Interview: Lavie Tidhar

Lavie Tidhar is the author of Osama, The Violent Century, A Man Lies Dreaming, Central Station, and Unholy Land, as well as the Bookman Histories trilogy. His latest novels are By Force Alone, children’s book The Candy Mafia and comics mini-series Adler. His awards include the World Fantasy Award, the British Fantasy Award, the John W. Campbell Award, the Neukom Prize and the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize. Juvenilia is Tidhar’s first appearance in Uncanny, a beautifully crafted period piece that explores the worlds created by the Brontë siblings in their juvenilia.

Uncanny Magazine: This story is a period piece, and also an in-depth exploration of the worlds created by the Brontë siblings in their juvenilia. How much research did you need to do for the story? What was your favorite tidbit of information?

Lavie Tidhar: I’m not sure! I remember Cat Valente telling me about the Brontës a few years back (she wrote a book called The Glass Town Game about it!), then I must have repressed the memory because I came across the juvenilia stuff looking for something else, and I was like, this is cool! Why did no one ever tell me ab—oh. And then of course I thought there’s not much point doing this because Cat already did and she must have done it better. (I’m saving my copy of The Glass Town Game but it’s a signed limited edition and I keep it wrapped to protect it!). But I’ve been interested in the Gothic for some time from visiting Strawberry Hill House, which was Horace Walpole’s bizarre mock-Gothic creation and the birthplace of Gothic fiction—it’s where he wrote The Castle of Otranto, which started the whole thing. And if you watch, say, Harry Potter, with the paintings coming to life, that’s where it starts—you can actually visit the gallery and see the actual spot. Walpole said he had a nightmare about one of his paintings coming to life and he wrote it into the book, so that’s where this particular trope comes from. So it was the house. I blame the house!

Uncanny Magazine: What was the most challenging thing about writing this story? What was the easiest or most fun part?

Lavie Tidhar: I think the most challenging part was actually finding a publisher for it! Isn’t that always the case? And I never had a story in Uncanny and sort of suspected I wasn’t the right fit, and I just cold-emailed and asked if I could send it in. I was really happy they took it!

Uncanny Magazine: You’ve traveled a lot, and have also lived in several different countries. How have these experiences influenced your writing? Are there places that you find yourself returning to repeatedly in your fiction?

Lavie Tidhar: I do enjoy writing about England, being an outsider to it—I find it funny. I recently wrote an SF story set in Mongolia (“Wild Geese,” which is coming out in F&SF), and I was able to draw on having been to Ulaan-Bataar and the Gobi, if a long time ago. But again, it’s very much writing as an outsider, and using outsider characters. I don’t think that just because you visited somewhere, or even lived somewhere, necessarily means it’s right for you to write about it as if you come from a place of knowledge. At the same time, I am not sure I want to keep mining my own personal background, which is sort of the dilemma international writers have: do I write to type, do I write to “educate” about my culture, or can I just write for fun about whatever I want? So I’ve done the personal stuff like Unholy Land and Central Station and A Man Lies Dreaming, and I’m doing this big epic thing about England at the moment (By Force Alone is sort of just the start of it, it turns out!) because it seems so relevant to where we are now, but then I’d go and do something purely for fun like “The Big Blind,” which is a novella PS Publishing are putting out this year, which is about an Irish nun who enters a poker tournament. Just because I wanted to write it! It’s like Sister Act meets Rounders, that’s kind of my pitch for it. Nothing fantastical at all! I spent two weeks playing online poker to get into the rhythm of it. It’s sort of like a sports movie. Only with nuns.

Uncanny Magazine: Did you write any juvenilia, and if so do you still have any of it?

Lavie Tidhar: I wrote poetry rather than fiction, though most of it was collected in a Hebrew collection I did a looong time ago…And I have the handful of short stories, also in Hebrew, that I wrote as a teen. One of them was actually accepted for a literary magazine in Israel when I was seventeen, then the editors changed and it was never published! It was only three hundred words though. The closest I come to juvenilia is some Pascal code I had released as shareware back in the early BBS days–one of them is still floating around! I’m strangely proud of that.

Uncanny Magazine: There is a lovely dark foreboding feeling to the early portions of the story, and good dramatic tension from the mystery of what is going on in the house. Your fiction often blends speculative elements with elements commonly seen in film-noir, thrillers, and mysteries. Do you read a lot of non-speculative fiction, and if so, can you recommend a couple favorites?

Lavie Tidhar: That’s nice to hear! The whole Gothic, horror, that whole slow creeping atmosphere thing doesn’t come naturally to me. I had a story in Best New Horror once and nearly fell off my chair! (It was “Selfies,” that Ellen Datlow published in Tor.com). But it’s not my natural thing at all. Not that this is a horror story! I suppose it’s about growing up. The whole question of fantasy, and is it an escape, and is escape good, is sort of the question Osama and The Violent Century and in particular A Man Lies Dreaming basically ask and then try to answer. So this is another go at the question, and I like the answer Anne gives here.

I don’t get to read a whole lot! I try to keep up with genre for the book column I write with Silvia Moreno-Garcia for the Washington Post, but it’s hard! We keep getting sent these giant fantasies and I just can’t do it, I need a long international flight to read and there are no long international flights right now! I mostly read non-fiction these days, I’m currently reading some really fascinating stuff about Elizabethan England. They were all mad.

One book that I love, because it captures my very weird childhood, is Murder on a Kibbutz, by Batya Gur. There’s an English translation but it’s out of print and there’s no Kindle edition…She was a wonderful writer. It’s worth hunting down.

Uncanny Magazine: What are you working on next?

Lavie Tidhar: My “Arthurian,” or more like anti-Arthurian novel, By Force Alone, is just out, and my comics mini-series Adler, which brings together several of the heroines of Victorian fiction, is back after a pandemic delay. My kid’s book The Candy Mafia is out in September, and The Big Blind should be out at some point too… One of my favourite books, The Escapement, got delayed till late next year, but I’m really excited about it. It’s a sort of surrealist fantasy the publishers are calling something like “The Phantom Tollbooth meets the Gunslinger!” Which is funny but not entirely untrue. I call it a clown western but as it turns out, no one likes clowns (or westerns!). And I just delivered a new novel to my UK publishers, so right now, for the first time, I am doing almost nothing, other than finishing a giant anthology.

Uncanny Magazine: Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us!

Caroline M. Yoachim

Caroline M. Yoachim is the author of the 2017 Hugo and Nebula finalist short story “Carnival Nine.” Her fiction has appeared in Lightspeed, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Uncanny, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Clarkesworld, and Asimov’s, among other places. Her debut short story collection, Seven Wonders of a Once and Future World & Other Stories, came out with Fairwood Press in 2016. For more about Caroline, check out her website at carolineyoachim.com.

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