Ken Scholes e-interviewed by Hilary Williamson (March, 2009)
Ken Scholes grew up in a trailer outside a smallish logging town not far from the base of Mount Rainier in the Pacific Northwest. His short fiction has been appearing in various magazines and anthologies (including Realms of Fantasy, Polyphony 6 and Weird Tales) for the last eight years. He is a winner of the Writers of the Future contest. Ken's background includes service in two branches of the military, a degree in history, a brief stint as a clergyman, an even briefer stint as a label-gun repairman, and over ten years experience managing nonprofit organizations.
Ken currently lives near Portland, Oregon, with his 'amazing wonder-wife Jen', two cats, five guitars, and more books than you'd ever want to help him move. His brilliant new fantasy, Lamentation (first of the Psalms of Isaak series of five), is receiving rave reviews, including this accolade from genre master Orson Scott Card: 'This is the golden age of fantasy, with a dozen masters doing their best work. Then along comes Ken Scholes, with his amazing clarity, power, and invention, and shows us all how it's done. No more ponderous plotting - Scholes barely gives us time to breathe. Yet he creates vivid characters, a world thick with detail, and wonders we've never seen before.'
Q: You certainly get the reader's attention at the beginning of Lamentation, the disaster driving the story forward fast. Why start with such a bang?
A: It felt like the starting point of the story for these characters - the day they look up and see that Windwir's gone. And I wanted to tell a story about how people's lives are changed by destruction.
Q: With so many excellent fantasy series written, it must be getting harder all the time to come up with really innovative forms of magic. Did you find that a challenge in coming up with your scout-magicks, for example?
A: Not especially - but to be honest, I gave little thought to trying to come up with anything innovative. I just set out to tell the story. I first had the notion of magicked scouts in the short story "Of Metal Men and Scarlet Thread and Dancing with the Sunrise" and just carried them forward into the books. These powders, made from various natural herbs, roots and minerals, are used for stealth but other earth magicks are used for medicine and even contraception.
Q: The Marshers are unusual, despised and misunderstood by surrounding peoples, but deeply spiritual and remembering a long history – where did you get the idea for these folk from?
A: Throughout history there have been a lot disenfranchised tribes - I can't really speak to one place where the idea came from. So much of the book was born from my subconscious as I was writing it. I can see bits of Native American and Jewish history in the Marshfolk but there was really no intentionality there and no specific place where that idea came from.
Q: Mechoservitor Isaak is one of the most engaging characters in this first episode - will his humanity continue to evolve through The Psalms of Isaak?
A: Isaak is the character most people have written to me about so far. I think part of his charm is that unlike other metal (or wooden) boys, he is not longing to be real. He is made real by the terrible act he is forced to perform. So yes, we'll watch his humanity continue to evolve and see what he eventually does with that.
Q: The developing relationship between Gypsy King Rudolfo and Jin Li Tam (both impressive characters in their own right) adds a whole other layer to the story. Are you as romantic as Rudolfo?
A: I'm told I am a hopeless romantic, though I think Rudolfo is far more suave than I am. I think "Last Flight of the Goddess" (available as a free download at www.tor.com and in my short story collection Long Walks, Last Flights and Other Strange Journeys) probably speaks to that - it is a story about undying love that I wrote my wife one Christmas.
Q: Petronus believed that if people have access to an all powerful weapon it will be used, as it was at the beginning of Lamentation. Many of us have similar fears today - what do you think?
A: I think that our capacity for destruction and our tenacity for survival are two pretty powerful aspects of our species. I'm hoping we outgrow the former because of the latter.
Q: A seemingly admirable character in this first book takes the end-justifies-means approach to very disturbing extremes. This makes for a fascinating story, but what do you think about end-justifies-means in our own world?
A: That "end justifies the means" way of thinking is at work around us at varying levels and it's hard to know the right answer to it. I have to believe there is a better way but history and human behavior tell me this is a problem we'll wrestle with for some time because it only takes a small handful of extremists who believe that to leverage great harm. And I think the counter to it - education, dialogue, awareness and competence in dealing with other cultures and belief systems - will take time and not necessarily reach everyone.
Q: Your website mentions that you've worked "as a sailor, soldier, preacher, musician, label gun repairman, retail manager and nonprofit director". That's an eclectic set of roles - do they all feed into your writing?
A: They do! I had no idea that they would at the time. But I find that I draw from all of those past jobs both in my fiction and in my daily life. I'm fortunate to have been enriched by a wide range of experiences. My short stories particularly feature bits from those jobs.
Q: Tolkien made trilogies fashionable for fantasy, and then Jordan spun his Wheel of Time on for what seemed forever (but will be twelve). What made you settle on five books?
A: Well, I thought I was writing a series of short stories. Then it became what I thought would be a trilogy but after finishing Lamentation, I realized that three books wouldn't give me enough room to explore the entire story so I settled on five books. I did not want to go beyond five because I do feel like readers want to know how many books they're getting into and whether or not they'll be able to get the rest of the story in a reasonable amount of time. At some later date, I may decide to explore something longer but for now I'm tending towards series of three to five books.
Q: How soon will the second book be available, and can you tell us anything about what's ahead in The Psalms of Isaak, or about any other future projects you have planned?
A: Canticle will be out in October - it picks up about six or seven months after Lamentation ends, on the night of Rudolfo's Firstborn Feast. I'm presently working on Antiphon and should have it finished soon. It should be out in 2010. After Antiphon, I'll have Requiem and Hymn to wrap the series. And once the Psalms of Isaak are finished, I have a few other series I'd like to tackle. One is a trilogy based on my short story "Invisible Empire of Ascending Light" and then I have several series I'd like to tell in the same world as Psalms of Isaak though at different times in their history. Certainly "A Weeping Czar Beholds the Fallen Moon" (at Tor.com and linked at www.kenscholes.com) is begging to be a series. And there are stories to tell about the Night of Purging and the first settling of the Named Lands, along with stories featuring some familiar characters from the Psalms of Isaak - years later. I've also got some stand alone novels I'd like to tell featuring other characters from the series. So I think I'll stay pretty busy!Find out more about Ken Scholes and his Psalms of Isaak series, read (or listen) to excerpts as well as several of his excellent short stories, and check out other interviews at KenScholes.com.
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