What inspired your short story, “A Moment Before It Struck?”
Last fall I resolved to start writing short stories again, and after doing two hard science fiction stories, it seemed like the right time to try a fantasy. Since I had just finished up the second novel in my fantasy series, Stories of the Puzzle Lands, I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to write about.
On your blog, you said that “A Moment Before It Struck” is a prequel story set in the world of your Stories of the Puzzle Lands novels. Can you tell us a bit about the universe and how the story fits in?
The Puzzle Lands books are a quirky sort of low-tech fantasy: gritty, fast-paced, and darkly humorous. The setting is entirely imaginary, but includes two cultures in conflict: the Koráyos, a stern, egalitarian people, and Lutawa, an extreme patriarchy bent on expansion. Smoke is the protagonist in “A Moment Before It Struck” and also in both Puzzle Lands books. He’s a cold-blooded killer called to serve the will of a violent god, while trying to put together a meaningful life of his own. The short story tells of his estrangement from his close-knit and very peculiar family. The consequences of that estrangement drive the plot of The Dread Hammer, the first book in the Stories of the Puzzle Lands.
You also mentioned that its length of 4300 words is a personal victory because your short fiction is usually longer. Could you tell us about your usual writing process and if you changed anything in order to keep this story shorter?
I always try to have in mind a general idea of the story arc before I start writing: beginning, middle, end, along with theme, setting, and characters. But I tend to think like a novelist, and when we get bogged down in plot, the temptation is to throw new things into the mix just to see what comes of it. Short stories demand a different sort of discipline. I’m constantly reminding myself to keep it simple, to focus on the one core problem. I think I was able to keep this story shorter because of its structure: It’s basically two scenes, with one scene nested in the other.
Smoke says, “I do have a choice, and I choose to serve him no more.” Do you think you would make Smoke’s decision to turn away from two impossible obligations?
I hope so, though I think the theme here is that people intent on controlling your life will try to enforce the idea that your options are strictly limited, which usually isn’t true—though the cost of making a third choice can be high, especially in a family situation.
In the Author Spotlight for “Nightside on Callisto” you said that Hepen the Watcher, the second Puzzle Lands book, was released earlier this year and that you were hoping to lay out a third book before the year is over. How is it going? What’s next for you?
I’m still hoping to start on a third Puzzle Lands book, though not before the fall. Right now I’ve got the rough draft of a novel that needs to be fleshed out, and I’ve just started on a near-future thriller that I’m pretty excited about, though it’s too soon to know if it will go anywhere. And now that I’ve returned to writing short stories, I find I’m really enjoying the form, and I hope to do a few more of those.