It is summer 2015 here in Copenhagen and I am heading to the Fantastikon, a Danish Science Fiction Convention. I am about to meet Pat Cadigan, there to interview her. Since I know her work as a writer, I never googled any picture of her and I realized that I don’t know how she looks. Luckily I find Ian Watson and Cristina Macía at the convention, they were inside a very interesting panel about schizophrenia and character building and they pointed me a very lovely lady with a Viking horned wool hat. I liked her. She was smiling and she got an aura of calm. After the panel we moved to a very comfy sofa and the interview went as you can read from now on.
Patricia K. Cadigan (1953) also known as Pat Cadigan, is a North American Science Fiction writer. Her work is mostly focused into cyberpunk subgenre, but she doesn’t classify herself like that. She wrote several works, such as novels and short stories. Among her work we can find: Mindplayers (1987), Synners (1991), Fools (1992), Datableed (1997), Tea From an Empty Cup (1998), Patterns: Stories (1999), Dervish is Digital (2000), The Ultimate Cyberpunk (2002), Twilight Zone: Upgrade/Sensuous Cindy (2004), Cellular (2004), Jason X (2000 AD S.) (2005), Jason X #2: The Experiment (Jason X) (2005). Moreover she wrote short fiction and novellas such as The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi, worth of a Hugo Award in 2013. She has won several number of awards, such as the Arthur C. Clarke for Synners and for Fools.
Alexander Páez: You´ve mentioned that, when you write science fiction, you go for hard science fiction. Why is that?
Pat Cadigan: I am interested in things that can possibly happen. The fantastic stuff is great too, but I like puzzling things out. Trying to workout, extrapolate things like that. I love science; I’ve been always very interested in science. Basically I write stories about things that I am really interested in. If I want an excuse to write about the brain I must have to do a lot of research. And because I love science is why I love science fiction.
AP: So you’ve done any research in real science?
PC: [Laugh] No. I have a problem with science, mostly with maths. I have some kind of “dyslexia for numbers” I switch them. I also have this dyslexia when I am really tired, I start switching letters. If you give me a phone number you should always double check how I written it down.
AP: There is a certain evolution in your writings, from the early cyberpunk stories to the more recent ones, oriented to biopunk. Do you feel that is the logical progression in the genre or it just reflects your interests as a writer?
PC: Part of it is my reflection of interests as a writer, but also basically is things that I’ve been invited to write about. "The Girl-Thing Who Went out for Sushi”, is a story I wrote specifically for Jonathan Strahan’s anthology and he had set down certain conditions, all the stories had to occur in the Solar System, no one could drove faster than light, all with known science or something grown out of known science. So I started to wonder how people would live in Space. I wasn’t that interested in doing a space flight story, I wanted to do something with the Solar System being settled by people who live in habitats or in different planets. But also I thought about how people would adapt living in Space, because we evolved to live under forces of gravity. What could be a good form to be both weightlessly but also maybe extreme acceleration for short periods of time? And I decided that an octopus would be an ultimate form. Octopus lives under pressure and at the same time is a weightless environment.
AP: Have you ever feel “lonely” as a female SF writer in the beginning of your carrier? How do you ponder the current increase in the number of female SF authors?
PC: We were getting more science fiction writers when I started my career. There were number of times when I get picked on. Some people felt that I should not be included with cyberpunk writers because I was a girl. For the most part I knew lots of other female writers, I was friend with Connie Willis, Karen Joy Fowler, Lisa Goldstein, and also the editor who had the most effect in my work was Ellen Datlow.
AP: Every author has a particular creative process. We are interested in yours: how do you face any given writing project? Do you prepare a detail outline, write characters’ cards, etc?
PC: I use an outline when I am writing a novel. I don’t do it for short fiction. I might make a note while I am writing a piece of short fiction, usually within the body of the story itself in big brackets “remember to put where you are going”. Or if I have something specific like how do I want a story to end I put a note at the bottom so I write all the way down to it. For novels I write an outline because when I get caught up on something I remember where I was going. I don’t use cards or anything, but the outline I often add to, as things occurred to me and the things goes on. Sometimes I might take things out from the original outline, I leave them on the outline but with a line through it so I can see what it was and what I decided to do next instead. I try to have a balance between knowing what I want to do and leaving enough space so I can surprise myself, because when I am writing things will happen. This will be a good thing for the story.
AP: We´ve secretly asked few people to send us questions for you, Pat. It is a pleasure to see that many wanted to be part of this interview, celebrating your work with us.
AP: The first one is from Lisa Turttle.
AP: Do you feel you learned anything that helped you with your fiction from your time working for a greeting card company?
PC: Actually I used a lot of what I learned about business and corporate world in an indirect way, but also I had to write to order a lot for Walmart be very specific. I learned how to write in a limited period of time and try to approach things from different angles you can write anything.
AP: Also from Lisa Turttle: Howard Waldrop wrote a story called "El Castillo de la Perseverancia" some years ago (in the 1990s) and read the first draft, hot off his typewriter, at a convention. Pat Cadigan was in the audience for his reading, and afterwards she told him a couple of things he did not get right -- details about the exact model and year of car that the wrestlers in the story are in, the other was about a piece of music being played. Howard says: "She knew EXACTLY what I needed in that story. I have always wanted to thank her. Thank you, Pat!"
PC: [Laugh] It’s terrible that I don’t remember doing that! That’s riot!
AP: From Ian Watson: "Pat, how did you, an American deep in America, meet the gallant Chris Fowler whom you wedded? Has this anything to do with Her Majesty's Secret Service?"
PC: [Loud laugh] I was invited to be guest in a Brittish convention, they write me to come over so I told Ellen Datlow about it and Ellen said, “Oh, you know what I think I’ll go too”. Then Ellen called me back and said “We are going to stay at John and Judith Clute. We are going to be at the UK for two weeks so we are going to stay with them and then we are going to spend the weekend with friends.” and I was “Oh. Ok, ok.” I never had been anywhere so that was fine with me. So we stayed there and Christopher Fowler found out about it. Now, there are two Christopher Fowlers, there is Christopher R. Fowler who writes the horror and mystery novels, and there is Christopher J. Fowler and he got my address and wrote me asking me if he could interview me. I wrote him back and I said “I see you modestly left out, all those wonderful books you wrote… There can be two of you.” So he wrote me back and said “Actually there are two and I am the other one”. I was so embarrassed and he came and interviewed me and Ellen separately. I really liked him, so I put him on my long list of people I was going to look up when I was single again, because I had a feeling that I was going to be single again. I was right. When I was single again I looked on my list and crossed out all the names except his. I had to go back to UK again and stayed with John and Judith and I fell in love with him. Very unusual, because we come from completely different backgrounds but we were very much alike. It is such a love story, and it is still going on. In 1996 I moved my entirely family which in that time was my son and my mother, to London, and that same year Chris and I got married. [Sighs] It is so romantic, I am so in love.
AP: From Ellen Datlow, “Which do you prefer? Writing short stories or novels, and why?”
PC: Probably I would just write short fiction. I started out with short fiction because when I started my career I had a full-time job so short fiction was the thing I could complete. After we came here my husband had to take of my mother a lot so I ended up retrieving back to short fiction because it was the only thing I could really get done. After my mother passed away I started to work on a novel that jumps off from my Hugo short fiction story “The Girl-Thing Who Went out for Sushi” so I started to work and when I looked up on February 2013 I had 86.000 words only half of them good. I had taken so many short fiction assignments that I actually lost a year while I fulfill them and then I went back to work on the novel. The problem is that you can’t support yourself only with short fiction, but if you could, I would. But at the same time I feel that I like having the room in a novel to stretch out and explain and describe things and have things happening over a long period of time. If I could earn enough money from short fiction I would write just it, and mostly for Ellen Datlow probably. I have to say short fiction is my first love.
AP: From Aliette de Bodard, “Which one of your characters would you like to sit down and have a drink with, and why?”
PC: I never think of them that way. When I am working on a novel I get much immersed in it and I’ve been much immersed in the book I am working in now. I am not sure actually that any of my characters would fine me particularly interesting to have a drink with. I don’t know, it is a really good question. I think the character I am related the most, would be the hero of my first novel Mindplayers, Allie. I probably understand what she is saying more than anybody else. Is not like they are not real to me, but they are creatures of my imagination, I do get deeply immerse and over focused sometimes. They are also creatures of their context and put them out of context to have a drink with is not the way I really think.
AP: Maybe you could get into the context to have a drink with them.
PC: It will be very interesting to socialize with the characters I am working on now. They all live in Space. Not in Space, in habitats, but there is no gravity, they are born in Space, their bodies have been adapted, they look really strange, and they talk very strangely. I really got into the culture of people living in Space. And they would think of me of someone who lives in an area of the Solar System called The Tropics, and they think of people living in The Tropics as being crazy from the heat. We could have a very nice time together. [Laugh]
I am sorry, that is not a very good answer to a very good question. Every writer has a kind of relationship with their work and some ways very over focused but also I don’t take work home with me.
AP: From Greg Bear, “What’s your favorite memory of the early years of cyberpunk?”
PC: I am not sure, because I wasn’t really that involved that stuff that went on. Early years of cyberpunk I had a small baby and I couldn’t travel that much so I couldn’t get involved. All those guys had wife, I needed a wife, but I was the wife. I got to somethings, Greg and I were on a panel, the same year my son was born, and I went to this convention in Texas and we were on a panel that was supposed to be about cyberpunk and this guy came in who know nothing about cyberpunk, he just wanted to make cash out of the panel. Orson Scott Card was in the audience, I was sitting on the other side of the moderator and there was Sterling, Shirley and Shiner and they got fed up with was what going on and suddenly they stood up and they left, and that left me and Rudy Rucker and Greg Bear on the other side wondering what to do. It was a really uncomfortable situation. Before they left, Orson Scott Card interrupted the panel (I never met him so I didn’t know who this guy was) and said “you are not telling us nothing worthwhile you are just sitting up there talking about how great you are”. And I said “I didn’t have a chance to talk about how great I am yet”. And Scott went on castigating the panel. And this was in the years before Scott became very strange right wing, hm… the… “guy” he is now. [Laugh] No! I am serious, what I remember about Orson Scott Card, he was kind of upset about cyberpunk; he was one of the people who rejected it. What I remember about him is that he used to have these revivals at the science fiction conventions in which you would admit that church and state were separated and church was a matter of fate and you would testify to your favorite science fiction belief. And I remember he had everyone write down their favorite science fiction principle. I thought this was brilliant. Someone said “I believe in the Heisenberg principle” and Scott said “Are you sure about that?” He is not like that now and I am sorry about it. He was a lot more tolerant and a lot more fun.
Although I have to say we never chat. Anyhow, back to the panel. I knew it was harsh; I was just sitting there waiting for it to finish. I was sitting between Rudy and Greg and I felt they were protecting me, shielding me from the nightmare. Later on Rudy and I were talking about the panel and said “I didn’t come here to walk out”. That was the answer I was looking for. Why I didn’t walk out.
AP: From Manuel de los Reyes: “Since Patterns is the only one of your anthologies that has been translated into Spanish, so far, that means most of your vast production is still unknown for your Spanish-speaking readers. Your essential and multi-awarded short story “Pretty Boy Crossover” has been translated twice, at least, both in Argentina and in Spain. Many of your long-form titles have both influenced and inspired a lot of outstanding authors through the years, however. If you could choose one of them to be translated for the whole Spanish-speaking world to enjoy it, as a “visiting card” of sorts, which one would that be? Mindplayers, Synners… any other one?
PC: I think I would choose Synners. It was the first novel I wrote from beginning to end without preexisting material and I had to work so hard for the research. I was inspired M.I.T Media Lab by Stuard Brand, but my research was harsh, we didn’t have the web as is exists now, so I kept writing to M.I.T Media Lab saying who I was and asking to go there and look around. And they answer me back saying “no, you may not”. I wrote them a few more times but the answer was always “no, you may not”. So I finished most of the book by 1999 and I was at the World Science Fiction Convention in Boston, sitting in a sofa, and there is this young guy looking over me, a lot. I was thinking “I still got it”. My late 30s and still got it. Finally he came over to me and it was like 3am and he asked me if I was Pat Cadigan and if I wanted to visit the M.I.T. Media Lab, we can pick you up at 8am. But I turned him down because everything I needed I had now fabricated it and if I see the Media Lab and the reality of it I might be tempted to go back and retrofit. If I do that the book is going to be even later than it is now. I was really pleased with the book and the world I have created and what I was able to accomplish as a writer. And that was the first of my books that won the Arthur C. Clark Award, so I am extremely proud of it.