L.E. Modesitt, Jr. is known for his fantasy series, The Saga of Recluce, which is now on the 18th installment, as well as The Imager Portfolio, The Corean Chronicles Series, The Ecolitan Matter Series, The Forever Hero Series, and The Spellsong Cycle Series.
JMW: Hello, this is Jean Marie Ward for BuzzyMag.com With me today is L.E. Modesitt, Jr., the bestselling author of The Saga of Recluce, The Imager Portfolio, and many more novels and short stories. Welcome, Le.
L.E. Modesitt, Jr.: I’m glad to be here.
JMW: We’re glad to have you. The Heritage of Cyador marks the the 18th book in The Saga of Recluce. When you sat down to write the book that became The Magic of Recluce, did you ever anticipate setting so many books in the same world?
L.E. Modesitt, Jr.: No. I originally wrote the book as a challenge. I had written science fiction for almost 20 years and I won’t go into the grimy details of it. But essentially, I was given a challenge to see if I could write a fantasy. And because I didn’t like a lot of fantasy that was being written at the time some 25 years ago, I decided that I could and would write a fantasy with a logical workable magic system, a consistent economic system and a technology to match, which I didn’t believe had been done to that time. Frankly, I still don’t believe it had been done to that time. A lot of people have done much better since then but that was 25 years ago.
JMW: A lot has changed in the fantasy business in 25 years. The books span a period of about 1800 years. Was that scope — and it’s huge — always part of your master plan?
L.E. Modesitt, Jr.: No, I can’t say it was in a sense of being mere strictly 1800 years. I knew there was going to be a number of centuries between the pieces that I had in my mind. Because when I begin a book, I think unlike some authors, perhaps many, I already have a back history in mind. Because what a culture is, whether it’s fictional or real, if it’s going to be real, it has a history and you have to have some sense of what that history is or to me at least the society and characters don’t work.
JMW: So, do you develop your cultures and your histories for your stories before you sat down to write the first word?
L.E. Modesitt, Jr.: Yes.
L.E. Modesitt, Jr.: I actually outline things like the magic system, the geography, the culture, the climate, the institutions of that society. I have a vague idea of who the protagonist would be. But that’s pretty vague until I actually get the background nailed down.
JMW: So the culture comes first, not the characters?
L.E. Modesitt, Jr.: Yeah.
JMW: How do you keep track of all these? Notebooks?
L.E. Modesitt, Jr.: I have a pretty good memory. I also have some notes and the search file on the computer was really helpful.
JMW: It’s so great. So you actually put together your own wikis?
L.E. Modesitt, Jr.: No, not really. I just keep a lot of files.
JMW: Wow. Hey, that works. That works. You mentioned that you’ve been working on this for 25 years. That is a long time to me writing in any one world. What keeps the world and the stories fresh for you? Is it because you hopscotch around? Because I noticed that The Magic of Recluce was one of the later stories in the cycle. The Heritage of Cyador is going to be somewhere in the middle?
L.E. Modesitt, Jr.: Its actually closer to the front.
JMW: Yeah. What keeps it all fresh? Is it that?
L.E. Modesitt, Jr.: I do a lot of things. One of the things that I do, which most people don’t notice except a couple of types of readers is I have written literally all my books. But in the Saga of Recluce, I have written it from very different points of view. I have written books from the third person past tense, from first person past tense, and from the third person present tense, which drives some of my readers absolutely nuts. But the choice of a point of view, I think, is integral to best telling the story. Because if you’re doing, for example, third person present tense, which I’ll admit, alienates some readers, it draws the reader much closer to the character. And that changes the scope and the focusing of the novel. Likewise, if you’re using first person, it allows you to do some things that wouldn’t happen otherwise. Lerris was the main character of the first Recluce book, The Magic of Recluce, would come off as a complete spoiled brat if it were told from the third person. Told from his point of view, he comes off as only slightly spoiled, incredibly naive, and awfully clueless, but basically intelligent and goodhearted.
Seen from the outside, a reader wouldn’t see that. And you’d have to do so much explanation that it would destroy the story if you try to tell it from the third person. So there is a certain amount of method to my madness and varying at that way. The other thing is that I also change the characters. I mean, they literally range from Lerris, who’s roughly a 16-year old apprentice finished cabinet maker to Carol, who is a very much lower class cooper, who makes barrels, who is married and has two kids when the story opens.
JMW: Do you think that diversity of characterization and the diversity in telling the story is one of the things that keep the saga fresh for your readers and maybe keeps them coming back for more?
L.E. Modesitt, Jr.: I hope so. It certainly keeps it fresh for me.
JMW: So, do you ever speculate on what brings your readers to it or do they tell you? Because these days, readers can tell you anything.
L.E. Modesitt, Jr.: Readers will tell you a lot. I forgot who said it, but if you don’t write for yourself first, it’s not going to be true to anything. And writing anything is sort of a compromise between what is true to you and what will appeal to the readers. I’ve never professed to know the minds of millions of people. So I just try and keep the story true and hope that people like it.
JMW: Obviously, a lot of them do. Because The Saga of Recluce is not your only long running series. Next year, I believe, you will be bringing out the ninth volume in The Imager Portfolio?
L.E. Modesitt, Jr.: That’s right.
L.E. Modesitt, Jr.: And I’m working on the 10th one.
JMW: What a long running series! One of the things that intrigued me when I was reading about The Imager Portfolio was that magic didn’t just have a cost to the… It wasn’t just, “Oh, you do the spell, you’re going to get exhausted. Oh, you do the spell, there’s going to be an imbalance in the force for lack of a better terminology here. Chaos will explode if you organize something and order it. Order will tyrannize if you use too much chaos.” But in The Imager Portfolio, you have a real risk to your magic users every time they use it. How important is that sense of risk, not just to The Imager Portfolio but to all your stories?
L.E. Modesitt, Jr.: It’s incredibly important. From what I’ve seen in life, it does have a risk-reward balance. Anything which has a great potential reward has an equally great risk on a personal level. Now, one thing that some readers don’t get in some of my books is the risk is not always direct. There are some characters like Doran, who was probably almost impossible to touch, but he has deeply hurt anyway because of those he loves. We all have hostages to fortune. In some cases in some of my books, the characters act as they do, not because of the risk to themselves, but to the risk of those around them or for whom they care. And that’s a very real risk as well.
JMW: Yes. You tend to, in a little sense and a good sense, wear your heart in your sleeve in some of your books. You talk about risk and you can feel that risk to you as well as to your characters. I think that I saw that a lot in what I’ve read about the Ghost Trilogy. I think I mentioned that I thought that was a love letter. But you do talk about singing not only in The Ghost Trilogy, but in The Spellsinger series more than trilogy. But music was important to you before then. You were a poet?
L.E. Modesitt, Jr.: I started out writing poetry. I wrote poetry for almost 15 years before I’ve ever wrote a word of fiction.
JMW: How did that affect your fiction writing? How did that play into the writer you became?
L.E. Modesitt, Jr.: In a lot of ways. First thing is that it taught me every word counted. And actually, for about the first 10 years that I wrote fiction, one of the things my editor would keep saying to me is, “You’re too cryptic here. You’re condensed too much.” Now people would now say I may have gone too far on the other direction. But at least in the beginning, there was a certain amount of crypticness that was probably too cryptic for most readers when my editor got the manuscript.
JMW: What are you working on now?
L.E. Modesitt, Jr.: I’m actually working on the 10th book in The Imager Portfolio. Tentative title is The Trials of Lorien. I say that’s tentative because until I finish the book, any title is tentative. Then it’s still tentative when it goes to my editor. But definitely, it will be the 10th book in The Imager Portfolio. Also, I have a book that I just finished, which will be out next fall. It’s called Solar Express and it is extraordinarily hard science fiction. I mean, this is the knock-on-iron science fiction. It’s set about 100 years in the future and it deals with a female post-doc astrophysicist and a slightly older, space jockey pilot, taxi driver, so to speak, and an anomalous astrophysical object, which looks to be a comet.
JMW: That sounds promising. And how long has it been since you’ve written science fiction, hard science fiction?
L.E. Modesitt, Jr.: Just two and a half years. Actually, the last one came out about a year and a half ago. That was The One-Eyed Man.
JMW: Oh, yes. How could I forget? On that note, is there anything you’d like to add?
L.E. Modesitt, Jr.: Well, I do have one long term project, which won’t see light for at least several years. That is on the side, I have been writing original Recluce short stories. And there’ve been about four Recluce [inaudible 00:11:56] couple of short stories published in other forms, which… Those will be part of this work. But I want most of these short stories to be absolutely original for the readers. Because there’s lots of parts of the Recluce universe that really don’t demand a full novel, but they’re parts of characters and parts of things that I do like to illuminate, little stories that I’d like to tell. So there will literally be at some time in the future a Recluce tales book. And it’s probably about 80% finished at this stage of the game.
JMW: That’s so cool. I know your fans will look forward to that. Thank you, Le.
Jean Marie Ward writes fiction, nonfiction and everything in between, including art books, novels (2008 Indie Book double-finalist With Nine You Get Vanyr), and short stories such as WSFA Small Press Award finalist “Lord Bai’s Discovery” and “Personal Demons” in the award-winning anthology Hellebore and Rue. Her videos include author interviews and tutorials.