Paolo Bacigalupi: This is What It Takes to Write a Novel

Paolo Bacigalupi, in case you don't know, is one of the most exciting SF writers working right now. His first novel The Windup Girl won both the Hugo and Nebula awards this year. It's radical and amazing. It would be a good idea for you to read it.

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One of the consequences of this is that I just threw an entire book away. I’d written it out to 80 or 90 thousand words and I just threw it away, because it’s not what I love.

Lev: That’s a lot of discipline, to bin that many words.

Paolo: My wife says that I’m nuts, actually. It’s one or the other. You can just tell when it doesn’t work.

Lev: I’m curious how much of an influence on you William Gibson has been. When I went looking for an analog to the sense of shock I felt the first time I read Windup Girl, the obvious answer was reading Neuromancer.

Paolo: Oh, yeah. I grew up reading Gibson. I’m a huge fan of his writing. I remain addicted to his writing. I know that when I was writing my first short story, “Pocket Full of Dharma,” that cyberpunk flavor of things was very much in my mind, in that Gibson style. That language, and lushness, and sort of that grittiness of the world was something that was something really interesting to me.

I emulated it too well, as it turned out. Because when I had that story workshopped by Elizabeth Hand, she was like, cyberpunk’s dead. Just so you know. You need you need to de-cyberpunk this story in order to make it actually sellable. That was the first time that I’d ever understood that there were actually really trend lines in science fiction as a genre, and slices of genre within science fiction.

And then frankly, he was the guy who kind of sent me off in the direction of writing short stories, because he had told me that’s how he’d gotten started. I literally stalked him at a Tattered Cover signing. I’d never actually met a real writer before, and it was the first author signing or author event I’d ever been to. So I went and I stalked him and I got my book signed. And then I kind of went and I stood over his shoulder. I just peppered him with questions as he signed for other people. I kind of cringe at it now. I was so starved for any instruction I could get

Lev: And yet now people probably do that to you, at your events.

Paolo: Yeah, it’s interesting to be the object of other people’s fascination. I mean, I’m sure you’ve had that too. It’s sort of a strange thing to really be extremely engaged in something you created. And then because of that they’re engaged in you.

It’s not an entirely natural interaction. By nature I’m sort of an introvert. So it’s somewhat exhausting

Lev: Could you name a couple of other writers, or a couple other works, that were inspirations for Windup Girl?

Paolo: Inspirations for Windup Girl, hmm. It’s hard to kinda pull these things apart. It all ends up being mulch. For Windup Girl, some of it’s things like Graham Greene, actually. I’m kind of intrigued by The Quiet American. Stuff about idealistic people doing stupid stuff in foreign countries has always sort of fascinated me.

Lev: Did you ever make forays into literary fiction? Mainstream fiction?

Paolo: You mean good fiction?

Lev: Right. That’s what I meant. “Legitimate” I think is another word for it.

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