Diane Duane has been a writer of science fiction, fantasy, TV and film for more than thirty years. Besides the 1980’s creation of the Young Wizards fantasy series for which she’s best known, the “Middle Kingdoms” epic fantasy series, and numerous stand-alone fantasy or science fiction novels, her career has included extensive work in the Star Trek TM universe, and many scripts for live-action and animated TV series on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as work in comics and computer games. She has spent a considerable amount of time on the New York Times Bestseller List and has picked up various awards and award nominations here and there. For more info, visit her website.
Let the conversation begin!
What initially drew you to writing?
I think the realization, when I was very young, that nobody seemed to be writing exactly what I wanted to read. I wrote my first novel when I was about eight –I say “novel” advisedly: I thought of it as a book, though it was only about thirty pages long. (Don’t ask me what it was about… that I don’t remember.) But I illustrated it myself, and drew a cover for it, because I thought that was what you had to do if you wanted to write books. It makes me laugh a little, because now that I’m bringing out some of my own books in new editions, I’m doing the same thing… just with better tools.
What was your favorite book to write?
That’s a hard question to answer – it’s kind of like asking a parent which of their children is the favorite. In terms of work in other peoples’ universes, I think my favorite was probably SPOCK’S WORLD: I love Star Trek very much, and getting a chance to write a whole book about Vulcan (and Vulcans) was a lot of fun. In terms of my own original worlds, again it’s hard to choose – but I had a whole lot of fun just now with A WIZARD OF MARS, which was the ninth of the Young Wizards books. They seem to be getting more fun as I go along.
Who is your favorite author?
I have a lot of authors I read again and again – greats like Kipling and Twain and Dickens, and contemporaries like Tanith Lee, C. J. Cherryh: also Robert Heinlein, C. S. Lewis, Fletcher Pratt… so many others. But for sheer escapism, I always seem to turn to E. R. Eddison – especially the Zimiamvian Trilogy and THE WORM OUROBOROS. Eddison is one of those writers who deserves to be much better known. When Tolkien was just getting his first book published, Eddison was the hottest new name in fantasy, and Tolkien’s publisher asked him to write a blurb for THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING. Someone like that is worth reading…
Where do you get your ideas?
A lot of them come from the news. In fact it’s kind of hard for me to go through a normal day without getting an idea for a novel or a short story or something similar. The problem is that it’s easy to have ideas: they’re a dime a dozen. Working out what to do with them, and then doing it well enough to be worth showing to other people – that’s what’s really hard.
Tell us about the book you’re working on.
I’ve just barely finished pulling together an anthology of some of my fantasy short stories, called UPTOWN LOCAL AND OTHER INTERVENTIONS, and now I’m busy with the tenth Young Wizards novel, which is called GAMES WIZARDS PLAY. (At least that’s the working title: if I find a better one while I’m working, I don’t mind changing it.) It has to do with a periodic meeting of the most talented young wizards on the planet as they compete to create spells powerful enough to change the world. But there’s a lot more than that going on around the edges.
The participants find themselves caught up into a completely different level of competition, first among themselves, and then against other powers that become involved in what’s called “the Invitational”. And as a result, some of the personal business that’s been set up in the last few books among the main characters starts to develop in some very unusual directions… I hope you’ll forgive me for being sort of vague about this, but the subject is strewn with possible spoilers and I want to avoid making the Young Wizards fandom crazy….
What advice would you give young writers?
To become a better writer, you need to read widely. Read not only things you like, but things you think you won’t be interested in. And especially, read outside of your main period of interest. Every literary time period has its own fads, mannerisms and blind spots: it also has kinds of writing it does better than any other time period. Learn from the mistakes (and virtues) of older writers and you can add the virtues to your own skill set while avoiding the errors.
As you start to improve your grasp of what constitutes good writing… write. Write every day. One of my mentors told me, “The first million words are for practice.” I would add a corollary to that: I don’t think it’s possible to write a million words – assuming you’re also seeking out good writers to read and learn from — without becoming at least a pretty fair writer. So get started.
What is the most valuable advice you’ve ever received?
A very senior writer once told me never to be satisfied with what I wrote yesterday – to always, while rereading and revising, look for ways to do it better the next time. Swing out further, be bolder thematically, try harder to craft the perfect sentence or paragraph, challenge your characters in ways you didn’t think to challenge them yesterday, deal with subjects that scare you or that feel like they’ll be difficult to handle. Don’t be afraid to fail at this. If you do fail, don’t be frustrated: try again, and next time, fail better. The only writer who’s failed is the one who’s stopped trying to surpass himself or herself.
When are you the most productive?
Afternoons, usually. Mornings around our place tend to get taken up with household stuff, for me at least. By early afternoon I can settle in and get serious work done. Normally I write for five or six hours at a clip before needing to knock off and get something to eat.
Are your characters completely fictional?
Characters I like are sometimes partially based on real people. In fact it would be safe to say that the only real people who make it into my books are friends of mine. People I don’t like in the real world never make it into my books, either as good guys or bad guys. Generally speaking, though, most of my characters are composites of many people that I’m acquainted with or just know about.
Two possible answers to this: a vacation that might happen in the medium-term future, and one that I’d really like to have but don’t know if I can find time or opportunity. In the first case: there’s a beautiful, isolated spa town in the Swiss Alps called Leukerbad. I’d love to go up there for about ten days and do nothing but soak in hot water and develop new story ideas. (The banner image in the left-hand column at DianeDuane.com was taken up there.) In the second case – I’d like to rent an RV and drive around central Europe for a few months with my husband, shopping in local food markets, cooking and eating the local foods, and blogging about it…. And then write a cookbook about it afterwards.