SFRevu February 1998 Vol. 2.2 Interview
Date: Sat, 7 Feb 1998 00:41:59 EST
Subject: SFRevu - Feb '98 Vol. 2.2: Interview: Brenda Clough - How Like a God (3/6)
SFRevu February 1998 Vol. 2.2
Copyright 1998 by Ernest Lilley
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Interview: Brenda Clough - How Like a God
Brenda Clough has previously written four fantasies, starting with THE CRYSTAL
CROWN, which was the first book she finished, and was surprised when Daw
bought it on her first submission. After those successes, and a juvenile (AN
IMPOSSUMABLE SUMMER, 1992), she has been teaching writing "every now and then"
at the Writer's Center in Bethesda, MD., and growing a garden that threatens
to take over the lawn. HOW LIKE A GOD burst onto the scene last year to a very
receptive audience, (SFRevu Vol. 1.2:) and is now available in paperback. The
sequel is written and awaiting publication.
Brenda answered SFRevu's questions from her "cottage by a forest" before
heading off to Boskone 35.
SFR: Was HOW LIKE A GOD a breakthrough novel for you? I know you've said that
it differs from your earlier works in that you were more of a worldbuilder
before. What happened?
Brenda Clough: From my point of view it seems to me that all my work is of a
piece, progressing in a steady linear kind of way, but then I realize that not
all of my work is out. There are at least two novels, unpublished, that I
wrote between my four DAW Fantasy paperbacks and HOW LIKE A GOD. And one of
these books is, I swear, the best novel I will ever write. That one, SPEAK TO
OUR DESIRES, is the breakthrough book, and one of these days the world shall
know it. Of course I haven't found a publisher who agrees with me - yet.
SFR: Where did the idea for HOW LIKE A GOD come from?
BC: I did have, for about ten years, the sense that there was something wrong
with the way that Superman was revamped. You remember how Superman was
Superboy when he was young, and a Superbaby before that? (The movie starring
Christopher Reeve dates from that era.) The folks at DC Comics decided to
change all that. They decreed that Clark Kent just got up one morning when he
was in his late teens, and discovered he was super. He climbed into the cape
and tights, and became Superman, bing, just like that. No. That's wrong. I
tried to show how it was wrong.
SFR: Have you read LeGuin's THE LATHE OF HEAVEN and what do you think of it?
(I enjoyed both, and think they share enough concept to be grouped together,
but that they provide point and counterpoint.)
BC: I haven't! There are many many things I haven't read. But I did see the
dramatization on PBS, which seemed to me to be very fine. LeGuin does know her
SFR: Did you read a lot when you were growing up?
Enormously. My school library had a limit of three books at a time, and I
would go through three books a day, after school.
SFR: What was the first SF or Fantasy you read, and who were your favorite
authors when you were devouring books as a young reader?
BC: My volume was such that my memory is no longer very sound. I was (and
still am) a devout re-reader too, so well-loved books get recycled so often I
can't remember the first time. I remember reading FREDDY GOES TO MARS very
early, maybe in second grade. Surely that counts as Fantasy? And Dr. Doolitle?
All the classic British fantasists, because I spent a number of years overseas
in Brit-dominated areas. I do know I first read the Narnia books in fifth
grade. I remember in my high school in Hong Kong, they only had the first
volume of THE LORD OF THE RINGS. Maddening!
SFR: Does writing provide a fantasy outlet for you? Do you want Gilgameshian
powers of your own?
BC: No. In fact I deliberately have a really cushy and stable existence, very
dull. There are writers who can write in the midst of chaos, as war
correspondents do, maybe Ernest Hemingway. And then there are those of us who
are like honeybees. We need quiet, and plenty, and peace, to get any good work
done. I don't even try to write between Thanksgiving and Xmas, for instance --
the stress of cooking two turkeys in such close succession renders writing
impossible, not to mention the shopping and the cards and the decorations.
SFR: What audience are you writing for? Do you work out a story arc before you
start? Are you able to write every day (and do you?) or do you blitz out a
story and then wait until the next idea comes along?
BC: The most important audience for any writer to write for, is him or
herself. If you are bored, heaven help your reader! Luckily, I am very easily
bored indeed. So every time my story bores me, I do something about it. That
keeps it hopping right along. I try to write every day, but in fact the novel
has to take off and fly, and when it does it zooms along at amazing speed. So
I will putz along at a page a day, and suddenly escape velocity is achieved,
and I'm writing 20 pages a day.
SFR: The jacket blurb on HOW LIKE A GOD calls it magical realism? What is
magical realism, anyway?
BC: You got me -- I don't know. Isn't magic realism a feature of Gabriel
Garcia Marquez's works, and South American fiction? I've never read any of his
SFR: When did you start writing fiction for the first time?
BC: I am one of the very few writers I know with a degree in Creative Writing.
So I've been writing fiction at least since high school. However, the first
novel I finished was THE CRYSTAL CROWN (Daw, 1984).
SFR: How did you come to be a journalist?
BC: I got a job as an editorial assistant in Washington DC. In DC editorial
work always revolves around the news business, the way editorial work in New
York City inevitably means books. Essentially everybody is a journalist here.
SFR: How do you feel about your childhood as a world traveler?
BC: I'm sure it was excellent experience for a Science Fiction writer. We
can't really travel to other planets for research, but there are plenty of
places on Earth where the culture is as alien as you could wish for. And all
you need is a plane ticket.
SFR: You've done extensive analysis on HOW LIKE A GOD, but how much research
did you do before you wrote it? Did your analysis of the book make it easier
or harder to write the sequel?
BC: Almost none. I just sat down and began. It was very easy indeed to write
the sequel -- only took about six weeks! -- so analysis can't have hurt.
SFR: You've mentioned you make a guest appearance as a commuter. Have you
recognized people in the book after you wrote them in without knowing it?
BC: Oh, absolutely. I found a photo of Edwin (the scientist character in HOW
LIKE A GOD) in DISCOVER magazine the other day - eerie!
SFR: When will the sequel to HOW LIKE A GOD come out? What's its title and
what will you tell us about it? Did it turn out the way you expected, or have
you given up expecting?
BC: I have no idea when it will appear, but the working title is FLING WIDE
THE PORTALS until I think of a better one. All kinds of things happen: Edwin
becomes a lunar colonist; Rob returns to Kazakhstan; Edwin goes on 60 Minutes
and tells all.
SFR: Since you mentioned it, do you think the space program is still worth
doing? Should we be pumping money into it and building Lunar bases or going
off to Mars? Does mankind need a high frontier or should we leave it to cheap
BC: There's an interview up in the Explorers exhibit at the Air & Space Museum
in downtown DC, with a woman who is one of the premiere deep-ocean explorers
-- bathyspheres, Alvin, that kind of thing. Much of that work is also very
suited to robots and Waldoes. She said that certain tasks call for people,
while others are very suited to remote probes. So it's the job that should
dictate how it should be done.
SFR: Have you discovered what it means to be the SFWA liaison person for this
BC: Haven't done anything much about it yet, except to think about baking
cookies. If I made and froze a couple hundred chocolate chip cookies, surely
they will get put to good use?
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