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These are interviews I can’t find online. Interviews that are available online can be found in the Links page, so that you can read the interview on the original site.

Two are interviews with Locus. “Moving Forward” was done in 1992, and “Springing Surprises” was published in 1996. Current and back editions of Locus are still available at Locus Online. Locus also often includes information about upcoming McKillip releases.

The third is a wonderful biography David Lunde, her husband, wrote for her for the 25th World Fantasy Convention. It is called “Voyages”.

Interviews and Articles

Click the interview name to read that interview.

  • Moving Forward - 1992
  • Springing Surprises - 1996
  • 1999 World Fantasy Con

Patricia A. McKillip:   Moving Forward

Locus, August 1992

Copyright Locus Publications, reprinted without permission.

“I started writing because I was too young to know better.  And I had an imagination, and I had to do something with it.  It’s still there – it doesn’t grow less with age.  In fact it seems, the more you use it, the more you have of it.   I’m pleased with all my books, but I don’t think any of them are perfect.   When I finish a book, I want to turn away from it and do something else that’s better.  So I feel uncomfortable when people tell me my best work was The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, which I wrote 20 years ago.  I’ve lost interest in doing young-adult books.  I’m over 40, I want to write about adults now.

“In a YA novel, you’re dealing with things appropriate to a young adult.”   Which doesn’t mean they have to be sanitized: Controversial things are appropriate to YA books. “Nobody wants to write about abortion in adult science fiction, because it’s an issue you’ve made your mind up on, and you don’t have to be polemic about it in fiction.  As far as writing about that for young adults, it’s very appropriate because it’s something they’re coming to grips with, and they need to think about and understand in ways that adult readers don’t, because they’ve already formed their opinions.  If you’re going to write about that, you would probably need to do it in a more contemporary novel, because the themes of science fiction are speculative, and you want to use your imagination and think of wild things to do with that.

“I have three different novels in the making at the moment, and I’m dying to finish them so I can think about new things.  There’s the sequel toThe Sorceress and the Cygnet.  Then I’ve got a ‘fine arts in space’ science fiction book, and a contemporary novel.  I’ve also got something else started, which might be a good fantasy to sell to make some money – which is a good and proper reason for me to be writing fantasy at this point.  I want to finish these books because I want to know what books are behind them, what books can be better than these.  There are ideas behind those ideas, wanting to come out.

“In fantasy, the problems are always basically the same, and in science fiction they rarely are.  In fantasy, the hero leaves home, goes on a quest, and comes back again.  And the landscapes are generally the same.  I know there are great exceptions, like urban fantasy.  Maybe what I’m trying to do is find different ways of writing fantasy too, so I won’t get tired of my own work.

The Sorceress and the Cygnet started out being one thing and turned into something totally different.  I had an urge to make the hero move from place to place.  Then he went and fell into a swamp, and got himself trapped in a house.   I was expecting to write just a plain, ordinary, male-oriented quest fantasy and that damn book just turned itself around and said, “No, you’re not doing this, you’re writing about women.”  I got so interested in the female characters, that’s the direction the book kept.  Essentially, it became a novel about women, and that’s what I think the sequel is going to be about.

“For a long time I fought against doing a sequel, because I was concentrating on doing something new and different every time.  But I was intrigued by this character in the swamp, and I felt I hadn’t really done her justice, so I wanted to go back to her.   She’s a very powerful character.  She’s a sorceress and a potential ruler at the same time, and she has a sense of humor.  The sequel is called The Cygnet and the Firebird.  It’s something I’ve never done before, which is two different points of view, both from inside women’s characters.  That’s not easy for me.   As Gene Wolfe pointed out, you can’t separate style from character, and if you have two totally different characters your style is apt to change.  What happened to me was, when my characters first got in a room together and started talking, everything just went dead.  I didn’t have that third style.  Now it’s getting easier.

“I just finished one of a series of novellas that Byron Preiss and Robert Gould came up with.  The theme of these novellas if fairyland and pollution.  They’re all going to be illustrated by Brian Froud, and I couldn’t turn that one down.  I did about 150 pages of story set on the Oregon coast in modern times.  The sea people come and shake the human people into an awareness that there’s a problem.  It’s basically like traditional seduction stories – sea people come up like the selkies or the lorelei and slowly seduce these people – but their intention is far different from anything we’re used to in fairytales.

“Somebody called my work “domestic fantasy” because all the kingdoms are so small and the households seem tiny and don’t get into social issues and things.   Maybe that’s why I like to write more science fiction, so I can get into that kind of thinking.

“I get fascinated by science fiction because the problems are so different.   You look outward, not inward like you do in fantasy.  You look outward to what society is doing and what it inhibits you from doing.  Also, I get intrigued by the science even though I don’t understand a lot of it.  I didn’t have great aspirations for writing science fiction, but I do like taking ordinary people with simple problems and sticking them in a situation in which extraordinary things happen.  Sort of like the magician in Fool’s Run.  All he was going to do was give a tour, and look what happened.  I enjoy working with stuff like that.

“I have been tinkering with another science fiction novel, which I refer to as my ‘fine arts in space’ book.  Basically, it’s about a museum curator who wants to take a traveling exhibit of interplanetary alien art to various planets in the system – and winds up in terrible hot water doing just that simple thing.  This is kind of a loose trading system, and they run into aliens who are interested in ancient civilizations with their own art.  These are collected in one huge museum, and he’s taking some of it out to put on a tour.

“I think a lot of why I write has to do with the landscape and the detail I want to put into it.  The science fiction book floated under my nose one day when I was watching TV and having a gin & tonic and reading Time magazine and doing something else.  All of a sudden I got this vision of a man doing something simple on another planet and having it turn absolutely chaotic.  I can’t remember what the central image was.  Just that juxtaposition of events is what fascinated me.   And what I would need to know:  there’s geology involved, there’s business, there’s space flight, and there’s art, which is the easiest part for me.  Then the characters.  I got the central character right off.  I could see him standing there.  And I wanted a woman character too, but she was more difficult.  Then the background started to come.

“I’m working on a purely contemporary novel too, about life in a small village.   It has a little bit of fantasy in it but it certainly wouldn’t be considered a fantasy.  It is a project that always appealed to me.  What I’d like to do is a modern retelling of The Scarlet Letter.  I find the themes in that fascinating – the Victorian’s idea of women.  The idea of someone torn between god and passion, and all that kind of stuff.  And the landscape – the forest, the tangled woods.   I want to say:  Look, this was the way it was told, but this is how it really is.  A woman is not a symbol.  And what would she be like in a modern age?  Also, what would constitute such hypocrisy and such terrible guilt in this age?  There’s nothing much that people feel guilty about anymore, so it’s an interesting problem.  It takes a special kind of person to feel guilty.  So what would cause a modern-day priest to feel this guilty?  I haven’t ironed out all the details yet, but I’m tinkering with it.  Also, there are a lot of little bits and pieces of folklore associated, because religion is essentially ritual, seasonal ritual.   It really has a feeling for the change of seasons.  It makes for good atmosphere.  A few Halloween demons in there.

“Why do I want to write the contemporary novel and the science fiction?   I guess it’s just a matter of creating landscapes.  If I dream up a strange planet with aliens on it, then I want to write about that, but at the same time I’m living in this tiny little village, so it’s interesting to write about that too.  I can’t seem to combine them.  What I want to try to do is use or refer to landscape in the same way early American writers did, like Melville and Hawthorne.  The forest was, to them, a symbol of something tangled and wild and passionate.  And Melville used the sea as an entity that people respond to.  I think it’s easy to do in the Catskills, where I live.  People go out in the morning and the first thing they do is look at the sky and discuss the weather.  As far as landscapes in science fiction – I’ve crossed a few deserts in my life, but I don’t want to put those deserts in  my head in the places that they were in life.  I don’t want to put the Tucson desert around Tucson.  I want to stick it on another planet.

“When I was a teenager writing, I remember thinking this was the one place – when I had that pen in my hand and that paper in front of me – where I could tell the truth.   You have to spend so much time being this for one person, being that for another.   But what I wanted to do before was always move forward.  I didn’t want to stop and examine things, I just wanted to keep the plot going.  I didn’t want to slow the reader down, slow myself down from these other things I wanted to explore.  Now it’s different.  I suspect it has something to do with being over 40.  The themes of adolescence aren’t my primary concerns now.  What those concerns are, I guess I’ll have to wait another 20 years to find out!”

Patricia A. McKillip:   Springing Surprises

Locus, July 1996

Copyright Locus Publications, reprinted without permission.

Patricia Anne McKillip was born February 29, 1948, in Salem Oregon – a leap year’s child.  Educated at San Jose State University in California, she received a B.A. in 1971 and an M.A. in English in 1973.  She published two short children’s books in 1973, The Throme of the Erril of Sherill and The House on Parchment Street.  Her first longer novel, the sophisticated young-adult fantasy The Forgotten Beasts of Eld(1974), won the 1975 World Fantasy Award.  She switched to children’s mainstream for The Night Gift (1976), but returned to young-adult fantasy in the ‘Riddle of Stars’ trilogy The Riddle-Master of Hed(1976), Heir of Sea and Fire(1977) and Harpist in the Wind(1979) – after which she turned away from the field in a move she thought would be permanent.  but after writing Stepping from the Shadows(1982), an adult contemporary novel with some magical realist elements, she returned with YA science fantasy duology Moon-Flash(1984) and The Moon and the Face(1985).  Her adult SF novel Fool’s Run(1987) was followed by YA fantasy The Changeling Sea(1991).  Since then, she has written the fantasy duology The Sorceress and the Cygnet(1991) and The Cygnet and the Firebird(1993), Brian Froud’s Faerielands: Something Rich and Strange(1994), plus two stand-alone fantasies, marked by great sophistication and elegance:  The Book of Atrix Wolf (1995) and Winter Rose(1996).  After living for years in San Francisco, McKillip, on impulse(!), bought a farmhouse in a small town in upstate New York, nearly five years ago.

“You can get pretty indrawn in a big city, in a way you can’t in a tiny village where everybody‘s watching you!  I bought this house, and every single inch needed renovating.  It was an impulse purchase.  I’d never even bought a can of paint in my life before I moved in there, so I had to explore hardware stores, learn how to wallpaper, learn how to change a toilet seat – just all kinds of things I’d never done before.  And I had to approach people in a way I hadn’t had to do in the city, because I had a landlord.

“But I found people pretty accommodating.  They were used to people coming up from the city, buying second homes, and then going, “Well,now what do we do?”  As far as my being a single woman, I’m sure there’s a lot of curiosity about that, but nobody – except for some local little boys – ever gave me a really hard time about that.  There are a lot of women who have been married 30 years, they’ve left their husbands, and they live alone in big houses that need renovating, so the men understand that women can live alone in those circumstances.

“As for my being a writer, they’re beginning to know my work.   The kids in the school about a quarter of a mile down the road from me started reading my books long before the adults did.  There are a lot of little writing classes for adults springing up there, and people who are in them write about life in the Catskills, or their own lives, and they’re wary of fantasy.  Most of them haven’t read my books, although I gave them James Morrow’s Towing Jehovah, and they got the biggest kick out of that one!  They don’t understand the basics of what goes into fantasy, really.

“Maybe a lot of the faerie in Atrix Wolf and Winter Rose comes from my move east.  Instead of being surrounded by the landscapes in California – vast distances and mountains and everything else – I’m surrounded by these little woods, and they’re definitely ‘fairytale’ woods, especially when you look at them in certain casts of light and can’t quite see what’s in them.  That’s where the story begins, when you start wondering about what lies in these woods.  Exploring that aspect of faerie is a consequence of living where I live.  Village life also enters into it, in Winter Rose especially.  They’re out of the castle, into the farm.  By now, I’m a little tired of cows…

“In the last interview [Locus #379], I talked about a ‘fine arts in space’ novel I was working on.  It had some neat characters, and I had this fascinating plot, and I was doing all kinds of research for it, and I suddenly realized that I simply was not doing it well.  The characters seemed to be coming out of a PBS series of the British Raj, rather than science fiction!  I was trying to write adult science fiction, but I realized for what it was, it was pretty boring science fiction – so I went back to writing fantasy.

“What I think is fascinating about science fiction these days is that they’re doing such wonderful things, and it’s taking on this completely different turn from fantasy.  Things like Mother of Storms, Red Mars, Moving Mars, that stuff fascinates me because I can’t do it, and yet I think it’s well done.   It’s a whole different kettle of beans in fantasy.

“At least my fantasy heroes are getting older.  In Atrix Wolf, the mage was definitely ancient, and in the one I’ve got going now, Songs for the Basilisk, I’ve got a middle-aged hero.  I like writing the stuff I’m doing now, because it is more adult, and I find myself doing things I’ve never done before even if the context is still fantasy.  In The Book of Atrix Wolf, Something Rich and Strange, and Winter Rose, faerieland does crop up, and it’s a bitch to write about!  I find it enormously difficult, because the characters tend to be rather static compared to regular people, but for some reason I keep being drawn to it.   I’m hoping that Winter Rose was the last of my forays into faerieland.

“I think readers like faerieland because it is a source of power, a source of imagination which becomes a very powerful tool.  Maybe that’s why I keep digging into it, because it is something that’s totally imaginative, and yet it’s also a very ancient way of looking at the world.  The first way I’ve handled it lately was in Something Rich and Strange, which was a sort of faerieland at the bottom of the sea.  In that one, the characters moved out of the sea onto land and became semi-human, but they were also symbols.  Maybe people look at these characters as symbols of something they want to be or to have.  It’s also a way of looking at real people.  If you look at a person that way, they become more powerful because you don’t know them; all you can see of that person is something that you want to be or to possess.  Maybe that’s partly where faerie comes from.

“It’s certainly something I was trying to get at in Winter Rose.   That was an enormously difficult novel, because I was trying to write about obsessive love, but it turned into a love story – though I was fighting it all the way!   I made the mistake of framing it around the ‘Tam Lin’ story, which of course is a love story.  I didn’t realize it quick enough, so I spent the next year making it a love story.  Faerieland in there was a very dangerous place to be.  The characters there were out of the Wild Hunt, really not very nice people.  It’s the wicked queen, who doesn’t really have any motivation, except that she wants to be wicked.   One of the reasons I wanted to do the ‘Tam Lin’ story was that I did want to change they myth a bit.  It’s a transformation tale, but it’s always the male who gets transformed.  Janet has her child, and that’s her transformation.  She’s very brave and courageous, but I wanted to write a story about a woman who had to transform herself, rather than rescue somebody else by his transformation.   Instead of having a child, she bears herself in a certain way.

“I’m doing a lot more short fiction than I’d been doing for a long time.  I think all my stories surprise me, stylistically if not in content.   Some of them grew out of things I thought might be novels, like The Snow Queen, which I did for Terri Windling for Snow White, Blood Red.  WithTransmutations, I was trying to start a fantasy novel, but it turned into a short story.  I knew the plot, but stylistically it was so tight, that’s what intrigued me about it.  It did some things I didn’t know I could really do.  What I like about writing short fiction is that I can experiment a little more without committing to a very long piece of work.   Although I don’t think writing short pieces is at all simple, you can do different things with it – and I surprise myself  little more easily, sometimes, than in a novel.

“Another short story that grew out of an idea for a novel was the one David Hartwell took for his Best Science Fiction of the Year anthology,Wonders of the Invisible World.  That was the story with Puritans in it, and they came out of doing research for an entirely different novel, a contemporary novel I’ve been tinkering with off and on these past few years, a retelling of The Scarlet Letter, as I mentioned in the 1992 interview.  I was reading a biography of Cotton Mather, and it’s utterly fascinating, because he was so possessed.  His imagination was just completely off the wall!  And he was a very dangerous character because of that.   He really did need to sit down and write a fantasy, instead of doing what he did in life!  So I wrote that sort of half-historical story, which I then brought forward into the science fiction era.  It was interesting to me, because I’d never done a thing like that before in my life.  When I got done with it, I was saying, “What is this? Qu’est-ce-que c’est?‘  I sent it to a couple of people, and they didn’t know what to make of it either, but David Hartwell finally bought it.

“I keep saying I’m going to do one more fantasy and then life is going to change and I’m going to do contemporary fantasies or contemporary novels or just anything different.  But I said after I finished the Riddle of Stars trilogy that I’d never write fantasy again.  So you can see some things never change!

“I went through decades of writing fantasy and telling myself “this has nothing to do with me – it’s just fantasy.”  Then damned if that book doesn’t catch you somewhere, and you realize suddenly that all these things are crowding into your head from your life, and you’re sitting there writing what you think is fantasy – and it just makes a jigsaw puzzle.  You cannot write without writing about yourself, but sometimes it’s so disguised you don’t recognize it.  The interesting thing is that when you’re not trying to examine yourself, and you don’t really want to – all you want to do is make a buck – then you find yourself in there.

“I always think I know what I’m doing until I don’t have the vaguest idea!  The book I’m working on now, Song for the Basilisk, is a case in point.   I wanted it to be something simple and quick, and with some sense of humor, because Winter Rose and Atrix Wolf were kind of grim books to write.  This one I just wanted to write for enjoyment – and it’s not gonna do it for me!  Suddenly something started ballooning out, that’s another novel entirely.  And of course this is after I sold it.  I think, after a lot of soul searching, the two sections are going to fit together, but it’s not easy.  I’m also finding out more about myself when I’m writing, which is not a very comfortable process, and not what I intended to do.   But you’re more likely to look back when you hit middle age.  The book’s middle-aged hero has got to come back and reclaim his heritage, but I can’t figure out what the hell he’s been doing for 45 years until then!  Where’s his wife and children and his normal life?  You have to have these little practical details.  I don’t think there’s any faerie in it – but I wouldn’t swear to anything at this point!

Winter Rose and Songs for the Basilisk have definite springs in real life, and yet for some reason they insist on being fantasy novels, instead of contemporary novels.  That’s something even I don’t quite understand.  The hardest thing of all is writing a contemporary novel with the power of a fantasy.   That’s what I’d really like to do, but I don’t quite know how.  Maybe I have to make them fantasies because I have a big imagination, and it won’t shut up!”

Patricia McKillip
David Lunde

from Voyages, the 25th World Fantasy Convention Book (1999)

In her July 1996 Locus interview, Patricia McKillip expressed her surprise that elements of her real life were turning up in her fantasies: “I went through decades of writing fantasy and telling myself ‘this has nothing to do with me – it’s just fantasy.’  Then damned if that book doesn’t catch you somewhere, and you realize suddenly that all these things are crowding into your head from your life, and you’re sitting there writing what you think is a fantasy – and it just makes a jigsaw puzzle.   You cannot write without writing about yourself, but sometimes it’s so disguised you don’t recognize it.”  I am going to illustrate a few of these connections, but don’t get excited, this isn’t an expose – if you want the juicy parts you’ll have to see me in private and bring lots of money.

Patricia McKillip was born February 29, 1948, a leap-year child, which initial separation from the common herd of us who have to count our birthdays year by year seems quite appropriate for a writer whose work has been distinguished from the beginning by its originality and elegance. She was born in Salem, Oregon, and her mother and older sister Carol still live near the Oregon coast in the small town of Coquille.  Pat loves the seacoast with its spectacular cliffs and huge basalt dolmens looming out of the surf and fog, and likes to go for long walks on the beach.  Her four other siblings are scattered up and down the Pacific Northwest.  Shira Daemon, reviewing Pat’s 1996 novel, Winter Rose, says “in this novel, as in her Riddlemaster trilogy, the power of family–and love those bonds create for the larger, world community–shines through.”  [Locus, March 1997]  Having participated in several McKillip family reunions, I can attest that her own family is the source of this confidence in the strength of family love–and the power of love in general; as Daemon points out later in the same review:”…in nearly all McKillip novels, the cure for evil is the same:  be true to one’s self and love others enough to set them free.”

Pat’s father was an Air Force officer, and between 1958 and 1962 he was stationed in Germany and England and took his family.  That experience as a pre-teen undoubtedly stimulated Pat’s imagination with its new landscapes, languages and societies.   For a person as sensitive as she, it must have quite overwhelming.  Some of this is clearly reflected in Stepping from the Shadows (1982), a non-fantasy novel which theEncyclopedia of Science Fiction refers to as “possibly autobiographical.”  However, while the young female protagonist does resemble the author to some extent, and this is the most personal of her novels, it would be a mistake to read this as straight autobiography–the protagonist may be an alternate-universe McKillip, but she is not identical to our own Patricia McKillip.

Pat attended San Jose State earning her B.A. in 1971 and M.A. in 1973, the year she also published her first two books, The Throme of the Erril of Sherrill and The House on Parchment Street, which she had been writing while she was supposed to be studying.  Of course this is what she had done all her life; she has told me that she used to lock herself in the bathroom as a child and tell herself stories–rather short stories, I imagine, with the number of people in the family.

Her next book, a longer YA fantasy, The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, won the 1975 World Fantasy Award.  Not having known that there was such an award, and never having heard of H. P. Lovecraft, when she received Lovecraft’s head in the mail her reaction was, “What the #@*!!$ is this?”

Pat’s deep love of music–she plays piano for her own pleasure–shows up frequently in her books, most noticeably in Fool’s Run and Song for the Basilisk.   She is also very knowledgeable about cooking, as any reader who has drooled over the descriptions of feasts in the Book of Atrix Wolfe knows full well.  I have often been the happy beneficiary of her culinary skill–which may be why I’ve begun to pork out in recent years.

In her most recent novel, Song for the Basilisk, an older, established bard advises the protagonist on the use of words: “You must make them new as if you had never spoken them before.”  This is what Patricia McKillip has been doing all her life, to her readers’ delight and it is good advice for all of us.   I am hoping that as her familiar, some of the sorcery will rub off on me.

Pat has published two pieces of short fiction this year, “A Gift to be Simple” in the anthology Not of Woman Born, edited by Constance Ash, and “Toad” in Windling and Datlow’s Silver Birch, Blood Moon.  Her new novel, The Tower at Stony Wood, should appear in the near future.