JANE: So, Alan, these last couple of weeks we’ve been talking about authors who write in more than one genre. Up to this point – other than asking Gerry Hausman how he and Roger Zelazny came to write Wilderness – we’ve mostly been speculating.
What do you think about asking a couple of writers why they made the choices they did?
ALAN: I think that’s an excellent idea.
JANE: Although there are many writers who work in more than one genre, I thought I could ask three I know fairly well, since they live here in New Mexico: Pati Nagle, Walter Jon Williams, and John Maddox Roberts.
Are you familiar with their works?
ALAN: I’m very familiar with Walter Jon Williams’ SF but I’ve never seen anything by him that wasn’t SF. I’ve read and greatly enjoyed John Maddox Roberts’ SPQR historical mysteries. I’ve only read one book by Pati Nagle, an excellent SF novel called Pet Noir about the adventures of Leon, a genetically modified cat. I also have a historical novel by her – it’s called Glorieta Pass. But I haven’t read it yet.
I suppose the obvious first question is, where did they all start? And what made them start there?
JANE: Let me ask them… Hang on!
Okay. I’m back. I found the answers quite interesting.
Most of our readership would be most familiar with Walter Jon Williams as a writer of SF, occasionally of Fantasy, but he actually started by publishing historical novels – although this was more by chance than otherwise.
Let me put it in Walter’s own words:
“That’s kind of a complex question, because I’ve been writing since I was a child. I wrote and submitted in practically all genres, but the first books to actually sell were historical fiction.
I didn’t set out to be a historical fiction writer, it was editors who decided that, by buying the Privateers & Gentlemen series. “
ALAN: I’ve never heard of that series. What are the books about?
JANE: They’re grand “Age of Sail,” I believe in the same time period as the Patrick O’Brien “Aubrey and Maturin” novels. After being out of print for a long time, they’re now available as e-books.
ALAN: That’s interesting. I love “Age of Sail” novels. (Alan does a google). Ah, here we are – all the novels are available as an ebook bundle from Baen books at a very reasonable price.
Clicketty-click. Click, click.
OK – I’ve bought them
JANE: That’s interesting. I didn’t realize they were available there. I’m sure they are on other platforms as well, for those who prefer them.
Now, John Maddox Roberts has also written SF/F, but he’s probably best known for his SPQR Roman mystery novels. Indeed, he’s been interested in writing historical novels all along, but his Rome was not his first choice.
Again, he explains the start of his writing career far better than I can:
“In 1973-74 my wife, Beth, and I were living in Scotland. I’d been planning to start writing seriously, so I borrowed a typewriter from our local baker and hammered out two books over a period of several months. The first was a straight historical novel, set during the Hundred Years’ War. It was a novel I’d been planning for some time but I was also an avid SF reader and had some ideas for a science fiction novel so I tackled that next. When we returned to Albuquerque in early 1975 I sent the sf novel to Doubleday because I’d been told they had a new sf editor who was looking for new talent. She bought it and I decided to concentrate on sf for the next few years. I’d sold my first novel to the first publisher I submitted it to and I was also told that wasn’t supposed to happen.”
ALAN: I first came across John Maddox Roberts with the SPQR novels and I absolutely loved them. But because of that, something in my head says that he is a historical novelist and therefore I have a deep reluctance to read his SF. Clearly this makes no sense, and I’m being stupidly biased. But nevertheless…
JANE: That is a problem for writers who write in more than one genre, and one reason that so many who do use more than one name.
Pati (who publishes as Pati Nagle, P.G. Nagle, and Patrice Greenwood) also was interested in multiple genres pretty much from the start.
As she says: “I’ve always made up stories about whatever caught my imagination, so it’s hard to identify a single genre. My first experiments in writing for publication were science fiction, followed by fantasy. My first short story sale was fantasy. My first novel sale was historical fiction.”
ALAN: It sounds like she has had a foot in every camp right from the very beginning. Good for her. How many feet has she got? (Don’t answer that!)
Could you ask them why they’ve ended up writing the kind of things that their names are (these days) most closely associated with?
JANE: I could indeed ask, but since I suspect their answers will be fulsome and thoughtful, and may lead to other questions, how about we chat about that next week?