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Lisa Tuttle (Houston, 1952) is among the most respected fiction writers of the moment, having published both short stories and novels. The topics she is more comfortable with are fantasy, horror and science fiction, but she says that ghost stories have been her first love. Adria’s News interviews this multiawarded writer at the Celsius 232 Festival in Avilés to discover why she decided to move from the United States to Scotland, how was working with the famous author George R.R. Martin in their co-written novel Windhaven and, above all, to know why she refused the Nebula Award for her short story ‘The Bone Flute’.
Your books are mainly in the line of science fiction, horror and fantasy. Why these genres?
I don’t know. It’s how my mind works. I’m probably keener on horror and fantasy, although I started off writing sci-fi; that was because of the market of the time. I remember a lot people saying that my stories weren’t science-fictional enough. I was more interested in horror somehow. I guess I like to start with realistic background settings and then strange things start to happen. I can’t explain why, I suppose it’s what I like to read.
Do you remember when you decided to become a writer?
I was very young, I really can’t remember. I loved reading and it seemed natural to me to start writing my own stories, so I can’t ever remember the time before I started writing, but I was a child; I guess I was 10 or 11 when I started thinking about being a writer. For a long time I wrote short stories before daring to start a novel.
One of your most famous novels is Windhaven (1981), which is composed of three short stories. Can you talk a little bit about it?
At that time I was a young writer. So was George R.R. Martin –we were both at the beginning of our careers. Writing is a very solitary job; you don’t know how other people will respond to your work, so workshops, meetings, writing groups, and conventions make a big difference. George and I met at a convention in Dallas, Texas, in 1973, and hit it off right away. We had read the same books, liked the same music, and shared a lot of opinions about writing, politics and all the important things in life. We were always talking, and wrote long letters to each other. We both had collaborated with other writers by then. He said: “We have to write a story together”, and I said: “All right!” He had sold to a magazine called Analog and I hadn’t, so we planned to sell that first story to Analog. Then, he sent me two or three ideas and he asked me which one did I like, and as I love the idea that people can fly I chose that one, and began the story writing the first five, six or seven pages.
But how did you work? I mean, you weren’t living in the same city!
No. I was living in Texas and he was living in Chicago at the time and as it was before the Internet we were mailing the story back and forward. It was slow work! We did actually finish the story when we met up in Los Angeles, where I was staying at the time. That story, “The Storms of Windhaven”, was not only longer than I had expected –it was longer than anything I had written before. And, of course, it turned out to be the beginning of a novel. When it was published, the readers loved it, and it was the most popular story in Analog for that month. It was very gratifying. Then, we said: “Wow, we can write more”. I still remember the question: “Should we stay with our characters and have more adventures or we should keep the same world but write about different characters?” So we talked about a lot of possibilities and we had a lot of ideas that we never wrote.
But you decided to stay with Maris in the end…
Yes, but a few years passed before we wrote the second story, because George was writing his first novel. By the time we finished that second story we were thinking of it as part of a book. We also had ideas for other stories set on Windhaven, and for many years we talked about writing them –we still say “someday” we’ll write them, but now George is a little bit busy, as you know…
I think it you were the one who created Maris. Did you know you wanted to make the main character a woman or it was just by chance?
Well, I just preferred a woman; I wanted to have a woman as main character. I suppose it was fairly unusual at that time, but things were starting to change. It was a time, the 70s, when lots more women were writing SF and fantasy, and female characters could be more than just the old-fashioned “love interest”. George was happy with the idea of a female hero –I think, like me, he thought collaborating with another writer was a good excuse to try different things.
How is your friendship with George?
We’ve been friends for many years. We’ve never been living in the same place but we mail and phone each other and whenever we can we meet. When George went to Semana Negra de Gijón 2008 he couldn’t come to Scotland, where I live, but he asked me to come to Spain and I would have loved it, but he told me just about a month before it happened and we had guests coming to visit us that same week, so I couldn’t go then. I promised I’d make it the next time he was in Spain, so here I am!
What do you think about his saga A Song of Iceand Fire?
It’s incredible. I could never imagine myself writing such a huge story that would take so many years to write. And I don’t think even George imagined becoming so popular when he started writing it. But it was obvious that the story was different from many others!
Now George is very famous. As you wrote Windhaven together, has this impacted your career?
It’s been great. Windhaven came out in 1981 and there were a number of translations and I think it did reasonably well, but you know, most books have only one chance, so to have these new editions, and the chance to reach a whole new audience after so many years is wonderful. New editions have been published in Spain, in America, and we just sold it to Brazil and to an Asian country. And there will soon be an audio-book as well. I’m very happy.
You wrote a story under the pen name Maria Palmer. Why did you decide to use it?
It wasn’t my choice; it was the publisher’s idea. They wanted to do a book series called Horrorscopes (1995), twelve books aimed at teenagers and I was invited to write one of them. They wanted to make people think one person, Maria Palmer, wrote the twelve books when they were actually written by twelve different writers. The series was not a success, but the publisher felt my book was strong enough to stand alone, so it was later published again, under my own name, and I’ve recently sold the rights for it as an eBook.
You are also well known for being the first person that has refused the prestigious Nebula Award. Why did you do it?
It was a political decision. I didn’t like how it was organized so what I did was write a letter, but I wanted it to be very tough, backed by something to show I was serious, so I decided to withdraw my story from consideration because I was so angry. I sent the letter off and one or two weeks afterwards I got a phone call from someone in New York or wherever telling me I had won the Nebula Award. First, I thought it was a joke because the Nebula Award was going to be held six weeks or two months after. And I said: “I cannot have won”. They said: “Yes you have won”. And I asked them if they received my letter. And they didn’t; they said I had won and wasn’t allowed to refuse the award, yet I felt I had to be consistent, and stick by my decision, although I wasn’t quite sure how to do that. So, I kind of let it go. Now I think what I should have done was to write a letter explaining my reasons for withdrawing the story, and tried to find someone who was going to be at the awards ceremony –It was held in California, and I was far away, in the UK –and asked that friendly person to read out my letter and refuse the award on my behalf, but, I didn’t; I missed my chance… Anyway…
You moved to Scotland in 1990. It was to get inspiration?
It was really not a professional decision. When I met my husband Colin he’d been in publishing for many years in London and wanted to leave his job and work as a free-lance. We couldn’t afford to buy a house in London, so we decided to quit the city and start our family somewhere beautiful and our first holiday together we went to Scotland so…I guess we fell in love with the place.
Then you discovered the Scottish mythology, which you have used in several of your stories. Why do you like it so much?
I think it’s the landscape, which inspires me and brings me ideas. Most of the things that I write are set in our world. They might be in the future or in the past, but they are based in the real world. So they had to be placed somewhere I had lived or spent time.
J.K. Rowling is also from Scotland. Have you ever met her?
No, but it’s very interesting because we were both at the Edinburgh Book Festival when the first Harry Potter book came out. I also had a book for children published that year, so we both gave a presentation, although each of us at a different place. Thus, I didn’t talk to her and I didn’t buy her book either. I wish I had ever since! If I’d bought that first edition and got her to sign it...well. But anyway…
Do you have any writing projects in mind?
I am writing two different things. One is a novel, fantasy, but not Scottish. It’s set partly in England, partly in Paris; it’s set partly in the present, partly in 1913, and partly in the 1980s. I’m about half way through. The other thing I’m working on is a series of stories. The first one is called The Curious Affair of the Deodand (2011). It’s supernatural mystery, a mixture of horror and fantasy. After I had written it I knew more about those characters and I wanted to write more stories about them.
Scotland “The Scottish landscape inspires me and brings me ideas”
- Interview with George R.R. Martin (A Song of Ice and Fire).
- Interview with Patrick Rothfuss (The Kingkiller Chronicle).
- Interview with Neil Gaiman (American Gods).
- Interview with Brandon Sanderson (Mistborn)
- Interview with Tim Powers (The Anubis Gates).
- Interview with Joe Abercrombie (The First Law series).
- Interview with Steven Erikson (Malazan Book of the Fallen).
- Interview with Adrian Tchaikovsky (Shadows of the Apt).
- Interview with Dmitry Glukhovsky (Metro 2033).
- Interview with Lisa Tuttle (Windhaven).
- Interview with David Simon (The Wire).
- Interview with Christopher Priest (The Prestige).
- Interview with Ian Watson (Artificial Intelligence).
- Interview with Robert J. Sawyer (FlashForward).