"It's one of the things that people stopped saying about my writing at a certain point. I think because what came at me was so unfunny there was a tendency to believe my writing must have the characteristics of the attack against it. If the attack was unfunny then I couldn't possibly be a funny writer and if the attack was kind of arcane and theological and kind of alien then the writing must be sort of arcane and theological and alien, you know? I think, for people that had never tried my work, it kind of put them off."



He is, arguably, one of the most controversial writers of our time. His fourth book, The Satanic Verses, caused an international storm so loud that, for a time, it did all but obliterate the identity of the man who had written it. "Who would have thought this kind of thing?" Salman Rushdie says now of the fatwa issued by the Ayatollah Khomeini on February 14, 1989. "That the leader of a foreign power would suddenly instruct his minions to have me killed? It would never really happen to a writer."

Rushdie's most recent book, Step Across This Line -- the author's collected non-fiction from 1992 to 2002 -- is, in part, his attempt to stop people from asking about his years in hiding and living under the fatwa and to just let him -- please -- get on with his life. He says that "one of the reasons for trying to put into this book that material which deals with those years is that I thought it would sort of draw a line under it. Because, really, the answers to most of the stuff that people have asked me about those years are here, you know? So, in a way, people don't have to ask me anymore. They just have to read the book."

The author maintains that, these days, he's living a normal life. "Because the thing that I most keenly felt was the loss of ordinary life. And so it's very good to have it back. Go stand in line in the supermarket. It's just back to normal."

Perhaps unsurprisingly, back to normal looks slightly different for Salman Rushdie than it does for many people. His highly publicized move to New York -- from London, where he'd made his home for 30 years -- in 2000 was eclipsed only by his relationship with Padma Lakshmi, a 20-something international model, originally from southern India. But don't write her off because she's beautiful: Lakshmi speaks four languages, is the author of a bestselling cookbook and the host of a FoodTV network cooking show, Padma's Passport. "To Indian people," Lakshmi has been quoted as saying of Rushdie, "he's as large as Faulkner or Hemingway, and when I think about that, I wonder when he's going to figure out that I'm just a silly girl."

The move -- and the relationship -- earned Rushdie fire of an entirely new sort: many critics spared no vitriol in calling the author's 2001 novel Fury largely autobiographical, a charge the author finds irritating. "Because what nobody wants to hear is the actual truth. And the truth is: Well, yeah, sorta, it's a bit. I've used some things from my life and then I've made some other stuff up and I've changed things round and joined them together in odd ways and that becomes fiction. But nobody wants to know that."

January caught up with the 55-year-old author in Vancouver, where he appeared in a well-attended event sponsored by the Vancouver International Writers & Readers Festival. He was taller than expected. Perhaps gentler. No less humorous, though perhaps more generous of his time and thoughts. He spoke engagingly -- and at some length -- on any topic angled his way. He laughs easily and well and though he speaks with the British accent that comes from having spent almost his whole life as a British subject living in England, his cadences -- and his syntax -- speak pleasantly of his boyhood -- and his roots -- in India.


Linda Richards: Step Across This Line surprised me. It was more hopeful than I'd expected.

Salman Rushdie: Well, I hope so. Which pieces struck you that way?

I think all of it, in a way. And even to the way that the book was arranged: the path from beginning to end.

I put the wizard up front. [Laughs] That's right. No, I agree. I think the problem is that people only know one thing about me and I thought there might be some other things they'd like to know. So I wanted to put the other stuff up front and then get 'round to what everybody already knows.

But even the pieces that you would not think would be so hopeful really felt that way to me. I kept, in a way, hearing you say: All of the answers are out there if you change your perspective or change your heart or change your mind.

I'm sometimes anxious not to sound as if I know all the answers because, obviously, I don't. But yeah, in general, the subject of change has been a big subject for me as it is for anybody whose life moves so dramatically between worlds. I've always thought of it, more or less, as a very positive force.

Is there one question that irritates you beyond all others that journalists always ask you?

[Nods] Oh: How autobiographical is it? [Laughs] And I've discovered the correct answer to that question. Because what nobody wants to hear is the actual truth. And the truth is: Well, yeah, sorta, it's a bit. I've used some things from my life and then I've made some other stuff up and I've changed things round and joined them together in odd ways and that becomes fiction. But nobody wants to know that. So the correct answer is: It's completely autobiographical. [Laughs]

And, I guess, that question relates to Fury.

Yeah. But it's all my books. In every single book I've ever published people have assumed that I was the central character. In Midnight's Children they did and in Satanic Verses they did: every single book. And yet, all of these central characters, if you look at them, are really unlike each other, you know? So when you sort of add them up, it doesn't add up to a person. [Laughs] But it still happens. Especially with books that are either narrated in the first person or which have a really tightly focused point of view character, in the way that Fury does. There's an assumption that it's the author but, you know, it's not.

And, for Midnight's Children, you were born in 1947 [the year of India's independence] and....

Yeah! That's right. There are those coincidences which are deliberate and the things in Midnight's Children that are taken from life ... [and] there's the fact that it's my generation and also the circumstances of the book. That [the main character] essentially grows up in my neighborhood and goes to my school and those things, which is just the commonplace thing about writers. You set things in the world that you know. But, beyond that, the book goes off into very eccentric areas that have nothing to do with my family life.

That's all so interesting! But it's not what I thought would be the most irritating question at all.

What did you think would be the most irritating question?

Well, fatwa related stuff.

Oh yeah. That's irritating too.

That would get old.

That has got old. But one of the reasons for trying to put into this book that material which deals with those years is that I thought it would sort of draw a line under it. Because, really, the answers to most of the stuff that people have asked me about those years are here [indicates a nearby copy of Step Across This Line], you know? So, in a way, people don't have to ask me anymore. They just have to read the book.

Do you want to put an end to it?

Well, yes. In my life it's really been effectively over for quite a long time. It's been over for getting on for four years.

When did it start?

In February 1989. The deal that canceled the threat was four years ago, so as I say -- except when I'm talking to journalists -- it doesn't feature in my life. It hasn't done so for a long time. So I think it's about time to declare the subject closed. But I can't say nothing about it. Especially if I'm writing a non-fiction book that arises out of that decade because clearly a lot of this material is affected by those years and so, at the moment, it's legitimate to talk about it.

Wonderful, also, to share. I loved, particularly, the journal you kept while traveling in India with your son. [The first trip back after the fatwa.]

Well, that was a big moment. It was strange because when I did that trip to India and The New Yorker suggested that I [write] about it I said: Well, actually, I don't know how it'll go and I don't know if there'll be a story. That's to say that I don't want to write just another What I Did On My Holiday article, you know? I want there to be a real reason for writing the piece and I said: I'm just going to reserve the right to not write it. I'm just going to go there and see what happens and see what comes out of it.

And so you kept a journal?

Yeah, I kept a journal. But the thing that happened, well, two things happened. One was that the journey with my son really for me became the story, you know? That was a kind of very personal writing that I'd not really done before. So that was interesting to do. He felt very kind of odd about it at first and then he felt good about it when he read it. It is difficult to be written about anyway and it's particularly difficult, I guess, to be written about by your father and then for it to be published. I gave him a right of veto. I said he should read it and if there were things he felt odd about then I would take them out. But he didn't exercise that right of veto at all. So that was a good sign.

And it was lovely. Traveling together and reconnecting him with the spirit of his mother. It was beautiful.

Well that stuff. That's what I felt was actually the story to tell. And the other thing was at that reception that I had been a little uncertain of turned out to be incredibly affectionate and that all the stuff that people had been worried about turned out just to be nothing. One of the things I really felt through those years [of the fatwa] is that often, particularly in the case of security forces, people were running from shadows. That there actually wasn't anything to run from. That people would just assume there was and so behave in a sort of maximum security way when, in fact, all you were doing was walking down the street, you know, and there was no problem there.

You speak to that in Step Across This Line. I think that makes the timing of the book's publication so salient. A lot of people are frightened now and you know -- firsthand -- about the threat of terrorism. And you speak to it, directly. You write: "How to defeat terrorism? Don't be terrorized. Don't let fear rule your life. Even if you are scared."

Well that's the thing that I felt. We all have a kind of description of the world and out of that come our instincts and how to behave and what is appropriate and what is inappropriate and so on. Now the security picture of the world is bizarre. And clearly there's in part a reason why it's bizarre and September 11 shows you what that reason is. But the point is, if you're listening down there below consciousness -- you know, the unspoken, the invisible, the ether, the crackle -- then you're always hearing bad news. And the problem is, if you live according to that, then your life becomes very deformed.

The worst case scenario of crossing the road is that you're going to get hit by a bus. So if you apply the worst case scenario, you can't cross the road. But actually, people cross the road all the time and are not hit by a bus. But that's the thing: the worst case scenario is the worst case scenario. The trouble with maximum security is that it assumes that you always have to cater for that. That whatever you do must cover that too, you know? So that in order to cross the road you have to close the street so that you can cross the road and there's no chance that a bus could come down and hit you.

And you've seen that close up.

Yes. I've seen it. And I understood quite early that in order to retain even my sanity but also my ability to make judgments and choices, I couldn't accept that view of the world. I was not going to surrender my ordinary world view and replace it by the security world view, because then I would become their creature. I could only do what they said. I didn't feel like doing what they said because often I felt that I was right and they were wrong.

And, had you done that, you'd probably still be doing it.

Yeah. Exactly. I think you become institutionalized. It would be like going to jail. So, from the beginning, I started questioning everything and that enabled me to begin the process of gradually getting my life back.

And now you have it back?

[Nods] But some of it lingers.

I know that. For instance, in setting up this interview today, I was meeting you at an undisclosed location, as far as I was concerned.

You were?


Well, that's just the publishers being careful. I don't do that. What I find now, and it's actually slightly the most irritating thing, is that people become cautious on my behalf when I've requested nothing. As far as I'm concerned I just behave like everyone else and I wish people would stop doing it, really, because it creates a wrong atmosphere around me. Once upon a time that was true and there was arguably a need for it.

You mean they didn't tell you where you were supposed to come?

Just an "undisclosed downtown location." Until today.

I'm amazed. I'm really amazed. That's bizarre. I'm sorry about that. But it's certainly absolutely nothing to do with anything I requested. It's just people trying to be careful on my behalf.

I guess, also, they don't want to lose you on their watch. [Laughs]

But no, again, that may once have been an issue but now it's not. And I'm slightly annoyed that people make it an issue again when actually I do not live like that and I strongly resent now intrusions of security into my life because it took me a decade to get it out of my life and I don't want it around me. And really, it isn't [an issue]. If I'm walking around in New York and taking the subway and so on it's kind of silly to have a cloak and dagger game about where you should be.

And you do that? Take the subway and stuff?

Yeah. Of course.

I didn't realize. But, I guess, having just read [Step Across This Line], I've just experienced it all with you, so it seems very fresh. Very new. [Laughs]

So, at some point at least, doing simple things like taking the subway must have been delicious for you.

Well it was. Certainly. Of course it was. Because the thing that I most keenly felt was the loss of ordinary life. And so it's very good to have it back. Go stand in line in the supermarket. It's just back to normal. So I really don't like it when people treat it as if it's not normal. If I were to walk around here, people might recognize me, but so what? It doesn't stop anything. So you just get used to it. And when people do come up it's always just a moment and it's always friendly so it doesn't bother me, really.

In Step Across This Line you say that the Australian writer David Malouf warns "particularly of the dangers of speaking about work in progress." Despite that, do you talk about yours?

You mean about work in progress? I try not to, really. I read an interview many years ago that Gabriel García Márquez gave which had been done when he was writing Autumn of Patriarch. And the interview bore so little relationship to the book that he finally published. [Laughs] You know, because, clearly, your ideas about your book develop all the time and the book you finish is never really the book you begin. You discover better solutions and more interesting ways to go. Stuff you thought was powerful turns out to be a kind of damp squid and things you thought were going to be three pages long turn out to be 40 pages long. So it's very difficult to talk about it in any way that means anything.

In the piece where you quoted Malouf, you talked about inspiration and influence. Can you talk about that in relation to what you're working on?

One of the things that I think about the subject of influence is that when you start as a writer it's [how you] find your way. All books, to an extent, come from other books. As well as from life. So when you start out you think: Oh yes, you have these kind of guiding stars and it helps you steer. But I think what happens is that gradually that stops away, you know? You don't need to lean on the influence of other writers so much because you've found your own voice and your own direction.

Sometimes writers can come in useful, they can give you tips and hints. For instance, when I was writing Fury one of the things I read at that time was [Honoré de] Balzac's Eugénie Grandet. I suddenly thought: Balzac is doing something that I could really use, which is the way in which he begins the novel with a description of a town and then inside the town a neighborhood inside the neighborhood the street, on the street a house, inside the house a room, in the room a chair, on the chair a woman sitting in the chair and this is her problem. The opening of Eugénie Grandet is like a zoom lens. It starts off at a very wide angle and gradually comes right in and picks out one figure and tells you that story. But first it's created a context. And I thought it was really interesting. And in a way very modern, cinematic, almost.

One of the reasons Fury begins with some quite long passages just about the city streets and about New York and so on was exactly to say: first let's make the place vivid and then let's follow this man's story through it. In that sense, yeah, other writers can give you a helping hand. But it's not exactly the same as when you start. When you start you're actually trying to define yourself against other writers, test yourself against other writers. You're still shaping yourself. At that point influence has a much bigger role in your writing. By now, as I say, it can be a help -- the work of other writers -- it can be a help, but it's no longer a crutch in the way that it can be when you start out.

What are you reading right now?

Well, I'm reading this terrific book of Michael Ondaatje's. He's written this book The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film. [Murch] was the editor of Apocalypse Now and The English Patient and of many, many other films besides. And, what is interesting, listening to Murch who -- unusually for a film editor -- [is] very articulate and has a very wide cultural frame of reference and so he can really talk about it. He talks about it in a way that is very reminiscent to me of many choices that one makes as a writer. For example, he talks about how the techniques of montage can actually help to tell the story by giving a different feeling than what the characters are actually saying. In writing there are moments like this. For instance, if you want to create the mood of a relationship that's in trouble without actually saying that it's in trouble, a way you can do this is quite like editing technique. You can have your characters talking to each other -- and they can be talking to each other in a completely affectionate way, without suggesting directly that they have any problems between them. But if you write it in a very broken up way, if you write it in a very staccato series of sentences which feel kind of jangling and odd, etc. the reader can actually get the sense that something is wrong without actually being told that there's something wrong. You create the mood with the rhythm of the language and you don't necessarily, at that point, really have to spell it out. You can spell it out at the appropriate dramatic moment. But the reader kind of gets the feeling of something tense just because you write about it that way.

So it's very interesting reading Michael's book about Murch. He approaches film editing in exactly that way. And some of the most interesting stuff in the book is Michael comparing his work methods to Murch's work methods. And you begin to see how much there is in common.

Writing is still very much on ongoing learning process for you.

Of course. One of the great things about writing is you don't learn anything. [Laughs] Or you hardly learn anything because, put it this way, everything you learn in the process of writing a book is used up in the process of writing that book. And then you get the next book and the thing you don't want to do is to write it exactly the same way you wrote the previous book. And therefore everything that you've painstakingly worked out for that book is not useful now and you have to try new solutions for the new work.

I mean, it's not true that you learn absolutely nothing. There are certain things that do come with experience. For example, there's almost always a moment when I'm writing a book when it suddenly clogs and I can't go on. It sort of jams. One of the things I've learned through experience is when that happens, the problem is never there -- the problem is never at the point where it jams. The problem is back somewhere. There's been something wrongly imagined, you know, or under imagined. The wrong thing has been set in motion or something that should have been set in motion has not been set in motion. Then you have to go back and find out where the blockage is. It's sort of like plumbing: you have to find out where the blockage is and then send the rooter guy. [Laughs] And once you've cleared the blockage then you find can go on.

The sense in which it is not like plumbing is that often once you've found the mistake, it requires rewriting all the way: They shouldn't have had a fight then, because if they had a fight then they can't get together here to do what they need to do. So you have to undo that fight, even if you want them actually to be in a state of high tension. They actually can't have a break there because they need to be doing something together here. So you have to go find out what you've done wrong and it can be the page before, it can be 100 pages before but that's something that experience teaches you: always don't look for the solution at the point where you are. It's somewhere else.

Do you work on a computer? Or in longhand?

Well, I work on both. I do a lot of my preliminary work in notebooks. I always carry a notebook and I'm always scribbling in it. Just ideas and phrases and thoughts, little passages and so on. When I'm actually writing writing, I do it on a laptop because, for a start, it's just so portable and you can take 15 different versions with you.

And you can undo those blockages 100 pages ago.

Yeah, but also before laptops I used to do it on a typewriter and what I found is that when sentences were in my handwriting, I found it difficult to be objective about their quality. I either thought they were too good, or I thought they were too bad. I was either too critical of them or not critical enough. I couldn't have proper distance. And, somehow, type -- or now print on a screen -- allows me to be much more neutral. Dispassionate. And just look at it and say: Well, that doesn't quite work. Or: Yes, leave that alone, it's good. But then what I do is I'm endlessly printing it out and scribbling all over it and putting the scribbles back into the computer. So I sort of use both processes and one of the reasons is that I've found that when you're looking at a sheet of paper -- your hard copy -- you actually see slightly different things than you see on a computer screen. So what I find is that there are things I now see on a computer screen that maybe I was missing when there was only hard copy. But I like to have both experiences. But I love it. I was a very late convert to computers.

How late?

1995. The Moor's Last Sigh was the first novel I wrote on a computer, so I guess that was 93, 94.

I imagine that the technology would have been helpful to you, because your work is so intricate. I think there must be no one on the planet who understands all of your jokes and all of your insides. One of the reasons I say this is because of something that happened when I was reviewing The Ground Beneath Her Feet back in 1999. As I was reading it I said to [January art director and primary photographer] David [Middleton]: There's this photographer [in The Ground Beneath her Feet] and he works for the Nebuchadnezzar photo agency. And I said: I know that's not a real thing, but I have the feeling there's something there I'm not getting. And David laughed his head off, because, he told me, a nebuchadnezzar is a bottle for champagne, but it's...

[Laughing] .... it's much bigger than a magnum.

But who's going to get that?

Well, he got it. Photographers get it. It's a photography joke. If you want to have something that isn't Magnum [the world's largest non-fictional photographic agency].

But I think it's wonderful. [Laughs] Because you really have to pay attention.

Or not, you know. I mean, you've got to name it something. If you're going to write about photography, obviously it starts because you have a sort of interest in it anyway and then you go and find out a great deal more about it in order to write the book and so, along the way, you find yourself reading a lot about things like Magnum Agency and the birth of it and so on.

And then when you're a wordie anyway, you go: Oh, Magnum...

What'll I call my fictional agency? It's like that. It's not really there for people to find, even. It's really just a way for me to find the name.

But it's a part of your humor, I think. Those little touches. Your humor is very rich and very deep. Your work is very funny. Often in the most unexpected places.

Well, thank you. That's what's great about coming on these tours and doing readings in front of audiences. And they're very enjoyable evenings if people are laughing a lot. It's one of the things that people stopped saying about my writing at a certain point. I think because what came at me was so unfunny there was a tendency to believe my writing must have the characteristics of the attack against it. If the attack was unfunny then I couldn't possibly be a funny writer and if the attack was kind of arcane and theological and kind of alien then the writing must be sort of arcane and theological and alien, you know? I think, for people that had never tried my work, it kind of put them off.

It's true. I've noticed that even while I've been reading Step Across This Line. People said: What do you think of it? And I've replied: It's so funny in spots. I always forget how funny he is. And they've said: What? Rushdie funny? But, of course. That's always been a component.

That's the thing. People who haven't read me are surprised when you say it. People who have read me are not. And clearly there are more people in the world who have not read me than have. Unfortunately. [Laughs]

With Step Across This Line we're putting the fatwa to bed then?


So I will ask you then, because this is the last time we'll speak about it, were you surprised by it?

Yeah. Well, I wasn't surprised that a bunch of mullahs didn't like it, because they never liked anything I wrote anyway. And I didn't particularly write for them. They're not my team. I just thought that people of very orthodox, religious belief might find it not to their taste, you know. And, no doubt, they would say so and then, no doubt, we'd have an argument and then that would be it. After all, one of the reasons there are lots of books in bookstores is that you don't have to buy the books you don't want. So what? If they don't like it, buy another book. My view is that that's what would happen. I thought there would probably be a bit of an argument about it, you know? But I thought, that's fine. It's actually one of the good things that books can do, is to start interesting arguments. And then you have the argument and then you get on to the next thing, whatever it is. So I thought that would happen. Who would have thought this kind of thing? That the leader of a foreign power would suddenly instruct his minions to have me killed? It would never really happen to a writer. And, frankly, if I'd have told you on the publication date of Satanic Verses that that would happen, you'd have thought I was mad.

Had you known, would you have published it?

Oh, who knows?

It changed your life.

Yeah, but I'm very proud of it as a book, is what I'll say. I can't imagine my work without it and I think it's as good a book as I've written. And what is good now -- now that the fuss is mostly over -- it's finally getting read as a book. It's getting studied a lot at colleges and it's going back onto the book pages. It's being read as a novel. And then there's the full range of response: there are people who love it, there are people who sort of can't stand it, people who find it very exciting, people who find it very boring, which is fine. That's how everybody uses books all the time. And it's nice that it finally gets to have a book conversation around it instead of all these other conversations.

The experience made you a strident advocate for free speech.

Yeah but I always believed in free speech. It's just that I didn't feel the need to sound off about it before.

Do you thing that the adversity of it all made you stronger? Made you push harder?

Yeah. Well, I hope that in each book I try to push into areas that I haven't been before. But it certainly made me feel very determined not to be silenced. Not to be shut up. It also made me determined not to be defined by this attack. You start as a writer, you have your beliefs as a writer and your concerns as a writer. You have your project. I just thought: I'm just going to try to keep going down my road and not be turned into a creature of the public. There were a number of elephant traps. I thought, if I get it wrong I'd either become very timid and write very safe little books that never went to the edge in any way and that would be kind of destruction. But the opposite thing, I thought, would also be damaging because if I started writing, in a way, very angry books -- revenge books, books that were just getting even -- then again I would be defined by the attack. So you can't do either of those.

Because it would be affecting you.

Yeah. And it would be controlling you. So the thing that I like about the first two books that I wrote after the fatwa -- the first Haroun and the Sea of Stories and then The Moor's Last Sigh -- is that they really are my books. I think if you read those books you can hear that they are from the same person who was writing before the attack. The voice has, of course, developed and changed, but that happens from book to book anyway. But my feeling was: I'm not going to let them overpower my work. My work is going to go on being my work. It's not going to become my work with them telling me how to do it. I discovered I had the bloodymindedness to do that.

Why the collection of essays now?

Well, 10 or 11 years ago I published the first collection of non-fiction [Imaginary Homelands] -- 1981 - 1991 -- and simply if you're the kind of person who, like me, does every so often do essays and journalism and so on and so on, gradually you get this folder filling up and I thought: Well, here's this whole pile of stuff, let me see what there is. So I started re-exploring it -- and by no means all of it is in here because there's stuff you don't particularly feel is worth preserving and you're quite happy to see forgotten. And I rewrote all the stuff [that was included in the book]. I mean, everything in [Step Across This Line] has been gone over again.

I noticed the addition of the footnotes.

Yeah, but even just sentence by sentence it's been gone over. If you compare it to the first publication, every piece is slightly different. Journalism is a kind of ephemera. But if you're going to put something in a really permanent form, then you want to make sure you that you've given it all the care that you'd give to any of your other stuff.

So you didn't just hand someone all your old stuff.

No. Absolutely not. I really worked them again.

And you sequenced them?

Yes. And what I wanted to do, in my mind there's a sort of journey through the book. In a way, it's a self-portrait, this book. But it's a self-portrait not so much in terms of my daily life, but in terms of my inner workings. So I thought the first section is this writer -- me, in other words -- talking about all kinds of essentially artistic and cultural matters, whether it's books or movies or whatever it might be. And that first section gives the reader, I hope, some kind of portrait of what kind of writer this is. And then this dreadful thing happens to him. And then there's a second part in which the book becomes a response to that. Here's this person and you saw what he's like. Now he has to deal with this. The second part is the one that required the most work, in a way, because it's the one where I really did take bits from here and bits from there and make a kind of collage.

At the end of second part you come out of the tunnel and then that sensibility, which has now been shaped by all this stuff, you take that and look at the world. Instead of turning inward to argue about yourself, you turn it outwards. That's the journey through the book, I think. I tried to make it feel like that. And then it's not just a grab bag of old bits. It becomes a book which has a shape and a flow, like any book should, and feels like a whole. So that's how it emerged. So there's a lot more shaping work in it than people might think from it being called collected non-fiction.

And so you begin with a very intimate look at The Wizard of Oz, which I thought was a good starting point. It invites you in gently.

I think in any book, whatever it is, fiction or non-fiction, it's very important more or less straight away to say to the reader: It's going to be this kind of ride. In every book the writer makes a contract with the reader. You have to respect that. You can't have a book that's a naturalistic novel on page one that becomes a science fiction novel on page 100 because it annoys people. Or, if you're going to do it, you have to do it very deliberately and know why you're doing it and etc. So I thought, if I put political material up at the front it's going to be impossible to have this other cultural and funnier and lighter stuff later on because people will assume they're getting book A and they'll be disappointed when it turns into book B. But if you say: I'm going to start by telling you who I am and what I think and then we'll get into that other stuff, then people accept that. That's why I think that having things like the wizard up front helps that.

What makes you happiest in your life right now?

Well, there are so many ways of answering that. In one sense what makes me happiest is my children and in another sense what makes me happiest is that I'm at quite a good place in my life where I'm fortunate personally both in my private life and in my professional life. You know, I don't know how to answer the question. A good day at the office makes me happy. There are days when the writing goes well and the world seems to hum because you feel really good and then, the next day, you feel like a donkey again. | September 2002


Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine. Her fourth novel, Death was the Other Woman, will be published early in 2008 by St. Martin's Minotaur.