Remember What Being Genuine Looked Like?

- Have the plotlines diverged much since you began writing the Black Company books, or did you have the entire plot more or less figured out from the very beginning? Were any characters added or further fleshed out beyond your original intentions? Have you made any changes to your initial plans during the course of the three series?
After thinking about it for several days I think I have figured out what you’re asking here….

There’s no permalink yet to Pat’s Fantasy Hotseat’s interview with Glen Cook, so you may have to scroll down, but check it out. Cook so doesn’t give a crap about pleasing the interviewer. He’s going to take each question and try to answer it as honestly as possible. I’ll tell you right now–a lot of authors are thinking what Cook’s saying here when they’re asked a crappily worded or insulting question.

The problem with the question above is it’s actually multiple questions…or one question asked three times. I’ve been guilty of it as an interviewer if I’m too enthusiastic about an interview subject, but it’s definitely a bad idea. Short, concise questions are almost always better–or a longer one that ends with a question and the rest is context, fine. Three tendrils of mush? Not so much.

Then take this one:

- In retrospect, is it safe to say that the genre wasn’t quite ready for the Black Company sequence in the mid 80s? Fantasy was dominated by powerhouses such as David Eddings, Terry Brooks, and Raymond E. Feist at the time. Looking back, was your series too avante-garde in style and tone?
Another question I don’t understand. The world must have been ready for whatever people see as different because they never went out of print and my editors constantly carped at me to write faster. The books are still selling well. How about those other guys?

My first reaction to that question, in my head, would be “f— you”, especially if I was someone like Cook who has sold a ton of books over his career, and also managed to get some critical acclaim, too (still underrated, re his best work). My second thought is that for someone who seems to pride himself on not being pretentious, Pat comes off as more than a little pompous. (The other thing to remember is that if giving interview answers becomes like chewing stale gum after awhile, having to come up with questions can be just as bad. It’s why I’ve cut down on the number of interviews I’m doing.)

Then there’re the comments, with a few people seeming a little put out that Cook didn’t stick to the party line and just answer each question as pleasantly as possible. Listen, maybe it’s not a good idea to respond as Cook does if you’re new to the business, but it’s refreshing to see somebody who doesn’t mind just being honest.

Basically, Cook’s steadfast refusal to participate in a game being badly played by the interviewer is the best thing about the interview. And the fact there’s some salty humor in there, too. I’m not sure it’s the interview Pat wanted, but it’s the interview he deserved, and it’s highly entertaining.

I wish we could have a “say whatever you damn well want to say” week for interviews. Boy, would that be an eye-opener.

Comments

  1. says

    “My first reaction to that question, in my head, would be “f— you”, especially if I was someone like Cook who has sold a ton of books over his career, and also managed to get some critical acclaim, too (still underrated, re his best work). My second thought is that for someone who seems to pride himself on not being pretentious, Pat comes off as more than a little pompous.”

    and

    “I’m not sure it’s the interview Pat wanted, but it’s the interview he deserved, and it’s highly entertaining.”

    At the risk of garnering more negative attention I don’t need, I have to say: Jeff, this is the reason I admire you so damned much. ; ) “Says what he means, means what he says, blah, blah, blah”. Heh.

  2. says

    Here’s the direct link Jeff, courtesy of Matt.

    Personally, I like it when interviewees are opinionated. It makes them stand out (because just as interviewers can ask boring questions–I’m guilty of this too–interviewees can also give out “safe” answers).

  3. says

    Hey–thanks.

    I’m also being a little hard on Pat. It really is tough to keep coming up with questions. In fact, it’s slightly nuts after awhile.

    Yes–I think the correct attitude is not to take it personally when an interviewee is difficult in some way. It’s definitely more interesting.

  4. says

    I think it’s also hampered by the medium. Sounds like the interview was conducted via email and not the type wherein you send one question and follow it up with another. In a live chat, the interviewer can probably sense where the interview is headed and adapt to it. Unfortunately, when you send a list of questions, all the “adapting” part falls on the hands of the interviewee.

    And on the side of Pat, at least he’s getting all this publicity from both you and Matt (and for once, not a criticism for Larry).

  5. says

    Whether or not it is the interview Pat wanted to end up with, it is definitely the interview I wanted to read. Or, more accurately, it is the interview I didn’t know I wanted to read until I read it.

    I’m not going to go hyper-critical on Pat because I’ve done two interviews over e-mail and neither ended up quite the way I wanted and I fully understand that as the interviewer, I could have done a far better job (someone else could have done a far better job, I did the best I could each time), so it’s far tougher than it might seem to do a good interview over e-mail, or in general. It’s probably tougher to do the whole thing in one big round of questions.

    But, for the most part, Pat does seem to use the same template for all his interviews. This one was personalized a little bit more than his usual fare, but it was still on the generic side.

    I don’t think Pat quite realized Cook’s overall success because it wasn’t part of what he was reading / experiencing at the time (honestly, I didn’t either, but I think the sheer volume of novels Cook has published is telling), but I’m glad it turned out the way it did. Way entertaining.

  6. says

    Best parts of the interview (by my humble estimation):

    PFH-Honestly, do you believe that the fantasy genre will ever come to be recognized as veritable literature?

    GC-For me this is a great steaming shovel full of I don’t care. Good stuff will stick around. Not so good won’t. Some professor pulling his intellectual pud over it isn’t relevant.

    PFH-Anything you wish to share with your fans?

    GC-Thank you. Stop taking it so damned seriously. And get out there and buy backup copies of my stuff. I have kids in college.

  7. Justin Mitchell says

    The question that stuck out to me was:

    “What was the spark that generated the idea that drove you to write the Black Company books in the first place?”

    Break it down into:

    What was the spark…
    that generated the idea…
    that drove you to write…
    the Black Company books…
    in the first place.

    Could have been: What inspired the Black Company books?
    Or even better: Did anything inspire the Black Company books?

    And then one question later: “Were there any perceived conventions of the fantasy genre which you wanted to twist or break when you set out each Black Company series?” Which is basically the same question as above, but still asked without providing enough information for the author to interact with the interviewer.

    Still, I enjoyed the interview. Both the questions and answers made me laugh.

  8. says

    You guys have me all nervous now, ’cause I just ran some (pretty weak) questions past a writer I like and now I can’t trust that I wasn’t a giant schmuck somehow.

    Justin, I think you’re totally right about breaking that question into its component, redundant parts and then just asking the vital question. But I don’t think “Did anything inspire the Black Company books?” is a better question — I think it’s pretty flat. For one, it’s a yes-or-no question. The subject could just opt out of it (“No, not really.”) or, more likely and not much better, answer without being engaged by it (“A painting in the Tate inspired it. Next?”).

    What do you think of this question: “How were you inspired to write the Black Company books?” To answer that question, you almost have to tell a story.

  9. says

    Well Charles, I’ve tried to make a resolution not to harangue Pat as much this year for perceived weaknesses, only to see that others are doing it for me :P

    He’s done this format, as he said in a response to that interview, for about four years now. English is his second language, if I recall (He’s from Montreal). So some of those questions (and many of his reviews contain this as well) are not going to “sound right” to native speakers – that’s not what I would knock him for, other than to suggest that he simplify the wording.

    I agree that email interviews are tough. I’ve recently posted the first two that I did back in 2003 on my blog and in the near future, I’ll have one up that I think will show just how far I’ve grown as an interviewer. But I have to admit that I too am guilty of having long-ass question parts (Pat Rothfuss and I had fun with that, though), so I can’t just sit here and tease Pat about it when I’ve been guilty of that as well.

    But I do have to admit, it felt at times like two savants doing an interview when I read that Thursday…

  10. says

    These are the interviews that are a joy to read, and they’re why I willingly wade through dozens of mealy-mouthed answers to bland questions. So many interviews just amount to P.R. spots and leave no impression behind, it makes my gut churn. Say what you will about the notorious curmudgeons or fruitbats of the field, at least they don’t give boring interview. (Note: I know nothing about Cook beyond this interview and have no idea if he is curmudgeon, fruitbat, or other.)

  11. Justin Mitchell says

    Hi Will. I like your phrasing much better. At the time I was thinking about trying to stay away from being presumptuous (i.e., assuming some particular moment of inspiration without asking if there was an actual Eureka!). What about: “Was there a particular moment of inspiration, and, if so…?” But that gets sort of stilted and overly scientific-methodish.

    Who knew that interviewing could be such a gauntlet of thistles?

  12. Nick Mamatas says

    After all the build-up in the post and these comments, I was thinking that the interview would be much more wild than it was. Seemed perfectly fine for me and Cook seemed quite patient with the canned “silent interview” style.

  13. Jeff VanderMeer says

    Oh, Nick, you silly sublime man. We’re not talking by Mamatas Cage Fighting Standards. By those standards, this is Cook giving a loving nibble to Pat’s exposed ear.

  14. says

    So would I. Or perhaps Harlan Ellison would be an even better choice? I can only imagine what Pat would receive in the mail afterwards…

  15. Jeff VanderMeer says

    Oh, Nick’s a sweetie. Just rub a buttercup under his chin and he goes right to sleep.

  16. says

    Personally, I’m just happy I survived my recent interview with Nick… (who at this point, I’m sure, is tired of spilling the same beans about his new Haikasoru line)

  17. says

    I would consider interviewing Nick, but first I’d have to know his opinion on the efficacy of the Second International. One has to be certain of another’s Marxist cred, ya know.

  18. says

    Charles: LMFAO!

    I love Nick Mamatas’s work (particularly Move Under Ground), but, in the past year, I’ve refused to send anything to Clarkesworld for fear of inadvertently offending the man. Mamatas is not to be trifled with. ; )

  19. says

    Jeff – you may want to suggest that remedy to folks who are unpleasant on his LJ or otherwise invite / invoke his wrath. On the other hand, the internets would be a sadder place.

    Ennis – Mamatas has left Clarkesworld, so no need to fear. I always meant to submit a story and get the eventual rejection, but I never did. Sadly, I won’t have the chance to be rejected by Nick. (Well, not like that)

  20. says

    So…Charles, you think Nick is secretly a supporter of Ferdinand Lasalle’s application of scientific socialism or not? That’s what’s driving me to despair now!

  21. says

    Joe: Yeah, I know; the sad thing is I never had the guts to submit and receive one of his famous rejections (which, by all accounts, were illuminating). However, my works are, well . . . offensive at best. And I wasn’t taking any chances. Ha!

    Srsly, though, I still have a lingering fear of subbing to Clarkesworld.

  22. jeff vandermeer says

    You know, all joking aside, I never liked Nick’s approach to rejecting submissions. I found it counterproductive and cheap. There, I said it. now where’s that buttercup?

  23. says

    Jeff: Considering your What Editors Hate comment, it’s not surprising. I think you and Mamatas are on the opposite sides of the spectrum when it comes to that aspect of editing. (Of course I’ve known writers who prefer Mamatas’s method, and writers who prefer your method.)

    Ennis: Had you sent your work, you won’t offend Mamatas. Your work might offend Mamatas, but not you personally. Unless you start reacting harshly to his feedback…

    Larry: He feeds upon your uncertainty.

  24. says

    Charles: Negative reaction to feedback is something I’ve never understood. I’m at the point in my “career” where feedback is a success; feedback in any form. Anything that helps me — or any other writer — grow as a professional is something to be cherished. Form rejections are a blow, to be sure, but the editorial process is subjective, and writers have to understand that. I was looking at Mike Allen’s lj the other night, and saw that he had a story rejected by Strange Horizons (?); I mean, Mike Allen?! Haha! (I’m a big fan of Mike’s work, and he’s a great guy to boot) But rejection is a fact of the business. It’s going to happen. It’s always going to happen. And, for some reason, people still don’t seem to realize that overreacting to a rejection is working against them in the worst way. It’s one thing to be opinionated — I’m opinionated — but it’s another thing to throw a temper tantrum, or make threats to an editor. That’s beyond childish. It’s absurd. This is a community. There are circles. Small circles. You’re not doing yourself any favors by casting yourself outside of them. I mean, fuck, most of us are already outside of them. Who wants to ensure that backs are turned to their work forever? Seems kind of ridiculous, doesn’t it?

  25. jeff vandermeer says

    Charles: you set up a false opposition. I don’t doubt Nick can tell a good story from a bad story but he often made the rejection process about himself and I did not think he exhibited sound conduct. it’s also not a magazine editor’s job to conduct a perpetual critique service. for one thing a much lower percentage of storied than Nick elevated with his comments in rejection actually warranted the attention. I think Charles it would be a minority opinion among professional editors that Nick’s approach simply constituted a difference of opinion as much as you might like it to be so.

  26. says

    All I know is that I now have this mental image of Jeff handing Nick a buttercup and scratching his belly as if he were a lapdog. This seems to be the night for bad mental images!

  27. jeff vandermeer says

    not that I otherwise have any issue with nick except that he must win an argument or he would die like a shark that stops swimming forward. need to see about getting some info up on the amazon blog about his new enterprise.

  28. says

    My worst experience in interviewing someone was with Seth Godin in 2001 – but I must admit I got all tangled up just like Pat did. That enlightened me a lot (but, all the same, I don´t think I´m ready to interview Nick just yet. ;-)

  29. Nick Mamatas says

    It’s worth noting that anyone who didn’t want feedback from CW during my tenure didn’t need to receive it. All the rejections were marked REJECTION in the subject header. They didn’t need to read the email. Perhaps they were just disappointed in what the feedback was—had it been pages and pages of expansive praise followed by some totally innocuous but intractable problem (budget, running a similar story already etc.) that constitutes the reason for the bounce.

    I don’t think I elevated many stories, but this is a field in which people spend days and 100+ comments contemplating the secret meaning behind a form letter. Any reed one can cling to, I suppose.

    Personally, I never worried much about what the other editors might think simply because most editors in the field are the captains of swiftly sinking ships. If they know so much, one would think they wouldn’t have subscribers abandoning them at rates of over 10% per year,

  30. Nick Mamatas says

    that constitutes the reason for the bounce they might not have complained

    Dumb browser crashes.

  31. says

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