Tag Archives: Author’s method

Garden of the Gods: An Interview with Author Stephen J. Stirling

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Stephen J. Stirling about his latest novel, Garden of the Gods. I was lucky enough to read it early and found it to be an concise and poignant thriller. I highly recommend it for anyone who likes what I call ‘introspective action.’ That is, the kind of book that is action-packed, but keeps you pondering its message and themes for days afterward.

This is something of a first on this blog, but it has given me the idea on having other authors on to talk about their work. For now, though, let’s talk to the man himself about Garden of the Gods!

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Hello, Stephen. We’re so glad to have you on Sector M! I always appreciate the opportunity to speak with another author about their methods and body of work. So, if you’re ready, let’s dive right in, shall we?

Thank you for having me! I always enjoy my chats with the leadership of Sector M and our glimpses into the future.

Let’s talk about your latest book, Garden of the Gods. Without giving too much away for readers, what can you tell us about the story and your influences for it?

The story itself revolves around a Native American tribe in the northeast Arizona desert. But Garden is largely a statement about worship—any worship—how it enriches our lives and what belief for each of us is really all about. The fact that we live in an age that needs religion so badly was the driving force behind writing this story.

I remember that Alan Moore used to say that the plot of a story is wholly different from what it’s about, meaning the themes, allegory, morals, and all that good stuff. So, what is Garden of the Gods about?

Well, Garden of the Gods is about Native Americans, their rich heritage, their connection with the past, and their hope for the future. . . (and it is also about monsters). But to call it a simple action/adventure would do the story a disservice. The story’s subplot proves that every resolution within this book was motivated by faith, or the lack of it.

The book is a period piece, in more than one sense of the term. What kind of research and preparation did you do about the time period, the various species you include, and native tribes when writing it?

The American southwest is a treasure of unique people and, as of yet, not wholly discovered zoological life. It is a human and animal ecosystem in constant flux, breathing and pulsating with the drama of life. Writing is a funny thing. You begin researching one topic, and end up somewhere entirely different. The Native American people against the backdrop of wartime America was where I tried to focus my research—I wanted to do them and their heritage justice.

When you are writing a book, what is your method? Are you more of a ‘planner,’ who outlines everything in great detail ahead of time, or are you more of a ‘gardener,’ who throws characters into a situation and lets it develop organically without preconceived notions of the outcome? Where you do you fall in that continuum, do you think?

This question is very important, and my answer is—yes. You think you’re one kind of writer who has all the characters lined up and ready to do what they’re told, and suddenly they turn on you. They come out fighting and you’re left to clean up their messes. I guess you could say I fall somewhere in between the two methods.

Let’s talk about your main character, Matt Hayden. He strikes me as being cut from the same cloth as many two-fisted pulp-era adventurers, like Allan Quartermaine and Indiana Jones, and perhaps even a hint of Cussler’s Dirk Pitt. What were your influences and thoughts when creating your leading man?

Hayden is a hero cut from whole cloth, at the same time with a huge wrinkle broadening him into a sympathetic strength that is instantly likable. I did craft him between literature’s Allan Quartermaine and living legend Bring Em’ Back Alive Frank Buck, and yet the combination makes him unique among American characters.

And what about the secondary and/or support characters? What were their roles when placing them into the overall ensemble?

Read the book carefully and you’ll discover that every character has a religious angle. Every character worships something. Every character (even “non-believers”) believes in something. Every character has to fight for something, and every character has to abandon something in the process.

The Nyah Gwaheh, the armored bear, has a very complex role in the story. In some ways it serves as the primary antagonist, but it’s clear that it has a deeper, more symbolic role to play within the narrative. What sort of metaphor does it represent?

The Nyah Gwaheh is a living parable of religious value and the things that we worship, whether we know it or not. He is the driving force of the book.

Any chance or thoughts on a sequel? No pressure…

Oh good, because I don’t see a sequel in the future. I think I’ll leave the characters to their own devices for a while.

This last question is pretty free-form. What would you like the readers out there to know about your book? Anything you like. Here, I’ll hand you the proverbial megaphone.

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Well thank you! I’ve never used a proverbial megaphone before. I’d like to leave you by saying I hope others will find as much joy in reading this book as I found in writing it; and if they find an introspective moment—or two—to contemplate their own spirituality I will have accomplished even more.

Thank you for taking time out of your schedule to chat, Stephen! It’s been a rare pleasure.

The pleasure is mine! Thank you for your interest in my project and your insightful questions. Talking with you has been a rare treat.

Take care now, and don’t be a stranger!

 

There you have it, folks – right from the source himself. Garden of the Gods is on bookshelves now at Deseret Book stores. It’s also available in print or digital format on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.com.

CHECK. IT. OUT.


Backwards Compatible – Part 6: Enter The Fox

So, after recovering from the single greatest bout of writer’s block I’ve ever had, I had to dust myself off and get back on the horse. During that time in limbo, however, when the main plot of the novel was on hold, I decided to write some sequences out of order.

Normally I don’t do that since it makes continuity pretty tricky to maintain. Still, I wanted at least some words on paper while I tried to sort out the real quandary of the A-story. In one of these sequences, I introduced the primary antagonist of the book, Captain Gaylon Fox.

The Man Himself.

Not even gonna lie, this is my dream casting for the character: Jason Issacs.

Most of the time, villains are more interesting to me, literarily, than heroes. I knew he would be key the story, so this was my chance to show the reader what this particular villain was made of. To be an effective nemesis to the main character, Captain Coeur D’Esprit, he needed have certain things in common with her. I wanted him to be a shadowy double of her, like the dark side of the same coin.

The previous novel, To Dream of Chaos, which I did not write, gave me the perfect set up. In it, the crew of Hornet faced off against ship of the Solee Navy, Royal Vengeance, near a gas giant. During the battle, Vengeance was critically damaged and, in an act of desperation, uses its Jump drive to get away without first getting to a safe distance.

Now, for those unfamiliar with Traveller canon, Jumping while in a gravity well is only slightly less horrible than crossing the streams in Ghostbusters. The ship might be instantly destroyed, or never emerge from Jump space, or appear parsecs away from where they meant to go, and be stranded.

Crossing the streams.

I love this plan. I’m excited to be a part of it.

A situation like that was one of Coeur’s defining moments, which led to some serious survivor’s guilt when only 4 crewmembers (including her) survived that stunt out of a crew of 100. If that weren’t enough, Royal Vengeance returns at the end of To Dream of Chaos, and is once again repulsed, and nearly destroyed.

Now that it was my time at the helm of the story, I decided that Gaylon Fox had been the Executive Officer on Royal Vengeance during that deadly encounter. When his incompetent Captain is killed during Coeur’s initial attack, he was the one who made the call to Jump. Subsequently, he became captain of the ship, and had been jonesing for a rematch ever since.

It felt only natural that Royal Vengeance should play a part in the third act of the New Era trilogy. And now I had a villain who had been in a similar situation as the hero, and forced to make some of the same hard decisions. Where the hero used those horrific events of her past to make something positive of herself, Gaylon Fox has gone done a darker road, using his experiences instead to focus his ambition like a laser to further his own agenda.

Snidley Whiplash

Nope!

Having said that, I didn’t want this guy to be a complete mustache-twirler like Snidley Whiplash or Dirk Dastardly. So, I made him competent at what he does, fearless (though not reckless), polite, and coldly self-controlled. Besides that, he often rewards initiative, and inspires service and loyalty in his subordinates. While he’s no saint, I built him so that he might be viewed as a hero from his own side of the war.

To me, those are the best kind of villains, the ones who  ̶  even if it’s just for a second  ̶  you want to win. After the first scenes with Captain Fox, I knew that’s who I had on my hands. He would naturally be the unstoppable force to Coeur’s immovable object.

Force Paradox

Like that, only with more lasers.

What would happen when they inevitably collided? I would have to wait to find out.

Next time on Backwards Compatible…canon gets murky when another version of The Backwards Mask surfaces.

[Check out The Backwards Mask on Kindle.]


My Pre-Writing Ritual

Authors are a strange lot. Sure, some may be completely normal-looking on the outside, but there’s something about a person who’s willing to spend hours upon hours plinking away on a keyboard (or writing with pen and paper) that makes them…eccentric. Yes, eccentric. That’s a polite way of putting it.

I’m no exception. In fact, I revel in the knowledge that I’m just a little off. Always have been, always will be. Let me give you an example of the madness to my method. What follows is the ritual I go through before a writing session.

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Brace Yourself – Weirdness is Coming.

1.) The Encounter Suit

Do you know someone (or are someone) who has a game-day jersey, lucky hat or something similar? You know, it’s that article of clothing that can magically make the difference between victory and defeat for a favorite team? Well, I have a similar deal with what I put on before I settle in at my keyboard.

I’ve been known to wear pajama pants when I’m writing, the really eye-blistering plaid kind that look like golf pants gone horribly wrong. Or, it could be jeans or cargos, just so long as they’re comfortable. The real focal point of the garb, however, is the shirt. Most often it’s a printed T-shirt from a band, movie, TV show or something else that I really enjoy. It could be themed after Superman, House Baratheon, or the Official Stirlingites – just so long as it’s a physical representation of something that inspires me.

At times I even don what I refer to as my lumberjack shirt. It’s a black, beige and brick-red plaid shirt with a corduroy collar (yes, you heard that right) that I wear unbuttoned like a labcoat.  It’s a hideous throw-back to the coffee house culture of the 90s, but it also happens to be one of the most comfortable and durable shirts I’ve ever owned. It is, however, quite warm, so it doesn’t come out as much in the warmer months of Texas.

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Remember, you’re never fully dressed without a smile.

Once I’m properly attired, I look sufficiently bizarre to ensure that I spend my time writing and don’t pop out to the grocery store. Although, even in that state, I’m sure I could get away with a trip to Walmart.

2.) Downstairs Pre-flight Checklist

Once I’m ‘in garb,’ it’s time to get all my stuff together for the trip up to my office upstairs. I may grab a light snack just to tide me over or something for an in-flight treat. Generally this takes the form of sliced apples, bananas and perhaps even a few of those individually wrapped wheels of cheese. If I have any reference books downstairs that I might need, I gather them up as well.

That’s when I reach for my cobalt blue U.S.S. Constitution mug, which I bought when I went to go see Old Ironsides in Boston.  I fill it with something hot to drink, either hot chocolate or Earl Grey (the drink of choice for all the best French starship captains!).  I then stir the drink with my TuxedoSam spoon from Yogurtland.  Don’t ask me why I do that; it is simply the way of things.  Iced drinks can sometimes replace this in the mug during the Summer months.

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Onwards and upwards, Mr. Carson. Carry on.

If it sounds like I’m packing for a journey, you’re not far off. My writing sessions run about 3 to 5 hours at a stretch, so I need to make sure that I have everything I’ll need along the way. This is a non-stop flight.

So, once I have all that, I’m ready to make the walk upstairs – balancing all this stuff. I use that slow progression to mentally prepare myself for the scenes I’m about to write. I play them out across the movie screen in my head, trying to get inside the hearts and minds of the characters.

At this point I’m almost ready.

3.) Taking My Station

My office is sometimes known as “The Museum of Matt.” It has a host of my model ships, my reference library and a bunch of toys that somehow survived my childhood mixed in with the new ones I’ve picked up along the way. On my desk alone I have such things as: a model of the DeLorean from Back to the Future, a replica of the famous Egyptian sphinx, the Adam West-era Batmobile and a Warthog from Halo manned by the robots from Real Steel. (Long story). On one side of my monitor I have my autographed copy of Lindsey Stirling’s self-titled album. On the other side, I have my Masterpiece Optimus Prime holding up the Matrix of Leadership.

So, I set everything I’m carrying down on my desk, and I close the door. If you’ve read Stephen King’s On Writing, you’ll recognize the significance of that last act. Unless the house catches fire or there’s an alien invasion, the next few hours will be spent in service to the story. Closing the door is a symbolic gesture as well as a practical one.

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You’ve got the touch! You’ve got the power!

I sit down and boot up my computer, then remove anything in my line of sight that doesn’t need to be there. Bill stubs, printouts, past edits – all of that goes away. When I’m nicely settled in, I switch on a brass banker’s lamp. Aside from the light from the monitor, this will be the only light in the office. Like closing the door, pulling the lamp chain is a signal that I’m getting down to the business.

Next, I pull up my playlists and select some appropriate music for what I’m about to write. The lists have names such as “Fleet Action”, “Loss and Sorrow”, “Heroes in Uniform” and so on. Sometimes it’s a single song that really calls to me. Just like a movie soundtrack, my musical selection sets the mood for the emotional states I will attempt to capture.

I take a few minutes to let the music soak in while I continue to visualize the scenes to come. At this point, I’ve taken my station as surely as Sulu sits at the helm or Uhura at the comm panel of the Enterprise. Everything’s in place.

My hands settle on the keyboard. It’s time to write.

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Epilogue:

Do I follow this regimen each and every time I sit down to write? No, of course not. Sometimes there isn’t time to do it all. I’ve found, however, that the closer I get to what I’ve described here, the better and more productive the results. I don’t know why it works, but it does.

I’m not sure what, exactly, this says about me, but I’d like to think it means that I’m a sentimentalist  in my heart of hearts, that I like to surround myself from every angle with those things which hold special significance to me. At that moment, when I’m in my own little microcosm, I can more easily enter the worlds of my imagination.

I guess I’m just weird that way.

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What a strange person.