You’ve said that the Kaslo Chronicles are space opera combined with the influence of Jack Vance’s Dying Earth fantasies, and you’ve been described as his heir apparent. What are the most powerful elements of his DE series for you? Were there any elements that you had to consciously set aside and not use in the Chronicles?
The most powerful element, for me, is the mood of decadence and world-weariness that pervades the stories. It’s an age when everything has been done, time after time, and there can be nothing new under the old sun—except for the fact that it will soon go out and plunge Old Earth into permanent darkness. But I’m not using that mood much in the Kaslo story because it’s set at the moment when the age of the Dying Earth begins and the would-be wizards—who were not much to reckon with in the age of rationalism—are all eager to strut their stuff.
The Vancean invention that I most rely on is the concept—all-pervasive now, but his original invention—that magic has rules and procedures that must be mastered by study, practice, and will power—plus innate talent. Kaslo, for all his determination and skills as an op, will never be a thaumaturge.
How has your vision for the Chronicles changed over the time you’ve been writing them? Any major unanticipated turns in the road?
When I start a story, I have a character, a situation, and an event that changes the situation and plunges the character into a developing conflict. I don’t know what’s going to happen in the middle, let alone at the end. So this one has evolved liked all the others. I now know who the villain is, which I didn’t last week, and I can get to the journey, the confrontation, and the climax.
“Fofferah’s Temporal Cabinet,” “Plackatt’s Discriminating Delimiter,” “talentless dabbler”: It seems like it would be tempting to go full tilt into wizard satire. Did you find yourself having to rein in the humor sometimes?
Yes. I try to write about serious things with a slightly comic bent. I have to keep reminding myself that there’s a thin line between ironic twists and the descent into buffoonery. Then I have to remind myself to watch for that line and stay on the right side of it. But snazzy spell names are also a Vancean trope that I like to follow.
Any chance we’ll see a female wizard or three in the upcoming stories?
Could be. I tend to write male characters because I am one. But I like strong female characters.
You’ve estimated the Chronicles as comprising at least twelve stories—what are the rewards and challenges of writing in the serial format?
The challenge: I can’t go back and change something to make the story glitch-free. If I change my mind about a plot development, I’ll have to do back-flips to preserve continuity or change my mind back again.
The rewards: same as any other story-making—I get to write and be paid for it.
How is the historical novel coming along? Any new projects you want to tell us about?
I’ve started scoping out the research. Before I start the historical, I’m going to revise a crime novel I wrote a couple of years ago. I want it to be more character-based and less plot-y.
In 2007, you combined writing with housesitting. How has the itinerant life been treating you? What’s been the best and worst of it?
All in all, it’s been an interesting and rewarding six and a half years. The worst of it was breaking an ankle in Cyprus without medical insurance. The best of it was seeing the North Island of New Zealand, which is my idea of a perfect place to live.
Whose work are you loving lately and why?
I’ve started reading Joe R. Lansdale. We had a brief correspondence when we were in one of George R.R. Martin’s and Gardner Dozois’s cross-genre anthologies. Turns out he has the same approach to plotting as I do (see the answer to the second question above). And I’ve been catching up on Carl Hiassen’s crime novels. He also writes about serious events in a comical manner and does very fine work.
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