James P. Blaylock: Impractical Machines
Blaylock began publishing SF with “Red Planet” in Unearth (1977). First novel The Elfin Ship (1982) began the Elfin trilogy, which also includes The Disappearing Dwarf (1983) and The Stone Giant (1989).
Contemporary weird SF novel The Digging Leviathan (1984) is related to steampunk novels Homunculus (1986, A Philip K. Dick Award Winner) and Lord Kelvin’s Machine (1992, a World Fantasy Award finalist), and novella The Ebb Tide (2009).
Other novels include Land of Dreams (1987); World Fantasy Award nominees The Last Coin (1988) and The Rainy Season (1999); The Magic Spectacles (1991); The Paper Grail (1991) and All the Bells on Earth (1995), each a finalist for both World Fantasy and Mythopoeic Awards; Night Relics (1994); and Winter Tides (1997). Newest novel The Knights of the Cornerstone appeared in 2008, after almost a decade during which Blaylock focused on short fiction instead of novels.
Blaylock met Tim Powers while they were students at Cal State Fullerton, and the two have sometimes worked together. While at college Blaylock and Powers created fictional poet William Ashbless, who has appeared as a character in novels by both authors, and who continues to “produce” new work to this day. Works by (or about) Ashbless include pamphlet Offering the Bicentennial Edition of the Complete Twelve Hours of the Night: 1785-1985 (1986), On Pirates (2001), The William Ashbless Memorial Cookbook (2002), and “Pilot Light” (2007).
Blaylock lives in Orange CA with wife Viki Lynn Martin (married 1972); they have two sons.
Excerpts from the interview:
“For much of the last decade, a lot of short stories appeared but no novels. That’s largely because I got caught up in a developing creative writing program at an arts high school in Orange County CA. I actually got Tim Powers to help out. The idea was that we would develop this program and then hire teachers and go on our way, but he hung on to teach novel writing and poetry, and I hung on to direct the program and teach short story writing and a couple of other things. I thought I was going to do it for about three years, but I’m still there — I will always be there, ’cause it’s just too cool not to do.
“I also teach full-time at a university in Orange County, Chapman University, so I dash back and forth, and it really got in the way of production. Which would irritate me, except that teaching is equally close to my heart. I’ve got 145 creative writers now at the high school. It’s pretty wonderful. So that accounts for the dearth of novels.”
“I feel like a grandfather to steampunk. (In fact, I wish I were a grandfather — talk to my kids.) In about 2003, Tim Powers and I and our wives Viki and Serena went to France to a convention that was largely steampunk-oriented. Steampunk is huge in France, and I was amazed to discover it was such a big deal. I was also invited by the University of Bologna’s Department of Dystopian and Utopian Studies, to be Writer Guest of Honor at a three-day conference on steampunk. In fact, they did a whole day on Blaylock books and stories, but unfortunately we couldn’t afford to go. (I could have hung out with Umberto Eco or something. It would have been wonderful.)
“I’m shocked by the way steampunk has become such a thing here in the US as well. Last November I was Guest of Honor at a steampunk WindyCon in Chicago, and in 2008 I was at a steampunk convention in San Jose CA. In the hucksters’ room there were probably 40 tables set up: two were selling books, and 38 were selling goggles. I’m not heavily into goggles. To a degree, steampunk as a genre has sensibilities a bit different from my own. The trappings now (the goggles and the machines, all that kind of stuff) weren’t a big part of what we were doing. It seems to be largely a fashion aesthetic. Those pictures of steampunk laptops are cool looking, but….”
“I’m working on a couple of things now. When I wrote The Ebb Tide, I hadn’t written any steampunk for about 15 years, since Lord Kelvin’s Machine, so I decided I liked the length: long enough to be put in hardcovers, but not a two-year process. Writing Ebb Tide, ideas for further adventures kept popping into my mind, so I’m engaged in another that I think will have a similar length.
“I’m also putting together a novel that sometimes I think is just fantasy by the skin of its teeth. It’s a contemporary fantasy that’s set (again) in Southern California, based on some local legends and stuff like that. And I recently finished a young-adult book that my agent is schlepping around. It’s called Zeuglodon: The True Adventures of Catherine Perkins, Cryptozoologist, and it’s narrated by an 11-year-old girl. It has a mad scientist in it, and it’s also kind of a Hollow Earth thing. I had more fun writing it than virtually anything since The Last Coin.”
Read the complete interview, and biographical profile, in the April 2010 issue of Locus Magazine.
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