Jim Freund: Tonight's guest is Pat Murphy, most recently the author of Nadya, shortly forthcoming from Tor Books. I'm your host, Jim Freund. Welcome, Pat!
Pat Murphy: Hi Jim, I'm here, just waiting to chat.
JF: I guess a good way to begin is with your new novel, Nadya. Have you always had an interest in wolves, or was this acquired in the course of researching the book?
PM: I've always been interested in animals and in the connections between people and animals. Nadya--the Wolf Chronicles is an outgrowth of that interest.
I tell people that Nadya is an historic feminist werewolf novel. Set in the 1840s, it deals with the life of Nadya, a young woman who is a werewolf. After her parents' death, she travels across the plains, looking for a place that she can belong. She has adventures along the way. It's got fist fights, Indian magic, daring rescues, literary value, and great sex. What more could you want in a novel?
I've also told people that Nadya is like "Thelma and Louise" except that they are traveling by wagon train. And there are elements of truth in that description. It's a book about a strong, bisexual woman who happens to turn into a wolf and who is looking for a place to call home. I think it is my best work to date, which is why I am rambling on and on about it.
JF: Female werewolves are scarce in literature and legend, I believe. Can you think why that might be?
PM: Classically, I think the werewolf has been a symbol of unbridled lust--traditionally a male attribute. As a symbol of the libido the werewolf was male--since women weren't supposed to have them. That's one of the reasons that I wanted to write about a woman werewolf--reclaiming the feminine libido, or something like that.
JF: Do you think this attitude has changed in any way over the years?
PM: Regarding changing attitudes toward women's sexuality--I think attitudes have changed somewhat, but there's still a long way to go.
I think Jim may be gone again. So I'll just talk to myself.
I guess I'll tell whoever's listening about a few other books I have out just now. There's Pigasus, a children's picture book about a flying pig, that's out from Dial books. It's your basic action/adventure flying pig story. Pigasus battles pirates to recover her mother's gold ring and returns triumphant.
I wrote the story some 17 years ago with a little boy piglet in the lead role. I pulled it out of the drawer a few year back and realized that if Pigasus was a girl piglet, the book suddenly became a book that I needed desparately when I was a little girl. So I made the change and sold the book. Oh, incidentally, I realized years after writing it that Pigasus follows the basic plot of Joseph Campbell's hero's journey.
Still no sign of Jim. Oh, well ... I'll just go on talking about myself, though it feels a bit odd with no one asking questions.
As Jim mentioned in my bio, I work at the Exploratorium, a museum of Science Art, and Human Perception--when I'm not writing SF. I have two books coming out with the Exploratorium this fall.
The Color of Nature is a collaborative effort with Paul Doherty, a physicist and rock-climber and jack-of-all-scientific trades, and William Neill, a fabulous nature photographer. With four-color photos and extensive text, The Color of Nature talks about where you can see colors in nature and what causes those colors.
JF: Hi, this is Jim. I've had computer problems, but let's hope they're fixed now!
PM: Welcome back Jim! While you were gone, I started talking about my new book from the Explo, The Color of Nature. It answers questions like: Why glaciers are blue but snow is white? Why lobsters change color when you cook them? Why a person's blue eyes may fade with age? Why the colors of a soap bubble shift and change with each passing breeze? Why the robin has a red breast? Why the eyes of a cat glow yellow in the beam of your headlights? Why you sometimes, when watching the setting sun, see a ray of green light known as the "green flash"? I've never seen the green flash personally, but at least now I've seen a photo of it!
JF: Does working at a science museum enhance your writing, Pat?
PM: Working at a museum has some advantages for a writer. Mainly, it's a great source of info and interesting people. The art and the artists in my third novel, _The City, Not Long After_, are largely inspired by folks at the Exploratorium. And when I need to know something--like how to weld or the color of the Martian sky or the date of the full moon in August 1840--I can usually find someone at the museum who can tell me.
JF: Is Joan Egypt, a character of yours, someone who might work at the Exploratorium?
PM: Ah, Joan Egypt... Jim is talking about a short story called "A Flock of Lawn Flamingos" that will be in Ellen Datlow's up-coming revenge anthology. Joan is a woman with a shady and interesting past who likes to experiment with situations and see what happens. She's an anthropologist and an archaeologist with her fingers in many pies. Yes, I think it's safe to say that there's someone like Joan around the museum. Or there could be. After all, everyone at the museum likes to experiment. Joan just gets a little carried away.
JF: Do you foresee any more Joan Egypt stories? She's a favorite of mine.
PM: I'd love to write more about Joan. She's a great excuse to travel to exotic places--I need, after all, to go to the places that she is familiar with. People who are familiar with my work may have noticed that I like working with exotic locales. I came back from my first trip to Nepal saying--"If we have Asia, why do we need science fiction?" I think we still need SF, but traveling to Nepal, Thailand, Mexico, Morocco and other places takes my mind and shakes it up in the same way that good SF does. So Joan makes a fine excuse to travel and I suspect that she has many more stories to tell.
JF: Do you think that any of those stories are science-fiction stories, or will she remain in "our world"?
PM: The first story I wrote about Joan Egypt is, incidentally, in no way an SF or fantasy story, even though it sold to an SF editor. One question in my mind about Joan is whether she should enter a fantasy story--or whether she is a fantastic character in the real world. My own personal jury is still out on that one. My inclination is that Joan is fantastic--but the world she inhabits is mundane. But that could change.
JF: John Clute charged in his biography of you that much of what you write isn't necessarily science fiction. This brings up the question of pigeonholes. Are they something to avoid or something to cherish?
PM: Pigeonholes are where pigeons live. I avoid them, myself. I write what I write--what feels right. I love science fiction and fantasy-- as a kid, I kept looking for the secret tunnel that would lead me to Oz or Narnia or the rocket that would take me to the moon. I'm still looking--for the secret door or the passageway to beyond. But I'm also aware that you can look at the world in a way that transforms it, changing the world and yourself without a magic door.
That doesn't answer the question, I guess. People pigeonhole my work, and I shrug and say, "OK, that's your opinion." The only time I really object is when someone tells me "That's not a Pat Murphy story." Like a Pat Murphy story must fall into a certain pigeon hole.
JF: So Pat Murphy is the pigeonhole you desire, and it suits us just fine.
PM: My work tends to straddle categories. My first novel, The Shadow Hunter, included a time machine and a world in which the Neanderthal religion was true. My second novel, The Falling Woman, won a Nebula, an SF award, though the novel was turned down by genre publishers on the grounds that it was mainstream. (I personally don't think it was mainstream, but what do I know.) My third novel, The City Not Long After, has element of Magic Realism, SF, and Fantasy. And the latest has history and werewolves--but I did all my wolf research most carefully so that it would be accurate.
So where does that leave you? What is my genre? I think I write what I write and let someone else sort it out.
JF: Where is that pigeonhole likely to take us in the future, Pat?
PM: The future is, as all we SF writers and fans know, difficult to predict. I'm playing with short stories right now, and working to promote _Nadya_, and fooling around with many ideas. I might write a set of tales set in Katmandu, an amazing city in Nepal. (That would be a great excuse to spend some time there.) Or I might write a space opera. Right now, I'm happy to be working on short stuff. There's something wonderful about finishing something and getting it out, rather than laboring for years before you get any feedback.
JF: What are the benefits of short stories vs. novels?
PM: I think I am, by nature, a short story writer. There is something so satisfying about a well-written short story. It's like holding the universe in the palm of your hand, capturing so much with so little. Writing a novel is, for me, never quite as satisfying. A friend of mine once described writing a novel as being like trying to scrape a raw egg off the floor with your bare hands. It's messy and you never get all of it. On the other hand, you can accomplish things in short stories that you can't manage in a novel.
One way that I have dealt with that dilemma is to write short stories that later evolve into novels. For instance, the novelette, "Art in the War Zone" appeared in Universe. After I wrote it, I kept thinking about the characters--wondering what had come before and what would happen to them after the story was done. So I wrote The City, Not Long After, to work out the rest of the story for myself and the characters.
My latest book, Nadya, began as a short story in Asimov's, "Traveling West." By the time I wrote more about Nadya, the situation had changed, but that story still served as the kernel of the character. Another chunk of Nadya appeared in Asimov's as "An American Childhood."
So sometimes I use short stories as a testing ground for novels, playing with characters and situations
and seeing where they take me.
JF: At this point, we'd usually take questions from listeners, but we're having technical problems that prevent us from doing so. So we're going to wrap up a bit early. Pat, do you have any closing words?
PM: Thanks for inviting me to be on the show. It's been fun. Oh, yes, and if people want to know more about my work, check out my web page at www.exo.net/jaxxx/.
JF: Thanks! Sorry for the technical difficulties. Thanks for coming, everyone!