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Roger Zelazny Interview

Garner Johnson PUP Issues 1 and 14 Roger Zelazny is a well established author who has been writing since the early sixties. He has won numerous awards, including the Hugo and the Nebula. His important works include "Lord of Light," "Creatures of Light and Darkness," the Amber series (old and new), "Roadmarks," and most recently "A Night in Lonesome October." He also has three short story collections. In addition to his writing, he also does readings of his books for cassette. So far he has done seven of the Amber books, and the eighth is in the works. Both Zelazny's reading and education had an important influence on his writing. He began reading SF when he was 11, tried writing early on, but had little time to truly pursue it seriously. Several early authors influenced him. Henry Kuttner's works showed him that it was possible to be versatile. Zelazny also read everything from fantasy to hard-boiled detective stories as well as Heinlein's juveniles and Bradbury's work; all this gave him a broad view of different styles and genres. Stanley Weinbaum's stories showed him that it was possible to be innovative and experimental in writing, and this is something Zelazny believes is very important. He also thinks that once you set your style, you are less likely to be influenced by other authors. Despite that, he still reads galleys to keep up and be current with the field. He also reads a bewildering variety of non-fiction, usually about 16 books at once. At least one is history because he feels that to write about the future of society you must know what happened to it in the past. Others include science, life sciences, biographies, poetry collections, and mainstream books. Since he reads a bit of each at once he gets a better synthesis, a view of things that adds depth to his writing. Although Zelazny worked for the federal government writing claims manuals and technical bureaucratic stuff for the social security services for seven years, it did not diminish his ability to write lyrically. His time spent getting a Master's in English and Comparative Literature with a focus on Elizabethan Theater had a greater influence on his writing and ability to use different styles. He also wrote poetry before he began to write SF seriously, which added to the smoothness of his writing. His early works were influenced by two things. The first was a fascination with revenge stories and the revenge motif. This can be seen in "Isle of the Dead," "Creatures of Light and Darkness" and "Lord of Light." He also grew up with an interest in myths, legends and folklore. He continued reading such writers as Joseph Campbell and William Frazier, mixing mythology with anthropology and psychology. The synthesis of these three fields allows him to easily create systems of mythology. It also helps give his stories resonance, scope and an epic feel. All this can also be seen in his early works. He deliberately exploited his strength with East Indian and Egyptian mythology after he graduated in order to gain time to fill in areas on which he was weaker. Mythic stories were easier then and allowed him to gather expertise with other material that could be used later. Characters are the starting point of all of Zelazny's stories. He creates them and they then drive the plot and background. Some critics have said that Zelazny has one type or very common character. The laid-back, easy-going, wise-cracking, homicidal protagonist. Although many of these elements are present in his characters there is no one set type. His early work with poetry has led to a number of poet characters, or at least those interested in poetry. He does like to deal with independent, physically-superior and well-read characters that have an unnaturally-long lifespan. The first two allow him to look at power and its influence on people, a common theme to many of his books. Usually he believes that power is neutral, and it is what people do with it that is important. The longer lifespan he allows his characters to be widely read. It also gives rise to greater development and room to explore. He believes that if a person did live long and was constantly reading and learning then they would naturally become superior. Zelazny likes to experiment with viewpoints, styles and narration. He feels it is too easy to play it safe and get smug, which results in all of an author's books sounding the same. To this end, he is now doing female characters more often, while before he had stuck with male roles. Non-human characters figure prominently; he enjoys doing them, but tries to use them differently in each work. He also doesn't like genre definitions, so he writes both fantasy and science fiction. To throw a twist on things, he uses science to define fantasy more rigorously and fantasy in science fiction to loosen things up. He writes a series of sequels only if he has a specific idea for the characters. They are not just a continuations but add something to the characters. All this experimenting means his writing can still be fresh, even after being in the business twenty-plus years. Zelazny likes to develop different systems of magic, but his emphasis is on systems. He feels the magic should be worked out and contain no contradictions. It should run more like science and not be too supernatural in which anything goes. That route leads to magic being a crutch to move the plot along. He also likes to use the mystery plot. He feels that there is an elegance to having a puzzle overlaid on a fantasy or SF novel. The mystery helps build the mythic elements in fantasy, but is also akin to the process of discovery in science. One thing he does not make much use of is his aikido training. He feels it makes you choreograph fights too much. He also fenced for three years and does use that for his fencing scenes, especially in the Amber series. Comparing his early work to his more recent material, Zelazny says that his characters are more fully realized, his prose cleaner and his experiments work out more often. He has collaborated with 5 different authors (Saberhagen, Dick, Thomas, Hausman & Sherrod) and feels that these create a third voice, a work that neither author could have done alone. Currently he prefers shorter works, with the novelette or novella being the ideal length. He reasons that this format leaves enough room for character development, but is not full of padding. Too often now there is an emphasis on pushing stories into a full novel when they shouldn't be. The two works that he likes best, or best reflect his writing, are "Lord of Light" and "For a Breath I Tarry."

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