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.
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.
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.
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.
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.