Thursday, June 18, 2020

Return Interview featuring Urban Fantasy & SF Author Steven Campbell

Steven worked as a computer programmer for various Fortune 500 companies. He'd been repeatedly asked to move into management but always refused, not wanting to give up on writing. One day he got laid off and received a severance package, and decided to work full-time on his first novel.

Although Steven has been writing basically all of his life, that's when his writing career began to take off.

Welcome back to Up Around the Corner!
(For those who are interested, here’s the link to Steven’s first interview: Interview with Author Steven Campbell, August 2014)

It has been almost six years since you spoke with us last. Since then, has your writing career in any way progressed as anticipated?

It’s great to be talking to you again. Partially because I got to look back at myself. Six years is practically two infinities in the publishing world. When I spoke with you the first time, self-publishing had been maybe a few steps past infancy. And it has changed significantly since then, which has also changed my career. I’ve managed to hang on being a fulltime writer. But if I hadn’t embraced audiobooks early and made a few other practical choices, I might not be able to say that. There are so many books out now, it’s extremely difficult to stay relevant or noticed. Back then, I don’t think I had much in the way of hopes or expectations other than to keep doing it. So far, I’ve been able. But it gets harder and harder every year. I tell my dog at least once a week to enjoy this while you can, because I might not be able to always work from home.

Most readers would know you from your Hard Luck Hank Series. For those that may not be familiar with it, could you share a little bit about the series, and its protagonist, Hank?

It’s kind of a pulp throwback. It blends science fiction, comedy, and kind of noir. Hank is a mutant heavy, who is a fixer, gang negotiator, and a detective on a corrupt space station. He is great at his job because he’s very difficult to hurt and has a likeable personality. Both attributes come in very useful amongst violent criminals.

You have recently kicked off a new project, an urban fantasy, Spell Talker, set in Los Angeles California. What five words might best describe Spell Talker?

Hmm, five words? Am I using them now? Woops!
Modern. Scientific. Fantasy. Los Angeles.

Okay, beyond those five words, what would you like us to know about Spell Talker? Like Hard Luck Hank was to science fiction, how is Spell Talker a little different than other urban fantasy tales out there?

I always liked fantasy and I probably got into it long before science fiction. But I grew away from it because it seemed to really hammer down its subgenres and leave little room for divergences. The sword and sorcery epics. The urban vampires. You often know what is going to happen. I also never really liked how magic was explained. Or not explained. Magic is generally just…magic. Even if it’s explained it doesn’t make much sense, because it’s magic. Okay, so it’s mana from dragon snot. What particles does that produce? On tackling this book, I wanted to make a system that was at least grounded in science. It took me a long time. Whether or not the effort was worth it, I can’t say. For most people it’s probably good enough to say, “magic—POOF.” But I just didn’t want to write that. It’s also a kind of modern journey around Los Angeles. I’ve been living here since 1994 and I wanted to have it set here instead of Elftopia or Sweden, since I haven’t been to either of those places. It’s not a love letter to Los Angeles; there’s plenty of lousy stuff here. But there’s a lot of character in this region and I realized I hadn’t used any of it in a book before.

When not writing, where do you enjoy spending time? What is one place that you would one day like to visit?

I definitely need to check out Sweden or Elftopia since I just made fun of them. I’ve been fortunate enough to live at the beach in Los Angeles. I’ve been here for something like 20 years at this point. I can honestly say I’m the ugliest and meanest person in my entire city of 1.4 square miles. There are days I go outside and it’s just absolutely perfect. No matter how grumpy I was, I have to smile and appreciate it. Like it or not, humans are profoundly affected by weather conditions. I loved snow as a kid, but it’s really fantastic being able to put on shorts and flip flops and be considered overdressed. As for travel, we’re still deep in the pandemic times around here. I’d like to visit anywhere and not be worried about infection. There’s only so much bread I can bake. Though that has been a very beneficial side-effect of quarantine. I’ve become a lot better at cooking. Pressure cooker. Get one!

Although an author can never hit a home run for all readers out there, what is the most inspirational, or memorable, thing a reader has said about your writing?

This may be crass or unthankful, but I don’t really pay much attention. Writers have to have unbelievably thick skin—at least about their writing. Because like you said, you can’t please everyone. My own personal take is that 95% of the world absolutely hates Shakespeare. Hates his writing. They force kids to read him at school and you’d be hard-pressed to find any children sprinting to class so they can get a head start. If Shakespeare is loathed by the planet, what chance have I got? So I’ve long since turned off most of my receptors to feedback that rise above volume level three. Which filters out the screaming and filters out the cheering. I’ve had people say that I helped them with some terrible illness they had, or even their approaching end-of-life. But I just don’t dwell on it. I lobotomized that part of me during my many, many years of editors and readers and buyers despising my work. I can’t turn it back on and bask in the small praise I get from time to time. If someone writes me and gushes, I generally respond and ignore the gush, answering any questions they had.

Before I ask the next question, I want to share something that I don’t’ consider ‘gush’J One of my favorite parts of your novels are the banter and arguments between Hank and his longtime (mad scientist) friend, Delovoa. My wife and daughter love them too.

So here’s the question: Your Hard Luck Hank Series has been narrated by Liam Owen. When writing, do you hear Hank’s voice in the voice Liam Owen created? If not, who would you say Hank sounds like? What about the other recurring characters?

I really enjoy writing banter. And, as most things, I believe that comes across. The things I don’t enjoy writing end up being lousy because I’m having a bad time creating it.

But I don’t really think of any voice. It’s not a slam at Liam Owen, he does a great job on the audiobooks. My brain simply doesn’t work like that. I think partially because I’m constantly fiddling with the dialogue. If I played it like an audio recording in my head, he would be stuttering and repeating the same lines a hundred times and I’d go insane. But it’s a good question. Hmm.

The way I write and go through scenes is more like a dream. Not a Hollywood dream, because that’s not how dreams work. If you relate a dream or remember a dream, you’ll be like, “Some guy picked up a huge guitar for some reason.” You don’t remember if he had red hair, or had on pants, or even if he had legs. You don’t remember if there was grass on the ground or if you were upside down. You see some concept of a “guy” and a “guitar.” But nothing else is filled in. It’s disembodied. It’s not like a real photo or movie or audio. It’s just snippets and fragments that our brain is smashing together. And later, we try and make some narrative out of it.

So that’s what I see/hear when mentally going through scenes I’m writing. It’s a telescopic lens that focuses on only a couple pieces and the rest is just blur that is only hinted at. The voices are probably pretty close to my usual inner voice. We rarely change our inner voice. Like pitch it higher or lower to simulate other genders. And when we do, our own throat modulates to create it, even though we aren’t talking out loud. Try it. That’s really exhausting after a while. So I just mumble along in my own inner voice.

But this is a good question to keep handy. I think we tend to answer it figuratively instead of literally.

What might readers expect from you in the next year or two?
(Click on the YouTube Video and listen to Hank on Belvaille answer)

Once again, Steven, thank you for taking the time to speak with us!


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