Grinding to Valhalla

Interviewing the gamer with a thousand faces

Reading the text: Sarah Monette

Posted by Randolph Carter on May 18, 2009

corambis coverAuthor website:

Could you take a minute and explain what your latest book Corambis is about?

Corambis is the fourth and final book in a fantasy series called the Doctrine of Labyrinths (previous books are Melusine (2005), The Virtu (2006), and The Mirador (2007)), about a gay wizard named Felix Harrowgate and his half-brother, the assassin turned thief Mildmay the Fox. (Wow, that description is simultaneously radically misleading and completely true.) I’m really bad at explaining what my books are about, but to give it my best shot: Corambis is about Felix’s efforts to come to terms with the events of The Mirador, and his and Mildmay’s experiences as exiles in the country of Corambis, where magic and technology have come together to create, for instance, a subway system in the capital city.

What was the process like for you in first getting published?

Very slow. *g* I got an agent in 2000 on the basis of an early draft of Melusine, and he recommended I start writing short fiction. My first short story was published in 2002 and I sold Melusine and The Virtu in 2003. The process looks about like it does for any writer:

  1. write a story (including second drafts and revisions and editing and everything else)
  2. submit it
  3. write another story
  4. submit it
  5. get rejected on story #1
  6. submit it to the next market
  7. get rejected on story #2
  8. submit it to the next market
  9. write a third story
  10. submit it
  11. get rejected on story #3
  12. get rejected on story #1
  13. submit them both to new markets
  14. get rejected on story #2
  15. submit it to the next market and start work on story #4

and repeat until you finally get a sale.

Being a writer is all about beating your head against a brick wall until the wall falls down.

Where do you happen to find inspiration for your work?

Anywhere it’s lurking. I’ve gotten stories from things I’ve read, things I’ve heard, things I’ve dreamed. I read a lot of nonfiction, especially history.

Are you or have you ever been a gamer (pen & paper RPGs, console or computer games, etc.)?

I’ve played computer games since the Infocom games in the 1980s (Planetfall and the Zork games were my particular favorites). Prince of Persia, Diablo I & II, Neverwinter Nights, Resident Evil IV (once we broke down and got a Wii), the Sims. I love Mateusz Skutnik’s Submachine flash games.. I’ve never really gotten into RPGs or multi-player games, though.

Have you ever ventured into online worlds? If so, please explain what that experience has been like.

mirador coverNo, what with the not liking multi-player games and all. I think they’re really neat, mind you, just not for me.

Were you a big reader as a child/young adult? What were some of your favorite books and/or authors growing up?

Oh yes. I had to be pried forcibly out of a book to make me do anything other than read. I loved the Oz books (both L. Frank Baum and Ruth Plumly Thompson), C. S. Lewis’s Narnia books, The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander, Lewis Carroll, Mercer Mayer, Susan Cooper, Diana Wynne Jones. The Wind in the Willows and Winnie-the-Pooh. As a teenager, I loved Weis & Hickman’s Dragonlance novels.

Seeing how you now write primarily in the fantasy genre (unless I’m missing something here), would you mind sharing some of your literary influences?

I write mostly fantasy at novel length, and mostly horror at short story length, and the two tend to cross-pollinate: my fantasy novels are full of ghosts and ghouls and other “horror” elements. My influences include J. R. R. Tolkien, H. P. Lovecraft, Ellen Kushner, Peter Beagle, Gene Wolfe, and Joan D. Vinge.

Grind is a term used frequently in gaming vernacular referring to something that is rather repetitive or unpleasant that one engages in in order to progress in the game. Would you say there is grinding in the writing process? Please explain.

Heh. See my answer to question 2. And there’s a good deal of that feeling that sets in around the third or fourth time you go through a manuscript.

By contrast, what would you say is one of the most rewarding things about being a writer?

Um. Everything? When I was a kid, I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. And now I *am* grown up, and I *am* a writer. I don’t have the coolest day job in the world (that would be fellow SF writer Mary Robinette Kowal, who’s a puppeteer for her day job), but damn close.

Would you have any words of advice for the would-be-writers out there?

What it boils down to, fundamentally, is three things.

  1. Keep writing.
  2. Finish things.
  3. (if you want to be published, which not all writers do) Submit things.

Talent and skill are important, but brute stubbornness is what makes a writer.

You wake up to a world where your Doctrine of Labyrinths series has been made into an MMO. What race and class would you play and why?

melusineThis one really makes my brain hurt. One of the things my books were written in response to–or as an argument with–was the kind of oversimplistic fantasy novels in which characters can be described as “half-elven cleric” or “gnome thief.” Which is not to say that RPGs are inherently simplistic–that depends entirely on the GM and the players and how they choose to construct their world and their game–but my experience of novels that use that rubric is that they’re unsatisfying. (And that’s just my experience with the novels I’ve read, which is–goodness knows–not all of them.) But there aren’t any nonhuman races in my books and criminal professions are just that: being an assassin is a ugly, brutal, soul-destroying job; Mildmay quits because he can’t stand to do it any longer, but then, since he’s wanted for more than one murder, he doesn’t have any options except to continue as a criminal and eke out a hand-to-mouth existence as a thief. Which, as he says, is no great moral victory, but he prefers it to dying.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with this gamer/reader audience?

I don’t think so. Thank you!

One Response to “Reading the text: Sarah Monette”

  1. […] Grinding to Valhalla.   He calls this series Reading the Text, and has interviewed writers like Sarah Monette, Ken Scholes, and Alan Campbell.  I’m very pleased to join such ranks.   My interview on […]

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