“The Cavern of the Screaming Eyes” is a wonderful story with an intricate, solid world both in and out of d-space. Tell us about the inspiration behind the tale.
A large inspiration for the story was the comic book Scott Pilgrim. I’d been wanting to try something similar, taking video game elements and projecting them onto the real world, but perhaps with tabletop RPG elements as well. As kids, we often talked about how great it would be if we could transport ourselves into a fantasy world to be our characters. It only took me thirty-plus years to get around to writing a story about what that might be like.
One facet of the story I particularly enjoyed was the economic and social issues of entering d-space: how electronics will not work; why people delve; the views on ability, sexism, and prestige; the economy behind selling d-space loot for biological upgrades. Many people object to the mingling of genres, feeling that it “taints” a story. What are your thoughts on genre labels? Do you feel they continue to serve a purpose, or are labels meant to be marked out and written over?
Genres are useful marketing labels. They’re shorthand to help publishers connect with readers. As a writer, I only find them useful when figuring out where I should send finished stories, to be honest. Most of my life, I’ve made next to no distinction between fantasy and science fiction genres, so it’s only natural to me to blend them as I like. I find mixing ingredients can sometimes result in something that feels fresher than if you stick to the tropes of just one. There are a million and one ways to go about writing an original story, but I continue to be obsessed with the art of the mash-up.
Both Jimmy and Ivan are fully realized characters. Neither boy is particularly heroic, and I knew many kids like Jimmy in high school, eager to please yet uncertain how to fit in at first. As a writer, what would you say is the most important element of creating a believable character?
Empathy for the characters. I feel like I’ve been and known both these characters at times in my life, and putting myself in their shoes seems like the first and most important step. They may not seem particular heroic, but ultimately, each one of them is the hero of their own stories, from their point of view.
Where are you in this story? How much of Jeremiah Tolbert made it onto the page?
Jeremiah Tolbert first learned to play roleplaying games at the age of seven. I think most of where you find him this time around is in the worldbuilding, in the idea of dungeonspace itself. But there are pieces of me in each character. The most of me is in Jimmy, I suspect. That kind of eagerness and fanboy enthusiasm is something I had more of at his age than I do now. And I always felt just outside the loop of what was cool, like Jimmy.
You are a writer, photographer, web designer, father, and self-proclaimed geek. How do these elements intersect? Does photography ever influence your writing? Are there geekish elements that come through in your web-design?
Geekish elements come through in my web design primarily through the fact that ninety percent of my clients are science fiction and fantasy authors and publishers. I could pretty easily go build corporate websites and such for a lot more money, but it’s not as much fun. I enjoy working with the “industry” in any way I can, even if that means I’m just a twenty-first-century digital plumber to authors much better than myself.
Photography is something that fatherhood has left me with little time for, but when I was more active, my interest there definitely blended with other ones. I had a steampunk photography project you can still find called Dr. Roundbottom, found at www.clockpunk.com/. Although it hasn’t been updated in years, I still think of it fondly. I have other, similar ideas for projects that blend the interests, but I think my son will have to be older before I have the free time to experiment with them.
What’s next for Jeremiah Tolbert? What can readers look forward to in the coming months?
I have another half-dozen stories circulating and in progress. There are a couple of novels underway, but I don’t want to say too much about those just yet. “The West Topeka Triangle” will be coming out from either Nightmare or Lightspeed in the next year or so, I believe. I’m really hoping that audience connect with and enjoy dungeonspace as much as I do, because I have a seemingly endless supply of ideas for more stories about Flip and Domino and the whole gang as they delve into the mysteries of their worlds.
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