Interview with Aliette de Bodard

Aliette de BodardAliette de Bodard’s short story, A Warrior’s Death, appears in the Spring 2006 issue of Shimmer. Read her web site or send her e-mail

Questions About the Story

Where did the idea come from?
A writers’ forum I’m a member of, Liberty Hall, ran an end-of-year challenge where the idea was to write a short story based on the trigger word “deicide”. After much thinking, the idea that came to my mind was the Aztec society, where every year they sacrificed incarnations of their gods. And I wondered what would happen if the person that was killed really was the god incarnate.

Since I’m a fantasy writer, I didn’t set it in Aztec times, but in Ahuatl, which was the quintessential Aztec city: a place where the gods were all too real, a city that was the seat of an empire, but also a place on the edge of change.

How did the story change as you developed it?
When I started the story, I did not know the exact ending. I had several handy. In one of them, Chamatl died at the end, executed by the other priests for his sacrilege. What did not change was that the same basic message: Ahuatl had to change because you cannot build a stable empire by subjugating every person you conquer.

There was also a scene with a maiden of the temple who had heard Ralil play the sacrificial tune on the flute, but I decided all it added was extra wordage.

You know the advice “Sometimes you have to kill your darlings.” Was there a scene or line that it really hurt to cut, but cutting it made the story stronger? May we reprint that scene or line?
Well, my darling with the story was the ending. It was one of the reasons why I wrote it in first person: so Uzume could reflect at the end on the choice he had made, and on the consequences of that choice. However, Beth, the wonderful editor of Shimmer, was right when she pointed out that it was too distant from the main storyline, and weakened the impact of the story. So it had to go.

Here’s the original version:

I write this knowing that I am among the last of the warriors. Years ago, I took none of the choices Chamatl offered me. Rather than let Pochtli or him die, I admitted defeat, and went back to my peasant’s hut, once more in disgrace.

They found another slave to received the War-God’s essence, and I was here to see Him rise again. And He saw me. I know that He saw me, and that He mourned the passing of my kind.

I am among the last. Warriors have died on the sacrificial stones, but there are no wars to be fought. I alone remain, watching the sky. Feeling the small changes, year after year: fewer human sacrifices, fewer warriors trained. Cities brought into the empire as equals. The War-God’s word is still law, after all, and from Ralil He has learnt cunning.

I am waiting, among my stalks of maize. Waiting, once more, for forgiveness. For a sign that I have made the right choice.

Whatever happens, I pray that the gods watch over Ahuatl, and lead it to everlasting glory.

How is this story like your other work? How is it different?
Tough one…I’d say it’s close to my other work, first, by virtue of being set in an non-European world (I’ve done Aztec, Chinese and Hindu, and am looking into Inca civilization next). And second, because it deals with a character who changes, profoundly, as a result of the events he witnessed. Which is why of the reasons I can’t write series, because my poor main characters always end up traumatized by the events of the story (and I feel I ought to leave them alone…)

It’s different because there is a wealth of detail on society and social dynamics, and a reflection on major changes. All of that gives it far more scope than my other work (I tend to focus on more intimate problems). Also, I don’t normally write stories in first person, and even fewer mystery investigations. Although, seeing that I’ve sold the only two first-person mysteries I wrote, maybe I should consider a change of strategy…

Questions About Writing

How did you celebrate your first sale?
I didn’t. I sold my first short story almost on first try: it went to Writers of the Future, placed in quarterfinals, and then I submitted it to an illustrated anthology where it was accepted. Back then, I didn’t know better, and thought it was easy to get published. I soon learnt I’d been sorely mistaken…

I celebrated my second sale by going to the restaurant with my boyfriend, and by treating myself to a book I had long wanted.

Does your work tend to explore any particular themes?
I follow patterns: once I get hold of an idea, I like to explore it fully. Currently, I’m working through the idea of metamorphosis, particularly from animal to human and back again.

But, in general, the common theme running through my work is that of sacrifice. It’s a very old idea: that there is always a price to pay for what you want. It gives my stories a darker edge: for every happy thing happening, my characters have had to abandon some desire or possession. I hate Hollywood stories where people get to live happily ever after with no strings attached.

Here it’s a more literal kind of sacrifice, in a society that obsesses over it. And there’s also a personal sacrifice by Uzume, of course. It’s my trademark (grin).

What people have helped you the most with your writing?
My family: both my sister and my parents, for teaching me to love books, and for supporting me. My boyfriend Matthieu, for being my first reader in the past year, and for bearing with my mood-swings. The fantastic gang from Liberty Hall, a writing forum I’m a member of, and the people over at the Online Writing Workshop, for helping me out with plot problems, critiquing stories, and talking about anything writing-related.

Favorite book you’ve read recently?
I read so fast it’s hard to choose one…It would have to be “Daughter of the Forest”, by Juliet Marillier. It’s a retelling of an old fairytale, and so I knew the ending long before I finished the book, but I didn’t care. I finished it in two days.

Random Questions

If you have a day job, what is it? What do you like about it?
I’ll have one soon, but right now I have to finish my studies. I’m hoping there will be lots of maths in it. I like maths (big geek’s grin).

Favourite food?
Tough one. Depends on my mood. Pho (a Vietnamese beef soup with white noodles) is near the top of my list currently.

What are some of your hobbies?
Aside from writing you mean? It takes up a lot of my spare time. Then there’s reading…

All-time favourite movie?
“An Ideal Husband”, with Rupert Everett, Jeremy Northam, and Cate Blanchett. I love Oscar Wilde’s witty lines, and the whole cast of the movie is stellar.

What do you want to be when you grow up?
A writer?

Quiz: How many writers does it take to change a lightbulb? Please explain your answer:

Three: one to actually change the bulb, one to write a moving account of the trauma inherent in changing a bulb. And one to write a whole novel on what would have happened if the person changing the bulb had fallen down and broken their leg.

(note: the above does not apply if the bulb is over the writer’s desk, in which case the bulb gets changed straightaway by the writer).

Speculative fiction for a miscreant world

Powered by eShop v.6