This one is a bit special for me, as I have always thought L. E. Modesitt, Jr’s book were brilliant. Apart from that, the Recluce saga is over a dozen books long and continue to entertain the masses. I have approached many authors now as part of this Interview series and there are many special ones for me, but when Lee replied to my email, I almost fell over.

I even got to ask L. E. Modesitt, Jr a second set of questions, which are at the top of this interview. I hope you enjoy this one as much as I did talking to him.

Recluce has quite a history (spanning almost 2000 years) to it now. Did you envisage this much of it when you started?
I envisioned a long history, but not all of the details that I’ve filled in over the years.   Perhaps because I’ve always been a history buff – I still read history, as well as archaeology periodicals – I simply can’t envision a world without envisioning some of its history as well, and that includes my SF.

Do you believe we had magic in this universe, but have forgotten how to use it?
Not the kind of magic I write about, but to someone from a parallel universe [which I do believe is possible] with the kinds of magic I’ve written about, our technology might well seem “magical.”  This view, of course, reflects my approach to magic as an organized and logical system, which not all writers support or endorse.

Do you have or maintain a chronology for Recluce?
Yes, I do, although the formal written chronology is more of a timeline with a synopsis of each book.

Order and chaos play a large part in your books. Do you see our world falling into chaos?
If we’re talking political chaos, that’s inevitable, but whether that occurs in a century or a millennium… that’s still very much up in the air. Physical chaos is also inevitable, but since that’s tens of billions of years away, I don’t worry much about that.

Which is your favourite Recluce book and why?
I can’t say I have a favourite book, either in Recluce or in other series, or even among the SF or stand-alone books. I have quite a number of books that I’m pleased with, because of what I’ve accomplished with that particular novel,  or even the relationships between certain books… or because I’ve managed something I believe to be quietly unique.

You have been writing for 30 years. Do you still get the same thrill from creating as you did when you started it?
Actually my first poem was published more than fifty years ago, my first story almost forty years ago, and my first novel thirty years ago, and I’d have to say that I still get a get sense of satisfaction and accomplishment from each piece of work I complete.  I’d have to admit that I’m not a thrill-seeker, perhaps because I’ve had far too many of thrills in my life and much prefer a solid sense of accomplishment, although I have no problem in writing the thrills others experience.

Has writing become a habit that could no longer break? Does it affect you if you do not write regularly?
I’ve been known to suffer writing withdrawal symptoms, but I don’t have to write novels or fiction to ease them.  Articles, commentaries, or poetry will also suffice.

Do you plan to visit Australia?
I’d like to, but I have no plans at the moment, partly because it’s an enormous time commitment to do so from where we live and partly because I wouldn’t do it without my wife [that would be most unfair], and our separate professional commitments[she is a college professor, professional lyric soprano, opera director, as well as an officer in a number of national and professional music organizations] make that difficult at this time. So does arranging for a housesitter for the four canines and two felines.

Who would you like to collaborate with (being living or dead) and why?

I really don’t have an interest in collaboration, although I did do one novel [The Green Progression] as collaboration – and, no, that’s not the reason why I’m not interested. Personally, I believe that, for me, the only reason for a collaborative effort is to write a book of worth that neither author could have written alone.

What would be the best piece of advice you would offer a new author?

I’m not about to try! The “best” piece of advice depends on the new author, and what his or her strengths and weaknesses are, but you can’t go wrong by reading widely outside your genre, including non-fiction, and writing, writing, and writing.

Is routine important to you?


What genre would you like to write a book in (that you haven’t yet)?

Seeing as I’ve already written and published multiple genres, if within the loose framework of fantasy and science fiction, as well as non-fiction articles, poetry, and technical papers, I’m more interested in writing a good book than seeking another genre “officially.”

Do you listen to music during all processes of writing? Do you listen to music you know or new music when writing?

I don’t listen to music at all when writing. I like music too much, and I’d listen rather than write, and then I wouldn’t get any writing done.

Have you read a romance novel? Do you think you could write one?

I’ve read romance novels, and a great number of my books contain romantic themes. In fact, I’ve been nominated for Romantic Times awards a number of times and have won twice. So I think it’s fair to say that, if I haven’t written a romance, I’ve come very close.

What sport did you play as a younger person? Were you good at it?

I could claim to have been a “geek-jock.” I lettered in football, soccer, basketball, and track in high school. I also played low-level amateur tournament tennis, and swam in college, winning occasionally and placing in regional collegiate competitions.

When you are coming up with an idea, do you look at the market for trends? Or do you write for you?

While I look at trends, just to see what is going on, I write what I hope are interesting and intriguing books

Where do your ideas come from? Do you have a standard formula for plots or do stories come to you as a whole construct?

My ideas come from everywhere, and I couldn’t pin down any one source. In a very general sense, I tend to write what Heinlein called “the man who learned something” plot, often with romantic overtones or interests, but I have to develop the societies and cultures in which they’re set in fairly solid detail – even if, at times, much of that detail remains in my mind.

When you start a new story, do you have a title for it? Does that trigger the story?

At times, I have a title, and once in a while I’ve had a title long before the story. At other times, I don’t have a title even when I finish… and then have to figure it out.

Do you see the future of fantasy and science fiction as bright? If so, which authors are driving it?

I see that future as mixed and muddy. One of the problems is that, at present, current science has presented us with some fairly solid limitations on even the theoretically possible at the same time that we’ve achieved many technological break-throughs in areas that were once considered only science fictional. Asimov, for example, once described the pocket calculator in the Foundation novels, a good twenty years before they were possible… or many scientists had doubts that they would be possible that soon. On the other hand, Joe Haldeman postulated that we’d have interstellar travel by 1997 [in The Forever War] back in 1974, and we don’t even have interplanetary travel for humans today in 2012.

I honestly don’t see any one author, or even groups of authors, driving F&SF toward the future, although it seems as if, every year, some critic or guru proclaims someone who is… and then someone else appears. Over the years, I’ve watched as the “new wave” came and receded, followed later by cyberpunk, and then massive and seemingly endless fantasy series epitomized by the work of Robert Jordan, followed next by steampunk, and paranormal, and now the new ultra-violent and unnecessarily ugly trend in fantasy popularized by George R. R. Martin. Beyond the trendy and the outliers cited by critics and “insiders,” a lot of good work that’s more quietly solid continues to appear, and, to me, that’s far more promising. I could offer names, but won’t, because there are more than a mere handful, and I’m not going to pick favorites.

What themes are being overused?

All of them! There are only so many themes, and, stripped to essentials, only a limited number of basic plots. I don’t think an author can overuse a theme, although it’s quite possible to use one badly, and that’s generally when the critics and readers complain that the theme has been overused. Themes can’t be overused, but particular treatments of them can be.

Are movies of books ruining the book?

I don’t think so, or not often, because so few movies based on books even come close to capturing the book. You’re talking two very different forms with very different appeals. Also, some of the better F&SF books can’t really be accurately captured in film treatments, and when it’s tried, the results can be appalling, as in the case of Starship Troopers.

Do you see ebooks threatening traditional publishing?

From the sales figures and the pirate torrent sites, it would appear that ebooks are decimating the mass market paperback sales, and that there’s some sort of trade-off between ebooks and hardcovers, without much sales loss for many authors on the hardcover level. I don’t see that changing, but given the huge losses in paperback sales, part of which I will attribute to ebook piracy, it’s likely that fewer and fewer authors will see their work in mass market paperback format.

Do you prefer to read established authors or debut authors? How do you choose which ones to read?

I read both, but I seldom read more than a few books by an established author, not necessarily because they don’t appeal, but because my time for reading is limited, and I try to read new authors or those I haven’t read – for at least one book.

What is it about fantasy that appeals to you?

Actually, both SF and fantasy appeal to me, if for different reasons. Because I’ve been commercially more successful as a fantasy author, many readers don’t realize that I wrote only science fiction for nearly twenty years before I turned to fantasy, and I’ve had more “best book” awards from Kirkus, for example, for SF than for fantasy. One of the aspects of fantasy that I particularly like is the ability to tell a story in a setting where magic is part of an otherwise realistic society. That removes the scene far enough from our world that I can raise familiar problems and issues in an unfamiliar setting and explore possibilities while telling an intriguing story, without immediately triggering readers’ preconceptions. Well… without triggering many readers’ preconceptions.

Can I get an autographed book? (lol)

Not if I have to send it to Australia [grin].

Do you have a group of people that you show a new story to? How much impact can they have on the whole story?

I don’t show anything to anyone, except for one book, almost twenty years ago. That was The Soprano Sorceress, and it was the first book I wrote from the female perspective and the first one where I dealt with music in any depth. I did insist that my wife – a lyric operatic soprano, voice teacher, and college opera director – read it. She didn’t have many problems with the female perspective, and that may have been because we have six daughters, but we won’t talk about her comments on the music. With that exception, when I finish a book, it goes straight to my editor.

Do you set yourself a word limit for each book?

No. I just try to make each book the right length for the story I’m telling.

Do you have a target each day?

I have a rough target… and I’m usually fairly close to it, at least over the year.

Do you write constantly or have breaks between books?

For the most part I work every day on a novel when I’m not traveling. I try to write short fiction when traveling. I usually don’t take more than a day or two off between books.

Do you have characters running around your head? Do they dictate events and their histories to you?

The characters don’t dictate, but I often think about their situations and how they might deal with them, particularly when I’m taking my morning walk/jog.

After so many books, how do you keep them unique?

I try to do something different with each book. I’ve written in the first person past tense, third person past, and third person present tense [which definitely upsets some readers]. I’ve written books from multiple points of view, with all characters telling their story in the first person. I’ve made poetry an integral part of the plot. I’ve written four different fantasy series, all with radically different magic systems. I’ve written from male and female points of view, and my protagonists have ranged in age from teenagers to men past retirement age, including middle-aged divorcees and married couples with children. They’ve also come from pretty much every social strata and class.

Do you remember the first time you saw your book in a shop?

No. I honestly don’t. I tend to get most excited when I finish the first draft of a book.

Do you read other people’s writing?

Yes… if not as many books as I used to read, because reading takes time from writing, and, as I said earlier, I try to read authors I haven’t read before.

Would you read mine?

How could I not?

L. E. Modesitt, Jr’s website is