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The Staff



Steven Brust doesn't take himself seriously--but his readers do

By Tasha Robinson
 Photo by David Dyer-Bennet.

S teven Brust has long been a fixture of the colorful, high-profile Minnesota writers' group called "The Scribblies." He's a familiar fixture at Midwestern conventions. Infamous for his outfits (particularly "The Hat," as it's commonly known) and his musicianship, he tends to be a larger-than-life presence in person. He plays guitar, banjo and drums, including the doumbek. He's written collaborative novels with Emma Bull (Freedom & Necessity) and Megan Lindholm (The Gypsy), composed songs for the Celt-rock band Boiled In Lead (which produced a CD companion to The Gypsy), played and recorded with Cats Laughing (which appeared briefly in an issue of the X-Men spinoff XCalibur) and Morrigan and released a solo album, A Rose for Iconoclastes.

He's also written several idiosyncratic stand-alone novels in a variety of styles--a melancholy fairy tale (Brokedown Palace), a Spider-Robinson-like science-fiction novel (Cowboy Feng's Space Bar and Grill), a vampire novel (Agyar), a comic apocalyptic novel (To Reign in Hell) and the experimental The Sun, the Moon and the Stars, which simultaneously follows six different narrative lines about creativity and the nature of inspiration and art.

But he's still best known for his Vlad Taltos books, the popular fantasy series about a sharp-witted assassin, his psionic, dragonlike familiar and his many high-powered friends. Brust makes a point of giving all his books silly nicknames so he won't take them too seriously--he refers to his first novel, Jhereg, as "Jarhead," and to another Vlad Taltos book, Athyra, as "Urethra." But fans manage to take them seriously anyway. The series just reached its ninth installment with Issola in July 2001; a spinoff prequel series, which parallels Alexandre Dumas' "D'Artagnan romances," currently includes two books, The Phoenix Guards and Five Hundred Years After. Brust is currently at work on The Viscount of Adrilankha, a three-volume "novel" in that series.

Going back to the start of your writing career ... your Web-site notes on Jhereg--and feel free to correct me if I mispronounce anything, because there are always a lot of pronunciation questions with your writing--

Brust: Well, first of all, there's a pronunciation guide in the first book. And second of all, my feeling is, if I'm going to make up funny words, I don't get to whine about how people pronounce them.

Fair enough. Your notes on Jhereg say you were working as a programmer and you were laid off, so your wife suggested you take six months off to write a book, so you did. Was it really that easy, or had you been thinking about writing a novel for a long time before that?

Brust: I used to get this itch. It would happen about twice a year, and would last a couple of weeks, where I just wanted to write. And so I would. And it gradually increased, happened longer, happened more often.

Did any of that early work get published, or make it into your later books?

Brust: Not really. Before I wrote Jarhead, there was one short story with the same characters that I submitted. That's as far as I got. And it bounced from, I think, F&SF.

But you were a fantasy fan long before that.

Brust: Oh, heavens, yes. I've been a fan for years and years.

Since you were a little kid, or was it more recent?

Brust: I've been involved in fandom since, I'd guess, about '75 or '76. I've been reading the stuff longer than that. I was maybe eight years old when, in my Christmas stocking one year, was Every Boy's Book of Science Fiction Stories. And that hooked me.

Did you ever have any formal education in writing?

Brust: No. I had a couple of years of college, but I didn't really study writing, I more studied theater.

And yet you ended up as a programmer. How did that happen?

Brust: Oh, fell into it backwards.

What kind of programming?

Brust: System work on many computers. This was back in the old days, when the world was young and there were no personal computers. When they were first introduced, they were "microcomputers," and I was a PDP-11 specialist on DEC equipment.

Have you kept up on programming at all?

Brust: No! I haven't. I have studiously, diligently avoided it.

You mentioned the one short story you wrote before Jhereg was published. You haven't actually written many short stories in your career--

Brust: Yeah, I suck at short stories.

Do you not like the medium at all, or you just don't like your approach to it?

Brust: I'm generally not very comfortable with it. I like to have the elbow room to get around in. Some little thing will intrigue me and I get to go off and follow it. What grabs me in a story is going to be the characters. That's what I latch onto. And in a short story, if I don't like them, then what's the point? And if I do like them, they're gone too quick. I want to hang around with them.

Most of your commentary on your individual books centers on how much fun they were to write. Is writing generally fun for you? If you're not enjoying yourself on a project, does that mean it's time to scrap it?

Brust: Unfortunately, it doesn't. The one I consider my best book was a real splendid one to write. It just flowed, it was a delight. But a lot of the others that I consider very successful were just painful. As far as I can tell, there is absolutely no relationship to how it feels when writing the book and how it comes out with a few years' perspective. And that's even true within a book, because no matter how much fun writing is, in a given book, there are usually going to be passages that are difficult, that are unpleasant, that I have to make myself get through. And afterwards, I can't find them. I know they're there, but they aren't any better or worse than the ones that just came slipping off my fingers. And even in the revision process, the sections of the book that I just couldn't read as they were coming, that were just like a breeze, are neither better nor worse than the ones where I had to sweat over every word.

Which book are you talking about when you refer to your best book?

Brust: Aw Gee. [Agyar.] But the most fun to write was Phoenix Guards. That was just--I giggled all the way through it.

Even more so than Five Hundred Years After?

Brust: Five Hundred Years After was not quite as much of a joy to write, but it was right up there. I just have so much fun with Paarfi. He and I get along really well, in spite of what it sounds like. I really fall into his head.

The interview you do with him--

Brust: Yeah. [Laughs.]

--at the end of Five Hundred Years After ... Were you just having fun with playing with the narration voices, or did you have a specific purpose in mind?

Brust: With both of those books, and with Viscount, which I'm working on now, that's the whole point, is for me to have fun. And I hope to hell readers have fun, too. When I wrote The Kleenex Guards, I didn't really expect it to publish, because people don't write like that anymore. It just isn't done. So I figured, "Well, I'm going to write this book because I want to bloody read it, and I don't care." You would not believe how astonished I was that Tor actually wanted the thing, and then that readers seemed to like it. It sort of gives me hope for the reading public, that there are other nuts out there like me who really enjoy that kind of playing with words, playing with voice.

The interview with Paarfi does read somewhat like you're scolding mainstream journalists and scholars.

Brust: Well, that's just Paarfi being Paarfi. I don't agree with it. I was just playing.

You tend to play with voices a lot across your books--they cover a lot of different styles. When you start writing a book that isn't in the Jhereg series, do you make an effort to create a new voice that doesn't sound like any of your previous books?

Brust: That's a really good question. Thanks. I don't remember ever consciously deciding to. Let me think. [Long pause.]

Let's try it from a slightly different angle. Phoenix Guards and Five Hundred Years After are clearly modeled on Alexandre Dumas' style. With your other books that have a distinctive or unique voice, like Brokedown Palace or The Sun, The Moon, And The Stars, do you look to other specific authors for guidance?

Brust: I see what you're getting at, and the answer is, absolutely. It's very obvious that the Vlad books are based on the Dashiell Hammett school, the hard-boiled detective stories. With Brokedown Palace, or Ripple, as I like to call it, I pretty much immersed myself in Hungarian folk tales, and I was, in sections of it, very much going for the storyteller voice. In the rest of that one, I was trying to keep the voice out, to make it as invisible as I could. But with these, and even with the Vlad books, I sort of discovered that within the first few pages. The voice is everything for me, the voice of the narrative. Once I've found the voice, I'm pretty much golden. That's what I have to depend on and fall back on. That's why, for example, Urethra was such a difficult book for me. It was third person, and there wasn't really a strong voice in that book.

Do you rewrite those critical first few pages several times to find the perfect voice, or do you just charge in and see what develops?

Brust: I have a lot of ways to approach a book, but my favorite ... I've got this file on my computer in which I've written down sentences that I think would be cool sentences to start a book with. I love first sentences. I wrote The Rain in Spain [To Reign in Hell] the way I did so I would have a lot of choppy scenes, so I had excuses to have a lot of first and last sentences in scenes, which I just love. So I've got these sentences that I think, "Oh, that'd be a cool way to start a book." And periodically, I'll think of a second sentence for one, and I'll knock that in. And sometimes, a third sentence will grow. And if I get up to, like, a page and a half of just "the next cool sentence," then I've got to start thinking "This might be a book."

To Reign in Hell and Cowboy Feng's Space Bar and Grill are probably your most unusually voiced books--

Brust: Crosby, Stills and Nash [The Sun, The Moon, And The Stars] is probably up there, too.

Where during the writing process do you develop these pet nicknames for your books?

Brust: Somewhere around when I think of the title. The title sometimes comes early and sometimes comes late. But it helps keep me from taking everything too seriously. Cowboy Feng's, I call Shit Happens.

Where did Cowboy Feng's come from? How did you come to write a science-fiction book?

Brust: I was working on Tucson [Phoenix] and I was living in this house in Minneapolis with a large group of people. This was shortly after my wife had thrown me out. There was a whole lot of acid going around at that time. I was, on that day, in my office working while all of my friends were tripping. They were watching TV. I wasn't doing any acid right at that moment, because I was in the huge depression following marriage breakup, and I figured dropping acid might be a tactical error under those conditions. So I was working, and they were all dosed, and a very, very dear friend of mine, Betsy, came into the room and said, "Steve, they're watching a TV show about Irish ghosts, and they all look like geeks. Entertain me." So I wrote the first three or four pages right there to entertain Betsy, and then the book sort of kept growing, and turned into whatever it turned into.

Is the embedded folk tale in The Sun, The Moon, And The Stars an actual Hungarian story?

Brust: Yes, it is. And I felt kind of funny about the thing being used in [the 1988 volume of] Year's Best Fantasy, extracted out of it, because I didn't write that, it's a Hungarian folk tale. I got it out of a book. I made a few little changes to it, I added some scenes and embroidered it a bit, but fundamentally, it's a traditional Hungarian folk tale. Terri [Windling] asked me, "Can we pull that folk tale out and use it in Year's Best Fantasy?" And I said, "Well, you can as far as I'm concerned, but I didn't make it up!"

There's been a tradition over the past decade of fantasy authors grabbing fairy tales and retelling them.

Brust: Yeah, but I did damn little retelling of that part of it. That felt kind of funny. It was nice to be in there, it was quite an honor, but ...

You've said in other interviews that Vlad was created as a wish-fulfillment character. Did you want readers to like him, or want to be him, or did you just want to be him yourself?

Brust: Well, one thing I like to do that's fun for me is start out with wish fulfillment and then examine it, to start out with "I wish I was this," or "I wish I could do this," and then look at the consequences.

Did you anticipate him changing and growing over the course of the series?

Brust: No, I don't think I thought. [Laughs.] I don't think I was doing any thinking at the time.

Did his development come about because of your own development, or was there a point where you realized the series was stagnating and he had to change?

Brust: A combination of those. Things changed in my life. I didn't realize I was doing a--when did I realize it was a series? I think I might have suspected when I wrote Yendi, which was never planned, but certainly around the time I wrote Tacky [Teckla], I said, "OK, this is a series, we've got to do some exploring." It was also a response to things that were happening in my life, and stuff like that.

Did you actually feel an outside pressure to "do some exploring"?

Brust: It kept me from being bored. I don't want to read the same fairy tale over and over again, and that's pretty much what I'm doing, telling myself stories. I'm not going to tell myself a story I don't want to hear.

It seems like the earliest Vlad books were about Vlad finding solutions to difficult problems, but in more recent books, he hasn't been able to find easy answers. He spends more of the book trying, and sometimes never does reach any conclusions.

Brust: That's interesting. I like that. You're probably right. In most of the books, there is some underlying question that I'm exploring. And I never have an answer to that question when I start the book; otherwise I wouldn't write the book. The book is a vehicle for me to play with that. In an ideal world, I would write stories that could just be enjoyed as stories, enjoyed for a couple of hours, put down, and you're done with it, and also stories that reward a closer reading and examination, if you care to do it. That don't require a thoughtful, careful reading and analysis, but at least give you something to chew on if you choose to look at them that way. That's what I'm after. I don't know that I've always succeeded, but that's what I shoot for, because when I read, that's what I like. I can pick up Lord of Light by [Roger] Zelazny, and just have fun with the story, and nothing more than that, but if I feel like getting in there and playing with some of the issues he's grappling with, there is something to play with. There's something to look at and think about. An ideal book, in a sense, is one that can be read in two hours and talked about for two weeks.

Speaking of Zelazny, in his introduction to To Reign in Hell, he said something interesting: "Science fiction is ultimately cut and dried and explains everything in the end, but pure fantasy generally doesn't explain enough." Do you agree?

Brust: He was saying a lot about himself there, and that's one of the reasons why I so admired him.

Do you think it applies to your work as well, or just to his?

Brust: I think it's an apt summary to point out that he worked in between, and why he worked in between. Very few of his books can be set as "This is fantasy, period, end of discussion," or "This is science fiction." In one of the closest ones to pure fantasy, for example, which is The Changing Land, his approach to magic has all the rigor of science. He liked to work in between, and I admired that. Do I think it's generally true? Yeah. I think very often, yes, many science-fiction stories are very cut and dried, "This is hard fact, here is our extrapolation, et cetera," and much fantasy really doesn't give you enough to hang your fingers onto and grip.

That's certainly something people have said about your own fantasy--

Brust: Good. I like that.

Then obviously you do it on purpose--keeping things as vague as possible. Such as the nature of many of the animals in the Dragaeran cycle.

Brust: There are a number of reasons I do it that way. For one--what I always come back to, whenever any question comes up, the first way I want to look at it is, "OK, if I were reading this book, what would I like? What would please me as a reader?" Because that's all I have to go on. That kind of thing, where everything isn't cut and dried and there are a lot of questions, and hints at the future, and references back to the past, to past adventures that I may or may not have mentioned ... I love that. I'm just a sucker for that stuff. And a lot of it is, I need to give myself space. I need to give myself room to decide things.

If I were to say, for example, that a tsalmoth is a six-foot-diameter snail that hunts its prey by climbing into trees over the course of months and months and then pounces, well, then if I decide later that I want it to be something else, I'm kind of stuck. So I need to give myself some room and not think too much until I have a chance to actually explore.

When I pick one of those Houses, I'm looking at that aspect of human character and trying to understand it, and trying to come to grips with it myself by playing with it. Because all of the things that are represented by the Houses in the Cycle are obviously human attributes; we all have all of them. We all have pieces of every one of them. So that's my chance to play with them and try to understand that bit of the human psyche.

Do you make concrete plans for the things you leave open, but assume you may change them later, or do you avoid considering them until you have to make the decision?

Brust: I always like to know a little bit more than the reader. I always like to have information that I'm not giving. Because, to me, that's one of the things that makes a world feel deep, feel like there's actually depth and substance there, for me to always know more than I'm saying. But I still also want to leave myself room to work and to decide things. You know how some of that stuff happens, most often? To be perfectly honest, it's because it makes a good sentence. Because I think it's really cool to read a lot of the references back to other events--I'll be writing, and I'll go, "Oh, that's a neat thing to say right there, I like how that sounds." So I'll put it in. And there it is, now I've got it, now it's happened. And I might pick up on it later or I might not. Sometimes I will. But there's a lot of bits and pieces of Vlad's history that I know and can fall back on. Many of them are in his past which I've never discussed, but that I have in my head, at least roughly. But a lot of them just happen right at that moment, as I'm sitting there going, "Wow, that's a cool sentence."

Do you go back and read your own books?

Brust: I have to, sometimes.

And do they ever surprise you? Do you run across things you tossed in offhandedly because they were cool at the moment, but that you then forgot about?

Brust: Funny thing. I had an epiphany about six years ago. I was re-reading some Vlad book in preparation for writing another that referred to it. And of course, you re-read your stuff, and you spend a lot of time going, "Oh, ouch. Oh, yuck. How did I ever let that go? What a terrible sentence!" Blah blah blah. And I had this epiphany that when I was reading and I wasn't having that reaction, it was probably OK. I went, "Oh, wow." Occasionally I even get caught up in my own stories, which tells me I'm doing a few things right. Yeah, sometimes I'll pick up a reference that I'd forgotten about, and think, "Oh yeah, that's cool! I've got to play with that!" That'll happen now and then.

How far ahead do you plan? Do you have a direction in mind for the series, or do you do each book spontaneously?

Brust: It's not exactly a matter of planning or not planning. I have bits and pieces mapped out. I know how Vlad dies. Whether I'll ever write that or not ... but I know bits and chunks of where I'm going, and I know bits and chunks of where he's been that I've never written. I don't have details, I don't know how we get from here to there.

Issola, more than many of the books--

Brust: Or Is Ole, as I call it. You know Ole? [Adopts Norwegian accent.] Dot Norvegian guy, Ole? Yah, I vus driving past Ole's house the udder day, he had a sign out front of his house, said "Boat for sale." And I stopped over dere and said, "Ole, vat's dot sign for? You don't got a boat, you chust got a combine and a John Deere." And he said, "Yah, und dey are boat for sale." You know, there are a lot of Swedes in Minnesota, where I lived up until recently. Norwegians always tell Swedish jokes, but the Swedes will not tell Norwegian jokes. They consider it rude. They tell Hittite jokes, because they figure no one can be offended by jokes about a culture that's been dead for thousands of years. I learned one of them. There's these two Hittites named Sven and Ole. ... You were saying?

[Laughs.] Issola can't have been entirely spontaneous. It shows signs of seeds that have been laid throughout the course of the entire series.

Brust: That's one of the things that I had planned for a long time, and was slowly building towards. There are others.

Do you know what's next for the series?

Brust: Yes. I'll be working on it after I finish Viscount.

How's that coming?

Brust: Good. I've got about a third of it done in first draft. It's going to be big. Big big big big big big.

This will be the book where Khaavren catches up to Vlad's time?

Brust: Yes.

Will they meet again?

Brust: I don't know. When they meet in--was it Tacky, or Tucson? I think it was Tucson--it was fairly major, a fairly important incident in Vlad's life, but I'm not sure it was important in Khaavren's. So I have to decide that, how important it is. And of course there's the whole issue of how Paarfi feels about that whole incident, whether he thinks it's important enough to be worth mentioning. But it's going to be a three-volume novel, and one of the volumes is finished in first draft.

Are you ultimately shooting for 18 Vlad books, to cover the 17 Dragaeran houses plus Taltos?

Brust: Nineteen. The plan, when I figured out I was doing a series, was 17--one for each house, and the first one, called Taltos, and the last one, called The Last Contract. Or I'll die first, or I'll stop having fun writing them. If I ever reach the point where I no longer enjoy writing them, and a publisher waves a whole bunch of money under my nose, then we will have a test of Steve's character.

Have you ever felt pressure to write more Vlad books because of the fantasy market's love of sequels?

Brust: Nope. Not yet.

You've written a couple of collaborative novels, The Gypsy and Freedom & Necessity. Anything new on the horizon there?

Brust: Oh god, those were so much fun. Both of them, just a joy. I got to work with some really, really good writers, and they were so much fun to work with. In The Gypsy--we mentioned earlier how some parts of a book are difficult to write, you have to keep chugging out the next word, it's not easy or that much fun. With The Gypsy, I didn't write any of those parts. As soon as I reached one of those parts, I sent it to Megan. And then she would pick it up, and I'd get it back, and as soon as I saw her section, I'd go, "Oh, wow, cool, I can do this!" And with Emma--we never knew what was going on. Or I didn't. I had a few little ideas in the back of my head for what I thought was happening. And she had, I think, more than that. More things planned out, but not more than a few ideas. We were just telling each other a story. And it was so much fun. It was all the pleasure of reading a book you're really, really liking. That's what writing should be, at its best. That's what writing is, is telling yourself a story that was written exactly to your tastes.

Do you have a nickname for Freedom & Necessity?

Brust: No. Nor do I for The Gypsy. Because they're collaborations, and that would be disrespectful to my collaborators. It's one thing to not want to take myself seriously, and another thing to--I want to take them seriously.

Did you and Emma ever actually decide to write a novel together, or did it start out as a game with the letters?

Brust: Emma walked up to my door and handed me a letter. I don't know if you've ever had the experience of a friend walking up and handing you a letter, but usually what it means is, "You have [messed] up so bad that I can't tell you in person." And I just went, "Oh, what did I do?" And I tried to remember anything that I could have done to really offend Emma. I open it up, and it starts, "My Dear Cousin..." Huh? And that was it. I just ran upstairs to my computer and wrote a response back, and we were off. There were a couple of scenes in there, with Engels--not all of them, but a couple of them with Engels, conversations between James and Engels--that we wrote together, took turns sitting at the computer. And those were just so much fun. [Laughs.] I would write something, then get up and pace around the room while she wrote James' reply or whatever.

Do you have any further collaborations in mind?

Brust: I actually started one with Will Shetterly that never went anywhere. I started one with Pat Wrede that never went anywhere. I started one with Joel Rosenberg that bogged down. I don't know if those will ever happen. My guess is not, but we'll see. I was going to do one with Roger. That is the biggest empty spot in my life, that we never got to do that.

You note on your Web site that you don't like to answer questions about your books because you love the speculation, but you like to discuss interesting things like "The Cool Theory of Literature." Do you have a specific Cool Theory of Literature, or are you talking generally?

Brust: There are a couple of reasons I don't like talking about the books. One is, it's fun to hear people speculate. There are intense discussions on Usenet right now about what this means, what that means, and I just eat that up with a spoon. It's just so cool. [Laughs.] And people catching the little references, catching the little stuff I'm doing. That's a huge ego trip. I just love it. And two is, I can do it too easily and too much. Get me talking about my own books and I'll just go on and on and on, and I'll be loving it too much, and put a whole room to sleep. So I try to exercise a modicum of discipline.

As to the Cool Theory of Literature, or actually the Cool Stuff Theory of Literature, yes, that is my literary theory. I invented it two minutes before an interview once. The Cool Stuff Theory of Literature is as follows: All literature consists of whatever the writer thinks is cool. The reader will like the book to the degree that he agrees with the writer about what's cool. And that works all the way from the external trappings to the level of metaphor, subtext, and the way one uses words. In other words, I happen not to think that full-plate armor and great big honking greatswords are cool. I don't like 'em. I like cloaks and rapiers. So I write stories with a lot of cloaks and rapiers in 'em, 'cause that's cool. Guys who like military hardware, who think advanced military hardware is cool, are not gonna jump all over my books, because they have other ideas about what's cool.

That same process applies at the level of the way my characters grow, the degree to which you know my characters, the depth I choose to explore. Because they are more complex than simple clich├ęs. You cannot give a brief sentence, a one-phrase explanation of any of my characters, "He's one of these," and think you've covered them. On the other hand, I'm certainly not going as deep as Virginia Woolf into the psyche of the characters. So just how well do you want to know a person? That's a matter of taste, that's a matter of what you think is cool. That is my approach to characterization in general. What people talk about--and this is another theory. Are you ready for another theory?


Brust: Both of these theories have in common that they are true, inarguable and useless. This is my theory of characterization. People say, "What I like about Heinlein is that he's so good at characterization." And someone else will look at him like he has just coolly announced that his house is full of Martians. I was trying to come up with some explanation for that. And the fact is that people talk about at least three different things when they refer to characterization.

One is, are they distinguishable from each other? Can you read a lot of dialogue without attribution and know who said it? Can you know that this person is not like that person in this way, et cetera? Two is, how thoroughly and deeply do you know that character? Do you really understand and know what makes him tick? And three is, is this guy cool? Do you want to hang around with this guy for the length of a book? And to a great degree, the better you are at all three, the better, at least up to the comfort point of the reader. But mostly I'm interested in the third. I write about people that I want to hang around with, or that I'd at least enjoy following around to see what they do, because I think they're cool.

There was an interesting little interchange on an old [computer] bulletin-board system I was on for a while, called Genie. There was someone who was complaining about my books, because everyone was so sharp and quick-witted. And someone else--Patrick Nielson Hayden--caught that and said, "Why do you think Steve should write about characters who are less witty than the people he hangs out with every day?" I thought that was a pretty sharp catch.

Your characters' wit comes across mostly in their dialogues. Do you consciously ponder over the best possible combination of witticisms, or do the conversations come out of your head as quickly as it comes out of their mouths?

Brust: It usually just sort of happens. I play the conversations in my head as they're happening. And during those, more often than not, I am typing as fast I can to keep up with what my head is producing. It helps a little bit sometimes--I think I'm about to lie here. Let me say this, then see if I agree. It helps to have a person, someone you know, who's like that, in the back of your head, and to hear what he would say. And now that I've said it ... yeah, at least sometimes, I do that. Like in The Rain in Spain, Mephistopheles is based on Will Shetterly, and so I had Will in the back of my head whenever I was doing Mephistopheles' dialogue. I don't always do that, but I think sometimes I do.

Speaking of people hanging out in the back of your head, are we ever going to learn more about Devera?

Brust: Maybe. If I feel like it. Can't tell you that one, I dunno. [Pauses.] She's so much fun. You know, that was at least one thing I did that I'm so, so very pleased with. In my very first book, I invented her and said, "She is going to appear in every book I write. She'll pop in, and I'm going to have this recurring character, because that would be really cool." And I did, and I'm so pleased with that. Of course, obviously I know a great deal more about her than I've ever revealed, but how much--could she ever have a book devoted to her? Yeah, I suppose it's possible, if I ever feel like doing it.

When you're spending time on Usenet, or wherever, watching people try to predict where your stories will go next, do you ever see good ideas that you then feel you can't use?

Brust: Let me think. I can't say I've never gotten an idea from that, but I don't remember ever getting an idea from that. I can't think of when it's happened. I'm open to it. But usually ... You know, the thing that happens the most, in terms of getting an idea, is that somebody will come up with the solution I had in mind, and I'll immediately go, "Oh well, I guess that one's too obvious, I'll have to think of something else." Now whether that's actually happened--I know I've had that thought, but I might have gone ahead and done it anyway, gone with my original plan. But that would be more likely.

Are you working on writing anything other than Viscount right now?

Brust: Nope.

What about music? Do you still perform?

Brust: No, I don't spend any time performing. I just found out that here in Vegas there's a coffee shop with an open stage. I was there, and the people playing were bad enough that I could go in and look good. So I might try that, for the hell of it.

Do you still practice, or have you completely fallen off the wagon?

Brust: Not completely. But not very much. I play little things, take out the drum and play that, haul out the guitar and the banjo occasionally. Of course, when I go to a convention, I can't go without bringing a couple of instruments. It's who I am, I guess. That's what I like to do at conventions.

So no plans for a second solo album at this point?

Brust: Absolutely not. In fact, I'm about 90 percent sure, 95 percent sure that there'll never be a second one. I pretty much did what I have to do in that first one. If suddenly I were to wake up one morning and write 12 songs that I was just incredibly proud of, for some reason it just happened, I might start thinking about it. But at the moment I don't have a band to write for. Morrigan led, pretty much, its doomed life, Cats Laughing no longer exists. And I find that I write songs more when I have vehicles.

And you're not looking for a new vehicle?

Brust: No, not really looking for one.

How did you first get seriously interested in the drums?

Brust: Good question. I'm trying to figure that out. ... Well, certainly not the way that the top drummers all got interested, which was they couldn't help it. All the top drummers you read about, they were banging on the pots and pans in the kitchen ever since they were three years old. And that wasn't me. I think a bunch of friends wanted to put a band together, and I wanted to be in it, and they wanted me in it, and I didn't do anything well enough to be in it, and they needed a drummer, and none of them were drummers, so I said, "Fine, I'll learn the drums." I think that's what did it.

Was this high school? College? Later?

Brust: No, this was in fandom. This was a band called the Albany Free Traders, with Nate Bucklin, and Emma Bull, and Jean Messer and Kara Dalkey. We had a good time, and I learned all the things about bands that helped me in good stead. Like that it's difficult, it's like marriage. The interpersonal squabbling, difficulties, harassment and the joys. They were all there in microcosm. And of course, we were never any good. For one thing, the drummer sucked.

What do you enjoy most about fandom?

Brust: There's a lot of quick-witted people in it. I can have conversations which I get engaged in. These days, it's--carp carp carp bitch whine moan--it's more and more media. As a general rule--oh, am I going to get in trouble--the media fans tend not to be as sharp and as quick as the reading fans. So I've found I have less to say to them.

Do you have any interest in film or television science fiction and fantasy?

Brust: Not even a little. The only--I enjoyed 2001, I think that was a good movie. And I quite like the first Star Wars movie. That's about it. I have yet to find a fantasy movie that was worth seeing the first time.

What about television?

Brust: No. Not yet. Well, I liked Star Trek when it first came out, but I was eight years old then.

So you probably read a lot. What are you reading now?

Brust: I just discovered Gore Vidal, and I'm immersing myself in him. I adore Patrick O'Brian, and re-read him fairly often. And of course I'm re-reading Dumas, because I'm writing Viscount, and it helps a lot to get his voice in my head.

What about music? What do you enjoy listening to?

Brust: Oh, let's see. My tastes are a little hard to pin down, because I, generally speaking, don't like anyone who's like anyone. I was raised on '30s and '40s jazz and folk music. I like R&B. I love Greg Brown and Dave Van Ronk. I'm a Deadhead ... OK, for example, if you were to say, "Oh, you like Greg Brown, then you'll like so-and-so," I can almost guarantee I won't like so-and-so. I like one guy in that spot, and then--it's just very strange. People get very frustrated trying to figure out the kind of music I'll like. I found a band out of Los Angeles called The Foremen, I think they're hysterical, they're wonderful, they're my heroes. I don't think they exist any more. Neil Gaiman sent me this three-CD thing called 69 Love Songs by Magnetic Fields, and it's wonderful.

You've said in other interviews that you don't like discussing your politics publicly. Why is that?

Brust: Because I turn into a raving asshole when I talk politics.

Do you think it's possible to discuss politics without preaching? Or just not for you?

Brust: Not for me personally. I spent years and years and years studying intensely, carefully, putting a lot of time and energy and work into it. I therefore am convinced I know a lot. Even if I don't, I think I do. So I run into someone who makes, generally speaking, a dismissive remark, which shows that he has not put in anywhere near the time, energy and effort and study I have, and I turn into an arrogant, pompous asshole. So I'd rather not do that. That's why I just stay loose on it.

Psychic animal companions tend to come up fairly often in fantasy, and in science fiction to a lesser degree. It's a common theme in a lot of series. Why do you think it's such a popular idea?

Brust: I didn't really know it was. That's a new one on me. I believe you, I'm sure you're right, but I'd never expressed it to myself that way. As for why, I don't know, because it's fun. That's why I have a parrot. So I have a talking animal. Because it's fun.

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