Interviewed by Cory de la Guardia
Pat Cadigan is one of the founders of the cyberpunk literary genre, though she doesn’t describe herself that way. In her career she has published numerous novels and short stories, dealing with the interaction between the human mind and technology. She was the recipient of the Arthur C. Clarke Award for best novel of the year for Synners (1991) and Fools (1992). She received the Hugo Award for Best Novelette for The Girl-Thing who Went Out for Sushi (2013).
BEING LITERALLY BORN INTO THE GENRE
Throughout your career, you and your writings have been associated with the relationship between the human mind and technology; what is the genesis of that relationship from your perspective?
Damned if I know.
Okay, seriously: I think it dates from the time I was a cyborg. No, seriously: I had a congenital heart defect corrected when I was five, and when I woke up after surgery, I had a tube in my chest connecting me to some kind of giant (to me) machine. I remember that it was sort of noisy, which is probably why I like to fall asleep listening to traffic noise.
Actually, I think I was always interested in technology of all kinds. I was curious, fascinated by some things like TV and radio—i.e., mass media—and not that interested in other things—e.g., cars, learning to drive. I’m of the US baby boomer generation, the first generation to grow up with mass media. I watched coverage of the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War on TV; I saw Neil Armstrong walk on the moon live. I could see that people made technology and then technology changed society. To me, that was fascinating.
Mindplayers comes out in 1987. What was the feeling of publishing/accomplishment for you at that point, considering the journey of selling your first story in 1980?
Well, it was pretty gratifying! In fact, I had been trying to sell a different novel to Shawna McCarthy, who was an editor at Bantam Spectra at the time. She said she didn’t like it but she really liked the series of stories I had been writing about Deadpan Allie and she wanted to talk about combining those into a novel. So I went to New York and we looked at the stories together and developed a loose outline, and I added some things as I went along. When I sent her the final draft, she told me she thought there was something missing, so we talked about that for a while. I added some material and then we both decided we were happy with it.
That was a great experience. Shawna was a terrific editor.
LIFE, WRITING, AND EVERYTHING ELSE
A few years later your second novel, Synners comes out. What were some of the reasons for that gap from your first novel to your second? Was there issues of writer’s block, or fear of following up a strong debut novel?
Not even close, sunshine!
When I wrote Mindplayers, I had a full-time job and a new baby. After Mindplayers came out, I quit my job to write full-time. Although I had a lot of help from my own mother with child care, being a mother is a 24/7 gig, especially with a very young child. I had my hands full, working my writing time around raising my wonderful little boy. Also, Synners was an immense project in terms of research. When I really got into it, I saw that I was going to have to learn a whole lot about neuroscience as well as what was then cutting edge technology, like nanotech. All of that took time—I don’t have a scientific background so I had to teach myself. Acquiring the right books took even more time—we didn’t have Google and Amazon, where you can just search for a subject on a website. I had to go to bookstores and libraries and comb through the shelves, looking for the right books about brain function.
It took even more time to collate the research—there was no way to copy-and-paste from hard copy. I had to make notes, and then organize them. Sometimes I had to do this holding a baby who was teething on my lap.
When I was first working on Synners, there were a number of days when I had my infant son in a front carrier and I would reach around him to type.
You have a rather prolific collection of short stories to your credit; is there a particular reason you so enjoy short stories? What do you think of the current placement of short stories in the modern readership (the recent resurgence with tablet reading rising)?
When I was working a full-time job and then raising a kid, it was a lot easier to complete pieces of short fiction than it was to build up and maintain the momentum needed for a novel. Also, when I started out, this was how most writers in the field developed a career. You started out in the magazines; readers would come to recognize your name, and then book editors became aware of you. Obviously, things have changed a great deal.
Once my son was grown, I had to look after my elderly mother and it wasn’t easy, even with my husband helping. As a result, for the first dozen years of the century, I could only write short fiction. My mother passed away in late 2012 and I went back to work on a novel in earnest…
…and then I got cancer. Go figure.
You’ve also written several novelizations of films, including one of my personal film guilty pleasures Jason X. What is that experience like? Do you get advanced screenings of the movie? Do they just bury you in notes or is it a pretty free experience?
Jason X was a hoot! It wasn’t like any other novelization I’ve done because when I got the assignment, it had already come out and was available on DVD. I had a great time writing that one. The studio had a firm requirement for the number of words; in order to meet it, I had to make up a whole lot of back-story and context for the characters. While I was at it, I slipped in an explanation as to why Jason Voorhees was always killing people for having sex.
But, as I said, that was an exception. I get no advance screenings—I’m usually writing the book while the movie is in production. When I was writing the novelization for Cellular (Kim Basinger, Jason Statham, and a very young, pre-Captain America Chris Evans), I was a hundred pages into the book when they sent me an entirely new script and I had to start over from scratch.
Incidentally, this is why novelizations aren’t exactly like the finished movie. There may be changes to the script during filming, or even afterwards. The director might decide to re-edit the film—scenes might be changed or cut altogether, or new ones added and if the book has already gone to press, there’s nothing the writer can do about it. The lead time for producing a book is a lot longer than it is for a movie, and the novelization is supposed to come out the same day the movie is released, so last-minute changes won’t make it into print.
Every novelization is a different experience and, in general, quite enjoyable.
What are some of the bigger differences between living in the UK vs living in the United States? As a writer is there one that feeds your creativity more?
I’m afraid that for me, the biggest difference is quite prosaic—I’m a cancer patient with no enormous medical bills to worry about. Having had enormous medical bills in the US, I can tell you that not having them has improved the quality of my life greatly.
That aside, I love London. My husband and I are both urban creatures and this city is magnificent. There’s always something going on, something interesting to do or see. And it’s truly multicultural—there are all kinds of people here and we’re all the better for them.
What is the origin of your love and relationship with Cyberpunk? Where did it come from and how/why is it the genre you most identify with?
Pure chance. I simply gravitated to things that became identified as cyberpunk. I don’t know how else to describe it. I wrote about things I was interested in.
WHAT RECOGNITION MEANS TO A WRITER
You are a rather decorated writer, with numerous awards including a Hugo and a pair of Arthur C Clarke awards, what are your feelings about those accomplishments both individually and as the recognition it adds to your career as a writer?
I don’t really have that many awards. It’s wonderful to be recognized that way but I didn’t go into this hoping for awards and I never counted on getting any. I had been a full-time writer for 33 years before I won a Hugo, and most people, including my friends, thought I had already won one decades earlier. Conversely, most people are unaware that I’ve won the Locus Award three times. Those, plus the Seiun—the Japanese Hugo—are all the awards I’ve won for writing.
I wouldn’t turn down another award of any kind, of course. But the recognition I value most has come from readers who tell me that a book or a story of mine means something special to them. This is something you can’t get nominated for; a publisher’s marketing department can’t buy it and all the good reviews in the world won’t give it to you. Knowing that something I wrote made a difference in a reader’s life is the most gratifying experience of all.
The story of your friend and you imagining being super powered and giving the Beatles advice on fame is fantastic. Where did that come from and what is some of the advice you two imparted to the Beatles?
This is very hard to explain. Rose and I were two little girls living a secret fantasy life and our fantasy universe was already quite elaborate before the Beatles came along—we just added them to our imaginings. We had a lot of fantasy adventures on other planets and dimensions and we took the Beatles with us. But Rose and I were always the heroes, rescuing them from monsters or bad guys. We were absolutely invincible.
Your personal criterion for good writing is “when I’m reading a book and I’m following along and the page disappears and there’s a movie in my head, that’s good writing.” — What are you reading that’s doing that for you?
You’ve caught me just after a very busy time—I’ve just come back from three weeks as guest instructor at Chris McKitterick’s short fiction writing workshops at the University of Kansas and I’ve been reading mostly workshop stories. But I’ve been reading Dictionary of the Khazars, a Lexicon Novel: Androgynous Edition by Milorad Pavić, which is one of the most unusual novels I’ve ever come across. I’ve also been reading Roz Kaveney’s Rhapsody of Blood series. There are three volumes out so far: Rituals, Reflections, and Resurrections. They present the secret history of the world and they’re absolutely wild, probably the wittiest books currently in print.