Interview: Mercedes Lackey

Mercedes “Misty” Lackey is a fantasy stroyteller. Having penned over 140 novels and recorded nearly 50 songs, she has been called one of the “most prolific science fiction and fantasy writers of all time.”

Are social themes something you choose to explore with your writing?
I don’t set out to explore social themes as such. That would be writing to set forth a “message,” and that sort of polemic writing is generally heavy-handed and not terribly entertaining, in my opinion. Instead, if there are social themes, they come along as part of the story and the situation.

Velgarth is a world where some of your stories take place. Does having a designated setting help you to maintain a particular quality? What can you tell us about the initial creation of this world?
It’s always easier to take an already established setting than have to make up a new one every time you want to tell a new story. That’s one reason why fan-fiction is a good way to “get your feet wet” when you first start writing; the setting is already taken care of, you don’t have to do any world-building, and you are able to concentrate on story, characterization, and plot. Initially, I started with a very limited section of Velgarth and worked my way “outward” as I developed more of the world and the cultures in it. It’s a mistake to decide you have to build an entire world at the beginning as a new writer; it’s far too easy to get yourself lost in the world-building and never get to the story-telling at all.

Some of your poems have been set to music. How did you get started?
I started by writing them about other peoples’ work, and collaborating with several SF musicians. I learned how to play guitar (badly) so I could sing as well as just listen and write lyrics. The SF folk genre, known as “filk”, was already an established proposition at science fiction conventions by the time I started; it started before the Great Depression and was a standard feature of nearly every convention by the time I began participating. You can read all about it here.

Raptor rehabilitation is something that you and your husband have worked in. How does this influence your writing?
Knowing the ethology (the science of natural animal behavior) of raptors has enabled us to create very realistic and non-anthropomorphized creatures, both un-altered and intelligence-enhanced. Probably the most directly influenced by our rehabilitation work are the Gryphons and the Hawkbrother Bondbirds, although ethological influences come into play nearly every time we write animals into our stories. The most recent is in the Herald-Spy books, where one of the main characters has a form of telepathy with animals, which occasionally is less than useful, as she is unable to persuade kitchen cats to go look at something they are utterly uninterested in.

What advice do/would you give to younger writers?
Writers write. They don’t blog or tweet or Pinterest or talk about writing. They don’t discuss “what they’re going to do….when” or whine about having “writer’s block.” They don’t spend endless hours “researching” (i.e., pretending to research but really just following endless links online). They sit down on the chair and write the story. If they need to do research, they spend just enough time on it to get the exact answer they need, then go back to writing.

If you can’t write at least one page a day on your story, you’re not a writer. You probably already write more than that on your blog.

Do you have any plans for the future that you are particularly looking forward to?
I’m very excited about the new dystopian series I am writing for Hyperion/Disney, The Hunters. The first book was out in September, Hunter, and I am finishing the second book, Elite, right now.

I’m also looking forward to incorporating Sherlock Holmes into my Elemental Masters series with the next Elemental Masters book, A Study In Sable. Now that Sherlock Holmes is in public domain, it’s possible to do this (and this is a very, very good argument for copyright limitations.)

Are there other literary figures are you looking forward to incorporating into your work once they are in the public domain?
Well the only one I was likely to see in my lifetime was Sherlock Holmes. The only literary figure I would have liked a chance at writing is Modesty Blaise, but there is no chance she’ll go into public domain any time soon.

Do you think copyright law should be changed? If so, how?
I think the current limit, “life of the author plus 70 years” is utterly ridiculous. And it’s likely to get more ridiculous, current proposals are such that anything that’s not currently in public domain may never get into public domain. That’s not just ridiculous, it’s dangerous for creators. No one really ever makes something entirely new; we’re all inspired by other things. In my lifetime I’ve seen plenty of examples of people who clearly have been directly inspired by my works (as a for-instance, go look at the King’s Throne in Game of Thrones, then look at the drawing Larry did for the Throne of Swords in my Valdemar books). And that’s fine, that’s great, even if they never acknowledge the inspiration. But if you start getting corporations with the sole purpose of monetizing everything combing through creative works looking for something to sue over, you’re going to stifle creativity.

Look at the explosion of Sherlockian since Sherlock Holmes finally fell into public domain! Some fantastic movies, TV serials, re-imaginings, and re-stagings, none of which would have been possible and none of which were possible until Holmes was freed for creators to do what they liked with him.

I’ll just leave this little quote from Robert Heinlein here, written in 1939, before the internet, before television, and before the music revolutions of copyable tapes, CDs, and MP3s:

“There has grown up in the minds of certain groups in this country the notion that because a man or corporation has made a profit out of the public for a number of years, the government and the courts are charged with the duty of guaranteeing such profit in the future, even in the face of changing circumstances and contrary to public interest. This strange doctrine is not supported by statute or common law. Neither individuals nor corporations have any right to come into court and ask that the clock of history be stopped, or turned back.”


Written by Caitlin Holcomb

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