Ursula K. Le Guin Steers Her Craft Into A New Century The famed novelist says that at 85 she no longer has the energy to write another book, but she's just released a revised and updated edition of her manual for aspiring writers, Steering the Craft.
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Ursula K. Le Guin Steers Her Craft Into A New Century

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Ursula K. Le Guin Steers Her Craft Into A New Century

Ursula K. Le Guin Steers Her Craft Into A New Century

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Ursula Le Guin has brought science fiction recognition and literature in a career as a successful writer that has endured for 60 years with books that include "The Left Hand Of Darkness," "The Eye Of The Heron," and the "Earthsea" series for young readers. She says she doesn't believe in a lot of do's and don'ts in writing, but she does run writing workshops in which serious writers might test what works well and what doesn't quite do the job. She has updated her guide to writing into a new book "Steering The Craft: A 21st Century Guide To Sailing The Sea Of Story." And Ursula Le Guin joins us now from the studios of Oregon Public Broadcasting in Portland. Thanks so much for being with us.

URSULA LE GUIN: It's a pleasure.

SIMON: You emphasize something in this book that I hope we remember in this medium, and that's the importance of sound in a piece of writing.

LE GUIN: Yeah, which seems sometimes to just get left out of discussions about writing as if it were all sort of silence in a silent room like a little librarian going (shushing).

SIMON: What do you think sound puts into a piece of writing?

LE GUIN: The writing almost begins with it to me. Writing is a kind of way of speaking, and I hear it and I think a lot of readers hear it, too. And so the sounds of the language and the rhythm and the cadence of the sentences are very powerful.

SIMON: You talk about the importance of crowding and leaping in a good story. What's that?

LE GUIN: Crowding is what Keats said when he said load every rift with ore. In other words, pack in all the richness you can. All great books are incredibly rich, each sentence can be sort of unpacked. But then also in telling a story, you've got to leap. You've got to just leave out so much. And you've got to know which crag to leap to.

SIMON: There are a lot of zombies in the world today. And, you know, fantasies and end-of-the-world scenarios and post-end-of-the-world literary franchises - is science fiction any more difficult to write?

LE GUIN: No. I don't think so. It might be even easier to write stuff that's called science fiction but that doesn't have any science in it. To me, science fiction properly defined means that if there's any real science, it's correct. A lot of so-called science fiction is really fantasy - I mean, zombies and all that stuff is - what's the science?

SIMON: How do you feel now in your 80s about that term, science fiction writer?

LE GUIN: Well, I'm stuck with it. I still kind of twitch and growl when I'm reduced to being the science fiction writer. I'm a novelist and increasingly a poet. And sometimes I wish they'd call me that.

SIMON: You're 85.

LE GUIN: Yeah.

SIMON: I read an interview in which you said all the writing done about being old is by people in their 60s and 70s, and they're just guessing.

LE GUIN: An awful lot of it I realize is, and they're calling themselves old and I'm saying, oh, baby - just wait.

SIMON: What can you tell them? What would you like them to know?

LE GUIN: To me it's been kind of like a whole new landscape of living. And it really is different from the 70s. The decline in energy and what you can get done in a day is enormous. After all, one is approaching the end, and the end is more in view than it ever was. So how do you deal with that?

SIMON: Does having the end in view change how you view what's already passed?

LE GUIN: I think it does. It is a little bit like being high up on a mountain and looking back. And oh, look at the view - gee, I never saw all of that together before. You know, I mean, there are cool aspects to being very old. But they're not the ones that show up in the posters.

SIMON: Do you think you'll write another novel?

LE GUIN: I wish I could, but see there's the energy thing. I realized after I wrote "Lavinia," which is my last novel, that I probably just wouldn't have the physical strength to put a novel together again. It's a big undertaking.

SIMON: Even if you're not writing novels, do you get good ideas for them?

LE GUIN: No.

SIMON: (Laughter).

LE GUIN: That's - when I finished a novel, I was always in a panic - I'll never write again, I'm done, I'm finished. But I always knew somewhere deep in myself that there was actually - something else would show up eventually. And now I don't - I stopped getting story ideas several years ago. And then "Lavinia" came just as a gift from Virgil kind of - totally unexpected. And when I finished it, I thought, you know, I don't think there's any more water in the well. And I'm not saying that was easy for me to accept, but OK - that's the way it is, that's the way it is.

SIMON: Ursula Le Guin the novelist and poet. Her new book...

LE GUIN: (Laughter).

SIMON: Yeah, you caught that, did you?

LE GUIN: Yes, thank you.

SIMON: Her new book, "Steering The Craft: A 21st Century Guide To Sailing The Sea Of Story." Thanks so much for being with us.

LE GUIN: Thanks for having me, Scott.

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