In 2006, The Triad’s Gift was published by the now defunct webzine, Deep Magic. Written by Aliette de Bodard, this novella was nominated for a Nebula Award in 2007, and was one of Aliette’s first published stories.
Today, Aliette’s work has appeared in more than a dozen publications (including The Sword Review in 2006). She is a winner of the Writer’s of the Future contest, and has sold work to professional markets such as Orson Scott Yard’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, Interzone and Realms of Fantasy. Recently, on of her stories, Through the Obsidian Gates, was awarded an honorable mention in the Twentieth Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror (ed. Ellen Datlow, Kelly Link and Gavin Grant).
Born into a marriage of mixed cultures, Aliette is partly Vietnamese and partly French, but also possesses the American nationality by virtue of her being born in the US.
Aliette: I got the French nationality from my father. At the time of my birth my parents were living in New York, which gave me the American nationality. So I have a double nationality, although really I consider myself more French than American—I've lived in the US about a year (the first year of my life), and that's it. I've never gone back to the US except for short vacations.
ITWM: How have your parents influenced your love for literature and your decision to become a writer?
Aliette: My parents always encouraged me to read from a very young age. I could have pretty much every book I wanted, and my father took me and my sister to the local library pretty much every Saturday. I remember the pile of books and comics we used to bring back--and how I'd wake up every Sunday morning and read in bed. It was probably the best time of the week, back then.
I decided to become a writer after the family moved to London. I started writing my first novel on the family computer, and my parents were quite happy to let me hammer at the keyboard--though they did warn me that writing wouldn't really provide a living. And I have to say that engineering does pay a lot better than selling short stories *grin*
ITWM: You’ve talked about how your mother mother used to tell you Chinese fairytales and how these have heavily influenced the stories you write. Where does the Aztec influence come from and what made you engage this culture?
Aliette: I may have given a wrong impression on that: my mother did read a lot of things to me, out of which some were Chinese fairytales. But the fairytales that influenced me most were those I read by myself when I was a bit older, the books I borrowed from the library or had my parents buy for me. I have an old book of fairytales tucked away in a corner of my bookshelves, and each time I open I have again this feeling of standing on the edge of a world where anything is possible—where cranes turn into human beings, where courage triumphs (but not always), where swallowing a pearl can transform you into a dragon...
The Aztec stuff...I'm not sure where it came from. I was pretty heavily into mythology when I was a child—my favourites were Greek tales, but I read a lot of other things, too. Aztecs, though...they don't do those stories for children because they're too bloody.
I think I know where that came from, actually: it was a presentation on Aztecs I had to do for a Spanish course when I was seventeen. It got me reading on life among the Aztecs, and then later I translated that into my fiction.
I guess the main thing I'm trying to do when writing fantasy is trying to re-capture that sense of wonder I had when I was a child reading myths and fairytales. Also, because Celtic Medieval has been done to death, I just wanted to try out some new things.
Hence stories derived from India, from China, from the Aztecs—and now I'm trying my hand at the Incas.
ITWM: Aside from Chinese and Aztec influences, where else do you take inspiration from? What inspires you to write?
Aliette: I draw much of my inspiration from history. I read a lot of non-fiction books, but also translations of original texts (like the Popol Vuh, which is the Maya myth of origins).
It's amazing what human beings have been up to over the centuries. History is that rare thing to me: a way of thinking that's both alien and familiar. Alien, because we (at least in Europe) just don't live in the same conditions as say, in the Middle Ages.
It's hard to imagine how devastating a bad harvest would be, for instance, when we have food whatever the season. But in the Middle Ages, for a peasant who lived only on what he grew, it would have been a major disaster.
History is also familiar. For all those different ways of thinking, you can still understand those people. We haven't changed much over the centuries. You can still get what made them tick, what they believed in. The challenge is getting those two things simultaneously across to the reader.
ITWM: What made you decide to pursue writing and to pursue being published professionally? When did you make this decision? And did you need to do any study/preparation when you decided to undertake this?
Aliette: I decided to become a writer, as I said above, when I was 17 and living in London. I'd just discovered Orson Scott Card at the time, and I was borrowing from the library everything he had ever written. One day, I ran out of fiction, and I found a non-fiction book by him: "How to Write Fantasy and Science Fiction". It opened my eyes. I saw writing, for the first time, not as something done by people long dead, but as a career that I could actually pursue.
I started working on a first novel, finished it after two years, and then submitted it to a few publishers—not really seriously, and when they didn't bite I just set it aside. It was a learning step. Then I started working again on a second novel—this time learning from the mistakes of the first--and it took me three years to complete it. I was a bit slowed down at the time because I was studying for intensive exams, and didn't have much time for writing.
I didn't submit the novel. By the time I'd finished it, I was in an engineering school and too busy with various after-class activities—and I didn't really believe in myself as a writer. But still, I couldn't just not write, and so I started working on a novelette. When I finished it, I submitted it to Writers of the Future—and then went on submitting on a regular basis. For me, that was the moment I really stopped thinking of myself as a dilettante, and started to write in earnest.
ITWM: Do you remember what was the first piece you ever wrote? What age were you when you wrote this piece?
Aliette: I have no idea how old I was when I wrote my first piece (seven? eight?), but I remember it very distinctly. It was a short SF piece about the crew of the spaceship who had to rescue a girl on a planet of cat-people (yes, cat-people. You can see why I tucked the story into a drawer and chalked it up to learning errors).
ITWM: Comparing Aliette the writer today to the writer Aliette then, did you already envision yourself being where you are today (a professionally published specfic writer and a winner in the WOTF competition?)
Aliette: Definitely not. For a start, I was too young to understand what a professional was.
ITWM: What do you think is your strongest point as a writer?
Aliette: My strongest point is setting: I have very particular milieus, and I'm good at conveying a fair amount of information in a short space, to make the reader see the world through the eyes of my characters.
ITWM: When you read a story, what attracts you most about it? What keeps you interested and reading?
Aliette: Two things, for me: characters, and/or milieus. Characters are important.
If I don't care about the character, then you've lost me. All sorts of horrible things could happen, but I, as a reader, am already out of the story.
Milieus are a pet peeve of mine, because I'm so tired of seeing the same pseudo-medieval world with absolutely no economic or social coherence.
Take, for instance, the horses which never seem to grow tired, or to shed a shoe--except, of course, if you're overrun by enemies.
Mares never seem to be in heat, either.
I love worlds in which I can lose myself—worlds that feel real, gritty, or, at the opposite, words like those of fairytales, which weave their own magic.
ITWM: Aside from writing speculative fiction, you’ve also written reviews for Tangent Online and now for The Fix. In how much has writing reviews and reading various markets influenced the way you look at your own work?
Aliette: Writing reviews for Tangent and now for The Fix has taught me to look at stories critically:
I'm reading a story and trying to decide if it works or it doesn't—but more importantly, why it doesn't work for me. That's the most important lesson for me, because that one I can apply to my own writing: I can see what I need to avoid.
Writing reviews also allowed me to see one essential notion: there is no such thing as a story that will please everybody. Which in turn has enabled me to take some distance from critiques and see that I can't fix every single thing people find wrong with my stories.
ITWM: I checked out your website, and my.you are a member of a good number of writing sites. In how much has being a member of writing sites helped you to grow as a writer?
Aliette: Being a member of writing sites has got me from where I was back in 2004—a writer who was basically an amateur and who didn't know about submission practises—to where I am now. It's taught me how to give and how to receive critiques, how to format stories for submitting and the proper editorial etiquettes.
More than that, it has allowed me to network with people I would definitely not have met otherwise: I have made some very good friends through those workshops.
ITWM: Do you have any words of advice for specfic writers seeking to make a >break into the professional market?
Aliette: First thing is to believe in yourself—because if you don't, no one else will.
Second, you have to write something that will stand out. There are many ways to do this: you could create a memorable character, go for a breathtaking plot or set your story in an unconventional milieu—those are just the first few ideas off the top of my head.
You need to be ambitious: there are a lot of stories in that slush pile, and yours has to stick in the editor's mind.
Above all, persevere. There are few professional markets: the genre you write in is already going to limit your options (you can't submit fantasy to Analog, for instance), and chances are that you and some editors just won't have the same vision of what makes a good story. Once you get past the craft problems, deciding whether to buy a story or not is a deeply personal decision--it's a matter of being in the right place at the right
time with the right story.
Inside the Writing Mind wishes to thank Aliette for her generosity with her time and with her talent. If you want to know more about Aliette de Bodard (her work and her bio) the link to her website is here
Click Here for Easy-to-Read B&W Format
If this contribution met with your satisfaction, please consider making a contribution of your own so we may pay our authors and keep the magazine delivering great speculative fiction far into the future. Thank you for visiting.
Copyright 2008, Rochita Loenen-Ruiz. All rights reserved.
Rochita Loenen-Ruiz is a Filipina writer living in The Netherlands. Her fiction, non-fiction, and poetry have appeared in a variety of online and print publications including Weird Tales Magazine, Fantasy Magazine, and Philippine Speculative Fiction volumes two and four. She is the co-author of the inspirational book, Hope Away from Home (OMF Lit, Philippines), and is a member of the Villa Diodati expatworkshop.
She will be attending the Clarion West Writing Workshop in 2009. She blogs at: http://rcloenen-ruiz.livejournal.com