Bright of the Sky: An Interview with Kay
of the Sky, the new novel by Pacific Northwest-based novelist Kay
Kenyon, is the start of a four-book series, The Entire and the Rose,
which is her first multi-title work; it appeared in April 2007 from
Pyr, an imprint of Prometheus Books, and received a starred review in
Publishers Weekly. Kenyon's novel Maximum Ice was a finalist
for the Philip K. Dick Award, and The Braided World was a finalist
for the 2004 John W. Campbell Award. In these and her other four novels
-- The Seeds of Time, Leap Point, Rift, and Tropic
of Creation -- Kenyon established a pattern of high-stakes, big-story
writing, in which plots build and build. Here she discusses the new
book, the series, and other writing topics.
Bright of the Sky is available through the
links at the end of this interview, in most bookstores, and signed copies
can be ordered online at Kay's website, www.kaykenyon.com.
Karen Fishler: Before
Bright of the Sky -- that is, before The Entire and The Rose,
of which Bright is the first part -- you wrote individual novels.
What possessed you to start a series?
Kay Kenyon: I sure wish someone had asked
me that before I started! Maybe there could have been an intervention....
But to answer you, I thought it would be a challenge. I like big stories,
and this would just be bigger, right? But that is only true if the novels
just share a universe and some characters, not a story arc. Because
I write intricate plots, carrying the story sensibly into Book 3 (which
I'm writing now) has been both torturous and sublime. By Book 2, even
small decisions can set off bombs in future books. Of course some of
the surprises are splendid (at least to me). But four years into this
series I'm managing -- sort of -- the high-wire act of projecting multiple
plots into the future. This may signal a major breakthrough in time
travel, or an unfortunate delusional sink hole.
KF: How was the process
different from that of writing a stand-alone novel?
KK: The planning consumed months. I kept
rewriting the synopsis, trying to find my story and give it enough launch
velocity. The challenge was to give each of the four books its own internal
story arc as well as a solid relation to the overall series arc. One
of the oddest aspects has been my sense of obligation, if you will,
to future books. Instead of devotion to this story, the current
story, I am negotiating with myself about changes to the future books.
Other than that, writing long stories or shorter ones is really always
about the current scene embedded in the through line. That is the dance
of novelists: the current scene and why, in the end, that scene matters.
KF: Was there a particular
inspiration for this series?
KK: Sometimes inspiration comes from
the right question. I asked myself how I could write an epic SF story
without much emphasis on space travel. I was tired of hand-waving around
the limitations of FTL travel; it is starting to annoy me with space
opera, and I am for some reason less interested in pretending it will
work. Thus a parallel universe. Or, more accurately, the tunnel universe.
KF: The setting for
Bright of the Sky is intensely visual and dramatic, with world walls
and a burning river in the sky. How do such ideas come to you?
KK: I'm afraid to ask. If I figure out
where bizarre ideas come from, will the analysis destroy the muse? To
mangle the uncertainty principal, it may not be possible to know both
the content of an idea and its origin. Another explanation -- and one
that I find somewhat disturbing -- is that I may have trained my brain
to seek out weird associations ... parts of my brain that I might otherwise
have used to learn Italian or understand my TV remote.
KF: The parallel universe
of the Entire is unusual for SF in that it has a geography. You call
it a radial universe. How can a universe have a shape?
KK: If there are many universes, they
may be contained by membranes (branes). Loosely imagined, we can picture
them probing each other in tunnels -- or at least I could imagine it.
The Entire is shaped like a starfish, with arms as long as a galaxy,
and radiating out from a hub. And then it begins to get outrageous.
I wanted to overwhelm the reader with strangeness, and then slowly build
the environment as a believable and seductive vision. Think of the things
we believe in our lives. Preposterous things, illogical things. If there
is an apparent integrity, an emotional rationale, a person can accept
impossible things like the storm walls of the world and the lid of bright
energy overhead. This is not true of most of my family members. They
keep hoping I'll write something true. (Sigh.)
KF: Bright is
a really big story, with multiple characters and a complex and extended
timeline. Complicating things is that a number of the point-of-view
characters are aliens. What would you say is the connective tissue of
a book that's taking on so much?
KK: Reviewers have been calling the world-building
in this book things like "unique," and "groundbreaking."
I'm glad it's making an impact, but the story's heart is really Titus
Quinn and his odyssey to reclaim his family. Family is a complicated
thing for Quinn. His is shaped not only by love and loyalty but betrayal
and transience. So the internal through line is whether he finds love
and whether, amid the large scale forces, it still matters. The external
one is which world will dominate and at what cost.
KF: Another striking
feature of the novel is that it contains such extreme ideas, yet it's
essentially a character-based story. How do you achieve the right balance
between your big concepts and the people (and aliens) you're writing
KK: You write a long book. Practically
speaking, it takes time to build world, plot and character. Another
answer is that the extreme ideas, both cultural and geographical, exact
an emotional reaction from the characters, particularly the human characters
engaging the new world. We see the Entire through their eyes, and this
lens distorts, interprets and is seduced by the bizarre world. So point-of-view
weaves character into the setting. The obverse is true with alien beings
coming to grips with human visitors.
KF: The main character,
Titus Quinn, is both an action hero, called upon to make physical choices
for himself and those he cares about, and a conflicted man, struggling
to find his way in ambiguous and morally confusing situations. What
was your approach to reconciling these contrasting hero types?
KK: I undercut the classic hero to create
a more nuanced protagonist. Titus Quinn has great courage, but that
quality is strained by moral ambiguity. He is, I believe, a hero to
root for -- despite one reviewer calling him an anti-hero. He's a man
who would die for his country, his world. But his world's demands and
his family's are in opposition. I ask the reader to share Quinn's uncertainty,
his irreversible choices, so that when he does act -- no matter how
troubling his decisions -- the reader doesn't lose faith in him.
KF: At first the Tarig,
the enigmatic master race of the Entire, are presented as malevolent.
This begins to change as the book progresses. Did you plan that evolution?
KK: No. The book was so complex that
I thought I'd keep some things, like the Tarig, simple. But the story
wouldn't let me. Quinn's moral dilemmas kept seeping over into his relationship
with the enemy. And to preserve the god-like reverence that the inhabitants
have for the Tarig, they must inspire loyalty.
KF: The Earth society
portrayed in Bright of the Sky is cruel to those of lesser IQ.
Do you see us heading in the direction of such a society?
KK: I didn't think of the Earth society
in the story as cruel -- just corrupt. People are taken care of; the
wealth is shared. I do explore how the Dole can enervate society, and
it's not pretty. As for the direction we're going in, yes, I think its
possible. In 300 hundred years people like me won't be any smarter;
we still won't be able to do advanced math and analysis, but the human
work left to us will require it. The complexity of physics and biology
may make the education most of us are capable of not only inadequate
KF: The society of
the Entire is based on Chinese culture. You've drawn on other non-Western
societies in your stand-alone novels. Why do you think you're so attracted
by other cultures?
KK: It gives me an anchor in my world-building,
keeping me tethered. There is so much richness and variety in what humans
have already developed: ancient China, the Catholic church, the Gypsy
culture. Extrapolating changes to these institutions gives the reader
a base of knowledge while enjoying the metamorphosis that SF tends to
KF: How has writing
this book, and planning the rest of the series, changed you?
KK: That's a hard one. I hope it hasn't
made me more compulsive, but I fear all those daunting notebooks sitting
on the shelf behind me! I have still to figure out who in this series
will be able to forgive what has been done. Deciding that may teach
me something about myself, because, in the end, you are always writing
about your own heart.
KF: Give us a hint
about Books Two, Three, and Four.
KK: Book 2, A World Too Near,
brings Quinn face-to-face with Armageddon and confronts him with a choice
between worlds; Book 3 brings Earth into the conflict in an extraordinary
way and pits father against daughter. Book 4 is the final confrontation,
reconfiguring both worlds. Throughout, there will be new powers introduced
or strengthened, including the godders, the telepathic Inyx, the navitars,
and the invading Paion, as well as further revelations about the world
including buried cities, the origin of the Tarig and the structure of
Karen D Fishler's short fiction has appeared in
Interzone, Realms of Fantasy, the British quarterly
The Third Alternative, and the webzine The
Infinite Matrix. Her story "Africa" is forthcoming
in Interzone. She is a graduate of Clarion West.
© Karen D Fishler 2007.
Elsewhere in infinity plus:
Elsewhere on the web: