10-19-2008 02:11 PM
4. It’s frankly mind-boggling to me that this is your first novel. How much time did you put into crafting Lamentations?
Remember that dare I mentioned earlier? That comes into play here, but first some background.
In 2004, I won Writers of the Future -- well, I submitted in 2004. I found out about winning in 2005. Just before that, I had decided to treat my writing like a second job and made a career change in day jobs, out of nonprofit management and into a government job that required less creativity and provided less stress. I was working in downtown Portland and was starting to see immediate fruit from those decisions: I was writing more, submitting more, and selling more. These work habits and treating the writing like a job made a huge impact later.
One of my favorite things is to write under a challenge and I had seen that a small press magazine was putting out a special 'Mechanical Oddities" issue and I pondered and puzzled this a bit before a first line fell into place: Rudolfo’s Gypsy Scouts found the metal man sobbing in an impact crater deep in the roiling smoke and glowing ruins of Windwir. And from there, I chased the story that made the most sense for my first line, hunkered down with my laptop and a tuna fish sandwich in the Big Town Hero just a block from my office. It took me a few days but I came away with "Of Metal Men and Scarlet Thread and Dancing with the Sunrise." Alas, the market I was targeting it for filled up early and they closed off that issue just before I wrapped the story. So I put it into my submissions inventory and Realms of Fantasy picked it up in late 2005 for release in 2006.
RoF commissioned Allen Douglas to paint the artwork and when I saw his depiction of Isaak sobbing in the impact crater I was suddenly struck by two things: First, how subconciously I had taken an act of terror in our world and processed it through the lens of fiction into Story. And second: how there was such more to that story and that metal man than I had realized.
Of course, I had never written a novel and did not believe I could -- I was a short story writer, thank you very much. And truth be told, something as long as a novel frightened me given that the longest bit I'd written was 15,000 words. But my Inner Redneck Muse, Leroy, knew better and he tricked me good. "I know what I'll do," I said to myself. "I'll write FOUR short stories!" Those four short stories were to comprise snapshots of my larger story arc. Of course, the first short story did very well at Realms of Fantasy and I picked up some nice kudos from it. It wasn't hard to sit down and draft the second: "Of Missing Kings and Backward Dreams and the Honoring of Lies." Naturally, I sent it off to RoF straightaway.
Meanwhile, the heat was on. EVERYONE was on me to write a novel. I even had editors at cons asking me when they'd see one. Finally, I half-heartedly agreed it was time to attempt one...after I finished this series of interconnected short stories, of course.
Then, along came September 11, 2006. I'd just gotten a rejection from Shawa over at RoF saying "This story doesn't quite stand alone enough. Go write a novel in this world with these characters." And that evening, after work, Jen and Jay (Lake) took me to dinner at the Barley Mill. They tag teamed me and just stayed on it and a dare was formed. Jay had recently landed his book deal with Tor and he was very connected to the various folks in the publishing biz even before that. He told me that if I had a first draft of a novel completed by World Fantasy 2006 (seven weeks away from that night) he would take me around the convention in Austin and introduce me to everyone who was anyone in publishing. But the first draft HAD TO BE FINISHED. I saw the dangling carrot and launched into a stream of excuses. Then, Jen threw in her dare: "You write every day, in every gap you can find, and I will keep the world off your back. I'll handle the housework and the cooking; you buy takeout on the nights that you cook. I'll drive anywhere we go so you can write in the car." It was the perfect combo, coupled up with the knowledge that my utterly brilliant four short story cycle was not going to work very well after all if the second story wasn't independent enough. So I took their dare fear and trembling.
I had thought a great deal about the bigger arc but had not given any thought at all to all the details in between the four short stories or the supporting cast of characters. So...I made it up as I went. There wasn't time to outline. There also wasn't time for me to be afraid. Jay and Jen knew some things about me that I didn't necessarily know about myself in this context: First, I love a challenge. I love impossible bets. And second, they knew that if I moved fast enough, I'd outrun my fear. So truly, I took the first short story and the second short story and just started blasting out the words in every gap of time that I could find. Up early in the morning. On the lunch breaks at the day job. On the car on the freeway up to Seattle. In the evenings and on the weekends. Six and a half weeks later, I won the dare, hollow-eyed and sore-wristed, and had 119,000 words that bridged the first and second short stories. Meanwhile, Jay had read the first five chapters and increased the kitty: Drinks with his agent because the five chapters blew him away.
After the convention, I took some time to rest up and then tackled a few weeks of revision. After that, it went into the mail, went from the agent to Tor, and here we are today. Truly a wild, wild ride. And truly, I never want to write a book that fast again, though it's good to know I could if I had to.
10-19-2008 02:15 PM
Thanks, Toni...and I'm so glad your's came home! Definitely a tough time. And I'd lost my Mom about six months ahead of that, in the midst of drafting Canticle, so it was a strange year of really high highs and really low lows between grieving of Life Stuff and celebrating of Book Stuff.
And I continue to be very grateful for everyone who enjoys the book and says so! And hey, I got to meet you fine folks thanks to Paul's review!
10-19-2008 02:24 PM
5. Can you talk a little about the inspiration behind Isaak, the “metal man” whom the saga is named after?
Well, initially, it was just that I needed a mechanical oddity to write about. But I actively ladel my fiction out of the soup of my subconcious and I can think of several metal men who've influenced me. Certainly the Tin Man. C3P0, of course, since Star Wars was a culminating Story moment in my youth. And the robot in Del Rey's Runaway Robot -- one of the first science fiction books I ever read. And Twiki in Buck Rogers, though at that point, I was more about Erin Grey if I'm completely honest here.
There are other robotic influences swimming around in my head, I'm sure. One reader actually wrote me to let me know how pleased they were in me naming my metal man after Isaac Asimov. While that was not a direct tribute, I can see how my sub-brain might have indirectly stumbled upon that though honestly, Asimov is not a writer I've read much from. I was more of a Bradbury Boy. The more active inspiration for the name was taken from the Old Testmament -- Isaac, meaning Laughter or some such, which I thought was a nice twist given that my metal man weeps more than he laughs.
10-19-2008 02:42 PM
6. Why do all the best SF/fantasy authors have beards?
I pitched this question to the house full of women who were over last night for Jen's PajamaCon. Unfortunately, I can not post their suggested answers and keep it clean for the kids.
But I'll say that really, only the best BOY SF/fantasy authors have beards. Excluding Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison and Howard Waldrop, who've been given Beard Exemptions by the Council of Facial Hair Fabulists.
For me, I know exactly why I wear a beard: Without it, I just look too much like my Mom, which leads to unwanted nicks and cuts while shaving. But I'm known to mix it up a bit -- right now, I'm sporting the goatee. At some point this winter, I'll move back to the full beard. But never, never long and tangled with bits of food or trapped rodents in it. I like my beard neat and tidy.
Well, that's all the questions I see for now. I really enjoyed this and if there are any more questions, I'm happy to answer them if I can. I hope you all enjoy the books as they come out and that you'll take the time to drop me a note or ask me back. As time allows, I'll be happy to show up and if there's a way to organize it, I'd also be happy to do a chat session with you all later down the road.
I'll monitor the site a bit but I'll also hope that Paul will track me down if he sees that a question has gone unanswered for more than a day or so. It would be an oversight I'd want to correct!
I'll be doing some west coast signings and some conventions this year. As time becomes more available I'll hope to widen that travel circle. Just remind me where we first bumped into each other here in on the web.
Just in case I forget to say it later: Thanks for having me over! Okay, off to the Named Lands to see a metal man about a spell....
10-19-2008 07:07 PM
Thank you so much! Those responses were so much more than I ever hoped for. It was a pleasure meeting you – and introducing you to the crew here – and I think I can speak for all of us here that we wish you all the best with Lamentations and will definitely be talking about it in-depth once it's released in February. Thanks – and congratulations on a truly amazing book!!!
10-20-2008 07:11 AM
You're most welcome --- thank YOU for inviting me in and for sharing your impressions of the book. And truly, if anyone has follow-up questions I'm happy to answer them.
And again, if you folks meet me out and about I hope you'll remind me that we first met here at the Barns and Noble site.