How did you two meet each other, and given how busy you are, how do you maintain your friendship?
SK: I honestly can’t remember not knowing Kevin. I know there was a time BKJA, but I really can’t recall it. We met at a conference and to this day, he and his wife, Rebecca, are who I look for first at every event to make sure we get together to swap laughs and road stories.
KJA: Well, I can’t forget meeting Sherri. It was at DragonCon 2006, at the bar, when some friends brought Sherri to join us, an author whose career was really starting to take off. She had bright orange yarn in her hair and vampire fangs! Since then, we’ve done a lot of parallel things, with a very similar mindset in our out-of-the-box promotional efforts and full-on interactions with our fans. She’s always been there if I needed something, and I try to do the same for her. She contributed stories for my Blood Lite anthologies, and she came to me with the Dark Duets collaboration idea. Because of our travel and con schedule, we usually bump into each other a couple of times a year. As I’m writing this, she will be our guest at the WordFire booth at Houston Comicpalooza, where we are debuting her new hardcover, Born Of Legend.
What was it like to collaborate with each other? Was it different to other collaborations you’ve been part of?
KJA: We’ve both collaborated before, and each partnership is different. Both Sherri and I have manic schedules, and arranging the time was the hardest part here. I suggested the basic idea, expecting a very dark tale, and she turned it into a much more majestic idea. When I had a chance, I drafted some of the scenes, left big blanks for her, and she filled in the blanks and sent them back to me. A couple of iterations, and we were done.
You both seem to have pretty busy convention schedules; how do you manage the strains of travel, creativity and “normal life”?
SK: I’m not sure I know what “normal” is. Kevin probably has better insights on this, as he’s much more normal than I am. I take it one day at a time and try not to look too far ahead, otherwise I panic.
KJA: Normal? I just do a good job of cosplaying an author in public. My schedule gets more ridiculous every year. This year I’m doing twenty-two cons—not just as a guest, but we have a whole booth and bookstore on the show floor, with guest authors, and I’m the publisher of WordFire Press with twelve employees and releasing about five books a month . . . plus I write about four novels a year. (And much of that promotional work is Sherri’s fault, because she raised the bar for everybody.) The real key is time management and being able to focus on what you need to, on using every available minute to accomplish something that needs to be done. I do have a lot of great people working for me at WordFire, so that helps take pressure off.
One thing to remember about ”normal,” though, is that this is normal for us. My wife (bestselling author Rebecca Moesta) and I are involved in writing/publishing/promotion twenty-four/seven. It isn’t a day job; it’s life.
What’s something you’ve learned from the other?
SK: Grace and style. Kevin has the best of both in the business. He’s always professional and the most gracious author out there. I am such a klutz, while he’s completely debonair. I admire anyone who can walk across a stage to the mic and not trip.
KJA: Sherri was the first author I met who became not just a ”successful writer,” but a full-on “celebrity” (much of it through her own tireless efforts). In public, she is every bit as much of show-stopper as a TV star, and watching her transformed the way I treated my own career and interactions with fans.
What drew you to rewriting Billy Goats Gruff?
SK: I’ve always loved fairy tales and magic—especially twisting them on their ears and poor trolls have always had such a bad rep.
KJA: When I was thinking of an idea for a dark story, I thought of the cliché of homeless people living under bridges . . . and I realized, “Hmm, what else lives under bridges? Trolls!” And I had the idea of a homeless mother and child seeking shelter under a bridge inhabited by a nasty troll. At the time, I didn’t know anything about that part of Sherri’s background, and when I suggested that possibility, she ran with it.
I loved your sensitive depiction of people’s experiences of homelessness. Everyone we meet in this story is homeless. While none of the characters are necessarily human, it was more humanizing than many descriptions. How important was this kind of representation for you? What sort of research did you do?
SK: Well, I was homeless with an infant who had horrifying health issues (it was his premature birth, and subsequent issues from that, and those hospital bills that put us on the street, and yes, I had insurance, it just wasn’t enough to cover it all). I think it’s important for people to know that bad things do happen to good people and that life can throw a serious curveball at even the most cautious and “prepared” people out there. Not everyone who’s homeless is a drug-addict or in need of mental health care. Some are normal people who’ve been knocked down, and it can happen to you, too. Not all of us made bad life choices. We were responsible people who didn’t have a family to fall back on—my parents had died of cancer, which had depleted all their savings.
Unfortunately, I saw a side of humanity I wish I’d remained blissfully ignorant of, including one driver who threw a bottle at me while I was walking my baby to the doctor on the side of the road and yelled out insults. Nurses who made nasty comments about how I should get a job (I was working two of them, in addition to being a published author). It wasn’t that I didn’t have a job and wasn’t working. The jobs in backwoods Mississippi didn’t pay enough to cover living expenses.
It’s easy to misjudge others. The one thing I try to do with everything I write is open people’s eyes to those they normally ignore or dismiss. To make people aware of the “other” side of things. That someone’s circumstances may not be what you think they are or what they show to the world. If I could have one wish, it would be for people to look at one another with open hearts and minds. Most of all, to look at each other with compassion. No matter who they are.
“Trip Trap” got some mixed reviews when it first came out, and was then listed as a notable story in The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2015. How did that feel? How do you manage reviews, and how much does recognition help insulate you from negative reviews?
KJA: I can’t help but point out the irony that the story is about trolls, although not internet trolls in this instance. The story was published in Dark Duets and led off the anthology; I think some people were expecting a grimmer, darker story, but in the end it’s an optimistic story. (And if you’re going to complain about us being hopeful and optimistic, screw you!) But other reviewers called it the best piece in the book, and it was listed as a Notable Story in the year’s best. So that’s what people need to remember about reviewers; opinions can be all over the spectrum, and you just need to find a reviewer whose tastes match your own.
I feel like sometimes the inhuman allows us to explore the intimacy of human experience in greater depth. Is that one of the things that draws you to dark fantasy? What aspects of human experience do you think are most important to explore? What aspects of human experience are you obsessed with?
SK: As I said, it’s the lack of humanity in the human psyche that haunts me. The hypocrisy. How people as a group can take something like tolerance and contort it into a new form of intolerance and conformity. The way humanity can justify any kind of evil. But what I like to believe, and what I do firmly hold to, is that in us all we do have the ability to remain honorable, no matter what has been done to us. No matter what horrors we’ve witnessed. We don’t have to surrender our souls or our compassion. My mother always said that the strongest steel is forged by the fires of hell. That which doesn’t kill us doesn’t have to make us bitter, unless we let it. Those fires show us what we can survive and clear the field for new growth. For a better harvest.
What do you think becomes of the young man, now that he is released from his burden? He’s so out of place and time, so vulnerable!
SK: Life is all about finding your place. All of us are vulnerable, and at times we all feel adrift. But somehow, we all muddle through. He’ll be fine. Like the rest of us. We just need some faith.
KJA: I think you just need to wait for the novel version that Sherri and I should write. In our spare time.
What other projects would you like to tell us about?
SK: My latest is my League: Nemesis Rising novel, Born of Legend, which is about a misjudged hero. And my next Dark-Hunter novel comes out in August, Dragonmark, which picks up where Dragonbane left off, with the demons trying to take over the world, and my dragon brothers trying to stop them and save the life of their brother who is guarding one of the most sacred objects of the ancient world. Then next year, Tor will launch my Dark-Hunter: Deadman’s Cross pirate spin-off trilogy. Demons. Pirates. Druids. Secrets. Fun stuff!
KJA: And I have a pretty eventful September. Tor Books will release Navigators Of Dune, by me and Brian Herbert, the last book we currently have planned in the Dune series, and Eternity’s Mind, the grand finale of my Saga of Shadows trilogy, which also wraps up my extensive Saga of Seven Suns series. I’ve spent eighteen years working with Brian on Dune and fifteen years working on Seven Suns, so this is really like the “end of the universes” for me. Of course, I have half a dozen other projects in the works, too, as well as publishing, conventions, teaching . . . cooking, mountain climbing, and riding the roller coaster.
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