From Soraya: Interview with Lisa Tuttle

Another interview today from my friend, Soraya Murillo Hernandez, from Spain. Soraya speaks Spanish, and I only speak English, so our friendship has leaned heavily on technology and Google Translate.

She has sent me a dozen or more of these interviews she conducted in the past for me to reprint here. She has so many, incredible interviews, I’ve created a category for her work. You can find all Soraya’s interviews at From Soraya. Today, she shares her interview with Lisa Tuttle.

Lisa has two new novels. The first is The Curious Affair of the Somnambulist and the Psychic Thief. The second (which is out now in the UK but will be out in October in the US) is The Curious Affair of the Witch at Wayside Cross, to be published in the UK by Jo Fletcher Books in paperback and e-book formats, and in the USA from Hydra (the electronic imprint of Penguin Random House) in e-book only.

What were your motivations to start writing? Follow some sort of ritual or have a hobby when you started writing?

Lisa Tuttle at the Hugo Award Ceremony 2017, Worldcon in Helsinki.
Photo courtesy of Henry Söderlund.

Lisa Tuttle—If you mean what motivated me to begin – I loved to read and it seemed a natural thing to try to write stories like the ones I loved reading.

I was so young when I started writing that I can’t really remember a time before. If you mean how do I get motivated on a daily basis, well, that is harder.

When I was young I needed no motivation; I wrote because it was fun. Now, it is more like hard work, but there are also more pressures to finish whatever I begin.

A deadline helps, but when writing “on spec” as I am now I have to self-motivate, and yes, that can be hard when it is so easy to procrastinate, or fill my time up with things I have to do anyway, or hanging around on the internet, or answering interview questions which feels and looks like I am writing, but is so much easier! (Also, is all about me — and who doesn’t like to talk about themselves?)

When you did start to write, and did you think you’d become successful?

Lisa Tuttle—By the time I was ten or eleven I knew that I wanted to become a published author, but (and I don’t know how I knew this) I already guessed that it was not easy to make a living writing fiction – especially not the kind of stories I loved, so I imagined that I would have to work at some other job….maybe as a journalist, because that is another kind of writing, but you could do it as a job.

In high school I wrote for the school newspaper and was also sending out my short stories and collecting rejection slips. I expected that someday I would be published — I felt fairly confident that I would achieve my goal if I worked hard enough.

You founded a society of science fiction. That is something unusual in a woman. What did you have to do to make that happen?

Lisa Tuttle—I discovered the existence of science fiction fandom through the letter columns of SF magazines – I was excited to learn that there were other people who loved reading the same kinds of books and stories that I loved, and that they formed societies and had conventions and published fanzines.

But I was too young to go to conventions by myself, and there weren’t any local fan groups, so I made all my first connections through the mail (back in those distant days before the internet) and one of my correspondents told me that comic fans were often SF fans, too, so I got my father to take me to a meeting of the Houston Comic Collectors Society one evening, where there was one other fan of my age (his mother brought him) and it turned out he was as passionate about books and movies as he was about comics.

He introduced me to some of his friends, and I sounded them out about starting a science fiction fan group. Then I talked to some of my friends at school who liked to read and agreed to come along – the comic fans were all male; my school friends were female, and so the Houston Science Fiction Society turned out to be quite unusual for the 1960s, with a good balance of male and female members, although I did not realize this was unusual at the time.

Many times readers do not know that it is and that it is not real in your stories. Is it a way of putting things difficult to the reader, having to think for themselves?

Lisa Tuttle—I do like ambiguity and uncertainty in a story, and I like what I consider to be “realistic” fantasy. Rather than create a whole fantasy world in which magic works or humans are at war with vampires or goblins, I prefer fiction set in our recognizable world, and then to introduce an element of the fantastic.

Quite often I like to leave it open for the reader to decide if there is a psychological explanation or if it is really supernatural. I don’t think of it as making things difficult for the reader, but it may be my way of reconciling my own rational nature (which first drew me to science fiction) with my fascination with the inexplicable and fantastic (which has always made me love weird and fantastical fiction) – I don’t think of it as a challenge to the reader so much as a way of challenging myself.

You like make the reader feel what kind of fear?

Lisa Tuttle—I used to try to write scary stories, but these days I am not really out to frighten readers so much as to make them uneasy, to unsettle their expectations, and to make them think.

The parallel worlds, what is there to make it one of the most recurrent topics that you write?

Lisa Tuttle—I think that a lot of people think “if only….” or play the “what if….” game, imagining how their lives might have been different if they’d made different choices or met different people or gone to different places at a certain time, and as a writer who often draws on her own experiences, this naturally comes up in my work. I became fascinated by the “many worlds” concept years ago and read a lot of popular science books about it. It seemed like an obvious opening into fiction.

Many of your characters are suffering mental disorders. Was the work of documentation on this topic very hard to treat in your stories?

Lisa Tuttle—If something impossible happens and there seems no rational explanation for it, madness or mental instability always seems a possibility; and there are many strange and fascinating tricks that our minds and senses can play on us.

I have read a number of books on the subject, both from the point of view of the person who experiences mental health issues (most of those I read years ago and can’t remember the titles now, apart from best-sellers like “I Never Promised you a Rose Garden” or “The Three Faces of Eve.” Oliver Sacks has also written about the way our minds can deceive us.

But for the most part, since I’m writing fantasy, not a treatise on mental health, I am guided by my feelings and intuition about these things. It’s another case of “what if?” and I try to imagine myself in a particular situation, and how someone like me would respond.

Is there any special reason for that your characters are ordinary people?

Lisa Tuttle—I’ve never really thought about it – maybe because I write out of my own experience very often, I tend to write about people who have lives I can understand and relate to personally. I am not that interested in super-heroes, and as a reader, I would rather read about an ordinary person caught up in extraordinary events than about a billionaire agonizing over his inability to find true love, or a serial killer with supernatural powers.

I’m sure you’ve been asked very often, what can you tell us of your collaboration with George R.R. Martin? How Windhaven went from being a novel short to a trilogy?

Lisa Tuttle—Windhaven actually went from being a novella (“The Storms of Windhaven”) to a novel made up of it and two other novellas plus a prologue and epilogue encompassing the life of the main character. It was just going to be one short story….but it grew!

George and I were both newbie writers, each with a handful of short stories in print, when we decided it would be fun to write a story together and embarked on it back in 1974; five years later we sold our novel, which came out in 1981. (It was my first novel and George’s second.)

So, it was a long long time ago, and what can I say about it now, except that I am very happy that it has remained in print and been translated and published all over the world, thanks to the extreme worldwide popularity of another little series written by my collaborator.

Much imagination is needed to write fantasy. I personally always have asked this question: does imagination come already with the writer or is it learned from reading?

Lisa Tuttle—I like to quote my friend the writer Garry Kilworth who describes the imagination as being like a muscle – the more you use it, the stronger it becomes. And my opinion is that we are all born with imaginations –it is a human trait – but we do have to learn how to use it. Reading and play encourages its development, while a very strict upbringing (and possibly certain religious beliefs) can inhibit or discourage it.

Some people may be more inclined to be dreamy and to fantasize while others are more practical and rooted in their physical surroundings, not interested in fiction (maybe because they find the real world sufficiently amazing), but whether that is inherent in their nature or caused by early experiences, who knows?

If one can say, what is your favorite type of reading and what your favorite authors?

Lisa Tuttle—Right now, I’m feeling drawn more to non-fiction, especially the personal essay form. This summer I’ve read books by two of my favorite authors Rebecca Solnit (A Field Guide to Getting Lost) and Geoff Dyer (White Sands) and an amazing biography that is a sort of literary detective story by A.J.A. Symons called The Quest for Corvo (that’s an old one, originally published in 1934).

I have read not so much fiction and almost no fantasy recently – with the exception of The Goldsmith’s Secret by Elia Barcelo – after meeting her this summer I really wanted to read a book by her, and this one was published in English. It’s very short, more like a very long short story, and is beautifully evocative, a wonderful time-slip fantasy (which happens to be one of my favorite types of fiction).

And since I got back from Worldcon in Helsinki I have a list of books I want to read, and have just bought the first one: Amatka by Karin Tidbeck – I loved her short stories in Jagganath, such an original voice and unusual vision of the world, so I’m anticipating loving this, too. I could give you a list of my favourite authors past and present – but that would take up too much space, and I don’t have all day.

You have visited Spain on several occasions and the literary festivals, what conclusion has taken from them? Are we, Spanish, good readers?

Lisa Tuttle—I always enjoy my visits to Spain and look forward to returning. I don’t think I can draw any conclusions about the whole country just after visiting Barcelona and Aviles a few times, though! Literary festivals are usually good fun, and I think Celsius 232 is especially enjoyable in the way it takes over the whole center of the town, everyone is so friendly, and it is a really nice, relaxed experience for a visiting author.

Are the Spanish good readers? Well, I think the ones I meet must be, because they talk to me so intelligently about what they have read, and seem to like my books so much! But beyond that, what do I know? Some Spanish friends have told me (sadly) that “Spanish people don’t read” or don’t buy books, but I think in every country in the world the readers know they are outnumbered by non-readers, and, after all, how can you complain about Barcelona where the entire city celebrates books with a special day every year when there’s the tradition of giving books as gifts to your loved one?

I wish we had that here in Scotland! (And in Scotland, traditionally people have read a lot – more than in England. It may have something to do with the weather, and the long nights in winter. Before television, there were only books to take your mind off the darkness outside.)

What is your opinion about the e-book?

Lisa Tuttle—The e-book is here to stay, for sure. Although I still love old-fashioned print on paper – what I still call “real books” – I find my e-book reader incredibly handy for when I am travelling. I will never have to run out of something good to read! Also, I have run out of space on the bookshelves, and even in the loft, but I still want to read new books. And, as my vision gets worse and I need more light and prefer larger print, e-books make it easier for me to read.

Although, I don’t know why, but “real books” make more of an impression on me; I seem to remember things I’ve read on the page more clearly than the books I read on a screen.

And finally, what counsel to all the writers that they begin in this difficult world?

Lisa Tuttle—Oh, dear, that is hard. I am inclined to say “keep your expectations low” – in terms of how easy it will be to get published or how much money you will be able to make – but at the same time, you must keep high standards; there is no point in writing unless you do your very best, so you must accept that it is hard work, not to be undertaken unless you love it and are willing to put all the time and energy into becoming the best writer you can be.

And don’t stop reading.

Thank you for the interview!

Soraya Murillo Hernandez

From  Soraya Murillo Hernandez: I am an early reader, I started reading very soon and I was interested in terror, I liked to look for monsters and ghosts in the stories. Then I knew that the greatest terror came from humans. I am a book reviewer in Spain, I do it free to help its authors to know their works.

Soy una lectora precoz, comencé muy pronto a leer y me interese por el terror, me gustaba buscar monstruos y fantasmas en las historias. Luego supe que el mayor terror venia de los humanos . Soy reseñadora de libros en España, lo hago gratis para ayudar a sus autores a conocer sus obras.

About Angela Yuriko Smith

Angela Yuriko Smith's work has been published in several print and online publications, including the “Horror Writers Association's Poetry Showcase” vols. 2-4, “Christmas Lites” vols. 1-6 and the “Where the Stars Rise: Asian Science Fiction and Fantasy” anthology. She has nearly 20 books of speculative fiction and poetry for adults, YAs and children. Her first collection of poetry, “In Favor of Pain,” was nominated for an 2017 Elgin Award.
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