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Answers to Questions Asked and Unasked

Last Updated on 10 January 1998

Some people think you're a woman writing under a pseudonym. Why do you write under the name L.E. Modesitt, Jr.?

That's the abbreviated form of my full name -- Leland Exton Modesitt, Jr. I adopted it for simplicity's sake long before I even thought about becoming a science fiction writer.

How many Recluce books will there eventually be?

I honestly cannot say how many Recluce books there will be after Colors of Chaos, although my present feeling is that the bulk of the Recluce books have been written.

Have you thought about writing other fantasies?

I have, and that was why I began the books in the Spellsong Cycle [The Soprano Sorceress and The Spellsong War].   I don't know what other fantasies I might tackle after the third book in that series, but I probably will try other fantasy themes.

How did you get into writing?

Originally, I thought I'd be a poet. I even got some poems published in small (very small!) magazines. Then, when I was in my late twenties, someone asked me why I didn't write science fiction, since I'd grown up reading it. I wrote a story and sent it to Analog, and it was eventually bought. Then I got a few more stories accepted, and a lot more rejected, until Ben Bova suggested I should write novels. Since then, I've sold every F&SF novel I've written (so far, anyway.)

Why do you deal with so many environmental and political themes?

I don't know that I do, except in the sense that any story has to have a environmental and political background that impacts on the culture and the events. As a writer, I don't believe you can ignore details just so you can get to the "goodies" of battles and mayhem.

You write about large schemes, but they're almost in the background compared to the characters. Why?

Probably because of my experience in the military and in national politics. In real life, almost no one really deals with those issues first. They're concerned with themselves, their lives, their loves, their survival. It's a little unrealistic to write about grand and selfless heroic characters. After all, even George Washington sold shoddy sandstone to Congress for the U.S. Capitol. The real triumph is when a character can put aside personal gain and do the right thing -- but it's never easy and it's never without a tremendous personal cost.

Don't you give a reader too many details?

Heinlein once wrote that there were no new plots, and he was right. Shakespeare cribbed most of his ideas from others. The difference -- the sole difference -- between good writing and bad writing is in the handling of the details. One reviewer once wrote that a book I wrote was unnecessary, because another book mentioned the outcome already. By such lights... no book is necessary, since in the vast majority of cases we know that some of the heroes will survive and/or endure -- or the book wouldn't be that long and the publisher wouldn't publish it. It's not that the protagonists endure; it's how they endure.

Also, years ago, I was brought up short by one of my daughters. She's now a doctor and has done research in biochemistry along the way. So she's very bright technically. But... she just said, "I hope you don't mind, dad, but I skip over the battle scenes. I'm more interested in the people." And details make the people.

What other books are you working on?

Currently, as of early 1998, I'm working on another hard SF book, a future earth theme dealing with the ultimate result of the implementation of nanotechnology.

Why do you mess around with different points of view and tenses?

It's not so much a question of messing around or trying to make things difficult for the reader. I believe that certain stories are better told from different perspectives and different tenses. And different readers react differently. For example, The Towers of the Sunset was written in third person present tense, and I've received a few letters and AOL and Internet postings bemoaning this. Yet this was the first book of the Recluce series that my British publisher had to reprint. I'm not interested in formula writing -- except in the general sense that my characters learn something and suffer a lot along the way. The Soprano Sorceress is another example. It's told from the viewpoint of an older woman with grown children who is a singer and voice professor who has been dumped into a highly chauvinistic world where song/music control magic. A younger character would simply get killed, and probably quickly. Anna has the experience with disappointment and suffering and the guts to understand what she can and cannot do. No, she's not a "Rambolina" type, but neither is she a schemer or a long-suffering heroine.

What's the story behind your cross over from SF to fantasy?

In a way, it was a personal challenge, as well as a professional one.  I didn't see very many authors writing logically-based, alternate world fantasies that didn't rely on pretty standard myths.  I wanted to try something different, especially since several other authors, who shall remain nameless, hinted that I was likely to be unsuccessful at it.

In the "also by" section of "Dawn for a Distant Earth" it mentions the title "Zyelyoniy" as forthcoming. What happened to it?

Zyelyoniy is an approximation of the Russian word for "Green."   The book was published as The Green Progression because the TOR sales force complained they couldn't sell a book whose title they couldn't pronounce.  They didn't do a very good job, even with a pronounceable title, but then perhaps we didn't write that salable a book because it's probably too accurate for most people to swallow -- or enjoy.