Locus Online
O C T A V I A  E.   B U T L E R : Persistence
(excerpted from Locus Magazine, June 2000)

Octavia E. Butler
    Photo by Beth Gwinn
 

Octavia Estelle Butler was born June 22, 1947 in Pasadena, California. Her father died when she was still a baby, and her mother raised her on her own, working as a maid. She attended Pasadena City College, where she received an A.A. in 1968. In 1969, she went to Cal State - L.A, and also took a class from Harlan Ellison as part of the Screen Writers' Guild Open Door Program.

Her first story, ''Crossover'', appeared in the 1971 Clarion anthology, but she only had one other sale in the next five years. After working at a number of blue-collar jobs to support herself, she began her notable career with two in the ''Patternist'' SF series: Patternmaster (1976), and Mind of My Mind (1977). After standalones Survivor (1978) and Kindred (1979), she returned to the series with Wild Seed (1980). Clay's Ark (1984) was another standalone. ''Xenogenesis'' books Dawn (1987), Adulthood Rites (1988), and Imago (1989) came next. Much of Butler's shorter fiction was collected in Bloodchild and Other Stories (1995). She won the 1984 Hugo for short story ''Speech Sounds'', and 1985 Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Awards for novelette ''Bloodchild''. In 1995, she received a $295,000 MacArthur Foundation ''Genius'' award the first SF writer to do so.

She is currently developing the ''Parable'' series dealing with mankind's reaching out to the stars, its origins chronicled in Parable of the Sower (1993) and Parable of the Talents (1998), with more to come.


  §

Amazon links:





  §

Search Amazon.com for
Books by Octavia Butler

 

  §

Index to Locus Interviews
 
 

''Devil Girl From Mars is the movie that got me writing science fiction, when I was 12 years old. I had already been writing for two years. I began with horse stories, because I was crazy over horses, even though I never got near one. At 11, I was writing romances, and I'm happy to say I didn't know any more about romance than I did about horses. When I was 12, I had this big brown three-ring binder notebook that somebody had thrown away, and I was watching this godawful movie on television. (I wasn't allowed to go to the movies, because movies were wicked and sinful, but somehow when they came to the television they were OK.) It was one of those where the beautiful Martian arrives on Earth and announces that all the men on Mars have died and they need more men. None of the Earthmen want to go! And I thought, 'Geez, I can write a better story than that.' I got busy writing what I thought of as science fiction.''

*

''When I was in college, I began Kindred, and that was the first [novel] that I began, knowing what I wanted to do. The others, I was really too young to think about them in terms of 'What do you have to say in this novel?' I just knew there were stories I wanted to tell. But when I did Kindred, I really had had this experience in college that I talk about all the time, of this Black guy saying, 'I wish I could kill all these old Black people that have been holding us back for so long, but I can't because I have to start with my own parents.' That was a friend of mine. And I realized that, even though he knew a lot more than I did about Black history, it was all cerebral. He wasn't feeling any of it. He was the kind that would have killed and died, as opposed to surviving and hanging on and hoping and working for change. And I thought about my mother, because she used to take me to work with her when she couldn't get a baby sitter and I was too young to be left alone, and I saw her going in the back door, and I saw people saying things to her that she didn't like but couldn't respond to. I heard people say in her hearing, 'Well, I don't really like colored people.' And she kept working, and she put me through school, she bought her house all the stuff she did. I realized that he didn't understand what heroism was. That's what I want to write about: when you are aware of what it means to be an adult and what choices you have to make, the fact that maybe you're afraid, but you still have to act.''

*

''In Xenogenesis, I bring in the aliens, but in the 'Parable' books I wanted to keep everything as realistic as I could. I didn't want any powers, any kind of magic or fantastical elements. Even the empathy is not real it's delusional. I wanted to have human beings in that one book find their own way clear. And I used religion because it seems to me it's something we can never get away from. I've met science fiction people who say, 'Oh well, we're going to outgrow it,' and I don't believe that for one moment. It seems that religion has kept us focused and helped us to do any number of very difficult things, from building pyramids and cathedrals to holding together countries, in some instances. I'm not saying it's a force for good it's just a force. So why not use it to get ourselves to the stars?

''It seems to me we're not going to do that for any logical reason. It's not going to happen because it's profitable it may not be. The going certainly won't be. The people who work on it will probably not live to see whether or not they've been successful. It's not like, 'In ten years, we'll go to the moon' which, unfortunately for us, we did. It might have been better if we had almost made it, but then the Russians did ahead of us. If we had lost the race to the Russians, we would be farther along in space travel. One of the reasons going to the moon was a big thing to do was Sputnik. The Russians were sending up their satellites, and ours were crashing and burning. I was a kid with her eyes glued to the television set back then in the '50s.

''In the 'Parable' books, we have one person who decides this is what religion should be doing, and she uses religion to get us into interstellar space. Sower and Talents were the fictional autobiography of Lauren Olamina, though Talents turned out to be a mother/daughter story. There are no more books about her, but I am working on a book (which may or may not come off, and may be called Parable of the Trickster) about people who go, who do fulfill that destiny and go to this other world.''

*

''I've talked to high school kids who are thinking about trying to become a writer and asking 'What should I major in?', and I tell them, 'History. Anthropology. Something where you get to know the human species a little better, as opposed to something where you learn to arrange words.' I don't know whether that's good advice or not, but it feels right to me. You don't start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it's good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That's why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence. It's just so easy to give up!''

*

''There are a number of myths we live by. For instance, the myth of 'away,' as in 'I'll throw it away.' Where's that? There's no such place. It's going somewhere. Or the myth of 'my little bit won't hurt,' or the obvious myths of 'bigger is better' and 'more is better.' We have all these myths, and we believe in them without even recognizing that they're there. We just act on them and that's liable to be our downfall.''

*

''I don't think of religion as nasty. Religion kept some of my relatives alive, because it was all they had. If they hadn't had some hope of heaven, some companionship in Jesus, they probably would have committed suicide, their lives were so hellish. But they could go to church and have that exuberance together, and that was good, the community of it. When they were in pain, when they had to go to work even though they were in terrible pain, they had God to fall back on, and I think that's what religion does for the majority of the people. I don't think most people intellectualize about religion. They use it to keep themselves alive. I'm not talking about most Americans. We don't need it that way, most of us, now. But there was certainly a time when many of us did, maybe most of us.

''The religion in the 'Parable' books would probably change over time to make it a more comforting religion. For instance, Lauren doesn't believe in life after death, but that's one of the hopes people have. They know they're going to die, so they have to believe, a lot of them, that there's something else. An interviewer I mentioned this to said she didn't feel she needed her religion to be comforting, and I said, 'Well, that's because you're already comfortable.' It's those people who have so little, and who suffer so much, who need at least for religion to comfort them. Nothing else is. Once you grow past Mommy and Daddy coming running when you're hurt, you're really on your own. You're alone, and there's no one to help you.

''I used to despise religion. I have not become religious, but I think I've become more understanding of religion. And I'm glad I was raised as a Baptist, because I got my conscience installed early. I've been around people who don't have one, and they're damned scary. And I think a lot of them are out there running major corporations! How can you do some of the things these people do if you have a conscience? So I think it might be better if there were a little more religion, in that sense. My mother didn't just say, 'Go to church, go to Sunday school.' I did all that, but I could see her struggling to live according to the religion she believed in. My mother worked every day, sometimes on Sundays, and I didn't have a father, and she still managed to install all this.''

*

''Parable of the Trickster if that's what the next one ends up being called will be the Seattle novel, because I have removed myself to a place that is different from where I've spent most of my life. I remember saying to Vonda McIntyre, 'Part of this move is research,' and it is it's just that Seattle is where I've wanted to move since I visited there the first time in 1976. I really like the city, but it is not yet home. As they tell writers to do, I'll take any small example of something and build it into a larger example. I've moved to Seattle; my characters have moved to Alpha Centauri, or whatever. (That was not literal.) But they suffer and learn about the situation there a little bit because of what I learn about from my move to Seattle. Writers use everything. If it doesn't kill you, you probably wind up using it in your writing.''


© 2000 by Locus Publications. All rights reserved.