By Alex von Thorn
[Phyllis Gotlieb is considered by many to be the "mother of Canadian science fiction." In 1982 she received an Aurora Award for best novel for A Judgement of Dragons and for her lifetime contribution to Canadian SF&F. Violent Stars (Tor 1999) is her latest novel. Her first novel, Sunburst (1964, reprinted 1978; 2nd ed., 2001), provided the name for Canada's Sunburst Award. She was interviewed on February 9, 2002 at the Ad Astra convention in Toronto. Photo by Mici Gold.]
Your writing career has spanned more than four decades, but you've come out with a couple of popular books in recent years. How do you keep things fresh over such an extensive career?
I don't write as much as I would like to. So I guess if I wrote more, things might get staler, just the way Stephen King feels in his claims to give up writing. I don't believe it for a minute, but I can see what he feels.
Your professional writing has included poetry and fiction, with a very wide range of influences. How has this background influenced you?
I began writing poetry when I was very young. I had various writer's blocks, and it was during one of these that my husband said, "Why don't you try science fiction?" It took me a long while to learn how to write it. But not only did it break my writer's block and make me more of a prose writer, but it brought back my poetry too.
What was it about science fiction that you found it easier to write than other forms?
My family managed an old movie house, and I was a moviegoer from a very young age, because I got in free. I developed a taste for fantasy there. And I was really a person who enjoyed cartoons. Mickey Mouse was my first hero, really. With all the movies, and the comic books I love, I guess it was odd that I should have gone on to university and taken English language and literature. I developed these kinds of mediums. I'm not lucky like Ursula Le Guin was to have an anthropologist for a father—that would have been perfect, I guess—but I came through a different route.
You definitely take a lighter tone in some of your writing. How do you approach the task of writing, and how do you make your work accessible to readers?
Well, it's no use writing if no one can read you. And I have a good critic in my husband. I think I make my work accessible just from having read all those comic books, and having been to all those movies as a kid.
You've been part of the Toronto science-fiction community since before it really was a community. How have you seen people here change and grow?
I was the only one writing science fiction in Canada until 1967 or '68. I was first published in the late Fifties, and for nearly 10 years I was certainly the only Canadian member of the Science Fiction Writers of America. When Judith Merril came and brought all of her books and everything, that opened the community. I think she has to be given respect for that. I think that the community developed because of her; it couldn't have developed from someone like myself with no connection to the United States.
Of all the things you've accomplished, what are you most proud of?
Being a grandmother, naturally! What else could I be?
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