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Orson Scott Card
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Orson Scott Card   Orson Scott Card is the New York Times best-selling author of Ender's Game, The Tales of Alvin Maker, the Homecoming series, and many more. Ender's Game and its sequel, Speaker for the Dead, both won Hugo and Nebula Awards, making Card the first and only author to win both of those prestigious awards in consecutive years for a novel and its sequel. In fact, Orson Scott Card has received a total of 12 Hugo nominations and 3 wins, 7 Nebula nominations and 2 wins, plus the John W. Campbell award, the World Fantasy award, Margaret A. Edwards Award, the Whitney Lifetime Achievement Award, several Locus awards, and 3 nominations for the Mythopoeic fantasy award.

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This episode originally aired on 11/12/2009 with the following authors:
Note: The following interview has been transcribed from The Author Hour radio show. Please excuse any typos, spelling and gramatical errors.

Interview with Orson Scott Card

 
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Bonus Question(s) that Didn't Air on the Live Radio Show

Note that you can also listen to this while you read it.


Matthew Peterson: Let me ask you a quick bonus question here. I know you do teach. Youíve written a couple self-help books like Characters and View Point and How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy. What is some of the most important advice you give your students?

Orson Scott Card: The most important advice is just write your brains out. You learn more from writing, even a very bad novel, than you do from any number of writing classes. Just putting out the words teaches you. And so I often tell people who come to my writing class, I ask, ďWhy are you here? What do you think youíre going to get that you wouldnít get by staying at home and just writing like crazy?Ē And especially college students. You know, they say, ďWhat should I major in to prepare to be a writer?Ē I say, ďWell, major in dishwashing at a restaurant. Major in general studies. Major in something that will give you a paying job.Ē Whatever other interests you have. But thereís no course in writing that will help you become a writer. Period. Not even the ones I teach.

Now, Iíd like to think that my stuff is useful. But still, what you have to do is just write and write and write. But, while youíre doing it, you have to write intelligently. Itís not useful if you just love everything you produce yourself. You have to then re-read it critically, you have to understand, from the story, what is and isnít working. You have to learn from it. And you donít learn from it by asking other peopleís opinions. You learn from it by letting it sit for a while and coming back to it yourself. ĎCause other peopleís opinions are only going to tell you what they expect or what they would have written, or what their English teachers taught them to expect in fiction. In other words, useless crap.

And what you need as a writer, is your own eyes to help you see where the differences are between the story that youíve written and the story that you wish you had written. Thatís where you do your learning.

Matthew Peterson: I like what you said, you know, publishers are kind of funny and like you said in the main interview, theyíre kind of funny, they donít want to publish something unless itís been written. [laughs] So, you gotta write.

Orson Scott Card: I mean, how many writers are there who say, ďIím going to write a novel someday.Ē That just makes me sad, because of course, theyíre not. Again, I tell them, the college students, if you want to be a writer, why arenít you writing? What are you doing in this class? Why are you doing this? Why are you in college? If you have another agenda in college, great, but if youíre here to learn how to write, what a waste of your time. You should be writing.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

Orson Scott Card: While I was in college, I had a professor who mocked me for saying it. He said once, ďWell, Card youíre going to be a writer, right?Ē And I said, ďNo, no, I AM a writer.Ē ĎCause I was. I was producing plays at quite a rapid pace; those plays were getting produced on the main stage at the university. I was working. I wasnít getting a lot of money, but I was working as a writer and taking myself and my work very seriously and I was learning. I got a better education than any of the writing students who just took the class. Because I continued working my brains out as a writer even after the class was over.

Matthew Peterson: Well, I think thatís excellent advice. Thatís advice I need to take myself because sometimes I get too busy with life.

Orson Scott Card: Well, you know, and when youíre making a living, especially if you have a family to support, youíve gotta put that first. You have to or youíre not a very good person. But having said that, at the same time, you will always find time if you actually want to be a writer. Youíll always find time.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. Thank you for that advice. Let me ask you one more question. I really did want to ask this question. This is kind of a personal question. Like Stephenie Meyer, itís no secret that youíre an active Mormon. You went on an unpaid mission to Brazil. I was just wondering, how have your religious beliefs affected your writing and your career?

Orson Scott Card: Well, in one sense, as little as possible, because I recognized right away, when I first started writing science fiction that the requirement of science fiction is that Godís not a character, that people do not pray and get answers, etc., because that becomes religious fiction, affirming a particular religion. The odd thing is when you donít have a particular god in your fiction, then science fiction can become the best religious fiction, because you can deal with all the issues without dealing with any particular sect. So I have guarded that very carefully.

I sometimes use Mormonism culturally in fiction, as in my Folk of the Fringe stories. In that the characters were Mormons, but I had never ever written a fiction, even my religious fiction, that requires the reader to decide whether they believe in order to accept the characters. In other words, I donít want it to be that they have to be a committed believer in the religion in order to accept or care about the story. So in that sense, I have made very sure that my religion does not impinge on my fiction any more than . . . nobody reading Stephanie Meyer is going to come away and say, ďYou know, I want to be a Mormon too.Ē

Matthew Peterson: [laughs] Yeah.

Orson Scott Card: It is not going to happen. Now have there been people who have been led to believe in the Church initially because of my work? Yes, but not because of my work. They knew that I was a Mormon, and that made some people, certainly by no means a lot of people even, made some people think, ďWell, if he believes that, maybe thereís something to it.Ē And thatís great. Iím perfectly happy with that. But nobody will learn church doctrine from my books. Nobody will have a little form at the end of the book that they can fill out and call the missionaries to come. ĎCause thatís not my job.

Part of my thinking on this is that first of all, what converts people is not the content of a book. Fiction is terribly ill suited because we admit at the beginning that itís all lies. So why in the world would I want to tell you a very specific truth that I believe in, in fictional form? If I want to tell you that kind of truth, Iíll write an essay. And I write plenty of essays. People have no doubt of my opinion, though people have a tendency to take one tiny shred of one of my opinions and assume that I believe everything else that youíre supposed to believe if youíre in that pigeon hole. Of course I donít, Iím an equal opportunity offender.

Matthew Peterson: [laughs]

Orson Scott Card: And so my beliefs tend to cover quite a range. But, you know, I write a column for Mormon Times, which is a publication of Deseret News, a newspaper in Salt Lake City owned by the Church, and in that column, I candidly speak to Mormons about Mormon things, and thereís no doubting what I believe there. But in my fiction, I do my very best to keep that out of the picture.

Now, Iím answering this at too great of length. There is the fact that Iím a true believer in my religion and, therefore, even when Iím not paying attention, or even when Iím trying not to, some of my beliefs that are exactly like the official church doctrines are going to show up in my fiction, unconsciously, because you canít tell a story without your beliefs and your world view emerging. But itís not proselytizing there; itís simply inviting you into the authorís mind, the way that any other author does. You know, an atheist will invite you into his world view in his fiction, and he is no more preaching his faith than I am. When without deliberate design, who I am emerges in my fiction. You always confess who you are, and who I am is, in fact, to my great relief actually, a believing Mormon. So that even things that Iím paying attention to, that Iím not aware I chose, confess my faith. Canít help that. Itís just going to be there. Itís what C. S. Lewis says, everybody takes Narnia as allegory. Certainly by the end heís doing allegorical things. You know, he does the end of the world, he does the creation, but when he started, he truly had no such plan. He was writing a childrenís book and he had the image of a fawn and a street lamp. A fawn in the snow carrying a package, passing a street lamp in the woods. And that was it. He had no idea what that image was about. He had no plan. He just started telling the story. And the story was moving along alright, but he really didnít know what he had until all of a sudden a lion came into it. And he resisted any idea that the lion stood for Christ. He said, the lion doesnít stand for Christ; the lion is Christ in this world. In other words, heís not writing allegory; heís writing a world in which there is a savior.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

Orson Scott Card: And itís a very different project. Well, nothing I have written is remotely as allegorically Christian, inadvertently though, as Narnia, but still the things I believe are going to show up.

Matthew Peterson: And you do have some Christian based books, like the Women of Genesis, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah.

Orson Scott Card: Iíd like to think that theyíre. . . I would rather say they are Bible based. Because, for example, Sarah, is my only book thatís been translated into Turkish; itís a Muslim country.

Matthew Peterson: Oh that is true, because they are . . .

Orson Scott Card: I got good reviews from the Jerusalem Review for Sarah and Rebecca and so forth. What I am doing is writing historical novels, and because Iím writing from the point of view of the women and not the official prophets, I never have to make my reader decide whether they believe it or not. In other words, I never actually show an angel appearing. We never actually have the transcendental events. Instead, what we have is the woman who was told about them by her husband and what she believes about her husband. Very different fictional project. And it means that you can be a complete unbeliever and read these books and find great value in them, I think.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. And let me back track, you donít have to be Christian, because Genesis is the first book in the Bible and thatís the first book in the Old Testament, and thereís lots of different faiths, not Christian, that believe in Genesis or use a variation of Genesis. So, yeah, the creation of the world, and all that. Well, that is so interesting. Iím glad I was able to talk to you.


Extra Material That was Cut from the Show Because of Time Constraints

Note that you can also listen to this while you read it (you'll need to fast forward past the bonus questions).


Orson Scott Card: [regarding when the next Enderís book will come out] So, I have no idea when. I didnít realize that I was going to be writing the Hidden Empire, the book thatís coming out in December. That was the book that came out. I had another book that I should have written first, in fact. Itís ready to write. Iím going to be turning it in probably in May. But, you know, the book thatís right is the one you can write.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. And there are other things that we can read while weíre waiting for the other Enderís book, Ďcause like you said, youíve got some other books. I mean thereís even The Authorized Ender Companion. Thereís a graphic novel also.

Orson Scott Card: Iím really proud of what Marvel has been doing with that. I could not believe my good fortune in having people who understood the Ender books as well as they did and who gave such fine treatment to them. You know, book adaptations donít sell like the original super hero comics do, but they have been unstinting in their attention to quality in these books. And so Iím thrilled with the results that weíre getting.

Matthew Peterson: Iíve never really gotten into graphic novels, but your Enderís Game was amazing. You know, amazing artwork, and it definitely stayed with the story.

Orson Scott Card: They were actually more faithful than any of the adaptations written by screen writers, other than myself.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

Orson Scott Card: They actually treated the material with respect. There were changes they had to make, you know, to make it work and things they had to omit.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. Itís much shorter.

Orson Scott Card: For example, it doesnít actually take us through the last chapter, but all of thatís going to be covered in the adaptation of Ender in Exile, so Iím not worried.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah, yeah. And speaking of screen plays, I know this is kind of like a long, long process. Youíre trying to get Enderís Game into a movie. Whatís the latest news on that?

Orson Scott Card: Well, you know, we are with a company, Odd Lot Entertainment, that is committed to doing Enderís Game, not faithfully in the sense of scene for scene, Ďcause that would be a five hour movie, and you canít do that. But one that wants to have it done right, that is true to the story and true to the moral meaning of the story, which, you know, is neither pro nor anti war; itís just pro soldier. Itís an entirely different thing and the struggles of what it takes to be a leader, what it takes to achieve anything in life. And they are committed to making the movie that the readers will be delighted with.

The trouble is: getting Hollywood to fund it. Because when you start talking about budgets the size of science fiction film budgets, they want it all to be, well, like Iron Man, which was a wonderful movie. But it was all action, all tension, there was no room for a character to develop. And so the character consisted of Robert Downey Jr. being charming, which was quite enough for that movie. It needed no more than that. But Enderís Game requires that we have not just one but a half dozen excellent child actors. Now, when has that ever happened in the history of film? Well, once: the live action Peter Pan of a few years ago. It got good performances from several child actors at once. But itís rare and itís going to require a special director. We have one. I do not control publicity, so I canít tell you who it is. But heís somebody who is, in his own life story, very attuned to Enderís Game and is a man of great talent, who I believe will. . . Heís adapting my script, my latest script, which came close to being what we needed, and heís doing his own pass through that script right now as we speak. And weíre looking forward to being able to go out to seek the other half of . . . we have it half funded now . . . to seek the other half of the funding in the next 3 or 4 months. Letís put it this way, I think that not only has the actor who will play Ender been born, I think heís already in grade school.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

Orson Scott Card: So, I think weíre that close.

Matthew Peterson: Oh good. You know, once things start rolling . . . itís one of those things where you have to just jump on and do it, because those actors are going to get older. And itís very time sensitive.

Orson Scott Card: Well, and thatís the problem, you know, how do we film any of the sequels? The answer is, who knows? Weíd have to change casts.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. You kind of do like a Lord of the Rings thing where you just do them all at the same time.

Orson Scott Card: Well, weíre not doing that. So, if there are sequels it will be with a new cast each time.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. And thatís still fine, I mean, that still works too. You never know . . .

Orson Scott Card: Well, I donít know. I mean, imagine the Harry Potter films if youíd not had Daniel Radcliff all the times.

Matthew Peterson: Get a different Harry. Yeah, I know we got different characters from movie to movie, you know, some of them switched over, one of them died, but yeah, the main characters, yeah . . .

Orson Scott Card: Wasnít that inconvenient of Richard Harris? I mean, how thoughtless of him!

Matthew Peterson: Yeah!

Orson Scott Card: If heíd known he was going to die, he shouldnít have signed on in the first place.

Matthew Peterson: Whatís he doing? Yeah. [laughs]

Orson Scott Card: The funny thing is there are people who hate . . . now I canít remember the new actorís name [Michael Gambon] . . . uh . . heís actually a better actor than Richard Harris ever was.

Matthew Peterson: Heís very good.

Orson Scott Card: Heís not a better performer. And so, Richard Harris was right for the early books, because in the early books, J. K. Rowling used Dumbledore as kind of a humorous, Merlin-esque, like Merlin from T. H. Whiteís Once and Future King, a kind of a jokey character. But as he became more grim, to put it plainly, I think the replacement actor was much better suited. I donít see Richard Harris having been able to bring that off. So, while I regret his death, I certainly . . . you donít want to re-cast through funerals, I think that all in all, the series was not ill-served by the way that things worked out.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. I heard that the first one, Richard, I heard that he wasnít going to do it. He had never heard of this Harry Potter thing. And one of his grand-daughters or something like that said, ďI will kill you if you donít do it.Ē [laughs]

Orson Scott Card: Well, I mean, thatís the funny thing. I keep hearing that sort of thing about Enderís Game from studio executives and so forth, that they say, ďWell, you know, I had no idea what this was. When I mentioned that I was looking at this project and my nephew or my son or my daughter,Ē or you know, whatever, ďjust went ape. And I thought good heavens! Why havenít I heard of this.Ē So, I have no idea why so many young readers have embraced Enderís Game. I did not intend it as a childrenís book. Itís . . . no way is it a childrenís book. I make no concessions in vocabulary or the sometimes cruelty of what happened. And the moral reasoning is complicated, and yet even the youngest readers seem to master it and understand it. So, it encourages me about the intellectual qualities of the very young. But it also makes me feel like Enderís Game touched in something that I certainly could not have planned. And thatís a very encouraging thing for a writer.

Matthew Peterson: This episode is really the classic fiction and fantasy. And [Enderís Game] really has become a modern day classic. In my book, it has.

Orson Scott Card: I appreciate that, it certainly is . . . if I could do it every time, believe me, I would.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. Well, itís hard to re-do a classic every year.

Orson Scott Card: But wouldnít it be lovely if every single thing . . . you know I look at Charles Dickens and Mark Twain and Mark Twain wrote Tom Sawyer Detective. So you know, I feel pretty good if not everything I write is Huckleberry Finn. And Charles Dickens has a long list of quite secondary books. So what can I say? I feel like Iím in good company in not having a classic every time.

Matthew Peterson: Well, it seems like youíve got your hand in a lot of things. You know, Ultimate Iron Man, graphic novels, screen plays, theater, even some Xbox games. You mentioned the online magazine, Intergalactic Medicine Show. A lot of things that youíre busy with! Final question: What are you working on now?

Orson Scott Card: What Iím working on now is a book that Iím turning in early in December. Itís my first intended to be YA fiction. You know, I told you Enderís Game was for adults? Well, this book--Serpent World is the over all name, though Pathfinder is the name of the first book--is meant as an entry in the YA category. Again, that doesnít mean--and I was quite clear to the editors about this--that doesnít mean Iím going to be talking down. I hate kidís books that treat kids as if they were somehow a stupider breed. Really all that you have to do with childrenís books as far as I can see is you have to be more rigorous about making sure that youíre not wasting their time with fluff. ĎCause they get impatient. They set the book aside. So, anyway, Iím working on that. I think itís one of the best things Iíve ever done. But then I kind of had that hope of everything Iíve done.

Matthew Peterson: Of every one.

Orson Scott Card: And then immediately after that, Iíll be doing Mithermages, which is the book that I was supposed to have done before turning in Hidden Empire.

Matthew Peterson: So Mithermages, whatís the name of that one?

Orson Scott Card: I have one book called Stone Father that is from that series. And thatís really the best introduction to it that I can think of is Stone Father.



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