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Un entretien avec Scott Oden pour Le Lion du Caire

Par Nak, le jeudi 18 avril 2013 à 14:00:00

L'interview originale

How would you describe The Lion of Cairo?
My name for it is historical sword-and-sorcery ; it has the diabolical villains, foul necromancy, and gritty action one would expect from S&S, but the setting for all this sword-swinging goodness is the historical past -- namely the twilight of the Fatimid caliphs of Egypt, circa the 12th century AD.
Compared to your previous works, does this novel hold a special place in your heart?
It does. I see it as a maturation of my work. My first two novels were written off the cuff, by the seat of my pants, and they show it (in my eyes, at least). The Lion of Cairo was the first book I’d written based off an extensive outline – 37 single-spaced pages.
Was there a specific reason behind your use of this particular background?
Ah, the city of Cairo in the 12th century *was* the city of the Arabian Nights, a crossroads for trade, as wretchedly filthy as it was fabulously wealthy. It had the evil vizier, the innocent caliph, the great cavaliers, and even the honest slaves. And it was also the same setting used by Robert E. Howard in one of my favorite stories, Gates of Empire. That story, and the history REH wrote into it, influenced The Lion of Cairo to a great degree.
To promote your new book, your French publisher drew comparisons between you and Robert E. Howard. Do you feel a lot of pressure?
No, not really. The Lion of Cairo was written in conscious imitation of Robert E. Howard’s style, as an homage to the stories I grew up with ; stories that led me to try my own hand at writing in the first place. Worked into the prose of Lion are numerous little references to Howard stories that fans of REH should have no trouble spotting. Honestly, I am flattered they would draw the comparison, but I hope readers recognize I am no Robert E. Howard. I am barely in the great man’s shadow.
What is your favourite aspect of writing?
I have two, actually. I love the research aspect, the idea of digging into history to find facts that can then inform my characters’ backgrounds or my plot. It’s a good feeling when a reader goes behind and checks something out for themselves because they thought you were making it up, only to find that it’s historical fact. The other aspect I enjoy is creation, the act of making something up to fit a gap in the historical record. It requires as much research, but then you need to flex your imagination to create something historically sound to fit in that gap. There’s a great deal of raw, imaginary creation in The Lion of Cairo.
More specifically, how do you manage to balance intimate moments and action scenes?
It’s not easy. Both have their own dynamics. Action should be more kinetic, written in shorter, punchier sentences that seem as abrupt as a blocked blow. There can be a poetry to it, but it should be the poetry of steel. Intimate scenes also require poetry, but of a different sort. The structure of sentences in intimate scenes should be smooth and flowing (unless violence is the point of the scene), almost languid. The parry and thrust of swords in action finds its opposite in the dialogue of intimacy. Both paint pictures, but where intimacy uses the language of Monet, action uses that of Frazetta.
What do you love about fantasy?
There is a freedom to fantasy that I find most appealing – the freedom to create with reckless abandon the worlds wherein stories are set. But, like Tolkien, I also consider historical fiction to be a subset of fantasy. In most instances, it is fantasy minus the most obvious magic, the fantasy of the mundane. But, call it Middle-earth or call it Outremer, it remains the work of the author’s imagination to conjure life and to relay that life in a way that will suspend the reader’s disbelief.
Is the internet an important tool in terms of communicating with your readers, do some research, etc?
Oh, the internet is critical, these days. Not only for research, like you say, but for networking with fellow authors, readers, editors, and agents. Rare books can be found in online libraries, or questions can be posed to authorities in myriad fields and answers received faster than you’d imagine. I remember for The Lion of Cairo needing some help with an Arabic phrase. I posted the question on Facebook and within moments a friend had asked his father-in-law, who was fluent in Arabic, to translate the phrase for me. When I first started out as a writer, in the 1980s, that same question could only *possibly* have been answered after a lengthy trip to the largest library in my area, some thirty miles away. But, as helpful as it is, the internet also makes procrastination easier. I can waste half my day simply following links on Wikipedia . . .
How would you define your relation with fans? Can their expectations sometimes weigh you down? For example, you are very active on Facebook!
Facebook is great for keeping in touch with fans, and for making them your friends, instead. I have a method to my Facebook madness – be genuine, be myself, don’t hardsell people or spam them with links to Amazon, and try to engage them. For example, I posted some pictures tied in to my latest project yesterday on Facebook, and the first few friends who liked the post found themselves worked in to my imaginary backstory for the pictures in the comments section. It saves me from having to invent names and hopefully shows them I appreciate their interest. I never feel weighed down by their expectations, either. The opposite is true : I try harder because I know they’re waiting to be readers of my work, once more.
I’ve read that you writing is all you have done since December 2000 and that is a a constant fight against poverty and apathy. Could you elaborate a bit about that?
In America, writing as a career hardly earns enough to put bread on the table. But, most of the jobs I’m qualified for do not pay any better (I have a lackluster high school education and no college, which guarantees me a job delivering pizza but nothing else. What I know about history, writing, etc., I taught myself). I hope some day to reach a broader audience, either through novels or through Hollywood interest in my novels, but until then every day is a bit of a struggle. Depression goes hand-in-glove with writing, and even after a writer has broken through and had their worked published by a reputable house – at home and abroad – you still have to sit down each day and stare at the blank page, which can be overwhelming for some. I am a serial procrastinator. My mind will bend over backwards to invent frivolous reasons to keep me from sitting down and working. Some are valid, like doctors’ appointments and errand running, but most are born of that small but powerful part of our subconscious that cannot allow us to be happy. Steven Pressfield, in his excellent treatise on writing called The War of Art, calls this force Resistance. And each day every artist or writer or creative individual does battle against Resistance ; some days, it wins. Some days, we win. But it is important to engage it in honest and open confrontation and try your hardest to put it down, to work *in spite* of it. That’s the fight I fight each time I sit down to work.
A superficial question now… Are you still a Xbox 360 junkie? Did you play Halo4?
I am ! I’ve not played Halo 4, yet. I’m currently addicted to Elder Scrolls : Skyrim (I play an Orc), and Left4Dead 2. There’s something wholly cathartic about shooting zombies in the face !
By the way, did you sell the rights to your other novels to French publishers?
No, sadly. Not yet. My first two novels, Men of Bronze and Memnon, are through a different US publisher, Medallion Press, Inc.
Could you tell us a few words about your next project?
A Gathering of Ravens is the title of my next work, and it is a project very near and dear to my heart. Anyone who has spent any time on my blog or on Facebook probably knows I have a serious thing for Orcs. I love them, from their creation by Tolkien, to Stan Nicholls (undoubtedly the godfather of the modern Orc book), to Christie Golden, RA Salvatore, Morgan Howell, Mary Gentle . . . to the Orcs of the gaming world, I am unabashedly, unashamedly an Orc-o-phile. Thus, A Gathering of Ravens is *my* Orc book. But, I wondered if another pure fantasy featuring Orcs could stand out in that stellar crowd of authors I mentioned above. To that end, I’m going to try something a little different. As an homage to Tolkien’s love for the Northern Thing, the core conceit behind A Gathering of Ravens is the idea that Tolkien’s own inspiration for Orcs came from a cycle of Norse myths unknown to us until recently. This cycle identifies a race of creatures descended from the Dvergar (dwarfs) that haunt caves and fens – Grendel and his monstrous mother from Beowulf, for instance, are degenerate members of this race of mythological Orcs. As for the story itself, it is a tale of revenge that spans the years 1000 AD to 1014 AD. It takes our protagonist, an Orc named Grimnir, from his haunts in Denmark, across the sea to England, and thence to Ireland ; he encounters magical creatures of the Old World that are diminishing and growing insane due to the encroachment of Christianity, and finally must choose sides at the Battle of Clontarf – to fight on the side of the Christian Gaels and claim his long-sought vengeance, or put that vengeance aside and fight on the side of the Pagan Danes of Dublin . . .
Do you have any book recommendations for our readers, fantasy or otherwise?
I always recommend two authors : Robert E. Howard and Steven Pressfield. The former is a writer of uncommon power and scope, especially when you consider his roots in the insular society of Depression-era Texas. Pressfield, on the other hand, is hand’s down the finest historical writer in the field today. His Gates of Fire should be required reading for anyone hoping to make a go of it as a writer, but especially those hoping to write fiction set in Antiquity.
Last but not least, is there anything you wish to share with your French fans?
I would like to thank them for their interest and for their enthusiasm. I hope you all enjoy The Lion of Cairo ! And if you’re on Facebook, send me a friend request !

Propos recueillis par Emmanuel Chastellière, traduction réalisée par Nak.

  1. L'interview traduite
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