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by Dr. W. Bradford Swift Founder, Life On Purpose Institute Life On Purpose Certified Coach http://www.lifeonpurpose.com email@example.com
© 1990 W. Bradford Swift and Porpoise Publishing, All rights reserved.
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"I never planned as a kid to grow up to be a writer," says Orson Scott Card, the author Jim Cameron sought out for the novelization of his movie, The Abyss. "When I went to college I entered as an archeology major until I discovered that what I liked about Thor Heyerdahl and Yigael Yadin were their books not their lives. I didn't want to live like an archaeologist." So Card switched his major to what he was spending most of his time on anyway, theatre. Even though he was writing plays and stories, some of which he submitted to Writer's Digest, he still didn't consider writing as a career. But he began to notice while in theatre that he could doctor other people's work and improve upon it. "I didn't yet know how to structure something but I could do dialogue and I could do scenes. I knew how to make a scene build to a climax. If there's any talent I have, it's that." Card's first response to his agent's request for him to write the novelization of The Abyss was far from positive. "You know I don't do novelizations, " he told her, but changed his mind when he found out Jim Cameron was the director. Both of them realized the limits of most novelizations and wanted this one to be, not a novelization, but a novel based on the movie. "The goal was never to improve the movie. The goal was to give readers of the book the same level of emotional involvement and artistic effect as the movie would give. And since books work very differently from movies there had to be changes," says Card as he describes his approach to the novelization. Card didn't try to duplicate all the visual effects of the movie but he did go into the minds of each of the characters to let the reader know what they were thinking about; something possible in a book and impossible in a movie. Card worked closely with the director-producer team of Jim Cameron and Gale Hurd who were married to each other until shortly before The Abyss was filmed. Card
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noted, "Clearly Bud and Lindsey, the characters in The Abyss, were based on Jim and Gale but not the way people think. Jim is Lindsey, the perfectionist, the absolutely bitchy, impossible to work with guy who is very creative. . . . Gale is the one, who like Bud, comes in and smooths things out: smooths the ruffled feathers. And they needed each other. This project needed both approaches." Card explains that although he loved working on The Abyss, he doesn't plan to do any more novelizations. "It was twice as much work as doing a novel of my own for financially less than I normally get. The Abyss was good for me in some ways, not so good in others. I did The Abyss instead of doing two books of my own, and that hurts. There are two books that won't be coming out this year because I did The Abyss last year instead. But the main thing is it wasn't my book; it's half my book." It may appear to some science fiction readers that Card became an overnight success in 1987 when his novel, Ender's Game won both the Nebula and Hugo Awards, a feat repeated the very next year with its sequel, Speaker for the Dead, but Card had been a full time writer and free lance editor for almost ten years when Ender's Game was published. "Becoming a writer was kind of an accident. People kept paying me for it and kept coming to my plays." Says Card. "If I'd gotten that kind of response as an actor, I'd be in Hollywood right now." Much of Card's writing is difficult to categorize as science fiction or in any other spot in the book stores. This is particularly true for the Alvin Maker Series. "There's nothing like it so it's hard to know where to place it," says Card. "It's certainly not your typical fantasy. You can't put your typical barbarian on the cover. It's not horror, it's not urban. It doesn't fit in the Stephen King branch. It doesn't fit anywhere. It's just itself." As Card goes on to point out, the closest thing to the Maker Series would be Conrad Richter's series called The Trees, The Fields, The Town, which
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he read during his teenage years and which influenced him as much as any science fiction or fantasy. Card's original thoughts for the Alvin Maker Series came from studying Spenser while at the University of Utah. The series began with the epic poem, "Prentice Alvin and the No-Good Plow," which was written by Card in 1981. Card goes on to point out, "It's not like I pulled out the books; I haven't read them in fifteen or twenty years but the memories they created are there. My sense of it, my visual images all come from the images that came to mind while reading Richter. It's not often that I know the direct literary influence of my work. It's much of the same feeling that I want to evoke. That sense of gritty realism in that dreamy and romantic American frontier setting. It's dreamy and romantic and also painfully real. I don't know how he did it but I'm trying to do it myself."
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN 1990 Card plans to make up for the loss time he experienced with The Abyss with five major projects scheduled to appear in 1990 starting with a 800-900 page hardcover book of, as Card puts it, "every story that I'm reasonably proud of except for the stories that will be in The Worthing Saga which will also be out this fall." The story collection is also expected to appear in paperback, either two or four volumes. Also expected this fall is the paperback edition of Folk of the Fringe, a collection of linked science fiction stories, and some time this year, Eye for Eye will appear in one of Tor's double novels along with Tunesmith by Lloyd Biggle, Jr. (Tunesmith was the inspiration of one of Card's better known short stories entitled "Unaccompanied Sonata.")
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For those interested in doing more than just reading science fiction, Card's book, Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy from Writer's Digest Books should be of interest. It is scheduled for this summer. Expected in 1991 will be two new novels. The first, The Redemption of Columbus, is a mainstream novel with touches of science fiction scheduled for the winter, with the paperback scheduled in time for the 500th anniversary of Columbus's discovery of America. Also appearing in '91 will be the final book of the Ender's series. Card notes that the first two volumes winning both the Hugo and Nebula awards places a lot of pressure on him to make the third one even better. "I want it to be better," says Card. "I've learned more since the other two, both as a writer and as a human being but you never know."
When asked which of his books is his favorite, Card answered, "They're my children and I love them all. Even the ones that are kind of crummy and I don't allow to remain in print, I still know what they meant to me at the time they came out." Card goes on to explain that in another sense his favorite book is always the one he's working on at the time while also being the worst one he's ever done in his life. "I believe every writer has to simultaneously believe that Shakespeare would be envious of what he's just written and also that it's the worse stuff ever produced. If you don't believe both those things I don't know how you can function." For someone who isn't familiar with his books, Card recommends starting with Ender's Game if you're a science fiction enthusiast or, if you don't care for that genre, start with Seventh Son, the first book in the Alvin Maker Series. "For one thing, these are least offensive." Says Card. "Wyrms can be extremely disturbing to people. Hart's Hope is a very disturbing book. These are very dark images. Seventh Son and Ender's Game are much brighter."
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CARD'S INSPIRATION IS FAMILY When asked what influences his writing, Card is quick to include his wife and three children. "It's not just that my family is important to me, it's that Family is important. It's the fundamental social structure." Card is astonished at the number of novels that don't deal with family or if they do, it's from the perspective of a rebellious teenager. "I'm talking about books by thirty-five year old novelists writing about thirty-five year old characters who nevertheless approach the world as an adolescent. That life is all about getting free of people that dominate you. That's a fifteen year-old's viewpoint. There should be fiction that tells you about growing up, about being an adult who's responsible; who can't just walk away when he gets tired, who doesn't just go and get a divorce, who doesn't have a mid-life crisis, but instead, sticks it out and deals with what goes wrong. There aren't many adult heroes in fiction." Card points out that this adolescent view shows up in more than just print fiction. It's even more pervasive in films and TV. "We get the idea that if the feelings are gone, the marriage must be over." Says Card. "Marriage is about staying together even when the emotion fades or changes and then you discover new emotions. Our culture has forgotten that. Out parent's culture knew it but didn't like it. Our grandparent's culture gloried in it and rightfully so." One thing that gives Card's characters an added dimension is that they do have a family background. "My characters grew up with parents and siblings and those relationships remain important with them throughout their life."
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According to Card, there were very few science fiction novels written this year in which the characters actually had a family. He points out that Robert Heinlein did connect people with other people and it's one of the things that made him remarkable. "Time after time we have the hero who rides in like the Lone Ranger, the ultimate adolescent fantasy -- with the mask. It's a grand romantic motif but growing up is about taking the mask off." Another area that Card is not afraid to write or talk about is religion. According to Card, it's another area of "grand denial" which many writers exhibit. "How many times do you see a character in a contemporary literary novel go to church without being ridiculed . . . . So we have our picture of the world being created by rebellious teenagers who refuse to grow up and are getting paid not to grow up." Both Card's family and his Mormon upbringing (he is the great-great-grandson of Brigham Young) were important in shaping him as a writer. "There was this attitude at home that we could do anything. It gave us supreme confidence so we had the gumption to try stuff. Our parents believed that things were possible." As Card goes on to say, "It was part of the family lore . . . you make stuff happen, you travel, you change your life. It was expected that you reach for greatness. There's no doubt about it, that's what I'm reaching for. Other people will have to decide whether I come close." The same view is reflected in Card's Mormon beliefs. "We Mormons believe that life has a purpose more than just having fun or staying alive or whatever. God puts us here for the purpose of doing things for other people and for making things. We're meant to be creators." Card also had a lot of support from people who became excited about his work, especially Ben Bova, the first editor to become enthusiastic about his work. Bova became
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so interested with Cards' work that he bought practically everything he wrote for the first two years of his career. Card also had help from a few good writing teachers, something which, according to Card is rare.` "Good writing teachers are rare. There are many writing teachers that are good people and good writers who are wonderful to associate with but who don't know how to teach writing." An exception to that was Card's teacher at the University of Utah, François Camoin. Says Card, "It was François who helped me understand that while the events of the story should be clear -- what happened and why -- the meaning of the story should be subtle, arcane; it should be left lying about for the readers to discover, but never forced upon them." When Card isn't writing, much of his time is spent teaching others how to write. He has taught at a number of universities, including BYU and the University of Notre Dame, as well as at such notable workshops as the Writers of the Future Workshop and Clarion West Science Fiction Workshop. Card's first advice to aspiring writers, "Don't quit your day job." On a more serious note, Card says, "It's really a matter of writing what you believe in. So many young writers ask, 'what's selling right now?' Nothing is selling except for what writers believe in and care about. So write what you believe in and care about, then worry about selling." Card doesn't believe a new writer needs an agent until he sells his first book. After that, "your agent looks at your contract, saves you from obnoxious clauses and helps you sell the foreign rights." Says Card. There are some writing skills which Card thinks are particularly important to master and he feels that he is one that can teach them.
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"My students, now finally, from the beginning of the course to the end show clear improvement in their ability. Everything I know that actually gets those results are in a couple of my books, How to Write Science Fiction and Character and Viewpoint." Card's advice: "Read those books, but that sounds very self serving because you'd have to buy those books, so my advice is go to the library and check them out." "The most important skill for a new writer to master is point of view. If you can't handle point of view you will never sell or sell only rarely. And if you can, you'll sell even when your story are only average." Card continues. "You'll feel professional. You'll feel like a pro to the editor." Card explains that thirty years ago point of view was not as important as it is today. "Right now the third person limited point of view is dominant, not just in science fiction but literature as a whole." "First person is actually a mistake that many beginning writers make. It's very hard to do well. It can be done well and some novels can only be written in the first person, but it's much better when you're starting out to do it in third person." Card has some very strong feelings about writers who think they want to write screenplays. "People who write screenplays are, by definition, trying to destroy themselves. Most of them will never see it produced, even if they write a brilliant one. And if it is produced, the director will take all the credit. So why do it? It's a painful nasty business for a writer. So if someone thinks they want to do movies, you want to become a director not a writer, then learn how to write so you can do your own scripts." Card has no interest in writing screenplays. "I'm just as interested in stepping outside and beating myself with a hot rod of iron." He says. Card does have an interest in video games, being both a game reviewer and recently a consultant for Lucasfilm Games. "I have been heavily involved in computers. I think
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of video games as an up and coming art form that has not yet reached the point where it really can do storytelling the way film can, but the earliest films were just little snatches of showing an elephant walking. Gradually they started telling little rudimentary stories." Card points out that films didn't get better until the hardware improved. He sees the same trend in computer games. "Someday we're going to turn to the computer to give us a whole new kind of storytelling that at this moment doesn't exist on the face of the earth. One in which the audience becomes an actor in the ongoing art and it's different every time. It's a trend I can't wait to see." So who is Orson Scott Card? "Nobody knows who I am unless they get the sense of a guy with three kids and a wife -- that's the center of my life; that and my church. Next comes my reading and only after that, comes my writing."
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