An Interview With Robert Jackson Bennett

robert jackson bennett

Robert Jackson Bennett’s trilogy is a lot of things, a novel about pain and growth. Sancia is not the same character we started with. It is also about found families and the importance of relationships we make along the way in life. It is a novel about power, magic, and technology. But most of all Founder’s is ending. It has had a beautiful arc and we end with a kernel of hope. You can read the final installment of the Founders trilogy with this month’s release with Locklands.

Bennett was gracious enough to have a conversation with Ryan Howse and me regarding this trilogy, writing, and what he has going on in the near future.

GdM: You have won or been nominated for various awards, including the Locus, Shirley Jackson, and World Fantasy awards. Was the writing process the same after a nomination or win? Or was the writing process different?

Ehhhhh, not really. I utterly lack all insight into how awards lists are generated and then how the awards themselves are then given out. I suspect each one functions in a completely different way, and that method changes hugely from year to year, based on the jurors. As such, trying to build a career around awards would be a little like trying to develop a daily routine on what color cars you see go by your house each morning.

GdM: You wrote that you get a lot of ideas about vacuuming; I get that. Vacuuming is meditative. Is it true you were vacuuming your living room and listening to St. Vincent’s “Digital Witness” when you came up with the idea for Foundryside? What about City of Stairs or Vigilance?

Kind of. I listen to music to try to capture mood: the ambience, the vibes. I definitely have songs that are tied to specific scenes, and I used to try to summarize them on my blog. (Example.)

However, having reviewed the traffic on those blog posts, I quickly came to the conclusion that ain’t nobody give a fuck about that stuff, so I gave up and keep that to myself now.

People want to see maps and drawings, stuff like that. Nobody cares about your mixtape. It’s a humbling realization.

GdM: Your early work and some of your short fiction has a strong horror element. Do you plan on returning to that kind of work in future projects?

Nope! I like dollars. I get to buy food with those things. Unfortunately, people are unwilling to exchange dollars for short fiction. Hell, people already get pissed off and yell at me on twitter because they gotta pay a couple dollars for this thing I spent three, four years making. I bet most people would only buy short fiction for a handful of bottlecaps and a small bag of dirt.

GdM: What attracts you to the horror genre? What attracts you to fantasy?

People like the idea of a world that’s bigger than you. They like the feeling that there’s more out there, that this isn’t all there is.

What’s more interesting is to flip that around and explore the crawling suspicion we all share: what if the world is bigger and more fantastical and alive than we think, but it doesn’t give a shit about us? What if we’re just bugs to it? Or what if it’s actively hostile to us?

I like fantasy for the same reason. For some folks, fantasy is a power trip, an imaginary world where you can shoot fire from your hands. For me, it’s about that weird feeling of being small in a big world.

GdM: Do you read horror? If so, what kind of horror do you find scary as a reader?

Not really! I mostly stick to nonfiction these days. That stuff has no shortage of horrors, but they’re all bland and mundane and terrifyingly easy to imagine happening again. Nobody wants to read a fantasy novel about the Holodomor.

GdM: Along those same lines, your early work also touched on lots of Americana. What was it about this that fascinated you?

Well, I live in America. I keep all my stuff there.

I guess I felt like in the 2010s we were trying to figure out a national identity of who we were, and I wanted to reflect on that conversation. However, now we are all just screaming at each other and trying to kill each other, and I have less to say about such an exchange.

GdM: You’ve mentioned Le Carre as an inspiration for The Divine Cities. Who would be the big one for The Founders trilogy?

Probably Terry Pratchett. Pratchett was always secretly a science fiction writer, anyways. You could feel all the big ideas and complex systems bleeding into his works. I wanted to do that, but in