As some of you might recall, I received three Advance Review Copies of books in a new series called Gemquest, written by Gary Wassner. I've known Gary for almost eight months now, based largely upon a series of discussions he, Scott Bakker, and I had at SFF World (and to a lesser extent, at Dead Cities) regarding ethics and how this is applied to fantasy, not to mention the appeal that this strand of writing has today. He's someone whose opinions I respect greatly and I believe this interview reveals quite a bit about the issues he addresses in his three novels: The Twins, The Awakening, and The Shards, which are due out the first of February and are available on Amazon, among other places.
So without further ado, the questions:
If you don't mind, could you give us a brief biographical sketch to give us a clearer image of the person behind the pen?
If you really want a clearer image of the person behind the pen, then you certainly do not want just some simple biographical facts. I will provide those briefly, but then I will tell you a little bit about ‘me’, if that is okay. I was born in New York where I still live and work. I have three sons and I have been married to the same woman for the past 29 years. I have a BA with a dual major in German and Philosophy, and I have a MA in Philosophy. I was about to complete my Phd in Philosophy as well at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, when my father was diagnosed with a very rare form of cancer, and I was compelled to leave school and move back to NY to assist him. I was never able to return to school. He died a number of years later, and by then I already had three children of my own.
Now you really want to know about me? Okay then. As a very young child, I knew I was different than the other kids around me. I thought before I acted, I was uncomfortable in groups, and I was extremely sensitive and self conscious. I also grew up during the Cold War when the threat of annihilation was forever present, and that terrified me. I felt unsafe and vulnerable all the time. Unfortunately, the adults in my family were in constant emotional turmoil themselves, and I was therefor left very much to fend for myself. Success for my father was measured by physical triumphs and for my mother by material acquisitions. I was an introverted, contemplative child, qualities which neither of my parents understood or related to, and they in fact mistook my meditative nature for frailty, a quality which my father despised. I had a vivid imagination which served both to terrify me when it drifted into monstrous directions, as well as to allow me to escape into a safer world of my own design when I was able to control it. The books I read and the games I played were as real and vivid to me as anything else. I was content to be alone and to dream and to imagine. At times I recall being jealous of many of the other boys in the neighborhood for their ability to act without thought. They were often cruel, and I was astounded when they seemed to have no consciences. I suffered endlessly from it, but I would also wonder what it might be like to never worry or be concerned with anyone but yourself, and to be carefree and so unmindful as well. I was mystified even then by the carelessness of evil. I was never envious of these kids; envy and jealousy are quite different emotions. I knew I could not be like that, nor did I desire to. I just believed that their lives must be so much more simple and so much more easy than mine was. There is a price to be paid for caring and feeling deeply, and it is exacted in your presentation of yourself to the world. Children often do not understand such propensities in their peers, and the feeling child becomes the odd one out. But despite the pain my perspective caused me, I remember even now hoping that as I grew older I would never forget to be compassionate, though that may sound silly to some. The fact is those differences that I was aware of early in my youth continued to guide my moral sense and therefor my actions throughout my entire life.
What was it, if "it" can be defined, that led you into reading and later writing fantasy?
My answer to your first question is the basis for my answer to your next one. I was an avaricious reader, at a much younger age than most other children. Each night I would read myself at least one story from either Grimm’s or Anderson’s fairy tales, and I would usually read until I fell asleep. I read everything I could get my hands on, and I always adored adventures that involved families with strong emotional bonds who struggled against odds that often seemed insurmountable, friendships that were loyal and true, and acts of unbridled heroism. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Swiss Family Robinson, The Last of the Mohicans, and even the Hardy Boys were inspirational for me as well as comforting in many cases. And I loved Marvel comic books as well. They always seemed much more intelligent and mysterious than people assumed them to be. I particularly loved Dr. Strange, a dark hero with enormous magical powers based upon an Oriental ideology. It was an easy and natural step to fantasy from there. I began with the Chronicles of Narnia which totally blew me away. It felt to me as if I had finally found what I was always looking to read. Then I read the Hobbit, and I never looked back. I had no choice but to write Epic Fantasy. I never sat down and asked myself what type of book I wanted to write. I did not outline or plan the first GemQuest book, The Twins. I simply sat down and began to write. The very first chapter has a particularly special meaning for me though, and part of the reason why I decided to reveal those somewhat personal aspects of my childhood earlier in this interview was because I believe that the seeds of my writing were planted very early in my life. As an introspective child and an extremely introspective adult, I have certain compelling needs to understand why people do what they do. I use my books as platforms to work out the issues that interest me or plague me. As an author, I bring my entire past to the table. I cannot separate who I am and how I feel from what I write. I have always thought ‘fantastically’. As I said, the opening chapter of Book I is a scene in which Mira, one of the twins adult protectors, is attempting to save the young boy from a fearsome threat. She creates the illusion of a large boulder around them in order to hide them. When I was young, I was deathly afraid of the dark, and as I stated, my imagination presented me with far too many possibilities of what might be threatening me. I used to pull the covers of my bed up over my head and imagine that I was inside of a rock shelter and that no one could see me. I dealt with my fears, even as a very young boy, in that manner; the power of my imagination empowered me as a child. So when you ask me why I choose to read and write fantasy, my answer is that I do not choose to do it at all. I have always been a child of the fantastic. Writing it is as natural to me as thinking.
Very moving answers you've given to my first two questions. I myself have experienced much of what you mention above, as have many of the readers here at wotmania. Do you believe that it is this sense of Otherness, this desire to take in, digest, and integrate what we see into comprehendible package, that makes Fantasy so appealing to us? Is it "just" escapism, as many claim, that makes fantasy, especially epic fantasy, so appealing, or is there something more to consider?
Also, what response would you make to those who claim that those who enjoy reading or writing fantasy stories are just living in a childish world?
I think that people read fantasy for many different reasons. Some certainly read to escape. Don’t most of us read to escape from the daily routine? That in itself is not a negative comment on fantasy, nor should people construe it as such. When you read a thriller or a mystery, most of the books on the best seller lists, aren’t you reading to enjoy yourself and escape into the story? Fantasy readers simply seem to have more developed imaginations, and they do not find that other worlds, worlds totally different than our own, are daunting to enter.
Honestly though, I am convinced that many read fantasy because it reintroduces us to and revitalizes many of the emotions that we encounter so infrequently in our everyday lives. Heroism, valor, sacrifice and courage are all uplifting and inspiring. The contemplation of ourselves performing under the same circumstances, of reacting to the situations that the characters we are reading face, can be an educational experience. Since I write emotionally as well as rationally, and since I seriously contemplate the temperament and personality of each character as he or she chooses what path to take in the world I have created, each decision is a test of character. I would hope as well that the readers of Epic Fantasy, mine or someone else’s, envision that test even if on a impalpable level, and that they read books of this type because they realize this consciously or subconsciously. Fantasy can be inspirational, and like philosophy, it can be contemplative and speculative, but unlike philosophy, it should always be entertaining.
The discussions we had this summer and fall over at SFF World were often of a philosophical nature. What background do you have in Philosophy and how much of an influence was your training on the characters and world you created?
Yes Larry, we had many interesting philosophical discussions. I mentioned that I have a MA in philosophy. My specialty was 19th century Continental philosophy, from Hegel to Nietzsche. I have to admit that again, as with fantasy, philosophy was as natural to me as anything could be. Now that does not mean that I am comfortable with all the disciplines of philosophy. I hate logic and I was not a fan of most analytical philosophy. I preferred speculative philosophy. When I was in High School, I found an old text at a friend’s house, and I was never the same afterward. It was the Basic Writings of Nietzsche, which included The Birth of Tragedy, Seventy-Five Aphorisms from Five Volumes, Beyond Good and Evil, On the Genealogy of Morals, The Case of Wagner and Ecce Homo. There were few other authors who captured me quite as completely as he did. I spent the next six years studying him and writing about him. He was so literate and so bold. He wrote aphorisms and fables, with poignant meanings. He loved metaphor and he loved language. But I think what I found most incredible about him was that so much of what he said made so much sense to me. He was a thinking person who did not hesitate to challenge custom and question everything. Nothing was sacred, nothing was taken for granted, and I admired his spirit and his perspective so much. He saw behind people’s actions and he understood people’s motives. I had never read anyone who was so sharp and so insightful before, and so acerbic. His tongue was a weapon, and he wielded it so precisely and with such devastating effects. Ethics became my specialty. I was fascinated by the discipline and with Nietzsche as a mentor, I approached Plato, Aristotle, Anselm, Aquinas, Hegel, Kant, Moore and all the others from an unusual point of view. I was combative and confrontational in my writings, and I absolutely loved to pen scathing critiques of commonly accepted value systems and beliefs. I found Nietzsche to be a breath of fresh air, and he provided me with a departure point from which I could study everyone else. When I read him, it was as if he put into words all of the disjointed and incoherent thoughts that I had been thinking most of my life.
Good and evil are so clearly depicted in so many works of Epic Fantasy. People assume that they know what the words mean, or rather that the words refer to real things in the world, that they are fundamentally not relative and that they are basic concepts around which we formulate our lives. Most people believe that actions can be altruistic and that there is a right and a wrong way to behave. Most people believe that we are in control of our own actions and that we are therefor responsible for them. Most people believe in God or some sort of superior force that guides us. But what if none of that were true? What if the lines between good and evil were not so clear? What if there were no real lines at all? How would we begin to make the choices we need to make in order to pursue our goals? What would choice itself even mean?
In many cases, these are ethical questions, or dilemmas if you will, that are often dealt with in a more technical manner in an Ethics seminar or a philosophy course. But they can be dealt with in fantasy as well. Concepts such as heroism and valor, friendship and sacrifice, courage and humility can be examined in a format that is inspiring, moving, exciting and interesting outside of a classroom. My background in philosophy influences everything I write, but I truly believe that it was my penchant for self-examination that predates even that. I became a student of philosophy because it felt so natural to me to study it. I aligned myself with Nietzsche because his style suited mine, and the things he questioned I had always questioned as well. I write fantasy because it gives me the opportunity to combine my interest in and predilection for ethics with a creative, imaginative means of problem solving, wherein I am not restricted by reason and rule. I do not pretend to have the answers, but I never was able to stop asking the questions.
This is certainly one of the strong suits of your books to date, this questioning of what constitutes good and evil. When you started to write the character of Colton, was he meant to represent this questioning of accepted value systems, or did his character's nihilistic bent develop around the story that came to you during the writing?
His rapacious appetite for the souls of my heroes surfaces in the very first chapter. I have always believed that evil people do not consider themselves to be evil. However they justify their actions in their own minds, they do not go to sleep at night and say to themselves that they did some wonderfully devilish deeds that day. Colton is the epitome of that mindset. He has no sense of evil. He suffers from many things that life presents him with, but choosing how to act based upon concepts of right and wrong that most of us abide by, are not among them. He has a goal and that goal takes precedence over all of his individual acts. His nihilism, his inability to see any intrinsic value in life or the living, allows him to be guiltlessly cruel. But again, in his mind, cruelty matters not at all. He does have human moments, small moments of remorse and instants of regret, but they pass quickly. He suffers so from his inability to find meaning in anything, that he cannot stand to live. His issues are clear. What fascinates me is how other characters are drawn to him; how his perspective can be so seductive, and how susceptible people can be to the prospect of relinquishing personal responsibility and moral judgment. When you take that step beyond good and evil, to that place where there is no distinction between pleasure and pain and joy and sorrow, where all value judgments are suspended, then truly anything is possible, however horrendous it may seem. Colton is the voice that lures us all toward total excess and pure selfishness, but not because of the enjoyment therein, but because of the lack of a justifiable alternative, a valid reason to act otherwise.
As an author that is also a moderator at another popular Fantasy/Sci-Fi site, what have you noticed most about what fantasy fans in general have said in regards to what they enjoy reading? Has it had any impact on how you've chosen to write your stories, or do you tend to keep the Author separate from the Moderator? Also, what is your reaction to Robert Salvatore's comment in a prior wotmania interview regarding authors and readers?
I have realized that fantasy readers run the gamut with regard to why they love the genre. But that in itself has taught me so much. Fantasy combines so many different elements and allows for so many different possibilities. In the countless discussions we have both participated in dealing with the appeal of Epic Fantasy, just about every reason imaginable has been posited by someone at one time or another. Some love the action and live for the excitement of the battle scenes. Some love to escape into a mythical, mystical world where anything can happen and they can totally forget about their everyday life. Some adore the ethical implications and view fantasy as a philosophical platform. I could go on and on, but you simply need only to review some of the threads on the various websites in order to read them all. What is most interesting is that the same question surfaces over and over again regarding why this genre is so appealing to so many, and why the fans of Epic Fantasy are so committed and so ardent.
As far as your question is concerned, as a moderator my role is to keep the threads on topic and of course to post my own thoughts whenever they are relevant. I do not look to people’s opinions in order to determine what or how to write. I am in a somewhat unique position as an author. I neither write for a living nor do I publish for a living, unlike Bob Salvatore, since you brought him up. He stated clearly that he also does not write for a living, but he does publish for that reason. The line between the two may be thinner than we might imagine, particularly for an author who does not have the clout that he has with his publishers. Naturally, I want to be read, but fortunately, my reasons are not mercenary. I can stand my ground with my editor and I can write what satisfies me. I will be disappointed if no one buys what I write, and I will be even more disappointed if they do buy it and they do not like it. But the consequences to me will be purely emotional, and that makes me a very lucky person. So I listen to what everyone says at SFFWorld and I avariciously read all the posts that mention my books or my characters. I feel elated when they are positive and I imagine I will cringe when they are negative, though there have not been any scathing comments yet. I have no illusions - those will come, but there just has not yet been enough awareness of my books to generate all that much conversation. When you first posted your review of my series, as I began to read it my heart rate accelerated. Naturally, I wanted to read that you thought it was the best new series to come along in a great while. Knowing a little bit about you and your perspective on things, I did not really expect that you would neglect to be critical, and though I totally respect that, and I can pretend that all that really matters is that you did in fact truly like the books, the fact is I was disappointed. It is so difficult to break out of the pack of authors today. I always wanted a mentor, someone who would adore what I was writing and would help me up that first, most difficult step. I am still waiting for that break out review that will validate my work. This again is an emotional need, and as I climb each step, unfortunately I forget so quickly what it felt like to be on the bottom rung. But it is the devil lurking inside of each author and singer and artist who wipes out the memories of the pleasures all too fast and makes you crave only the next step upward. Gratification is so short lived, and that wicked little voice is always whispering in my head, ‘So what’s next, Gary?’
I understand why some authors might avoid getting into discussions on the internet with readers. It can be such an impersonal platform at times, and people tend to be bolder when they are anonymous. Many people are not considerate and they enjoy the opportunity to strike out at others whom they may envy for one reason or another. Many have their own agenda at the onset, and they simply want to be combative. Regardless, there is so much more to gain from the interaction, I believe, than you might risk. You just need a hard shell around you and an easy going nature. Be prepared for the insults and be prepared for the criticism. That’s easy to say and not easy at all to do, but it is true. What I cannot understand is why some people would bother to spend their valuable time slaughtering another author. The sites and threads that are devoted to nothing but negative thoughts are depressing. Why would anyone want to spend so much time discussing the things that they hate? But apparently, there are many, many vindictive and angry people in this world who truly enjoy the hurtful criticisms of their anonymous posts. I will talk with anyone who wants to talk with me about my books. If they get nasty, I am sure I am adult enough to deal with the comments. That has not yet happened to me, as I stated earlier, but I believe that is simply a function of the visibility of an author. It’s ironic, but unless you are well known enough, you will most likely not be the target of internet-torment or diatribes against you. So I honestly believe that the Ann Rices and the George Martin’s of the world should be thankful that their books have reached into so many minds. It means that they are being read. Everything comes and goes so quickly in this world. I hope that I would be able to keep things in perspective and appreciate the positive side of all of this, though I have no illusions about it. Every time the knife is turned it hurts. Bob Salvatore may say that he really doesn’t care about the “Kirkus reviewers” etc., and on one level, I am sure he is being honest. But on another, it is almost impossible not to react subliminally to negative comments about something you put so much of yourself into creating. As an author in the spotlight, you are always subject to other’s unfavorable judgments. It is just part of life. All you can hope for is that the gratification exceeds the anguish.
I love being a writer. I do not find it to be a lonely job at all. Well, it is not a job for me, so perhaps that’s why. It is just a natural extension of the way I have always lived my life. I write the same way that I think. I do not need to put on my author’s hat. I wear it all the time. Every lyric I hear, every person who walks down the street, every smell and interesting sound, every experience gives me more material for my characters and my books. I cherish the times when I write, and I write everyday just about. I just do not get up in the morning and go to my desk with the sole purpose of spending the day writing. I limit my hours and my times to write, and I therefore crave them and I appreciate every opportunity to enter the world of my characters. Each time I complete a poem or a chapter, when the words have all fallen into place just as I wanted them to and the emotional level is where I hoped it would be, I am elated. So how could I not love this work? Writing for me is filled with hundreds of small triumphs as whatever I am working on builds toward the final chapters. The only real disappoint I experience is when I write the last chapter. I am almost frightened each time by even the prospect of it approaching. I love writing so much that I sense this void, this emptiness beyond the final line and it scares me. My books all build slowly toward their ends, and I put so much energy into the process that it is almost like running a marathon. As the finish line approaches, there is relief, but there is also an inexplicable dread of what will come after it’s over.
Yes, I remember our conversations after my initial review of The Twins and its two sequels. Sometime soon, I'll re-read them, probably with a keener eye toward what you have mentioned in this interview and elsewhere as being key parts of the books. But there is a deeper point you make in your response here. In talking about those who tend to be very vindictive and angry in the comforts of the anonymous web, would you say that this is just a deeper reflection of the turns our mass society has taken, or is something else also at work here? I ask this because I too have noticed the stark black/white praisings or denunciations of authors, often without much explication but instead with lots of vitriol thrown.
You know Larry, it is a dangerous world that we live in. We watch thousands die on our television screens as the bombs drop and we don’t shed a tear. Regardless of who may be right or wrong, we have become immune to the realities of our actions. It is not surprising that people have become more vitriolic when they are safely sitting in front of their computer screens and dealing with only strange names and avatars. They feel like immortals, and their words instantly empower them. There are no consequences and when there are no consequences it is astounding how quickly people’s consciences and senses of equity abandon them as well. Is it at all strange that many might find Colton to be so compelling?
Which authors have had the most influence on your decision to write fantasy?
This is the easiest question you have asked me. There is no doubt that it was Tolkien. Though he was not the first author of fantasy I read as a child, he was most definitely the one who showed me how vast the world can be when you leave behind the contemporary structures that define us and confine us. I was not a fan of horror and although I enjoyed science fiction to an extent, the world of Middle Earth was for me an imaginative paradise. It was both dangerous and beautiful, and it was populated with people who were passionate about their beliefs and compassionate toward each other. The authority figures were well defined and I responded to them. Gandalf and Galadriel were so strong and stable. They afforded me a sense of comfort and safety even in a world rife with turmoil and strife. I remember being confused briefly when I first read the Hobbit. I kept trying to identify the countryside, to try and figure out if every place he spoke of had a parallel location in the real world.. Up until then, I had read many fairy tales and fantasies that either took place in the very same world we all live in, if perhaps during a different age, or that began here and then magically the characters were transported elsewhere. But Tolkien’s world was entirely new, and it seemed to spring fully alive from his imagination. It was so easy for me to imagine, not painstaking or troublesome. The imagery was so clear and the words so well chosen that I could picture Middle Earth and those who populated it with virtually no effort. Sometimes I seriously struggle to picture the environments or the characters in a book, regardless of the world within which it might take place. And then there are some authors whose prose is so rich and whose ability to capture the essence of their characters and settings is just so potent that from the onset, their world has substance and credibility and their characters jump off of the pages. Now that might not necessarily make the book itself a masterpiece of literature. There is certainly more to literary genius than being able to write brilliant descriptive prose that is neither boring nor pedantic. But only a few times in my life have I read an author whose characters and world was indelibly etched upon my memory. I may be bringing affinities to the table that predispose me to identify with or to be able to visualize so completely some of these people and places, but regardless, something just clicked for me with Tolkien.
William Sytron’s Sophie’s Choice, Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories, Hermann Hesse’s Narcissus and Goldmund, Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice, John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, to name just a few that come to mind immediately, all left indelible marks upon me, visually, intellectually and emotionally, but none of them left their marks quite as imaginatively as Tolkien.
It occurs to me however that although Tolkien had the greatest influence on me with regard to what manner of world type I chose to place my characters in and how creative I could be when it came to what potential they had and what they could accomplish within that world, he never influenced my style of writing itself. I am a passionate listener to music and a lover of poetry. I am constantly awed by the ability of some songwriters to evoke a mood so completely and so succinctly in only a short song. I consider many of them authors, whose characters come to life in merely a few verses of perfect prose and within whose short works, images of whole worlds are evoked. I am so moved by the melancholy that the subtle recognition of our mortality can elicit, and I find that recognition expressed often in the combination of lyrics and notes in the songs I love the most. When Leonard Cohen says, “It’s four in the morning, the end of December. I’m writing you now just to see if you’re better. New York is cold but I like where I’m living. There’s music on Clinton Street all through the evening. I hear that you’re building your little house deep in the desert. You’re living for nothing now. I hope you’re keeping some kind of record. And Jane came by with a lock of your hair. She said that you gave it to her that night that you tried to go clear. Did you ever go clear?” an entire world is born. And when Joni Mitchell sings in Hejira:
“I'm traveling in some vehicle
I'm sitting in some cafe
A defector from the petty wars
That shell shock love away
There's comfort in melancholy
When there's no need to explain
It's just as natural as the weather
In this moody sky today
In our possessive coupling
So much could not be expressed
So now I'm returning to myself
These things that you and I suppressed
I see something of myself in everyone
Just at this moment of the world
As snow gathers like bolts of lace
Waltzing on a ballroom girl
You know it never has been easy
Whether you do or you do not resign
Whether you travel the breadth of extremities
Or stick to some straighter line
Now here's a man and a woman sitting on a rock
They're either going to thaw out or freeze
Strains of Benny Goodman
Coming thru' the snow and the pinewood trees
I'm porous with travel fever
But you know I'm so glad to be on my own
Still somehow the slightest touch of a stranger
Can set up trembling in my bones
I know - no one's going to show me everything
We all come and go unknown
Each so deep and superficial
Between the forceps and the stone
Well I looked at the granite markers
Those tribute to finality - to eternity
And then I looked at myself here
Chicken scratching for my immortality
In the church they light the candles
And the wax rolls down like tears
There's the hope and the hopelessness
I've witnessed thirty years
We're only particles of change I know, I know
Orbiting around the sun
But how can I have that point of view
When I'm always bound and tied to someone
White flags of winter chimneys
Waving truce against the moon
In the mirrors of a modern bank
From the window of a hotel room
I'm traveling in some vehicle
I'm sitting in some cafe
A defector from the petty wars
Until love sucks me back that way,”
the imagery and the emotion is so poignant. I try incredibly hard to find the perfect words that evince the moods I desire. I yearn for that one line, that one phrase, that captures the essence of my seemingly inexplicable emotions. I sometimes wish I had the benefit of a musical note to help me better express the temper, tone and pace of what I am saying. But I do think lyrically, and when I read my work over, I always hope that the words embody and express the rhythm that I long for.
While this may have been the easiest question for you to answer, it certainly has been the hardest for me to think of a follow-up question! But I do have one, seeing that the last half of your response goes in this direction: Besides Cohen and Mitchell (two singer/songwriters I enjoy greatly), what other musicians and styles of music do you enjoy listening to, whether just relaxing or while writing?
I listen to so much music that this is a really tough question. I can talk about music and musicians for hours. I run 7 miles a day and I spend a lot of time at the gym in addition. I am never without my ipod. My vision is not very good without my glasses, and when I work out, I can thus neither see nor hear, as I have my earphones plugged into my ears and my glasses in my locker. I retreat into the world of my books and my music. I also stream audio in my offices everyday. I log on to Rhapsody and create a daily play list. You see, I cannot be without music. Aside from the two extraordinary artists I mentioned, some of my favorites are Ani Difranco, Pearl Jam, Sublime, The White Stripes, Nelly, Stone Temple Pilots, Melissa Etheridge, Lucinda Williams, Beth Orton, Rickie Lee Jones, Damien Rice, Ron Sexsmith, Ryan Adams, Tim Hardin, Ellis Paul, Beck, Rufus Wainwright, Sinead O’Connor, Josh Rouse, Todd Rundgren, Patty Griffin, Blind Melon, Nirvana, Pavement, Natalie Merchant, Paul Westerberg, Tori Amos, Pete Yorn, Rancid, Rhett Miller to name just a few. I also love the music of the sixties and seventies, such as Joplin, Hendrix, The Band, Traffic, and The Grateful Dead. I have no taste for pop music written by others for singers to present on MTV. I am not fond of the multimedia sensation. I like music by musicians and I could do without the dancers and special effects. I like tough, hard rock and I love soft, poignant country and folk. If it’s labeled ‘alternative’ I usually go for it. I also much prefer songs with lyrics to instrumentals, so I have never really spent enough time listening to classical music or jazz to understand and fully appreciate either.
What other works have you written in addition to fantasy?
I really just started writing novels in 1999. Up until then, I was raising three sons and running a business, so I spent most of what little, quiet creative time I had writing poetry. I began GemQuest after I purchased my first light weight laptop. I work in New York City and I always read during my commute, which was about forty minutes twice a day. With a laptop, I was able to use that time to write instead, and once I did, I never stopped. I completed the fourth GemQuest novel, The Revenge of the Elves, last April, and I am now deeply into the fifth in the series, When Monsters Call Out The Names Of Men.
After I complete a book in this series, I always take a break for six weeks or so, during which time I usually read as many books as I possibly can. But, after The Shards, I decided to write a very young adventure story. After penning about sixty pages, an editor at Mondo Publishing in New York City, a children’s book publisher, read my manuscript and purchased it. We worked together for the next few months, and my young reader’s adventure turned into the first episode in a YA mystery series of approximately two hundred pages. That will be coming out in September of 2006. Subsequent to that, I wrote two other installments in the same series with the same two main characters. When I completed that, I still had this desire to write books for young readers as opposed to young adult readers, so I wrote three fantasies for that market. When I completed The Revenge of the Elves, I took a little time off from GemQuest and I wrote a contemporary high tech thriller, again for a young reader. Now that I have begun the fifth book, it will probably be another year or so before I can once again write for the children’s market.
This begs the question, which I seem to have forgotten to ask before: What is your normal writing routine, if such a thing exists?
I write every morning for about an hour on my way to the gym. I commute by train, so I have a set time each day that I open my laptop and write. When I am working out I am thinking about the chapter I am in the middle of or the next one. I never think too far ahead. Lines come to me and ideas flash through my mind all the time. Often, I run to the desk and ask for a pen and paper so that I can jot them down for later. When I get to my office, I again open my laptop and copy what I just wrote to my network, and I usually reread the last few paragraphs so that they are fresh in my mind. I repeat this on my commute on the way home, and I am always shocked, each and every day, when I reach my destination so quickly. Those days when the train is delayed with all of us on it and everyone is grumbling and pulling out their cell phones, I am ecstatic as long as I have enough battery power. I rarely write at home, but whenever I travel, whether to Europe or cross country, I so look forward to the uninterrupted hours in which I can write. I bring an extra battery for my laptop and the trip goes by faster than I can even imagine.
I usually write a chapter through, from beginning to end, before I go back and read it. Then I read the entire thing and do the first edit. I don’t like to move on until I am completely satisfied with the chapter that I have just completed, so I very rarely go back later and rewrite in any extensive way. I may add to a chapter to clarify some things or to correct some inconsistencies, but I have never yet scrapped a chapter that I have completed.
How many books are planned for the Gemquest series and when can we expect their publication dates?
As I said, the fourth book is already finished. I am hoping that it will be released sometime in 2006. I plan on completing Book V within the next ten months or so. I write quickly and passionately, and I write a little just about everyday. The beginning chapters always take a bit longer than the subsequent ones. But, once the story starts to come together, it is like a snowball rolling down a mountain; I cannot slow it down.
I honestly have no idea how long the series will ultimately be. I never planned it to be longer than one book when I began it. For me, it is alive and it will end when it ends. But what is interesting is that since I began the first book, I have always known what the very last chapter will be.
Speaking of the series, what led you and your publisher to decide to publish three books concurrently?
When I signed my contracts with Windstorm Creative, they originally wanted me to sign for five books. I had already completed three and I was in the middle of the fourth at that time. I do not write or publish for a living, as I mentioned previously. So, the prospect of creating deadlines for myself was not at all appealing. Though I was flattered that they believed in me and that they wanted five books, I was hesitant to commit to that. To answer your question more directly though, they feel that shelf presence is important with fantasy writers, and in that respect, I completely agree. One thing that I have learned by being a moderator for a very popular fantasy website is that readers like series, and they like long series. But, they also do not like to wait for the next book to be released. With three books side by side on the shelves, the series has more credibility and it makes more of a statement. It is so easy for books to get lost today in the scramble for shelf space and promotion. For me, it was a wonderful opportunity to present my world and my characters. Though the series has one overarching theme, each book stands alone in many ways. Yet together, the three paint a much more complete picture of what I am hoping to achieve.
Yes, that they do. As I said (or at least I hoped I did!), the sequels to The Twins not only built upon its foundation, but each seemed to have its own voice. So would it be fair to say that not only are these books parts of a series, but each is complete within themselves in terms of tone and action?
Yes, that is more than fair to say. I view each book as a stand alone story, though the saga itself may not be complete. The basic elements that make a story flow, are present in each book. There is a clear beginning, the ever present, overarching conflict, but many smaller conflicts as well which propel the characters forward. These smaller conflicts are resolved for the most part in each book, and they serve to bring the larger issues nearer to the surface. So, each story has a defined ending within the broader scope of the Quest. In a way, it is a dialectical process, though there is a clear denouement that will result in the very end, and I think anyone who reads the books will understand that, though they may not, of course, have any sense what that resolution will ultimately be.
Recently, Fantasy as a category has become more riven, with groups such as the New Weird forming that have criticized the dominating role Tolkien's Middle-Earth has come to take in the minds of readers when they hear the word "fantasy." What was your reaction to these criticisms?
Honestly? I pay no attention to them at all. I find it odd that anyone would criticize the creative choices that any other artist makes. It is such a waste of energy, and I would rather devote my time and effort to writing the best story that I can possibly write. There is certainly room now, and historically there always has been, for all types of writing. Publishers need fodder for the public beast to consume. Critics need something to criticize and something new to rave about. Many people have their own agendas, and frankly, I stay out of it all. I am content to write and to discuss what I write whenever the need arises. But other than having my personal opinion regarding the quality of any particular author, I am not a person who is fond of categorizing and pigeonholing. Tolkien had a tremendous influence on many authors. But so did Agatha Christie and Jacqueline Suzanne for that matter. Each of those authors helped to define their respective genres. That does not mean that those genres cannot evolve, even if the precedents that they set have helped to formulate the public perception of the genre. In all forms of art, influences are felt and have their effects. This has been the case since the beginning of time. And in the process, new and unique levels of creativity are attained. I write what I believe I can write the best and what suits my temperament and my affinities. How could anyone really do otherwise and still write with an honest and natural voice?
What other authors do you enjoy reading, both those writing today and those of the past?
I have been writing for the past six years now without taking any particularly long breaks between books. So, I have read fewer books recently than ever before in my life. I mentioned some of my favorite authors earlier in one of your other questions. To be honest, I enjoy almost anything that is well written. I like historical fiction from authors like Leon Uris, James Clavell and James Michner. I enjoy a good thriller such as Harris’ The Silence of the Lambs. I love the classics from Dickens and Dumas to Hardy and Stevenson. I loved Feist, Kurtz and Jordan years back, but I honestly read very little fantasy these days. In fact, I really read very little in general these days. I am though an unusually eclectic reader when I do pick up a book. If something seems terribly compelling, I will go to Barnes and Noble and pick it up, and I will find the time to read it. Recently I read Miéville’s Perdido Street Station and I will very shortly be reading Scott Bakker’s The Darkness That Comes Before.
And finally, we have this one really silly question we ask authors, just to gauge their sense of humor:
If you were to own several monkeys and/or midgets, how many would you own, and what would you name them?
By the way you phrase the question, you make it impossible for me to answer the way I am inclined to. Since I don’t really have a very good sense of humor, I will have to answer it more seriously than some others might. If I were to own anything living and intelligent, at least intelligent in a quasi-human manner, then it would most certainly be some monkeys. The thought of owning a person is quite repellant to me, even in jest. Two would most definitely be the number since I am not a lover of crowds. They could entertain each other, and all that I would have to do is mediate, although mediating a pair of monkeys might be an experience I have not really thought through to the end. As far as the names go, that’s much more difficult to answer. It took my wife and myself almost the duration of each of her pregnancies to name our three sons. But, as I think about it, and I mean this seriously and not sarcastically at all, I would name one after my grandfather who passed away many years ago. His name was Albert, and my reason for this choice is that as he aged, and as all people reach a certain age, his ears grew while the rest of his features began to whither somewhat. It is a fact of nature that cartilage does not shrink even as the body loses its tone and body fat. Since ears are made from cartilage, they tend to appear much bigger as you get older. He always resembled the comedian George Burns, and George Burns always looked very monkey-like to me. Naturally then, I would name the other one George.