Even if tales of wise horses and magical forces aren't your literary cup of chai, an evening with fantasy writer Mercedes Lackey is guaranteed to delight.
"I have a lot of funny anecdotes," says Lackey. "And I have a lot of observations on writing and the writing life, and what's it like to be a writer now as opposed to 20 years ago."
Lackey has published more than 70 books and writes lyrics for a genre of music called "filk," which is science fiction and fantasy-oriented folk songs. She'll bring her sharp wit, hearty laugh, and down-to-earth outlook to Toledo Wednesday at 7 p.m. for the Authors! Authors! lecture in the Great Hall of the Stranahan Theater.
"There's more than enough seriousness in the world," says Lackey, 56.
The fantasy genre, she believes, is held in contempt by "most of the writers that write capital L literature." Perhaps, she posits, they view her stories as being too commercial, too escapist. "I honestly don't know. I certainly don't have a corresponding contempt for literature with a capital L."
Many of her books comprise series, such as the two dozen tales of Valdemar, from which she's taken a hiatus for a few years. "I was tired of it and I wanted to stop before it became obvious I was tired of it. I'm going to go back to it soon."
She often collaborates with other writers, which begins when they develop an outline and ends with a better result for both author and reader, she says.
"Writing with other people is absolutely delightful. It's social, which a writer doesn't usually get to do. You get to bounce ideas off somebody else, which makes things so much easier when you get stuck. And when you get stuck you can just pass the whole manuscript on to the other writer who usually goes, 'Oh yeah, I can take it from there,' and just takes off."
With Eric Flint of Indiana and Dave Freer of South Africa, she has co-written "alternate history" fantasy books set in the Renaissance era, in which the course of history as we know it has been dramatically changed by an altered event hundreds of years earlier.
"Eric is brilliant at historical details. Dave is an action writer, he just pounds out the action scenes. And I'm most interested in character development, so you find me in there making the character more interesting and doing the intensely character-driven scenes," she says. "You each get to write your favorite bits."
And the reader gets the best of multiple minds.
"It's certainly a more complicated book because you have two points of view working on it."
During the telephone interview with The Blade, she's at the country home on 6 1/2 acres 30 miles outside of Tulsa that she shares with husband Larry Dixon, a dozen parrots, and a pair of peacocks. Classical music plays in the background.
She writes every day for long hours and she's very fast.
"The fastest I've ever done a book is a 112,000-word book in about a month," she says, adding that she was glued to the keyboard for eight to 10 hours a day, seven days a week. "I don't ever not work, unless I'm sick. It's just that I've got all this stuff going on in my head and I've got to get it down on paper or it will drive me crazy."
Such a routine, of course, means "I don't have a life," she says. But that's not entirely true.
She and Dixon, who illustrates some of her book covers and also writes, enjoy road trips. Her friends include Janis Ian (folksinger/songwriter). She makes beaded jewelry, sews costumes for dolls dressed as her characters, and does cross-stitch items, donating them to be sold for charities.
"I get to have the fun of making the darn things. And they generally go off and make more money than I could donate."
She loves animals, and gives them key roles in her books, often magically or genetically altering them to have a much higher intelligence than their real-world equivalents.
"I have a very powerful interest and some background in ethology, which is the study of natural animal behavior. Jane Goodall is an ethologist."
And what really tickles her fancy is being a virtual superhero for a couple of hours each night. "City of Heroes. A superhero game," she explains, admitting that it's become an addiction. "I would not be playing it now if I had not happened to hook up with a group of people for whom the role-playing is more important than the game. I have an enormous number of friends in this group. We chat about all kinds of things."
Lackey grew up outside of Gary, Ind. Her mother was a homemaker, her father, an early computer programmer for Sinclair Oil Corp. Her only sibling, a brother, is a hardware/software engingeer.
"My father read sci-fi. The first sci-fi book I ever read was one of his; Agent of Vega by James Schmitz. I was absolutely hooked."
A child who read beyond her years, she devoured the tales of Andre Norton, Zenna Henderson, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and Lloyd Biggle, Jr. As a teenaged baby sitter, she entertained the kids with spell-binding bedtime stories.
At Purdue University she majored in biology, but after graduating, she couldn't find a job in a laboratory. She worked as a security guard, a waitress, and an artist's model.
"It gave me a lot of time to think about plots. There is nothing sexy about being an artist model. Most of the time you're cold. Most of the time you're going 'Oh God, my hip is so cramped, I can't wait for the break.'•"
Eventually she found a livable wage as a computer programmer (as did last month's Authors! Authors! speaker, Walter Mosley) and moved to Tulsa to work for American Airlines' reservation system. In 1985, her first story appeared in an anthology published by the late Marion Zimmer Bradley, author of The Mists of Avalon, and fantasy magazines printed a few more. Two years later, Arrows of the Queen, her first book, hit the shelves.
In the next five years, she churned out another 15 books while working at the airlines.
In 1992, in Meridian, Miss., for a sci-fi convention, she went to a television studio where she met comic book artist Larry Dixon, also there to be interviewed. "They interviewed us right after a news story about two good old boys who had been out hunting crawdads in the swamp and had seen a UFO."
They clicked, married, and she quit her job to write full-time, which was the beginning of a few lean years. But between 1992 and 1995, she published 28 books, ending their macaroni-and-cheese days.
"No! Other people can have all the children they want. Some people ask for no-smoking sections. I ask for no children."
Mercedes Lackey will speak at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Great Hall of the Stranahan Theater, 4645 Heatherdowns Blvd., followed by a question-and-answer session and a book signing. Books will be available for purchase. Authors! Authors! is presented by The Blade and the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library. Tickets are $10; $8 for students, and can be purchased at library branches and at the door. Information: 419-259-5266.
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