Alvaro Zinos-Amaro is joining us today to talk about his biography, Being Michael Swanwick. Here’s the publisher’s description:
In 2001, Michael Swanwick published the book-length interview Being Gardner Dozois. Now Swanwick himself becomes the subject of inquiry. During a year of conversations, Alvaro Zinos-Amaro (Traveler of Worlds: Conversations with Robert Silverberg) set about discussing with Swanwick his remarkable career, with a particular focus on his extraordinary short fiction.
The resulting collection of transcribed interviews is a tribute to the similarly-named book that inspired it, a discussion of writing craft, an anecdotal genre history, and a chronological survey of the work of a modern master.
What’s Alvaro’s favorite bit?
Following the publication of my first book of extended interviews, I would occasionally be approached by genre writers asking if I might be interested in tackling their careers next. One of my inspirations for that first volume of interviews was Michael Swanwick’s fabulous Being Gardner Dozois (2001), and in the end I felt that before I tackled any other subject I should try and close the circle with Swanwick himself. What better way to reward his diligence in preserving for future generations Dozois’s insights on fiction than by calling him to the stand?
I knew that in order for this new project to be viable, we’d need to share a certain rapport and conversational ease. We’d spoken briefly at conventions in the past, but there’s a big difference between a few minutes of chatter and months or even years of focused rumination on one’s life’s work.
One of my favorite aspects of interviewing Swanwick was that he let me know right from the start that no questions or subjects would be off the table, and that he’d always answer as candidly as possible. That–along with his precocious memory, copious notes made during the compositional process of many of his stories, and invaluable interjections from his wife Marianne Porter–made me feel like we could fashion something interesting together.
As time went on there was a second aspect to the process that I came to appreciate even more.
As you can imagine, trying to cover well over a hundred pieces of fiction in chronological order with anyone would be time-consuming, and if you hit the jackpot of conversing with someone as articulate and perceptive as Swanwick, it might take longer still. I constantly assigned homework to Michael, asking him to revisit works I suspected he’d not glanced at in decades. There were times when one of us needed to reschedule one of our seemingly endless video calls. On some occasions I had to break the flow of chronology, feeling the need to interrupt our momentum so I could return to a theme or line of questioning I thought could yield more interesting material. And there were topics of discussion I introduced knowing full well they wouldn’t make it into the final edit of the book, tangents and digressions intended simply to satisfy my personal curiosity.
The one quality that Michael–and Marianne–consistently demonstrated through all this was patience.
Homework assignments were completed with relish; schedules were smoothly adjusted; time jumps were gracefully navigated; detours and excursions were not only indulged in, but encouraged.
As we worked through story after story, I began to see that this same type of patience was a key factor in Michael’s writing process and his success as an artist.
Time after time he’d share that he’d hit a roadblock on a given piece of writing after page three, or paragraph five, or even line two, but he’d never given up on those beginnings, and in many cases now had award-winning stories to show for his perseverance in working through their middles and endings. Cleverness, imagination, and craft can get you far indeed; patience will bring you home.
John Dryden famously wrote, “Beware the fury of a patient man.”
In the case of Michael Swanwick, we might say instead, “Beware the literature of a patient man.”
Alvaro Zinos-Amaro is a Hugo- and Locus-award finalist who has published over fifty stories and one hundred essays, reviews, and interviews in professional markets. These include Analog, Lightspeed, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Galaxy’s Edge, Nature, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Locus, Tor.com, Strange Horizons, Clarkesworld, The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy, Cyber World, Nox Pareidolia, Multiverses: An Anthology of Alternate Realities, and many others. Traveler of Worlds: Conversations with Robert Silverberg was published in 2016 to critical acclaim. Being Michael Swanwick is Alvaro’s second book of interviews. His debut novel, Equimedian, is forthcoming in 2024.