Interview 3 with Aliette de Bodard

alliete art 08Aliette de Bodard’s story, Within the City of the Swan, appears in the Art Issue of Shimmer. To learn more about Aliette, visit her website, or drop her an email here!


Where did the idea come from?
The idea was given to me by Mary Robinette Kowal, who offered me to take part in the Shimmer Art issue–short stories inspired by pieces of art. The illustration I was given featured two women facing away from each other; and at the centre, in a slight haze, were a gigantic swan, a naked woman hanging from the railing of a staircase–and the staircase leading away from the foreground, becoming a road towards a city with tall white buildings.

What bothered me the most was the naked woman. I was pretty confident I could fit all the other elements into the story, but I don’t normally do naked women. The “hanging from railing” suggested danger of a kind, but why would she be naked? I turned ideas around and around, trying to find the right one.

Until one day I thought, maybe she’s naked because she has to. Maybe she’s naked because her power is somewhere within her body. That gave me Jaya, whose blood held the power of the Prophet. Then I moved to the Swan, and came up with the idea that the Swan had been protecting the city since times immemorial–but it hadn’t, really, because Jaya was in danger?

After that, things pretty much came together quickly: I had my invaders–Serwen’s army–, my narrator–someone who knew Jaya, but who didn’t have her awesome power–and the setting–a city watched over by the Swan.

How did the story change as you developed it?
This went through a number of drafts. I gave it to a writer friend, Marshall Payne, so he could give me his opinion on it. “Too confusing”, he said, so I hacked and hacked at the plot until it was more easily understandable. Then I sent it for crits, and everybody agreed on wanting more of Jaya’s POV–perhaps even Jaya as a main character. I wasn’t overly fond of that option, so I gave it to my boyfriend for a second read. And he said: “you know, right now, you’re opening and closing with Jaya’s POV. It gives people the impression that she’s going to be important–but she isn’t, really. Start with Analea.” And he was completely right. I cut the bits of Jaya’s POV that sandwiched the story, and all of a sudden this was Analea’s story.

How is this story like your other work? How is it different?
I don’t generally write stories with invading armies and swords–not to mention stories that rely mostly on action. So in that sense this was an experiment.
Things that don’t change: I hate predictable plots, so I managed to squeeze in a couple of twists.

Questions About Writing:

What writing projects are you presently working on?
Several short stories–there’s always one waiting to be written, called into being by a word or an image or a weird thing I read in an article. An epic fantasy novel, “Phoenix Rising” which I’m revising with various degrees of success.

What authors, if any, have had the most influence on your work?

Le Guin. The Earthsea Quartet were the first SF books in English I read, and I remain awed by her command of the English language, as well as by the way she manages to neatly overturn fantasy tropes in an epic fantasy plot.

Orson Scott Card. First, because of Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead, two of the best SF books I’ve ever read. And second, because he wrote a little book called How to write Fantasy and Science Fiction, which I found in the library one day–and which convinced me that I could try to be a writer, too.

Favorite short story you’ve read recently?

Sparrow and Egg, in the Winter 2007 issue of Shimmer.

What people have helped you the most with your writing?

My boyfriend, Matthieu, who doubles as my first reader. My sister, who read my first and much of my second novel and didn’t go bang her head against a wall *g*

What time of day do you prefer to do your writing?
Early evening–I have a day job which forces me to get at 6:30 am, so I have little choice on the time of day.

Random Questions:

What is your darkest secret?
I’m a Star Wars Geek (and I used to make up stories set in the Star Wars Universe. Good thing I grew out of this, though).

If you could trade places with anyone, who would it be? And why?
I’m fine where I am. I think I’ll stay.

Tell us about one place in your hometown that you love to visit and would recommend to others.
In Paris? The Latin Quarter. Lots of medieval buildings, plus the best bookshops around–and some pretty nice restaurants when you need to take a rest from the sightseeing.

What was the last CD you bought? The last song you downloaded?
Hum. No idea. I don’t buy CDs often. *goes off to look at her shelves* Ah. The Secret Songs of the Mayas by Tonana. They’re Maya poems set to music. Very nice, and very suitable music for writing.

If you could hop on a plane tomorrow and go anywhere, where would you go and why?
Mexico. I gotta see those pyramids and those Maya/Toltec/Mixtec/… ruins.

Cat or dog person? (or birds, iguanas, or ??)
Dogs. Large ones, sadly, so as I’m a dedicated city dweller that probably means I’ll never own one.

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