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Margaret Ball
conducted by Toni Weisskopf
 
September 2006

Margaret Ball is author of both fantasy novels like The Shadow Gate and Mathemagics (a "Chicks in Chainmail"-inspired novel) and science fiction novels, including several collaborations with Anne McCaffrey [PartnerShip (Baen), reprinted in the Baen MegaBook Brain Ships, and Acorna: The Unicorn Girl and Acorna's Quest (both Harper Prism/Eos)]. She has also written historical novels and romances under her own name and pseudonyms (for example, Catherine Lyndell). Ball has degrees in mathematics and linguistics, and was a Fulbright Scholar, spending two years in Africa studying Swahili. She has two daughters and does quilting in her spare time. The paperback edition of her Baen sf novel Disappearing Act is an October 2006 release.

"I've always loved stories—reading them, making them up, improving them-– but for years I didn't connect this with something real people did to earn a living. When it finally dawned on me that actual living people wrote books and sold them, it was like a light going on in my head: ‘Aha! I don't have to be a computer geek for the rest of my life!'

"That, of course, was before I realized that quitting my job to write at home meant that I would have to maintain my own computer….no more calling Tommy the Systems Guy when something goes wrong!" I highly sympathize with that last one!

There are some perks to working as a writer for Margaret: "Well, the salary and benefits aren't much to write home about, but the dress code and hours are excellent. Probably the best perk, though, has been the chance to meet some of the writers whose work I've enjoyed for years."

Margaret's favorites among her own characters include: "Louisa, from Flameweaver., She's one of my favorites because she was such fun to write; I read tons of 19th century diaries and letters from ladies to get the feeling of her style. Riva in Mathemagics and Maris in Disappearing Act were also a lot of fun to spend time with; I hope they decide to come back and talk to me some more.  Hmm. I seem to prefer characters who are outsiders in some way, either because they don't fit the society they were born into or because they're acting a part in a very different society. Let's not go into the implications of that."

Margaret was exposed to SF at an early age, and in a big way. "I started off by reading a neighbor's kid's garage full of all the pulp fiction published between, oh, about 1940 to 1954. Then I started in on the local library, which had one shelf dedicated to science fiction. One. But in it I found the first story that made a strong, memorable impression on me: Arthur C. Clarke's ‘The Nine Billion Names of God.'"

Margaret is a confessed "printed word junkie." She's got too many favorites outside of the SF field to list, "and the shortlist changes from month to month depending on what I've been reading. Right now I'd mention Rudyard Kipling, because I grew up on his short stories and practically memorized Kim. (I reread Kim a few months ago and it's still good.) I reread all of Jane Austen while getting into the right frame of mind to work on a Regency-era fantasy, and she's still good, too; I just wish she had written more books. Among living writers, I'm always up for a new Dortmunder story from Donald Westlake, a new historical novel from Diana Norman, or a new Amelia Peabody story from Elizabeth Peters."

Margaret writes "best in the morning, especially during Texas summers; my brain goes dead with continuous afternoons of 100-degree heat. Writing at night carries a high cost—I tend to get so intensely into the world of the book that it's hard to switch off my brain and go to sleep." And I will never complain about Georgia heat again….

Margaret spent time outside of the U.S. and I wondered if there were any "real world" experiences that helped her with writing Disappearing Act. "The two years I spent doing research in East Africa showed me how difficult it is to be inconspicuous when you look completely different from the local population. I needed people to go ahead and talk as though I weren't there so that I could take notes on their language style, and they couldn't stop staring at my indecently exposed, very white, ankles and knees and elbows and face. Of course I wanted Maris to continue having this problem, so I didn't give her the solution I eventually came up with for myself—adopting the local uniform for women, which on the coast of East Africa is a floor-length black sack of a veil."

Margaret stays true to her academic roots when asked what scientific breakthrough she'd like to see: "I want a truly alien language to analyze! Then maybe we'll be able to make some meaningful generalizations about how human languages work." Got to admit, I like that idea a lot—not too far from my academic roots, too, come to think of it!

I cruelly limit Margaret to just one historical incident to view if she could go back in time: "One? You want me to pick just one? Oh, all right. Right now I'd like to watch Napoleon's return from Elba and his meeting with the French army. With a stop watch. Just to see exactly how many seconds it took all those soldiers to change sides."

For more information please go to: www.flameweaver.com

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