When you pick up a Guy Gavriel Kay book, you know you are in for an intense experience. Guy Gavriel Kay is a master at creating compelling, complex, human characters in which the reader can’t help but become invested—even if their initial presentation is somewhat less than heroic. His fluency with themes can make you actually care about abstract concepts just as much as you do about the life or death of a character. And the combination of the above makes for books known for both their poignancy and resonance.
So, of course, I was beyond thrilled when Guy Gavriel Kay—winner of the 2008 World Fantasy Award, the International Goliardos Prize, two-time winner of the Aurora Award, and internationally bestselling author besides—agreed to do an interview on how he wrote his upcoming novel, River of Stars.
I hope you enjoy!
Susan: One of the most striking things about River of Stars is that it feels so incredibly human and grounded—the relationships between the characters in particular, but also the battle scenes—which gives it great poignancy and gets us readers super invested. How does a writer achieve that level of realism?
Guy Gavriel Kay: I have a longstanding one-liner, but it is only partly a joke, that “I've always depended on the intelligence of strangers.” The riff on A Streetcar Named Desire is actually at the center of my writing. The kind of “investment” on the part of readers that you refer to depends, it seems to me, on an author respecting both readers and characters—and I think they amount to the same thing. This means, of course, giving room for characters to emerge and become significant for a reader. I think that's a key.
Susan: At the same time as feeling grounded, River of Stars has the resonance of a myth or legend. How do you invest your writing with that kind of feeling?
Guy Gavriel Kay: You are being generous right off the top here. Thank you. In River of Stars I was interested (as always) in how the past affects the present day. The present time of the story, but also, by extension for the reader, his or her own time and life, if I do it properly. Looking back on long-ago events can carry that kind of legendary quality, and I wanted to explore an awareness that even as things are happening now in the book, later generations might see them as legendary events of their past—and, as we all know, the past gets changed by how it is remembered. That's a theme of the book.
Susan: There are many smaller tales in River of Stars that all wind together in ways that seem at first largely inconsequential (plot-wise), and then become incredibly, earth-shatteringly important. How do you make sure the reader can trace back the ripples of every stone?