Stel Pavlou Interview
by John Berlyne
SFRevu Interview ISBN/ITEM#: 0502SP
Date: February 2004 /
SFRevu: Gene has been out for a month or so now - how has it been received (by critics, by readers?)...or don't you pay attention to that sort of thing?
Stel Pavlou: This is where I?m supposed to say that I try not to get too swept up in that whole thing. For every ego stroking review there?s always some spiteful sod who really wants to put the boot in. Truth is I don?t succeed. So far Gene seems to have been received amazingly positively, though I do sense from one or two fans of Decipher that they?re a little shocked at what they got. They?re not disappointed; they just didn?t get the journey they were expecting which I always think is a good thing.
SFRevu: How does Gene differ from Decipher - both seem rooted in Greek legend and - we wonder what draws you to such subjects in terms of your fiction?
Stel: Gene and Decipher in terms of style, plotting and characterization are like comparing apples to oranges. Decipher, I often refer to as A.D.D. SF, it?s real serial adventure material. Lots of cliff-hangers. External events are what drive its linear story and the characters because of the nature of the story are intentionally drawn a shade thinner in light of that. It?s full of Indiana Jones style wisecracks. It draws not just on Greek myths but heavily on world mythology from Egyptian to Chinese. It?s kind of Joseph Campbell as action hero.
Gene on the other hand is a different beast entirely. It?s concerned with the inner monologue of much deeper much grittier subject matters. It?s visceral; it?s infused much more with a wealth of emotion. As a revenge tale it?s a story about what it means to be a human, and more than that, the nature of men. It?s a nature versus nurture tale about identity. It?s steeped in psychology and doesn?t shy away from taboo subjects such as incest, gruesome deaths, and sex. It?s also told over seven different periods of history. The modern linear one that unfolds through the book as a detective story, and the flashbacks that fill in the missing pieces.
The use of mythology serves two different functions in each book. In Decipher its part of a grand puzzle that needs to be solved with clues scattered throughout the tales. Whereas in Gene the myths serve as our history as people, they hold certain intrinsic truths about who we are and what happens to us when we make certain decisions.
I?m told the type of author who writes Decipher is not supposed to go off and write Gene afterwards, but in my experience people are far more complex than that. Everyone has facets. Why can?t writers?
SFRevu: Do you feel your fiction can/should be classified as genre in any way. Your novels so far have been marketed as mainstream, but they certainly appeal to readers of science fiction and fantasy. Who do you think of as your ideal audience/reader?
Stel: I don?t think it?s really a matter of what I feel, I?m just doing what I?m doing. I think it?s a matter of how the readers feel. I know people who?ve never read an SF book in their life sit down and enjoy my fiction, and I know SF and Fantasy people who would normally shun thrillers do the same. I hope what I?m achieving at the very least is that I?m opening doors for people who like to think and aren?t afraid to explore some new territory they hadn?t thought about before.
SFRevu: With your interest and experience in film, how does your writing differ between the screen and novel? Do you think about how the book will translate to the screen while you're writing it? Does writing for one medium come easier to you than the other?
Stel: Oh many questions in one! Film is different in that while dialogue and action is dealing with one part of the story, the visuals have to be telling a separate part of the story, so every page of a screenplay is trying to do two things at once. Also screenplays are hyper economical with words. There?s a science to the timing. One page = one minute. Then its sheer potluck that you?ve found a director who knows what on earth you?ve written and knows how to bring it to life. With a book there is far more freedom to explore, to get inside the minds of characters, to build elaborate places no film could ever afford, to explore themes and ideas no film would ever have the time to do. When I?m writing a novel I?m not really thinking about how it would translate into a film at all. I do have a very visual imagination however and always have. It?s like I have an internal DVD player and I?m just watching my story and trying to write what I see. I am an artist in my spare time and have always painted and drawn so visual experiences have always been part of my worldview. Neither however is particularly easy to write. I find the moment I find something easy, I?m probably doing it wrong.
SFRevu: What do you tend to read for enjoyment's sake?
Stel: The first thing I should say is since becoming a full time writer the time I get to just read for pleasure has almost evaporated. When I was growing up I read a lot of Douglas Adams and Robert Heinlein. There?s a strange mix. And some Arthur C. Clarke. I have very eclectic tastes. Fiction wise I really enjoy Kim Stanley Robinson, Patricia Cornwell, Jeffery Deaver, Michael Crichton, Michael Marshall (Smith), Bo Fowler and Kurt Vonnegut. I?ve just started reading some Steven Pressfield and Manfredi. Non-fiction wise I read just about everything and anything. Vast amounts. The research is something I love about my work and I admit I can get lost in it and have to remind myself this is great but you?re supposed to be writing a book! I have stacks of books on anything from Quantum Physics to Neuroscience, Archaeology to Philosophy.
SFRevu: Were you a writer as a child? That is, did you make up your own stories?
Stel: Yes. Always. I wrote my first story at about the age of 4 or 5 and won a prize for it and I?ve been a natural storyteller ever since. My problem growing up however was that I didn?t have the discipline or knowledge to ever finish anything. It?s only after my brief military stint and university that I had the skills to be able to see things through to their conclusion.
SFRevu: How do you write? Do you plan out your books before you start or go along and find out what happens as you write?
Stel: Both. I don?t have a detailed map, I have a sort of thumbnail sketch of what I want to have happen which I continuously rearrange to find the best order, but I like the freedom to chop and change as I go. I also don?t write in order. I?ll write first draft chapters, bits of dialogue or sketches of scenes from all over the story and then work out the jigsaw based on my thumbnail sketch.
SFRevu: How did your first book sale come about?
Stel: I?d just secured my first movie deal and had a film agent who didn?t represent authors. We?d gotten the finance and stars in place and that?s when I said I?d written this book in my spare time (Decipher) and could she find someone to rep it. She set me up with this terrific book agent; Sophie, and she then shopped it around before I?d even met her. It took about six weeks all told. I got a call out of the blue saying S&S had picked it up which was just a few weeks before I signed my film contract. It was very surreal.
SFRevu: Do you think your novels change the way readers see the world? If they could, how would you want them to be affected?
Stel: Hmm, that?s a loaded couple of questions. I think I would be gratified if that?s how my readers felt. Certainly my intention is to make my readers think and the natural result of that is that they draw a conclusion, which may or may not be an alteration of their worldview. Really all I want them to do initially is have fun entertaining some possibilities for the duration of the story. If that carries over to everyday life so far example they take more of an interest in a particular science or piece of history I?ve focused on then that can only be a good thing.
SFRevu: What are you working on now? What plans do you have for books down the road?
Stel: I was just contacted by a nice guy in Sweden called Steve Savile who is putting together an SF anthology for Tsunami Relief. It looks set right now to have an introduction by Arthur C. Clarke and include writers such as Brian Aldiss, Joe Haldeman, David Gerrold David Brin and many, many others. I?m currently outlining my next few novels the immediate one of which tackles some new themes and ideas different again from Gene and Decipher. I?m also involved at the moment with a few TV show proposals; other people?s ideas that I?ve been asked to bring to life in script form. And last but not least I have a couple of screenplays I?m just finishing up which I?ve been itching to do for some time. And on Sunday they said I could rest.
I don?t believe them.