Monday, March 02, 2009

Interview with Ken Scholes

Ken Scholes is an author I'm seeing mentioned quite often these days. He’s become well-regarded for his short fiction, but it’s the release of his debut novel, Lamentation (US, UK, Canada, my review), that has everyone buzzing and kicks off a planned 5-book series called the Psalms of Isaak. The language used is bold – Jay Lake proclaims that Scholes is poised to “step into the shoes of the late [Robert Jordan]”and Booklist hails Scholes for his “rare gift for inventive storytelling that invites comparisons with the genre’s leading practitioners.” Whatever you think of the buzz, I strongly recommend that you give Lamentation a try – for the record, I really liked it.

As I prepared for my earlier
Questions Five interview with Ken, I quickly realized that the questions I wanted to ask just didn’t fit in with the Questions Five format. I’ve generally stayed away from the longer interview (though I collaborate with other bloggers regularly), but this is a case where I felt that a long interview was appropriate. Thankfully, in spite of the rollercoaster ride of Ken’s life these days, he agreed. So, on to the questions…

Neth Space: In your biography, a myriad of past jobs are listed, including sailor, soldier, preacher, musician, retail manager, nonprofit administrator, and label gun repairman. How have these jobs influenced what you want to say in your writing?

Ken Scholes: Good question. I'm not sure how they influenced what I want to say in my writing because the "want to say" isn't usually something I'm aware of until after I've said it. But certainly, the variety of experiences has given me a wide base to draw from. Beyond just how those experiences shaped me, I also draw from them in my fiction. I look back to my time at the merchandising company, where I repaired label guns and assisted the sales team, in my short story "Soon We Shall Be Saunders." My time in the army helped inform "The Night the Stars Sang Out My Name" and my time in the ministry certainly added to "That Old-Time Religion." "The Doom of Love in Small Spaces" has a bit of my day job working for local government showcased in it. These are just a few examples.

I think as writers we tap into all our life experiences when we're crafting fiction. Beyond just our jobs, we tap into the things we love, the things we fear, the losses and gains we've experienced, the people we've loved or been loved by along the way. It all goes into the soup and becomes part of the stories I tell.

Neth Space: With that said, do you want to be a full-time writer? Do you feel that this may limit the life experience that you’ve found so valuable?

Ken Scholes: I do want to be a full-time writer though that's a fairly recent realization. I think there's certainly a trade-off in that transition but ultimately, the writing career is growing fast enough that at some point I'm going to need the time and energy that is going into my day job in order to keep up with everything. And life experiences go much deeper than the jobs we work so I'm not too worried about that. Losing a parent, becoming a parent, seeing an important relationship through troubled waters -- these are all critical life experiences that go on around us regardless of how we spend our workdays.

Neth Space: “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it”. Are they?

Ken Scholes: I tend to agree, yes. I think knowing where we come from both as individuals and as a species -- and understanding that history as best we can -- can help us chart a better present and future.

Neth Space: I feel that Lamentation addresses this point in interesting ways – it could be equally interpreted that the fall of Windwir was the result of either learning too much from history, or not learning the ‘right’ lesson from history. How do you feel this old saying applies to Lamentation?

Ken Scholes: I think the Androfrancines learned the wrong lesson from history and at some point, became so focused on the past that they no longer clearly saw the present or the future. They also overestimated their own power and underestimated the power of others.

Neth Space: Lamentation is rich in religious themes and imagery. You were once a Baptist preacher (honesty I had you pegged for an ex-Catholic). How has this experience shaped the book that became Lamentation?

Ken Scholes: Well, it shaped me and because of that, it shows up in my writing and shapes it. I actually studied Roman Catholic history as a part of my BA at Western but the inner workings that we see, for instance in the character of Petronus, are reproduced from my own experience of having served as a minister within the Baptist belief system and then having chosen to leave that role and faith behind in what was a long, sometimes painful process over years. I draw from that both in this series but also in a lot of my short fiction. But then again, I think people are shaped from all of their experiences -- the good, the bad and the ugly -- and writers in particular draw from those experiences in shaping their fiction.

Neth Space: What reaction does the word ‘lamentation’ evoke from you?

Ken Scholes: A song rooted in grief and loss. Sackcloth and ashes. A sense of profound sorrow.

Neth Space: So, how were you lead to Lamentation as the title?

Ken Scholes: To be honest, I can't recall the exact moment that I realized that was the title. I kicked around a few titles: A Lamentation for the Light, A Lamentation for Windwir, but I think the word "lamentation" was already in place the day I started drafting the book. It just sounded right and I knew that a one word title would be strong. Later in the book, there's a point in one of Rudolfo's scenes where it says "and he saw how a lamentation could become a hymn." Re-reading that after I wrote it is what ultimately gave me the final title in the series, Hymn. All of the titles come from terms used in sacred music.

Neth Space: In this more flippant interview you were asked “If Lamentation were a fortune cookie, what its fortune be”. You responded with “change is the path life takes”. Would you please expand on this thought?

Ken Scholes: Surely. It's a precept from P'Andro Whym, founder of the Androfrancines. It basically means "Evolution Happens." Change is the path life takes. Certainly, we see it in the macrocosm of our world and universe. And we see it in our own individual lives, I think, if we have some perspective.

Neth Space: Well I can certainly see how this precept works in our daily lives, as I can see it at work in Lamentation. With that in mind, what are you willing to share about the anticipated evolution of the Psalms of Isaak?

Ken Scholes: Well, it's definitely evolving as I go. So far, the main story arc remains the same as I imagined it though there's potential for a major change in it as my characters grow. I let the details of each book develop as I'm writing it, based on how my characters are growing. I go into each book knowing where they are and where they need to be, then I take them through the experiences I've lined out for them to see how they handle them, how they are changed by them.

And of course, once I've wrapped this series, the world and characters will evolve even further into whatever next story I tell in this place.

Neth Space: So, what is the current progress in writing the Psalms of Isaak? Any updates on anticipated publication dates and when you expect to finish writing?

Ken Scholes: I'm nearly finished drafting the third volume, ANTIPHON, coming next Spring (ideally). CANTICLE's been copyedited and we're looking at an October publication for it. The rest of the series -- REQUIEM and HYMN -- should follow shortly after but my Magic Eight Ball is sketchy on dates given everything else that's happening. Certainly, my goal (and Tor's) is to not have people waiting too long to know what happens next.

Neth Space: That’s quite an ambitious schedule (and selfishly, it’s one I hope you keep).

You’ve mentioned before that you are expecting twins (congrats – that is wonderful). As a relatively new father myself, I’ve been confronted with the reality of just how much of a life-changing event fatherhood is. Do you think you can keep up your current schedule?

Ken Scholes: Thanks -- we're excited about it, though also daunted. I don't expect to keep the schedule quite as well as I've been able to up until now. Then again, I've had a lot of Real Life interruptions. My Mom and nephew both died during my work on CANTICLE. My Dad died during ANTIPHON. So I've been making headway despite some pretty big life events.

I have no real idea of how the twins are going to impact my writing process but I know they will. Still, I'll do everything I can to keep production going. I've cut back hours at the day job and my hope is that I'll wrap ANTIPHON shortly and get a running start at REQUIEM so that most of it is finished before the babies show up.

Neth Space: Wow, it sounds like the last few years have been a pretty rough time for you. I hope they improve.

Fatherhood is a wonderful thing. Just watch that delete button – it’s amazing how fast those little hands can hit the single worst possible button on a keyboard.

Ken Scholes: Thanks. They've been rough years but punctuated with lots of joy and delight alongside it all as we've watched the book take off and as we've watched our family start to grow.

Neth Space: Do you think that this new life experience could radically (or less dramatically) change your vision of the conclusion to the Psalms of Isaak?

Ken Scholes: I don't think it will change my vision for the conclusion but it's hard to say. I think if my vision changes it will be because the characters moved in a new direction and surprised me.

Neth Space: Ken, thanks again for taking the time to answer a few (more) questions from me. Is there anything you else you’d like to add in closing?

Ken Scholes: Not off the top of my head. I hope folks enjoy the story and keep coming back for more.

1 comment:

ediFanoB said...

Ken and Ken thank you for this interesting interview.
From my experience (my daughter is seventeen and I have gray hair :>) ) fatherhood changes life a lot but in a positive way.
Anyway enjoy the time with your childs because time passes so fast.

Now I need a copy of Lament. But I have to wait because due to space problems I only buy paperbacks.


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