their relationships.

Fortunately, I didn't use Sleeping Beauty as my only source. Indeed, that was barely a source at all. I studied books of Jewish and Russian folk tales to get a feel for both cultures.

Jewish folk tales all seemed to be centered around a single situation: Someone has broken an oath or covenant, and everything goes wrong until he gets back in compliance with his oath before God. This meant that the man who once gave his word to marry a certain girl, but then forgot and later married another, is plagued until he divorces his wife and goes back to the one he first promised. Which I think is a very messy solution, but it always seems to make everything right in the folk tales !

Russian folk tales, however, were very different -- and disturbing. They follow the same kinds of themes as in Western folk tales, but that's only the first quarter or third of the story. There's no happily ever after. When the innocent farm boy (or the third son, etc.) solves the riddles or defeats the magical bad guys and gets the king's daughter as his wife, his troubles are just beginning. Because she doesn't want to be married to him. Right away she sets out to try to have him killed so she can marry somebody she wants !

That's the source of the core story of Enchantment. This story is way more Russian than most westerners would realize.

Actusf : What do you like in tales ? What attracted you in the story of Sleeping Beauty ?
Orson Scott Card : It wasn't so much Sleeping Beauty as the idea that I could set the story in the contemporary world. Mostly I wanted a chance to show the values of another time in direct contrast with the values of our day. In many ways we have vastly improved; in other ways, though, we have forgotten things we should have held on to.
As I developed the story, what intrigued me most was the relationship between a man and woman who are legally married, but who are only gradually coming to love each other. The sexual tension between a man and woman who could lawfully sleep with each other at any time, but who have to wait for their marriage to become emotionally real before they can take that step -- well, it was irresistible to me. It's probably the most sexual book I've ever written -- and they're married.

Actusf : Why did you choose Baba Yaga ? And what attracted you in this character ?
Orson Scott Card : There's no choosing Baba Yaga. She goes where she wants and does what she feels like doing. If you're dealing with magic in a Russian setting, there's no escape from Baba Yaga. I thought you understood that.

Actusf : What was the most challenging aspect of creating this character of Ivan, the hero of Enchantment ? And Katerina ?
Orson Scott Card : Actually, Ivan and Katerina were not a challenge at all. I fell in love with both of them at once, and had no difficulty knowing what they'd do. It was the Bear and Baba Yaga who gave me fits, not to mention the leaders of the medieval Russian village. How would they act ? What would they do ? Research can only go so far, and then I have to rely on imagination and my understanding of cultures different from my own. I hope I made them convincing yet strange.

Actusf : Your description of the every day life isn't as beautiful as in a tale. Why do you decide to decide to give it such a realistic dimension ?
Orson Scott Card : Only in French versions of these tales is the everyday life beautiful ! <grin> The English (and, of course, we American inheritors of the English literary tradition) have always taken French stories, wiped away the beauty, and replaced it with harsh, ugly, realistic details. When I studied Middle English romances, this was always the case. The French versions of the same stories had very little story compared to the amount of spectacle and beautiful writing; the English versions felt stripped-down and harsh, yet dealt more with character motivations and ugly details of the events. In the English versions, you know little about what anyone's wearing, but more than you want to know about the pain they're going through.
I thought it was an expression of a difference in culture right from the outset of our literary traditions. French readers savor the taste of the language and the vividness of description, while English readers want to cut through to the core events and why they happen as they do.

You'd have to tell me if that remains true. I hope not, because, of course, my novel is in the English tradition. I'd like to think there is still beauty and nobility in the story as I tell it.

Actusf : How did you work out the research needed for this book ?
Orson Scott Card : I happened to meet an American graduate student in Russian studies because of my inclusion of Russian names in my Homecoming series. I immediately asked her to help me with the language that the people would be speaking, the names they'd have. She could also help me avoid errors in the way I depicted Russian culture (well, Ukrainian, really) as of 1991.

Beyond that, everything came from books -- Russian history, Russian and Jewish folk tales and culture. I cheated by making Ivan's family non-religious Jews, so I didn't have to try to deal with the Orthodox Jewish calendar and culture.

Actusf : Providing training in literature seems to be an important task for you. What does working with apprentice authors bring to you ?
Orson Scott Card : Better books to read.

Actusf : What kind of advice would you give to the young French authors ?
Orson Scott Card : It depends on what they want to accomplish. If they are content to write for the French audience, I have little advice to give -- they'll know more than I will about what interests and pleases French readers. If they wish to write in such a way that their work might be translated and published in the English-speaking world as well as in French, then I have written some books on writing that can help explain the cultural expectations of the American audience (in particular). For instance, American readers interpret present-tense narrative as "literary" and for most of them, it feels artificial. But present-tense narrative is much more natural in French, and translators will preserve it in the English-language version, raising additional barriers for translated French fiction.

Frankly, I don't believe it really works to write with translation in mind. Writers do their best work when they write for the literary community to which they belong ... then, if someone in another culture or tradition finds the story valuable enough to translate and publish, so much the better ! But you must be true to yourself and speak to the people that you know.

Actusf : Two years ago, You worked on a comics: Ultimate Iron Man. How did that occur ? Did you enjoy working on a comics and do you plan to do it again ?
Orson Scott Card : I'm still working on Iron Man ! Marvel Comics has been very patient with me. I also have comics adaptations of Red Prophet and Wyrms coming out very quickly from DabelPro, distributed by Marvel. These books will, in their collected format, contain original stories from my Ender's Game universe as well. I like comics and plan to write more, besides having more of my works adapted to that form. It's WAY cheaper than adapting them into movies <grin>.

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