Could you tell us what inspired your story “The Cambist and Lord Iron”?
This was originally a commissioned piece for an anthology called Logorrhea, where the schtick was that all the stories would be based on a winning word from the National Spelling Bee. Back in 1977, John Paola won the 50th National Spelling Bee with the word “cambist.” I’d been reading a lot of popular economics books at the time, and so I picked that one for mine.
Why write a fairy tale of economics? And could you recommend other short stories or novels that also focus on economics?
I came to economics late in life, and I’m tremendously fond of it (especially in some of its more modern, biology-based forms). The ideas in even pretty basic economics are fascinating and often counter-intuitive and delightful. Also, since I sometimes forget how to write short stories and have to relearn the skills, it’s nice to have a familiar structure like a three-test fairy tale to work from.
The books I’d recommend that involve economics are Dorothy Dunnet’s House of Niccolo series, or if you’re looking for nonfiction, Naked Economics by Charles Wheelan.
The Cambist insists that anything can be expressed in terms of anything else. What’s the oddest exchange you’ve ever made?
A copy of Sandman issue #1 for a peculiar deck of cards.
If you could exchange a day of your life for someone else’s, whose would it be and what do you think the rate would be?
Hillary Clinton. I think she’s a fascinating woman with a broad and deep life experience, and I believe that being her for a day would teach me more about the world and how it works than I’m likely to learn in the next four years of my own life. I suspect the exchange rate would be pretty good. My days are comparably calm, restful, and low-stakes. I’d be buying education, she’d be getting a vacation, and we’d both come out ahead.
In addition to short stories, you’re known for your novels. What do you enjoy most about writing shorter works? Longer?
There are some ideas that only work in short story form. If you tried to pull them out to novel-sized, they’d feel padded and dull. And then there are some ideas that need a hundred thousand words to get where they’re going, even if you’re standing on the gas the whole way. Either way, what I like best is making a story that I’m proud of. I manage it on occasion.
What’s next for you?
Well, I’m writing an epic fantasy series called The Dagger and the Coin, collaborating on a Hugo-nominated space opera called The Expanse, and doing a Star Wars tie-in novel. I’m adapting A Song of Ice and Fire as comic book scripts, and I’ve got a couple short stories in the next few months. So I’m thinking next is probably a cup of coffee.
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