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Interview: Chris Abouzeid

July 1st, 2006 (02:33 pm)
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Thanks to Flamingnet for arranging this interview with Chris Abouzeid, author of the fantasy novel Anatopsis.

What inspired Anatopsis - the story and the leading character?

The book started out as a short-story: "The Sad But True Tale of Princess Anathopsis." I don't remember the exact inspiration, but I remember that what interested me most was how a character with enormous power and spirit could still end up trapped and hopeless. And, in fact, the original plot was pretty much a straight shot into powerlessness and despair (with no chance for parole). Not the sort of story that appeals to the young adult fantasy market.

Which character was the most fun to write for?

Uno, without a doubt. Charles would be second, but in part because he was a wholly unexpected character. He just suddenly made himself known one day, in much the same way he makes himself known to Ana. But as soon as he did, I saw how he could tie a lot of the plot elements together. And, of course, having a talking mouse as one of the heroes is always good in a fantasy book.

Who inspired Uno?

There was no particular inspiration for his personality. He was just there, even in the original short-story. However, I chose his name and breed in memory of Una, a favorite Saint Bernard belonging to some friends of mine. Una died shortly before I started Anatopsis, and I liked the idea of "immortalizing" her (as it were) by putting her in my story. I had to change the name to Uno, though, because he was definitely male.

As with most fantasy novels, Anatopsis is set in an indetermine time period. Did you set it in a certain time in your mind while writing it?

Originally, I envisioned the present time of the novel to be about 5,000 years in the future. The Immortals had come to Earth, set up shop, wiped out most of the mortals, and slowly polluted the entire planet. However, having such a definite time raised all sorts of problems, and as I wrote and re-wrote, I made the time period more and more vague. It works better this way, I think, if only because it prevents the reader from getting distracted by questions of exactly what happened when. (And you'd be surprised at the number of readers who would get caught up in the math!)

UCSB made me think of the University of Santa Barbara. Did you or someone who know attend that school or another with those initials?

Actually, I was thinking of the Union of Concerned Scientists when I came up with UCSB. But if the University of California at Santa Barbara wants to offer courses in Planetary Engineering or Bio-Artisanry, I'm all for it. ;-)

You've stated that you starting writing Anatopsis 20 years ago. How long did it take you to finish the first draft? How close is the published version to the original version?

The first full version of Anatopsis took me at least 3 or 4 years to write. (Maybe longer. I can't remember the exact time.) The main characters are all the same as in the original short-story, but many more secondary characters were added (and deleted) along the way, and the plot is vastly different. For example, in an earlier version, Ana runs away from Solomon Castle, plunges through a magical hole in the ground, and meets Barnaby and Uno in an underground cavern where the two have been trapped for a hundred years.

Also, the first version was over 600 pages long, while the final manuscript version was 275 pages long. So I think it's safe to say that a few things ended up on the cutting room floor.

You have written for various publications on various topics. What were your most interesting assignments? Least interesting?

Well, I've had a fair number of short-stories, novel excerpts and even one poem published. My favorite is still the poem, "Joseph", published in the Southern Review years ago. There's no link to it on my web site, but you can read it here, if you're curious:

http://www.anatopsis.com/ana/ anapoetry.htm

As for assignments, I've never really had any before. But it looks like I may be doing a review of current YA fantasy books for The Boston Globe, so if and when that's published, I guess that will be my favorite assigned piece. ;-)

Who are your favorite authors of adult fiction? Of juvenile fiction?

Dostoyevsky is my favorite in adult fiction. After him, I would include James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Charlotte Bronte, and Tim O'Brien. Ask me tomorrow, though, and I might come up with a completely different list.

In juvenile fiction, I've loved most of the works of Lloyd Alexander, Martin Zuzak, Eva Ibbotson, Rosemary Sutcliff, E.L. Konigsburg, and Iain Lawrence, not to mention the obvious ones, like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.

Can you think of anyone whose works you would recommend for all ages (meaning books acceptable for all to read), or anyone who had success writing different books for different markets?

I think there are very few books and authors that truly appeal to all ages, partly because children under 9 are often frightened of things that average middle-readers and young adults find exciting. But, if you'll allow me to limit "all ages" to the 9 to 90 range, I guess I can come up with a few.

First there are the classics, Tom Sawyer, To Kill A Mockingbird, Lord of the Rings, the Horatio Hornblower series, etc., and the obvious ones, like Harry Potter (J.K. Rowling).

Of the more recent books and authors, I guess there would be wide appeal from Holes (Louis Sachar), Speak (Laure Halse Anderson), Feed (M.T. Andersen), The Bartimaeus Trilogy (Jonathan Stroud), A Wizard of Earthsea (Ursula K. Le Guin), Mimus (Lilli Thal), Milkweed (Jerry Spinelli), The Book Thief (Martin Zuzak), Catherine, Called Birdy (Karen Cushman), The House of the Scorpion (Nancy Farmer), East (Edith Pattou), and probably The Tale of Despereaux (Kate Dicamillo) .

As for writing separate books for different markets, I don't think there are many authors who've been able to do it successfully. The few that come to mind are:

Ursula K. Le Guin
C. S. Lewis
Dave Barry
Carl Hiassen
Isabel Allende

What are your ten favorite books of all time?

Only 10? All right, here are the first ones that come to mind. (You notice the majority of them are kids and YA titles. Also, there's a little bit of a sailing theme. I was heavily into boats when I was younger.)

Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
A Wizard of Earthsea - Ursula K. LeGuin
Taran Wanderer - Lloyd Alexander
Voyage of the Dawn Treader - C. S. Lewis
The Horatio Hornblower series - C.S. Forester
The Inferno - Dante
Lord of the Flies - William Golding
Carry On Mr. Bowditch - Jean Lee Latham
Tom Sawyer - Mark Twain
The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett

Watch this space for a full review of Anatopsis. I've read it, I liked it, once I have time to type a review, I will!