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Paul Park
Mary Anne Mohanraj

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Mailing Date:
28 September 2006

Locus Magazine
Paul Park: The Magic of Doubt
Paul Park was born North Adams MA, and graduated from Hampshire College in Amherst in 1975. During two years of traveling, mostly in India, Indonesia, and the South Seas, he finished first novel Soldiers of Paradise (1987), a Clarke Award finalist and first in his Starbridge Chronicles, which also includes Sugar Rain (1991) and The Cult of Loving Kindness (1991). Nebula and Tiptree finalist Coelestis (as Celestis in the US) appeared in 1993, followed by The Gospel of Corax (1996) and Three Marys (2003). Park has found his greatest success with the White Tyger series, beginning with A Princess of Roumania (2005), The Tourmaline (2006), and forthcoming The White Tyger and The Hidden World.

Notable short stories include World Fantasy and Sturgeon Awards finalist "Get a Grip" (1997) and British SF Award nominee "If Lions Could Speak" (2002). Some of his short fiction is collected in If Lions Could Speak and Other Stories (2002).

Photo by Amelia Beamer

Website: Wikipedia
Park lives in Massachusetts with his wife, Deborah Brothers, married 1994, and their two children, Miranda and Lucius. He teaches literature and writing at Williams College.
Excerpts from the interviews:

“The Starbridge Chronicles were an attempt at creating an invented society with recognizable connections that would resonate with modern readers, so I would be able to invent a religion and a religious structure, a social hierarchy and social environment, that would be interesting to people. Except for the fact that there was no magic in them, they were fantasy rather than science fiction. I still don't really perceive them as science fiction, but it's mostly a question of tone, a kind of realism.

“When I look at those books now, I see a kind of anger in them because they involve two irreconcilable forces, doubt and faith. There's this necessity people have to imagine the transcendent, something larger than them that gives meaning not only to their own lives but to the whole human enterprise. Lives are impoverished and turned to a certain kind of cynicism if there's no sense of transcendence, but because so much human energy turns to issues of power and money, people immediately betray those feelings. The search for transcendence is very necessary, yet people want to stop and say, 'Now I've discovered the thing that is true and I can stop.'

“Especially in monotheism, this leads to a legalistic worldview: 'This is God's plan for us and we have to follow God's rules.' People invent structures that are largely about separating the world into groups of believers and nonbelievers. The other way to go is to say, 'We don't know where God is. Let's all go on our own way and try to find Him (or Her).' That's difficult because it doesn't translate into any kind of social structure, but if you're honest with yourself, you admit those moments when you say 'Now I understand' are ephemeral.

“It struck me at a certain point that faith is almost antithetical to spirituality, not just in religious matters but in many others. When people have faith in their country, in their political party, in their leaders, it causes them to act in a way that can be controlled by others. That behavior comes out of a kind of laziness, where they don't examine the reasons why they do things. Doubt is a magical thing, doubt comes from God's hands and everything good that happens comes out of it, so it can't be inimical to spirituality.”


The Three Marys was the beginning of a traumatic downturn for me, professionally. At a convention, soon after I'd finished The Gospel of Corax, David Hartwell (who had published my first three books and the American edition of Coelestis) was talking about how when genre writers broke out of the genre and wrote different kinds of books it was almost always career suicide. I thought, 'Nonsense, I've just written this beautiful book.' But that didn't quite work out, and then The Three Marys was even more problematical: I couldn't even get it published by the people who brought out The Gospel of Corax. Then it just seemed as though everything was imploding. So I started working on my teaching more, thinking, 'I can make this happen and maybe write a bit on the side -- write some short fiction, but that's not going to be a career.' So until I started to work on A Princess of Roumania, there was a level on which I thought I was just out of the field.”


“One of the things I never responded to in most fantasies and science fiction stories is the way they would have very complicated postulations about an imaginary world, with an authorial voice telling you what was true. There might be differing opinions among the people in that society, but you the reader had the straight line to the actual facts of the matter. That struck me as very different from our experience of living in the world, where there are all kinds of disagreements about the first principles of things.”


“It still takes me by surprise when somebody thinks of A Princess of Roumania as a YA book, but I don't think it's not YA. I read the Phillip Pullman books, and one of the things that encouraged me about those is that he didn't seem to care much about the issue. If you have a protagonist who's 15 years old, it becomes YA almost by definition, regardless of how complicated or interesting the book is. And I imagine a reader who is sort of aging as the books come out -- 15 initially, then with the second book a little older, and the next one.... The sexual issues Miranda has to deal with are very muted in the first book, but in the later ones I find more adult themes coming in.

“When I look at what my daughter is going through, growing up into an adult world that she perceives only imperfectly and that feels frightening and threatening... That's what these stories are all about. They're all about leaving childhood behind. So that's an overt theme, but I think it also connects with what people go through at other stages of their lives: that process of growing into the world and finding the world a mysterious place, forcing you to take roles that you're not comfortable in.”

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