Interview w/ Jack Skillingstead

Jack Skillingstead was kind enough to answer a few questions for me. You can read my review of his novel, Harbinger, here. Thanks again to Mr. Skillingstead for his time and patience. Here goes:

First things first, can you tell us a little about yourself (a sort of mini bio)?

I was born in a working class suburb of Seattle and grew up there, which I suppose formed my character in all the usual ways of environmental influences. My dad was a model builder for the Boeing company. He worked on the moon buggy for the later Apollo missions and built wind tunnel models for the piggy-back 747 / space shuttle. I remember him being quite excited about that project. My mother was a housewife and the big reader in the house. I remember being impressed, as a small child, that she was reading a science fiction story -- the Post's serialization of Asimov's "Fantastic Voyage." I learned to read by following along with my mother's repeated out loud readings to me of favorite comic books. And I remember the exact moment the black marks in the word balloon became a recognizable word. The word was "said." Bradbury claims to remember being born. I don't remember that, but I remember my birth as a word-recognizer. That remains the most important educational step in my autodidactic life. As for formal education, mine proceeded along unremarkable lines. I have three brothers and one sister, all older. My own kids are grown. One is a student at Chapman University in California, the other is following a more erratic path in life -- as have I. Currently I live in the city with fellow writer Nancy Kress, which makes life very pleasant.

Who are some of your favorite authors and what are some of your favorite books? What are you currently reading?

I especially love the stories and novels of Daryl Gregory. He's a kindred spirit. Paolo Bacigulupi is doing incredible work, of course. The short stories of Ted Kosmatka are all knockouts, and Del Rey is doing his first novel, The Helix Game, next year. I'm very much looking forward to that one. Those are some of my contemporaries, in terms of publishing time lines, though I'm a little older than all of them. I'm also enamored with Kessel, Kress, Willis, Haldeman and numerous others. Going back, it's Bradbury, Matheson, Beaumont, Ellison, Sturgeon and Zelazny. These are all writers I return to again and again. I'm talking about genre now, that's leaving out mainstream and classic writers. Currently I'm reading Dying Inside by Robert Silverberg and Parallel Lives by Phyllis Rose, which is a study of Victorian-era marriages of literary types.

What drew you into writing, and, specifically, what drew you to science fiction?

From my earliest memory I've been attracted to science fiction, fantasy and horror. When I was younger -- teenage through 20s -- the emphasis was more on horror. Lovecraft, Ramsey Campbell, Dennis Etchison, Weird Tales era Bradbury, Richard Matheson's short stories plus Hell House and of course I Am Legend. Stephen King. Peter Staub's early novels, pre Ghost Story. This was also a time when I read a lot real-world horror -- the fast and dirty novels of James Ellroy, for instance. Holy shit! Blood On The Moon. Suicide Hill. That stuff was disturbing. But to get back to your question, I can't tell you what drew me and continues to draw me to science fiction. People simply have different filters. My filters catch anything that occurs off the straight and narrow path of the mainstream. As for writing my own stories, I always wanted to do that, though my approach was in more of an optimistic vein when I was a kid and thought I'd write Star Trek type stories. When I actually started producing fiction the quality was pretty wretched, and whatever hotspots occurred usually came out of the dark side of my psyche. So it has been ever since. John Clute said something very perceptive is his mini-review of my collection. He said, paraphrasing, sometimes the stories seemed like a form of therapy. I would only add that these therapy sessions, like real therapy, tended to yield the most interesting results the darker and less certain the outcome.
Your novel, Harbinger, is placed in a rather interesting place within the spectrum of narratives about immortals. While fantasy has largely focused on vampires and other inhuman immortals, your novel takes a more science-fictional approach to the concept. What inspired you to write Harbinger?

There is a science fiction cliché: The ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances. I wanted to see what happened to an ordinarily warped man in extraordinary circumstances -- the man so warped and the circumstances so extraordinary that the reader, at times, wouldn't even know if the circumstances were real. This is a little bit of a Phillip K. Dick approach, but I also wanted the book to be fun and adventurous. And of course it had to be tied in to me personally -- you know, a "therapy" book. My first inspiration to write it at all was simply that I wanted to do a novel that I could sell. I'd already written several that hadn't been successful. This felt like a do-or-die effort. It was time. Of course, the book got rejected all over the place, and I didn't die as a result. And it did eventually find a publisher.

You're right about the current tendency to focus on vampires, but I don't think Ellis Herrick is too far out of the spectrum of immortals in science fiction history. Zelazny wrote about science fiction based immortals all the time, as did other accomplished writers in decades past. Personally, I can't get behind romanticizing the vampire, though I did like the first two Ann Rice books.

Additionally, what do you think it is that draws us to immortals? Why are we fascinated by characters who can live forever and why do we keep coming back to them, whether in vampiric form or in the vein in which you have written Harbinger?

The answer is so obvious that I am tempted to think it must be wrong. We're attracted to immortals because. . . we don't want to die! Well, there's probably more to it, but it all comes back to that. With Harbinger, I was interested in the marvelous freedom suggested by Ellis's evolution. Have you read Zelazny's Amber books? I really loved that whole walking through Shadow concept, and I wanted a little bit of that flavor in my own book. All that stuff in the final section, where they are driving the Bus across space-time reality, and when Ellis walks down the tunnel and the living rock sort of blends into the wall plaster of his childhood home hundreds of years lost and gone back on Earth -- I'm highly enamored of the idea that time and space just might be an illusion that we more or less prop up with our own minds. In the sense of memory and imagination, of course, that is a true proposition. Sit back, right now, and allow your mind to conjure something from when you were, say, twelve years old. Is it vivid? Like it just happened? Chances are some of it is. And if the memory is constructed around an incident your mind is probably imposing some kind of narrative structure, parts of which "really happened" and others that you think happened, but probably didn't, at least not in exactly the way you seem to be remembering. This is what writers do all the time: Plunge into memory and imagination and make something new that feels authentic. The best fiction resides in the reader's mind like a true memory.
What, for you, was the most difficult aspect of putting together a story that spans hundreds of years with one character at the helm? Writing about an immortal must be just as difficult as being one!

Making the future believable was difficult, but I side-stepped a number of potential problems by writing it as an interior novel and telling it in first person. Ellis isn't exactly the classic unreliable narrator, but we are in his head an awful lot and so we are seeing the changing world through a largely solipsistic personality -- which means we are seeing Ellis's version of the world as it is reflected in his self-absorption.

Since Harbinger does contain some elements of the "non-scientific" (i.e. the metaphysical and so on), how do you view the collaboration of the religious or non-scientific and science itself? Do you subscribe to the belief that the two often speak to one another, or are they like two sides of a coin?

I want to believe they speak to each other, but I also know that's a slippery slope. As soon as you authenticate, in your own mind if nowhere else, the non-rational, you are in trouble. The next thing you know you're seeing Fairies in the garden, as did Conan Doyle, or receiving advice about your Plan For America directly from God Almighty, as Glenn Beck believes. On the other hand, I can't abide a strictly rationalist view, either. Science is as limiting as it is liberating. When I talk with an immovable rationalist it begins to feel, after a while, like I'm talking to a committed religionist. The God-believer type, if he doesn't have an answer about, say, human suffering, simply passes it off as an unknowable manifestation of the deity. A rationalist, if he admits he doesn't know something (fat chance!), passes it off by saying something along the lines of, "We don't know it NOW but science (God) will eventually reveal the truth." I don't subscribe to a metaphysical viewpoint, but I don't dismiss it out of hand, either. I know that's equivocal. So what?

Switching gears, I'm curious for your opinion on the present state of science fiction as a genre and where you think it is going in light of the fascinating development of digital publishing. Where do you think science fiction is going? Is it a good place? Are there barking robots and flying cars there?

Digital publishing is more disturbing to me than fascinating. It's not nostalgia for paper (though I usually prefer it), nor my inner Luddite asserting himself (he doesn't exist). It's simply that the digitalizing of everydamnthing makes it convenient and irresistible to appropriate without compensation the stories, movies, music, etc. of working artists. Coupled with the freedom of the internet, emphasis on "free," a situation arises in which the former business template is collapsing with no acceptable new template to replace it. I'm not on-board with the "information wants to be free" crowd. Information doesn't want anything. You might as well say information wants to be controlled.

The present state of science fiction writing exists outside this mess. Writers do what they have always done: Write. There are many wonderful new writers working now, though I don't see a recognizable movement in any deliberate direction. There is, however, a blurring of lines between literary mainstream and genre. I like that. Guys like Chabon and Lethem cross effortlessly back and forth, scuffing the border to near invisibility. They are outstanding writers who happened to like the same sorts of things most of us in genre like. At the same time there's the "new" space opera, the "new" weird, magic realism, hard, etc. -- in short EVERYthing is on the table. This is healthy. I don't think it spells the end of genre sf or the victory of mainstream or any such bullshit.

Can you tell us a little about some of your upcoming projects? Any interesting new novels on the way?

I'm working on what I hope is the final draft of Life On the Preservation, a novel based very loosely on my short story of the same title. I'm throwing everything I've got into it and hope to start shopping it around by the end of summer. I've been so busy with this project that I haven't had much time to write new short stories. I do have one coming up in Asimov's, though. It's called "The Flow and Dream" and runs along fairly traditional sf lines. This was an interesting sale for me, in that I submitted it electronically the first day Asimov's began accepting stories that way. It's not that I was gnashing my teeth waiting for the glorious day to arrive. I don't really care whether a magazine accepts electronically or requires paper manuscripts in traditional format. But I went to their website to double-check the mailing address, saw I could just send the story directly from my computer, and did so. It sold practically overnight, which was fun.

What one piece of unusual advice would you give to budding writers out there?

Hmm. Unusual? I'd say, remember that perception is intentional. Slow down, sometimes. Invest your words with magic. Regard them as keys to limitless inner worlds. I'm talking about individual words. Regard them as play things. Type a noun onto your screen, or write it on a blank sheet of printer paper with a pencil or pen. Stare at the word, let yourself fall into the myriad conscious and unconscious associations the word evokes. A word such as OCEAN could lead you into endless thought experiments. If you practice this, you eventually get past all the obvious associations the top of your mind throws up and you start receiving the personally significant associations. Do this once in a while. It's good for your creative mind. Sometimes you will land on an image or idea you didn't realize was lurking. But when you are writing a story forget all that crap, dig in and use words like practical tools to get the job done.

And now for a random question: If you could invent one technology to change the world, what technology would you invent and why?

I have to go obvious here and say an efficient, cheap and universally accessible mechanism for harnessing solar energy and distributing it to run anything that requires power input. This is not going to happen.

--------------------------------------------------

That's it! You can find Jack Skillingstead on his website.

Interview w/ Brian Evenson

Below is my interview with Brian Evenson, author of Last Days from Underland Press and many other novels. Please check out his latest novel, Last Days. It's good stuff!

Now, here goes:

Thanks for doing this interview. First things first, tell us a bit about yourself? Where do you hail from and other biographical goodies?

I was born in Iowa and grew up in Utah (I was raised Mormon, but have left the church), but have lived in a number of other places since--Seattle, Syracuse, NY, Stillwater, OK, Milwaukee, France, Denver, etc. Currently I live in Providence, Rhode Island, where I teach creative writing at Brown University.

Who/what are some of your favorite authors/books?

Some of the people I always go back to are Franz Kafka, Samuel Beckett, especially the trilogy, Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy, Muriel Spark, Isak Dinesen, Henry Green, and Cormac McCarthy. Recently I’ve been reading and enjoying Roberto Bolano and a French writer named Antoine Volodine. There are a few Poe and Lovecraft stories that I love. I’ve just rediscovered J. G. Ballard and am glad to have done so--his story “The Drowned Giant” is really terrific. As soon as I finish this interview, I’m sure I’ll remember a dozen things I should have mentioned...

As a professor at Brown University (and a previous professor at numerous other universities), what has your experience been like with young creative writers? Do you notice any unique trends in the quality or styles of fiction coming into existence over the last decade? Is there an overabundance of overconfidence beyond what is considered normal?

I like teaching a great deal and it’s always interesting to see what up and coming writers are reading and thinking about. In terms of influences and trends, things seems to come in waves--books and stories that undergrads love one year are completely forgotten or even hated by the students who come two or three years later. I think the biggest trend I’ve noticed, maybe partly because it’s something I’ve encouraged, is that I see more students reading across genre boundaries now than I did ten years ago. The boundaries between literary and genre fiction are a lot more flexible than they once were and that’s reflected in student work--there’s less interest in strictly realistic fiction and more acceptance of fiction that ten or fifteen years ago people would have dismissed as being non-realistic. I think that’s largely due to exceptionally talented writers like Kelly Link and George Saunders writing in a way that made those distinctions seem less important than they do when, say, you’re reading 70s dirty realism.

I don’t think there’s an overabundance of confidence among the students--when there is, it’s usually in students that have the least to be confident about. I think, at least at Brown the opposite is true, that many students are almost too self-conscious and self-critical and as a result are in danger of crippling themselves. They have to be taught to see what’s worthwhile in their work and how to make the most of it. I think a lot of students are ambitious, but also very aware that the stories they write don’t measure up to their ambitions: a smart self-critical student who’s actually a pretty good writer can also be very good at talking himself or herself out of ever publishing because the work isn’t as good as, say, Chekhov. The thing they forget is that a good portion of the time Chekhov himself isn’t as good as Chekhov: only a fraction of his stories are really great.

You’ve written nine books—eight books of fiction and one critical book. What drew you into writing fiction in the first place? Additionally, what drew you to the dark side of fiction?

I’ve always loved to read, and loved to read fiction--I think it offers readers things that non-fiction or poetry just don’t offer. I started writing fiction when I was fairly young, partly in response to my mother writing and publishing a science fiction story. I think I kept writing because it gave me a kind of satisfaction that I didn’t seem to be able to find in any other activity.

As for what drew me to the dark side of fiction, I’m not sure. I think I gravitated naturally toward it, maybe partly because I grew up in a culture that was relentlessly cheerful and insisted on looking at the bright side of things. That attitude, perhaps not surprisingly, made me intensely aware of what wasn’t being said, of what was being passed over, of the darker, stranger side of things. When I was fourteen or so my father gave me a volume of Kafka’s stories. It immediately clicked for me, seemed to express exactly the kind of things that the Mormon culture around me was very deliberately trying not to think about. I think, too, that that dark side gives us inroads into the nature of consciousness in a way that the bright sunny side never does, that it reveals things about human nature that are the foundation for the way the mind works.

What made you write Last Days (and the story that preceded it)? Did you read something somewhere? Was it a random thought? Did your town actually have a roving cult of amputees?

I think it came very simply from thinking for years and years about the Biblical verse that opens the volume, encouraging you to remove parts of yourself if they offend you--at first thinking it was rhetorical flourish and symbolic but then thinking “Well, okay, what if we take it literally? Could it serve as the basis for a gospel?” From there everything imagined itself into existence.

I wish that my town had had a cult of roving amputees, but no such luck. I did live across the street when I was very, very young from someone who had lost his hand and I was somewhat fascinated by and frightened of him.

The pace of Last Days is fairly quick, not simply because it’s a short novel. Is fast pace endemic to the horror genre? Or did you think that something as dark as Last Days needed a fast pace to keep the reader on his or her toes?

I don’t think it’s endemic to the horror novel and in fact can think of a number of horror novels that are beautifully sprawling and wonderfully conceived, that build very slowly but nonetheless remain terrifying. Peter Straub and Dan Simmons both can do that, for instance, and do it beautifully. But yes, I thought that speed was essential for Last Days. I wanted a sense of breathlessness and wanted too to keep the reader off balance in the same way that Kline himself is off balance.

With the relative success of twisted horror films like Saw, Hostel, and the seeming resurgence of cult horror disturbia, your novel seems to fit in fairly well with a macabre-enthused viewing/reading public. What do you think it is that draws us to the macabre? Are we just screwed up, or is this a response to the loss of the good ole days when we got to see public executions and the like?

Well, we may very well be screwed up but I don’t think it’s because of horror we read or watch. I think often our interest in darknesses of various kinds has a lot to do with a profound dissatisfaction with the smoothed out surface of life as it’s presented in advertising, by our parents, by our institutions, and in people’s response to life. There’s something satisfying about seeing that surface shattered. And I do think there’s actually a fairly wide range of things going on in fantastic fiction and that my work is probably not as close to Saw or Hostel as it is to work by filmmakers like Michael Haneke or Gaspar Noe who I think are doing something that ultimately is a lot more unsettling and a lot more rewarding. Or Takashi Miike’s “Audition”.

Noir fiction has recently had significant growth in genre fiction, with Richard Morgan merging it with science fiction and various others attempting to mix it with fantasy. Last Days takes a fairly unique approach to the noir sleuth/uncommon hero tropes most of us are familiar with by merging it with horror. What is it about the sleuth character that seems to fit so well within horror (and the world you’ve set up for Last Days)? Am I wrong to think that noir fiction and, specifically, cross genre fiction in horror are seeing a resurgence?

I think there’s definitely a resurgence going on, that a lot of people have become interested in thinking about noir less as a genre than as a mode that can be applied to other genres, that can infect other genres. The example of that I grew up with, and which I think started a lot, was Bladerunner. But it does seem to have ratcheted up lately. So, near the time when Last Days came out, we also saw China Mieville’s wonderful The City & The City, Jeff Vandermeer’s Finch, Paul Tremblay’s The Little Sleep, Charlie Houston’s hardboiled vampire novels, etc. I have an idea for a post-apocalyptic detective novel that I hope I’ll start into soon.

Hinging off of the previous question: there was some discussion several months back about whether cross genre is a good thing. What do you think?

I don’t think it’s innately a good or a bad thing; there’s going to be good cross-genre work and bad cross-genre work, but it’s not the genre’s fault. I think when it’s done sloppily it’s bad, but when you feel that the crossing brings something genuinely new to the genre, that it revitalizes the genre, it’s great.

Do you plan to write more stories with Kline? If so, how would you manage to write a story about a character as beat up as him?

I actually have about forty pages of a sequel to Last Days and an idea for how it could continue. I wrote that about six months ago and haven’t looked at it again yet--I think I need to let it sit a bit to try to get an objective sense of whether it’s too over the top or absurd. Yes, Kline’s pretty beat up, but I think there’s still potentially more to get out of him.

Having taught fiction, what unusual bit of advice would you give to budding writers (emphasis on unusual)?

I think it’s important to read really eccentrically, to read in lots of odd directions. The problem with many creative writing programs is that, at their worst, they produce people who are writing the same kinds of stories over and over. I also think it’s important to be aware that your teachers are humans and that they have their own biases. Learn what you can from them but don’t mimic their blindspots.

What projects do you have coming up and can you tell us a little about them?

I just had a limited edition novella (400 copies) called “Baby Leg” published in a nice hardbound bloodspattered edition by New York Tyrant Press. It’s a beautiful object and a strange book, kind of a cross between a David Goodis novel and a mad scientist movie with bits of collapsing reality thrown in. Other than that, I’ve had a hard time finding sustained time to work. I’m hoping I’ll have time to really focus in and write over the holidays.

Now for a silly question: If you were forced to choose one part of your body to amputate, which part would you choose and why?

I think I’d go for the nose, and then, like Tycho Brahe, I’d replace it with a metal nose. If it had to be a limb, I think the first thing I’d give up would be my left foot, though I’d miss it. I’ve always liked my left foot. I’d be willing to let a few fingers go if need be as well...

Thanks again to Mr. Evenson for doing this interview. Now go check out Last Days!

Interview w/ David Marusek

David Marusek is the author of Counting Heads and Mind Over Ship, the latter of which I reviewed here. You can also find Mr. Marusek at his website.

On with the interview:

Thank you very much for doing this interview. First things first, can you tell us a little bit about yourself? What got you into writing in the first place, and why science fiction?

I'm a middle-aged man living in a cabin in Interior Alaska. I'm single (attention, ladies), love dogs, love to chainsaw firewood, dip for salmon, and spend time in the bush. I always wanted to write, but I only got started seriously in 1986. I thought I would write about a million books, but as it turns out, I'm a very slow writer (my editor says deliberate, not slow). I started out trying to write literary fiction, but I couldn't get the hang of it. Then someone told me about the Clarion workshops, and I attended Clarion West in Seattle. I sold my first fiction to Gardner Dozois at Asimov's during the workshop and have been publishing ever since. I seem to have a crazy inventive mind that feels at home with SF, and I love the SF community of writers and fans.

Who are some of your favorite authors? Books?

I don't read as much fiction as I used to. Recently, the writer who wows me the most is Jim Crace, a Brit, and two of his books I highly rec are The Pesthouse and Being Dead. He's not a genre writer, but The Pesthouse is a post-apocalyptic tale much better than Cormac McCarthy's much-hyped The Road.

Mind Over Ship is, in my opinion, a fairly unique novel because it incorporates a plethora of high-concept ideas (such as your fascinating take on the future of human cloning). What was your inspiration for Mind Over Ship (and obviously its predecessor, Counting Heads)?

I had two images stuck in my mind that, when combined, was the genesis of Counting Heads. One was of two parents holding a baby that they "retro-conceived." That is, their own DNA was overwriting the baby's own genes. In my mind I saw the baby in an in-between state. The other was of a wife abandoning her husband on a busy street when he is captured by a mechanical security device.

That's pretty much how my stories get started, with a compelling image or idea that persists sometimes for years until I do something with it.

Since your novel deals extensively with the issue of cloning, do you see human cloning becoming a reality in our near future (not just cloning cells or eggs, but cloning actual people)? Do you think our response to that will be a good one or a bad one?

Yes, I see cloning whole humans happening in the near future. At first it will probably be done by unscrupulous people just to see if it can be done. World reaction will be overwhelmingly negative. All world religions will condemn the practice. Even secular humanists will be outraged. I'm not sure if cloning will ever become a standard practice. In other SF stories, the basis for cloning humans has been to raise great armies of superior soldiers or as living tissue banks for wealthy persons, but I don't see that happening. Other technologies will fill those needs. In my own books, the labor force is made up of specialized, contented clones. This presumes that personality is tied to DNA, probably more-so that it actually is, but it makes a dandy conceit for fiction. (I have recently learned about epigenetics, which probably plays a major role in this.)

Which if your clone models in Mind Over Ship is your favorite? Why?

The Lulus, because they're hot!

Do you plan to write new stories in the universe of Mind Over Ship?

Yes, installment #3 is bubbling in the back of my head. I've been moiling in the CH and MOS universe for about 15 years, though, and I need a break from it. My current novel project is completely unrelated. In fact, it's set in contemporary America. It's all very hush-hush, and I can't say anything about it.

What other projects do you have coming up and can you tell us a little about them?

Besides the novel, I'm doing a fantasy story, my first effort in that genre. It's called "Modern Parenting--Circa 2006," and it makes me smile every time I think about it. It's about a father with a very special ability, and a daughter addicted to danger.

Switching gears, what do you think about the present state of the book industry, both on the selling end and on the making end? What about eBooks/readers?

Publishing seems to be buffeted by the economy and technological advances. No one knows what it'll look like in five or ten years, but I think authors may become empowered through POD and ebook tech. I bought a Kindle, and I'm trying to figure out what to do with it.

What unusual piece of writing advice would you give to a budding writer? (Emphasis on unusual)

See a doctor. No matter how pretty the bloom may be, budding is not usually healthy for humans.

And now for a silly question: If you could be any animal on the planet, which animal would you be and why?

A dodo, to mess with biologists' minds.

Interview w/ Edward Willett

Edward Willett is the author of Terra Insegura (see my review here) and Marseguro (see my review here), among other novels. Special thanks to Mr. Willett for doing this interview. Here goes:

Can you talk a little about Terra Insegura for those that have yet to read it?

Terra Insegura takes up immediately where Marseguro left off. The people of Marseguro have reason to believe that a genetically modified super-plague has made its way to Earth and have decided, even though the Body Purified, the religious dictatorship on Earth, just tried to "purify" their planet, they have to at least attempt to help by sending a vaccine. Good impulse, but things go awry when it turns out the Body Purified is not entirely destroyed yet, nor are the Selkies of Marseguro, genetically modified to be amphibian, the only new race of humans spawned by Victor Hansen, the genius geneticist who both created them and had a nasty habit of leaving clones of himself around for other people to trip over. Terra Insegura is about the battle to decide the shape of the new society about to arise on the depopulated Earth.

One of the things I loved about Marseguro, and which continues in Terra Insegura, is your approach to human/Other relationships, with the Other being the Selkies (a genetically augmented human/fish race). What about science fiction makes it “easier” to address humanity’s less appealing qualities (discrimination, segregation, and even violent extermination of “the Other”)? (In your opinion, of course)

One of the strengths of science fiction in general is that it allows you to strip out aspects of present-day life that in the real world are wrapped in too many layers of other stuff to be seen clearly. A story about, say, the progressives of the early 20th century who saw forced sterilization or forbidding marriage to certain types of individuals as a good way to improve society, has to deal with so much historical baggage concerning the real people and events of the time, not to mention the politics of the reader (who may not like to be told that some historical figure they revere--Woodrow Wilson, Margaret Sanger, George Bernard Shaw, etc.--had this unsavory side to them), that it can be hard to examine the central issue of eugenics clearly. Science fiction gives us a way of finding, baring and illuminating these kinds of big-picture problems so that we can look at them in a different light and perhaps gain a better understanding of the issues involved.

Terra Insegura follows Marseguro, a particularly dark dystopian future/space opera, yet it takes your already established darkness to new heights. Is there some really scary part of you that just loves to put your characters through hell? Do you mentally torture little voodoo dolls? Or is all this darkness simply you way of making a darn good science fiction story?

It's funny, because while I was reading a recent thread on the SF Canada listserver about dark and dystopian fiction (prompted, I think, by the latest book by Margaret "I Don't Write Science Fiction Because There Aren't Any Talking Cabbages from Planet X" Atwood), I kept thinking, gee, you people are depressing. I'm glad all my fiction is upbeat!

At which point a little inner voice cleared its throat and said, "Have you actually read your own last couple of books?"

Really, the darkness in these two books was entirely a function of the story situation I set up. As I think I explained in the last interview, Marseguro grew out of a writing class exercise, the whole thing springing from a couple of opening sentences, one of which contained the line "the water in her gills smelled of blood." The darkness was built into that first sentence, and the story that grew out of it just seemed to demand the level of unpleasantness I heaped on my poor characters.

I'm actually a very cheerful guy. Really!

As a sequel, you run the risk of falling short of the preceding novel, of letting your fans down. Terra Insegura never disappoints, and in some ways it is a superior novel to its predecessor. Was Terra Insegura planned from the start, or was it something you put together later on? How did you go about approaching the idea of a sequel and were you at all concerned about “sequelitis?”

Terra Insegura was not planned from the start, and Marseguro was complete before I knew for certain I would be writing a sequel, though obviously I had hopes, since I crafted an ending on which to hang one.

Outlining the sequel was really the same process as outlining the original book. Marseguro started from just a couple of sentences, as I mentioned, and I just began asking myself questions about those sentences as a way of getting to the story they implied. Terra Insegura was the same process, except I was asking myself questions about things I had mentioned in Marseguro, so I had a lot more to work with. There are always loose ends in a novel, alleyways you could have explored but didn't, little bits of throw-away scene decoration or dialogue that you put in really as a kind of stage trick, to imply that there is more to the world than is in the foreground of the story. When I started thinking of a sequel, I looked for those bits and pieces that hinted at something more...and then developed that something more. For instance: in Marseguro, early on, there is a scene at a religious service of the Body where a genetically modified female attacks the priest and is shot down. I described her as being feline. That was a throw-away bit, really, just something to dramatize how moddies were being treated on Earth by the Body Purified. Didn't give that poor dead moddie another thought...until I started plotting Terra Insegura. And then I remembered her and thought, wait. If there's one feline moddie, there must be others...maybe a whole race of them. How did they get there? What have they been up to? Etc....and that led to the Kemonomimi, which became a central feature of Terra Insegura. When I wrote Marseguro, I really had no idea they existed beyond that one throw-away character.

I don't worry about sequilitis. Maybe because I haven't written enough sequels yet. Ask me again five or six books into a series some day...

Do you have plans to write more in this universe?

I proposed a third book, which would see the action move back to Marseguro and also further into space to some of the other colonies mentioned in the first two books, but so far, at least, DAW hasn't taken me up on it. For now, it looks like this will be a two-book series only.

What other projects do you have coming up and can you tell us a little about them?

I'm just finishing the first draft of my first adult fantasy novel, Magebane, which will be my next book for DAW, out next year sometime (no date yet). Because of the switch in genres, it will appear as the first book by Lee Arthur Chane. But Lee Arthur Chane c'est moi! (Lee is my oldest brother's middle name, Arthur is my next-oldest brother's middle name, and Chane is my middle name.) It's a slightly subversive fantasy about a rather repressive magical kingdom where those with magical ability--the Mageborn, and in particular the MageLords--rule rather tyrannically over the non-magic-using Commoners. The kingdom hid itself away four hundred years ago behind an impenetrable barrier after a mysterious hero called the Magebane led the Commoners of the day in a successful revolt. Now there are MageLords who want to destroy the barrier and seize control of the outside world again and Commoners and others who want to overthrow the rule of the MageLords inside the hidden kingdom as their ancestors did centuries ago. Meanwhile, outside, the world has advanced to about the 19th-century level of technology, and one day a young man from that outside world crash-lands in an airship next to the manor of a powerful MageLord...

It's got magic, airships, swords AND dogsleds, assassinations, machinations and assignations, and even a lake of lava. What more could you want?

Switching gears, what do you think about the present state of the book industry, both on the selling end and on the making end? What about eBooks/readers?

Well, I'm not exactly plugged into what the publishers are seeing on their spreadsheets, but it doesn't seem all that great. My dream has always been to make a living just by writing fiction. I'm closer than I ever was, but it still seems pretty distant. Most fiction writers do other things to make ends meet. I suspect most small-press fiction publishers do, too!

I'm a big fan of ebooks, but I'm still wondering if dedicated ebook readers are really going to take off. Frankly, the best ebook reader I've seen is the free Stanza software for the iPhone and iPod Touch. And does anyone really want a dedicated piece of hardware for reading books when you can get a terrific general-purpose piece of hardware like the iPhone or iPod Touch you can read books on just as well?

Terra Insegura and Marseguro, and my previous DAW book, Lost in Translation, are all available as ebooks now, by the way, in various formats including Kindle.

What unusual piece of writing advice would you give to budding writers? (Emphasis on unusual)

How about, contrary to what you hear a lot in writing classes, "Don't write what you know! Write what you WANT to know, and then find out about it--or just make it up."

Now for a random question: If you could be a ninja or a pirate, which would you be and why? Don't worry, this is a safe place...

Definitely a pirate. Better clothes, lots of sea cruises, and a chance to bellow sea chanties at the top of your voice. And that parrot-on-the-shoulder deal is petty sweet, too. If you're shipwrecked, you can always eat it.

Thanks again to Mr. Willett. Now go buy his books!

Interview w/ David Bryan Russell

David Bryan Russell is the author of Enchanters, which I reviewed here. Appreciation goes to Mr. Russell for agreeing to do this interview. Here goes:

First, can you tell us a bit about yourself? What drew you into authorhood, and why fantasy?

I refer to myself as a 'professional dreamer.' My creative journey began in early childhood, inspired by adventure stories and mythology, especially the Norse sagas. I began writing around age 12, and concurrently started drawing about the same time. The visual arts eventually dominated my creative output, but my interest in literature never flagged.

Regarding my preference for fantasy...well, the colourful Norse sagas lit the initial fire, followed by the body of fantasy literature that fortuitously began to re-emerge in the popular press during my late adolescence. In any case, I have always found the genre full of depth and meaning. In a sense, fantasy constantly seeks to re-imagine the spirit world, and in the process can provide insights to humankind's most perplexing issues.

What have been some of your influences as a writer?

I've mentioned mythology and fantasy literature, to which I should add the imaginative output of such diverse artists as Caravaggio, Rubens, Jack Kirby, Frank Frazetta, NC Wyeth, Gaugin, Lautrec, and select Pre-Raphaelites, all of whom were excellent visual storytellers.

What are some of your favorite books, whether fantasy or otherwise?

Hmm.....an abbreviated list must include The Three Musketeers, Huckleberry Finn, David Copperfield, Wind in the Willows, The Time Machine, Treasure Island, Walden, Women in Love, The Jungle, The Grapes of Wrath, 1984, Invisible Man: A Novel, Fritz Lieber's Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories, The Martian Chronicles, and the following books by Jack Vance: Tschai, Demon Princes, Durdane, and Dying Earth series, and Emphyrio.

Could you tell everyone a bit about your novel, Enchanters?

It's a contemporary fantasy adventure, powered by love. I enjoyed writing the book, which allowed me to distill a number of concepts about magic, and of humanity's relationship to the natural world.

It’s clear from Enchanters that you have a vested interest in the state of the environment.

True. This forms part of the motivation of the principal character, but Enchanters is no environmental polemic.

What drew you to translate this into the world of fiction?

It seemed logical for the character, and the hidden world of magic to which she belongs.

Enchanters is a curious novel that tackles the issue of human pollution from a unique angle. What prompted you to create this side world, where the Enchanters exist as a sort of oppositional force to humanity’s lesser qualities?

I would not view the Enchanters as oppositional; in fact, it's clearly stated that they were once bound quite closely to humans. However, circumstances altered over time.

In essence, Enchanters charts the personal journey of Glys Erlendsen into a heretofore unseen world, one in which the goals of humanity and those of the Enchanters are often at odds. How she deals with these dilemmas provides the basis of the adventure.

Set in Norway , Enchanters seems relatively steeped in regional folklore. What about the country's mythology that so fascinates you?

As I mentioned, Norwegian cosmology stirred my imagination from an early age. The country is almost unique in Europe, in the sense that it never accepted the Christian concept of duality--that is, the existence of an absolute right, and absolute wrong. In simplistic Christian terms, god on one hand, the devil on the other. This flexible thinking--despite the brutal aspects of the Viking period--allowed for the eventual development of a rather egalitarian culture. Most importantly, however, Norwegians successfully held onto their beliefs in the spirit world, and to this day recognise the presence of fairies, elves, trolls, and other magical beings. In part because of these beliefs, Norwegians have an intense reverence for the natural world. I observed these singular traits during my first visit to Norway in 2002, and thereafter decided to set the Enchanters storyline in the country.

Do you see fantasy as a great genre through which to examine the human condition as you have in Enchanters?

Beyond question it is a supple medium for the exploration of the deeper issues of life. Alas, few authors recognise this potential.

What drew you to publish with a small press, and how has your experience been with them?

As you have observed, Enchanters is a unique novel. I felt that a small press would be more likely to recognise its potential than a globalist publishing house, where editorial departments routinely favour non-original (and non-controversial) material.

What are some advantages, in your opinion, of being published with a small press?

Personal attention, editorial and marketing support, and (most importantly) the gift of time to develop one's ideas.

What other projects do you have coming up, and can you tell us a little about them?

The sequel to Enchanters, entitled A Shining Realm, will be released in Fall 2010. I am also currently outlining a new series of fantasy novels set in a fully-imagined world.

What unusual piece of writing advice would you give to budding writers?

Ignore contemporary trends, and develop the most original work you can manage. Be mindful that most writers are seeking to emulate film and television writing, which is inappropriate for the development of potent fantasy literature. Study the great books of the past, and of the present, especially those outside of one's preferred genres.

Now for a random question: If you could be the King (or Queen) of any country during medieval times, which country and why?

I presume you refer to the European medieval period...It's an odd question, since the era was miserable for rich and poor alike, primarily due to the cultural death grip of the region's vile religious institutions. In any case, I myself am quite egalitarian, and would thus never consider occupying a position of life and death over my fellow human beings.

And there you go!

Interview w/ Kage Baker

Kage Baker is the author of The House of the Stag and many other books. You can find my review of The House of the Stag here. Special thanks to Ms. Baker for agreeing to do this interview. Here goes:

Thank you for agreeing to this interview. First, can you tell us briefly about yourself? What led you down the path of authorhood and why fantasy and science fiction?

You're welcome. About myself... I'm a middle-aged spinster aunt living in Pismo Beach, California, with my parrot Harry. I was frequently ill as a child and my mother saw to it that I had plenty of books to read, early and often. She also wanted me to become a writer, which for many years I resolutely refused to do-- publicly, anyway. Privately I filled several volumes with stuff, mostly set in a fantasy world I'd invented. What I did publicly was join the Living History Center, who put on the original Renaissance Faire, which was nothing like the plastic models now in circulation. It was an educational extravaganza, painfully authentic and absolutely magical. I taught Elizabethan English as a Second Language for them for close to thirty years, and worked as an actress, stage manager and occasional dramaturge as well. This gave me a lot of what you could call unique life experience, so by the time I finally gave in and began to sell what I wrote, I had a lot of material with which to work. Why fantasy and science fiction? Fantasy because I was inclined that way, and science fiction as an offering to my mother's ghost. She loved science fiction.

Who have been some of your influences, whether in writing or some other hobby or profession? What are some of your favorite books?

Oh, gosh... Shakespeare, especially A Midsummer Night's Dream, and it's affected me in so many ways: wanting to escape to the Wood Near Athens as a child, watching the filmed versions, reading it and savoring the words, watching it being staged Elizabethan-style on a crude wooden stage in an oak forest... All the works of Robert Louis Stevenson, but most especially Treasure Island. C.S. Lewis and Edward Eager and Elizabeth Enright. L. Frank Baum. All their books. Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series takes my breath away. I'll read anything Terry Pratchett writes, and his books for kids are even better than his books for adults. The Asterix the Gaul comics. The Flashman novels. Thorne Smith's supernatural comedies. Peter S. Beagle! Way too many others to mention.

The House of the Stag is the second book set in this particular world. What drew you to return to this world? And what about the fantasy genre made you want to return?

Actually, The House of the Stag is drawn directly from the huge fantasy world about which I'd been writing from the age of nine or so. Gard's story is the oldest part. When I was trying to earn money at my craft as an adult, I adapted a minor incident concerning one of Gard's sons into a short story and sent it out to test the waters, as it were. The story was favorably received, so I went ahead and wrote the first part of the triptych that became The Anvil of the World, my first published fantasy book. Tor was interested in a second fantasy novel, so I went back to my original source material and revised it, and rewrote it (because you may think you know everything when you're fourteen, but by the time you're fifty-three your perspective has changed somewhat). Et voila! The House of the Stag.

One of the powerful features of this book is how it takes an otherwise cliché plot and twists it on its head. Your novel seems keenly aware of the past of its genre (fantasy), including delving into aspects of myth and fairytale. What do you see as the connection between modern (contemporary) fantasy and the stories of our past? Do you see The House of the Stag as a novel that breaks convention (in a good way)?

I hope it breaks convention in a good way, certainly... Here's the other disadvantage of writing from a fourteen-year-old's perspective, especially at a time when Tolkien was God and trilogies set in immense detailed universes were what every aspiring young writer set out to create: you don't realize you're not being terribly original. But by the time you're older and you've read your Joseph Campbell and you've seen all the really cheesy Tolkien knockoffs that make millions at the cost of their muses, and you've read a bit of the sort of things Tolkien's contemporaries were writing, you see the field in a new light. My story involved a foundling coming of age and discovering who he was and what his heritage entailed, which is one o' them there Universal Themes, and it helps that he discovers that his destiny is to be the world's Bad Guy, but even so-- it seemed to me it was wiser to pare it down to its essential myth, and tell it not as an Oxford don would tell it, but as people would tell it. And just incidentally using that incident in which Gard becomes an actor to comment on the larger Epic Fantasy tradition... sort of getting a dig in.

The House of the Stag also deals with issues of identity, slavery, and colonialism, in particularly powerful ways. Can you talk about what drew you to these themes and any other thoughts you might have in how they played a role in your novel?

Well, they were in the original version, begun in my childhood, and I suppose that came from the fact that my father was of Native American descent. We grew up keenly aware that there was another side entirely to the story of how Pioneers Conquered America Because God Gave it to Them. When my dad was in school he frequently had to fight to defend himself. It was never an issue for me because I had white skin, but I hated it when people acted as though Indians were mostly dead and any remaining were drunks living in trailers. I knew the Red Man hadn't vanished at all. There was a certain amount of bitterness about that, about the way the history books sort of pasted over the truth. I'm firmly of the "Custer had it coming" persuasion.

But when you look at the history of the world, it's always been that way, everywhere there were people: you're living quietly in the place in which you've always lived, where your parent's bones are buried and your children have been born, and then along comes someone more powerful who says "Guess what? My technology is more advanced than yours and my god said I could kick you out and take your land, so shove off." Or, worse: "Don't shove off; I'm going to put chains on you and make you mine, gold and silver for me". Wherever cultures collide, it happens, I have always found it hard to get personally furious. But it worked its way into The House of the Stag, certainly.

The House of the Stag has a rather unique narrative structure. I used the term “postmodern” to describe this in my interview, but could you talk about why you chose to have these unique breaks in story that expose the reader to a sort of metanarrative (a narrative that seems to comment on the fairytale/myth aspects of the story)?

Because the story isn't simply about Gard and his advancement through life; it's the story of cultures colliding, the history of a race, the way in which people tell stories that create the masks worn by the heroes and the villains. And how much are people driven by storytelling conventions to become what they appear to the world? Terry Pratchett has proposed that humans are not properly Homo sapiens but rather Pan narrans: not wise men, but storytellers.

The original, 1966-era version was written in ghastly imitation Tolkien flowery pseudo-medieval English, when really it's the story of one man moving from a stone age culture through different technological layers to a fairly sophisticated one. As well as a woman leading her people through pretty much the same transitions. Both these people are born naked into primitive tribes and a generation later their son is fussing about his tailor's bills. I wanted to show that evolution in the storytelling process too. That's why it begins with rock paintings, in this world that is still close to ancestral myth; moves in the next section to account ledgers, which are the earliest writings preserved; then goes to vocal narrative of history; then to drama presented with masks; then to epistolary correspondence; finally to a technologically produced printed book. And the styles of the narrative change somewhat to reflect that. My agent and editor were rather concerned that people wouldn't make it past the aboriginal style of the first section...

Something I think a lot of people will enjoy about The House of the Stag is how realistic and unhindered by magic it is. While magic does exist, it is, to great effect, kept within reasonable boundaries, and only “flashy” when it serves a viable purpose in the narrative. How do you view magic in fantasy, or in general, and how would you describe your attitude towards it?

Magic is a problem, for a fantasy writer, because in order to have a believable story the magic must have limits and structure. Which means you have to invent a whole science, a consistent one, that isn't simply parroting the system devised by D&D players. Pratchett handles this well: Granny Weatherwax can stop a knife with her hand in a crisis and magically escape harm, but afterwards has to inflict the wound the knife should have made, because the magic has a price. Zelazny worked out some very plausible magic systems too. Peter S. Beagle's magic follows the systems of the heart, and is thoroughly believable. My own feeling is that magic should be used sparingly, otherwise it loses its effect.

Do you have future plans for this world or any of the characters currently established?

If I'm spared, yes. It's such a huge canvas with so many characters! I've already written several short stories about the various children of Gard. I'd like to be able to do another novel. Lord Ermenwyr is a fun character and of course in The House of the Stag he doesn't appear until the end, as a puling infant. I'd like the chance to write a bit more about him. And see below...

Could you tell us a bit about your upcoming projects or anything you’ve done that you’d like people to know about?

Yes indeed. I have a steampunk novel coming out next year, Not Less Than Gods, and fans of the Company novels may be pleased to know it's about the company's Victorian-era predecessor, The Gentlemen's Speculative Society, and features Edward Alton Bell-Fairfax. Beyond that I've just handed in another novel set in Gard's universe but featuring an entirely different cast of characters. There's a river in it, and a river god, and a girl's journey. It will probably appear as The Bird of the River. And my children's book, The Hotel Under the Sand, has just been published for the ages 8-to-11 market. It's sort of steampunk for kids.

If you could offer budding writers one piece of unusual advice, what would it be?

Kids, I mean this in the kindest possible way: Do Not Quit Your Day Job. Ever. Just because you get a book published doesn't mean you will become instantly rich. At all. Go read what Robert Louis Stevenson wrote on the subject.

And for a random question: If you could choose one sport to teach aliens when they visit, which would it be and why? (You can define sport however you like.)
Morris Dancing! It would bewilder them and introduce them to beer. They'd be so drunk and exhausted all the time they'd be unable to conquer us.

And there you have it!

Interview w/ Nicole Kimberling

Nicole is the author of Turnskin, an interesting tale that I reviewed not too long ago. Additional thanks goes to her for taking the time out of her day to do this interview.

Thanks for doing this interview. First, can you tell us a bit about yourself? What drew you into authorhood and why fantasy?

I started writing stories to impress this girl I was into. It worked a little too well since once I got the girl I had to continue to produce more and better stories. As for fantasy, I've just always liked it. I was one of those kids who had a lightsaber and a first edition box of Dungeons & Dragons.

What have been some of your influences as a writer? What are some of your favorite books, whether fantasy or otherwise?

When I like a piece of fiction I read it compulsively, the same book over and over again for about six months. So, in order of appearance, here are a few books and novellas I've read like that:

The Borrowers by Mary Norton
Dragonsinger by Anne McCaffrey
Vampirella #4: Blood Wedding by Ron Goulart
Dirk Gently's Hollistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams
Comfort and Joy by Jim Grimsley
Snowball in Hell by Josh Lanyon

I also love art and comics so I’ll add a few comic titles:

As for Western comics, I was a fan of Red Sonja and Wonder Woman when I was a kid. Then when I was about 29 years old manga started to be translated into English. I really like manga a lot. A few of my favorites:

Black and White (Tekkonkinkreet) by Taiyo Matsumoto
Kusatta Kyoushi no Houteshiki by Kodaka Kazuma
Ichigenme by Fumi Yoshinaga (I can’t wait for Kinou Nani Tabeta? to be translated into English. I’m reading Ooku: the Inner Chambers right now. It’s an AU story that presupposes a gender inversion in medieval Japan that would have put women in charge of society.)
Future Lovers by Saika Kunieda

Turnskin is a curious love story that crosses multiple forbidden boundaries: non-human/human, Romeo/Juliet, etc. What do you think is so captivating for readers when it comes to forbidden love stories?

Beats me. Really I never thought of Turnskin as a forbidden love story so much as a coming of age story. Because the love of Tom & Cloud isn’t really forbidden so much as it’s a bad idea for both of them. I think that’s different than being something like a societal taboo.

Where did you come up with the idea for the shifters? Will we find out anything more about Tom’s genetic past, or is this the last we will hear from him and the other characters?

I came up with the shifters during a conversation with Ginn Hale. It’s actually impossible for a writer to have a conversation with her for more than five minutes without coming up with an idea. She’s like a force for creativity and it rubs off if you stand close to her for very long.

I have no plans to revisit Tom’s world at present. It was invented specifically to tell this story so I don’t really know what else I would write about it.

Is Turnskin set anywhere we might know (as in an alternate version of a place that might be familiar to readers) or is this a completely separate world?

It’s a completely separate world, based directly on nowhere.

Lesbian and gay speculative fiction seem to be taking off in the last few years, and while Turnskin turns the lesbian/gay theme on its head using “alien” figures, it is still, ultimately, a story about people struggling with their identities. Where do you see LGBT speculative fiction going in the relatively near future?

I don’t really know if lesbian spec fic could be described as “taking off” but gay spec fic sales have definitely increased, fueled by the rise of the m/m romance reader.

As for the future of the whole genre, there is really no way to know.

What are some advantages, in your opinion, of being published with a small press?

Personal care and attention from the editor and from the publisher.

What other projects do you have coming up and can you tell us a little about them?

Samhain has just released a short novel of mine called Ghost Star Night. I think I just have to give the blurb, because it’s really hard to sum up.

“Thomas Myrdin has been used and betrayed by his king. But his heartbreak troubles him less than the apocalyptic visions that have begun to haunt him; the world burns in ruins and at the center of the destruction is the king’s newborn daughter. As vengeance and visions waken a power deep within him, not even Thomas knows if he’s becoming the kingdom’s salvation or its destruction.

Lord Adam Wexley harbors a secret longing for Thomas, but his duty is to protect the newborn princess. When a sudden threat arises Adam must procure the services of the Magician, Edwin Drake, even if it means sacrificing his own body and soul.

Drake had seen the worst of kings and courtiers; as a child he witnessed his father’s soul stripped away to leave behind a stumbling slave. Now, Drake protects himself with powerful sorcery and the adamant refusal to affiliate with any of the Four Courts. But the Grand Magician isn’t without weaknesses and Adam may be the one enticement that can draw him to ruin.”

Ghost Star Night is a lot more action-packed than Turnskin. It’s the piece I wrote directly after. I think I wanted to write something with more doing and less feeling.

And, of course, I am part of the Hell Cop anthology series with Astrid Amara and Ginn Hale. Hell Cop is set in the shared world of Parmas City and it’s kind of an urban fantasy. Hell Cop 2 was released by Loose Id in June.

In December I’ll release another, longer book with Samhain called Happy Snak. This is not an LGBT book, per se, unless you think hermaphroditic aliens qualify as an LGBT element (which I do, actually).

What unusual piece of writing advice would you give to budding writers?

Try to have interests other than writing. I mean, you’ve got to have something to write about, right? Get another hobby or a different day job. It will help you survive things like barbecues and cocktail parties as well by giving you something to talk about other than your own novels.

Now for a random question: If you could try any bizarre delicacy (by Western standards), from anywhere in the world, what would you try and why?

You know I’ve tried a lot of bizarre delicacies in my time. Right now what I’d most like to try is the the food at Ferran Adria’s restaurant, El Bulli. I had some molecular gastronomist fare at Wylie Dufresne’s WD-50 in Manhattan and I have never had so much food that made me laugh and also think.

Interview w/ Paul Genesse

Paul Genesse is one of my favorite authors. I've reviewed two of his novels (The Golden Cord and his newest edition to the Iron Dragon Series, The Dragon Hunters) and have interviewed him previously. If you're interested in learning more about Paul, you can check out his website, or see his novels at Amazon here and here (or wherever you get your books). Now to prevent further stalling, here's the interview (this interview will also be in the first issue of Survival By Storytelling, so there are some questions that relate to that):

Thanks for doing this interview. First, could you tell us a bit about yourself? What got you into writing and other biographical goodies?

I’m pretty sure it was a toy castle that sent me over the edge and into madness. I was four years old when I told mom I wanted to be a writer. Dragons and castles gave me reason to live from elementary school through college at Northern Arizona University. I loved my English classes, but pursued my other passion and earned a bachelor’s degree in Nursing Science in 1996. I’m a registered nurse in a cardiac unit where I work the night shift keeping the forces of darkness away from my patients. I’ve also worked as a computer game consultant, a copyeditor, and as a proofreader for a small press publisher. My short stories have been published in various large press anthologies from DAW Books, such as: Fellowship Fantastic, The Dimension Next Door, Imaginary Friends, Catopolis, Furry Fantastic, and Terribly Twisted Tales. I’ve also published three of my Pirate Witch stories in the Pirates of the Blue Kingdoms anthologies. The first two novels in my Iron Dragon Series, The Golden Cord and The Dragon Hunters are out now. Book two, The Dragon Hunters released May 15 of 2009, and both books feature covers by world famous fantasy artist, Ciruelo Cabral. I love teaching writing to people of all ages, and I’m the editor of the free Writers’ Symposium Ezine, dedicated to “Helping Writers Write.” To sign up for the ezine or watch a video about the Iron Dragon Hunters, visit me online at www.paulgenesse.com.

The Dragon Hunters is book two in your Iron Dragon series (preceded by The Golden Cord). Could you tell us a bit about this particular book and the series as a whole?

The tag line for The Golden Cord is, “Only some bonds can be broken,” and the description is: “A hunter must leave behind his true love, give up all hope of survival and guide his most hated enemies on a suicidal journey to the lair of the dragon king.” That description does describe the series as a whole, as well as the first book. The novel is for ages 12 (or so) and up, and is considered YA, but I think of it more as a teen to adult novel. Ten and eleven year olds usually love it too, but it’s a little scary for some of them. About book two, The Dragon Hunters, the tag line is: “On this hunt, you give up everything,” and the description: “The last of an order of dragon hunters must track down the Dragon King’s Daughter and stop her from getting the Crystal Eye, an ancient artifact that will cause the destruction of their world.” Book two is such a vicious novel, in my opinion. My fighting gloves, which were on in book one, are now coated in broken glass and feature six-inch long spikes that cause permanent damage. The poor characters have a really hard time in this book, and I’m very proud of the obstacles they have to overcome. The world is much harsher than the main character, Drake, realized. Things are not black and white. Survival may mean giving up any hope that he has of ever returning home.

How do you feel about the YA category? Do you feel that it is misleading to potential readers (i.e. it puts off adult readers because they assume that it is essentially dumbed down for youngins)?

I do feel that the YA category is misleading to most folks, including me. A large amount of very advanced novels get lumped into the YA category, but they’re really not books specifically for Young Adults. They’re books for anyone of any age. The truth is that the specific category books get put in are marketing decisions by the marketing people at the book publishers. YA books sell more and if the books can be put into that category, many publishers put them there. The book industry is driven my marketing.

This particular installment in your Iron Dragon Series expands the scope of the world you began in The Golden Cord ten fold by taking Drake and his two Drobin comrades into new territory, particularly into an expansive desert with its own peoples and cultures. Can you talk about your approach to world building here? What was your inspiration for the people of the Khoram Desert?

I love world building in general, and the world of Ae’leron is a massive world of mountainous interconnected plateaus with sheer cliffs at every edge. When you look off the edge, all you see is an ocean of clouds, the Void. No one can see beneath the mist that obscures the view into the Underworld. Planetary geography, such as Olympus Mons on Mars (it’s 65,000 feet tall and 500 miles in diameter) inspired me. Olympus Mons is a shield volcano and so are the plateaus in Ae’leron. National Geographic Magazine and all the shows about the world in general influence me. Now in book two, the characters get away from the edge of the world (the lip of the Void) and go to the interior, the Khoram Desert. I grew up near Death Valley and spent most of my life in the desert, so living there had a huge influence on me. I was inspired by the Northern African cultures of the Sahara, the ancient Israelites and the ancient Egyptians when I created the Mephitian culture there. However, I wanted to take the Mephitians to a different level of technology. The Mephitians are an amalgam of several different groups from our world, and have become something all their own.

Obviously you can only put so much worldbuilding into one novel. Will we see much more of the Mephitians in the books to come? What about other cultures?

The Mephitians (pronounced: meh-FEE-shuns; sorry, the phonetic spelling looked dumb to me: Mefishuns) will have a huge role in the rest of the series. Books three, four, and the finale, book five will feature them heavily. As far as other cultures, the dragon culture will get more page time. I love the scenes from the dragon’s, Wingataurs, and their other minions' points of view. There will also be some exploration of the lands to the north of Drake’s village, Cliffton. It will become quite obvious why Drake’s people fled those lands and chose to live in the dangerous and deadly, Thornclaw Forest.

Would you say that you put a good amount of research into the real world for the express purpose of sharpening your worldbuilding skills or finding inspiration? Aside from National Geographic, where do you often go to find those unusual tidbits that make fabricated cultures particularly detailed and fascinating?

I put a lot of research into my work. Much of that research is in the books I read, both non-fiction and fiction. The Handbook of Ancient __________ (fill in the culture) are completely awesome, as are many Children’s books about the ancient world. You’d be surprised by how much you can learn from them. I also travel as much as I can and watch TV programs about the ancient world. Reading historical novels about ancient cultures is fun as well as educational. You find something there and then learn more about it through further research, then use it in your own work. Getting out into our world is great too. Experiencing other cultures and meeting people from different walks of life is an important aspect of my method. My trips to Europe, Canada, and across the U.S. have been fabulous. Speaking to my patients in the hospital, where I work as cardiac nurse, gives me a lot of great stories as well. Going on long hikes in difficult terrain is also quite amazing. You begin to understand how difficult traveling long distances on foot truly is. However, just growing up where I grew up, in the middle of nowhere near Death Valley, made a huge impact. One thing that affected the Iron Dragon books and shaped my thinking on why the people in Ae’leron hate birds is this: I remember that my home town was infested with birds. They would haunt the trees, watch you wherever you went, scavenge off the garbage, act in generally annoying ways all the time. I know I imagined they were spies of the enemy, sent to watch me. This influenced my writing a lot, and I think that our experiences growing up creep into our writing whether we like it or not.

I think one of the interesting things about this book is that it tries to inject some ambiguity into the dragon species, which we have largely taken as evil by default. What acted as inspiration for your breed of dragons and would you mind divulging a bit about them (their history, etc.)? What made you want to create dragons that don't necessarily fit into the cliches (as mounts, primarily, or as mindless monstrosities)?

The history of the dragons in Ae’leron is somewhat lost to the ages. What the main characters know, since Bellor is a Dracken Viergur Master, a Dragon Hunter Master, is that the dragons were once in command of the plateaus. Then the Drobin (dwarves) and Nexans (humans) came and changed everything. The dragons lost their dominance and were either killed off by the interlopers or by each other as they struggled for dominance. Where the Mephitians fit into this picture is not known--for now. There’s a lot more in the book about the dragons, but I don’t want to spoil it here. Suffice it to say that I don’t want to write the same old stuff about all dragons being evil. Dragons in the Iron Dragon Books have their own agenda. They do what they want to do and from their point of view, they should be in command. After all, they are the smartest, longest lived, and strongest in might and magic of all the races. Why shouldn’t they be in charge? I enjoy writing about dragons that fit into the gray area of individual motivation and shifting alliances.

What are some particularly memorable dragons for you (in any medium)? Why?

Of course, I love the dragon Smaug, in The Hobbit. He’s my favorite dragon. The scene with him and Bilbo talking is so classic and awesome that I will never forget it. I also love the dragon in the movie, Dragonslayer, which is still a pretty cool movie even today. However, the most awesome dragon in any book I’ve ever read is Black Kalgalath, in Dennis L. McKiernan’s Mithgar novel, Dragondoom. Many fans agree that this is the best Mithgar novel, and Black Kalgalath is a big reason why. Black Kalgalath epitomizes the true power and intelligence of dragons. If you haven’t read Dragondoom, please put it on your list. I have personally chosen to show dragons in a slightly different light in my Iron Dragon Series. There aren’t many of them left, though they were once the dominant power in the world. Now, they must use subversion, rather than overt force to take over the world. Draglûne is a nasty and scheming mastermind, and his minions are everywhere. They worship him as a god, and why shouldn’t they? He is the Dragon King.

The Dragon Hunters also complicates the romantic relationships between some of your characters, with betrayals, deceit, and more filtering into the story and tearing apart friends and families. Would you say that some of the most important aspects of your novels are centered around the relationships of your characters, whether good or bad? Do you see these sorts of breaks and emergencies of relationships as powerful events that help shape your characters as the story progresses?

I agree with you. The most important aspect of all of my books and short stories is the characters. The bonds between the characters is critical, as it is on the battlefield between soldiers in arms. The breaking of bonds is huge and I love putting the characters in great distress. Book two brings in new characters that test the relationships set in book one. I’m so cruel to Drake and his true love, Jaena. Their love is tested to the extreme.

Why are you so tough on Drake? Do you secretly hate him? Or is this just a thing that writers do (torture their characters emotionally and physically as much as humanly possible)?

I do hate Drake, but I also love him. I hate and love him as I hate and love myself. There’s a lot of me in him, and there’s no way around that. Truly, I am so tough on him because he is experiencing a very difficult situation and I want it to ring true and be real. Also, I want the reader to love him, and they love characters that are made to suffer. As I write scenes my first impulse is to be nice to Drake, and the other characters, but then I remember that if I’m nice to them, the reader can relax--and might put the book down. The world where Drake lives is rough place, but honestly, it’s a pale reflection of the horrible place Earth has been now and in the past.

Who are some of your writing and fantasy influences?

J.R.R. Tolkien, George R.R. Martin, Terry Brooks, Michael A. Stackpole, Dennis L. McKiernan, Kij Johnson, Frank Herbert, Stephen R. Donaldson, Anne McCaffery, The Thieves World books, and my writing buddies, Brad Beaulieu and Patrick Tracy.

Since SBS is primarily a short fiction and poetry magazine, could you talk about your short fiction writing? What do you like most about the short form and do you have any advice for writing short stories?

I love short stories, though I used to think of myself as strictly a novelist. My advice: GO OUT AND WRITE SHORT STORIES! You can finish them in a couple of weeks or less. Novels go on for years sometimes. I love that you can easily finish a short story and my best advice for writing them is: limit the number of characters. Stick to one character’s point of view and explore that character. You don’t have time to have a big cast.

What other projects do you have in the works and can you tell us a bit about them (short stories, novels, etc.)? What about projects you're thinking of, but haven't started yet?

I’m rewriting book three of the Iron Dragon Series, The Secret Empire, at the moment. I’ve written all five books in the series, but am making the old manuscripts better.

I also want to turn my pirate witch stories into a novel. I think it would be quite cool to write that. Also, my short story in Fellowship Fantastic, Almost Brothers, needs to be chapter one of a novel. That book is going to be so powerful and someday, I’m going to write it.

This year, I’m going to finish two books, The Secret Empire (a rewrite) and Medusa’s Daughter, a manuscript I had to put on hold when the Iron Dragon Series took off. Medusa’s Daughter, an adult fantasy--a dark fantasy love story--set in ancient Greece is about the mythological Medusa. Tag line, “Can true love break the curse?” The description is: Medusa’s daughter has inherited her mother’s terrible curse and longs to escape her lonely life on the shattered island where her mother and aunts have been exiled. But when a mysterious sailor washes ashore she falls in love, then discovers there might be a way for the curse to be broken. She must look into the eyes of her true love, but if he’s not, she will kill the only man she ever loved.

I’ve posted the first draft of chapter one on my website. I’ve always been fascinated by Greek mythology and the Medusa myth has always been one that piqued my interest. The story came to me as I was reading up on the actual myth. There is no mention of Medusa having a daughter, but I thought that if she was indeed raped by Poseidon, there could be a child. What would she be like? How would her mother treat her? The story went from there. I’ve approached the tale with a more realistic slant and a dark tone. I really love the novel and can’t wait to finish it. I’ve written 75,000 words, including the beginning, middle and end, but have some interconnecting to do and expanding. I also need to write a little epilogue chapter. Book one is self-contained, but it would be a trilogy called the Gorgon’s Kiss trilogy.

What general writing advice would you give to budding writers out there?

Perseverance is key is you want to get published. You’ve got to want it so bad and then be intelligent in how you go about the process. Becoming a good enough writer (to get published) is a long journey that takes years and never stops. Don’t be afraid to write something down because it’s not perfect. You can’t revise a blank page. Get something down, understand that it probably sucks, then make it better. And keep making it better. Learn as much as you can from books on writing. I have several suggestions on my website in the Writer’s Resources section as well as in my free ezine.

Now for a silly question: If you could put one person into a glass jar to keep as a pet, who would it be and why?

Yoda of course. He’s a freaking Jedi Master.

------------------------------------------

And there you have it. Hope you all enjoyed it!

Interview w/ Matthew Wayne Selznick

No need for introductions; the interview speaks for itself. Enjoy!

Thank you for doing this interview with me. First, tell us a bit about yourself. What got you into writing and podcasting, etc.? A brief bio if you will.

Thanks for having me!

What got me into writing and podcasting are two different things, but I suppose they have common roots. For as long as I can remember, I have needed to tell stories. The telling can take different forms, from being a child and making up complicated, multi-day adventures acted out between dozens of toy soldiers, dinosaurs and other action figures to writing and performing songs and, of course, writing
fiction.

I wrote because I read. The earliest things I remember reading are Ray Bradbury's short stories and Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan novels...and comics. Which is kinda of interesting, because Bradbury's early influences are Edgar Rice Burroughs and newspaper comic strip serials. Might be why I've called Bradbury my "story father."

As far as podcasting goes... I've been a DIY (do it yourself) kind of guy since the mid-eighties, when I was in my late teens and early twenties, playing in punk bands. The basic premise of the DIY ethic is this: if you want to make something, make it. If you want to show it to people, put it out there. Don't wait for someone else to offer you a venue, or a deal -- do it yourself.

When I first heard about podcasting in October of 2004, it sounded to me like pure DIY: record a "radio" show, throw it on the Internet where you can say anything and do anything and anyone anywhere can hear it. I was sold. I released my first podcast on October 15, 2004... about a week or so after I discovered the medium.

Your first published novel is Brave Men Run, a novel about a world in which people with extraordinary powers reveal themselves and demand sovereignty, thus changing the social fabric. What exactly made you want to write this kind of novel? Why a superhero novel that isn't really about superheroes or clashes between good and evil, but about people--ordinary and otherwise--dealing with a dramatic shift in how the world operates?

Largely because, as much as I love comics in general and super-hero comics specifically, I know they're not a real representation of how the world would really be if people with superpowers existed. Sure, some authors, like Alan Moore in "Watchmen," for example, have examined the superhero genre in a more realistic setting, but even "Watchmen" is a piece of metafiction -- it's about the genre as much as it is _in_ the genre.

I just don't believe that if a person discovered they could fly, or bend steel in their bare hands, or whatever... I don't think their first inclination would be to dress up in a costume, put on a mask and fight (or cause) crime. It would take a very unique (read: crazy) personality type, and even in a world where superpowers are common, I just don't see a superhero / supervillain culture developing.

As far as clashes between good and evil... again, the world just isn't like that. People are driven by their motivations, their needs and desires. That rarely results in anything so black and white as "good" or "evil." Everyone is a little of both, and just how much of either is in the eye of the beholder.

Finally, I like telling stories about people. Folks call "Brave Men Run -- A Novel of the Sovereign Era" a "superhero book" because that's the easiest way to categorize it, but to me, the Sovereign Era stories are about people, fundamentally just like you and me, trying to make the most of the world they've been given... just like you and me.

Would you say that it might be more possible to have cape-wearing superheroes in a world like ours where superhero culture is so widespread and popular? Or do you see people who found out they had super abilities keeping such things secret?

I think some folks might do it -- in fact, some people without super powers actually do dress up and fight crime: http://www.worldsuperheroregistry.com/

These people are pretty clearly influenced by comics and comic-book culture, and that gives them a little "out" in terms of their own, um, sanity. If there were people with actual super-powers in our world, would they be influenced by comics or would the comics have been influenced by them? Chicken / egg, I guess.

In the Sovereign Era, super-hero comics never had a chance to really be part of western culture, so that archetype doesn't exist.

Brave Men Run is set in the 1980s. What about this era made you want to set a story in it? (Are you secretly into hair bands?)

"Brave Men Run -- A Novel of the Sovereign Era" is set in 1985 for two reasons:

Number one, that was the most volatile era of recent human history. The Cold War was at its hottest since the Cuban Missile Crisis. The United States and the Soviet Union fought wars by proxy in the Middle East, Central and South America and elsewhere. If I'm going to introduce the presence of individuals with remarkable, often dangerous abilities, dramatically there's no better time -- it's one more
burning cigarette to drop in the dry brush of the world stage, a great set-up for global stress and conflict.

Number two, "Brave Men Run -- A Novel of the Sovereign Era" is a coming of age story. I was a teenager, albeit a little older than the main character, Nate Charters, in 1985. I'm pretty sure my experience as a teenager is different from the experiences of being a teenager today... so, I wrote what I knew.

Setting the book -- and the beginning of the Sovereign Era -- in the middle of the eighties also lets me have fun with cultural references and allows me to use the technical limitations of the time in interesting ways. Remember when you couldn't make or get a phone call whenever and wherever you like? That's the eighties, man!

And, yeah, I Iike hair bands. Long hair and short hair.

(Do you have a favorite 80s band?)

Probably the two bands who had the most lasting influence on me since the eighties (and still) would be X and fIREHOSE.

Your novel is primarily a teenage coming-of-age story that rides over the deep impact of a social upheaval. Can you tell us a bit about how you came to write a story that made one young man's almost isolated struggle the central concern rather than the grander, society-rupturing subplot that has been seen in certain forms elsewhere (such as in X-men with the focus on anti-mutant movements, the government's use of the Sentinels to hunt down mutants, etc.)?

I told the story I wanted to tell. Epic summer blockbuster-style plots have their place, and there will be some of that in future Sovereign Era books and stories, but I'm most interested in telling stories about people in difficult situations... and usually the most difficult situations stem from our relationships with one another.

In "Brave Men Run -- A Novel of the Sovereign Era" and, really, in everything I write, the characters come first. The story of a young man finding his place in a world that's suddenly changing both personally and socially is a compelling idea for me, and I'm the first (and pretty much only) person I write for. Fortunately, "Brave Men Run -- A Novel of the Sovereign Era" has found favor with tens of thousands all over the world, which is a lucky break for me!

What made you choose to write Brave Men Run in an exceptionally open first person? Was this intended for the podcast, or simply the way the character came to you?

The book wasn't written for podcasting -- the decision to podcast the novel came a few months before I finished writing it, more or less, because I wanted to distribute it in as many forms as possible. When "Brave Men Run -- A Novel of the Sovereign Era" came out in November of 2005, it was the first novel ever to be be simultaneously released in paperback, several DRM-free e-book formats, and free podcast editions.

As far as the first-person point of view, I didn't really give that much thought -- it seemed obvious to me. I don't mean that to sound like I'm a know-it-all; far from it. I just mean that if I'm going to tell the story of a young guy discovering himself, we should discover him, too... and being in his head the entire way just felt natural. It gave me the chance to show the reader just how much of a teenager
Nate Charters was, too -- complete with the frustrated rebellion, the selfishness and the overly-dramatic reactions. It was fun!

What drew you to Swarm Press? Or, how did you get Brave Men Run published as a printed novel (your journey to publication, if you will)?

Similar to my interaction with St. Martin's Press in 2007, the publisher of Swarm Press approached _me_ in 2008. Previous to that, "Brave Men Run -- A Novel of the Sovereign Era" had been available as a paperback from my own MWS Media, printed and shipped through Lulu.com. I never sought out traditional publication.

In the spring of 2008, the owner of Permuted Press, a successful horror / zombie house, wanted to launch a second imprint with a greater variety of genre books -- Swarm Press. He wanted to begin with a few "superhero novels." He found "Brave Men Run -- A Novel of the Sovereign Era" through Amazon.com and reached out to me. The
Swarm Press edition of "Brave Men Run -- A Novel of the Sovereign Era" was released on July 13, 2008 with a brand new cover and some minor editorial polish.

What do you think are some advantages of being with a particularly small press like Swarm over a larger press, if any? What about disadvantages?

Well, the biggest advantage to being with a small press is probably the fact that someone else other than myself is taking care of tracking distribution and sales -- which of course is exactly what a large press would do, too.

Another, lesser advantage is that some readers will perceive a book as being higher quality if it is not self-published, even though the text is fundamentally identical to the self-published edition. I've certainly sold more copies of the Swarm Press paperback than I have the self-published edition -- since very little marketing was done by Swarm, I have to assume it's the association with an "established"
publisher, however small, that has helped sell those books.

As far as disadvantages, I think it's easier to talk in terms of a lack of any real advantage, at least in this instance with this book. Swarm Press does not have brick-and-mortar distribution, so "Brave Men Run -- A Novel of the Sovereign Era" is available in the same online venues the self-published edition was. While Swarm did purchase a little advertising in print genre publications, this didn't result in
any noticeable bump in sales, and no other marketing was done by the publisher.

This is not uncommon, nor is it unexpected -- small presses have very little budget and are usually run by one or two people, so resources and time are limited, too. Of course most new authors signed to a large press will face the same issues on a different scale: a large publisher is going to dedicate most of their resources to the handful of established authors who will earn the publisher the most money, and
first-time authors will often have to fend for themselves.

In the long run, it may be that the DIY approach is gaining ground. I own the electronic rights to "Brave Men Run -- A Novel of the Sovereign Era," and the Kindle and Apple App Store (iPhone and iPod Touch) e-book editions routinely outsell the Swarm Press paperback by about three to one.

What one piece of advice would you offer to budding writers out there?

Self-publishing is a viable option that is gaining respectability and market share. However, self-publishing is not a shortcut. Whatever you write, however it's released, you must make it the best it can possibly be. A new writer's goal must be to be at least as good as everyone else out there, including traditionally published work.

Take your time. Three-fourths of writing is revision and editing. Don't say "finished" until you've received critiques and feedback from a few people and you've edited and re-written until you're absolutely sick of it. Then, maybe, you might be ready to submit it to an agent or self-publish.

Would you say that one of self-publishing's biggest problem is that not enough people take it seriously enough to really rip apart their work and get it in the best shape humanly possible?

That's part of it, for sure, and that's one of the factors that has created a bias against self-published fiction. Self-publishing is not a short-cut -- if you put out sub-par stuff, people won't give you much of a second chance.

Do you see that changing in the future, or do you think that people will continue to see self-publishing as a shortcut?

I really can't speak for what people might do. I suspect those folks will always be there, shouting into a vacuum. They don't matter, ultimately, because the readers will filter them out.

Can you tell us a bit about your upcoming and current projects, such as Hazy Days and Cloudy Nights, etc.?

"Hazy Days and Cloudy Nights" is my current and primary project, and I'm very excited about it!

"Hazy Days and Cloudy Nights" is a subscription-based ongoing episodic serial fiction webzine. The story follows several friends from near the beginnings of their friendships and through the next twenty years of their lives.

Fans of "Brave Men Run -- A Novel of the Sovereign Era" will be intrigued to know that several supporting characters from that book are the lead characters of "Hazy Days and Cloudy Nights." Since "Hazy Days and Cloudy Nights" begins in 1984, that means eventually we'll see the events of "Brave Men Run - A Novel of the Sovereign Era" through the eyes of those characters.

While "Hazy Days and Cloudy Nights" takes place in the Sovereign Era setting, the characters are rarely directly affected by the events of the larger world -- much the same way you and I are (I assume) rarely on the evening news. The stories of "Hazy Days and Cloudy Nights" are about young people learning to be adults, growing and making mistakes and loving and changing along the way.

The stories of "Hazy Days and Cloudy Nights" are accessible via a paid subscription -- something some say flies in the face of the "everything for free" culture of the Internet. However, I believe plenty of folks are willing to compensate an author for their work, especially when they know their money is going directly to support the
author -- no middleman, no publisher, no intermediary. It's a much more intimate process, a kind of neo-patronage, and that direct connection builds a real relationship between author and reader - something I strongly believe is essential to the future of art.

I hope folks who read this will head over to the Hazy Days website and check it out -- the most economical subscription level gets you a year of content for just $14.99, and there's a free trial if you just want to get you feet wet. Where else can you get twenty five pieces of fiction, a year of entertainment, for the price of a pizza, and know you're helping support independent art to boot?

What are your future plans for your Sovereign Era universe?

Later this year I hope to release "The Sovereign Era: Year One," an small anthology of Sovereign Era fiction written by some of the biggest names in podcast, online and independent fiction. The book will be available in paperback, Amazon Kindle and numerous DRM-free e-book formats. It's in the planning stages as of this writing.

Meanwhile, I occasionally release short stories through my website, and sometimes these are Sovereign Era fiction. I'm also working on the next Sovereign Era novel, "Pilgrimage," and there are other novels in that universe that could be written.

I've also got several short stories and novels I'd like to write that are not associated with the Sovereign Era. Right now, I'm most focused on building up the queue of installments for "Hazy Days and Cloudy Nights" and getting ahead of schedule there. Since "Hazy Days and Cloudy Nights" is one of my primary sources of income, I'll have time to write more novels, short stories and everything else if "Hazy
Days and Cloudy Nights" attracts a large subscriber base and is successful.

Is there anything else you'd like folks to know that I might not have touched on here?

I think we've hit it all -- I'd just like to encourage folks to give "Hazy Days and Cloudy Nights" a chance. Together, we can help show that patron-supported fiction can be a viable business model for writers of all kinds. I'd love to say I was part of the serial fiction revival, almost as much as I'd like to say I make my living as a writer directly supported by my readers.

Let's make it happen! I'll bring the words.

Now for a silly question: If you could be any species of marsupial, which would you be and why?

I don't know enough about all the species of marsupial to give a really thoughtful answer. Of the species I do know, I'd have to say opossum. Those guys are nasty, ferocious, practically prehistoric little buggers. I respect 'em.

Thanks for the opportunity and for taking the time! This has been fun.

--------------------------------

Thanks again to Mr. Selznick for doing this interview. Make sure to check out his website for more information about his past and current projects!

Interview w/ Chris Howard

I recently reviewed Chris Howard's Seaborn and asked him for an interview, which he graciously agreed to. Here is the result:

First, thank you for doing this interview. Could you tell us a little about yourself (a bio, if you will)?

I write science fiction and fantasy novels and short stories, and I also paint and illustrate in watercolors, ink, and digital. Seaborn is my first published novel--it came out last July from Juno Books, and I've completed two more in the same setting, Saltwater Witch and Sea Throne. In terms of time, I've been writing for years, but it's only in the last five years that things have taken off, and 2007 is when it all came together. I got my first book contract, got an agent, won the Heinlein Centennial Short Fiction Contest (amateur division).

I also love technology. I'm software engineer--have been for a long time--but as an author, I love the use of technology to get the word out. I love Twitter, Facebook, blogging, podcasting, web comics, all the ways technology can help readers--entire communities of them--find and interact with an author or illustrator.

Do you have any upcoming projects you'd like to talk about (new books, comics, etc.)? Can you tell us a bit about them?

Quite a few. I have pen and ink work in the next issue of Shimmer Magazine. After completing three novels around Seaborn, I've moved inland with a whole new set of characters, actually a new setting, new world, new time, new everything. I'm about twelve chapters into this one, expecting to finish around April. I spent the last couple months of 2008 writing short stories, mostly SF, and I'm submitting and trying to get them sold.

There's also my weekly web comic Saltwater Witch (linked from http://www.SaltwaterWitch.com), which allows me to move on to new stories, but keep my feet in what's probably my favorite world and set of characters--Kassandra and all the others.

Who are some of your favorite writers from the past and present? Were there any writers that had a significant influence on your writing? If so, why? Also, what are some of your favorite books?

I have a lot, but to pull a few out and make a list: Frank Herbert, Lois Bujold, Caitlín R. Kiernan, Richard Morgan, Neal Stephenson, William Gibson, Neil Gaiman.

Growing up, Frank Herbert's Dune--and I'd include the next three, Messiah, Children, God Emperor--just blew me away. I wore out copies of the books. (Dune's influence on the world building in Seaborn has been pointed out, and sort of stealing from one Seaborn reviewer, I've been using "Dune meets The Little Mermaid" as the high concept for the book).

Favorite books--most of these are on my re-read every few years list: Neal Stephenson's Diamond Age, Connie Willis' To Say Nothing of the Dog and Passage, Caitlín R. Kiernan's Murder of Angels, Lois McMaster Bujold's Curse of Chalion, William Gibson's Pattern Recognition.

What are you currently reading, what did you just finish reading, and what do you plan to read in the near future?

I'm currently reading a couple books, Paul Melko's Walls of the Universe, Roberto Bolaño's 2666, and I 'm about to start a couple more: Marie Brennan's Warrior, and Caine Black Knife by Matthew Stover. I just finished re-reading Dan Simmons' Hyperion and Richard Morgan's The Steel Remains, which was outstanding (I'm also a Takeshi Kovacs fan).

You're published with Juno Books, which, until recently, was a relatively small publishing venue (or still is). Did you always intend to send your work to a smaller press? What are some advantages you think come with being published by a smaller press? (What was your experience like with Juno?)

Right off, I'll say--so far--Juno Books is the best thing that ever happened to my writing career. For those who haven't heard, Juno Books is now an imprint of Simon & Schuster's Pocket Books division, still focusing entirely on fantasy novels with strong female protagonists. (http://www.juno-books.com).

I didn't really think of Juno as a small pub as much as I thought of it as a serious publisher, a publisher who would get my books on store shelves, who took the business seriously, who made room for new authors, room for something different, room for chance--taking good kinds of risks. I liked the books Juno Books editor Paula Guran was releasing. I bought them, I read them, and what I was writing seemed to fit. Juno's part of Wildside Press, and I'll add that everyone at Wildside, Prime Books, Fantasy Magazine--Sean Wallace, Stephen Segal, Cat Rambo, Tempest Bradford, and everyone else that I've met or worked with over the last couple years is passionate about books, publishing, storytelling, art, and there are a bunch of small and medium-sized publishers with the same passion, releasing great books, short stories, anthologies, and magazines. I think it's really about the passion, the ability to push the edge, and the ability to get books into readers' hands, not necessarily about the size of the publisher.

As far as differences--and with my limited publishing experience, here's what I think: with smaller pubs there are some clear advantages and disadvantages. Bigger publishers are just going to have more money, manpower, and clout in the industry, and that influences where and how books are reviewed, picked up by bookstores--indies to chain stores. A bigger pub in most cases means a bigger advance on royalties. With a smaller pub you may get more of your editor's time. With a smaller pub you're probably going to get from contract signed to the shelves faster, in my case a little over a year, in an industry where the norm is eighteen months and sometimes two years. There are outstanding editors in the smaller publishers, but there are more of them at the large pubs, with assistants, and publicists and contract copyeditors, and marketing channels wide enough to float barges of books down.

Seaborn seems to take quite a lot of inspiration from Greek mythology. Did you do any research into ancient Greece in order to add a flavor of authenticity to your novel? Is there more of the Greek myths in your novel than might be readily apparent to readers who are unfamiliar with Greek mythology? Or do you simply have a lot of Greek stuff swimming around in your mind?

I do have a lot of Greek stuff swimming around my mind, and I did want to draw on it, but one thing I didn't want to do was use the same well-known and very obvious myths. Most of the Seaborn ties to Greek mythology are centered on the Telkhines (Telchines), who were the original gods of Rhodes that were then absorbed into the ancient Greek pantheon. They played minor roles for the most part as sorcerers, metal workers--they made Poseidon's trident, helpers of the gods when it was needed, and they ended up betrayed and sent to the bottom of the sea by Zeus.

Do the novels following Seaborn delve into the history of the Telkhines as present in Greek myths (with your own spin on them, of course)? If so, can you talk a little about that?

There are actual Telkhines in Sea Throne, so yes, I get more into their history, starting with hints that, as a people, they've scattered--the few that remain, with some still living under the sea, some on the surface, and they don't even maintain much in the way of contact among themselves. At the end of Seaborn, I hope I made it pretty clear that Kassandra has a whole new kind of enemy, and is herself something completely different from the woman in the first chapter--and her reshaping of the world the Seaborn continues with how she deals with the old kings, the Telkhines. I think she's more of a tragic character in Sea Throne, in a way paying for everything she's done up to now. Readers will also get to understand why she did certain things way back in the middle chapters of Seaborn.

Your writing style is at times quite beautiful, particularly in your descriptions of the ocean, etc. How long have you been writing and developing your craft? What do you think are some unique aspects of our writing?

I've been writing more on than off for around twenty years. My mother was a writer, and she really encouraged me. I also have hundreds of rejection letters, some going back to the 1980s from Dragon Magazine, a couple fantasy anthologies, F&SF, which I'm still trying to break into.

I think it comes down to the reality that I just like to write. I write poetry, short form, long form, non-fiction (including blogging). I carry my journal everywhere I go and I write down every idea that might be worth exploring. To me, if I couldn't be writing, I'd be holding a pen or brush and drawing, and what the hell, why can't I do both?

I'm not sure how unique it is, but it is a preference of mine. I love internal struggles, I think they're more exciting than most of the plots that work solely in the external world.

Both Kassandra and Corina deal with some very obvious, but different internal struggles. What draws you to the internal struggles of these characters now and when you were writing Seaborn? Will these struggles remain a strong focus in later novels?

In Sea Throne I continue with Kassandra's inner turmoil, although she's a lot more in control. It's more like she does something, then stops and has to tell herself she doesn't have to do that any more. She can make choices that weren't open to her in Seaborn. I think internal struggles are far more interesting, make a character more real and relatable. Very few people spend their lives openly battling oppression, but just about everyone can at least relate to living with painful memories, betrayal, secrets. I think that's what makes the internal struggles work. I do continue with this in Sea Throne, where misplaced revenge is one of the themes, with a character who has grown up with the certainty that she knows who killed her father, and when she catches the murderer, it isn't going to clean and the death will be slow. Unfortunately, she's wrong.

Can you talk a bit about how you developed your characters? Where did Aleximor come from? Was Kassandra inspired by anyone in particular?

The seeds for Aleximor came out of a scene idea I wrote five or six years ago about a man imprisoned underwater inside the stone with a handprint of blood to mark the spot on the cave wall, but he didn't really develop until I had the other side, the person who was going to release him. That came from a completely different direction, several years later.

Seaborn started with the idea of losing freedom and how many forms it can take. I actually spent a lot of time plotting Seaborn--more than any other book I've completed so far. I also have two main characters, Corina Lairsey, who has all physical control taken away, and Kassandra, who has what appears to be near unlimited power, but can't be certain that any motive, any particular idea, anything inside her head is actually hers. I think it's interesting that most readers love Corina's struggle and really don't have a lot of sympathy for Kassandra--somewhat deservedly. Kassandra's whole life is about manipulation--being manipulated, and manipulating everyone around her. I'm also confident that those readers will all come around in the concluding book, Sea Throne.

One of the interesting concerns within Seaborn is centered on the idea of having other consciousnesses within ones mind. Aleximor has Corina and Kassandra has the presence of all her bleeds (which increases at the end of the book). What about the mind and how it responds to the pressures of things like insanity do you think it is important to fiction as a whole and to your fiction in particular?

I do think it's important--not necessarily insanity, but everything that can be grouped under Internal Struggle. There are a thousand ways to tell the same story, but I think some work better than others, and I have preferences as both a writer and a reader. Some are easier for a reader to realize, some invite the reader to look at things on a more personal level, and some make it easier for the reader to realize that this could be happening to them.

Put it another way, very few people are actually battling a Dark Lord at the moment. But just about everyone can relate to suffering from or struggling against hard decisions they have to make, lies that have to be told and the bad aftertaste of telling them, growing up with pressure from different groups, loneliness, being dealt a hand less than fair, betrayal, conflicting loyalties, all that normal bad stuff that almost every person on the planet over a certain age can relate to. Sure, Sauron, Voldemort, Darth Vader, etc., can represent the powerful, some evil elite, institutional corruption and violence--all of which make for great storytelling, but I think you need more than that, more than perfectly healthy characters going up against the big bad guy.

I pointed out in my review of Seaborn that you maintained a connection to the "real world" with Corina, which allows the reader to see this fantastic world-under-the-sea from a new perspective, as if we're there learning about it too. Was this part of Corina's purpose when you wrote the novel or simply a coincidence? Can you talk about how you merged the real world and the fantasy world together? How did all this come together (how did you decide to have both present in the novel)?

That certainly became part of Corina's purpose. I already had Kassandra, the exile who grew up in Nebraska, as far from the ocean as her enemies could move her. I didn't think Corina's purpose was to reveal a lot about this underwater world, but it ended up working very well, and also the other way around, Aleximor knowing absolutely nothing about the surface and being forced to rely on his own host--Corina--for guidance.

Can you talk about your process for working on Saltwater Witch (the web comic)? How, in your opinion, is it different from writing novels/short stories (with obvious exception to the differences between written word and visual medium)?

Sure. To set it up I'll say Saltwater Witch is actually another novel I completed after Seaborn, although it all occurs five or six years before the events in Seaborn--Kassandra growing up in Nebraska, completely ignorant of any connection to the sea until she cries and demons drop from her tears, kings and queens wake up in her head, and a grandfather--she never suspected she had--has an army of the drowned dead and he wants to kill her.

Having the completed story makes it far easier--I think--to create the web comic/ graphic novel, whatever you want to call it. I've been using "web comic" mostly to describe it, but it is long form, no punch lines at the end of each segment, and so it's more like a graphic novel.

As far as process, I usually sketch panels during the week, storyboarding action, scenes, and expressions in my journal. I do a lot of this at lunch. See this post for examples of some quick idea sketches: http://the0phrastus.typepad.com/the0phrastus/2009/01/storyboarding.html. I post three to five panels to Saltwater Witch every week, usually Sunday or Monday evening, and I usually don't get into the real art until Saturday morning. Here's an example of the actual posted panels that came out of the earlier storyboarding sketching: http://the0phrastus.typepad.com/the0phrastus/2009/02/new-set-posted-for-saltwater-witch-1.html.
As you said, the obvious differences between written and visual storytelling is that I'm far more limited in what I can describe, narrate, and show. In many ways a comic is like a screen play, except that all the action has to be done in stills--the motion and character reactions have to be shown visually but frozen in time. Another element I use quite a bit in my writing but it's rarely used in movies and TV is inner dialogue, thought bubbles.

Another cool thing about Saltwater Witch is that it allows some part of me to remain in that old world, in contact with Kassandra and the Seaborn. It was hard to move on after Sea Throne. The story was done. It was really difficult to get into the next thing when I had characters I had worked with for several years.

Where does your inspiration come from in your artwork? Were you professionally trained (school) or is it something you just developed on your own?

The inspiration for almost everything I've drawn or painted comes from what I write. For commissions and contract work, the ideas usually come from the story or synopsis the art director sends along, or in the case of a commission, the client.

I took a couple art classes in college, but I was painting long before that, and didn't really take anything away from classes other than a continued interest. Everything else is just from doing it and making mistakes. I read art books and the blogs of artists and art directors. I lurk and occasionally participate in the forums like ConceptArt.org, where there seems to be more pro artists doing stuff than anywhere I've been.

Maybe most important, I grew up in a household in which art--writing and painting especially--was encouraged. I've been doing both for a long time, and I was never told that art as a profession was in any way wrong, or not serious, or that it ought to relegated to just a hobby. Maybe sentiment has changed over the years--for the better, but growing up I had friends whose parents made them quit artistic activities, or at best sideline them for "more important things."

Additionally, what is some writing advice you would give to any budding authors out there?

I'm a newb with a first novel out and a handful of short story credits, so not a ton of experience, but I do think that publication is mostly a matter of having the right story, the right length, the right theme, the right editor, and the right publisher all come together at exactly the right time. There are thousands of authors all competing for the same page space and way more stories than can be published every month. So, what do you do? Write a lot and submit everything as many times as it takes to get what you write published.

Get a job as close as you can to the publishing industry or the kind of work your characters do--so if you write SF and you work in nanotech fabrication, well then you're kicking ass. You need to do something that pays bills and allows you to buy a computer now and then, and even better, if you can do something that gets you that and feeds your ideas, damn you're set.

Do something to stand out. Podcast some short stories, blog about ideas for writers, blog about your publishing experience. Go to cons and meet other authors, agents and editors, pitch your stories in person. Read the books your favorite authors are writing and blog about them, recommend them, and review them.

Random Question: If you could be any specific kind of fish (not mammals, but actual fish) in the ocean, what kind would you be and why?

Cool! I'm going with a whale shark, all the benefits of a gigantic non-mammalian sea creature and you get to travel the world, but not in a hurry. Very few predators--really just those pesky packs of orcas. The biggest fish in the sea, they're rock stars with scuba divers, but they know a whale shark isn't going to have them for lunch.

And there you have it! Hope you all enjoy. Make sure to check out Chris Howard's website and all the nifty stuff there!