Wednesday, April 27, 2011
An Interview with SF/Fantasy Author Stephen Zimmer
I also write short fiction, the most recently published being “In the Mountain Skies”, a steampunk tale introducing the Solomon Maccabee and Harvey characters. It is found in Kerlak Publishing’s Dreams of Steam anthology. You will be seeing much more of Solomon and Harvey in the future!
If I was asked to describe my writing, I tend to gravitate towards building stories with ensemble casts, and weaving a larger story together using multiple character threads. The larger story is viewed through different angles, or perspectives, depending on the character thread. I sometimes work a little bit of a literary edge into it, and enjoy developing some complexity and layering in the plot.
My influences include my first ones such as Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, as well as others like George R.R. Martin, Glen Cook, Clive Barker, C.S. Friedman, David Gemmell, Robert E. Howard, and others.
In order to keep up with all of this, I drink lots of Monster Energy drinks….!
Completing epic-scale works at the rate you do certainly requires more than Monster Energy drinks. I say this because you also attend a lot of book signings, writing events and SF/Fantasy conventions. For those writers who struggle to fit it all in, can you tell us a little bit about what works for you?
It does require a little more than a moderate allotment of Monster Energy drinks, although the green cans do come in handy on some of the more marathon sessions. I think just being consistent in writing is the main thing for me. I try to write nearly every day. Obviously, in a convention run, this doesn’t happen on the weekends of the events themselves, but when I am back home I am hard at it first thing, early in the morning.
I also don’t allow myself to linger long on a thread where I am not flowing easily. I try not to “force things” in a given session, but work where the momentum is going. I’ve found that this really helps to make each session very productive. The key is getting the most out of time. You’d be surprised at how much time you can waste if you are inefficient.
The other part is compartmentalizing. By that I mean keep the Facebook, blogging, and other more interactive or promotional activities in their own time box and don’t let them bleed over into the times that you set aside for writing, research, and the rare moment of R & R. It can seem very structuralized, but things can get away from you in a hurry otherwise.
I do have the additional advantage of having developed and worked on these story lines, characters, and other elements for many years now, dating back to the mid 90’s in the case of the Rising Dawn Saga and Fires in Eden series. That depth of engagement with these two series also helps to keep things on pace.
Last, I believe the good working relationship I have with Amanda DeBord on the Rising Dawn Saga and Karen Leet on the Fires in Eden series, as my editors, helps keep the schedule on course. I strive to hand them as clean of copy as possible, so that they can put their attention on refinements rather than larger problems.
Above all, though, this is all my big playground. I love creating these stories, so it doesn’t seem like “work” to me, even though the hours spent are tremendous. I feel most comfortable when I am immersed in writing on one of these two series, so it never seems like “pressure” when I am working on them with the kind of schedule I am on with Seventh Star Press.
Who would you identify as the audience for your writing, and is it the same audience that would enjoy your films?
After four novels, I have begun to see a few certain groups emerging with the two series. One group consists of dedicated fans of high fantasy, epic fantasy, and heroic fantasy, and these gravitate largely towards the Fires in Eden series. The second group is made of fans of urban and paranormal fantasy, technological thrillers, and science fiction, a little more diverse of a group in terms of reading tastes. This group gravitates more fully to the Rising Dawn Saga. The third group is comprised of a core of readers with a very broad reading range, and these tend to overlap between the two series.
It has been especially interesting to watch the readership that is forming for the Rising Dawn Saga, though. I have had readers that are hard science fiction fans and military thriller fans who like it a lot, and who normally don’t pick up any fantasy-oriented books. I think they find the eclectic mix of things, such as the supernatural alongside high end military hardware, to be intriguing, with just enough of the story grounded in reality, political issues, and technological issues that they can buy into the plot.
My novels do tend to have a bit of complexity in terms of the number of characters, layers, and threads, so I would have to say that my readers are not the type who are fully satisfied with a lighter style of reading material. They are willing to be more dedicated in focus and attention to a book, and do not mind seeing a literary edge from time to time. I like to think that I have a nice payoff for them, as they begin to uncover the layers and range of elements embedded throughout the story.
Of course, now with Solomon Maccabee and Harvey coming into play with my steampunk short story in Dreams of Steam (Kerlak Publishing), called “In the Mountain Skies,” the range of possible readers may grow a little more! We’ll just have to see.
The readers of my books definitely have no trouble in engaging with my films, but the opposite is not necessarily true. Film viewers who are not readers consume stories in a very different manner. The things that work well in books do not necessarily work as well in film, and vice versa, so this last group of dedicated film viewers is also distinctive in nature.
This one is a fairly easy one for me, as two individuals immediately leap to mind. As far as authors go, J.R.R. Tolkien, because he was the writer that sparked the fire in me regarding fantasy. I would love to just sit down, have a pint of beer, and enjoy a conversation with him. Would be even better to have the visit in a quaint pub, like the one where the Inklings met. I gained a liking for mashed peas when I visited England a couple years ago, so pub food is always a nice bonus! I would really like to get at some of the things that were most important to Professor Tolkien in regards to his writing, in terms of the themes and issues he set out to explore in a fantasy context.
The second part of your question is the historical Jesus of Nazareth, and I am addressing this in the context of meeting someone in a face to face, physical capacity. I have had questions I have struggled with my entire life, and I would love to have the opportunity to just ask a few things that have burned within me, and caused me a great deal of trouble from time to time when it comes to contemplating the larger questions of life, the universe, and the nature of the human spirit. I would like to get past all the difficulties of interpretations, translations, interior understandings, and other similar things, and be able to speak plainly on a few key matters. There are so many portrayals of Jesus throughout history, and so many layers to work through, it seems, that it would be nice to just meet Him in a simple manner, like visiting with my mother and talking in the kitchen. My gut instinct tells me that I would finally be at ease after such a discussion.
Writers, especially of fantasy and science fiction, create worlds for readers to explore and enjoy, and for characters to inhabit. It seems they are often filled not only with wonder, but also strife. Given the choice of one of the worlds (from your two main series), which would you prefer to inhabit and why would you select it over the other?
Of the two worlds, I would have to say Ave from the Fires in Eden series. The reason is pretty straightforward.
The world depicted in the Rising Dawn Saga is a parallel world to our own. The story takes place in a setting that, in terms of time, is slightly ahead of ours. As such, inhabiting that world would not involve much of a difference from this one, assuming I did not become involved in something that “parted the veil” to the worlds beyond, as happens to several characters in the Rising Dawn Saga.
The non-physical realms in the Rising Dawn Saga are extensively developed, from the wondrous Middle Lands, to Adonai’s realms, to the places like the Grey Lands and other realms located within the Abyss, but they remain pretty inaccessible to the average inhabitant of Terra (the physical world that is close to our own). Ave’s lands and realms, no matter how exotic in nature, are much more accessible to its occupants. It also has some jaw-dropping places within it, which are not limited to land surfaces!
Great dangers and strife are present in both, in an imminent sense. The Ten-Fold Kingdom of Diabolos in the Rising Dawn Saga is like a realm of entire worlds, and it threatens both physical and non-physical realms. Similarly, in the Fires in Eden series, the Unifier is threatening all lands that resist bending knee to Him. The danger and strife factor is about six of one, and a half-dozen of the other, in truth.
Ultimately, though, the world of Ave would take me to a place completely different from my own, and entails the medieval world, with a presence of the mystical and magical, that I’ve always wanted to experience for myself. I feel that I have a good sense of what it is like to experience Terra, and for that reason I would give the world of Ave the edge in a choice between worlds to inhabit.
If you had the opportunity to be interviewed by an individual (via radio, television, podcast, newspaper, blog, etc.), who would you like to be interviewed by and why?
Terry Ervin, because he conducts thorough, engaging interviews! Wait, I am being interviewed by Terry Ervin right here, so I guess you’d want me to move on to another selection!
Well, since you are referring to the future, perhaps Oprah? It would be groundbreaking for her to host a small press fantasy author as her book choice, don’t you think? I am confident that an appearance on her show would knock my print and eBook sales figures up by at least five or ten more units! (humor intended, folks!)
Or maybe we can go with hard rock DJ Eddie Trunk, host of That Metal Show on VH1 Classic, as he is one of the coolest media personalities on the planet, and there are many, many hard rock and metal bands with members who fly the flag of fantasy literature. I’m not kidding in the latter regard, as I am always amazed to learn of the musicians in this genre who are very well read fantasy enthusiasts.
I’ll throw a third suggestion out there; George Noory of Coast to Coast AM. I think he would absolutely love the topical areas and storyline contained within the Rising Dawn Saga.
This is actually a very hard question, as I am really flattered and honored to have any zine, blogger, podcaster, or other media person, no matter what size their audience is, take enough interest in my work that they want to interview me, or have me on their show.
There really is no single individual in this regard. I hope that doesn’t sound like an evasion, but I’m thrilled to be on anything, from an interview on a fantasy blog site like Bookworm Blues or Watch Play Read, to a podcast visit like ones I have done with Jon Klement of DragonTalk Radio, or mainstream appearances like I did on a morning show in Memphis on the ABC affiliate there while touring in support of The Storm Guardians. All end up being special visits, for their own unique reasons.
I will say that Oprah, Eddie Trunk, and George Noory would be pretty darn cool, though!
You’re very right, Stephen. Sometimes narrowing things down to only one can be very difficult, and a single selection may not be the right answer. But, with that in mind, one last question before we wrap up. What is one of the tougher lessons you’ve learned as a writer?
I think the toughest lesson that you have to learn and adjust to as a writer involves steeling yourself for the long haul. Unlike the mediums of film, video games, or music, books are not something that is as quickly consumed by the public.
The path of being a writer working to have a career is often laborious, and must be measured by small, incremental steps. That does not mean that lightning doesn’t strike from time to time, but a writer must understand that this is a marathon in which you must always strive to grow and develop in your craft, all the while shouldering the load of getting out there and representing your work, and promoting it every way you can, as nobody else is going to do it for you.
In many ways, the path gets even harder after being published, and you must approach it in a very calm, resolved state of mind. You have to wear multiple hats, and quickly get a bearing on time management. There are going to be many days when you are very tired or don’t have a dollar in your pocket, but things still need to get done, or be addressed. Not the easiest of adjustments sometimes, but very necessary ones if you desire to have a sustainable career.
Great answers, Stephen. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Thanks so much for the opportunity to visit with you, Terry. I hope that readers have been able to glean a little more regarding what my work is about, and my approach to it. I’ve enjoyed this interview greatly, and hope to have a return visit with you again in the future!
You find out more about Stephen Zimmer by visiting his website: StephenZimmer.com and his publisher (where you can learn more about his books and view some book trailers).
Here are a few places his books are available a varitey of places, including Amazon and Barnes & Noble (ebooks are $1.99 and $2.99).