Thursday, March 4, 2010

Interview with Lavie Tidhar

Lavie Tidhar is an Israeli writer who grew up on a kibbutz in Israel and who lived in the United Kingdom, South Africa, Asia and Vanuatu. He made his debut with a collection of poetry, “Remnants of God”, and since then he published many short stories in magazines such as Strange Horizons, Clarkesworld Magazine, Postscripts, Interzone and others. Lavie Tidhar also published a novella, “An Occupation of Angels”, a collection of short stories, “HebrewPunk”, a short novel in collaboration with Nir Yaniv, “The Tel Aviv Dossier”, and he also edited a non-fiction book, “Michael Marshall Smith: The Annotated Bibliography”, and two anthologies, “A Dick & Jane Primer for Adults” and “The Apex Book of World SF”. Lavie Tidhar's first novel, “The Bookman”, was released by Angry Robot Books in January this year, with its sequel, “Camera Obscura”, due to be released in November by the same Angry Robot Books. Lavie Tidhar won in 2003 the first Clarke-Bradbury International Science Fiction Competition sponsored by the European Space Agency and was nominated for Writers of the Future and Israeli Geffen Award.

Mihai (Dark Wolf): Lavie, thank you very much for the opportunity of this interview.
What attracted you towards speculative fiction? Which stories make the foundation of your love for speculative fiction?
Lavie Tidhar: I’ve always liked science fiction and fantasy, from the very early children’s books I used to read. So I suppose my foundation, in a way, in a mix of mostly-obscure Hebrew children’s books – like The Adventures of Captain Yuno, a series of 3 books from the 1950s, about two children stowing on board a spaceship and having adventures in the solar system – and translated books like Jules Verne’s and so on. I only really got to read American SF once I could get into the “adults’” library!

Mihai (Dark Wolf): You are born in Israel and you lived in South Africa, the UK, the South Pacific and South East Asia. You edited anthologies and as a writer you published poetry, nonfiction, short and long fiction, a play and scripts for comics. Are these signs of uncertainty or do you like to experiment? How did these experiences help you improve as a writer?
Lavie Tidhar: I wouldn’t call it uncertainty! No, I love to experiment, try new things and new approaches. I’d find it incredibly dull to only be writing one kind of thing over and over!
Poetry is very much my first love. I still think a truly great poem – Larkin’s “High Windows”, say, or Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi” – is the very best thing. To write one truly great poem... however, while I’m probably a good poet, I’m not a great poet, which is probably why I’m writing fiction instead!
At the moment I’m finding comics writing absolutely fascinating. It’s a field I’m only really playing in at the moment – dipping my toes, as it were – but I’m looking forward to doing more in it in future. I have a few projects on the go at the moment...
To an extent I still think of myself as a short story writer though. Even though I sold 5 novels in 2009, I feel very restless unless I’m doing some short stories. They’re not quite like poems but I love the brevity of them, the way you can do things, try things, that you can’t do with novels. Saying that, though, I do love writing novels too – the longer scope, the waking up each morning to continue in this one story and see where it goes...

Mihai (Dark Wolf): From all your writing experiences with which one did you feel most comfortable?
Lavie Tidhar: At a push, I’d say short stories. There’s just something very satisfying about them. They’re just enough to get excited doing, but not too long that they become work!

M(DW): Looking over your bibliography I see that you went successively from the short fiction to the longer one, publishing many short stories, novellas, a short novel and then a novel. Did this course help you in writing your first novel? Do you think that these successive writing experiences can improve an author’s technique when it comes to longer fiction?
LT: To an extent yes, sure, but I also think it’s something of a fallacy – and you hear it a lot. The truth, of course, is that there are plenty of novelists who never wrote a short story and it hadn’t been particularly harmful for them. I write short stories and novellas for exactly one reason – because I love to do them. The whole idea of slowly “progressing” from short fiction to novels is a bit dubious to me. Just because I’m writing novels now doesn’t mean I’ve stopped writing short stories, or stopped being interested in all other forms of story-telling. And some writers are better at one form than another. I’d say writing is always learning, in whatever form it takes.

M(DW): I read that you define your writings as weird fiction. Why an attraction towards the weird? Why do you define your works as weird fiction?
LT: I can’t really answer the why of it. I just tend to have this skewered way of viewing the world, I guess. The thing is, I like writing different things, mixing different genres, trying different approaches, and the only common denominator for them is the “weird”, is that they’re all kind of skewered. But I’d hate to be stuck in one single genre or sub-genre or whatever. I still want to write a cookbook! And I have this dream of one day writing a Mills & Boon romance...

M(DW): English is your second language. How difficult is to write and publish in a second language? Why a choice to write and publish in English?
LT: Partly it’s a very commercial-oriented decision. Writing in English you just might get a chance at making a living out of it. Writing in Hebrew can only ever be a labour of love. But, saying that, I love writing in English, so it’s not exactly a hardship...

M(DW): Do you still write in Hebrew? Do you publish in your native country too?
LT: I try to keep writing in Hebrew. I’ve done a bunch of short stories over the years, many – though not all – of which I also translated into English and published in the States (“Shira” in Ellen Datlow’s The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction & Fantasy being perhaps my favourite). And Nir Yaniv and I wrote a Hebrew novel, a humerous murder mystery set in an Israeli SF convention, and that was published in Israel in 2009. That was a lot of fun to do. And there’s at least one book I want to write one day which can only be done in Hebrew...

M(DW): You have two novels written in collaboration with Nir Yaniv. How is the work on a collaborative novel? Would you like to repeat the experience in the future? If possible, with whom?
LT: I find collaboration fascinating – and occassionally frustrating! On the two books with Nir we alternated chapters, with each then going over the other’s chapter and making changes or adding things. It worked quite well. It’s quite possible we’ll repeat it again at some point.

M(DW): You edited an anthology focused on the World Science Fiction, “The Apex Book of World SF” and you also run a blog focused on the world SF, The World SF News Blog. Why do you have an interest in the speculative fiction regardless of boundaries? Do you believe that the speculative fiction can improve through the publication of stories and authors outside of the English market?
LT: I’ve been travelling for a long time – living in different places for a long time – and what I’ve always loved is to check out the local books, the local writing. I remember picking up the Nemira anthologies of Romanian SF back in 1994 or 1995 when I was there, and so I’d always go looking for more when I could. And when I visited China in 2000 I was so warmly welcomed I’ve been looking for the opportunity to repay that for a long time. To me SF really is an international – what would you call it? Genre? Group? Family? – and I wanted to celebrate that, with both the book and the blog.

M(DW): The line-up of “The Apex Book of World SF” is focused mainly on the Asian speculative fiction. Do you plan to publish similar anthologies for the other continents? Would you like to edit or do you hope to see published a world fantasy anthology?
LT: Well, it’s more of a focus on Asian and European writers, and I’m hoping we get to do a second volume with a focus on African and Latin American writers, yes. There’s some stuff already in the works, but I can’t really talk about it yet!

M(DW): Did your travels play a role in the idea behind “The Apex Book of World SF”?
LT: As I mentioned above, it certainly did, to an extent, but in putting the book together I relied mostly on stories that already appeared in the English-language magazines/webzines. Not exclusively, and I hope when we get to do a second volume it will again have some original stories as well.

M(DW): You write comic scripts too. What involves the writing of a comic script and how different is this process? How important is the collaboration between the writer and the illustrator in the success of a comic book?
LT: I just have a huge respect for artists, especially as I’m completely incapable of drawing even a basic shape! To write a script and see it come alive in an artist’s hands is amazing.
Scripts are very different to write than prose. It’s a much more visual thing, and I’m still very much learning it, experimenting with it. Ask me again in a few years!

M(DW): Your latest published work is the steampunk novel, “The Bookman”, released by Angry Robot Books. What inspired the writing of “The Bookman”? What attracts you toward steampunk and why a choice for it in writing this novel?
LT: The Bookman is really my sort of love letter to steampunk. It was me sitting down with no other agenda than to write the sort of book I’d like to read. I’ve loved steampunk since I first picked up a copy of Tim Powers’ On Stranger Tides, years ago. The Victorian era – and the way it shaped our own modern world – is just so fascinating. So playing in the same sandbox just proved too much of a temptation!

M(DW): You wrote “The Bookman” in the last months of your stay in London. Why didn’t you publish the novel earlier? Did “The Bookman” suffer changes from the initial draft until the publishing rights were acquired?
LT: Fair question! In actual fact I moved to Vanuatu pretty much as soon as I finished The Bookman. I was living on a remote island called Vanua Lava and had no electricity, phone or pretty much anything else. So finding a publisher wasn’t exactly my first priority! I was trying to grow tomatoes for a while...
What happened though is that my friend John (Berlyne), in the meantime, had become an agent, and he read The Bookman and liked it a lot. He pushed me into doing some fairly extensive re-writes – at one point there was an entire 16,000 word chunk in the middle of the novel that was fun to do (it was a mini-murder mystery set in a Victorian “Scientific Romace” convention!) but didn’t really advance the story in any way. So it ended up beign replaced with a single line!
And so when John started, with John Parker, the Zeno Literary Agency, they took me on, and within six months they sold The Bookman and two follow-up novels... I’m afraid I’d be absolutely helpless without an agent!

M(DW): “The Bookman” is the first novel in a series and you already finished its second novel, “Camera Obscura”. Do you have an idea for the third novel already? Would you settle for only three novels in your series?
LT: Good questions, and I’m not sure I can answer them at this point. It’s very possible there will be more than 3 books.

M(DW): At what are you working at the moment and what future projects do you have?
LT: At the moment I’m finishing my “Vanuatu novel” – it’s about World War II in the South Pacific, and about Vanuatu, and the myths of the islands where I lived. It’s part autobiography, part fiction, part non-fiction, part magical realism, I guess you’d call it. Then there’s the third book for HarperCollins, and a couple of other things in the pipeline.
In terms of thing coming out... The Bookman comes out in the States in August, and Camera Obscura comes out at the end of 2010 in both the UK and the US. The third book would be out sometime in 2011. I have two other novels coming out over the next couple of years – Martian Sands from Apex Books in the US can possibly be described as “Schinder’s List meets Total Recall”, if that makes any sense! And PS Publishing in the UK are bringing out Osama, which I’m hugely excited about. I won’t say too much about it at this stage.
PS are also releasing two novellas from me – Cloud Permutations very soon, I hope, and Gorel & The Pot-Bellied God sometime later. One is a sort of South Pacific-flavoured planetary romance and the other is a sex&violence fantasy. Lots of fun.

Thank you very much for your time and answers. It has been a pleasure.


ediFanoB said...

Thank you Mihai and Lavie. I enjoyed THE BOOKMAN a lot. So it was quite interesting to get more information about Lavie.

Mihai A. said...

Michael, I am glad you like it. I have "The Bookman" close to my top of TBR pile, so I will read it pretty soon too :)

Simcha said...

Great interview! I have a particular interest in Israel SFF authors and I've been following Tidhar for a while. I read The Tel Aviv Dossiers, which has to be one of the strangest books I've ever read and I'm currently reading the Bookman, though it's going kind of slow so far.

Mihai A. said...

Thank you very much! :)
As I said I will experience "The Bookman" pretty soon too :D