from Voyages, the 25th World Fantasy Convention Book
In her July 1996 Locus interview, Patricia McKillip expressed her surprise that elements of her real life were turning up in her fantasies: "I went through decades of writing fantasy and telling myself 'this has nothing to do with me - it's just fantasy.' Then damned if that book doesn't catch you somewhere, and you realize suddenly that all these things are crowding into your head from your life, and you're sitting there writing what you think is a fantasy - and it just makes a jigsaw puzzle. You cannot write without writing about yourself, but sometimes it's so disguised you don't recognize it." I am going to illustrate a few of these connections, but don't get excited, this isn't an expose - if you want the juicy parts you'll have to see me in private and bring lots of money.
Patricia McKillip was born February 29, 1948, a leap-year child, which initial separation from the common herd of us who have to count our birthdays year by year seems quite appropriate for a writer whose work has been distinguished from the beginning by its originality and elegance. She was born in Salem, Oregon, and her mother and older sister Carol still live near the Oregon coast in the small town of Coquille. Pat loves the seacoast with its spectacular cliffs and huge basalt dolmens looming out of the surf and fog, and likes to go for long walks on the beach. Her four other siblings are scattered up and down the Pacific Northwest. Shira Daemon, reviewing Pat's 1996 novel, Winter Rose, says "in this novel, as in her Riddlemaster trilogy, the power of family--and love those bonds create for the larger, world community--shines through." [Locus, March 1997] Having participated in several McKillip family reunions, I can attest that her own family is the source of this confidence in the strength of family love--and the power of love in general; as Daemon points out later in the same review:"...in nearly all McKillip novels, the cure for evil is the same: be true to one's self and love others enough to set them free."
Pat's father was an Air Force officer, and between 1958 and 1962 he was stationed in Germany and England and took his family. That experience as a pre-teen undoubtedly stimulated Pat's imagination with its new landscapes, languages and societies. For a person as sensitive as she, it must have quite overwhelming. Some of this is clearly reflected in Stepping from the Shadows (1982), a non-fantasy novel which the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction refers to as "possibly autobiographical." However, while the young female protagonist does resemble the author to some extent, and this is the most personal of her novels, it would be a mistake to read this as straight autobiography--the protagonist may be an alternate-universe McKillip, but she is not identical to our own Patricia McKillip.
Pat attended San Jose State earning her B.A. in 1971 and M.A. in 1973, the year she also published her first two books, The Throme of the Erril of Sherrill and The House on Parchment Street, which she had been writing while she was supposed to be studying. Of course this is what she had done all her life; she has told me that she used to lock herself in the bathroom as a child and tell herself stories--rather short stories, I imagine, with the number of people in the family.
Her next book, a longer YA fantasy, The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, won the 1975 World Fantasy Award. Not having known that there was such an award, and never having heard of H. P. Lovecraft, when she received Lovecraft's head in the mail her reaction was, "What the #@*!!$ is this?"
Pat's deep love of music--she plays piano for her own pleasure--shows up frequently in her books, most noticeably in Fool's Run and Song for the Basilisk. She is also very knowledgeable about cooking, as any reader who has drooled over the descriptions of feasts in the Book of Atrix Wolfe knows full well. I have often been the happy beneficiary of her culinary skill--which may be why I've begun to pork out in recent years.
In her most recent novel, Song for the Basilisk, an older, established bard advises the protagonist on the use of words: "You must make them new as if you had never spoken them before." This is what Patricia McKillip has been doing all her life, to her readers' delight and it is good advice for all of us. I am hoping that as her familiar, some of the sorcery will rub off on me.
Pat has published two pieces of short fiction this year, "A Gift to be Simple" in the anthology Not of Woman Born, edited by Constance Ash, and "Toad" in Windling and Datlow's Silver Birch, Blood Moon. Her new novel, The Tower at Stony Wood, should appear in the near future.