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Publisher: Bluejack

March, 2009 : Interview:

Confessions of a 3am Writer

Interview with Ken Scholes

Until now, Ken Scholes has been known primarily for his short stories, with work appearing in numerous magazines and anthologies including Realms of Fantasy, Talebones, Weird Tales, and Aeon, as well as many others. In 2004, his story "Into the Blank Where Life is Hurled" won the Writer's of the Future contest. In December 2008, Fairwood Press published a collection of his stories, Long Walks, Last Flights, and Other Strange Journeys, and on February 17th, 2009, his first novel, Lamentation, was published by Tor. It's been getting quite a buzz and is the first of a five book series called "The Psalms of Isaak," which will include not only Lamentation, but Canticle (slated for October 2009), Antiphon, Requiem, and Hymn. His website can be found at

Brent Kellmer: You're well-known for your short fiction—in fact, you just had a collection come out in December. Now that you're working on novels, are you still writing short fiction?

Ken Scholes: Alas, I don't have as much time for short fiction now that I'm writing novels. Some of that is because I'm working at a pretty fast pace to get the rest of the series finished in addition to the day job and everything else life brings. Once the "Psalms of Isaak" are done—or if I find any gaps in time along the way—I'll definitely do more short fiction.

BK: You mention the day job—you do that AND are a prolific writer. And soon you'll have twins (well, your wife will)—how do you manage it all?

KS: Well, I'm still not sure how I'll manage the twins bit—the news is a bit fresh. But I'm sure we'll find a rhythm that works. It seems that focus, discipline and getting up very early are my primary management tools so far. I've also recently cut back my hours at the day job. That seems to be helping me find more balance.

BK: That's time management—can you give us an idea of how you write? What works for you?

KS: Well, I'm learning a new process now that I'm writing novels. What worked for short stories doesn't seem to apply here. Right now, I seem to do well just doing the work with a few notes to guide me. On Canticle I had an outline but never looked at it. On Lamentation and Antiphon, I worked without an outline. I do a single draft, collect input from my first readers and my editor, revise and then do not touch the book again until it's time to check the copy edits. It's a bit faster paced than what I'd usually like but it's working well and it's getting the books done quickly so they can get out into the world.

My typical writing day starts at about 3am with a walk. Then, by 4am I'm ready for the day job and getting some words in before leaving at 6:15am. I use my lunch breaks to stay in touch with other writers (or actually write if I'm really behind) and I usually put in an hour or two in the evening if I'm not current in my goals.

It takes me between 5 and 7 months to wrap the first draft of a novel, then another 3-4 weeks to revise it.

BK: You placed highly in the Writer's of the Future contest—how did that affect you as a writer?

KS: I was a third place winner in my quarter and it had a great influence on me. The workshop was amazing. The first pro-level sale in the anthology opened doors to more sales. The award ceremony was confidence-boosting. That win is when editors started noticing my work and suggesting that I tackle a novel.

I highly recommend the contest to anyone who wants to break into SF/F as a writer. I tell new writers to write 1-2 stories per month and send their best each quarter to WotF, then send the rest to the other markets, and keep doing it until you either win or are disqualified from winning by selling too many stories.

BK: Much of the short fiction you've written has a very "homey" feel to it—where does that come from?

KS: Oh, I suspect it comes from me being fairly "homey" in nature. I'm told I tend to be easy-going and friendly with folks.

BK: You've been doing short fiction for quite a while now—now you're working on novels—how does the experience differ for you?

KS: It differs widely. I'm learning a new process now since novels take so much longer to write than short stories. I'm a pretty terrible multi-tasker so I've had to learn how to keep forward momentum on a novel over a period of months, while at the same time taking care of everything else as it comes up. Of course, with novels, I have more room to explore than I do with short stories. I'm enjoying that aspect. It's nice to stretch out my story-telling legs and run.

But I'm looking forward to more short fiction once the pace lets up a bit.

BK: You're first novel just came out—let's talk about that.

KS: It's called Lamentation and it's based on my short story, "Of Metal Men and Scarlet Thread and Dancing with the Sunrise," from the August 2006 issue of Realms of Fantasy. The story follows the lives of four characters who watch a city fall due to a terrible act of violence and then watch the world change as a result of it.

BK: Lamentation didn't go through the normal hoops (submit, wait, submit again) to get published. Can you explain what happened?

KS: Well, it actually did get published the routine way, though there were some places where it moved a little faster than normal. I'd already established a bit of a track record in the short fiction world before attempting a novel. First step, of course, is to write the book. I wrote it quickly on a dare in the Fall of 2006. Second step was representation—my close friend Jay [Lake] read and loved the book and he brokered an introduction with his agent. She read the short story from Realms of Fantasy and agreed to read the book. She made a decision fairly quickly and took me on as a client in February 2007. Second step was to find a publisher and I had already known I wanted to approach Tor because they take such good care of their series. In Spring 2007, I spent some time with Beth Meacham at a local con (another introduction Jay brokered). She heard me read the short story and agreed to look at the book. So we sent it up and I think we waited about five months before the offer showed up. All in all, it was still a very quick turn around but it was still pretty much the same route.

BK: What was the seed for Lamentation and the rest of the Psalms of Isaak?

KS: Well, my short story "Of Metal Men and Scarlet Thread and Dancing with the Sunrise" was the initial seed. I didn't realize it was a novel or series of novels for some time after. Initially, Allen Douglas's art work (available on my website) first showed me that there was so much more story to the character of Isaak. Based on that, I set out to write four interconnected short stories that encapsulated snapshots of the greater story arch of "The Psalms of Isaak."

After the second story, "Of Missing Kings and Backward Dreams and the Honoring of Lies," failed to find a home at Realms of Fantasy, I started listening to the people around me who kept gently reinforcing that it was indeed time to write a novel and that this world and these characters were a good place to start.

BK: Most fantasy novels tend to have names very evocative of classic fantasy: "Magic's Pawn," "Wizard's First Rule," "The Sword of Shannara," that sort of thing. And yet you start your series with a novel with the distinctly non-fantasy-esque Lamentation. How did that come about?

KS: I've always enjoyed rather long titles for my short fiction but had always heard that one-word titles work far better when it comes to selling novels. Initially, I was kicking around titles like "A Lamentation for the Light" or "Lamentation for Windwir," but very quickly saw that Lamentation was far more impactful, at least in my own mind. And as the other titles took form, I saw an emerging theme of terms from liturgical music.

And just to touch on it a bit, I really didn't go into the first book or the series thinking too much about genre tropes or traditions. I really just set out to get into the heads and hearts of my characters and tell the story through their eyes, based on their perspective of what's happening in the world they live in.

BK: Religion clearly plays a significant role in Lamentationunusual for most fantasies where religion at most consists of "and then there were a bunch of temples, and some strange gods." Why is this? In what role do you see religion in regard to modern fantasy?

KS: I think any and all parts of the human experience have place in our fiction if we're writing about humans. Religion has certainly been an influence in our world and I would expect it to be the same in our fictional worlds as well, regardless of the shape and size it may take. And religions come in all shapes and sizes.

Of course, my Androfrancines are a bit different. They are using a familiar ecclesiastical hierarchy, but the underlying belief system is secular and humanistic—protecting the light of human knowledge and protecting humans from using that knowledge to destroy itself. My Androfrancines were founded by scientists, scholars and behaviorists who saw that dressing it up as a religion would serve their best interests.

BK: There's lots of gossip about how editors tend to be doing less and less for first-time novelists these days. You've talked about your editor in a number of places—what sort of role does she play for you?

KS: I am really pleased with the relationship I have with my publisher and my editor. Tor has been exceptional to work with and Beth Meacham has a solid reputation as one of the best in the land at what she does. Beth helps keep my story straight and helps keep me focused on the work at hand. And this has been a rough fourteen months for me. Since the book deal landed, I've lost my mom, my nephew and my dad. That's a lot of loss to grieve. On top of that, my wife and I are expecting twins. Lots of ups and downs. Beth's insights in having worked with hundreds of writers through the various ups and downs of life and career have served me very well already, here at the front end of my writing career. She has tips and tricks in her pocket that nearly always work for me and her commitment to keeping both me and the story on the right and sane path is an invaluable gift in my life. I couldn't find a better editor to work with and I'm pleased to consider her both a professional colleague and a friend.

BK: What's next (after the "Psalms of Isaak" I mean)? In five years? In ten?

KS: Oh, I have more tales to tell in that world. "A Weeping Czar Beholds the Fallen Moon" (now free at is begging to be a series of its own. I've also got other stories to tell in the world of the "Psalms of Isaak"—both before and after the events in those five books. I suspect I'll write in that world in some capacity for the rest of my career.

My short story, "Invisible Empire of Ascending Light," from Eclipse 2 also wants to be a trilogy when it grows up. That's one I'm excited to tackle. And I want to do more work in my "Last Flight of the Goddess" world, along with more short fiction as time allows.

BK: Did anyone in particular influence you?

KS: The entire pantheon influenced me. I read widely across genres as a kid and still read outside SF/F quite a bit. Earliest influences were Bradbury, Burroughs, Howard, Moorcock, Heinlein, King, Tolkien, Fleming, L'Amour. Later influences inluded Dick, Ellison, Herbert, Silverberg, Williams, Leonard, Clancy, Grisham, and DeMille.

BK: Any advice for writers starting out?

KS: Absolutely. Write. Write more. Revise your work. Submit your work to the markets, including Writers of the Future. Avail yourself of the tools and opportunities that are out there. Meet other writers and sharpen one another's skills by interacting with them. Be persistent and patient. Write. Write more.

Truly, writing more is the best advice anyone can give. It's the only secret recipe. Practice, practice, practice.

BK: Thanks for your time to talk to us, and good luck with Lamentation.

KS: Thank you!

Watch Jay Lake's interview with Ken on the Tor/Forge blog.

Copyright © 2009, Brent Kellmer. All Rights Reserved.

About Brent Kellmer

By day, I'm a technical writer and by night, I write the stuff that's really important to me -- articles, interviews, fiction. I've sold a couple of stories so far -- "Breaking Contact," which appeared in the September 2008 issue of Aoife's Kiss, and just recently (11/10/08), "Flight of the Gods," to Aberrant Dreams (no pub date yet). More soon, hopefully.

I used to be managing editor at IROSF, and then later news editor, but the day job got in the way so I had to bow out.


Mar 6, 04:48 by Bluejack
Comment Below!
Mar 8, 03:33 by Bridget McKenna
A very enjoyable interview, Brent and Ken. Good work, both of youse.

I'm spooning Lamentation out to myself a chapter or so at a time, and really loving the way you a) cut to the chase and put me into the story, b) weave magic with words, and c) lightly touch on Things That Will Matter in a way that makes me eager to learn more, rather than assaulting me with lengthy histories and genealogies. I'll be reading your books with enjoyment for years to come, and that makes me happy indeed.

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