Visit her website at http://www.catherynnemvalente.com, or find out more about her books:
1. Tell us a little bit about the road that led you to "Orphan's
Tales". No,this is not a "where do you get your ideas" question. It's
more a questions of "what roads did you travel to get here?"
I began writing The Orphan's Tales almost immediately after finishing my first novel, The Labyrinth. At that point I had no notion of ever being published, didn't feel I was in any way ready to compete at that level, and was really just trying to figure out what writing fiction was all about, having been exclusively a poet until then. I had been re-reading Arabian Nights and was struck by the structure, the nested stories, but more than that by the idea of a book that contained an entire culture in increments, stories like bricks in a building or slats in a ladder. I was deeply excited by the idea of trying to write an entirely created mythos, not in the sense of what Tolkien did, which is a single narrative with many tributary narratives branching off from it, but by focusing on the tributaries and allowing the single narrative to be suggested by filling in the space around it with tales that did not directly address it but fed from it nonetheless. If that makes sense.
In the end, that idea joined up with a lot of thoughts about the nature of family, knowing where you come from, every person being the nexus of an almost unfathomable number of stories simply by virtue of their birth. Everyone is part of a nested story system in a very real sense, their parents and cousins and grandparents, all their stories that touch shoulders and toes.
2. There is something both hyper-real and totally dreamlike about your
world. Where do you draw the boundaries of what-is and what-could-be
and even perhaps what-must-never-be? Can a writer ever live in a
single and precisely bordered world or are all of us doomed to travel
through the shadows from one wondrous realm to the next, bound to tell
I think the rules are different for each novel. You set your limitations and laws and only break them if it's really, really cool to do so. I allow the real world into the book I'm working on now, Palimpsest, in a way I would never allow it in The Orphan's Tales. As for how I live, how a writer lives...I think dwelling in books means you never live in one, singular world. Even simple objects resonate backwards and forwards, create associations that make them mythic--it's not just an apple, it's Eve and Snow White and Persephone and temptation and poison all in one. Everything is shadows, but everything is light, too, blinding light, and I think the choice you make as a human that consumes art is to see the strata of the quotidian, all the way down to dinosaur bones in your gasoline and all the way up to invisible pulsars in your night sky. It's not a bad trade for having your nose stuck in dead trees all the time.
3. I've seen the word "Scheherezade" bandied about as applied to your
"Orphan's Tales". Who do you think the true Scheherezade is here, you
or your storyteller character? How much of you is there in your girl
from the garden - alternatively, how much of her is there in you?
Well, I was a very lonely child. And I told stories compulsively--but I never had a prince. I told them to myself until someone at school caught me doing it and I was so mortified with embarrassment that it shut me up for a good long while. Of course any storyteller character has a relationship to the author, and to the other authors who come in contact with the book--we are always looking for myths for writers, aren't we? She is her own beast, though, and departed form authorial insertion a long time ago. But certainly she springs from my desperation and loneliness and feelings of abandonment as a child. If you write long enough, all your ugly, sad things come out sooner or later.
I will say though that one things struck me as I was getting ready for the sequel to be released: the girl in the garden started off alone, in the dark, friendless, much as I was when I started this book five years ago. I was adrift and searching and had very little in the way of human contact. But she ends the book as part of a family, and a very big story, much as I am now, part of a wide and varied tribe, having found a place in the world after all. I didn't intend that connection, but sometimes the subconscious is the smarter one, and it's there for all to see, now.
4.Storytelling has been around since the dawn of language. What do you
think makes the human mind and spirit so thirsty for tales?
Oh god, we just are, aren't we? That's like...why do we like to eat meat and drink water? Because we have sharp teeth and wet mouths and everything in our bodies was evolved to ingest them. I think as soon as one person wonders why the sun goes up on one side of the sky and comes down on the other, another person is ready with an amazing story about the land of night and the sun traveling under the earth. It's knee-jerk, it's instinct.
Maybe it's fear of death, too. For the Greeks to be forgotten was the most nightmarish fate imaginable, worse than actual death. But if you keep telling stories, Achilles never dies, you know? It's a way to ensure continuity, memory.
5. What was the most astonishing thing that happened to you while
engaged in creating the "Orphan's Tales" books? What was the scariest?
The scariest is always right before the book comes out, when there's total radio silence and you have no idea if anyone is going to read the damn thing, or like it if they do. You have to have a stomach of steel to get through that part, man.
As for most astonishing, I remember driving from Virginia to Ohio one night, and daydreaming, and the whole backstory for the girl in the garden just came to me, flooded my head, and I knew who she was and where she came from, why she was telling stories, the whole thing. I hadn't figured it out before, I was hoping it would come, and it did, just in one huge flash, and mostly because the highway is so inherently boring and monotonous. I had to pull over and scribble it all down before I forgot it.
6. If you had the opportunity to go back in time and tell a younger
version of you something that could change the course of her/your
life, what would it be?
Don't marry that boy, I'm telling you.
7. (if you wish to talk about it, and it doesn't have to be in great
detail if you don't care to do so) - Where are your stories taking you
to next? What do we have to look forward to?
I'm working on several books right now--one called Palimpsest which is an urban fantasy about a viral city only accessible in dreams, and one called The Spindle of Necessity about the Kingdom of Prester John. As well as a poetry collection, an SF novel, and a number of short stories.
I think ultimately I keep looking for a way to balance rich language with readability, and I'm getting better at it. I hope you can look forward to completely mad and wonderful worlds that never let you go.
Well, there you go. Any questions? Leave them for Cat in the comments!