Thursday, March 7, 2013

Interview with Author Stephen B. Pearl

Stephen B. Pearl.

3 Links:

Give us a quick introduction on yourself and your book.

            Hi all. I’m Stephen B. Pearl remember the B if you Google me, it makes it easier to find me. I’m a fiction writer who thinks of himself as an okay kind of guy. Though I’m constantly surprised by how many folk mistake polite and easy going for sucker. They tend to learn the difference when they mess with something I care about. I’ve written several novels and have published four of them at the time of this writing. I’ll have two more novels published by the end of 2013. I also have stories in a verity of anthologies. I was a lifeguard for longer than I like to admit and trained as an Emergency Medical Care Assistant in my youth. I’m a better than average backyard mechanic and home handyman, an incurable girl watcher and hopelessly faithful and in love with my wife, who can drive me round the twist faster than a rocket car.
            The odd skill mix above comes in quite handy in my writing. My studies in metaphysics were applied when I wrote Nukekubi, my Paranormal Action Adventure, while in Tinker’s Plague the skill set I gave my Tinker, a doctor of general applied technologies, is a greatly exaggerated version of my own.

What inspired you to write your first book?

This is easy, if corny. My wife, or to be accurate the woman who is now my wife. I was smitten and started writing this horrible fairy tale type fantasy with her as the beautiful princess. Princess, yea right, maybe if you think Leia and Fiona. I like smart capable women and Joy is all that and more. So I wrote this horrible book which at the time I thought was wonderful. It took a few years for me to see how bad it really was. It did however accomplish its most important task. We’ll be twenty seven years married this November. The book also showed me that I could do it. After that it became a process of learning to write well.

Do you have a specific writing style?

Yes. Fast paced and adhering to an internal logic. By this I mean that if I am writing magic the magic will be consistent within the structure I define in the book. If someone has trouble levitating a pebble on page five they won’t be levitating a bolder on page two hundred unless a rational, such as additional training, is given. I assume my readers are intelligent people with a fair general knowledge and do my best to respect that intelligence. I also like to keep the pace up. I hate it as a reader when I have to drag myself through page after page where nothing is happening, so I try to keep something going on, which isn’t to say I don’t let the tension dip and rise, I do. If you have nothing but high stress it desensitizes the reader. I feel it important to have a peek and valley structure for the tension in a book with each succeeding peek higher than the last until the conclusion. In this way the reader feels the high stress peeks more because the valleys sensitize them to the effect.

How did you come up with the title?

Tinker’s Plague was easy. The lead character is a Tinker, Doctor of General applied Technologies, and he is dealing with a Plague.

Nukekubi was named after the book’s antagonist. Nukekubi are a form of Japanese goblin that separate their heads from their bodies and fly around scaring people to death.

Worlds Apart was self evident, since the male and female leads are from two parallel earths.

Haven’s in the Storm, well the army of monsters invading my lead character’s world is known as the Storm and Ackdominel, my lead character, has to lead the human survivors to the haven the wizards have prepared for them.

I tend to be a bit of a pragmatist when it comes to titles.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

Yes.  You want more than that? Read the books and if I’ve done my job right you’ll get the message without even knowing I’ve given it to you. The first job of fiction is to entertain. If fiction can do more than entertain that can draw it across the line from good to great, but first it must entertain. Any message I include will be woven into the world and characters there for you to ponder or not as you wish.

How much of the book is realistic?

Gods, this varies. The Magic system in Nukekubi follows the principles of the Western Esoteric System with the power level bumped up. So some aspects will be recognizable to people who study such things.

Tinker’s Plague is a very realistic extrapolation of where we will be in about two hundred years time if we don’t do anything to fix the mess we’re making now. The science in it is pretty solid.

Worlds Apart, the stuff about Wicca and the witch burnings is quite accurate but it is a story about a wizard that travels between parallel universes and flies around on a magic carpet on his world where the laws of physics are different. I took a lot of latitude with this one while staying consistent within the book.

Haven’s in the Storm, though it is a fantasy universe and they are fighting ogres and trolls and the like the military formations and armour types are fairly accurate to our own world of the late fifteen hundreds.

Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

Sometimes. When my wizard from Worlds Apart, first sees Alcina, the Wiccan priestess from our world, he is charmed, stunned, enthralled. I’ve had that effect twice in my life. With all due respect to her husband one of those times was when I saw Alyson Hannigan on the screen. The other, and more important, was when I first saw a picture of Joy, my wife, on her cousin’s wall. Joy knows about Alyson and looks on with amusement.

I do use a lot of my own emotional responses. For me writing is like method acting. I find something inside that parallels what my character is feeling and bring it to the fore in myself so I can put it on the page.  

What books have most influenced your life most?
Lord of the Rings: It gave me my moral code and taught me that good can triumph if good never quits, and good need not be lily white to still be good.
Dune: It taught me how to think and that the mastery of self was a matter of practice, learning and will.
Comic books: again with the never quit but also that one person can matter. A hero isn’t a hero because he puts on a leotard or has a fancy power; he or she is a hero because of the choices he or she makes.
The Dragon Riders of Pern Books: “What has been done can be done,” and not a direct quote, but the idea that while you never throw the first punch by the gods you through the last one.

If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
Jim Butcher. His Harry Dresden Wizard for Higher books are brilliant. He is also a heck of a nice guy, or at least he seemed so during the rather brief time I spent with him and his lovely wife Shannon at a con a few years ago.

What book are you reading now?

I just finished one on Norse Mythology and am starting one on Celtic Myths and legends. I also have Ira Nayman’s what once were Miracles are now Children’s Toys on the go and Jim Butcher’s Ghost Story. One book for my car. One for the WC. One by my bed.

What are your current projects?
At present I am editing Tinker’s Sea, the second book in the tinker series. Each tinker book is a standalone set in the same post apocalyptic world. There is some character cross over but you don’t need to start with book one to follow the stories. I need to get started on a story for the second in the Morbid Seraphic series of anthologies, and I’m just about to put fingers to keys on a comedic cyber punk piece tentatively titled Cats. That is if I can ever get my head out from under all the promotional stuff I’m doing.

Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.

Ra, my primary God. I know it makes me sound like some Pagan version of a holy roller and that is a bit embarrassing because I’m not, but I think most people of faith, no matter what they choose to name the divine, can understand this. There is a quiet strength that you need not shout to the world or push on others that comes from being in touch with the divine. No one has a monopoly on it, it doesn’t matter what you name it and it isn’t in any book. It doesn’t mean you have to deny science and natural law, it simply is. 

Do you see writing as a career?

Yes. I kinda went from wanting to be an astronaut to wanting to be a writer.

If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Not in my latest one but in Tinker’s Plague I use a type of wind turbine that is now outdated. I’d love to update some of the technologies. That is always an issue in science fiction though, and I’m not so dated that people would actually notice. I just know and I’m a perfectionist about things like that.

Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
Hundreds of millions of words. Books upon books. Comics that threatened to make the floor collapse. The fire is stoked with the works of others that are distilled into new forms and pass out through ones fingertips onto the keyboard.

Can you share a little of your current work with us?

Keep in mind this is a rough draft. It’s still a couple of edits away from being complete but this is an excerpt from Tinker’s sea. To set it up Tabby, the tinker, has made port at a lighthouse station on Lake Huron just as the tail end of a hurricane is blowing in. A ship is floundering off the cost and because she is a coast guard reservist she is helping with the rescue effort. The Wave Mistress is Tabby’s boat.

Tabby and Burt hurried along the path hanging onto the rope at its edge. Sleet and hail mixed with the rain making everything slippery and stinging their faces. Reaching the pear they saw two people in heavy weather outfits readying the rescue boat. Tabby spared the Wave Mistress a glance.
“We set?” demanded Burt.
“The engine’s giving trouble again,” replied a female voice.
“Shorting grounded thing!” Burt rushed to where a hatch had been opened at the stern of the boat. Tabby followed him. The bio-diesel fuelled four hundred horse power engine sat below decks and whirred ineffectually as a man at the bridge depressed a button.
“Stop before you kill the battery,” shouted Tabby.
“Shorted thing. Not enough emulsifiers in the bio-diesel. Fuels turned to jelly. Exhaust dumps waist heat into the fuel. If it starts it’ll keep running,” explained Burt.
“Get me a plumber’s torch. I’ll heat the lines and maybe we can get the fuel to liquefy.”
Burt grunted and pointed to a torch that was clipped to the inside of the engine compartment. “I’ll handle the last of the prep.”
Tabby played the torch’s flame along the fuel line and filter. As she worked she felt someone clip a safety line onto her weather suit’s belt and heard the sounds of final preparations.
After a pair of minutes that felt like days Tabby called, “Try it now.”
The starter whirred then the diesel sputtered to life.
“Close the hatch,” Burt’s voice cut through the storm.
Tabby obliged and the life boat pulled away from the dock then cut into the swell. The rise and fall of the waves bounced her in her seat and between the rain and dark she could barely see the point of the bow.
“Where the shorting hell are we?” demanded a male voice from the wheel.
“Keep it steady, Zain. Follow the pings and triangulate.” Burt’s voice was even. Tabby glanced at the man sitting beside her, there was an air about him she’d not seen before.
The small boat crested a wave then crashed down.
“Rescue one, do you copy? Over,” demanded Candy over the howling wind.
Burt pressed a button mounted on the neck of his heavy-weather suit. “This is rescue one, we copy. Over.”
“I have you both on radar. They’re about three hundred meters from your location east by north east. Can you see anything? Over.
“No visual yet.”
Tabby grabbed Burt’s arm and pointed off the starboard bow.
Burt nodded. “Correction, we see the hull. Am closing, Over and Out.”
“Understood, Over and Out.”
The rescue boat’s engine slowed as they fought the waves to close with the sinking ship.   The ship was awash and human figures scrambled on top of the wheel house and crates that littered the deck. The lifeboat was smashed in half its bow and stern dangling from the winch lines. Several crates slid over the sinking wreck. A man in rain leathers clung precariously to what remained of the mast.
“Help, help,” the cry was faint against the wind. Bracing himself against the railing Burt stood and scanned the water. “Five degrees to starboard.” He clutched the ring buoy gauged the wind and threw it. The line snaked out then the ring splashed into a trough in the waves. The water carried it up then the line intersected a figure struggling in the water. The survivor grasped the rope and Burt hauled her towards the rescue boat. The rope slipped between her fingers but she caught the buoy and clung to it with all her might. Burt grabbed her arm then Tabby gripped her other one and they hauled her aboard. Tabby bent to inspect the woman while Burt turned to Zain.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

Finding time to write. It seems there are always a thousand things getting in the way.

Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
J.R.R. Tolkien, he was a master of the language. Often his work reads like poetry and he exemplified the best of the human spirit. I don’t write like him but there is beauty in his work.

For Living authors Jim Butcher. Harry Dresden is the modern knight errant in a dirty trench coat battered and binged and still trying to do the right thing despite the fact that the very people who should most admire him ridicule and look down on him.

Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?

This is increasing as the scope of my sales increases. At present I try to keep it within a couple hours of home for economic reasons. Though the Library in Bakewell Debenshire England has a copy of Tinker’s Plague. I was in town visiting my mother in law. Interestingly enough Worlds Apart is set largely in Bakewell.

What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Turning off my inner editor long enough to get the idea down. First I have to write it then I worry about making it good and that can be a challenge.

Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
Writers are delusional masochists. Is that encouraging enough? Actually, I always learn from writing my books because I believe good fiction must stem from fact. I research things constantly to bring them to the page. I am currently trying to market a book set in space where we have effective interplanetary ships but no faster than light travel. I spent a lot of time boning up on solar sails and ion drives. It was fun.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Get out while you can. It is not what you think and it will devour you. If you are already addicted, and it is an addiction, write the story you want to write. Don’t worry about the in thing because by the time you’ve written to meet the trend the trend will be over. Write what you want edit edit edit and get others to critique your work. Be open to guidance and if you make it big toss a quarter in my cup. I have a feeling sitting on a park bench with my recorder and a hat will be my retirement plan.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

Thanks. If you could do me the favor of penning an honest review and posting it on the web I would appreciate it. Amazon, Good Reads even Face Book anyplace. Visibility is everything in this industry and this is how you can help small time authors grow so we can keep bringing you the books you love.

What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life?
Which book?

Research: I’ve written a lot of things fairly close to home. Ray, my male lead in Nukekubi, is a lifeguard by profession. I was a lifeguard for more years than I care to think about.  The sustainable energy technologies in Tinker’s Plague were drawn from my long term hobby of sustainable energy. So I made things a little easier on myself, but I still did a lot of research.

Literary: I happen to be severely dyslexic. As I type this rough draft word is making it look like a rainbow of colored squiggly lines. I fight for each sentence and edit, edit, edit. This is the hardest element for me. I have a gift for storytelling, a very good oral vocabulary, and, if I say so myself, a fair mind. However, for me the nuances of spelling, and to a lesser extent grammar, are a struggle. Of course knowing this I work very hard to see that it is not reflected in the finished product.

Psychological: Because of how I write I have been in tears as I typed. Remembering what it was like to be called a “Stupid stupid boy,” by the abusive school teacher when I was little so I could bring that to the character of Andy in Tinker’s Sea and make that pain come to life. Drawing forward the exhilaration you feel when you compete with death itself and win more life for the person you set out to save. It is a rush to set your skill and training against death and win. In the end we never triumph but to keep the score even for another day that is a power trip that kicking a ball between a couple of posts just can’t match. So it can be a challenge to go to these places but one that is well worth it.

Logistical: This is a pain in the backside when one writes in the real world. I lucked out with Tinker’s Plague because the Guelph area was perfectly suited to the story I wanted to tell. With Tinker’s Sea I was forced to write around the geography a lot more. Sadly, with Nukekubi half of the wooded gully I used for one of the scenes no longer exists. It was my playground as a child.
When writing in a made up world you have a lot more latitude for where you place things though being married to a geologist I have to justify my mountain ranges and lakes with plate tectonics and ancient glaciers. But what ya gonna do?:-)