Science Fiction

The Sasquan Signature

Back in July, I decided to get out of the house and see a movie – Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck, if I remember correctly. Unfortunately, I’d arrived at the theater an hour and a half early. This meant I had far too much time on my hands. Luckily, there was a pseudo-mall nearby with a giant bookstore attached – Powell’s, to be precise.

I went into Powell’s not expecting to buy anything . . . and that was my first mistake. Or at least, so many people have told me. One should always be prepared to buy something; it’s Powell’s. It has that effect. The place is like the cocaine brick of bookstores. But I digress . . .

When I went in, I moseyed to where I was always comfortable – the sci-fi section. From there, I bee-lined to my favorite author’s name – Mike Resnick. I’ve written about him before on this blog; heck, I even interviewed him. Ever since I was a child, I always checked his corridor in the bookstore to see if there was something new. There usually was . . . but nothing prepared me for this.

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Friday, September 25th, 2015 Musings 960 Comments

Quick Queries with Mike Resnick

For the average fanboy, nothing excites to a greater degree than speaking to their childhood idols. Granted, a fan of any type is easily amused or entertained, much like dangling keys in front of a ferret. Everything within their vein is new and amazing. Quadruple that and you have my experience made manifest.

At the beginning of August, I posted an unassuming Myspace blog about the event that triggered the writer/reader in me; seeing an expletive in print. The book in question – Tales of the Galactic Midway: The Wild Alien Tamer by Mike Resnick – turned me into a reader, where before I was an illiterate simpleton. Future works by that same author made a writer out of me.

When I started this site, I carried over that particular post. It was called Painting the Dark Lady. I had not taken into account that the walls had ears. One Saturday night, while subsisting through a night shift – cream-cheesed bagel in one hand, tea in the other – I received a comment from Mike Resnick.

It read:

“Others have told me I inspired them to write, but I have to say you are the first to be so inspired by a 4-letter word.

Good luck.”

And just like that I was an inspired 6th grader again.

After picking his big genre-bending brain via e-mail, I finally type-stuttered the request for a ten-question interview for this very site. He agreed to participate, and this – fine folks – is the random result. Enjoy, but do keep in mind I’m no hard-hitting journalist. At all.

LL: At what point did you decide upon being a writer? Was it an epic epiphany, or something triggered by the magnificently mundane? (Like a lemur flinging poo?)

MR: “When I realized that as a writer I could work at home, sleep ‘til two in the afternoon, dress like a bum, and tell anyone I didn’t want to work with to go to hell, it became irresistible.”

LL: You and my cousin Jason have a fascination with Teddy Roosevelt? What’s your excuse for this…well…other than the fact that he was awesome?

MR: “Like most Americans, I thought he was a militaristic jingoist who yelled ‘Charge!’ when running up the stairs. Then, about 33 or 34 years ago, I saw The Wind and the Lion and was fascinated by the character…so I picked up a number of his books (he wrote 22), eventually read them all, then read some Pulitzer Prize-winning bios of him, and decided he’d make a fine character for a series of alternate history stories. Consider: as a teen he was considered one of the leading ornithologists and taxidermists in the country. After being a sickly child, he strengthened his body enough to make the Harvard boxing team. At 24 he became the youngest Minority Leader ever in the New York State Assembly. He wrote a number of books while in his 20s, including some bestsellers and the definitive treatise on naval warfare. He was a lawman in the Dakota badlands and brought in three armed killers during what was known as ‘the Winter of the Blue Snow’. He was the most efficient police commissioner the city of New York ever had. Then he got busy: governor, Rough Rider/soldier, Vice President, one of our greatest Presidents. For a guy who was thought to be a warmonger, he kept us out of war and became the first President to win a Nobel Peace Prize. He busted the trusts and created the national park system, then went on the first major African safari for a year, and later explored and mapped the River of Doubt (now the Rio Teodoro) for the Brazilian government. I suppose he slept every now and then, but I honestly don’t know when he had time to.

LL: In all your books that take place in your BIRTHRIGHT universe, the two alien races that appear most often in the background are Lodinites and Canphorites. However, I have yet to see a description for either of them. Care to enlighten?

MR: “Without running to the bookcase, I’m pretty sure I described the Lodinites once (maybe in The Soul Eater?). Why bother to describe the Canphorites? I’ve never had a story take place on either of the Canphor Twins (Canphor VI or VII), and I’ve never had an individual Canphorite play a major part in any story.”

LL: A necrophiliac mistress to the Messiah? A Bogart-like detective teaming up with a nymphomaniac elf? A con artist/priest? I’m surprised some of these characters made it to PRINT, let alone in major sci-fi publications. Do you have the Midas touch when it comes to The Pitch Session?

MR: “I have never had an editor suggest that I tone down a scene or lose (or change) a character. I think the world at least the world of publishing – has changed since I was a kid and you could learn everything about homo sapiens from science fiction except that we come equipped with genitals and an urge to use them.”

LL: You’ve written scores of novels that are African allegories. When did your fascination with the continent begin, and did you know it would inspire so many stories?

MR: “It began in the early 1950s, when I was 10 or 11 years old, and discovered the works of Alexander Lake (Killers in Africa and Hunter’s Choice, both of which I am proud to have brought back into print in the Resnick Library of African Adventure from Alexander Books.) It was Lake, and not Edgar Rice Burroughs or H. Rider Haggard, that hooked me on Africa…and no, when I was a pre-teen I had no idea it would inspire so many stories – or so many safaris either.”

LL: You write stories that so perfectly capture the air and feel of a futuristic bar scene, yet you don’t drink. How do you explain this dichotomy?

MR: “Maybe I can capture the ambience precisely because I always have a clear head.”

LL: Of your galactic gunslinger characters, which is your favorite? Oh, and who would win in a Mexican standoff? (My money’s on Billybuck Dancer.)

MR: “My favorite is the original Widowmaker, Jefferson Nighthawk (as opposed to his clones). I think he might win a Mexican standoff against Jericho (from Walpurgis III), but it would be close. If he’s the best, it’s not due to physical gifts, but because he’s a little smarter and a little more creative than the rest.”

LL: One stylistic choice I noticed you use is establishing an almost cinematic tone. You set the scene with exposition then let the characters do the rest. Do you do this on purpose?

MR: “Yes. I probably use dialogue more than any other writer; I’m more comfortable with it. I’m also very comfortable with first person narrators, which leads to less formal exposition. I can’t get away with it very often in books, but I’d say at least half my short stories (and all my award winners and most of my nominees) have been told in the first person.”

LL: Coffee or tea? Elaborate as to why?

MR: “Coffee all night long, seven to ten cups while I’m working. Iced coffee in restaurants with my meals. Tea never, not even in Chinese restaurants. (I mention restaurants a lot. When you work at home, it’s your one excuse to get out of the house.) As to why: I’ve never liked coffee, but when we bought a huge boarding and grooming kennel back in 1976, it was the coldest winter on record in Cincinnati (where the kennel was), and I kept warm by loading up on hot chocolate all winter. And when I gained a quick 20 points, I realized I’d better find some other hot drink to like…so I began trying coffee again, and soon became addicted.”

LL: I saw an interview with the late Jack L. Chalker once – an old compatriot of yours – and he mentioned never getting up before noon since he started writing full-time. Do you adhere to this philosophy?

MR: “Absolutely. I learned 35 or 40 years ago that almost no one phones or knocks on the door after 10:00 PM, so my typical workday is from 10:00 PM to about 5:00 or 6:00 AM. Most the writers I know keep vampire hours; if they don’t write late at night, they get up early and write before sunrise, like Bob Silverberg and Barry Malzberg…but they all try to do their work when no one’s around to disturb them.”

For more information on Mike Resnick and his works, visit his OFFICIAL SITE.

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Monday, December 8th, 2008 Quick Queries 993 Comments

Painting the Dark Lady

I’m going to say July never happened. Is that allowed? Can I call it a ret-con? I think that’s my right. Moving sucked. Work sucked. Looking for new work (still) sucks.

Of course, this is all redundant. Even with the fecal ferocity of events that made up the midsummer night’s “squeam”, I do have to pay homage to the brighter wing beats from the bat outta Hell. Small and insignificant, though they may seem, they resound with the strength of a butterfly’s flight. Hurricanes form with their very finite flutter. I won’t see the storm soon, but the tide will come – a monsoon of melody. Pandora’s hope, it ain’t, but it panders to my quasi-creative grasp nonetheless.

And it all began by reading a book.

Small confession, I wasn’t a reader until late in my childhood. Illiterate until 7, barely cogent with the written word until the 3rd grade, I skimmed by. Not for lack of smarts, but rather lack of motivation. I admit to my shitty studiousness. Book reports up until then were an exercise in futility. If a shortcut existed, I took it. Then I encountered a nemesis I couldn’t counter, a hard-ass of an English teacher. He expected a detailed synopsis on a novel of our choosing.

I was screwed.

Before the childhood migration to Oregon, my Dad had left me some of his old sci-fi novels. Among them were titles I’d never heard of, though that wasn’t saying much. I knew of very few authors to begin with. These rang even less of a bell than usual. The one I picked up first showed a picture of a bald, mustachioed man in mid-melee with a bipedal bat-type creature. The title was Tales of the Galactic Midway: The Wild Alien Tamer, the second in a series of four by Mike Resnick.

The book blurb stated it was about a circus in space, and the installment revolved around a man and an alien who formed an unlikely partnership by duking it out in the ring. From the looks, it sounded uninteresting. But I was in need of a book and didn’t feel like looking too hard. With a shrug, I removed it from the box and plugged away at the pages. My eyes widened. I saw the word “fuck” in print.

To a chronic potty-mouther, this was a revelation. A word deemed a death sentence of detention was smack-dab in the middle of a novel. Enamored beyond imagining, my glee seeped through my drudging lit level. I turned the page and kept right on turning. Other epithets made themselves known to me, ones I hadn’t heard before as well. A reader was born by way of curse word.

Exploring my Dad’s garage on one of my routine Cali visits, I came across another novel by Resnick entitled Santiago: A Myth of the Far Future. By junior high, I’d polished off a good five or six of his books including the rest of the Midway series. The new space opera before me had escaped my notice. My Dad summarized and called it “excellent”. I gave it a go. The only way I could describe it was equal parts sci-fi, western, myth, and tall tale, all rolled into a tightly-written package.

My love of genre-confused fiction was already prevalent. My favorite movies by this point in my life weren’t easily pegged by one solid label. Buckaroo Banzai, Krull, Big Trouble in Little China, they all possessed a little piece of everything. A wide-eyed geek was born from repeated viewings of these, and to add a novel with the same qualities further solidified it. Upon completion of Wild Alien Tamer, I toyed with the notion of being a writer. By the end of Santiago, I was one.

As the years piled on, I thought I perfected my craft. I used Resnick as my writing template. My command of dialogue was competent – clay-like in its solidity – and my characters were somewhat fleshed out. No one could call me great at the written word, but somewhere along the way I considered “Moi” the cat’s meow. That ego self-fellating didn’t last long. A wake-up call came in 11th grade. Someone called me on my bullshit; a teacher.

Their prognosis of my penmanship was thus: “You have a tendency to overwrite. Your poetry is solid, but your prose is rather weak.”

Heartbroken but stubborn, I chose to discard their assessment of my “gift”. How could they know? They were teachers, not an ink-stained quill-licker such as I! Okay, I wasn’t much of one either, but try telling that to a high schooler with a case of the cockies.

The only opinion that mattered to me – in regards to writing – was my father’s. After all, he introduced me to the writings of Resnick, so he was a better judge of such things. Early on in my attempts at storytelling, he conceded that I may have a talent. His nod of approval fueled my elitism until I was 23.

When I went away to Reno for college, the professorship came to a similar conclusion as teachers past. My writing was glib at best, rushed at worst. I brushed these judgments off with a “pishaw” and “poppycock”, or a well-placed middle finger if the situation called for it. I-if they weren’t looking, that is.

Then my dear ol’ Pa said something that finally cast a kink in the ego-armor, “Some of it’s pretty good, but your dialogue needs work.”

From there, I finally began to doubt my prowess with the pen. What did I have to show for the last decade of self-declared scholarship. Answer? Not much. The longest piece I wrote was seventy pages, unfinished. In my portfolio? Five or so completed, two-thirds of which were crap and/or in dire need of a rewrite. In the writing classes I took, I skated by with substandard papers and last-minute queries. The culmination of my college life, a big-whoppin’ “C” earned by the skin of my teeth. Any new revelations I took away regarding writing never came from a class, but from other better writers; those with a novel or two under their belts.

Yet I still chose to wear the moniker, for what else did I have to show the world? There were signs of a possible gift hidden beneath the dreck produced up until now. I never fully gave up, but I never committed to it either. Writing and I were friends with benefits, a physical manifestation but not an ephemeral one. And the malaise carried through until the present.

Earlier this July, a friend of mine and I bummed around the Powell’s Books in Beaverton. It smelled of scholastic pursuits – a combination of Central Air, dust, leather and paper. And perhaps patchouli from an employee or two. My friend went for the Koontz section, whereas I gravitated to my sci-fi standby. Every once in awhile I perused the shelves of a bookstore for a Resnick I hadn’t read. Most of the time, I came up empty. Not this day. Nestled between his Widowmaker and Kirinyaga (both of which were utter crap) was some old school Resnick, one I hadn’t read. The book was The Dark Lady: A Romance of the Far Future. A used copy for $2.95? Damn right I was getting it!

I started it in the wee hours of that night without sleeping a wink, and finished it around noon the following day. Polishing off an eyeful of the last page, closing the book, I let off a sigh of “Wow.” The story without spoiling anything was thus:

Throughout time, a woman appeared to men, and they were inspired to paint her image. Several paintings and statues, dating back as far as Sumeria, captured her beautiful yet sad likeness. At times she was portrayed as a Goddess or a royal princess, other times a normal maiden. Each time the expression was the same, melancholy and longing. The tradition carried on even after Mankind had reached the stars.

A group of men, and one alien, sought to unravel the mystery of “The Dark Lady”, and her motivation for searching out certain men – risk-takers on the fringe who later met an untimely end. Was she an Angel of Death, an immortal, an alien herself, or something more? What was she after? And what inspired men to capture her timeless expression? They didn’t know.

I shan’t spoil the answer. All that need be said is it struck a chord…and hard. I remembered what I was supposed to do.

I remember saying, long ago, that my goal was to shock and awe a 6th grader in the manner that I was introduced to Resnick. My brother recently told me that the best approach to use when writing is to dive into it head-on. “Balls to the wall,” he put it. Dad reminded me that in order to be a writer, “Writers have to write.” One of my bosses said, “As a writer, you need to leverage your time.”

Tonight, I’m up late putting fingers to keys. Alas, not to write fiction, but at least I’m writing. As to what I plan to put out first to make a name for myself with, I have no bloody clue. Perhaps I’ll dust off the kung fu strippers, the surreal unstuck-in-time town, or the (literally) star-crossed lovers. I haven’t decided. All I know is that I have a portrait to paint, one of a yearning that is bittersweet…and a long time in coming.

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Saturday, November 29th, 2008 Musings 1,028 Comments

I work for tea money.


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