C.J. Cherryh is one of the most prompt, and easy-going people I’ve ever met. When I asked her if she’d like to participate in my recent author interviews, she said, “Sounds great.” I sent her some questions, and within fifteen minutes she’d responded to them all!
She is the author of more than 60 science fiction and fantasy novels, which in and of itself, is astounding. She has several Hugo award-winning novels, and even has her own asteroid: 77185 Cherryh. The folks who discovered the asteroid had this to say about her: “She has challenged us to be worthy of the stars by imagining how mankind might grow to live among them.” To learn more about C.J., check her website out at: http://www.cherryh.com/
Q: Was there a defining moment in your life when you decided you wanted to be a writer?
A: Pretty well when they canceled my favorite TV show [Flash Gordon, the old serial] and there were no books like that in the library. I was 10.
Q: When you did start writing, were the people around you supportive of you?
A: My mother heard my ambition of the week and said, sternly, a very eye-opening thing: “Do something to eat.” This made me, at 10, wonder how writers got paid, and how they got to be writers. I decided publishers wouldn’t come to me, I had to get to them somehow, and meanwhile I had to eat. Teachers, I thought, had summers off. So I planned to be a teacher, so I could write.
Q: How long after you wrote your first novel did you get published?
A: Twenty years.
Q: How did you celebrate when you first got published?
A: Nobody I knew was home or would be for a week or so. So I went down and spent 200.00 completely redecorating my little office, repainting, putting up a mural, new carpet. And furniture. It wasn’t much. I invited my relatives in to admire it. They were amazed. My mum asked, “What prompted this?” I said: “I sold a book.”
Q: Is it true that early in your career you had to rewrite several manuscripts because the publishers misplaced them?
A: Yep. Moshe Feder found one at Ace, fallen down behind a cabinet, years later, and took it to an editor, who recognized it had long since been published in more than one language. I received it in the mail and couldn’t think what sort of fan would give you such a gift—I didn’t even recognize the typing: it was that old. Then I realized it was one of the old ones. I didn’t hear the whole story until Moshe told me his half of it at a convention. They lost that one 3 times.
Q: When you first began writing science fiction, was it difficult for you due to the fact that the majority of sci-fi writers were male?
A: I had no idea. I’d never been stopped from being or doing anything because I was female, except being shunted into a detestable home ec class instead of shop (but I still have all my fingers) and realizing I couldn’t fly fighter jets (but my vision wouldn’t let me do it anyway.) I write under initials because that’s the way my addy stamp was made up, because (the third reason) I lived in a rough neighborhood and didn’t like having a solo female name on the door. I’d have met them in the hall with a Persian saber—I competed in fencing—but I didn’t intend to let rascals even get the idea.
Q: Your writing voice is unique and especially powerful. What can you tell us about how you developed your style?
A: The key is viewpoint—understanding how to ‘be’ the person you’re writing about.
Q: You have won the Hugo Award for Best Novel two times, and the Best Short Story Hugo. What has that like?
A: Really, it’s hard being up for something: you do get nervous. And then I felt bad because I’d beat out some friends who also wanted it really badly.
Q: What does your writing space look like?
A: I have a little recliner beside a window in my bedroom, and I face a telly which provides white noise. I am frequently assisted by a cat.
Q: How many languages do you speak?
A: I know Latin, Ancient Greek, my best ones; can get along in French, once I get it going; and Italian [a Latin student is cheating on that one.] I know a little Russian, can muddle through several Romance languages in Latin, as long as it’s not too wild; and a couple of others.
Q: Do you write anything outside of the Science Fiction genre?
A: Fantasy. Jane and I are talking about collaborating on the next vampire book.
Q: What has your greatest moment as a writer been?
A: I think when I went to my first convention and met people who’d actually read my books.
Q: What is your writing process?
A: I outline a little, because I have a life, and travel, and need to pin the bare bones down so I can remember it. Then I don’t look at that unless I need it and just go forward. If I get stuck I start editing from the beginning. A good shower is really essential to the process, too. If you get stuck, shower.
Q: Which of your own books is your favorite and why?
A: Gate of Ivrel remains dear to my heart; Cyteen is one I’m quite proud of.
Q: What is the best novel you’ve ever read?
A: Hard to say: that varies by my mood. Jane and I read each other’s, and of course we love what we’re working on. Vergil’s Aeneid occupied a lot of my college study: he had a great influence on my sense of expression—Latin’s impressionistic and tricky. He was a great ‘sensory’ writer and it doesn’t come across well in English.
Q: What is the most discouraging thing about being a writer?
A: Isolation. There is NO instant gratification in the writing biz. It’s a long battle with white space. But it’s wonderful when it’s going well.
Q: How large of a role do you play in the marketing of your novels, and what are some of the best marketing strategies you know of?
A: Since NY has not been able to keep up backlist—Jane Fancher, Lynn Abbey and I formed our own e-book company for just the 3 of us, to keep our backlist in print and to experiment with books and stories that the bean-counters who try to dictate to publishers what they CAN buy — might not like.
Q: What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?
A: I garden, I do fish tanks, I figure skate, I travel, I hang out with my friends.
Q: When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A: In the same month I wanted to be a writer? An astronomer and a fighter pilot. Astronauts weren’t on the horizon yet.
Q: Are you working on anything now, and can you tell us about it?
A: I’m working on a Foreigner book, I’m putting out the Rusalka books (3) as e-books, I’m advising the Audible people who are doing some of my books, I’m talking with Jane about that vampire novel, and meanwhile we’re doing our own covers and conversions, and thinking up other stories.