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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Excerpts from Interview with Octavia Butler

    Discussion in 'Articles' started by Wreybies, Apr 24, 2015.

    In Motion Magazine
    March 14, 2004
    By Joshunda Sanders


    Joshunda Sanders: People attach a lot of titles to you –

    Octavia Butler: Please don't call me the grand dame. Someone said it in Essence and it stuck.

    Joshunda Sanders: You're annoyed by it?

    Octavia Butler: Well, it's another word for grandmother! I'm certainly old enough to be someone's grandmother, but I'm not.

    Joshunda Sanders: What about the science fiction or speculative fiction titles attached to your work?

    Octavia Butler: Really, it doesn't matter. A good story is a good story. If what I'm writing reaches you, then it reaches you no matter what title is stuck on it. The titles are mainly so that you'll know where to look in the library, or as a marketing title, know where to put it in the bookstore so booksellers know how to sell it. It has very little to do with actual writing.

    Joshunda Sanders: Have you found that it intimidates African Americans, in particular?

    Octavia Butler: No. I think people have made up their minds that they don't like science fiction because they've made up their minds that they know what science fiction is. And they have a very limited notion of what it is. I used to say science fiction and black people are judged by their worst elements. And it's sadly enough still true. People think, "Oh, science fiction, Star Wars. I don't like that." And they don't want to read what I've written because they don't like Star Wars. Then again, you get the other kind who do want to read what I've written because they like Star Wars and they think that must be what I'm doing. In both cases they're going to be disappointed. That's the worst thing about verbal shorthand. All too often, it's an excuse not to do something, more often than it's a reason for doing something.

    There isn't any subject you can't tackle by way of science fiction. And probably there isn't any subject that somebody hasn't tackled at one time or another. You don't have the formulas that you might have for a mystery, or even a romance. It's completely wide open. If you're going to write science fiction, that means you're using science and you'll need to use it accurately. At least speculate in ways that make sense, you know. If you're not using science, what you're probably writing is fantasy, I mean if it's still odd. Some species of fantasy...people tend to think fantasy, oh Tolkien, but Kindred is fantasy because there's no science. With fantasy, all you have to do is follow the rules that you've created.


    Joshunda Sanders: Where do you get your ideas?

    Octavia Butler: When I got the idea for Patternmaster, I was twelve, but I had no idea how to write a novel. I tried, but it was quite a few years before I was able to write it. When I got the idea for Mind of My Mind, I was 15. When I got the idea for Survivor, I was 19. Finally, when I got the idea for Kindred, I was in college. My ideas generally come from what's going on around me. But sometimes they come from other novels. For instance, when I wrote Patternmaster, I included these people called the Clay Arks and they were just kind of throwaway people, but I didn't like them as throwaway people and I wanted to know more about them. So I wrote Clay's Ark. And learned about them as I went along. Sometimes a book will seem like one book and turn into two or three, which happened with the Xenogenesis books.

    Sometimes I hear from people who want to write and [they ask] what should they do? The first thing I want to know from them is, are they writing? Are they writing every day? And a remarkable number of them are not. Do they read omnivorously, because that's not only a source of ideas, but a way to learn to write, to see what other people have been up to. I recommend that they take classes because it's a great way to rent an audience and make sure you're communicating what you think you're communicating, which is not always the case, and I recommend that they forget a couple of things. Forget about talent. I recommend that they go to the bestselling lists and see who else doesn't have talent and it hasn't stopped them, so don't worry. Forget about inspiration, because it's more likely to be a reason not to write, as in, "I can't write today because I'm not inspired." I tell them I used to live next to my landlady and I told everybody she inspired me. And the most valuable characteristic any would-be writer can possibly have is persistence. Just keep at it, keep learning your craft and keep trying.
    Komposten, Steerpike and GingerCoffee like this.


Discussion in 'Articles' started by Wreybies, Apr 24, 2015.

    1. GingerCoffee
      I loved this quote:
    2. Steerpike
      Love Octavia Butler. She was great.
    3. GingerCoffee
      From the rest of the interview (definitely worth reading):

      I liked that comment.

      I understood exactly what she meant by this when I read Kindred. What would you do if you knew about slavery and you lived a different life then found yourself within slavery? Will you be defiant or will you cave? And how would you feel about yourself if you fell into line instead of fighting back?

      She was making up for how she felt about her mother at the age of seven. Kindred said now she understood. Her book made me think about the same things.

      It's insightful to deconstruct the emotions a book makes you feel. It's not just a story, but can you make the reader feel an emotion that maybe they hadn't thought about?
      I'm going to have to read the rest of her novels.
    4. Wreybies
      Her Xenogenisis books were my entry into her world. The three books together also go by the name Lilith's Brood, and individually are Dawn, Imago, and Adulthood Rights. I have a signed hardcover copy of Dawn. It is a treasure to me. :) Miss Butler had some powerful things to say in her work, but much more potently, she had some very provocative, often uncomfortable, questions to ask through her work. The description she gives concerning the Reagan era being a large part of what she writing about in the Xenogenisis series...

      ... I can see this in the work, and she does have many things to say about that era, but she has more things to ask, of you, the reader. She compels you to question and shove the accumulated debris of culture to the side for a moment and reaches down into your "gene code" (not literally, though in the books it is literal) and asks that you look at it, question it, to try and see it for what it is not what you've been told it is. In this, she totally humbled me as a writer. I had to read everything she had written and when I discovered she had passed at such a young age (59) I felt such a loss. So many writers want to say nothing, or want to shove a huge something down your throat. Few talk to you and ask you questions that perhaps you had not known were there for the asking.
      minstrel likes this.
    5. Steerpike
      Those are great books, @Wreybies.

      The first book of hers I read was Parable of the Sower, which I also thought was quite powerful.
      Wreybies likes this.
    6. Wreybies
      Yes. :) Agreed. "God is Change" is a phrase that has stuck with me forever. Again, in her Parable books, tremendous questions that she is asking. And she manages to do it without offense, without damaging a person's sensibilities because she's... asking, not telling. This basic precept in her way of writing is what attracts me like a junkie. Answers are often dead ends. Questions lead to questions lead to questions... :)
      minstrel and Steerpike like this.
    7. Steerpike
      @Wreybies yes, her approach to setting up questions an exploring them, without directing the reader to a specific answer that has to be the "right one" is phenomenal (though she does set up an attack the "wrong" answers, in my opinion, and does a good job of it). Lauren Olamina is a great heroine. I found both of the Parable books are agonizing in places, due to my connection to characters.
    8. GingerCoffee
      I read Lilith's Brood (all three volumes of Xenogenisis) and Kindred.
    9. Rachelle

      I definitely agree! I sometimes find this fascinating but other times her doing this has left me frustrated. Like, I want to be made to think, but darn it, sometimes I just want a simple straight answer!

      I plan on reading more of hers. Last one was Kindred (which was a little unorganized at times for me to follow so I got confused a little with the jumping around from time periods...etc but I guess time travel does that)
    10. BayView
      She's one of those authors I've heard lots about but never actually read. I'm changing that today! Is Dawn (Exogenesis Book 1) a reasonable place to start?

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