Steven Boyett is a well known author as well as a DJ. His first book, Ariel, he wrote when he was just 19. He runs several successful music oriented websites, inlcuding Podrunner. He lives with his wife and a split personality, the DJ versus the Writer.
Q1: What draws you to write Speculative Fiction?
SB: I think the appeal of speculative fiction in general is its inherent ability to provide perspective, to step outside of the framework of the world, of everyday life, of even the human condition, and be able to comment on it, often uniquely by contrasting these with something else. Unfortunately I think it rarely aspires to this. Usually it steps outside because the reader and/or the writer simply wants the hell out. That has value, too, but it seems a shame to waste a valuable resource and squander such potential.
Q2: What was the first piece you ever had published?
SB: My first novel, ARIEL.
Q3: What did it feel like?
SB: Relief, honestly. I know I was young, but I’d been sending out fiction for years and banging my head against the wall looking for solutions and angles, and ARIEL had utterly occupied my every waking moment. So when it was accepted, I’m sorry to say that I didn’t feel elation, euphoria, a glorious epiphanic confirmation that I was truly bound to the shining golden rail of my writerly destiny. I felt relief. The kind of painful pleasure that comes after a long-clenched muscle can finally relax.
Q4: What was the defining moment that made you say “Yes I’m a writer”?
SB: There wasn’t one. I’ve been a writer since I was at least five. There was a defining moment when I realized I wanted to write for a living, though. When I was fourteen I picked up Samuel R. Delany’s Dhalgren. I loved the original cover, and the first sentence (“to wound the autumnal city.”) intrigued me. The book begins and ends midsentence. There in the bookstore I looked to see if they joined up, and they did: the book looped. (Though now I would offer that there’s a halftwist in the narrative that makes the book a Mobius strip.) At the time I had not read Finnegan’s Wake, so the idea that an author could reach out through a page and make me do that and by implication serve me notice that I was in for a deeper, more involving experience than I might be accustomed to, had me from the first line. It opened up the idea of fiction for me, something like the way 2001: A Space Odyssey opened up the idea of movie when it was released. And the rest of the novel only continued unfolding and subverting the conventions of novels themselves. This guy was using fiction to write about language. Holy shit.
I’d been writing fiction since I was about five, but I clearly remember the moment I realized I wanted to write for a living. I was in the school cafeteria about to be late to class because I couldn’t stop reading this book. Everyone had picked up their trays and gone to class and I was almost alone in the big room and totally absorbed. And it hit me: I want to do this. I want to write something that does for someone somewhere what this book is doing to me. I’m fourteen years old, and I want to do this for a living.
Q5: How long have you been writing? What keeps you writing?
SB: At least since I was five. What keeps me writing now is volition. I quit entirely for about five years, around 1999, and learned a lot of other things and became quite successful at some of them. I learned that this whole notion that you have to have no choice about writing is absolute bullshit. I’ve come to feel that it’s a motivational lie, something writers perpetuate to keep themselves writing. I told myself that lie for decades. What I learned by quitting is that if you really are an artist, then that engine will operate in whatever vehicle it is given. And that I’d rather have a good life than a good career, if it comes down to making a choice. The years that I quit writing were some of the happiest years of my life.
Now I write because I want to, not because I have to. That’s astonishingly different from the attitude of my younger self. It’s so much less romantic, so much less mysterious. But I just don’t have the patience or temperament for that navel-gazing drama-queen self-importance anymore. I write because I’m a writer and it’s fun and I want to do it, and I try to spare myself and the world all the usual trumped-up angst.
Q6: Who are some of your influences? (Authors, Personal Friends, Teachers, etc.)
SB: I’m a very critical reader, so it’s fair to say that everything influences me in that even the worst book is educational if you ask yourself why it sucks. That can be just as difficult to answer as why something is great, really.
Q7: What’s your favorite speculative fiction work?
SB: Dhalgren, by Samuel R. Delany (assuming we can count it as such. I dunno if Delany does).
Q8: How do you balance writing and music, being an author and a DJ?
SB: By sleeping four hours a night.
Q9: Who are some of your musical influences?
SB: I am totally serious when I say that I would have to be a much better composer to have influences. There are plenty of people I like but I honestly don’t have the chops to learn, borrow, or steal from them the way artists do. I just plink stuff out a note at a time. I haven’t composed in a few years, though; I have so little time. I really miss it. (My wife is one of the most naturally gifted composers I have ever met, and fascinatingly the only one to exhibit no discernible influences.)
Your readers can download one of my tracks at http://www.djsteveboy.com/steve_boyett_-_rachele.mp3, if they’re morbidly curious.
DJ-wise, John Digweed was an enormous influence until I found my own flavor, which I call New Old Funk (much more evident in my Groovelectric [www.groovelectric.com] mixes than in my Podrunner [www.podrunner.com] mixes).
Q10: Did you really expect to have ARIEL published when you began writing it?
SB: Why else put 150,000 words on a stack of pages? I don’t have any patience with writers who say they’re doing it for themselves. Who are they kidding? They sat on their collective ass and filled up a stack of blank paper with words with no intention of them being read? I’m so sure. In my life I have known exactly one artist with that kind of purity, if I can use that word in this context, and I married her.
Of course, when you’re young you have no idea how the deck is stacked against you, and that very ignorance paradoxically allows you to accomplish more than you’re likely to when you’re older & wiser. When you’re older you know that the windmill always beats Quixote, and that tilting at it isn’t romantic, it’s stoopid. When you’re young, though, you’re like the Fool card in a tarot deck. People tend not to understand that’s a very positive card. It sort of means being blissfully oblivious.
Q11: What do you think has kept ARIEL relevant even over 25 years later?
SB: Well, I’m glad you think it is! Besides good luck, I think the fact that it strives to be about more than its events, that despite some dated details it isn’t a slave to its time, and that it’s about some of the painful tradeoffs we make as we enter adulthood, resonates with readers.
Q12: Who was your favorite character in the original book and why?
SB: In a cinematic, scenery-chewing, character-actor sort of way, Malachi Lee steals the book. He’s crazy as hell, fearless, quirky, fun to cast (there’s a thread on my forum [http://www.steveboy.com/forum] devoted to casting the novel, which is kind of fun).
But more substantively it’s Pete, because he’s an interesting character and a fun voice to speak with. People often assume he’s simply my alter ego, and that isn’t true at all. Pete is as sarcastic as I am, but he’s much more innocent than I ever was. I was nobody’s innocent at 19 when I wrote the book. Pete’s a weird combination of raw nerve and survivalist utilitarianism. I think he’s kind of imprisoned by this, a feeling that’s definitely borne out in ELEGY BEACH.
Q13: What’s the best positive reaction you’ve received from ARIEL?
SB: Many years ago a schoolteacher wrote me to tell me about a problem student who was failing everything across the board. He wasn’t motivated, didn’t care, couldn’t see why he should bother. He discovered ARIEL in the school library, I think simply because he liked the Barclay Shaw cover, and it sparked something in him, struck some responsive chord. He started reading voraciously after that, applied himself, focused, improved his grades, got himself on track. I don’t by any means take credit for that. To hold yourself responsible for positive influences means you’re just as accountable for negative influences as well – people who shoot cops after hearing rap songs, etc. But the thought that the product of your imagination has made some concrete difference for the better is hugely rewarding. That’s been equally true for my Podrunner and Groovelectric podcasts as well. It’s unexpected, not something you think about when you set out to do these kinds of things, and very humbling.
Q14: What drove you to write ELEGY BEACH, even after you swore you’d never write a sequel to ARIELl?
SB: Well, the afterword to ELEGY BEACH, “Note to Self,” is almost entirely about that question, and it’s not easy to answer it briefly. The somewhat snarky version is that I felt the story in ARIEL was finished, and I had nothing more to say about those characters and no urge to squeeze money from it for the sake of keeping the conversation alive. Thirty years later it turned out the writer in me had some things it wanted to say in that milieu and with those characters. The rest of me absolutely didn’t want to do it. In a certain strange sense the rest of me still doesn’t. I had to compartmentalize myself to write the book. It was kind of odd.
The shorter answer is that I simply didn’t have anything to say in that regard until now.
Q15: ARIEL represented your growing up as much as it did for Pete Garey. Does ELEGY BEACH hold the same level of meaning for you that ARIEL did?
SB: I don’t believe ARIEL “represented” my growing up at all. I utilized my growing up for it, I mined my heart in the ruthless way artists dig into themselves to unearth and convey true feelings that will resonate with their readers. Similarly I mined my own life for ELEGY BEACH, and in some strange sense also unearthed my current feelings toward ARIEL; on one level you can read ELEGY BEACH as a commentary on ARIEL. But ELEGY BEACH is a much more laminated, mature, inferential work than ARIEL. It had better be, else what have I learned in three decades? A readership approaching it as ARIEL 2: MORE OF THE SAME is going to be disappointed.
I’ve joked that as ARIEL is my coming-of-age novel, ELEGY BEACH is my midlife-crisis novel. But it’s a mistake to read that as meaning that ARIEL is about my coming of age (though I mined it for that) or that ELEGY BEACH is about my middle age (though I’ve mined it for that; the midlife crisis either hasn’t happened or has been around since I was about eleven, I’m not sure which).
Q16: Will we see any more stories based around the spellware concept you developed in ELEGY BEACH?
SB: Spellware itself seems to want to be elucidated and explored, but right now all I have are ideas. I don’t write books about ideas; my main problem with science fiction is that it tends to be primarily about its ideas, and the characters are little meat puppets dropped into the scene to act as tourists to explore them. In my view the ideas are simply a stage on which the important parts are presented. I need more than ideas and events to make me write. I need emotional resonance, thematic cohesion.
The shorter answer is that I’ll write them if I have something to say.
Q16: Before spellware, did you have any experience with writing computer software?
SB: Nope. I used to write macros as a word-processing operator, and I’m relatively computer-literate and do my own websites and yadda yadda, but I’m no hacker.
Q17: The world of ELEGY BEACH seems much more complex and filled out than the world of Ariel. What do you attribute that to?
SB: Not being nineteen anymore.
Q18: Though in ARIEL, Pete met mostly white, mostly male characters, in ELEGY BEACH it comes to light that his wife and Fred’s mom was black. This gives Fred a duality beyond pre-Change adults and post-Change children, but it’s not expressed in the book. Do you think, in a post-apocalyptic society, things like race and religion will take a far back seat to survival? Why or why not?
SB: Well, I don’t agree with your second sentence. The reason it isn’t addressed in the book is because Fred has no duality at all, and isn’t treated (by the narrative or by the other characters) as if he does. That’s the entire point. In fact no one’s ethnicity is ever described in ELEGY BEACH; it’s all adumbrated. In Fred’s world, culturally very different from our own, no one gives a shit.
Personally I think that in most postapocalyptic scenarios race and religion would play an enormous role. If people banned together they would also ban against, and identifying with tribal units is pretty fundamental stuff that takes an evolved framework of culture to strive against. In many ways civilization itself is a striving against baser instincts for the greater good. But I didn’t want that to be the case in ELEGY BEACH because I didn’t see the point in writing a book about that. I wanted to deal with the clash between generations who seemed alien to one another, to discuss the dissonance between the outgoing Baby Boomers and the displacing generation, which my friend Ken Mitchroney has brilliantly dubbed Generation Eloi. The truth is that the young generation in ELEGY BEACH would be far more alien than it is depicted, but this was a case where the natural consequence of such speculation would have led to narrative difficulties that would have alienated the reader, and it would have increased the signal-to-noise ratio to pursue that too fully. Their strangeness is more suggested than detailed.
Q19: What do you think Pete’s reaction would have been had he known that Fred and Yan were lovers?
SB: What makes you think he doesn’t? In any case, Pete wouldn’t give a shit.
Q19.2: What made you write the boys that way, instead of simply portraying them as close best friends?
SB: Who says I did? Who says they aren’t? Nothing about anyone’s sexuality in ELEGY BEACH (and with some characters in ARIEL) is stated directly. The degree of Yan & Fred’s involvement in a sexual sense is up to the reader. The fact that you noticed it is great, because I think many readers didn’t pick up on the possibility, but to me whether or not they were lovers is irrelevant. As with Fred’s (or anyone’s) ethnicity, no one among Fred’s generation gives a damn. The important fact is that Fred loves Yan. Where people put their genitals doesn’t have a thing to do with that beyond confusing the issue, in my experience.
Q20: Do you think, twenty-five or thirty years from now, you’ll become compelled to write a sequel to ELEGY BEACH?
SB: When I’ve got something to say, I might. I don’t want to crank something out just to keep a product out there. I think part of the reason ARIEL has been remembered is because (to be tautological) it’s memorable. Take the fantasy elements out and it still deals with important issues and inevitable consequences of adulthood. I hope that’s the case with ELEGY BEACH. I’m sure I could tell some whizbang story with a third book, but so what. Plenty of people and companies across all media produce either carnival rides or soporifics. I don’t want to be one of them.
Q21: Where do you think the future of speculative fiction is going? More inclusive of diverse characters, or more exclusive?
SB: I’m not really qualified to answer that, because I haven’t read much current speculative fiction in the last twenty years or so. Or much fiction generally. Aphoristically, though, I think speculative fiction has a great future behind it.
Q22: What are you working on right now, music-wise and writing-wise? Any other series or stories in the works?
SB: With a full-time life involving two DJ podcasts and a full-time life as a writer, I haven’t had the time to compose music in years. I miss it, but it’s not as if I’m missing out (or as if the world is, either).
It’s odd to be asked if I have any other series in the works. I’ve never had a series in the works. I can’t imagine writing a series. I’ve never approached a thing I’ve written that way.
I’m about to begin what I hope is final revision on a novel that I’ve worked on for a long time, but I’ve learned to be leery of discussing anything I’ve written before it’s scheduled to appear. There’s writing, and there’s publishing. They ain’t the same thing.
I’d like to get back to short stories because they’re my first love and I miss them terribly (I never wanted to write anything but short stories, hard to believe now), but it’s a time and admittedly a motivation issue. The money for short stories is exactly what it was twenty five years ago – and you didn’t exactly write short stories for the money then, either.
Q22: Finally, do you have anything else you’d like to add?
SB: I’d like to plug the book websites, if I may. ARIEL (http://www.arielbook.com) and ELEGY BEACH (http://www.elegybeach.com) have dedicated websites featuring online & PDF chapters, audiobook chapters, and even Google Earth route maps that let you follow the novels in real-time with satellite imagery – one of the unexpected benefits of my obsessive need to be as real-world accurate as I can manage in my work.
I’d like to thank you for your questions and for interviewing me!
For more information about Steven R. Boyett and his writing visit the sites he listed above or head over to his writing blog, Write Now.
You can purchase Ariel and Elegy Beach through Amazon, Borders, and Powell’s Books.