Hi and welcome to my first ever...blog tour? Stop? I'm new to these. I am not new, however, to either R.B. Lemberg's work or doing interviews. Or The Four Profound Weaves for that matter, which is out in just a few days (September 1) and is available for pre-order now. I've already reviewed (and loved) the book here. And I couldn't be happier to get to ask some questions about the book, about the wider Birdverse, about magic and worldbuilding and inspiration and ahhh! so much! I will try to retrain myself from further outbursts, though, and get to the good stuff!
|Photo @ Bogi Takács, 2019|
R. B. Lemberg is a queer, bigender immigrant from Eastern Europe and Israel. Their stories and poems have appeared in Lightspeed Magazine’s Queers Destroy Science Fiction!, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Uncanny Magazine, Sisters of the Revolution: A Feminist Speculative Fiction Anthology, and many other venues. R.B.’s work has been a finalist for the Nebula, Crawford, and other awards. You can find more of their work on their Patreon (patreon.com/rblemberg) and a full bio at rblemberg.net.
And with that settled, on to the questions!
QSR: I love the way that art works into The Four Profound Weaves, especially because, well, the story is a piece of art itself! How do you feel art and the act of creating it fits into these moments of resistance, revolution, and recovery?
RBL: I often think that making art is the most resilient human impulse. It's not that art is indestructible - far from it - but the need to make art, to share it, to find meaning and joy and hope in it, is universal. Even the villain of my story loves art - just not the artists that produce it. And that, for me, is what separates the villains from the rest of us. I do not believe that art can have a separate existence from the artist, I do not believe that art can or should be "sanitized" for elite consumption by forgetting or hiding where it comes from - from people, from communities, from relationships, from emotions, from lifetimes of learning and striving. In moments of great turmoil we turn to art - both to the art that exists already, to the memory of art, and, perhaps most importantly, to the making of new art - to carry us through, to tell the stories that shape our lives, to make meaning out of suffering, grief, and joy. In my book, the maker - who is in her sixties, but who only now is coming to the true mastery of her craft - makes meaning from long-silenced voices. She does not create the voices, but her art helps them to be heard. Art can continue to exist long after the artists themselves become anonymous, but its makers continue to speak to us.
QSR: On the topic of that, can you speak a little on what art you’ve found most inspiring for your work in Birdverse? Are there any movements/artists/traditions that you feel resonating through what you’re trying to do?
RBL: That is a bit of a massive question, but in terms of art... well, I have always been drawn to folk art, art that is passed down from one creator to another, that exists as a part of long traditions and communities, and is not necessarily attributable to an individual creator (although it’s awesome when it happens). I love textiles, as is pretty obvious, but also wood carvings (my father was a sculptor and a wood carver), and art glass. It’s hard to explain but... I often feel that some objects sing, and I am drawn to those that have music. I am not a musician myself, but I like to think that I am a good listener. In that vein, piyyutim (Jewish lithurgical poetry) are an art form that has always resonated with me. Each piyyut often has a number of different traditional tunes, depending on a particular community where it is performed. I love this multiplicity.
QSR: You’ve always made bold decisions in choosing viewpoint characters in Birdverse, and The Four Profound Weaves is no exception there. Can you talk a little about why these two trans elders for this story? Why not a focus on a younger cast?
RBL: I've written characters as young as ten and as old as four hundred (or even more, I honestly don't know how to count the Old Royal's age. They like "four hundred" though). I have been gravitating towards older characters lately because I love how layered the writing needs to become to give justice to people who have lived full and complex lives. The challenges that older protagonists may face resonate with me now. I am interested in how hope cannot be taken for granted in those stories, and how it must be considered deeply. Your whole life is no longer ahead of you, you've made mistakes, waited too long, lost loved ones, failed and succeeded. What is possible now? What can you still fix? What does not need fixing, but must be left behind? What does hope mean now? These questions are chewy, and I love telling layered, nuanced stories. That said, I am not abandoning younger protagonists! I love them too! In the future, I am looking forward to writing people of many different ages.
QSR: I love the chewiness! And I love that this story isn’t a terminus for these characters. It’s not about their sacrifice or their end. They get an adventure! And might have more! And I kinda want to ask what’s next for them but, given the scope and size of Birdverse (and because honestly I want more of all the Birdverse characters), perhaps what I’ll ask instead is how do you choose what comes next not for the specific characters, but for the setting as a whole? Is there a larger flow you’re working with, or do you sort of bounce all around the setting’s history and geography and personalities?
RBL: Yes, I have a timeline I am working with. :) I do bounce around the timeline in terms of the order in which I write things, but things do happen in order, from Bird’s Star-Giving Dance to the end of the arc. In a way, I envision the arc as a rainbow between the creation of two universities – the Mountain Academy of Keshet and the University at Ranra’s Towers. What I know as the main storyline begins with “Grandmother-nai-Leylit's Cloth of Winds." I feel the connection between The Four Profound Weaves and the next story on the timeline is a bit tenuous, but I’ll figure it out eventually. Birdverse unfolds slowly (and as we know, a lot depends on vagaries of publishing).
QSR: Let’s talk magic! In Birdverse, magic comes through deepnames, with power and structure derived through number of names a person has and the number of syllables of each name. Given that The Four Profound Weaves features one character literally searching for a name, how do you see the intersection of identity and magic in your works? Or...how did you choose names, with all the messy connections to identity, family, and culture, as the vehicles for magic in Birdverse?
RBL: This might be disappointing, but initially it wasn't a long convoluted process. Names as magic is one of my favorite tropes, so I wanted to see what I could do with this trope given that I'm a linguist. From there it quickly ballooned, though. I wanted to think about breath, and resonance, and phonetics experiments, and neurolinguistics, and cultural differences between magical schools, and on and on and on. Of course it ties into our more regular, non-magical names as signifiers of identity. It's been a lot of fun developing all the different ways deepname magic can intersect with culture and history. A lot of my longer-term readers are fascinated by deepname magic and want to know more about it, but it really needs a long novel in print to support all the worldbuilding I have done, and answer some of the questions my readers have about it. I am hopeful that one day I will get there.
QSR: Then who do I need to bribe/replace with a loyal pod-person to make a novel happen so I can get these explorations?!?! But okay, okay, I will strive for patience (and pine for the eventuality of the Birdverse TTRPG). I am super curious, though, if you have a deepname configuration that speaks most to you personally? And can we officially replace sorting hat houses with deepname configurations?
RBL: Ok so... this is a bit fraught. The main reason I write so many different people is that I do not want to commit to having only one configuration!!! I want to try them all :) Ok, maybe not The Jagged House, but I want to try many of them. Over the years, three immediate opportunities presented themselves. The first is the Royal House. I love this – it is the most stable and benevolent configuration in the land, of one, one, and two syllables. This is, I guess, an idealized picture of what I’d want my configuration to be like if I wanted to hold power. Sadly, it’s a very neurotypical configuration. I could hold it, but I would need to pass. So, with regret, I let it go. Second option is the Maker’s Triangle, the most powerful of the Making configurations: one, one, and three. It is not a neurotypical configuration and it lends itself very nicely to hyperfocus; it’s also a bit wobbly. I love it. This is an idealized picture of what my life would be like if I lived the kind of life that could fully support joyful creativity. Sadly, it is not a trauma-informed configuration. I do love it so. Finally, a trauma-informed configuration is something which started one way (perhaps as a Royal House, or the Maker’s Triangle) but over its existence has become damaged and perhaps partially repaired. I still imagine I would have three deepnames; it’s a bit vain of me, but it’s my world, after all. Three deepname configurations lend themselves to “eventful” lives, and mine has certainly been eventful. With lots of trauma, deepnames can break. I envision the trauma-informed configuration that has one unbroken powerful deepname (probably a one-syllable), a formerly powerful deepname that has been broken and repaired (perhaps a really mangled one-syllable), and a long deepname. Perhaps a four-syllable that has been created via trauma from a three-syllable. A kind of Maker’s Triangle on CPTSD. Don’t you want to read that book?
As for the sorting hat, please, let’s replace it with anything really, as long as it’s trans-friendly.
Bonus Question! If The Four Profound Weaves was a drink (mixed drink, type of tea, soda brand, anything at all), what would it be?
RBL: Well, definitely not a soda brand! I think it's either Iyari plum wine, or water. The Iyari plum wine is a very fine beverage made from a particular kind of plum that grows in orchards between the desert and the sea. It is fragrant and complex, and you should not drink too much of it all at once unless you want to get very drunk. Water, I think, is important when you are parched. Really parched, like when you have wandered in the heat for forty years. And then the water is right there.