SFBR: In your book, you say that young children and babies are more receptive to energy, and as an example you cite that up to 61% of children had imaginary friends. Did you have any imaginary friends? How do you feel they may have affected your spiritual journey?
Matthew Krajewski: I actually did not have imaginary friends, but was often visited by otherworldly beings (faeries, angels, etc.) in dreams or sometimes in visions while awake. It affected my spiritual journey since these are very vivid memories for me, but until I started down a unique spiritual path in adulthood, I had not given these experiences the proper credence as signs of being predisposed toward shamanism and mysticism. As a child I didn’t know how to articulate what I had experienced. As an adult I’ve been able to reclaim my magical heritage.
Early in the book, you discuss archetypes that can be used to describe different types of magical people. How would you classify yourself?
I have thought about this a lot because on my new website, www.magicalheritage.com, we will feature a quiz for people to find their potential magical archetype. As I say in the book, I don’t think most people fall neatly into one type, and especially in the quiz we provide it as an introductory tool for people to get pointers on how to explore their magical heritage. I identify as a green person, shaman, and witch, but more than any other archetype would call myself a modern mystic, since I have a certain fire in me that pushes me onward to discover and understand spiritual truth.
What is your Power Animal? How did you first meet it?
I would love to share what my power animal is, but in reading different shamanic texts, shamans are advised against sharing what their Power Animal is lest those with negative intentions are given a direct path to do you harm. As a shaman I work with many different animal spirits though, and some important teachers for me have been Deer and Eagle. Deer taught me to celebrate and not be ashamed of my feminine side, teaching me that it has always been a source of strength in my character. Eagle helped me embrace my role as a leader, and we’ve spent a lot of time together in the clouds.
What is a soul retrieval?
A soul retrieval is a healing performed by a shaman, wherein they journey to the Other Side to find a missing piece of a person’s soul. Pieces of our soul can be splintered off due to traumatic events or just through the process of growing up. A shaman goes to the Other Side to bring those missing pieces back to a person, thus making their energy whole again, and bringing back more health and vitality to a person.
Briefly describe the concept of the “Great Song.”
The “Great Song” is the Celtic version of what appears in most any creation myth worldwide, essentially that the universe was created through sound, and that sound begat matter. It is an interesting notion that parallels science since recently they discovered that the black hole at the center of our galaxy has a distinct note: B flat. Another way to understand this influence of sound is to think of all energy, that underlying principle behind all matter, is sound. Whatever happens, whatever we do, think, or feel, ripples out and affects the energetic universe, forming a symphony of chords that we cannot even being to comprehend. Hence, why it can be understood as the “Great Song” or the energy that runs through all of creation.
One of the lessons is that “God can be seen as all spiritual entities.” What are some of the forms God takes for you?
In whatever form God takes for me, I always have reverence for what I call the Source, or the mysterious, emanating principle of God that can’t be known or named. For me, that is as close as I get to a notion of a Creator God found in major world religions. But I believe that many of the faces we ascribe to God are just reflections of the Source, and are more relatable ways for us to connect to divinity and understand or work with God. In particular I work very actively with Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love. Recently I learned that later in life, King Solomon worshipped a deity comparable to Aphrodite. I also find it very interesting that Lady Gaga just released Artpop with one of the singles being Venus, an ode to Aphrodite, and many of her outlandish outfits of late are Botticelli influenced. I believe that Aphrodite is a deity that is working actively with people right now, to bring back the notion of the divine feminine, and help us more readily work through our hearts.
What is evolved empathy? What are some examples that others may identify with?
Evolved empathy is when we feel the heart energy of others, can feel others in pain or distress, but have no communication or external signals of such a situation. The best way to visualize it is when a mother hears their baby’s cry from across town. They may be many miles away, but will rush home because their child needs them. I’ve experienced evolved empathy time and time again with close friends. Recently I came over to a friend’s house and just felt yucky and overwhelmed with anxiety. We started talking, and he related how anxious he was feeling, and how he just couldn’t shake his blue mood. I didn’t know he was feeling this way, but felt it before he articulated it, I could feel it on the front porch before I even knocked on his door. This is evolved empathy, recognizing that feeling is not necessary cause and effect, feeling is apart of energy, and we can connect to it at any time.
How would you describe the concept of “karma” to someone who has never heard the term before?
In probably the simplest way I can, I would describe karma as the effect of your unique energy signature. Your body, matter itself, is an illusion. What exists, what is actual reality, is energy. Therefore, the feelings you give your energy, how you treat others and the world and that energy, creates a unique energetic signature. In short, it is your karma. How you interact with the world, and treat yourself, creates your unique energy, otherwise known as karma. Therefore, whatever happens to us, good or bad, is a result of our energy or karma.
When did you discover that your magical talents included elementing?
I’ve always been drawn to crystals, flowers, and trees, but was always of the mind that they didn’t have consciousness. As my spiritual path developed over the last couple of years, I realized that all living creatures have energy, and therefore varying degrees of what we would call consciousness. I first experienced powerful elementing after doing a Celtic ritual in the woods with a friend of mine, wherein we were connecting to our mystic past and welcoming back our past lives. As we walked back, a tree started talking to me, and I approached it and started talking back. Ever since then I always experience what I would call energetic background noise of the voices of trees, and just have to focus to bring their voices forward.
Can you describe your first experience with a ghost?
I’ve always had more passive than active experiences with ghosts, in that I can sense when they are there, but have never had direct conversations or visionary experiences with them. I do house blessings for people, where I bless a new home and dispel old energy, and very often will come across spirits that have never quite left the house. One time in particular I saw a little girl in a basement, and knew she had drowned in a flood a long time ago, and just didn’t know where she was or why she was there. In such situations I summon a light to the Other Side and try to guide them to it, so they will leave the house and material reality, and journey deeper into the Other Side and energetic reality.
Do you have a favorite tarot deck? Do you use more than one for different purposes?
I have quite a collection of tarot decks, and I’ve been collecting them for many years. Recently I’ve started looking for antique decks, but they are very hard to find. I am partial to the Wildwood deck since it has a lot of Celtic imagery. I actually just started using the Dali deck because it has some fabulous imagery not found in most decks. Recently I’ve started using the Faery Oracle, a variation on the tarot deck, and draw a card daily to get a message from a faery.
What are some other books you would recommend to people interested in further developing their magical abilities?
I always recommend people start with Awakening to the Spirit World by Sandra Ingerman and Hank Wesselman. It is a primer on beginning shamanism, but can also read as introduction to energetic reality. I also love Wheels of Light by Rosalyn Bruyere, which explains our energetic system through chakras, in particular the root chakra and how to activate it. But this is also why I wrote Modern Magic, I wanted to update the message found in many metaphysical, mystical, or New Age books, and give people a primer on why anything magical works at all, the philosophy or theory behind it. That way they can have more confidence exploring their own magical abilities.
What is one message you want readers to take away from Modern Magic?
That what we think is reality isn’t reality at all. There is a rich world of energy all around us, and we just need to open our hearts to experience it. When we do, we can reclaim our magical heritage, and start truly living in harmony with all life, and all energy, through the energetic superpower that is our heart.
Matthew Krajewski attended Sarah Lawrence College where he studied writing. For the last eight years he has worked in Silicon Valley as a director of product management, but due to magical occurrences in his life, he increasingly turned his attention to writing and spirituality. Matthew is a modern mystic, incorporating diverse magical traditions and modern sensibilities into his spiritual practice. Modern Magic: Reclaiming Your Magical Heritage is his first work on spirituality. He lives in the woods of Aptos, CA with his partner and their dogs.
David Marshall: This interview is in celebration of the publication in English of two sensationally good supernatural thrillers by French author, Sire Cédric. He’s as good as the early Clive Barker, and deserves to be read by everyone who enjoys slightly bloodthirsty horror. It’s been a joy to meet him.
Thanks for agreeing to this interview. When I was young, I thought European authors like Thomas Owen wrote wonderful short stories and novels. I was sad to see the blurb on your paperback editions describe you as “the French Stephen King.” When selling you to the French market, why do the marketers not compare you to some of the great French writers of supernatural and horror?
Sire Cédric: You know, the artist never really has a say in the publicity and marketing! The quote comparing me to Stephen King comes from a French TV host and probably the most famous bookseller in France, Gérard Collard. I, personally, would never, ever, compare myself to such a genius as King. But I’m not going to complain if it helps sell more books in these rather troubled times! Besides, truth be told, Stephen King was one of the very few writers – I could name Clive Barker and Dean Koontz, too – who taught me how to write back when I was a teenager. No doubt about that. If I’m a writer today, it’s largely thanks to their inspiration. My role models were almost always English or American writers except for the French author, Serge Brussolo, whose vision and sense of style were also huge influences in my earlier work.
DM: I’ve seen you compared to Clive Barker and Graham Masterton. Surely you work to develop your own style rather than modeling your writing style on the work of others?
SC: I do, of course. When I started writing as a teenager, I did what most teens do. I imitated the masters. It was fun and the best way to learn the craft. Then, with time, I started to develop my own voice. Writing is a very private activity after all. You spend hours alone with your thoughts, dreams, and feelings, and in some organic way, that all ends up in the pages you write. Since I’m from France – and very proud of this great country – the soul of France and its culture permeates my vision of things. The natural rhythms and articulations of French as a language also influence me. I’m aware of this and try to be as universal as possible in the way I write and when I think of plot ideas.
DM: What attracts you to the supernatural and dark fantasy?
SC: It’s simple. I love it. The fantastique is a wonderful sea of symbols and we all swim in that sea whether we’re awake or asleep and dreaming. It’s all about the collective soul and our individual heritage. When you think about it, this makes my job quite simple. I’m paid to make up stories. So I take a swim in that sea and come back with new ideas – big fishes, like the movie director David Lynch often said. I aim for stories people will come to love. I’m not saying I succeed all the time! But that’s what I’m trying to do. Ever since I was a little boy, the stories I love, the stories that frighten me, the stories that make me think, always use some kind of supernatural or folklore element. That’s what the supernatural is to me. It projects ideas in the flesh, makes sparks of collective dreams.
DM: Your characters have to face extreme dangers. Do you see danger as a way in which they can seek redemption for past sins, real or imagined?
SC: I love to put my characters in very hard situations. I want to grip the reader’s attention from the very first page and I don’t want to lose it until the last word! There’s no better dynamic than danger and action. I also think a hero’s soul and fate can only truly appear when facing a life and death situation involving something “bigger” than us. Books are written – in my opinion – to tell us larger than life stories.
DM: Congratulations on Of Fever and Blood and The First Blood, the first two in the series featuring Inspector Eva Svärta. What problems did you face in making your leading character an albino woman working as a police officer and profiler?
SC: I didn’t think of the problems to come – there have been quite a few, of course – when I first created the character. Eva Svärta had been in a corner of my mind for quite a while. I loved that woman even before writing the very first line about her. She’s different, that’s what is so important about her. Yet she’s Everywoman. She could never blend into the police force because a part of her is forever wounded, another part of her is intimately linked to evil, and most important of all, she’s a woman with a unique physical appearance. In a society where everyone judges people on their looks, where the media continually reinforce ideas of looking younger, dressing well, etc., I thought she was a great character to explore questions and themes. Even though we all know this style dictatorship enforcing superficial appearances is only there to make us buy more cosmetic products and services, the commercials DO make us dream of being younger, prettier, and thinner than we are, to look like this or that because that’s what the archetypes are. I also wanted a female character because, like it or not, our society is a male-driven, macho, sometimes misogynistic. What interests me when I write a story is to turn situations upside-down. New perspectives emerge. Not always in an obvious way, but in a subtext we can intuitively understand. For instance, at some point in the book, Eva picks up a young barman and brings him to her place to have sex with him. When they are done, she just kicks the guy out. That’s a typical male attitude, right, and a situation millions of girls have experienced. I wanted to show that situation, but the other way around.
DM: Do you find it difficult to strike a balance between the classical elements of a thriller and the use of explicit gore?
SC: Not really. Like most writers – I guess – I just write. I tell the stories I would love to read. The balance comes quite naturally in the process. Since I really love horror, and action, and the chill of supernatural stories, all these elements blend together whenever I write. I find the tropes from the thriller genre very useful to build a fast-paced rhythm, which is what I seek when I read a story. But that’s not a reason to push the limits at all cost. I want the reader to be thrilled, not disgusted. When I was writing The First Blood, for instance, I wrote a very explicit description of a poodle being sacrificed and gutted. It was a rather long, disgusting passage. It made me quite uneasy when I wrote it. And when I read it again the next day, it just made me sick. I deleted the whole piece without a second thought. That’s how I work. I don’t plan. I just try out anything and then keep what’s important to the story to get the feeling right.
DM: Your books are a blend of police procedural and supernatural horror, where ordinary police officers confront the extraordinary. I think your books are stronger because they are grounded in the reality of the police investigation process.
SC: Precisely! That’s one of the reasons why I love the crime genre settings and tropes. They help root the story in our everyday lives. And, of course, I always loved police stories!
DM: The First Blood builds on Eva’s backstory. If she and Alexandre resolve the immediate problems in Dead Ahead, will she go on to investigate unrelated supernatural mysteries?
SC: Dead Ahead is the brand new instalment in the couple’s adventures (so far only available in French). In this third novel, I wanted to turn things upside-down again. For the first time in the series, the reader discovers who the bad guy has been all along – like the reveal in an episode of Columbo – but the cops don’t have a clue yet. This time, the two heroes are not investigating, they become the prey instead. They have to fight for survival, as the predator turns out to be way smarter than them! Eva is pregnant. That makes her a lot weaker. Even her natural talent for empathy doesn’t work anymore. I’m not giving away the ending, of course, but be sure that things are far from being finished yet.
Born in 1974, Sire Cédric lives in Toulouse. He is the author of six novels and two collections of short stories, the borders of thriller and fantasy novel. He was awarded the Masterton for his novel The Child Cemeteries and the Polar Prize (Cognac Festival) for his thriller From Fever and Blood. His books are translated in English, Polish and Turkish.
David Marshall: First, sincerest thanks for making time available in your busy schedule to talk with me and congratulations on the imminent arrival of your next book Cries of the Lost. I’m looking forward to reading it. Like you, I cut my reading teeth on Raymond Chandler, Ross MacDonald, John D. MacDonald, Dashiell Hammett, and all the others who get lumped together as pulp writers—as if that’s a bad thing. Personally, I stand in awe of their professionalism in being able to write so much, so quickly, and at such a high standard. To what extent does this early exposure to pulp shape your fiction?
Chris Knopf: It shapes it to such an extent that all those guys are often referenced by reviewers of my original Sam Acquillo Hamptons Mystery series. I started reading them when I was in graduate school, and I was blown away by the literary quality of the writing. As a student of early 20th century American literature, I could easily see where they fit into the pantheon.
DM: Forgive me for outing you as a creative director at Mintz & Hoke Communications Group. Do you find your knowledge of the better end of pulp useful when seducing people into buying your clients’ products and services?
CK: I actually moved on from copy some time ago, but yeah, cleaving to their tight, direct clarity of prose was an excellent model for copy. The reverse was also true. Copywriters have to work on deadline, have to cram a lot into a small space, and have to engage their readers from beginning to end. All great training for crime fiction.
DM: With ten books already out there and Cries of the Lost on the way in 2013, how easy do you find it to strike a balance between being a director of one of New England’s largest advertising and PR agencies, and being a novelist?
CK: I never write novels on the job, though I will take some time to do promotional things, or answer book-related correspondence during regular working hours. Otherwise, my days are committed to our agency. Writing happens early mornings, after work and on weekends/holidays. If you work all the time, and are willing and able to write fiction whenever you have the chance, you can do it. Avoiding TV and having a minimal social life helps.
DM: You have five books featuring Sam Acquillo and three with Jackie Swaitkowski. By their nature, the mystery elements have to be tightly plotted but the character development can be more organic. Which do you find the more interesting?
CK: Character developments by far. You’re right, that comes organically, which is a lot of fun, as things are revealed about a character you don’t even know it appears on the screen. Plots can have some flexibility, too, though you’re right again, I’m better off when I know all the key plot elements, in particular, how the book starts and ends.
Thematically, I like the slightly subdued humor that runs through your books. Is this a conscious effort to change the pace in the buildup of tension (e.g. as in the Porter scene in Shakespeare’s Macbeth)?
CK: Yes. I’m a musician. Music works best when there’s a dynamic range – fast, slow, soft, loud, etc. The same with fiction. A really strong scene is much stronger when the reader is softened up with a lighter moment. I also use humor, à la Elmore Leonard, to flesh out characters – especially bad guys – and even build tension (as when Sam provokes the bad guys into a fight by employing some witty barb).
DM: The idea of a novel as a symphonic poem is appealing. Do you have music in mind when you write or do you listen to music as you write?
CK: I can only write to soft jazz, like early Miles and late Duke. And people like Oscar Peterson and Mary McPartland. Songs with lyrics get in the way of the words you’re trying to get down on the page. I do have musical structure in mind all the time – dynamics, phrasing, bridges, crescendos. Rhythms and time signatures. Language and music is the same to me. I’ve never had a specific piece in mind, but that’s a good idea.
DM: You have the beginnings of a Hamptons Rat Pack with Sam Acquillo an ex-boxer, bright blue collar type who managed to get quite high up the corporate ladder before he dropped out, and Jackie Swaitkowski who’s an attorney enjoying life rather more than practicing her trade. Are you interested in exploring people who have never joined or stepped off the corporate career ladder? Or put another way, is this your way of exploring whether, assuming you could make the financial side work, you would drop out of your corporate life?
CK: I like the Rat Pack idea. I’m stealing it. Sure, I love working with an ensemble cast, some of whom are recurring characters (Joe Sullivan, Burton Lewis, Ross Semple, Paul Hodges…) complemented by fresh faces, some of whom stick with the series (Harry Goodlander). As far as me dropping out of the working life, time will tell.
DM: Are we going to see more of Sam and Jackie?
CK: Yes. In November 2014 they’ll be back together in Cop Job. Sam is handling 1st person POV for this round.
DM: As in the television series like CSI, you’re willing to do a crossover novel to bring Sam and Jackie together. Ignoring copyright problems between the two publishers, why do you think authors are generally reluctant to bring two different series together?
CK: I don’t know why writers would be reluctant. Publishers might be, though mine have been great about that. We know Michael Connelly famously brought Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller together. For me, it’s easy because Sam and Jackie inhabit the same world and have always shown up in each other’s books. I think it’s great fun to have characters from different works, be it TV, film, books, whatever, pop up in unexpected places. The only thing the writer has to be careful of is managing POV and knowing whose voice is carrying the story. I don’t think that’s hard if you know your characters.
I’m free to include both characters in any book. In fact, as noted above, my next Sam book is Sam and Jackie teaming up on a case.
DM: How do you find dealing with two different publishers, one relatively small and the other a division in the Macmillan empire?
CK: Very different experiences. Both houses have wonderful editorial people. It’s mostly different in the sale/marketing side of things. The smaller guys can give you more attention, the bigger guys can afford sales people and bigger runs. So like most things in life, it’s a tradeoff.
DM: Where does Elysiana fit into the oeuvre? There you are pursuing two series characters and suddenly diving off into a standalone.
CK: I spent summers during my college days lifeguarding on the Jersey Shore. This book was long in the making, essentially fictionalizing my experiences, which were pretty wild, given it’s set in 1969 (some real experiences I left out since no one would believe it).
DM: I’m pleased and relieved to see Arthur Cathcart reappearing in Cries of the Lost. The idea Dead Anyway might also be a standalone was dispiriting. What can we expect in this second episode?
CK: Where Dead Anyway was tightly set in Connecticut, Cries of the Lost races all over the world. It’s more international thriller than mystery, with Arthur and Natsumi continuing their relationship and character development. I guess I like girl/boy teams. Probably too many Nick and Nora movies, and John Steed/Emma Peel TV shows.
About Chris Knopf
Chris started at Mintz & Hoke in the PR department, then took a job at Union Carbide (pre-Bhopal), then went back into the agency world as a copywriter, eventually finding himself back at Mintz & Hoke where he’s been ever since. He won a bunch of creative awards, which is the equivalent of street cred in this business. (Hatch, “Gold Pen” (twice) and “Gold Brush” CT Advertising Club, Athena Awards, One Show of NY, Super Bell and Bell Ringers, IABC International Gold Quill, yadda, yadda. In 1990 I was named a Creative All-Star by AdWeek magazine.)
He’s also a published novelist, sailor, house designer, cabinet maker and rock and roll musician when he can steal the time.
This led to becoming assistant creative director, then creative director. He and his wife, Mary, became the principal owners around the turn of the century, and now he’s the CEO.
Although this can be a difficult and stressful business, there’s nothing better for a person who likes a lot of variety, smart people and wearing blue jeans to work every day (almost).
He likes all the different client work they get to do, because you learn so much about so many different things. He also really loves the social services communications they’ve done over the years, from connecting people with disabilities to employers, to fighting breast cancer, homelessness, teen pregnancy and compulsive gambling.
Advertising gets its share of public opprobrium, much of which is undeserved. As in any other field of human enterprise, most advertising people are principled, hard-working, and nice to their children and pets. But we can also be a lot more fun to hang around with, because we get excited about creating things. And we like words and pictures. And bright shiny objects. Look, there’s one over there…
David Marshall: First a word of thanks for breaking into a busy schedule to answer a few questions. And pleasingly, that, in itself, raises the first question. Given the length of your career and multiple successes, why do you choose to stay so busy?
Mike Resnick: I love what I do. It’s as simple as that. A journalist once asked Picasso what he did for a hobby. He replied, “I paint.” No, said the journalist, that was what he did for a living. What did he do to relax? His answer: “I paint.” Me, I write. And sometimes edit.
DM: Most recently, you’ve returned to editing. Galaxy’s Edge is into its third issue and looking good. How do you juggle time to fit all the different pieces into your life, maintain a happy marriage, and manage stress?
MR: I stress when I’m not writing or editing. Most of my life I’ve gotten by with five or six hours sleep, and certainly that helps. (I should also add that in addition to Galaxy’s Edge magazine, I’m also editing the Stellar Guild line of books.
Both publications exist to get newcomers into print. The Stellar Guild line features a team-up of a superstar and a protégé of his/her own choosing. The magazine runs an average of 5 new stories per issue, all by newcomers and lesser-knowns, plus four or five reprints by major writers whose names basically sell the magazines. Lag times being what they are, I’m putting the seventh issue together as I write this, though only three have appeared.
DM: You’ve written for almost all the different genres — even the Weird West with your current Doc Holliday series. Which is your favorite genre?
MR: Probably science fiction. Well, actually humor – and I’ve been fortunate enough to sell maybe 120 humor stories and close to a dozen funny novels…but even though almost all of them have been disguised as science fiction or fantasy, you can’t make a living writing humor in this field if you’re not an Englishman named Doug or Terry, so I always go back to the serious, award-winning stuff, which I also enjoy. I probably like screenplays least of all, but they pay far and away the best.
DM: In your list of funny English writers you missed Tom Sharpe, but he’s not SF or fantasy. Thinking about the same timeframe in America, did Robert Sheckley make money?
MR: Bob Sheckley couldn’t live on his humorous writing. He made a couple of sales to Hollywood – The 7th Victim which became the not-very-good “The Tenth Victim,” and Immortality, Inc. became the infinitely worse “Freejack”. But one can’t count on frequent movie sales, and while he was writing his comic masterpieces, he was also writing The Game of X and the non-science-fiction, 5-book Stephen Dain series.
DM: I suppose we can all pick out individual American novels that are humorous (e.g. Catch 22, The Princess Bride, A Confederacy of Dunces, etc.). Why do you think “comic novels” have been so few and far between (or posthumous) over the last fifty years or so?
MR: Humorous prose was a respectable endeavor in America in the first half of the 20th Century, when we had Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, Damon Runyon, John Kendricks Bangs, Thorne Smith, Ring Lardner, and close to a dozen others…but somehow we’ve rarely had more than one humorist at a time for the past 6 decades – except in science fiction. I never thought much of A Confederacy of Dunces, but I do consider Catch-22 the finest American novel of the 20th Century.
I rarely get rejected these past few decades, but when I was starting out I got an answer from a lot of editors that I think most humorists frequently run into. It goes like this, “I laughed my ass off, but humor is so subjective I don’t know if my readers will find it as funny as I did, so we’re going to pass on it.”
DM: Looking back a month or so, you published the second Eli Paxton novel, The Trojan Colt. This is great fun. Tell us a little about it and why there’s such a long gap between the first and the second mystery?
MR: It was plotted in 1991. I offered the first Eli Paxton book to Ace, which was publishing some of my science fiction at the time. They wanted a series and offered a 3-book contract…but it was literally for 20% of what they were paying me for my science fiction. I couldn’t afford to do it at the time, they wouldn’t take just one book as a stand-alone, so I sold it elsewhere. It came out, and I got so busy I didn’t think about mysteries again until my editor at Pyr, where I’d sold over a dozen science fiction books, told me a couple of years ago that they were starting a mystery line called Seventh Street and they had a pretty good editor. So I sent him the first Eli book and an outline for the second, he bought them both, and when I delivered The Trojan Colt I gave him an outline for a third, which he bought.
The subject matter was easy: I’m a horse-racing fanatic. I don’t bet, but I wrote a weekly column on racing for 15 years, and I’m pretty knowledgeable about the sport.
DM: And of course, you’re rushing out the third mystery called Cat on a Cold Tin Roof. Will this involve as much research as the horse business or are you secretly a cat breeder?
MR: No, actually my wife and I bred and exhibited collies from 1968 to 1982. We had 23 champions, almost all of them named after science fiction titles or characters. Anyway, the cat in this book is just the tip of a very complicated iceberg.
DM: I assume the iceberg wouldn’t be connected to the interest in safaris in Africa?
MR: Afraid not. Eli Paxton is a Cincinnati detective. His first book took him to Mexico, and his second takes place almost entirely in Lexington, Kentucky, an hour and a half south. So for this third book, I decided it was time to let him stay in his home town. After all, I live here; someone has to keep the place safe for me
DM: You’re an author who likes to collaborate and do so very successfully — most recently The Cassandra Project with Jack McDevitt has been nominated for awards and is due out in paperback this fall. How do you make each new collaboration work so well?
MR: They don’t all work as smoothly as the one with Jack. That was my first collaborative novel, but I’ve had 52 collaborators on a total of 83 shorter stories. (I know that sounds lazy, but I’ve also done over 200 solo stories.) I began by helping talented beginners get out of the slush pile and into print – and half my collaborators are still beginners. But along the way I found that I enjoyed it, so half my collaborators are skilled, successful writers who are also friends.
DM: I see you have a new series starting next year called “The Dead Enders”. The first novel in the series will be The Fortress in Orion, due late next year. Can you tell us what to expect?
MR: It’s science fiction, basically about a very unlikely espionage team – some human, some not quite – in the far future.
DM: Sincerest thanks for your time. It’s been a joy talking with you.
David Marshall: I should start by thanking you for taking the time to talk with me, and congratulate you on the publication of The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi, a terrific new book in the Burton/Swinburne series, and the imminent arrival of children in your family.
Although classification is a terrible game to play, how would you describe the Burton/Swinburne novels in genre terms?
Mark Hodder: Science fiction. Science fantasy. Honestly, how they’re classified doesn’t concern me. It determines where in a bookshop the novels sit, how they are marketed, and how effectively they’ll reach an audience that’ll most appreciate them … which obviously also determines what money I earn from my work. But if money was my motive, I’d have carried on as a copywriter, and if I wanted to work in a marketing department, that’s where I’d be. Having been involved in the commercial world for so many years, I now have little taste or patience for it, so prefer to leave it to the experts when it comes to classifying my stuff.
DM: In choosing Sir Richard Burton as the primary series character, were you consciously building on To Your Scattered Bodies Go by Philip Jose Farmer?
MH: Building on it, no. Was I influenced by it in my decision to use Burton? Yes. It was Farmer’s work that instilled in me a life-long fascination with Burton, and which also encouraged me to be audacious in my use of historical characters.
DM: Do you feel free to simply use the names of historical characters (there are no copyright restrictions) or do you try to fit real people into the stories without too many changes?
MH: With Burton and Swinburne I’ve selected certain aspects of their real characters and have tried to remain true to them, but obviously this process of selection means that my take is wide of the truth. It’s dramatic license. Both were exceedingly complex in real life, and while this might make for interesting biographical novels, that’s not what I am aiming for with the series.
DM: The majority of the characters in your books are striving to strike a balance between leadership roles which can require them to think and act unconventionally, and the need to conform to the prevailing cultural expectations (except for the species in The Red Sun Also Rises, which is like the Hokas (courtesy of Poul Anderson and Gordon Dickson) and involuntarily adopts other people’s cultures (the ultimate in cultural imperialism at work). Dynamic societies benefit from having a core of people who do not fit in, who shape those around them. Is adaptability not an overrated quality?
MH: If you’re suggesting that society is made dynamic by a core of people who do not adapt to the status quo, then I agree with you. However, that doesn’t mean that this core of “misfits” isn’t adaptable by nature. I’d suggest quite the opposite. They are people who adapt to new knowledge and to the consequences of new technologies and unanticipated events. Change is inevitable, both at a cultural and individual level, but a great many people and institutions do not want to embrace it. Those that do, those who adapt themselves to incorporate the new, they are the ones who alter the status quo. Adaptation is the heart of the evolutionary process.
DM: One way of characterizing the series would be to see the actions of the major characters as being in defense of “empires.”
MH: Defense? That’s the opposite of what I intend! Surely the brutality depicted in Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon can’t be seen as a defense? Don’t I repeatedly have Burton doubting the wisdom of empire building? Don’t I show that empires are founded on the suppression of the masses for the benefit of an elite? Aren’t my London streets teeming with the poor and downtrodden? Certainly, in The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi, you’ll see a more explicit damning of imperialism.
DM: Hmmm. Looking at history, the most “successful” social models have all been oligarchical with an elite in control of the masses. No matter what you might signal as an author, Burton is the King’s agent and, as such, is committed to protecting the interests of the Empire. Although you have individuals and groups who might want to disturb the status quo, your major characters are defending the institutions of oppression both locally and abroad.
MH: Burton has been tasked with protecting the interests of the empire but, as the story progresses, what he perceives as its interests aren’t necessarily in agreement with what his employers think. We’ve already seen a hint of this in his encounter with an ancient Palmerston in Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon. Burton is being exposed to a context that is unavailable to the king or the government. He is seeing history as a vast process. He is witnessing Time at work on the human species. And he’s also seeing how political decisions taken with reference only to current circumstances can have unpleasant ramifications as Time develops the consequences. You say that by virtue of his commission he’s “committed” to protecting the interests of the empire. In actual history, the real Burton was notoriously individualistic in his interpretation of his various commissions. It got him into a lot of trouble. “My” Burton is similarly unorthodox.
DM: The first three in the series are actually quite strongly political (as is A Red Sun Also Rises). Why have you decided to make The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi a more conventional “adventure” novel?
MH: the Secret of Abdu El Yezdi/returns the focus to Burton, to his character. The politics are still there/ but they take a back seat because I wanted to add more depth to my central protagonist. This in preparation for what’s to come … which will certainly see a return of political content. In The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi, the political seeds are sown. In the fifth novel, The Return of the Discontinued Man, they blossom.
DM: Thematically in The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi you seem to be suggesting that “things” only happen when the time is right. One interpretation of this would be that time itself has an agenda, that it is surviving shocks to its systems and evolving towards a particular outcome.
MH: I’m happy you spotted that. It’s the core of this second trilogy!
DM: Which does rather imply the question whether we’re looking at a new natural law. So, just as nature is said to abhor a vacuum, does time abhor divisions between groups of people? It would be ironic if the only way to dismantle nationalism and the jingoism it engenders was to provoke a major war.
MH: If by “major war” you mean WWIII, I don’t foresee it happening. Information is the new battlefield. I do believe that evolution (which is a process of Time) is pushing the human race toward new social structures, and it’s the loss of the old that is causing angst and defensive aggression. Again, we come to the notion of adaptability. The loss of certain social structures is not the same as the loss of cultural identity but many fear that it is. People need to better adapt to the transparency that information technology offers. Cultural identity must learn to establish itself as a mode of communication. National borders must become conceptual borders within the information network … freely crossed, no checkpoints, everyone welcome, you exist where you want at the time it feels appropriate. Terrorism will be replaced by propaganda bombs. Skirmishes will be fought as exchanges of opinion. The real enemy will be perceived as those who seek to control or manipulate the flow of words and sounds and images.
DM: At my advanced age, I can afford a blasé attitude as to the prospect of major conflict. I’m currently watching the development of real tension in the South China Sea. I hope you’re right and the world can restrict conflict to the cyber/digital realm. All of which leaves me to thank you once again for your time. This has been fun.
Mark Hodder is an English steampunk author currently living in Spain. His steampunk trilogy, Burton & Swinburne, opened with The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack which went on to win the 2010 Philip K. Dick Award.
I’m one of these guys who’s always made a living from words, written and spoken. I guess I started off conventional. Training as a lawyer, I combined tenure as a professor with some private practice. Except, in moments when no one was watching, I was broadcasting, acting and writing, always under stage names and pseudonyms so my two worlds wouldn’t meet up. Later, I set up my own business consultancy and ran a small press. Now I’m retired, I can look back on a life misspent, always doing stuff that was interesting and never getting too caught up in the career development rut. Except I’m just as busy. I still pick up consultancy work when something interesting comes along, I’m paid for about a million words of fiction and nonfiction a year, and continue writing for my own amusement. Someone told me staying active keeps the brain going longer. So this is the plan for immortality. I’m very conscientious. If I plan enough work to last me into next year, I’ll be around to do it.
You can read him regularly on his blog: http://opionator.wordpress.com