Conversations with
My Favorite Author

“Guess how long the space ships are in this book!”

“Guess how long the space ships are in this book!”

The conversation often starts something like this. Sometimes it’s, “Guess how many different genders are in this world!” or, “Guess what Gwenna just discovered about Annick!”

I’m not the person asking. My husband poses these questions, and it is my job to answer them. If I don’t guess correctly, I’ll get another opportunity in a few minutes, a few hours, a day or two. When he’s reading a new book, each masterful bit of world-building is fodder for a conversation like this one. When he’s writing a new scene, each plot point or moment of character development is an opportunity for a pop-quiz.

“I don’t know,” I reply. “Half a galaxy long?” I think this is a plausibly impressive size, given his enthusiasm, given the volume and intensity with which he has asked the question. He knows that I cannot tell a furlong from a parsec, but he refuses to believe that a person can live in the world without understanding basic measurement and scale.

“What!? Half a galaxy! That’s absurd! That wouldn’t even make sense to write a story about. So how long do you really think the ships in this book are?” He looks at me expectantly. There is an answer to this question – a discrete, easy-to-articulate answer – and he believes it will delight me as much as it delights him.

“Ummm….”

I bet we can agree that the sleeping / eating / bathing / drinking / sartorial regimens of most authors are, at best, absurd.

We who choose to cohabitate with authors of fiction and fantasy love our authors for a wonderful multiplicity of reasons, but if we were to reduce our loves to bullet points, I bet some of us might agree that we love them at least partly because they conjure magic from the mundane, because they bestow meaning on minutiae that we may not even pause to consider. We marvel at their insight, their creativity, their alchemical prose. We love our authors because their imaginations transform the world.

They can also be total pains in the ass. While each author is obviously his or her own special snowflake, there are things about living with an author that we, the cohabitants, might agree are… challenging. For instance, I suspect other author-lovers might agree that spending the morning in a coffee shop researching the world’s most awesome volcanic black lava calderas – just in case the visual and statistical information might be helpful for one small scene – well, it just doesn’t seem like work. I bet we can agree that the sleeping / eating / bathing / drinking / sartorial regimens of most authors are, at best, absurd. I’m guessing that we might see eye to eye on our authors’ increasingly obsessive relationship with Twitter.

Art by Andrew Hou

Art by Andrew Hou

Perhaps we can also agree that sometimes it can be challenging to just shoot the shit with someone who is constantly thinking about setting the scene, clarifying character motivation, moving the plot. Sometimes it gets tiring trying to hammer a conversation into something that takes the shape of a story, something that has a clear beginning, middle, and end, that reveals true and lasting personal growth. Certainly, my natural conversation is devoid of massive starships.

I am no author of epic fantasy – I’m not even a very good teller of basic campfire stories – but I’ve been known to string together a narrative of at least a few coherent sentences. Before my husband spent every day all day writing, or planning to write, or thinking about writing, we used to have normal conversations, by which I mean, conversations with no particular point. Conversations where we talked just in order to talk to each other. These days – the days when he may spend hours clutching his head trying to plausibly reconcile Annurian politics with Intarran theology in 6,000 words or less – such conversations tax his psychic reserves. Aimless chatter, questions that don’t have clear answers, stories without resolution, these are anathema to my dear writer.

Now, clearly it’s a good thing that Brian is the writer in the family. If the other adult Staveley in this house were penning a trilogy, you might have ended up with The Chronicle of This Thing that Happened When I Was Trying to Parallel Park Downtown rather than the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne.

Furthermore, it sometimes seems that the wonders of the real world pale in comparison to the fictions my husband creates. Rarely does the cool thing that our toddler found on a hike turn out to be a portal to another dimension, or a four-headed lioncrab with molten metal claws, or the Sword of Eternal Reckoning. Usually, the cool thing is a clump of blackberry bushes, a speckled rock, or a neat patch of lichen. It’s also true that the things that happen around here on a day-to-day basis do not have particularly well-paced action or satisfying closure. No one would write a book, or even a short story, about what goes on in my day, but it really is a lovely life.

The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley

Buy The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley: Book/eBook

I wonder if the talent for crafting fascinating characters, rich imaginary worlds, and well-paced plots distorts our understanding of the real world. I’m always a little suspicious of people at dinner parties who can tell stories that are hilarious and touching and have a beginning, middle, and end; I’m usually pretty sure that these people have, at least partially, made their stories up. As entertainment, that kind of thing is fine, but as intimate conversation it’s worthless. The messy stuff, the boring stuff, the stuff that is neither useful nor revelatory, that’s often the stuff that makes memories, the stuff that makes our lives what they are. Maybe sometimes it’s our job to remind our writers that – Guess what! – those things are pretty cool, too.

Written by Johanna Staveley

Johanna Staveley

After teaching English and history for more than ten years, Johanna Staveley moved to Vermont, where she lives with her husband and young son. She is currently engaged in a battle of wits with the local black bear and porcupine over a question of rights to the Staveley trash barrels; the bear and the porcupine are winning, but she hasn't quit yet.

Discussion
  • Sharon Browning September 15, 2014 at 9:14 am

    Johanna, I enjoyed this very much! I especially loved the line, “If the other adult Staveley in this house were penning a trilogy, you might have ended up with The Chronicle of This Thing that Happened When I Was Trying to Parallel Park Downtown rather than the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne.” Thank you for sharing your wit and humor with the rest of us… and good luck!

  • Bea September 15, 2014 at 9:24 am

    Very interesting, because it goes against my basic assumption: I always assume that a sci-fi/fantasy writer is the best type of person to pay attention to the little mundane things in life, since all that could be special, and the starting point for a story, or have some hidden meaning or purpose. What you say about your husband is the exact opposite, hehe
    Maybe it’s just me thinking like that, as a simple fantasy reader :)

  • Diana Moher September 15, 2014 at 9:31 am

    Lovely! My life in a nutshell, although my husband is a playwright. If you want to know what that’s like, read Tolstoy’s Wife. :-)

  • Alexvdl September 15, 2014 at 4:44 pm

    How long is the spaceship?!

  • Brian Staveley September 15, 2014 at 7:51 pm

    Read Excession, by Iain Banks…

  • A.E. Marling September 16, 2014 at 6:40 am

    Making “magic from the mundane” is what I aspire to. That, and regular bathing.

  • Jens September 17, 2014 at 4:07 am

    It’s seems kind of funny to me that you define a “normal” conversations as one “with no particular point. Conversations where we talked just in order to talk to each other”. But then again, I’m a man. :-p
    Apart from that, nice blog post! :-)

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