Comments on Brust

24 June 1996

Comments on Brust, by Shane Weyker:

Here's a list of fun trivia (and asides) about Steven Brust and his work compiled from stuff he said at cons and in letters and various other sources.

It turns out that Teckla was written after a friend of Brust's (who was a communist orgainzer) was killed by the mafia. This, not suprisingly, set off a lot of soul-searching on Brust's part about glamorizing hit-men and was behind Vlad's transformation into _ex-_mob boss/hitman ending with Phoenix. He mentioned spending a lot of time thinking about Gardner's book Moral Fiction (which I keep meaning to read). This also makes the character of the ghost in Teckla a bit more compelling.

The above makes me wonder how much of Cowboy Feng's came out of having someone he knew dying of AIDS. Given his links to the deadhead community (and therefore the drug using community), this seems entirely probable. Next time I write him I'm going to ask.

Brust himself is very quiet about his own politics ("I hate it when other people preach") but did refer to his dead friend as "comrade" and professed to being a "red diaper baby" raised by Trotskyite parents who fled Hungary during the Stalinist purges.

Brust has said in a letter to me that there is a "Vlad Goes Out East"-book yet to be written (which I think he said either preceded or followed Jhereg chronologically) where Vlad meets the now old hero of Brokedown Palace. I'm looking forward to this.

When given the comment that the two funniest scenes in Phoenix Guards are the heroes' initial return from thir first assignment and reporting to the captain that they've killed their partners along with the scene where Pel's scheme to get our heroes out of prison plays itself out, Brust replied that he liked both too, but what drove him nuts was that one was effortless to write while the other was a nightmare, and he couldn't tell any difference by comparing the writing. He asked the audience to guess which was which and tell him the reason why they guessed that way. He never did say which was which.

Brust said that he had forked out the $2,000 or so for the painting that graces the cover of Phoenix Guards and said that he's been generally very happy about his book covers with the exception of To Reign In Hell (led people to think it was a McCaffery Dragonriders ripoff) and the fact that Vlad has red hair on the cover of Yendi (the character doesn't).

Aside: those of you who liked the modern take on angels and their civil war really must go out and rent _The Prophecy_ with Christopher Walken as Gabriel. A way way cool movie from the guy who brought you Highlander.

Brust notes that he originally created Vlad as a kind of mirror image wish-fulfilment character. Brust he says was liked but not respected, Vlad, therfore, was respected but not liked. I'm not sure what how this relates to his interest in creating progressively less likable protagonists in Count Dashief of the Liavek anthologies and the protagonist of his recent vampire book.

This last was a book who's best quality really is its heavy 'understatedness', which is dependent one knowing a bit about vampire lore, and being pleased not to have it explained to you by the author. I found all the characters kind of unsympathetic except maybe the artist and the ghost, and the plot/conclusion wasn't very good. The book overall left me kind of cold, just like Cowboy Feng's. Some o.k. dialogue though, like "I only listen to quiet music". And the scenes with the witch and as well as the scene where the artist's boyfriend tries to take him out with a shotgun are decent). The narrative framing device of the found manuscript is ambitious, and shows that Brust is willing to try new things, I think it adds to the book overall as well.

Brust called Athyra (at least while he was writing it) "that goddamn book from hell" (or something similar). It seems to show in that it feels strained in places, has pacing problems, and it never seems to be able to make me beielve that a 50-year-old teenager would act just like a 16 year old teenager, or that the kid really does feel that he wants/has to turn Vlad in after everything that's happened. Nevertheless, the book was really ambitious in being so different from what he was used to writing (different viewpoint/narrator [the vacuum created by the absence of Vlad and Loish's internal banter and Vlad's narration is really powerful], different setting, less magic, etc. And I think the book does give the reader some idea how other people see Vlad, as well as what life is like for ordinary people in Dragaera. (Brust mentioned in a letter back in 1989 or so that he wasn't very good at short-story writing [and maybe not at writing from other viewpoints, I forget]. I thought the four Dashief stories I've read in the Liavek books were pretty cool though, and he admitted to being pretty fond of the one he wrote for the last Liavek with Megan Lindholm. (I liked The Gypsy too, and how it riffed off of The Sun, The Moon, and The Stars)

[Aside: I really want to get my hands on a copy of Liavek #2, if anyone out there have a copy, please get in touch with me.]

Brust noted that some of his favorite/most influential writers are Mark Twain and Milton. He also I think mentioned that he thought Dumas was really cool for jerking around his publishers with those long dialogues with short sentences after they started insited on paying him by the line because he wrote using so many words. Brust also got kind of defensive about his own use of the device in Phoenix Guards after I mentioned that it was kind of grating that the characters didn't speak in in complete sentences. He pointed out that the sentences are all complete, it's just that the thoughts expressed aren't. Which, while true, doesn't seem to me to make it any less grating. Except maybe when it draws out a particualrly funny scene to good effect. A friend recently pointed out to me that the titles of The Phoenix Guards, 500 Years After, and the Viscount of Adrilankha, are puns on the Dumas book titles The Three Musketeers, 40 years After, and The Count of Monte Cristo.

[Editor's note: I've been told that the last note is incorrect; the pastiche is of "Le Vicomte de Bragelonne", which was very large -- and the Viscount of Adrilankha will be three books.]

Brust once wrote an essay on one of Joyce's books in a zine ("Medusa", which died after the first issue I think) edited by Emma Bull.

More in the art-immitates-life department: Brust noted that his own marriage finally collapsed around the time he was writing (finishing?) Teckla, but that he didn't see it coming even though the parallels with Vlad and Cawti's troubles are painfully obvious to him in hindsight.

Brust used to fence, but hasn't in years (bad knee).

Brust's advice to an aspiring writer: don't tell other people your story ideas, because when you finally sit down to write it you will have already told the story (killed the enjoyment of telling it).

Brust's old band Cats Laughing were actually very good (I have both their tapes). The first tape is performed with more heart and has cooler and more fantasy oriented lyrics, the latter has better musicianship, more instruments, and better sound quality. Brust put out another tape with a band called Morrigan which wasn't as good, but they still turn in a couple of very good traditional celtic tunes (the best of which is "The Fair Lady" which resonates with the villain in _The Gypsy_). Adam Stemple, the guitarist for Cats Laughing and Morrigan now plays for Boiled In Lead. And the song "The Fair Lady" appears with many other book related songs (presumably written or co-qritten by Brust) on Boiled In Lead's new album Songs From _The Gypsy_, which incidentally includes the text of the novel in CD-ROM form.

Emma Bull, vocalist, is writing more books (although not the sequel to War for the Oaks I've been wanting to see [her husband Will Shetterly concurrs on this point]), Lojo Russo left to sing with some celtic band. Cats Lauging actually appeared in issue #5 of the Marvel comic X-Calibur (as a joke on the part of Chris Claremont who I suppose met Will through comics conventions back when Will was doing Captain Confederacy).

Aside from the Grateful Dead and old folk music, Brust is extremely fond of a folk singer/songwriter by the name of Greg Brown. He was singing several of Brown's beautiful and witty songs late one night at a con while playing guitar. Having since acquired or heard most of Greg Brown's music and having seen him live, I concur with Brust that Greg Brown is a musical genius [and a nice guy, he let me come back stage and signed my CD's after a tour-ending show at the Birchmere]. *Buy this guy's stuff* (starting with the album Dream Cafe) and absolutely go see him in person if you can.

Aside from Greg Brown, Brust has also mentioned his admiration of Neil Gaiman as a cool individual. Neil's work in comics, unless you've been living in a cave, needs no description from me.

Comments are welcome,

Shayne Weyker

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