Saturday, March 24, 2012

Notes: Ursula K LeGuin

Talk at the Eugene Library.
(any misquotes, typos or mistakes are my own)

Le Guin:  [I want to focus on the question]  What happens when the the people in charge say hide or burn the books?

Reads excerpts from "The Telling."

All fictions writers dread the question, "Where do you get your ideas from?  The answer is, "Out of my crazy head.   But now and then you know where the crazy ideas get into your head.  I got the ideas for "The Telling" from China and Chairman Mao and the suppression of Dauoism.  The process was ruthless and methodical and went on for 40 yeas.  Around 1982, they opened up the temples as tourist attractions.  A religious practiced for 2000 years was erased in my lifetime.   But and I didn't know about it at the time.

Ignorance is what allows such things to happen and keep happening.  Ignorance is what despots and ideologues want.  Ignorance will allow or applaud violence against what it doesn't understand, which is by definition everything and anything.   I was ashamed by my ignorance, by writing a novel maybe I was trying to atone.  I don't know.  In the book I wanted to show a theocratic state and a secular state [both suppressing free thought],   To me theism and atheism are equally dangerous.


I also want to say the more we fudge on the separation of church and state, the more we check our powers to check bigotry and demogrogary.  To say that we are a Christian Nation is an ignorant statement if not an outright lie.   America is a secualr democacy in which Christianity is one of the largest religions out of many which the government supports equally.  We've been drifting away from that neutrality.  We should activelly trust toloerance to keep from losing our freedom.

(Self observation/question what is it about Library of Alexandria, Library of Trantor, Asimov's Nightfall, Feihrenheit 451, and The Telling  that compels certain readers -- is it a form of bibliophilia, a Reader's version of The Fall, or something else?)

You started writing at SF at  age 11.  What drew you to the genre?

Le Guin:  I just have a weird mind.  At 9, 10 and 11, my brother and I were reading Astounding SF and Amazing Stories.  So , I liked these short stories, and I thought, maybe I could write one of these.  So I submitted.  And I got a rejection slip that lasted me 20 yaers.

MODERATOR:  What challenges did you face publishing?

Le Guin:  When I got into my 20 I was seriously writing for 6 or 7 years without acceptances.  Finally, within the same week I sold to a SF and a literary magazine.  The SF magazine paid and the literary one didn't... so I had a certain bias for that.

MODERATOR:  [Lists various awards]  What do you think about literary awards?

Le Guin:  Its a big and complicated topic.  I think the trouble with literary awards. They are wonderful for young and first writers.  My first awards gave me a confidence that  I really did have readers out there.  The nebula and hugos are voted by writers and readers, not judges.  I think a problem with a lot of the Big Literary wards is that they are  selected by a panel of those judges.  In the US, the judges are predominately from the Eastern half of the US and they don't care so much about what happens in the West.  Too few awards are are Really BIg.  The Newbury Award is the only really big award for children's lit; but there are no other children's awards.  There aren't runner-up for Newbury .   We put ay too much weight on our book awards.

MODERATOR:  What experiences have you had with censorship?

Le Guin:  I havnt had many experiences that effected me directly.  What hit fantasy very hard started back in the 70s was fundamentalis Xtain decsion that Fantasy was Evil (witches).  So a lot of school baords got members etermined to get SF/F away from the kids.  Its censorship through the schools, which is dangerous.  And here I did run into it directily a couel of times.  I went to a hearing on my Books, because the studens to fhte High chlass stood up and defened The Lathe of Heaven (Iwant to decide that LoH is really stupid myself).


Le Guin:  The LoH in 1980 which is perfectly available still... I was in on the scripting and everything that I could b on.  I think we did a pretty good job.  Good acting... the script is so  so.. After that it was down hill all the way.    ... Its hard I didnt have to .. (makes face)

MODERATOR:  What do you think about listening to audio-books?

Le Guin: Hearing books read aloud is different agreement [than reading them].  I think audio-books are great if you can't read; [and I think we all love to be read too I like to be read to].

MODERATOR:  What are your observations about E-books, publishing, and print?

Le Guin:  Can we stay here for a week?   Ebooks are another way of doing books.  Now we have two big ways of doing books.  They each have their virtues and I hope we keep them BOTH (because they complement each other).  Yay for Libraries which have to keep up with the technology.  It s a difficult job for them to do.

MODERATOR:  You moved from Berkeley to Portland.  When did you move, what's the thing you like best about Oregon?

Le Guin:  The rain.  :-)  1959.  I have a list of things I like; Oregon is a great place to live.

[The moderator opens up the microphone to the audience]

AUD:  What would you say to a younger writer to encourage them?

Le Guin:  Its kind of rough to to encourage them.  The print publishers are thrashing.  The ebook world is in flux.  Therefore, a lot of bad things have happened.  A lot o the commercial publishers are demanding security.  Things are _harder_ now.  I can say, "just say hang in there, it will be wort it."

AUD:  How do you write; are you an actor in the story or a watcher of the story?

Le Guin:  I'm a listenier, especially if it the story has one person's point-of-view.  My novels come with a voice... :-) I hear voices in my head.

AUD:  I've been reading you for years... what are the books you go back to over and over and over again?

Le Guin:  I have read voraciously and constantly ever since I was five... many, many books.   ... Dickens, Woolf, Patrick O'Brian.  there are so many good writers.

AUD:  "Love does not just sit there like a stone, it has to be made like bread... " (quote from "The Lathe of Heaven")  How does that thought inform your thinking?

Le Guin:  The reason for that sentence in LOH:  "I'm not going to tell you how they make love"  If you want to read about lovemaking, there's a lot of that.  I think the actual act at the moment isn't interesting:  ITS DIFFERENT EVERY TIME.

AUD:  What ideas do you walk away from, OR what do you step away from?  How do you cut things?

Le Guin:  The filter is just there.  I never think of writing something I don't want to write.  My filter must be through temperament or experience built in. [Sorry, that probably doesn't help you too much.]

AUD:  What's your favorite thing you've written?

Le Guin:  The one I'm thinking about at the moment.

AUD:  Did you have a cat in the past who inspired Catwings.

Le Guin:  No, we've had and have cats.  But the idea came from doodling on a fridge list.  I drew a cat flying and looking smug.   And I looked at the drawing and asked, "What if you had a family of cats with wings?" [...] It was like the cat flew into my head.

AUD:  Some say there should be no copyright; some say copyright should be indefinite.  What's your stance?

Le Guin:  Most authors have a stance.  It think both positions are incredibly wrong and wrong-headed and unthought-out.  I am in favor of copyright because it is how authors make money.  If you don't own the rights to your work so you can sell it, how are you going to live?  [Without copyright] You have to find a patron; that is what they did up to the 18th C.  Copyright saved authors and gave us 150 years of the ability to make a living.  What went wrong was the Disney Law.  Copyright should be the author's lifetime + 25 years for their heirs.  DISNEY keeps extending copyright, which will destroy it.  Copyright encourages pirating.

AUD:  As a writer, is there a criteria that you hold yourself to when writing?  Do you apply those criterion to others' works of art?

Le Guin:  No... the criterion is too complicated.  To set up any list of criterion of excellence immediately becomes a straight-jacket.  You have to wing it.  You have to [be able to look at what you're working on and say "This needs more work" or  "Yeah, I think I got it."

AUD:  IS Science Fiction in a negative rut?  Is every future is a distopia?  Is the World is doomed?  Is this a sympom of the times?  Can SF writers do anyting about it?  Is it possible for SF to make a difference?

Le Guin:  Its a pendulum swing.   In the 30s we would have stories about a bright, democratic galaxy.  [...]  my trouble with [science fiction] right now is that it's unpleasant, it's highly intellectual and has no emotional vitality.  It's a sort of "Brainiac" mentality.  In order to speak to people on a deep level, it has to include more than just negative emotions.

AUD:  (Tesseract faux-pas).  How do you see SF/F as being an integral part of education?

Le Guin:  But I don't know ... if literature isn't a part of education....

AUD (a couple):  We live in a householf of writers and artists and you're our patron saint. (Presentation of Poems)    ... and thanks for helping me to become a whole human being.
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