A Conversation with Schuyler Hernstrom

Monday , 13, March 2017 38 Comments

Schuyler Hernstrom is someone you’ll want to keep your eyes on.  New to the scene, he’s already contributed outstanding stories to Cirsova and published Thune’s Vision, a collection of fantasy tales recommended by CH Blog regulars and recently, along with previous conversation subject Misha Burnett, been listed in house as one of the best short SF/F authors for 2016.  

As always, our conversation ranges far and wide.  We discuss wargames, military service, life in Japan and of course, Sky’s writing.

If you enjoy Hernstrom’s work and want more, read this interview. In fact, I strongly recommend hitting up Jon Mollison’s Seagull Rising for a Hernstrom fix and would be remiss if I didn’t mention the yeoman’s work being done at the Puppy of the Month Club.

 

 

Scott Cole:     I’m finishing up Thune’s Vision. What inspired this anthology?

Sky Hernstrom:     It came about without much planning. There simply aren’t a lot of markets interested in work like mine so a self published anthology felt right. The stories cover a range of voices and themes and the variety seems to work well in an anthology format. As my first book, I wanted to go into it very openly, very straightforward; this is who I am, this is what I like, what I see.  


SC:     If you had to describe your work in a sentence or two, how would you?

SH:     That is tough. I think it makes sense for me at this point to lowball it, get a little flippant. “Uncompromising fun as a tonic against the corrosive effect of soulless post-modernism.”

 

SC:     Will you return to any of the stories or settings in Thune’s Vision? I’m sure Athan’s seduction by the Sea Witch will have unforeseen consequences.

SH:     It is really funny you should mention that. In my hazy cosmology of that world, the offspring of Athan and the Sea-Witch do indeed form another race, as she hoped they would. I won’t say more because I don’t intend to go back there, so anyone’s daydreams about the race born from the union of Athan and the Sea Witch are as valid as mine. That story is like a long dream to me, the rhythms of rise and fall at the point where they touch one individual, Athan. He fulfills his purpose but then dies as men of his tribe die, and does not live to see the changes. Even as I write this I start to wonder about his son’s career. Who knows? Maybe I will go back. A story like that is wrapped up so neatly, and carries weight well out of proportion to the word count, so if I went back it would have to be for something with a similar gravity, which I might not be able to do.  

I’m working a couple of characters to use for serial adventures, a little bit lighter fare than the stuff in the book, something readers can pick up and enjoy from installment to installment. I plan to go back to the characters in Images of the Goddess as well. I hadn’t thought about it before but people asked (looking at you Baron!) and that is a setting and characters that lend itself to serial adventures.

 

SC:     I see your point about leaving well enough alone when it comes to revisiting Athan’s story. The rise and fall of civilizations and races is a heavy topic.

SH:     There might be a time in the future when I can wrap my head around that sort of sweep in a different way and be more free to go back. The whole thing just started with a vision of Athan on his horse.

 

SC:     What influences your writing?

SH:     For me there are three pillars, Vance, Howard, and Dunsany. Of course there are other writers, Jakes, Moorcock, Anderson, but I try to draw from other wells too. The paintings of Frazetta and Jeffrey Jones, John Milius’ Conan, I could go on. In the seventies and early eighties fantasy had a really strange and awesome vibe. All the wild pulps were in paperback reprints, the New Wave was going, the movie Wizards, Heavy Metal magazine, just a boiling cauldron of weird stuff. D&D came out of the earlier phase of and that was another influence. I barely got to play as a kid but everything about it was a big influence. I got older, spent time in the service, got into music and somehow it all disappeared, paved over to make room for all the Tolkien pastiches and door stoppers. Smarter people than me have discussed how changes in publishing affected all this. On a deeper level I want my writing to plug into emotions and experiences that would have been very familiar to our ancestors but now are largely gone. Death, sex, fighting, honor, etc. I want to take off our modern lenses and experience them on another level. I can imagine the snickers erupting from the uninitiated but heavy metal, the music, there are some bands out there doing that with their music and it really sets me up for writing. When I was writing the stories in Thune’s Vision I was listening to a couple tracks, over and over, from a band appropriately named Conan. Now I am listening to Eternal Champion after a friend introduced me to their stuff. I go back to the same things again and again, Wagner, Ridley Scott’s The Duellists, those bands I like, Frazetta. The King James Bible. The Old Testament, read that sometime as a piece of literature. In Judges a man named Ehud assassinates a king. Before stabbing him he says, “I have a message from God for you…”

Does it get more metal than that? In a world where everything is fake, partitioned from Death, separated from a community in any sense our ancestors understood, it is difficult to describe, I just want a type of feeling I don’t get from the majority of media.

 

SC:     As opposed to a cerebral approach to writing would you say you prefer, or even require, a strong emotional charge? The full on metal music mixed with Frazetta’s strong images while riding an emotional wave buffeted by the Old Testament must be something like a method actor immersing himself into character.   

SH:     I go into it riding a sort of mood. I can’t be clinical about it. I suppose it is a weakness. I can jump start the mood a number of ways so it isn’t as if I am sitting around waiting for the muse, thankfully. But I really live inside the story for a while. I really see these things. I think most authors are like that to a greater or lesser degree, but as a romantic I really wade in. Then when you are there the world takes on a logic and a movement all its own. I’ve said it before, the process is exhilarating. I just can’t talk about it enough. You have to put the time in, you have to think, maybe do a little research, but when the machine starts moving along, it is glorious.  

 

SC:     For readers that missed the whole metal scene what bands or songs would you recommend as an introduction?  

SH:     There is no way to respond to this without starting a debate somewhere! It all started with Black Sabbath in the 70’s and has continually evolved until we are at a point where there are dozens and dozens of subgenres. A major band from my childhood was Iron Maiden, a great place to start.

 

SC:     There would be debate for days just over if Sabbath started it (which definitely started it for me).

SH:     Where would the internet be without these things to argue about, right? Someone right now is busting out Blue Cheer in the comments while another conflict is flaring up over Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. I’m going on record now, I believe people shouldn’t talk about Sabbath’s first four, they should talk about the first five. Sabbath Bloody Sabbath is a great album!

 

SC:     Ladies and Gentlemen, this concludes the interview and we can go straight to Sky’s upcoming projects. Nothing else he says can come closer to the essential truth of the universe than his Sabbath Bloody Sabbath comment (which, despite the title, proves Jeffro’s point made on a Jim Fear podcast that Sabbath’s lyrics; and sometimes the album art, are more Christian than what is preached on a tedious Sunday in many modern churches).

Back to inspiration. You mentioned you were working on a couple of characters for serialization.  When talking with Misha Burnett he told me he’s using Dean Martin as a character reference. How do you go about character development (one of my favorites is the wizard Malathiksos, along with his simian librarians)?


SH:     Malathiksos was great fun. Like most of my characters, he is an archetype rounded out a little to make real. He is a sorcerer. In my mind sorcerers are self-centered, driven, vindictive, and egotistical. His simian assistants make him more human as they show he is capable of some kindness. He becomes a little more interesting. I don’t consider myself a Jungian in the strictest sense but I feel like my characters are drawn from those deep wells we all have. We’ve all felt ambition tempt us toward something a little unethical. What is fun is when you are hammering away and things just happen. Athan is masculine force, unchecked. But we feel his joy when he returns to his lands and sees his horse lingered, waiting for him. That wasn’t a conscious decision on my part, it just happened. We know life is more complicated than the narrow confines of an archetype allow. I think the trick is showing that while still being loyal to the archetype.

 

SC:     I noticed in Thune’s Vision your attention to formalized rituals and morale building before battle. The Movements of the Ige and The Saga of Adalwolf come to mind. Even the duel between Belthi and Athan in Athan and the Priestess begins with ceremonial introductions.

SH:     Maybe it is all the anthropology courses I took but to me, people and ritual are inseparable. My own military service probably is an influence as well. The whole point of civilization is to get us away from the state of nature and rituals are a big part of that. Like many others I have read a ton about the Dark Ages and medieval period and the ways in which men have framed and organized violence are fascinating. In Saga I really wanted to nail down the little things that would be different in a world where violence was very close at all times. Now, if someone insults me, I have to consider how the state will jealously guard its monopoly on violence. Back then it was you and your family, clan and tribe, and the force you could bring to bear became a morality all its own. Ritual had a part in all phases of those events back then. That formality removes ambiguity and it also can provide a way out, if wanted. To write about people in a low technology, low organization environment, you really have to be attentive. I read once about a guy getting rear ended. He said there were traffic cones on either side, the person that hit him could have swerved and avoided the collision but he didn’t because the orange cones were imprinted in his mind as something to be avoided at all costs. A stupid rubber orange cone was so significant in his mind, it robbed him of the ability to think rationally. It is difficult to describe but you have to catch that aspect of people in prose if you want to convince readers.

 

SC:     What do you think the orange cones were for people in a low technology, low organization environment? My thought is honor was one such cone that no one would dare to cross over or would do so only if they had excessive power.

SH:     Definitely honor, you are onto something there. I read somewhere about the end of the berserkers. One account talks about how these guys would just walk around and challenge men to duels. They inevitably won, and took the dead man’s property. The men they killed were farmers. Undoubtedly the farmers were of tougher stuff than people today, but they didn’t stand a chance against the warriors, but they agreed to the duel! Otherwise their families would have disowned them. It cost them their lives but they stayed between the cones. At least they had a good excuse! As the state rose in power, slightly delayed up north, a king finally outlawed the berserkers, a couple of steps on the long road to the society we have now. I think it is also difficult for us, in a secular society, to understand how close ancient people were to their god or gods. Even religious people in our time don’t live so close to the other world as ancient people did.

 

SC:     I especially enjoyed how the chaos and confusion of a melee was captured in The Saga of Adalwolf. I’ll admit that at times I skim through action scenes but Adalwolf’s combat sequence was outstanding. I found it realistic that while Adalwolf was concentrating on his opponent he’d receive blows and wounds from enemies that he wasn’t aware of.

SH:     I have read some boring action sequences before and they always broke my heart. In Saga we are talking about Germanics before the Shield Wall came to be, so it is a melee proper. Hit as hard and as violently as you can and break your opponent. I imagine the lines fall apart quickly and it becomes a very deadly sort of free for all. I wanted to capture that sense of imminent danger, dealing death while death stalks behind you. With action sequences I think I try to establish a rhythm and space the punches for maximum impact. Athan and Belthi’s duel was more like a chess match, some ups and downs, then building momentum to a severed head. I really loved writing both those scenes. I also hate filler. Things should be just long enough to do what they need to do.  

 

SC:     Besides old literature what helps you with melee choreography? Something in your background helps you describe that rhythm. I’d say some of it was your training as an infantryman but there’s probably more to it than that.

SH:     I’ve spent a lot of time sparring. I’ve done boxing, Muay Thai, Pentjak Silat, and some good old YMCA Karate. This stuff was intermittent, spread over thirty years, so it is not as if I’ve been honing my skills on a mountaintop somewhere and can break boards with my mind. I’ve also been a bouncer and I’ve been in some scuffles, usually of the starkly unheroic kind involving alcohol. I have always been fascinated by the strange relationship between words and action. I like the challenge of writing those strange endless moments that I experience when something bad is happening. Sometimes you get into a scuffle and you see the whole thing in slow motion. Other times something happens and you find yourself looking at ceiling tiles, wondering how you got there. The latter scenario was more common for me! But when I write two men facing off with deadly weapons, deliberate and mindful, I really want to try to capture that odd feeling and rhythm is key.


SC:     You said you didn’t play much D&D when younger but I’m wondering if you are into war games or role playing games? If so, what rule sets do you feel come closest to capturing ancient war?

SH:     Oh absolutely. And I finally got to play some games when I was older. I grew up playing Tactics II with my dad so I am always up for pushing some cardboard around. I do like the shorter games though, Battles of the Ancient World is a favorite. It probably ranks pretty poor on the simulation scale but I like it.  For RPGs I just stick to D&D, ideally B/X, and hopefully soon, some Traveller. Command and Colors Ancients feels really “gamey” to me, but the card mechanic probably simulates the difficulty of command better than Battles of the Ancient World. It seems many battles back then were won or lost in the set up, Adrianople comes to mind. The Romans were doomed from the start. In that sense maybe list construction games like 40k are good simulations! I do love painting miniatures too.

 

SC:     Same with me and my Dad. Avalon Hill games were big. Still have Tactics II and one day would like to find someone with the floor space and interest to play Jutland. Tactics II was before AH came upon the hexagon concept and even though I’m a big Battle Academy fan, using squares doesn’t work well.  

Was Battles of the Ancient World the Decision Game series?

SH:     Yes, the Decision Games series. Really simple, chit pushing fun with enough flavor to make you feel like you are there. Tactics II with my dad was great fun. As a true scion of the cold war he wanted tactical nukes to be part of it. I can’t remember if there are extra rules in the back for it or he just made them up (Ed: they were in the supplemental rules), but by the end of our games there were little squares of red acetate all over the board marking irradiated zones. I should have used that to segue into some Gamma World games or maybe Twilight 2000! I knew an old grognard once who had tons of nicely done minis for WWI naval. He was in a very advanced stage of grognardism so we were playing the ruleset that he made up, cobbled from all the other rulesets. It was a good game though, got to give the old guy credit!


SC:     What miniature armies do you have in your collection? Back in the 70’s Napoleonics was the most popular and memories of the beautifully painted armies still inspire me today, though I mostly paint and collect fantasy armies.

SH:     I’ve collected practically every scale and period at this point, and I have even painted a few of them! I have a lot of GW stuff that I go back to periodically, mostly chaos. I love historical miniatures, especially the 1/72 plastics from companies like Zvezda. I am trying to finish up some Perry medieval plastics right now and also I got on a huge 15mm tank kick, WW2, airbrushing them and using enamel washes. You get some incredible effects, weathering and subtle highlights with that combo. My projects usually run aground because I want the little guys to look as good as possible so naturally I get burnt out really quick. The Perry plastics will be for Lion Rampant, Italian city states with a friend of mine. I am Montefeltro and he is Malatesta! Eventually all my 1/72 medievals are destined for Lion Rampant as well. I picked up Dragon Rampant recently and I am eager to make a force from the lead mountain.  

Chaos 40k

 

SC:     I’ll post your pictures of some of your best painting. I’m an OK painter but you have shading down pat. 

SH:     I love these 40k CSM. That look is so distinct, really science fantasy when you break it down. It took me weeks to get a color and technique down so I could replicate this across an army. According to the fluff these guys might be thousands of years old. So I wanted an aged effect along with the Liberace meets the Cenobites look, classic chaos.  I don’t even play 40k! The best work I ever did was probably these old Metal Magic beastmen. For a while Mega Minis carried them. That was a great company, I was sorry to learn they closed.

Beastmen

 

SC:     Do play a miniature scenario and use the gameplay for your writing?

SH:     If I ever veer toward harder sci-fi I might try that will all the incredible 15mm sci-fi stuff out now. Truly this is the golden age of miniatures. Gaming, especially with miniatures, lives really close to the stories for me. I remember devouring Decision at Thunder Rift, hanging on every word. Whenever I play a game I am really just watching a movie in my mind. The abstract thinking aspect, solving the problem, is great too. But I would rather lose an entertaining game than win a boring one. I read somewhere online, probably here, someone theorizing that getting your narrative fix from gaming was a response to the dearth of heroic fiction going now. I might be a victim of that, because I want my little plastic guys laden with drama. “Dear Mr. and Mrs. Italeri Gaul, 4th row from the top, It is with heavy heart that I inform you of the death of your son. He was struck down by some plastic romans because his owner forgot to move him into cover….” When I do want to give my brain a workout there is always chess, shogi, or Looney Pyramids. I got addicted to Looney Pyramids awhile back. I am working on a piece now, a “science fantasy” thing, where sorcerers grow starships from crystals. That came from the pyramids.

Finally, go here for some great rule sets.

 

SC:     What about historical references? What are your favorite books on the ancient and medieval periods?

SH:     Some of my favorites are Malcolm Todd’s The Early Germans, Desmond Seward on the Hundred Year’s War, naturally Gibbon. Winston Churchill’s A History of English Speaking Peoples is something I am due to go back to. I think if you want to write fantasy from its roots in European myth then you really need to tear through the sources, Tactius, and on to all the Sagas and Song of Roland. Njal’s Saga is an incredible look at life then and has events illustrating how magic may be used (really low key back then, sorry Dr. Strange) and it shows how feuds could start and how people dealt with conflict. The hall burning in Saga of Adalwolf comes right from there. Jomsvikings has some great action and wonderfully showcases the callous attitude toward death held by our ancestors. The Nibelungenlied is an absolute must.  

 

SC:     Does your prior military service influence your writing? I’m guessing you were in the Army.

SH:     It is funny, my life looks like a Mongoose Traveller character creation session. Career 1 Navy, Career 2 Drifter, Career 3 Army, Career 4 Citizen. Now I’m old! The navy sent me all over Asia and of course you learn a lot about people in the army. I think it definitely helps my writing. But someone who did different things would be helped in different ways. The military can be an extreme environment and you will see people at their highs and lows. I was 11b but never saw combat. The travel was great too. I had a day in Hong Kong once were I ditched my friends and just used public transportation to see all the major shrines. Each one was a sensation overload. Add some more funny hats, an eight course meal complete with jellied insects and a mysterious ragout and it could have been right out of Vance. He was very well travelled. I think if you are smart and careful enough you can write about anything. But I am not particularly smart and not at all careful so I am glad I got to travel.

 

SC:     During your Naval service what were your favorite liberty ports?  What was your rating?

SH:     I was an Intelligence Specialist. But as an enlisted, ship’s company, I probably spent as much time cleaning as I did looking at imagery or reports. Overall, it was a great experience. It would be hard to pick a favorite port. Hong Kong is up there for the gonzo factor. The Philippines were beautiful. Australia was incredible. As long as I live I will never forget the bus ride from the airport to the base when I first arrived in Japan. I sat staring out the window, watching everyone go about their day, no big deal, but I was absolutely thrilled, completely floored. This was a foreign land, very foreign, and I was drinking it all in.

 

SC:     Do you recommend a tour in the Navy or Army for those thinking of joining? What is the good and bad that comes with military service?

 SH:   If you just want travel, join the Navy. If you want to experience life as a soldier then the Army. Across both branches, for me the best experience was simply learning and growing from the example of highly competent and honorable men. The other side of that coin is the bad people you meet, the liars and cheats, and they provide a whole other wealth of experience to learn from. That would be number one in the bad and good column. Right up there is also the bonds you make with the guys in your unit. Some of my best friends I despised when I first laid eyes on them. Then a few months later and they are closer to you than family. Again, the other side of that is when you realize you can’t escape when a legitimate nogoodnik is designated your ammo bearer. Or you have to crank* with the guy for three months. Lastly we can recall Samuel Johnson, and know that when you serve you can lord it over guys who haven’t the rest of your life! But if you are going Navy there is a relevant Johnson quote that isn’t very flattering. Whatever you do, just go into with a good attitude, take the good with the bad, and be a better person for it.

*cranking is the term used to describe the period when a junior sailors serves for 3 to 6 months on the mess decks. Cranking comes as a shock for many when they think they will only work in their rate (job field) on a ship. The recruiter forgot to inform them there were other duties required beyond the cool job they signed up for.

 

SC:     Do any of the characters that one is guaranteed to meet in the service (the good, the bad, & the ugly) show up in your stories?  

SH:     Oh yeah. Hume from Images of the Goddess is a classic, the guy just out for himself. Drur is everything charming about me mixed in with all the well-liked, in control guys you meet in the service, seasoned with a little pomposity and a dash of the absurd. Plom is the ultimate cherry, the FNG. I went on and on about Jung earlier, but here we see characters in a less serious story, lifted right from life.


SC:     How about your drifting phase?  I had one and while it delayed my career, I gained from the experience.

SH:     After I got out I lived in Japan a while, working and just taking it all in. I would occasionally meet other gaijin in their 40’s or 50’s who were doing the same thing, just getting by, since they had gotten out. I started to wonder if that was going to be my fate so I got back to states and somehow ended up in the army. The one problem with the Navy was how short and episodic the travel could be. I really wanted to bask in it for a change, so staying in Japan a while was what I needed. Of course after awhile you start taking it for granted. “There is that giant gorilla statue holding two boxes of pachinko balls again. I see it everyday on my commute. Boring.”  The experience was educational in a great many ways. No matter how long you live in Japan, no matter how well you speak the language or understand the customs, you are a foreigner there. In a sense it was very liberating. Whatever role you choose to play, whatever person you want to be, it is all fenced in on a little plot marked “foreigner”.  Growing up in America with such a starkly different mindset I think it was important to see and experience.

 

SC:     What work did you find in Japan?  A lot of gaijin end up teaching English and if you did, that may have helped your future writing career.

SH:     I ended up working on the base during the week and supplementing that with bouncing on the weekends, on and off for a year or two. I didn’t have a degree at the time. Apologies to anyone reading this that taught English over there, but I really didn’t like any of those people I met. They were college people and I was a veteran. Some gaijin you meet over there seem to resent other gaijin, like it was a giant country club for geeks in the know. Of course if I had a degree at the time I would have went for it, they made decent money. My job on the post was at the TV station. It was a good time. If you were on Yokosuka Naval Station in the mid-nineties and the movie you were waiting to watch came on late, it was probably my fault. I did learn a fair amount about video production so that was nice.       

 

SC:     Back to your earlier comment about always being a foreigner in Japan. I agree with your statement but personally I enjoyed the outsider aspect of it. Times are changing, even in Japan, but at the end of the day I’d say it’s hard to be a Japanese. The politeness, manners and societal stability does come at a price and depending on where one is in the hierarchy your roles, actions and even the language you use is constrained. Now, a well mannered gaijin that makes the effort to conform with basic social mores gets all the benefits of Japanese society without many of the expectations and obligations and will elicit humor when making the invariable mistakes. Unless you want to dive deep into Japanese pink zones/kanraku gai (and thank you for doing me the favor of not allowing me into a hostess bar, which equals much Yen for chit chat and holding hands), life there is good.

SH:     That is good commentary. I guess thanks to Pokemon and all that stuff people seem to forget that the Japanese, as a people, are very complex and very serious. I never held it against the Japanese that they marked me as a foreigner. I learned the language and customs and I thought of myself as a guest. Life was great there. And what you mentioned is very insightful; as a foreigner you are free of most obligations. In the long run, living there forces you to think about people and culture in ways that you might not anticipate. Culture, history, biology, economics, it is all a Gordian knot, wrapped up in an enigma, then dipped in mystery and deep fried. I remember the Small World ride as a kid. That attitude is ingrained in us and I think it does us all a disservice. The world is huge, wonderful and dangerous and very strange, and you have to know yourself before you can know it.  I think I’ve read so much Vance, I’ve internalized it, right?

 

SC:     I’m afraid I’ve only recently discovered Vance but your observation sounds correct. I only hope you haven’t internalized Cugel!

How did you come across Cirsova?

SH:     I found out about it from Jeffro Johnson’s blog . That was a piece of luck right there. I’ve never gotten in on the ground floor of anything. We’ve been talking about my writing but nothing ever happens without guys like Jeffro and Alex of Cirsova doing the hard stuff. Jeffro has been pounding the pavement, hunting for stuff and boosting signals for years. And it has culminated in the Appendix N book. What a great story that is. And Alex just wakes up and decides to make a magazine. I’m happy if I make it to the gym. A couple other high energy guys, Jon Mollison, Jasyn Jones, big brains like The Frisky Pagan and Nathan Housely, other writers and bloggers, and something exists which didn’t before. When I started writing it was purely for me. I doubted I would find an audience. Now I find myself involved in a whole movement. It is a beautiful thing.

 

SC:     Originally, what led you to start writing, especially as you didn’t think you had an audience?  

SH:     A friend just threw it out there one day, we should try some short fiction. I had always imagined someday writing a novel. But my interest was piqued and now here we are. I just wanted to do it essentially for its own sake. Five minutes searching online revealed that what I wanted to do, what I thought I was going to do, was not necessarily going to work for the markets available. But at that point I don’t even know if it will be any good anyway so why worry? I think the main reason it has worked at all for me is I am at a point where I don’t care about taking chances. I want to write, I write, I float it out there, and then it works or it doesn’t. I am very passionate about my work. I am in love with the process. I am in love with these things I make from out of nothing, characters and stories and scenes that didn’t exist before. The other side of that coin is that if I fail, if no one likes it, if it doesn’t get anywhere, then so what? I’ve invested a great deal of time and effort into it, but if not that, then I would be trying something else, or just wasting that time. No matter what you are trying to make there is that moment when you leap from the cliff’s edge and you either glide or fall like a stone. Either way I am the same person. I can continue living my life with or without the label “writer” attached to my name. I don’t like to give advice to other writers. I am not nearly far enough along in my career. But I can tell anyone trying to create anything; just be fearless. You will succeed or you will fail. In either case you will learn something, and you can try again or try something else. Especially now with Morannon tumbling, as creators we have many more options than before. Just do what you want, put the time in, and see what happens.

 

SC:     Please describe your production system for writing.  Are you a John Wright type; that is, face that blank paper like a man and get those 5000 words down or use a less heroic system?

SH:     I get a little taste, a little flash of something. It usually starts with a mental image. I play with it a bit in my head. Then I just sit down and see what happens. Occasionally I have to stop and think a great deal about, and sometimes I don’t think at all, and whatever happens happens. Once it is begun, then I can sit down and force myself to get it done. Sometimes I do get jammed up. When that happens I just start something else. There was about a year in between starting and finishing The Ecology of the Unicorn. I am sort of moving out of my rosy good times beginning phase so we’ll see how I am working in a year or two. I have started a couple pieces with some pretty complicated angles, more traditional SFF, and for those I am going to have to buckle down and play at being a real writer. But they might never get finished, who knows? The goal is to produce and I have to go with the hot hand. Not every idea is great, not every piece needs to get seen through. Seeing what SFF has become I am sort of mistrustful of ideas. Now I can’t guarantee this experience to everyone that buys a ticket, but I did what I did in my writing because I found it exceptionally moving. I want to feel it deep down in the soul. To get there I have to let go. Whatever people think of my work, at least they should know that I am not playing with them. They are along for the ride that I am experiencing. I’m getting high off my own supply. A bad idea for a drug dealer, lets see how it works out for me!


SC:     What does your browser’s bookmark bar contain, your daily reads?

SH:     I read mostly news. I am a bit of a foreign policy junkie. I read the major news outlets from all our traditional enemies and I use the usual aggregators to keep tabs on stuff closer to home. I am pretty terrible about keeping up on anything else. I use google plus now to keep abreast of the Pulp Revolution and my hobby stuff and that is about it. I read Alex’s blog religiously and I check the CH blog a great deal. The google plus feed has put me in the way of a number of other blogs with great commentary. Just get on there and follow Jeffro and he does all the work for you. There are some really sharp people on there now. I wish I had more time for all the podcasts going now. Geek Gab is great, Jim Fear is carpet f-bombing his foes, so much going on.


SC:     I agree with you that there is a ton going on.  Late last year Jeffro started a conversation with the bloggers mentioning big changes and an oncoming revival.  I thought he was ahead of his time but the blog is doing well and you’ll notice that the posts that resonate most with the current audience are ones containing unabashed pride in being influenced by those consigned by our betters to the dustbin of history.

SH:   One reason I am not used to following so much content online is simply that it wasn’t there before. Trawling the internet for talk about books used to be blog after blog after blog saying the same things. And forums on the internet, no matter what the interest is, usually just serve as a social place for a group of people with such long histories and so many beefs that I get turned off. Now am I spoiled for choice. It is nice to go read about things I like without the usual caveats in place. It is exciting. I’m finding old authors I overlooked and new ones I never would have known about before. The whole thing has a really positive vibe which I like.

 

SC: Talking about boosting signals, who and what would you like to amplify in this space?

SH: I got my start in Heroic Fantasy Quarterly and I feel I have been remiss in spreading the word about them. A great bunch of guys and they have been keeping the embers glowing for this type of fiction for a while now. Like I said earlier, Cirsova has been incredible, for me as a writer and reader.

The CH blog has become an unrivaled destination and that whole enterprise is only a few years old. All this has happened fairly quickly. It all has a great vibe. Half these guys are cranky conservatives but you would think you were shacked up in some hippy love nest based on how positive and fun it all is. Jeffro and Jasyn are engaged in a massive slaughter of sacred cows at the moment. Some feelings will be hurt but if you step aside and tuck your ego away you can see these men are working for a higher purpose. No one is dictating to anyone what you should read. Rather they are trying to undo a great deal of damage. At this point we all just want to read a good story, something you can enjoy and think about. You can read one of my stories and think about how you are going to face death. You can read one of Mollison’s tales and be ready to slay your own dragons or read Burnett and wonder how your own unique challenges could be turned into a force for good. Read Jeffro and learn about how an inheritance was stolen and get excited to reclaim it. Whatever you read you are going to be having a good time. Read my stuff first though, I don’t want to follow these guys. I was so happy my book was a Puppy of the Month before Wright’s Swan Knight’s Son, phew!  Otherwise it would have been like taking the stage after 1986 Metallica.

 

SC:  Well, there are a many things to be cranky about; to paraphrase Emperor Hirohito: “the cultural situation has not necessarily developed to Western Civilization’s advantage” but if one wants to influence the culture I strongly believe positivity and presenting an example is a good way forward. 

As for Metallica and Swan Knight’s Son that’s like trying to take the stage afterwards at Tushino Airfield! I was hooked by Swan Knight’s opening scene and the interview with John Wright was educational.

SH:     Yeah, I wish this interview was first too! Wright is a candle bearer for writers. I remember finding his stuff in the library. Firstly, he is interested in language in a way which gave me hope. Secondly, he is interested in the kind of spectacle that only SFF can deliver, but it isn’t coming from the void, that hollow nihilism which defines so much of SFF now. If you think everything is crap and existence is pointless, I am not here to argue with you, but I am happy I have other stuff to read.

 

SC:    Finally, what are you working on now and when can your fans expect it?

SH:     I am trying to get an installment done on my first proper franchise, Mortu and Kryus, two heroes in the vein of Leiber. I am also working on a few shorter pieces. After that I want to revisit some older characters. My productivity is a bit down right now, I blame Jeffro! At some point I may have to seal myself back in my basement. The noise from the 24/7 Pulp Revolution rager is pulling me from my work! For 2017 I want to get another collection out and we’ll see what I can submit to Cirsova. There isn’t enough time in the day anymore.

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38 Comments
  • Alexandru says:

    Great interview. Loved Thune’s Vision. Also, agree with your guyses description of Japan. Before coming out here(Navy) I thought Japan was a dorky Anime fest filled with weirdoes. I was pleasantly surprised that it is extremely conservative and reserved. So much so that it pushed me into becoming more conservative myself.

    • Rolf says:

      The Japanese may be reserved on the outside but scratch the surface and you’ll find all sorts

    • Scott Cole says:

      I recommend Karl Greenfield’s Speed Tribes. Contains many vignettes of the non-conservative/reserved side of Japan. It’s dated but still a great read. Been ages since I read it but beyond the racing cliques he describes life there through the eyes of a porn star, bar hostess and I think a yakuza. Good stuff.

      I guess the reserved part of Japan appeals to my nature but surprisingly Japan is not a boring place, let there be no doubt about that.

  • Sky says:

    Going to a culturally homogeneous place was a massive culture shock to me.

    I was very sad to learn they are having problems keeping the pond stocked. These are pretty difficult discussions. Growing up American I had an appreciation for individualism. I still do. But I think some bastard form of that is the core of the sort of consumerist globalism spreading across the world. If I lose my sense of obligation to the society in which I am born then I suppose it isn’t surprising at all if that society starts to fragment.

    • deuce says:

      Yep, we’ve lost our “sense of obligation” to our native society and replaced it with some amorphous concern for/allegiance to “the world.” Most of the world beyond the West does not hold to that idea.

      • Sky says:

        If we could redo the Small World ride it would be a couple of white Americans singing the song with an air of desperation as the little tots in their respective native costumes stand with arms folded, glaring.

  • deuce says:

    What a great interview. Always a blast to read/hear Sky’s thoughts. Keep that torch aloft, brother!

    Regarding Sabbath… After I heard “Lord of This World” and really listened to it, I said, “Geezer Butler — the guy who actually wrote most of the classic Sab lyrics — was an Anglo-Irish Catholic boy who did way too many drugs, BUT you could still see where he came from in songs like that.”

    • Sky says:

      I remember a quote from a smart ass rock critic, “Black Sabbath, Catholicism finally has its own band.”, something like that. They were degenerate party animals, no question, but if you look a little deeper the lyrics are about fearing evil, not worshiping it.
      I actually didn’t know Geezer was writing the lyrics but it makes sense. It wasn’t Ozzy!

      • Andy says:

        Sabbath keeps crosses all over their equipment and clothes specifically to ward off any dark forces their music might attract. They don’t really believe anything would happen, but they take no chances 🙂

    • Sky says:

      And thanks! Everybody I’ve met through the writing has been really cool, on the level type people I wish I could hang out with in meat space. I didn’t even think of that when I started.

    • deuce says:

      Yeah, that would be cool. We could always trade bouncer stories, if nothing else.

      Your list of influences is damned good, but you really should give Merritt and Haggard a chance. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. They are the forgotten titans of fantasy. REH, Clark Ashton Smith and Moorcock couldn’t be totally wrong, could they?

    • Scott Cole says:

      open question if the massive drugs helped or hurt their music but in the end, it was all good

  • Alex says:

    I do try to point folks to HFQ when I can; I haven’t been able to read much of it, but they’re one of the few outlets that was actually serving this niche reliably before I came along, so I like to give credit where it’s due.

  • Sky says:

    So far no one has asked, is it pulp or not? I don’t know!
    I think Images is but the stuff in the collection, while freaky and enjoyable, doesn’t hit the beats like pulp. Nothing wrong with that!
    Next Cirsova I have something that I think checks the boxes.

    • Alex says:

      If I had to pigeon-hole it, I’d say that a lot of Thune’s Vision is more of the New Wave weird mode of Vance and Offutt and Jakes and other cats who were familiar with the pulps but doing their own things with it. Or hell, Fox, who was doing up gonzo stuff inspired by the pulps IN the pulps.

  • JonM says:

    You can thank Frisky Pagan for the selection of “Thune’s Vision” as a Puppy of the Month. I’d already read it and been banging the drum about it for a while, and so was glad to re-read it with people so I could finally get down and dirty talking about the different kinds of awesome it contained.

    Great interview, Scott. A fascinating glimpse into the mind of one of my favorite authors.

    • Scott Cole says:

      Thanks. And thanks Pagan!

      Again, I have to recommend https://puppyofthemonth.blogspot.com/ and https://seagullrising.blogspot.com/, not just for Hernstrom posts. When they shine a spotlight on an author they cover it well.

      • Jon Mollison says:

        I appreciate the link, but the real take home message here is that if want more Hernstrom we all need knuckle down resolve to stop saying interesting things on the internet.

        It’s for a good cause, people!

    • Sky says:

      That dude is sharp. Not just because he likes my stuff! One thing I didn’t expect was people discussing my work and seeming to understand more about it than I do. When I look around and realize I am the slow one in the group, actually I get pretty excited. I am going to end up better for the association. I should be getting something from google here. Most of it is all happening on G+, check it out if you don’t believe me!

  • Rolf says:

    What’s with the hostess bar hate?

    • Scott Cole says:

      Actually, a hostess bar is fine with me. Pretty girls, ego massage, some drinks but at the end of the day it’s not my style, especially the money that can be wasted. In Japan if you want to talk with a pretty girl you don’t have to pay for it. I’d prefer an izakaya any day of the week.

      Remember a friend of mine coming to the end of his time in Japan and saying he regretted not going out with Japanese male friends earlier and only concentrating on the girls. I agree 100% with this as you’ll have a blast but invariably will have to spend some time in a hostess bar. There’s worse places to be so just enjoy it.

      Funniest memory was a night out with a couple of Japanese dudes. My friend was excited about a hostess bar in which the girls wore bikinis. I’ll admit I was excited about it. Unfortunately, that one didn’t allow gaijin, even though my friend vouched that I was 100% Japanese!!

      • Sky says:

        Bummer no bikinis! Even at nineteen though, you sort of realize why they do it. I remember I was with a group of other sailors and we were getting turned away from a string of tiny bars in Beppu. The one that did let us in, well, it wasn’t truly wrecked but we left it in a worse state than we found it. Nothing malicious mind you, just high spirits. But if you are a salaryman trying to relax after another grinding day you don’t need teenaged sailors wrestling each other on the floor or dominating the attentions of any women in attendance.

  • BigEarl says:

    Great interview but couldn’t recommend the military in this day and age with focus away from mission and towards internal cultural transformation

    • Sky says:

      Me and Scott had a discussion about that offline. Of all the questions that one was the hardest. Your concerns on that score are valid.

      • Scott Cole says:

        We had a good talk and wish I would have added it to this post.

        I’ll take the long route to make my point. I used to cringe when I met people that served, were proud they served but went I asked how long they were in, they stated something crazy like 14 years or more (at the 20 year mark a veteran receives some pretty solid retirement benefits,a rule of thumb for many is that at the 10 year mark one should get out if they hate the service or suck up the remaining 10 years, to go 14 years then get out is crazy) and blame it on Clinton or Obama or gays in the military and now days transsexuals.

        My thought is that the military is a microcosm of society as a whole. You may not agree with the trends in modern society but there is still a ton of opportunity to be had. Yes, you’ll have to put up with a lot of BS training but people have been putting up with the BS since the Sumerian army. Keep your eyes on the prize even if you have to view a stint in the military as less than service to country than a transaction between you and the Govt.

  • M Bloomvist says:

    Your fanbase is growing, and we are hungry! Great interview! Not just a fantastic writer to read, but a writer’s writer as well. He enlivens my own craft, exhorts me to push on through the cognitive dissonance and write!

  • Jay Barnson says:

    Outstanding interview, Scott and Sky! After reading this, I had to pick up a copy of Thune’s Vision.

    You were hitting the nail on the head for me… the wild paperbacks of the 70s (the sorts of things I was reading in the 80s from the public library or picking up at used book stores), compared to the Tolkien-wannabe fantasies that took over around then. I mean, I love Tolkien too, don’t get me wrong. But compared to some of the crazy stuff back then. I remember reading Keith Laumer’s A Plague of Demons when I was… I dunno, not even twelve? Then reading stories of Conan (by Howard and other authors), Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser… and that’s how I wanted my fantasy and SF. Blame it on Star Wars if you want. Tokien was a beautiful excursion, but it seemed strange to me that suddenly every fantasy book from a certain date on was trying to be LotR.

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