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Kaaron Warren is a Speculative Fiction author, focusing mainly on horror. She’s had quite a few short stories published, as well as three novels, including Slights. Her characters and settings are memorable and chilling. Kaaron is Australian born and currently lives in Fiji with her family.

Q1: What draws you to write Speculative Fiction?

KW: I like the fact I don’t have to stick to the truth! That anything is possible. If I want a ghost sitting at the breakfast table, I can have a ghost there eating Coco Pops!

Q2: What was the first piece you ever had published?

KW: White Bed, in Shrieks, from The Women’s Redress Press. This is how it started:

I saw my future. Squeezed my eyes tight and glimpsed; me, alone, cold and barren, reading a thick book and eating a large salad straight from the bowl, sucking my fingers before I turned each page.
I opened my eyes and the horror was still before me.

Q3: What did it feel like?

KW: I still remember the phone call. I’d moved from Sydney to Canberra, and not all of my mail followed me. The editors called me a week before the launch. I was stunned, speechless. I hadn’t actually believed I’d sell a story before that.

Q4: What was the defining moment that made you say “Yes I’m a writer”?

KW: I always believed I was a writer. I think the first time I really believed I was going to do it for real was when I was fourteen and wrote a real short story. I wrote it in a sitting, then edited and rewrote it. I also wrote a novel that year and that was hard work.

Q5: How long have you been writing? What keeps you writing?

KW: Written seriously since 14, sought publication from around 23, published from around 28. I keep writing because I am full of ideas and sentences. Also because people ask me for stories now and who am I to say no?

Q6: Who are some of your influences?

KW: Writers: Michael Marshall Smith, Christopher Fowler, Harlan Ellison, Lisa Tuttle, many, many others.

No teachers. I’m afraid I don’t look back with fond memories; I found very little encouragement of my writing through school.

Personal friends: Cat Sparks, Donna Hanson, Matt Farrer, Gillian Polack, Lauren Beukes. All great writers and great supporters. There are so many more. I’ve found the world of Speculative Fiction incredibly supportive and positive. Most people know that the stronger the community, the stronger the opportunities.

Q7: What’s your favorite speculative fiction work?

KW: I have a lot, but the one I’m thinking about now is “You Bright and Risen Angels” by William Vollman.

Q8: Slights would probably be considered horror rather than science fiction or fantasy. Why do you write horror?

KW: Even when I write science fiction or fantasy, there are elements of horror. I’m not sure why all my ‘what ifs?” are dark and nasty, but they seem to be. I think partly it’s because the world is such a messed up place in so many ways, so there is unlimited material and inspiration. My ideas notebooks are full of outrage and offence.

Q9: Where does the inspiration for a character like Stevie come from?

KW: She is every sad and lonely person I’ve seen in my life. Every tough chick, every angry girl. She is the old man I saw on Christmas Eve carrying a turkey roll for his solo lunch the next day. She was the kid who doesn’t get invited to the neighbour’s party.

She is all that plus more.

Q10: Stevie is a rare type of serial killer: a young woman. Did you do research on real female serial killers to build her character?

KW: Not specifically for the novel, but I’ve always been fascinated by serial killers, so my reading was done over many years. I have newspaper clippings, fiction and non-fictions books, magazine articles.

Q11: Why do you think women are less likely to become serial killers than men?

KW: I really hate to answer this one! I’m not good on gender questions. I had a boss who used to say “Women are made to bring people into this world, men are made to take them out.” I guess that’s a pretty standard belief.

Q12: Have you ever had any negative reactions to the characters you write?

KW: Negative in that people don’t like Stevie much, yes. Mostly very positive in that people understand her, want to know more about her.

Q13: What’s the best positive reaction you’ve received?

KW: It’s hard to choose one. Many of the reviews have brought tears to my eyes because they talk about Stevie as a real person. Every time she works for someone it is so satisfying.

However, receiving the starred review and book of the week from Publisher’s Weekly was pretty amazing! “With outstanding control, Warren manipulates Stevie’s voice to create a portrait of horror that in no way reads like a first novel.”

Q14: Do you believe in Stevie’s theory that each person we’ve slighted in life will be waiting for us upon our death? If so, has that changed your daily behavior?

KW: I do kind of believe it. I certainly believe in some variation of karma. I also believe that we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be hurt by the unintended slight. That has helped me deal with the small things of life. The thoughtless comment from a usually kind person, that kind of thing. I think it’s important to move on from that and learn how to deal with it.

Q15: Do you think that being a woman author has made getting published harder or easier for you?

KW: I don’t really think it made a difference. I’ve never had the sense of discrimination either way. That said, “White Bed”, the story I mention above, was in a women’s only horror anthology, so that helped, I guess, though I’d like to think it would have been published anyway!

Q16: Where do you think the future of speculative fiction is going? More inclusive of diverse characters, or more exclusive?

KW: I see a very positive future. I think the stories being told are further-reaching and more accessible to the wider audience.

As far as diversity of character, I hope so. I think many writers are trying to move beyond stereotypes and include characters beyond their own small lives. Also, with more publication of those writing outside of the US and the UK, we’ll see far more diversity of character and story.

Q17: What are you working on right now? Any other series or stories in the works?

KW: No series, but am finalizing Walking the Tree and Mistification for Angry Robot Books. Working on a novel about last things and another about a very strange archive. Working on short stories inspired by Fiji and beyond. Always lots going on!

Q18: Finally, do you have anything else you’d like to add?

KW: I think we’ve covered most things! The advice I give to people who say they wish they could write but don’t have time is; keep a notebook. Write down a good title if you think of it, or a character detail, or an odd idea. Have that ready for when you do have time. Lots of people will never get to it and I think that this process, this writing down of ideas, can be satisfying enough for many. For the rest of us, we end up with dozens of notebooks around the house with scribbled, barely remembered lines.

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For more information about Kaaron Warren and her writing visit her website or follow her on Twitter @KaaronWarren

You can purchase Slights through Amazon, Borders, and Powell’s Books, and directly through the publisher, Angry Robot Books.

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This past Thursday people in the U.S. celebrated Thanksgiving, that holiday where you stuff yourself silly while sitting with your family and friends, watch a football game while shouting at the TV, and pass out on the sofa at 4 in the afternoon in a turkey-induced coma.

At least, if you’re lucky, you get to do those things. If you’re privileged enough to have enough money to throw an expensive banquet, or have relatives who do have money. I’m lucky enough to have an overabundance of family wanting to throw Thanksgiving feasts. I usually go to three or four every year, between in-laws and divorced parents. This year, I barely managed lunch down the hall at my mom’s thanks to a particularly horrendous stomach bug. It was probably the first Thanksgiving where I lost five pounds instead of gaining it.

But lying in bed with stomach cramps gives you lots of time to think, partly about what I could have possibly eaten in the past ten years that could make me feel this bad. I also thought a lot about what I’m thankful for every day, and what I take for granted because of my skin color or my age or my physical ability.

I’m grateful to be able to afford my bills at the moment, something I’ve been struggling with pretty much since I turned 18. I’m grateful for the help of my friends and especially my family, who’ve managed to keep us from living on someone’s sofa through sheer force of will sometimes. I’m grateful for my healthy, intelligent, beautiful son, who amazes me every day just by existing. Then he wakes up and it’s even more awesome. I’m grateful for my own health, physical and mental, especially after the help I’ve received on the mental health front this year.

I’m grateful for the understanding of my family, but especially my husband, who has been through so much with me this year, including that mental health crisis and me finally coming out as a lesbian. He’s my best friend.

Some things I take for granted.

I take for granted being able to pass as straight, for one thing. It’s a hell of a lot easier for me, especially because I’m currently married to a man, to pass. I don’t even have to think about it, 95% of the time. I take for granted being seen as intelligent, because I’m white and dress well and had access to the best high school in my city because of where my mother could afford to live. I take for granted being seen as a responsible mother because I’m white and good looking.

I take for granted being able to get out of bed in the morning without assistance because I’m able-bodied. I take for granted being able to ask for and get assistance from my government in times of need because I’m white and a legal citizen and able to vote. I take for granted being able to vote. I take for granted being able to read because I had access to a free education. I take for granted having access to free books through my library system. I take for granted feeling safe walking down the street. I take for granted the ability to say how and who and when someone else has access to my body.

There are a million things a day that I don’t even think about, that other people have to strive and fight for every day. I can’t even begin to name them all. I can only try to even things out as best I can, by talking about those issues, by supporting others in my community, and by acknowledging my privilege.

I’m thankful for so much in my life, but probably not for enough of it. What have you learned to be grateful for? What have you taken for granted recently?

My guest review of Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson is up at Color Online. This book really blew me away. Monkey Beach follows Lisa, a young girl from the Haisla Native American Tribe living in Canada, with beautiful touches of magical realism and deep insights into what it means to grow up and be a family. I hope you’ll head over to read and leave some great comments.

Tu Publishing is a new small press trying to raise enough money through donations to buy their first manuscripts. They are focused on promoting multi-cultural Science Fiction and Fantasy in Young Adult Literature, a goal that A Working Title fully supports. Stacy Whitman is the Editorial Director. They have 18 days left for their fundraiser at KickStarter and still have a lot of money to raise. I hope the readers of A Working Title will do what they can to help get this small press off the ground.

Q1: What drew you to create Tu Publishing?

TP: Several things, really. I’d been looking for the next step for a while, after freelancing for about six months after a layoff, and a friend actually suggested it one night—let’s start a small press. I thought she was joking, but in fact she was serious. We started putting together a business plan, and looking at niches we might be able to fill. I wanted to work on fantasy and science fiction because that’s what I love. I’ve always tried to seek multicultural characters and settings as an editor, and I’d become even more aware of the issue because of the RaceFail discussion. While RaceFail mostly addressed adult fantasy and science fiction, the discussion carried over into an awareness of how few multicultural settings and characters we really have in YA SFF, too. So it seemed quite natural to investigate how the small press I wanted to start might be able to fill at least a little of this gap.

Q2: What is the idea behind the Multicultural aspect? Do you feel that Young Adult fantasy and science fiction is currently lacking in diversity?

TP: Yes and no. A number of really great fantasies have come out lately with diverse characters—Cindy Pon’s Silver Phoenix, Grace Lin’s Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Shannon Hale’s Book of a Thousand Days, and Alison Goodman’s Eon: Dragoneye Reborn to name a few. Yet these books might not be as well-known to a general audience as some other middle grade and YA fantasy titles, and there are fewer of them. It’s hard to get solid numbers on fantasy, but if you look at the CCBC’s numbers from 2008, out of 3000 books that year, only about 3% of those books had significant African or African American content that wasn’t a geography book, and 2% were Latino.

It’s hard to say how many of those were fantasy, or if the CCBC counted fantasy separately from multicultural books, but another list that was recently put together by Elizabeth Bluemle, a bookseller (I’m looking for the link, but I believe it’s waaay back in my Twitter feed), of recent books featuring African American or other characters of color, and about 24 of over 600 books were fantasy. Even adding in the 50-some books we listed in separate book list blog posts, that’s not a large number.

We often have “diversity” in fantasy in the different kinds of fantasy species we run into—whether that be elves, dwarves, pixies, or dragons. But often the main human character is white, and the folklore upon which the story depends is Western European. There are so many cultures from around the world, and so many different kinds of foundations upon which a fantasy story can be built. I think it’s important for us in publishing to remember that. And we’ve got great examples of this kind of storytelling, but we need more of them.

Q3: What do you hope to accomplish through Tu Publishing?

TP: To publish great stories that entertain and inspire, and for those stories to reach a wide audience, including an audience that might not have seen themselves in fantasy before.

Q4: Why focus on YA and children’s books?

TP: Why not? Children’s and YA is the place to be! I love what a renaissance we’re going through in YA right now. Stories for young people tend to focus on the story more than in many adult genres: they’re more about characters and plot and less about showing the reader how artful the writer can be with a sentence. And I think this makes for better writing. Now, there are a number of adult books that I enjoy. But I love seeing individual child readers light up at finding a story they really connect with—stories that make them lifelong readers.

Q5: Why science fiction and fantasy?

TP: While realistic novels and picture books have plenty of publishers making sure that a wide variety of stories get told, with a wide variety of cultures and people represented in them, fantasy tends not to get this kind of attention. We still have a long way to go on many fronts, don’t get me wrong. But fantasy is a genre that, due to my experience and qualifications, I can do something about.

Q6: Who are some of your influences?

TP: There are so many, it’s hard to really pick! A major influence on getting started on this project in the first place would be my friend Charisa, who is the friend whose joke started the whole idea. She’s a huge anime fan and got me watching a lot of it this last year or so (I have liked it for years, but never knew where to start beyond Miyazaki and Avatar: The Last Airbender), and my awareness of anime and manga got me thinking about what I now know to be interculturalism (see below for more on that).

Robert Jordan was one of the first authors I read who created a world inspired by our whole world—not just European culture, but Asian culture, African culture, a wide range of mixing and matching of different influences. I loved picking out possible inspirations for all the different cultures he created, and I loved yelling at his characters and telling them to just talk to each other—as I kept devouring volume after volume. I’m actually in the middle of a reread of the books, because I haven’t read them for a few years and the newest volume is out now, and it takes me back to 1992 when I first picked up The Eye of the World as a freshman in college, wide-eyed, from a farm town in western Illinois where I could count on one hand the people of color I knew. As a kid, I’d always wondered why I wasn’t born Japanese, and in Jordan’s books I was able to explore a multitude of cultures.

But most of all, I blame my college roommates. 🙂 Over the course of a few years, I lived with two Laotians, two Brazilians, two Koreans, one black Englishwoman, three Canadians, one Puerto Rican, and one Mexican (the last with whom I plan on eating Thanksgiving dinner with on Thursday!). That doesn’t even count those who came in later years. These strong, intelligent, awesome women, and many other neighbors and friends over the years, taught me about their cultures and helped me to see beyond my own. I always joke that one day I’m going to go on a world tour and never stay in a hotel, but really, they gave me a world tour by being my friends. Why shouldn’t everyone get to have a similar experience through reading?

And, of course, I hope that our books, in some small way, also might influence people to find more of a reason to seek out friends of different backgrounds from themselves in real life.

Q7: What has it taken to get Tu Publishing started? Can you walk us through a little of the process?

TP: I’ve been working on the business plan since March of 2009, and registered the business that summer. I’ve been working with a Small Business Administration coach to help me navigate the parts of starting a business I’m not as familiar with (accounting, for example), and she’s been a huge help in the process. As I built my business plan, I also have been learning Illustrator, because though I have a designer friend who will help me, I’ll be implementing a lot of his art direction. I’ve been putting together a marketing and PR plan, putting together financials such as P&Ls for sample books, cash flow statements, and budgeted income statements, and basically doing the footwork for planning a business—and of course, being in publishing makes it that much more complicated. I’ve had to calculate royalties, plan for how I’ll handle advances, and explore accounting procedures. I had to decide whether the business should be an LLC, S-corp, or C-corp. I’ve been reading a LOT of business and marketing books to be sure that I’m well-grounded in the areas of the business I’m not as familiar with.

The biggest challenge has been funding, of course. It takes a lot of money to start a publishing company. We’ve been running a fundraising campaign at Kickstarter that has about 18 days left to go (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1586632165/tu-publishing-a-small-independent-multicultural) and to support that, several friends have started an online auction (http://community.livejournal.com/kickstart_tu/) to benefit the Kickstarter. I’ve applied for grants, and I have had a private investor approach me, as well. Between all these and a small business loan, we hope to be open for submissions come January 2010.

Q8: You are relying on donations to buy your first manuscripts. How much do you still need to reach your goal?

TP: Right now, our Kickstarter is 31% funded. So we need another $6900 to reach our goal by Dec. 14. The best part about this kind of fundraising is that, much like a PBS campaign, everyone who donates–whether it’s $5 or $50–gets a reward for their donation. Bookmarks, advance reader’s copies, books donated to their library, that kind of thing.

If we reach our goal, everyone wins. If we don’t reach our goal, no money exchanges hands. It seemed like a great way to get started and to get the word out about what we hope to accomplish at the same time. We’ll also be approaching banks for a small business loan, but we’ve all been hearing about how few loans are getting made in this economy, so we hope that between the Kickstarter and a few other resources (including, of course, money out of my own savings account and out of my pocket going forward–$10,000 is only the beginning of what a company like this will need) we’ll be able to show a few sales to the banks first.

Q9: Do you have any particular authors or future authors in mind for your first purchases?

TP: I have several authors in mind, and many more who I’ve been talking with, but I’m not at a point yet where I’m ready to talk about specifics. I’ve worked with a number of authors in the past who I’d love to continue working with, and hopefully some of those authors will have something that will work for us.

Q10: Who makes up the staff of Tu Publishing? Can you tell us about some of the backgrounds of your crew?

Stacy Whitman

TP: I am the editorial director, of course. In my day job, I’m the publication manager for the Astronomical Society of the Pacific Conference Series, as well as a freelance editor working with Mirrorstone, Marshall Cavendish, and a number of other publishers. Prior to going freelance, I spent three years as an editor for Mirrorstone, the children’s and young adult imprint of Wizards of the Coast in Seattle. I hold a master’s degree in children’s literature from Simmons College. Before that, I edited elementary school textbooks at Houghton Mifflin, interned at the Horn Book Magazine and Guide, and spent a brief stint working as a bookseller.

I’ve worked with authors such as James Dashner and Tiffany Trent. Some of the titles I’ve edited include The New York Times best-selling picture book A Practical Guide to Monsters, the acclaimed YA series Hallowmere, and the middle grade fantasy adventure series that debuted with Red Dragon Codex by R.D. Henham.

My art director is Isaac Stewart, who designed the maps for the Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson and draws the Rocket Road Trip webcomic (http://rocketroadtrip.com/). He’s a talented artist and designer—he designed our logo—and I’m excited to work with him.

I also have a number of talented freelancers I’ll be relying on for editorial and marketing/PR help. Mostly, though, as with most startups, I will be wearing a lot of hats while we get started, until I can hire full-time helpers. I’ll also be relying upon interns for manuscript reading, for example.

Q11: Do you have any available staff positions open right now? When will you start accepting manuscripts for consideration?

TP: Not at the moment. I already have a number of friends in the industry who have offered their assistance, and I have contacts at the local universities with whom I’m working to arrange intern help when it’ll become necessary. I hope that these freelance gigs will turn into full-time jobs for some people, but that will take time. We’re only going to publish two books our first year, so I’ll be the only full-time staff member—and I won’t be taking a salary.

Q11: Have you received support or negativity for this project?

TP: I’ve received a lot of support—overwhelming support. It’s been a good experience. My friends and friends of friends and people just out of the blue continuously encourage me and tell me that they think this is a great idea.

I have had one or two people tell me that they feel that “multicultural” to them means an attack on white people, but I honestly don’t know how to answer that. I’m white, and I don’t feel like exploring other cultures is any way an attack on my cultural heritage. I love that I’m Swedish/Irish/Scottish/English/German/Prussian—and I love exploring my heritage. Perhaps that’s why I love asking other people about theirs? I’m not sure. But I hope that the stories we publish will appeal to a broad range of people, including white people. I think that there are emotional experiences that resonate across cultures, and I think it’s entirely valid to say, “Where’s the Latino Harry Potter? Where’s the African American (or Ghanan, or Iranian) Twilight?”

On the flip side, some have suggested that the word “multicultural” might be past its prime, and that we should be able to publish a wide variety of characters and stories without having to label those stories into a ghetto of sorts. I agree that this is a niche that should appeal to everyone, and I intend to acquire books that have a wide appeal. Personally, I think fantasy and SF are a great place for expansion of the niche, because of their detachment from the real world—often, fantasy and SF can explore issues that have emotional baggage in the real world—and I hope that the stories we publish will bridge the niche to a wider readership. We don’t want to publish African American stories only for African American readers, and Asian stories for Asian readers, and so forth.

I love the term “interculturalism,” actually (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interculturalism), as a way of explaining the kind of reach we hope to have across cultures—as Wikipedia defines it, “an inherent openness to the culture of the ‘other.’” Aren’t we all “other” in some way to other people? And one way of bridging that divide is to explore stories from perspectives not our own. Check out Renee@Shen’s Multicultural Minute on the subject: http://www.shens.com/blog/2009/08/the-multicultural-minute-2-int.html.

Q12: What’s the best positive reaction you’ve received?

TP: I’m really not sure I could pin it down to just one. I think every time someone retweets what we’re talking about, every time I see that someone has linked to us and said they’re looking forward to seeing us succeed, it gives me confidence. We’re not the only people to think of this, and certainly not the first—we’re part of a huge team of people and hope to be one more force for good.

Q13: What are some ways besides donating that supporters can help get Tu Publishing off the ground?

TP: Right now, the best thing you can do is spread the word. Share links to our site with friends on Facebook, talk about it with real-life friends and on Twitter and wherever you’re having conversations. Read our blog (http://www.tupublishing.com) and comment, and point out to us people who we might want to interview for the blog. And as far as the reality of making sure we have enough money to get off the ground, the more people who know about us, the more a few people who might have an extra $20 might think, “Hey, I like this idea, and I can totally spare that much to get a coupon for a book.” Once we’re open for submissions, they can tell all their writer friends about us too (well, and that one doesn’t have to wait until we’re open, either!). We know how tough the economy has been on people—I myself made do without insurance while barely getting by as a freelancer for a year after getting laid off—and we know how much of a sacrifice even $20 can be, so we appreciate those who can spare even a little, and understand how few people might be able to do that much.

Q14: Where do you think the future of speculative fiction is going? More inclusive of diverse characters, or more exclusive?

TP: We’re at a point where a lot of people are thinking about race in children’s books—not only RaceFail but Justine Larbalestier’s Liar cover controversy has brought up the issue in the collective consciousness. So I think a number of people are thinking more consciously about the issue than they perhaps might have been in the past, and I hope that more people are paying attention to the books they buy.

But publishers publish what the “market” demands—they publish where book sales are greatest. Bookstores, of course, have a huge part in this, as do librarians, and I hope that the Liar issue helped us all in the book business to become more aware of it. What it comes down to is readers demanding books that reflect a wide variety of people by buying good books with diverse casts of characters, and publishers making sure that we pay attention to this issue.

All that is to say: Yes, I think speculative fiction is going to become more diverse. Or really, at least as far as science fiction goes—to become diverse again, because if you read Heinlein, he believed the future was a lot of shades of brown. I hope that the leaders in writing diverse fantasy will have many followers in their footsteps, too. But it will only happen if readers look for those books, and if publishers publish those books.

Q15: Finally, do you have anything else you’d like to add?

TP: Thanks so much for the interview! Also, feel free to check out our blog at http://www.tupublishing.com, follow us on Twitter (http://www.twitter.com/tupublishing), or fan us on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Tu-Publishing/112191230046). Keep an eye on any of those venues for announcements of submission guidelines, contests, and other news.

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The first five commenters will get 2 free and awesome Tu Publishing book marks, one for you and one to pass out and spread the word, which A Working Title will mail to you, anywhere in the world.

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!

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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.

Why These Questions?

Why do I ask authors about discrimination?

A few comments over on Tanya Huff’s Livejournal brought something to my mind. Some of her fans seemed concerned with the types of questions I asked her in our recent interview, mainly those dealing with whether Ms. Huff has experienced discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation, both of herself and her characters. These are questions I have posed to every author I’ve interviewed so far, either based around race, gender, or orientation.

Why do I ask such prying questions? Why don’t I stick to the fan favorite questions about writing, storytelling, and their beloved characters? For one thing, many of these authors have been interviewed at least a few times before, so the answers to those tried and true questions are already out there. I do try to cover some of those bases in my interviews, because I find those topics interesting myself. However, as fascinating as I find the writing process of any author and as much as I enjoy talking about it with these great writers, what my blog is focused on is feminism, anti-racism, and LGBT issues. So yes, I do ask questions related to those topics, because that’s what I, and my readers, are interested in.

I’ve written before that there are still large prejudices contained within the Speculative Fiction genre. You can read my thoughts on this in my “Speculative Fiction is Still for Children” article. It was basically my call to action for lovers of great and diverse fiction. I can’t not respond to my own rallying call. If I ask uncomfortable questions, it’s because there are sometimes uncomfortable truths that people don’t like to talk about. So far, most of my questions on discrimination have been answered in the negative. Ms. Huff, for instance, did not feel that her gender and sexuality, and those of her characters, made it difficult for her to get published. She has enjoyed a very long and successful career as a writer.

And I could not be happier. I’m ecstatic that some of my favorite authors found it (relatively speaking) painless getting published. It has not always been so. There are real reasons why some of spec fic’s first female authors worked under male-sounding pseudonyms. There are still very few well known authors of color within the genre, and still few characters of color in published stories. It’s a treasure to find LGBT characters within a science fiction or fantasy story, because they are still so rare.

I ask because I want to know, and I ask because I think it’s important for well-known public figures to be seen talking about these topics. Enough people have come to the blog for just the interviews that I know I’m reaching people I haven’t before. If even one or two of them starts thinking about things in a way they never have before, it’s worth it to me, even if I make some people uncomfortable. I give the authors every opportunity to not answer my questions, and it makes me very happy that every one so far has been willing to discuss these difficult subjects.

If my questions make you uncomfortable, or my topics make you squeamish, maybe you should examine your own thoughts on these subjects. I’m not out to prove anything, negatively or positively, but I am out to bring the situation to others’ attention. That’s important to me, and it’s the point of my blog. I’m out to make people think and examine their own feelings. That’s why I ask these questions.

I’ve done a guest post for Professor Beej’s Anti-Twilight Week over on his blog, Professor Beej – Blurring the Line Between Pop Culture and Academics. It’s about some of the main problems I have with the Twilight series, and why I don’t think it’s appropriate reading for anybody of any age, but especially not adolescents already dealing with so much confusion in their lives. Head over to the post to read the full article.

Don’t Touch That Book! or Why Twilight is Not for Girls

You can also check out my original review for the first Twilight Book. I was less than impressed.