Mercedes Lackey:
obeying the rules

Mercedes "Misty" Lackey was born in Chicago the day before the Korean War was officially declared. Her birth precluded her father's participation in the latter event. She was raised in Indiana, and earned a bachelor's degree in biology from Purdue in 1972.

Misty worked various jobs, including artist's model, security guard and fast-food clerk, until she took a computer programming position with American Airlines and moved to Oklahoma. Near that time, she discovered both science fiction conventions and the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA). Her experiences costuming herself for events led her to write some of her early costuming articles.

In 1990, Misty met her future husband, Larry Dixon, and began collaborating with him. They were wed by Merlin the Magician at the Excalibur Chapel in Las Vegas in 1992. They currently live near Tulsa, Oklahoma, in what they call "the second weirdest house in Oklahoma."

Everyone always asks why writers write. Lackey provides an excellent response in her official biography:

"I began writing out of boredom; I continue out of addiction. I can't 'not' write, and as a result I have no social life! I began writing fantasy because I love it, but I try to construct my fantasy worlds with all the care of a 'high-tech' science fiction writer."

Misty first began telling made-up stories to amuse the kids she babysat. (Lucky Kids!) She wrote because there wasn't enough good science fiction in her local library, so she decided to apply her hand at writing her own. Her first book sale was Arrows of the Queen to DAW Books in 1987.

"Don't quit your day job" is the advice most writers give and get from other successful writers. Misty worked as a computer programmer while she was writing her initial stories. After 1990, she had enough contracts to work as a writer full time and resume her preferred self-described vampiric schedule working 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. most days. She pushes herself harder than most writers do -- logging anywhere from 10 to 20 pages per night.

To date, Misty has published over 90 books. She's an icon in the publishing business, with her books on the "keeper shelves" of new notables from Jes Battis to Roberta Gellis. Quite a bit of this body of work is cited as ground-breaking. Her early Valdemar work featured some of fantasy's first homosexual characters. The Diana Tregarde series was also hailed as some of the first pagan-friendly fiction.

While most writers are solitary, Misty's known as one of the most collaborative writers around, She's written with some of the genre's best, including Marion Zimmer Bradley, Rosemary Edghill, Andre Norton, Anne McCaffrey, Steve Libbey and her husband, Larry Dixon.

Becky Kyle: You've written in almost every era of fantasy. What brings you back to writing contemporary fantasy and what advantages do you see to writing in a contemporary time frame?

Mercedes Lackey: Well, in contemporary fantasy there is the challenge of making it fit into the "real world" and the advantage of not having to explain everything to the reader. After all, everyone knows what a 747 and a microwave are.

BK: Epic and historical fantasies have the advantage of being more "timeless" to readers. What aspects do you believe would make a contemporary fantasy timeless?

ML: By treating it as a historical fantasy. If something is clearly "the flavor of the month" and might not be recognized a few years down the road, embed it in such a way that later readers will "get it."

BK: Much about the writing of fantasy is the author's ability to get the readers to suspend disbelief. What literary devices have you used to get your readers to believe in mythical creatures and feats of magic?

ML: My magic always obeys rules, and generally obeys the rules of physics. It doesn't come out of nothing, it costs to use it and there is no such thing as free lunch or the cavalry coming over the hill for a last-minute rescue -- unless the story has been set up in such a way that such a thing is logical and doesn't break the third wall. The more you can get readers to go "yeah, I can see that," the easier it is for them to suspend disbelief.

BK: You've broken many fantasy taboos, including stronger genre blending (such as adding a mystery or strong romance line to a fantasy story), writing homosexual protagonists and writing pagan-friendly fiction. Do you see (or plan on) any new groundbreaking trends coming for contemporary fantasy? ,

ML: Actually, I haven't broken any taboos that hadn't already been broken by other, abler writers before me. Marion Zimmer Bradley, C.L. Moore, C.J. Cherryh, Fritz Leiber, Manley Wade Wellman, Thomas Burnett Swan, Roger Zelazney, just to name a few. All of us have had, I think, one thing in common: we were more interested in doing justice to the story we wanted to tell than worrying about breaking taboos. That's certainly all I have ever done, and all I ever plan to do.

BK: Collaborative work is difficult for most writers, yet you seem to be able to write with a wide variety of other writers, including your spouse. Do you have any secret tips for this type of work? What are the best and worst aspects of writing collaboratively? Are you flexible in your role as a collaborator, or do you tend to do the same tasks when you are collaborating?

ML: For collaborative writing to work well, you have to get along, you have to have similar (but by NO means the same) ideas about things, and one of you has to be the boss with the final say. Generally, that's the most senior writer -- but the boss also has to recognize his strengths and weaknesses, and when the partner(s) are stronger in one aspect, get out of the way and let the partner do his job.

The best aspect is that it is social and that you never have to worry about hitting a wall, because if you do, you just hand it off to your partner. The worst is waiting. All partners generally have other projects on the boil, and waiting is always tough. I've been both junior and senior on collaborative projects, so I guess you could say I am flexible.

BK: Several authors have done television series based on their contemporary work. Do you see this as a possibility for any of your stories? If so, would you say which one(s) you'd like to see serialized?

ML: You have to understand that the odds of something like that happening are equivalent to winning the lottery. Hundreds of books are published every year, a very, very small number get optioned and, of those, an even smaller number make it into production and then into actual broadcast. I'm pretty realistic about this; I think it pretty unlikely. I would say that the most cinematic and easy to translate into any size screen are the contemporaries, but I very much doubt it is going to happen.

BK: E-books are a coming trend, and in many ways, a "green" alternative to pulp publishing. For your own reading, are you using an e-book reader? What are your feelings about the experience?

ML: I don't have an e-book reader although I like the look of the ones using electronic paper. I do read books on the computer, mostly those from the Gutenberg Project, but I find it a bit awkward. Obviously for an e-book to succeed it has to be as much like a paper book as possible, but I've got no experience with any of them.

BK: Recently, you've undertaken podcasting one of your series, The Secret World Chronicles, with Steve Libbey. Do you see yourself doing more of this kind of work, or are you limiting yourself to only one podcast? Have you noticed these broadcasts have widened your fan base, particularly with people with visual or reading disabilities?

ML: That project is one that we are podcasting in hopes of building enough of an audience to take it to a print form. I'm not known for this kind of fiction, so it means going to a whole new sort of audience. I've been getting more and more of my books going into books-on-disk, so presumably that's reaching people with visual impairment.

BK: Your writing life, as you describe it, is a good deal different from your former working life. What's it like being a self-described "vampire" and what adjustments have you had to make to co-exist with editors, agents and others who live in the daytime workday world?

ML: Well, actually it's not as hard as it might seem. I catch their early-morning emails before I go to bed, and get the last of their afternoon ones when I get up, usually in time to answer them. I rarely talk to anyone on the phone any more, and I am pretty sure that is the case for just about everyone these days, not just me.

BK: You've been writing for most of your life, starting with writing by hand and moving to a computer. If you could fantasize a device that would make writing easier for you and others, what would it be?

ML: Something that would take the story straight out of my head and put it on the page. I'm pretty sure that goes for every other writer, too.

BK: Who are some of the contemporary fantasy writers you're reading now, and anxiously awaiting the next book from?

ML: At the moment I'm reading Jim Butcher's Dresden Files series, but for the most part my reading is taken up with research books.

BK: In addition to writing books, you also create dolls and work as a wildlife rehabilitator. Would you like to share any of these aspects of your non-writing life with us?

ML: Larry and I stopped doing wildlife rehab when Wildheart Ranch opened up in the same area -- they are a fully incorporated nonprofit and have more resources than we did. It was a lot of fun when we did it, though, having raising cages full of baby kestrels, playing "toss the hawk" to teach young redtails how to fly, hacking out barred owls -- it was very rewarding.

As for the dolls, I've costumed dolls most of my life -- after all, the dolls can wear the sorts of things that ordinary humans can't get away with (or couldn't afford!). I've made dozens of dolls into characters for my books for charity auctions, and now I've gotten into Asian ball-jointed dolls, which are fully customizable and a very good size to sew for. You probably won't see any of those turning up at charity auctions, however!

BK: What is one question you have always wished someone would ask you -- and how would you answer that question?

ML: "Would you be willing to option this book for a million-dollar movie deal?"

"Yes, please!"

[ visit the author's website ]

interview by
Becky Kyle

25 October 2008

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