Fairwood Press launched five new books last week (including my collection!) and it has been fun to share a release day with some really wonderful authors. Today I’ve got a guest post from one of my fellow Fairwood authors, Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, talking about his new book Traveler of Worlds: Conversations with Robert Silverberg.
Google With a Goatee
Thanks so much for having me on, Caroline! It’s been a pleasure sharing a book birthday with you!
Traveler of Worlds: Conversations with Robert Silverberg is my book-length attempt to provide insight into the life and mind of one of our great science fiction writers, Grand Master Robert Silverberg.
Silverberg is considered by some to be aloof, and that’s certainly one aspect of his persona. Others know him only through his work—novels like Dying Inside, The Book of Skulls, The World Inside, Son of Man, Tower of Glass, Nightwings, Downward to the Earth, Lord Valentine’s Castle, The Face of the Waters, The Alien Years, and a gazillion others, plus hundreds of stories and dozens of edited anthologies—and may be curious about the man behind the words. He’s certainly had a remarkable career, spanning six decades, and a remarkable life.
There’s a more personal component to the book, too. Bob and I have been friends for some years, and a previous fiction collaboration, with which he was pleased, suggested to me that he might be amenable to in-depth interviews. Bob is perfectly content to spend much of his time alone, and as well as we get on, I knew that imposing five-or-six-hour interviews upon him might be a bit draconian. So I needed something to soften the process. I suggested dividing the interviews into smaller, theme-bound sections, and then further sub-dividing those to cope with the realities of time limitations, travel logistics, etc. He graciously agreed, and I’m happy to report that I only made him hoarse on one occasion. That’s suffering for art, right there!
Before starting the first interview, I created an outline of all the subjects we were going to cover throughout the book, and where I wanted to go with each one. Editing would help, but the raw material itself needed to be intrinsically interesting to keep readers engaged (and prevent Bob from falling asleep—his preferred couch is comfy indeed).
In the end, I settled on seven chapters, and shared only a few words of description about each one with Bob just a few minutes before delving in. I wanted to capture spontaneous conversations, not a carefully rehearsed series of thoughts. We ended up covering a great many subjects: activism, travel, collecting artifacts, paintings, Nobel-prize winning writers, Bob’s political positions, the meaning of awards, libraries, questions from readers, and so on.
One of my favorite dialogues, which may be of interest to writers reading this blog, revolves around story openings. We go into some detail on the first lines of famous works by Hemingway, Hardy and Conrad. And not all the verdicts are favorable!
Speaking of verdicts, a most reassuring one came from Bob himself. When he read the final manuscript he thought it was coherent, detailed, well-organized. Phew.
What to take away from all this? Interviews can be genuine journeys of discovery, as opposed to mere recitations of positions. To make them work in this more exploratory sense, I’ve found two things are critical.
One is a map. You may be traveling to strange lands, but you need to know how to get back home.
The second component is trust. Provide a safe space, and anything is possible.
And, well, there’s a third factor. It’s the quality of your companion. How to describe Bob as fellow voyager in these conversations? I think Karen Haber, Bob’s wife, says it best in the book’s Afterword. She meant it literally, but it also works in a metaphorical sense: “Traveling with Bob is like having one’s own portable database for a companion. Imagine Google with a goatee, a glass of Bordeaux in one hand and a fork in the other.”
Alvaro started publishing around 2008, and has had more than thirty stories appear in magazines like Analog, Nature, Galaxy’s Edge, The Journal of Unlikely Entomology, Lackington’s, Mothership Zeta, Farrago’s Wainscot and Neon, as well as anthologies such as The Mammoth Book of the Adventures of Moriarty, The Mammoth Book of Jack the Ripper Tales, The 2015 Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide, Cyber World, This Way to the End Times [edited by R. Silverberg], Humanity 2.0 and An Alphabet of Embers. Alvaro’s essays, reviews and interviews have appeared in The Los Angeles Review of Books, The First Line, Asimov’s, Strange Horizons, Clarkesworld, SF Signal, Foundation, The New York Review of Science Fiction and Intergalactic Medicine Show; he also edits the roundtable blog for Locus.