Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Author Visits #1 - Ferrett Steinmetz

As a few of you may know, I loved The Flux by Ferrett Steinmetz to bits for indulging my obsessive nature with a world where obsessions breed a certain style of magic.  I mean, what could be cooler than having the things you love the most, be they video games or cats, warp your world and give you the ability to perform magic governed by them?  If you don't know how much I enjoyed Steinmetz's second novel, check out my review here.

So, you can imagine my excitement when Steinmetz's publisher, Angry Robot Books, contacted me with an opportunity to interview him as a part of his blog tour celebrating the release of The Flux.  I spent a good week debating which questions to ask him, how to make myself sound all posh and not gibber like I normally do when speaking with authors, and then, spending the time waiting to hear back from him chewing at my nails nervously.

Now that I've recovered from the flailing, and the jittery nerves, it's my pleasure to welcome Ferrett Steinmetz to Books, Cats, and Caffeine, and help celebrate the release of The Flux:

1. I really enjoyed the world you created within The Flux; what was the inspiration for such a wonderfully complex world?

Basically, that I hate the way magic plays out in most fictional worlds.  

Which is to say that I come from a strong roleplaying background, where I wind up accidentally rules-lawyering every class I play.  And every time I see magic in a book, I think, “Okay, why is anyone ever NOT a wizard?”  Because in most places, they maybe handwave a little training montage, but you can go from “nebbish” to “immolating crowds in fireballs” in a few pages of narrative dissonance.  And when you can make worlds tremble with wave of your hand, why isn’t every world shifting rapidly towards a magician-despot dystopia? 

So I wanted to have a magic that had costs.  And I wanted a FUN magic, one where everyone was different, like mutants.  So I devised a bunch of rules to ensure maximum chaos: 

a)  If you obsessed over something enough - whether that love was bureaucracy or videogames or cats or fire - you could start to warp the rules of the universe until it started to agree with your way of thinking. 

b)  But the thing is, the obsession changes you.  Maybe you’ve gotten so into talking into your plushie collection that they talk back. But do you think that by the time this happens, you’re going to want normal things?  No, your priorities become very screwed up, and as such world domination is the last thing on the mind of The Guy Who Talks To Mister.

c)  Still, even that seemed too easy.  I couldn’t imagine a universe that had spent all this time enforcing the laws of physics so consistently would be okay with it just bending.  So I put in a magical backlash called flux, wherein the universe rains down terrible coincidences down upon your head until the odds are mostly evened out.  Doing magic has a cost - and you can’t stop doing it.  

d)  Given that ‘mancers now were the focus on crapstorms of epic proportions, who’d be okay with these maniacs roaming the streets?  Nobody.  So being a ‘mancer is illegal, and they’d have special magically-trained SWAT teams to come get these folks.  

And the rest sort of wrote itself.  Europe got destroyed in a magical catastrophe because you had to have something really bad happen to justify people’s terror.  The SWAT teams became magically-brainwashed former ‘mancers because that was our heroes’ greatest horror - losing their identity.  And yeah, things just sort of went deeper from there.

2. If you were a 'mancer, what kind do you believe you'd be?  What type of 'mancer would you want to be?

Well, I kind of am a ‘mancer in that I wrote seven unpublished novels over the course of twenty-plus years before I finally stumbled upon this one.  There’s a lot of obsession in my own writing style, in that I didn’t give up when I probably should have. 

(I didn’t used to be a very good writer. I got better.)  

But man, if I could justify being what, in the books, are openly referred to as “Lucasmancers,” wielding my own lightsaber and fighting evil - that would be radical

3. When you write are you more of a plotter, or do you write by the seat of your pants, letting the story/characters reveal themselves to you?

True fact: when I wrote FLEX, the first book in the series, I wrote 20,000 words where I had the wrong villain, the wrong lead character, and the wrong motivation. 

And it was the second half of the book.  

I wisely jettisoned it all - as a major portion of my leveling up as a writer was being honest with myself about what didn’t work - and fixed everything over the course of about three more drafts, but I wander.  I wish it was easier to write stories, for me.  But if I know where I’m going, I get bored.

4. Can we expect more books set in the 'mancer world in the future?

Oh yes.  Right now I’m working on the third book in the series, called FIX.  

You may note earlier in the interview, I mentioned how I destroyed Europe.  As it turns out, if you casually annihilate a continent as a background event in a novel, people start asking, “Hey, so what’s going on over there?”  And after a lot of people asked, I figured, okay, yeah, time to show you what’s up with the demon-haunted remains of Germany.  

5. Who/what are some of your favorite authors/novels?

So many.  Let’s go with a handful: 

AMERICAN ELSEWHERE, by Robert Bennett - a really wonderful alien-horrors-meets-1950s-America vibe, where in fact it’s the alien horrors who wind up infected by our alien thoughts just as much as they affect us. 

THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS, by Rae Carson - It’s an adolescent girl’s Game of Thrones, where anyone can die, but you have people who care deeply about each other as opposed to being, you know, jerks. 

THE JOHN CLEAVER SERIES, by Dan Wells - An amazing series where a serial killer teenaged boy tries his best to be a decent person.  He gets a lot of comparisons to Dexter.  But this has supernatural monsters, and is far better.  

THE NEXUS TRILOGY, by Ramez Naam - A complex sci-fi series where they develop an open-source nanovirus called “Nexus” that allows people to hack their own brains.  Which rapidly allows other people to hack each others’ brains, and the government to hack people’s brains, and people’s brains hacking the government, and people’s brains networking with other peoples’ brains in amazing and complex ways. Lots of firefights.    

6. I like to finish Q and A sessions with a random question:  What is your favorite meal?

I hate to respond to an answer with a link, but the best meal I ever had was where my beloved Uncle Tommy - who was like a second father to me - taught me how to dine with elegance.  And I wrote that up as well as I ever have over at Eating Authors, at http://www.lawrencemschoen.com/plugs/eating-authors-ferrett-steinmetz/ 

Ferrett Steinmetz is a graduate of both the Clarion Writers’ Workshop and Viable Paradise, and has been nominated for the Nebula Award, for which he remains stoked.
Ferrett has a moderately popular blog, The Watchtower of Destruction, wherein he talks about bad puns, relationships, politics, videogames, and more bad puns. He’s written four computer books, including the still-popular-after-two-yearsWicked Cool PHP.
He lives in Cleveland with his wife, who he couldn’t imagine living without.
Find Ferrett online at theferrett.livejournal.com or follow him @ferretthimself on Twitter.

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