Interview with Jean-Christophe Valtat, Part 3

Welcome back for the continuation of our chat with Jean-Christophe Valtat, author of The Mysteries of New Venice series, which includes Aurorarama and the new sequel. Luminous Chaos
Part one can be read here.
Part two can be read here.

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AA: How have you and your work grown and changed over time?
JCV: My French writing used to be a bit tormented, a bit too sophisticated perhaps.. Changing languages had made me write in a simpler, more narrative way than in French. And writing fantasy, in the general sense of the term, allows me to be as weird as I want and blame it on the genre. Quite simply, it’s more fun, now.

AA: Weird is a good thing, I think :) When the words and ideas don’t just tumble out in a torrent, what is your solution to overcoming that?
JCV: Leave it alone. I hate to be at my desk without having anything to say and I suspect life is too short for that. I’ll take a walk, take a nap, and come back when I actually have the urge to write- and it if takes weeks, or months before that happens, or if the book just dies out meanwhile, so be it. That’s the good thing when you’re not a professional writer –your income doesn’t depend on your output.

AA: How is Paris, France for your work? Certainly, it is a city with major history and present day presence. Does location matter for resources, access, publicity, etc
JCV: I don’t live in Paris anymore but in sunny, pretty Montpellier. It saved my life when I came to Paris at 17 but after 25 years of living in Paris, I came to the conclusion that I like the literary myth better than what the real city had become. I took pleasure in walking around where the characters and writers of the past had trod, but I have it with me now and I don’t need more of the XXIth centurty Paris. This is incidentally what Luminous Chaos is about. From the character’s point of view, the question would be: what’s left of a city when you’re away from it, how does it keep on living inside you? Affecting you? From a personal point of view, it’s also a book about leaving Paris – although I did not know it would when I started it.

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AA: Those are good questions for all of us to ask and answer about where we live, and why, and where we might want to be and to visit. Most of the authors I’ve talked with have some type of day job and that writing is their other job. What has that situation been for you as a professor and how has it helped/hindered begin a published writer?
JCV: It depends on the context. In France – in the way I see things, perhaps, more than in reality – there tends to be a strong symbolical divide between academia and writers. So I strove two keep the two activities as separated as I could. Writing in the U.S context makes thing a bit different, the relationship between both worlds being a little more porous. Similarly, my English writing tends to be closer to my research topics –it has even altered them a little, I guess.

AA: You’ve given talks on Verne and Proust; for those of us who have so far missed those, what are some of the ideas you relay to the attendees?
JCV: I am a latecomer to Verne, whom I did not read much as a kid, but I eventually found that some of his concerns were well suited to New Venice. He wrote a lot about the Arctic and survival, and I like the way he’s a stickler for very concrete details both to ensure the survival of his characters and launch the flight of his own imagination. I think New Venetians would mostly relate to his obsession to maintain a modicum of bourgeois comfort and social life in the worst possible conditions.
Proust is a different animal. He is the opposite of Verne in the sense that, for all the quaintness and preciosity, he is a very daring and ruthless writer, taking a lot of touchy subjects into mainstream literature. It’s a good reminder that you can always push the limits a little.

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AA: There are other books, plays, and movies on your list of accomplishments. Would you share a bit about those other works? How did they come about and become part of your story telling?
JCV: The French novels Exes and 03, seems a bit far away, and quite different, but I realized that they were about the same things as the Mysteries of New Venice – about consciousness, mental life, fantasy, the need for fiction and so on. There’s also a movie, Augustine, [see the trailer] which I co-directed with Jean-Claude Monod, about a patient undergoing hypnotic and electrical treatment in a women’s hospital circa 1875. It’s very dear to me as I wanted to make movies before I realized I was better suited to writing. So I got this chance and I’m grateful for it.

AA: Do people outside the regular reading, steampunk, and convention communities recognize you for New Venice? What kind of reactions have you received?
JCV: As my first published book in the U.S was a rather “literary” work (whatever that means!) I think I got a little curiosity from non-genre readers, if such people exist. I hope the book is mostly for those who think this sort of divide is rather meaningless, as it does not reflect their own reading practice. It certainly doesn’t reflect mine.

AA: Looking beyond steampunk, writing and working, what other interests fill your time?
JCV: Daydreams, relationships, travelling, walking around foreign cities.

AA: How do those interests influence your work?
JCV: Well, thinking about it, it seems I have daydreamed a novel about relationships in a foreign city.

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AA: And what better way to use real life in your stories? Who or what do you count as your influences, motivators, or role models?
JCV: I have always always been wary of authority figures . I’d rather say I’m somewhat faithful to the tradition that goes through shamen, gnostics, neo-platonicians, romantics, surrealists or situationnists. They’re the family I want to belong to, even as an idiot third cousin.

AA: Three quick fire, random questions – what is your favorite pastry, cheese, and historical site?
JCV: As a New Venetian I’d say for the pastry: seal-eye ice cream with arctic berries and a Chantilly Berg. For the cheese, Baffin Blue- it’s a caribou milk cheese fermented with lichen usually found in the second stomach of caribous. A rare delicacy with high protein content. As to historical sites : the wretched ruins of Fort Conger, a few miles east of New Venice, and its faint memories of cannibalism, are always a subject of deep meditation for the arctic stroller.

AA: Any final thoughts to share with our readers?
JCV: No thought is final, I guess. But thanks for your time.

Thank you, Jean-Christophe, for joining us and sharing your thoughts!
Keep up to date on his website and get your copy of Aurorarama and Luminous Chaos today.

 

Published in: on March 27, 2014 at 7:33 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Interview with Jean-Christophe Valtat, Part 2

Welcome back for the continuation of our chat with Jean-Christophe Valtat, author of The Mysteries of New Venice series, which includes Aurorarama and the new sequel. Luminous Chaos
Part one can be read here.

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AA: I was recently on a world building panel at a convention, talking with authors about their methods for their stories. What elements did you include so readers could feel the New Venice world and history?
JCV: First it’s in the Arctic, snow and ice are the best background for clear vision. Then New Venice is itself a kind of museum: its monuments are culled from world fairs and failed architecture projects. It is full of references, down to its very name, so it will appear oddly familiar instead of just foreign. I guess that’s one of the many reasons of steampunk’s currents success- it’s very visual simply because it’s easier to remember the past than the to envision the future.

AA: What items absolutely had to be in the story and what kinds of things were sadly edited out?
JCV: Everything that goes through my head has a right to be in the book: If you’re focused, or in the kind of right trance, it will necessarily have a link, conscious or unconscious, with the rest. It is the beauty of world building that is sufficiently elastic to accommodate all your whims – what would it be good for otherwise? I am also of the minority who thinks that products of the imagination are as real as ”real” events –they are actual mental events in a real brain, after all- so I hate to change what I wrote, because I feel that’s cheating with some sort of reality. So, in the end, there’s nothing much that’s edited out – some jokes, perhaps, that I fail to find funny after the umpteenth reading.

AA: What are some memorable fan reactions to both books which you’ve heard about?
JCV: My favorite comes from a bad review, about my female characters: “Where does he meet women like that ?”. I thought that was cute.

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AA: What kind of attention has Aurorarama generated?
JCV: Writing in foreign language has this downside that you can’t really be sure of how it would appear to native readers. So I was somewhat worried about the critical reception and I was very relieved and happily surprised to find it mostly positive and supportive, be it in blogs or magazines. It was a great help in starting the second book. Regarding readers, Aurorarama started slowly, but managed to stick around to this day –which I also take as a good omen.

AA: Every author I’ve talked with has a different journey to seeing their works in print. What was your publishing experience like?
JCV: A dream come true. I had this French novella, 03 translated out of the blue by F,S & G, and so I suddenly had people to come out about my English writing. I was first very hesitant about sending it, because I did not want to look like a fool, but one morning I woke up and I finally took the chance. The next thing I hear about is that Meville House wants to publish it. As Ezra Pound says in substance – string a few words in an way that’s not too boring and marvelous things will happen, with no other explanations.

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AA: For the aspiring writer, what lessons did you learn about having an agent and editor, their feedback, and your writing?
JCV: I have no agent –so what I learned is that you don’t always need one! Not being a native speaker, I desperately need editors to make sure that the English is spick and span and fluid and as visual as I want to make it. Beyond that point, I tend to be a little wary of suggestions. Any book is like Tom Riddle’s horcrux diary in Harry Potter. It’s your soul that is there and you don’t want people to mess too much with it.

AA: You seem to have done well with your books using an editor, and not having an agent to shop it around. If you weren’t a writer, what else would you be doing now?
JCV: Still trying to become one, I suppose.

AA: What have book tours and conventions been like, and the in-person fan reaction? Where did you go on this recent tour?
JCV: I have been to litquake in San Francisco, California, and then in Durham (N.H), Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle, Austin and New York for a few events. They were more or less successful, as these things are, but there’s always a chance to discuss a little with people- as this very conversation goes to prove. Steampunk conventions are always something special–they tend make me lose my bearings completely.

AA: (Laugh) Conventions cause many people to lose their bearing in all the activity! What do you do to keep a balance between writing, touring, and the rest of your life?
JCV: Nothing special. But then, balance has never been much of a concern for me. I’m lucky that way!

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AA: Do you get to talk much with other writers and artists to compare notes, have constructive critique reviews, and brainstorm new ideas?
JCV: I sometimes exchange with close friends about their writing, or mine, but not really in any kind of professional or organized setting. Personally, I prefer not to show my books before they’re finished, as I’m not too sure I like advice. Writing is too deeply personal to trust others about it.

We’ll break here in our chat with Jean-Christophe Valtat.
Next time, he’ll talk about location, interests and his other works.
Keep up to date on his website and get your copy of Aurorarama and Luminous Chaos today.

 

 

Published in: on March 25, 2014 at 9:19 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Interview with Jean-Christophe Valtat

This week we are talking with Jean-Christophe Valtat, author of The Mysteries of New Venice series, which includes Aurorarama and the new sequel. Luminous Chaos

 

Airship Ambassador: Hi Jean-Christophe, it is great to catch up with you again now that your Luminous Chaos book tour is over.

Jean-Christophe Valtat: Hello Kevin. Thanks for your invitation. I’m glad to have chance to take up the conversation we started in Seattle.

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AA: Diving right in, what are The Mysteries of New Venice  about?

JCV: It’s a more difficult question than it seems, as I sometimes wonder what the hell it’s all about… At a first level, It’s about a city built in the Arctic in the early 1900s, a deliberate utopia that has to be defended against both its harsh surroundings and its constant internal cabals. At another level, it’s about the power of imagination, of fiction, the way it affects reality, be it in love or politics.

AA: Breaking it down a little further, what can you share with us about each story?

JCV: Aurorarama , about a revolution in New Venice, is modeled on turn of the century adventure novels, with all its hallmarks – polar exploration, airships, anarchists, lost race etc…Luminous Chaos, which is both a prequel and sequel, takes place in the Paris of 1895 and is, accordingly, based on French mysteries serials of the time, with its cast of occultists, morphine-addicts, prostitutes, revolutionaries,  decadent poets, butcher thugs, fringe-scientists and so on…Suspended Citadels, on which I’m working on, will be more steeped in myths, fairy-tale, or esoteric traditions.

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AA: It all sounds intriguing and there are plenty of items for readers to be interested in. What was the motivation for creating Aurorarama? How did the idea come about?

JCV:  New Venice was brainstormed with a friend, on a single afternoon, circa 1990. It was originally a movie project, which turned into an unpublished four-handed book in English, Pineapples & Plums. We left it at that, but in 2007, I wrote another one on my own, Lutes & Lobsters, as a birthday present to this friend. I had so much fun doing this that I decided I’ll do try and do another one, for good, this time.

 

AA: You had some interesting things to say about steampunk in this 2010 post, responding to Charles Stross’ complaint against steampunk at the time. For this book series, why a steampunk world?

JCV: When we first came up with New Venice, we had no inkling that Steampunk even existed. As a matter of fact, the first New Venice book had more of a roaring Twenties / jazz age feel. When I took up the idea again, my literary tastes had somewhat shifted towards the XIXth century and, for that very reason, I was very receptive to the steampunk aesthetic I had been exposed to. So it came as natural choice that the new New Venice would be steampunk, although, now, I’d rather use the word dreampunk to stress the mental, hallucinatory aspect that is typical of series.

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AA: Authors often talk about how elements of their own lives, the reality and the dreams, make their way into their stories. How did this play into Aurorarama and Luminous Chaos?

JCV:  A lot. As it was created with a friend, there are a lot of private joking going on, for one thing. They are very personal books, involving real people I know, and I constantly use personal anecdotes as a basis. Then of course, world building, as airtight as you want to make it, is still a reflection of your social situation, or of current political issues, so there’s some of that, as well. As to dreams, they are becoming more and more central to the process: they are one of the main themes of the next novel. And it’s a good feeling when your own writing circuits back into your dream and the dream; in its turn, feeds the writing to come.

AA: The books have plenty of multi-layered action, intrigue, and perspectives. What kind of back story is there for both stories which didn’t make it into the final version?

JCV: I use a lot of the material that comes from the two unpublished books, if only to give a sense of historical depth and complexity to the city. Pineapples & Plums was a bit too wild to serve even as a back-story –but  there are some elements that have remained, besides a few characters: P& P,  the mind-expanding drug that allows the memories of the dead to be charged into their heirs, and the mysterious “Polar Kangaroo” –both central in the book to come. From Lutes & Lobsters, the most prominent character is Helen, a British anthropologist, antiquarian and somewhat magician, who eventually becomes a half-retired sea goddess: she gets a lot of mentions in the first two books and is to play an important part in the third novel of the trilogy.

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AA: When people read the series, what would you like for them to take away from the story and the characters that they could apply to their own lives?

JCV: I like it when readers say they dreamt about New Venice. It’s one of the effects I am myself dreaming to achieve –to write something immersive that would seamlessly blend with dreams.

 

AA: New Venice and its inhabitants provide plenty of materials for dreams! What kind of research, and then balance, went into creating the New Venice world?

JCV: A lot of research. I like to have historical, scientifical, technical facts to start from and anchor my imagination. In Luminous Chaos,  “Od” power or magnetic crowns, which transmits thoughts from one person to another-were real theories or objects, for instance, and it takes just a little leap to take them into fantasy. Likewise, I wanted my XIXth century Paris to be very accurate, both spatially and historically, because it helps to have a clearer vision of the story. I find it hard to separate research from writing, as a matter of fact, as they constantly feed off each other.

 

We’ll break here in our chat with Jean-Christophe Valtat.

Next time, he’ll talk about world building, writing and conventions.

Keep up to date on his website and get your copy of Aurorarama and Luminous Chaos today.

 

Published in: on March 23, 2014 at 9:26 am  Leave a Comment  
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