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September 2007
Locus Magazine
Guy Gavriel Kay: Finding the Balance
Guy Gavriel Kay was born in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, Canada, and grew up in Winnipeg. He earned a BA in philosophy from the University of Manitoba, and while there met Christopher Tolkien, son of J.R.R. Tolkien, who asked Kay to help complete his father's unfinished The Silmarillion. The two worked on the book at Oxford from 1974-75, and it was published in 1977.

Kay earned a law degree from the University of Toronto in 1978, and was admitted to the bar, but turning to writing instead. He began publishing novels with The Fionavar Tapestry: The Summer Tree (1984); The Wandering Fire (1986), winner of the Casper Award (now called the Aurora Award); and The Darkest Road (1986). His next books were darker and included less overt magical elements. Sailing to Sarantium (1998) and Lord of Emperors (2002) form the Sarantine Mosaic, set in an alternate version of ancient Byzantium, and both were World Fantasy Award finalists. Aurora Award winner and World Fantasy Award finalist Tigana (1990) is a standalone, as are A Song for Arbonne (1992), The Lions of Al-Rassan (1995), and The Last Light of the Sun (2004). Ysabel (2007) is also a standalone, but is glancingly related to the Fionavar Tapestry. His poetry collection, Beyond This Dark House, appeared in 2003. He is currently working on a screenplay adaptation of his Last Light of the Sun. Kay married Laura Beth Cohen in 1984, and they live in Toronto with their two sons.
Photo by Liza Groen Trombi

Bright Weavings
Excerpts from the interview:

“We like to find patterns. We're a storytelling species -- a story-making species -- and if we do not construct a narrative of our lives, they feel random. We can rewrite the narrative, looking back, but we want a narrative of our lives and of our family history. For the longest time, the narrative was European history. We grew up thinking that Europeans found the planet, but now that narrative is being recast.

“The use of the fantastic allows access to the story in a wider, more universal way than straightforward historical fiction set in a given period. I've been saying for years that good fiction is interesting things happening to interesting people. In a lot of the commercial bestsellers (any genre, any form, any field), you're going to have interesting things happening to stupefyingly uninteresting characters, and in a lot of the lauded literary contemporary fiction you'll have carefully thought-out characters with nothing remotely engaging happening to them. But it's not a zero-sum game, not either/or. It's difficult to deliver both, but that's our mandate when we write.”


“The first time I went to Croatia, the first question I was asked from the floor (with a UN interpreter beside me) was, 'When you wrote Tigana, were you writing about us?' I get that in Poland, and I get that in Quebec. My Korean publishers asked for a separate introduction for their edition of Tigana outlining the links between the underlying story and Korea's experience with Japan at the beginning of the 20th century. I wrote that it would be presumptuous for a Canadian to tell Koreans their own history, but made the point that the reason I wrote Tigana as a fantasy was so it could be seen as universalized.

“That's a strength of what fantasy does. It's not just about Korea and the Japanese, or Ireland when Cromwell moved in, or Wales when you couldn't speak Welsh in schoolyards. It's about all of it, if you use fantasy that way. It's always reassuring to me that there's a larger picture than just the North American one. Over here, we don't have that tradition. We've got bits of it by way of the Brits -- something like Gulliver's Travels will be cited, or 1984 or Animal Farm, though Gulliver's Travels has moved down the spectrum from devastating satire to a children's book in the popular awareness.”


“In some ways, Ysabel is a departure from what I've been doing, and in some ways it's not. I'm still fascinated by the same things I've been fascinated by for 15 or 20 years: working with history, examining the ways in which the past doesn't go away from us and impacts on what we do, how we need to acknowledge and confront what went before in order to know where we're going. But because it's contemporary it's a departure, and the publishers made the decision to play up that fact so no one would buy the new book expecting that this time Kay will do Aztecs of the Indian subcontinent, or whatever. That was a conscious marketing thing, and I think it worked because there's next to no indicator that people here or in Canada have been buying the book without some awareness that it will be different. When you're a moving target, there's no way to assume that the readers will want to move with you, but the one thing you can make sure of is that they aren't bemused by the change.”

© 2007 by Locus Publications. All rights reserved.