Today, it gives me great pleasure to turn this blog over to Catherynne M. Valente, author of The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden. If you didn‘t get the chance to participate in this month‘s Fantasy BOTMC discussion, all is not lost. Both The Orphan‘s Tales: In the Night Garden and The Orphan‘s Tales: In the Cities of Coin and Spice are available for order. And, if you have any further questions for Catherynne, head on over to her blog at: http://blog.catherynnemvalente.com/. Finally, a big thank you to Catherynne for managing to squeeze us in between all of the writing and world travel.
Caitlyanna writes: “I do have two questions for Catherynne M. Valente:
Question #1: What inspired you, if anything, to write this particular story?
I read Arabian Nights for the first time since I was a child in the summer of 2002. It was a relatively new translation, Hussein Haddawy’s, rather than the typical Burton collection of whitewashing, additions, and bowdlerizations. I was fascinated by the structure–how each tale broke from the previous one, to give the sense of a whole, though Arabian Nights has given us many individual tales. I had just graduated from college with a degree in Classical Linguistics I thought entirely useless, and had a bunch of mythology banging around in my head. I was daydreaming on my couch in the sweltering air-conditioningless Rhode Island summer and I thought: I wonder if I could put together everything I know about mythology and folklore and language and storytelling and make a completely new myth cycle? Hot on the heels of that my brain piped up: what if all the stories in Arabian Nights were really just one big story, not individual ones at all?
Brains do things like that to you sometimes. Dastardly things.
So I decided I’d try to write a few stories like that and give them to my niece for Christmas. I’d laminate them so she could get jam and mud all over it. I wrote her a story about a prince and a goose. And the thing is, the story just kept opening up in my head, like an origami box. It just grew and grew, and I suppose in some sense I grew up with it. I was barely 23 when I began it, and 29 when the last book was published. I lived all over the world while I worked on it–Rhode Island, Scotland, California, Japan, Virginia, and finally Ohio. Everything I loved and learned went into it.
My niece never got her laminated pages. But the book is dedicated to her.
Question #2: Did you write each individual story then piece them together or did you write, or plan, them already intertwined?”
I’m a very organic writer. That sounds like pretentious writer-speak, but what I mean is that like a plant, my books just start with something really small, a “What if I…?” seed, and then they grow slowly and weirdly from that. Unpredictably. They snarl and warp and wither, groundhogs eat the fruit, they get meshed up with other plants and invade other gardens, they sprawl and shrink. And I never know when I begin what it will look like at the end. I started with that prince and that goose, and it spooled out from there. I wrote those books from page one to page 500, completely linearly, in the order you read it. I try to proceed through my books the way a reader would, so that I take the same narrative journey they do.
Plus, I’m a terrible magpie. If I wrote the fun parts and promised to fill in the rest later, I’d never fill in the rest.
So the answer is, I didn’t plan anything ahead of time–I just let go and ran with it, spun around three times and pinned a tail on the computer.
Thornyrose writes: “Actually, Ms. Valente’s website has such a comprehensive FAQ, I’m almost at a loss to come up with anything new. But I will venture a couple. First, I see you’ve travelled to Japan. Have you travelled extensively elsewhere, and what countries/places would you like to visit if you had the time and means? Secondly, if you had the chance to travel to ancient Alexandria, and visit the Library, whose works would you seek out, and why? Thank you very much for your time and participation here, and more thanks for producing such an enchanted novel.”
I lived in Japan for two years–I also went to university in Edinburgh, Scotland, and I’ve lived all over the US. I was born in Seattle, went to high school in central California, did the first half of my degree in San Diego, and lived in Rhode Island, Virginia, Cleveland, and San Luis Obispo. I’ve also traveled quite a bit in Europe and a bit in the Caribbean. A classics girl will have to visit Greece and Italy! I have an irritating case of wanderlust, and there’s few places I don’t want to go. I hope to travel to Russia soon for research for a novel I’m working on, and I’d love to visit Argentina and North Africa.
And what a question! I suppose I’d first head for the lost works of Sappho and Euripides, and just roll around with the Greeks like a happy kitten. I love both their work, in the original they are so rich and gorgeous. It’s tragic we have so little of Sappho, and the hints of missing Euripides plays are fascinating. But then, I’m the kind of geek that gets teary-eyed over lines of poetry in a dead language.
ChrisT. writes: “This wasn’t your typical fantasy novel and I mean that in a very good way. So I was wondering what kind of works influenced you in your writing? And what can you tell us about the second book in the series? How did The Orphan’s Tales differ from your previously published works?”
Well, I mentioned Arabian Nights. Also Milorad Pavic’s novels (particularly Landscape Painted with Tea) made me think about similies in a new way–he’s a Serbian writer, and though the books are translated into English, you can see through the similes that he is functioning in a very different culture. I liked being able to see that through the comparisons a culture finds it logical to make. A good example of this is that, in English, we use the word “fair” as a synonym for beautiful. It denotes pale skin, high-class, old-fashioned beauty, because for a woman to have fair skin once meant she didn’t have to work in the fields. But in Russian, they use the word “prekrasnaya” as the same sort of synonym, which has as its root the word for the color red–because in their culture, to have ruddy, red skin meant a girl was healthy and hardy. It’s logical, just a different logic. I tried to do the same with the similies in the Orphan’s Tales, which all serve to illuminate the culture of the particular tale they appear in in some way.
The Orphan’s Tales differs from my previous novels in that it is, believe it or not, much more linear and accessible, with a much stronger plot than anything else I had done. My first three novels (The Labyrinth, The Book of Dreams, and The Grass-Cutting Sword) are very much based in the language they use–that was the seed, if I can recall the earlier organic idea. they aren’t really too concerned with a strong plotline. I love them deeply and am proud of them, but they are, well, as the reviews said, “not for everyone.” I heard that phrase so many times a friend of mine sent me a picture of a gravestone with “Catherynne M. Valente–NOT FOR EVERYONE” engraved on it.
KellyK writes: “Were you inspired by an specific myths or legends? There were times when some of the stories felt like fresh reimaginations of existing fairy tales. And – I don’t know if this was already asked but what was your writing process in putting this story together? Did you write it as it appears on the page or did you write one story from beginning to end, then go back and write another and weave them through each other once you were done? Were any sort of charts involved? (I’m not kidding)”
I was inspired by every myth or legend or fairy tale I’d ever read. Several of the stories are deliberate mash-ups of familiar ones, new musculature on old bones. I wanted to break down fairy tales into their smallest parts, and then build them up again all out of order, in to things that spoke to what I felt it was to be human, to be a woman, to be old, to be a man, to be lost, to be ugly, to be abandoned. We live in a new world–we need new myths. The Tale of the Office Worker, the Tale of the Freelance Writer. But the old ones pack a punch for a reason, and I love taking apart their fighting styles and using them for my own nefarious ends.
And this is the hard part to believe: I never took a single note or made a chart. Every time I sat down to do it, reasoning that it would be much easier than keeping it all in my head, I just felt like it would take less time to write the damn book than to chart it out. I keep most things in my head–I’ve had so many data loss incidents with my computer I’m a little scared of taking notes. At least any data loss involving my head would be more spectacular than a blue screen of death.
Other people have made charts on various wikis though–and I’m terribly impressed with them. Maybe someday I will have a time machine that will allow me to reach into the future and use the charts before the book is done. That would be pretty sweet. Of course, then I’d know how the book ended, and I’d never write it. So keep your time machines to yourself, Science!
Antisocialbutterflie writes: “1) You had dozens of story threads that you had to keep track of and tie up at the end. How did you keep them all straight? Flow charts, venn diagrams? I kept seeing that scene from A Beautiful Mind where the room was filled with highlighted newspapers connected by red string.
It’s more like the scene from A Beautiful Mind where he looks at the birds in the courtyard and sees equations linking their movements. I was driving from Virginia to Ohio–a trip I used to make a lot, and along the lines of the road at night I could see the story unpacking itself–all of the sudden I knew in a rush how to start the sequel, who the girl in the garden was, how it all connected. When I got to Ohio I sat in the car for half an hour scribbling it onto the back of my interstate map so I wouldn’t forget it. I worked out a lot of those books driving along the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
I stare off into space and I see a story unfolding, bit by bit, opening up. I write by my headlights–I can only see what’s right in front of me, what I’m writing today, maybe tomorrow if I’m lucky. But I can see, dimly, how that bird out there connects to all the others, and what it needs to accomplish right now to make that connection.
2) I was really impressed by your Black Mare/Star mythology. What were your influences?
Well, the Night Mare is a real figure from Celtic myth, bed of bones and all. I discovered it while reading Robert Graves’ The White Goddess, which for all its issues is a beautiful book. The Star mythology just sort of grew out of my head, to be honest. I love, and have always loved, to think of celestial bodies as actual bodies–Ama-Terasu, the Japanese sun goddess, the man in the moon. I am in love with human physicality, and I wanted to make the sky a living thing, to make the stars not just something you watch, but something that watches you back.
At the same time, I didn’t want to create a religion so pervasive and undeniable that everyone believes it without question, a common trope in epic fantasy. So people fight over their gods and argue about what they mean, what they want–and the gods are just as lonely and confused as the rest of us. I suppose I wanted my mythology to reflect how I see the world–everyone’s just searching for the object of their obsession, whatever that is, and I don’t think gods are exempt.
3) This is my random stupid personal question. It is intended to get a little peek inside your head but if you find it offensive, feel free to ignore it entirely. Do you find that you have difficulty answering questions with a simple yes or no? Do you feel compelled to elaborate on everything?
Beverly writes: “I was entranced by your book. How did you come up with the idea to write a book of interrelating stories? Did you have to do much research to come up with all the different characters and mythologies?”
Since I already talked about the beginning of the book, I’ll just speak to the research here. That Classics degree turned out not to be so useless after all. Since I’ve been obsessed with fairy tales and myth since I learned to read, to some extent I’d been doing research all my life. But I did do a tremendous amount of linguistic research, to ground each culture in the real world, and delved into a lot of the more obscure folkloric systems–Slavic, southeast Asian, central African. I also spent a lot of time coming up with names–they all have some particular meaning relevant to their stories. Names are hugely important to me. The first thing I do in any story is find the right names for the characters–those names inform the whole story for me.
-How long did it take to write this book?”
Six years, from page one to the last page of the sequel. But that was certainly not non-stop. I wrote three other novels and four books of poetry in the meantime. I suppose, if I add it up, it was probably something like a year of continuous work.
“-Was there a reason the boy prince and the girl with the birthmark eyes had no names in the story?
Oh, I’m so glad you asked this question! No one has asked me this yet!
First, the girl does have a name. It’s revealed in the sequel. I agonized over whether to give the boy one–he had one for about a year, but I cut it. Firstly because in all the Western story tales the girls have these outlandish names: Rapunzel, Snow White, Cinderella. But the boys are just the Prince.
More importantly, I wanted their relationship to have an archetypal quality to it. If they have names they’re characters, but a boy and a girl…we;;, we’ve all been boys and girls. We’ve all been lonely and tried to make friends with the weird kid in the playground, or been the weird kid ourselves. We’ve all tried to be beautiful for someone, to tell a magical story about ourselves, so that the pretty, beloved kid will stay and be our friend. That sort of thing is universal, and I wanted this boy and this girl to be all those boys and girls, too.
On The Church of Dead Girls:
Thornyrose writes: “Indeed, the writing style began to positively irk me, which made it increasingly difficult to stay in the story.”
Answer: What was it about the writing style that you found so off-putting?
Antisocialbutterflie writes: “The narrator was an interesting thing to digest. He was, in my mind, very androgynous. Given all the books with heroines that we have been reading, I though the narrator was a woman until the character was finally described as a “he.””
Answer: That’s very interesting. I never envisioned the narrator as a woman but, now that you mention it, why not?
Drldeboer writes: “I spent most of the book thinking the narrator was going to be the killer, and was a bit disappointed when he wasn’t.”
Answer: Ha! So did I! I was expecting a twist that never came – which, I think, is actually a good thing.
Allie writes: “I found it really weird that Sadie would hang out with the narrator of the story. It really bugged me. I was fine with her hanging out with Ryan, though.”
Answer: I actually found it bizarre that this young girl would be hanging out with either them. After all, one (the narrator) is middle-aged while the other (Ryan) though younger, is still an adult. I guess it wasn’t so much the fact that she had befriended these older men and they took care of her while her father was out (the narrator essentially babysits her) but more their attitude toward her and the fact that they spent so much time with her that I found kind of creepy.
Reminder! You have until tomorrow night to post your questions for Andy Mikita. I’ll be sending them his way on Wednesday morning because he starts prep on the series finale, Enemy at the Gate, on Friday.
Today’s video: As per your request = A video tour of Stage 6, the Atlantis standing sets, hosted by none other than writer-executive producer Carl Binder. Part 1. (Hmmm. Googlevideo seems to be a little finicky today and the file is too big for photobucket, so check back later tonight when it will hopefully be working).
Ryan writes: “What is with all the binders on the shelf in the writers room, do each of them hold a script of a previous episode?”
Answer: Yes. The shelves lining the walls of the writers’ room held every script ever written for the Stargate franchise, from SG-1’s Children of the Gods to the latest Atlantis. Since the video was taken, however, we ran out of room and ended up transforming Paul Mullie’s office into a repository for the Atlantis archives. Now, whenever I need to fact-check, all I have to do is stroll in, step all over his couch, and consult the appropriate script.
Wonderingbrit writes: “Where do the cast do the ‘Read-Throughs’ then?”
Answer: They don’t. Not anymore. When we did do read-throughs, we held them in the conference room (video tour – first door on the right).
Shippychick writes: “Who’s desk is the neatest and who’s is the worst?”
Answer: Neatest = Carl Binder’s desk. Worst = mine.
MysteryMadchen writes: “In your personal opinion, do you think that with a large fan outcry, Atlantis could be saved?”
Answer: As much as empathize with the fans and admire their determination, I believe that it’s a done deal. That said, if ratings continue to rise and the series finishes strong, I can think of no better going away present for the cast and crew. And maybe, just maybe, while it wouldn’t get the show uncancelled, it might cause “some” to regret seeing the show end. So get out there, find someone with a Nielsen box, and go watch the rest of the season at their place!
MysteryMadchen also writes: “Have you guys seen a large influx of protesters out side your doors and the studio since the announcement?”
Answer: Not really. I thought we had one yesterday, but it turned out be just some guy watering the bushes outside the gate.
MysteryMadchen also writes: “What is the mood in the office and studio since most of the writers and producers are going to be out of a job?”
Answer: That’s not true. We’re all awaiting word on how things will shake out for next year.
MysteryMadchen also writes: “How is the atmosphere on stage considering the actors are now with out there jobs? Is it a sad place to be now that they know the news? Are emotions running wild?”
Answer: No wild emotions. Everyone has been very professional. Jason M. is single-handedly ensuring that the mood on-set remains upbeat.
Paloosa writes: “I was wondering, if the last episode shot finishes filming at the end of September, how many more weeks of post production will you have until the final episode, sadly, is completed and you can finally relax?”
Answer: Probably not until mid to late December.
Thesp3aker writes: “If the first movie’s a success, how long do you think future movies would keep being produced for?”
Answer: Indefinitely. So long as they’re profitable, I can’t see any reason why MGM would want to stop making them.
J Williams writes: “Why is your calender set to October, two months before October.”
Answer: Ah, eagle eye! The calendar is set to October because that particular video was taken in October of last year.
Jmanzione writes: “Is a new SG1 movie script in the writing stage at this point?”
Answer: No. It’s in the “thinking about” stage.
DasNDanger writes: “How does it make you feel, knowing that I roll out of bed and check your blog first thing, before I even eat, or say ‘morning’ to Mr. Das, or feed the cats?”
Shadow Step writes: ““”On a different note, could you explain why David Nykl gets a credit for a 3 second walk past?” Answer: Sure. Because his scene was cut for time.”
But why retain him in the credits?”
Answer: Because he did work on the episode despite the fact that his big scene didn’t make the final cut.
Shadow Step also writes: “Btw do you wear high heels or were your secretary following you around the production shoot?”
Answer: I prefer low-heeled pumps.
Ladyflowdi writes: “When Rodney is telling Keller about his mother, and he makes the comment that he doesn’t understand her… I’ve taken it to mean that either he was very, very little when she died, or else she was speaking to him in another language (French?).”
Answer: Neither. I believe this is an indication that McKay’s memories are fading. He remembers her talking but doesn’t know what she is saying because he can no longer recall her words.
Leila writes: “For the record, Joe I don’t think that you knew. And even if… if you knew then how could we be angry at you keeping it a secret. It’s call confidentiality.”
Answer: I can assure you that if that was the case and I did know beforehand, I certainly wouldn’t be making it a point of saying I didn’t.
MrsB108 writes: “1)Does “Inquisition” show us the inner workings of Sheppard’s thoughts and well-kept guilt?
2)In “The Queen”, does Teyla’s abilities exceed what is expected of her?”
Answers: 1) No. You’ll have to wait until Remnants for that. 2) Very much so. Yes.
Liam writes: “From what source do you get the questions to which you respond in your blog at this site? Is it from comments submitted here or elsewhere (and/or other sites like Gateworld)?”
Answer: I pick and choose from among the questions posted here.
Liam also writes: “Also, will any or some group of the writers/producers/directors be attending the April 2009 convention in Vancouver?”
Answer: The producers are rarely invited to those things so I wouldn’t know.
FatesPleb writes: “To keep the flames burning in these dark times, would you tell your avid fans a basic plot summary for the episode that could have been – hexed.”
Answer: If you remind me again, in the coming days I’ll give you a rundown of some of the story ideas that didn’t make the cut…