The Townhouse of Ideas

Author Interview: Steven Brust– Part One

Steven Brust is a fantasy author who I interviewed one time, but I just found out that the website the interview was on is gone now, so I’ve decided it’s time to post the interview here!

You may remember the name of Steven Brust from my article I wrote on this site about writers who’ve been an influence on me… In the meantime, let’s let Wikipedia help introduce you to the man:

Steven Karl Zoltán Brust (born November 23, 1955) is an American fantasy and science fiction author of Hungarian descent. He is best known for his series of novels about the assassin Vlad Taltos, one of a disdained minority group of humans living on a world called Dragaera. His recent novels also include The Incrementalists (2013) and its sequel The Skill of Our Hands (2017), with co-author Skyler White.

As a drummer and singer-songwriter, Brust has recorded one solo album and two albums as a member of Cats Laughing. Brust also co-wrote songs on two albums recorded in the mid-1990s by the band Boiled in Lead.

Okay, so that’s some stuff you know now, if you didn’t before! So let’s jump into my interview with Steven Brust, who had apparently been recently talking to me, before the interview started, about how he watched the TV show Firefly

Park Cooper: So: how are ya? Aside from enjoying Firefly?

Steven Brust: Doing well; getting work done.

PC: Vlad/Jhereg work?

SB: Yeah, a new Vlad novel.

PC: When you think of the series, do you think “the Vlad series” or “Vlad’s books” or “Jhereg” collectively or what? The Shelf Monster? The Big Long Thing?

SB: I think I’ve been calling them Vlad novels. What is it you look for in deciding whom to interview?

PC: Heh. I’m a big fan, read all the books, and Brokedown Palace, and…

SB: (nod ) Do you like to have a prepared list of questions, or do you enjoy just making it up on the fly?

PC: I’d even say you’re an influence, though my book is silly/funny.

SB: That’s very flattering; thanks.

PC: Well funny being more of the reason for being– Vlad is damn funny.

I do enjoy making it up on the fly, one thing leading into another, but I have a few things in the back of my mind this evening…  but I’m happy to throw them out if we get into talking about other things…

SB: Cool. What was one of the really fun experiences you’ve had doing an interview?

PC: One interesting thing was a young woman I was interviewing about comics– I consciously didn’t want to nudge her into having to talk about sexism in comics and darned if she didn’t go there all by herself with zero help from me…

SB: (nodnod) So, then, you have a strong background in comics?

PC: I do. My wife and I wrote them before we got more strongly into prose. I still do, a little.

Now, are you aware that you’re currently interviewing me? Because it’s fun and funny and all, but if you’re not aware, I’m happy to inform you of it.

SB: Hee hee

PC: I just don’t want you to feel that I don’t care about you and your answers…

Yeah I let it go for a while, but I thought I’d mention it.

SB: I wondered how long I could get away with it.

PC: As long as you like. I’m truly honored to be interviewed by you. But if you wondered how long before I noticed– pretty much right away.

SB: Okay, fair enough.

PC: I thought it might be part of you getting comfortable…

So, how’s your health? I ask because I care.

SB: Well, let’s see: given that I smoke like a chimney and don’t exercise, my health is remarkably good.  Although I’ve just today taken some steps to be able to get back to doing some exercise.

PC: Oh yes? That sounds good! Hope it stays remarkably good and/or improves. Minnesota agreeing with you?

SB: It’s good to be back around family. I like that.

PC: Excellent. And the latest book going well?  Er, the currently-written one that is?

SB: You mean Spiked?

PC: Whichever one is currently being written.  I have a vested interest in Vlad novels, though, I admit… but we can talk about whatever books you like…

SB: Er. The question is ambiguous. Let’s see. The current Vlad novel is on chapter 2, and going a bit faster than I expect at this stage. But I’ve just finished (and sold) a novel called Spiked, co-written with Austin writer Skyler White. I’m more excited about it than anything I’ve done in years.

PC: Why so, SB?

SB: First of all, the process was just amazing. Working with Skyler–I haven’t had so much fun writing since Freedom & Necessity with Emma, and The Gypsy with Megan Lindholm. And I just love the book. I can’t stop reading it. The concept is (in my prejudiced opinion) Totally Fucking Cool. And, I don’t know, it just feels right. I love reading it.

PC: Wowee.

SB: Of course, I’ve been in this business long enough to know that how much I like a book has little to do with how much the readers will like it. But I also know that the only thing I can control is how much I like it (to the extent I can even control that), so there’s no point in worrying about how it’ll be received.

PC: Some readers I’ve seen were shirty about Tiassa. I read it, and liked it.

SB: Shirty?

PC: Well, let’s try: snotty.

SB: Ah. Well, the last several Vlad books have irritated some number of fans. So I thought I’d do one that irritated them all.

PC: Really? Hmm. Tiassa was the loudest grumbling I’ve heard. Maybe the only, I can’t remember for sure.

SB: The serious side of that is: I honestly can’t worry about that or I’ll start writing crap. I have to write the book I want to read. If I start guessing what others will like, chances are I’ll write something no one will like.

PC: Is it about him and Cawti? Or him and “go back to town dammit!” or what?

Hey, I’m not scared. I’m not about to tell you how to write your books or your characters—I wouldn’t want anyone trying to tell me… You do what you wanna do.

SB: As Vlad changes and grows, some people are going to stay with me, some are not, and some new people are going to come along. That’s just how it works. But I have to do stuff that excites me, or else go back to honest work. And I’m too old to go back to honest work.

PC: Me, I’m excited. Like for example to see if his weapon’s gonna start speaking up to him one of these days.

SB: It is not impossible that will happen. 🙂

PC: (nod)

SB: I will say, the one I’m writing now is definitely moving the story arc forward. Vlad has come up with something that he thinks will get him out of trouble with the Jhereg. When all is said and done, things will be different. I’m curious myself about whether it’ll work.

an illustration of a black flyin' lizard-lookin' thing on an orange background. Pretty fitting, for stock art...

PC: I tell my wife Barb about Vlad’s saga… to her he’s like yet another old friend who updates with long status updates now and then. She was introduced to him as “Lizard Boy.” As in “So then Lizard Boy gets a great idea– he finds ANOTHER flyin’ lizard!!” She knows that his name is really Vlad, but I didn’t have time to stop and teach her everyone’s proper name when I first started burbling about the series.

SB: Lizard Boy. I like that. Mr. Hoover will like that.

PC: She knows Vlad’s name, and yours. But Cawti is “Lizard Boy’s Wife” (now “Lizard Boy’s First Wife…”), Kragar is Lizard Boy’s Right Hand Guy, Lady Teldra is The Nice Lady In The Dagger.

SB: Heehee.

PC: And yeah, I suspected Vlad was gonna Come Up With Something like that pretty soon.  I saw signs in Tiassa.

SB: This one feels a bit like writing Taltos. I’m throwing a bunch of balls in the air, and I won’t know until I get to the end if I can juggle them all, or if they’ll just bounce right off the page. The tension is fun.

PC: You big on movies?

SB: Not really. I’m a horrible snob with movies and TV.

PC: Yay, snob! Ooh that’s another question– do you play music when you write? I know how musical you are, but that doesn’t mean you listen to it while you write.

SB: Never. If there’s music on, I have to listen to it, and I can’t write.

PC: Yeah Barb’s the same way. Heard anything good lately? Or watched anything?  Know of ANYTHING good lately that wasn’t novels?

SB: I like to have voices in the background when I write. So I’ll usually have some movie or TV show that isn’t good enough to demand attention, but not bad enough to make me crazy.

As for stuff I actually like, I’ve been into Burn Notice lately. And I enjoy House. I liked The West Wing. Firefly, of course.

PC: Yay West Wing.

SB: But I can’t write with those on; they demand attention. Usually something with horses is good to write to.

PC: Mm, good observation.

SB: Oh, I saw the pilot of Hell On Wheels and I was impressed as hell.

PC: Okay. Don’t think I’m crazy, but… how shall I word this… How much push does Vlad give you? Do you write him and he says “I’ll just go do that, then,” or does he ever try to say to you “I don’t want to do that, I want to do/say THIS”? Because he seems like the type who would totally wanna do it his way. Or are you of like minds on stuff?  Or is it totally nothing like I’m describing?

SB: Most of the time, I put him into a situation and he obliges me by telling me what he’s doing. Occasionally he’ll kick back and say, “No fucking WAY am I doing that.” When that happens, I usually listen.

PC: YES. TELLING YOU WHAT HE’S DOING. (super rapid nodding) Can you remember a particular time/the last time?  I am so curious. My wife and I have long conversations about characters being tight-lipped about what they think they’re gonna do next or otherwise etc.

NEXT TIME: Part Two of the three-part Steven Brust interview!