Interview: Theodora Goss

How did you first come to discover the Barsoom books by Edgar Rice Burroughs?

I’m not actually sure. It’s as though I’d always known about them without necessarily reading them. Sort of the way you just know about Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, or Dracula. John Carter of Mars is that sort of iconic character. I read the books for the first time after being asked to write a story for the anthology, but it was almost like re-reading, because I already knew the plots and characters.

What do you find appealing about the characters and milieu?

They’re fun. Burroughs isn’t Henry James, and he isn’t trying to be. He wants you to go on an adventure with him, and he throws all of his imagination into it. If you’re trying to find something fun to read, something that will engage and entertain you, the Mars books are terrific. Also, I like Dejah Thoris. It’s nice to see a female character who is smart and talks back.

What sort of an influence do you think the Barsoom books have had on the development of fantasy & science fiction?

I’m not sure how to answer that question, because we actually seem to be moving away from the sorts of adventure stories Burroughs was writing. Science fiction writers want to be taken seriously, nowadays. We’re always going on about the genre ghetto. I don’t know if Burroughs had those sorts of concerns, but I rather doubt it. He was writing at a time when it was fine to write adventure stories, when there was a tradition of the adventure story (like Stevenson’s Treasure Island and Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World). Maybe I’m reading the wrong books, but we seem to have fewer of those stories around nowadays, except in Hollywood blockbusters. But there is a movement to ressurect the adventure story, which I think is probably a good thing.

Who is your favorite character in the Barsoom canon? (And why?)

Well, I have to say Woola, because I wrote about him. He’s just so cool, the perfect companion for John Carter.

Tell us a bit about your story in the anthology. What’s it about? 

My story is about what happens during the period, in the first John Carter of Mars book, when Woola disappears. John Carter goes on to have his adventures, and then he finds Woola again, thin and dirty and bedraggled. But we’re never told what happened to him. Well, that’s the story I tell.

What’s was the genesis of the story–where did the initial seed for the story come from? 

When I was asked to write the story, I thought about which character I would want to spend time with, which I could make my main character. And Woola immediately came to mind. In the books, he doesn’t have a point of view: he’s just John Carter’s companion. But everyone on Mars is telepathic. So I thought, even Woola has to have some sort of consciousness, some awareness of who he is and response to what is going on. He has to have his own story.

Was this story a particularly challenging one to write? If so, how? 

Yes! I had to think like a calot (which is the Martian equivalent of a dog). Also, I had to fit my story inside the larger story of John Carter. I had to make sure everything was consistent.

What kind of research–other than, perhaps, rereading the Barsoom novels–did you have to do for the story? 

I actually did quite a lot of research on the internet, reading everything I could find on Burroughs’ Mars. I also found all the illustrations I could of Woola and tried to figure out what sort of creature he would be.

Any new work of yours just out or forthcoming you’d like to mention, or anything else you’d like to add?

I have a book coming out in January 2012. It’s called The Thorn and the Blossom, and you can learn more about it by watching the trailer on YouTube: