Today we have an interview with guest author/publisher Lawrence M. Schoen, to celebrate the release of his new science fiction novel Barsk. He holds a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology, has been nominated for the Campbell, Hugo, and Nebula awards, is a world authority on the Klingon language, operates the small press Paper Golem, and is a practicing hypnotherapist specializing in authors’ issues.
His previous science fiction includes many light and humorous adventures of a space-faring stage hypnotist and his alien animal companion. His most recent book, Barsk, takes a very different tone, exploring issues of prophecy, intolerance, friendship, conspiracy, and loyalty, and redefines the continua between life and death. He lives near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with his wife and their dog.
Sara: Welcome to our blog, Lawrence! Looking at your published fiction, including your Buffalito novels and the brand-new Barsk, I see a wildly inventive mix of topics and genres. Since many of us here at Book View Café also write mixed-genre fiction, I’m curious about your conceptual process and reader reception of such work. And why elephants and buffalito?
Lawrence: The buffalitos came about out of the blue, and I have no idea how or why. Some years back I attended James Gunn’s two week writing workshop, and on the last night as we were all celebrating surviving the experience, the phrase “Put down the buffalo dog and step away from the bar!” popped into my head and out of my mouth. There was a moment of silence as everyone in the room stared at me, and in that instant I vowed to write a story that included that phrase. It was supposed to be a one shot, a piece called “Buffalo Dogs” that Warren Lapine bought for an issue of Absolute Magnitude. Somehow it turned into a brand that has since spawned two novels, three chapbooks, three novellas (each a Nebula nominee), two novelettes, and five short stories. And I’m far from done.
The elephants (and other anthropomorphic animals seen in Barsk) actually had their origin even earlier, back in the late 80’s when I had just started teaching at New College in Sarasota, Florida. At 27, I was the “boy professor,” the ink still wet on my doctorate. The roommate of one of my students was very much into anthropomorphic fiction and putting together a group for a roleplaying game that was a spinoff of a popular comic. He approached me about it, explaining that the character I created could be almost any “race” I wanted. On a whim I chose elephants, and after a moment of checking the rulebook he informed me that wasn’t an option. I didn’t care. In that instant, something just clicked in my head, and the worldbuilding that would become Barsk exploded. Funny thing, we never did play that game.
Can you tell us about your small press, Paper Golem, which aims to introduce readers to fresh new authors? Any advice for those interested in setting up a small press?
More than a decade ago, one of my graduate students lured me away from academia to come work for him in the private sector as the Director of Research at the medical center where he was CEO. The result was fewer work hours and more money. I mention this because it meant that I was in a position to start a small press, going into the venture not with an eye toward making a fortune (stop laughing!) but rather the more modest goal of breaking even and using the press to “pay it forward.”
The object was to identify talented but relatively obscure authors who in my oh-so-biased opinion were on the edge of becoming well known and landing novel contracts but who at the moment were only writing shorter fiction for online magazines. I wanted to create the opportunity for them to be able to sit on a panel at conventions and hold up a book and say “I’m in this!”
As for advice for starting a small press? Have a vision and a plan. Do your research. And talk to those who have gone before you so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. I’ve found the community of small press publishers to be very giving and helpful.
How does your Ph.D. in cognitive psychology and psycholinguistics inform your writing and characters? Does your interest in human memory play out in your fiction?
In much the same way that I imagine all those SF authors with advance degrees in Physics and Chemistry and Biology benefit in their worldbuilding, my background helps lend a verisimilitude to my characters, their motivations and behavior. I have little patience when things happen in a story not because it’s what the character would do but rather because it serves the needs of the author.
It’s also fair to say that I’m fascinated by language and memory. Why else spend so many years studying them, right? These topics show up in almost everything I write, sometimes in gross and obvious ways, and sometimes much more subtly. And too, sometimes utterly unconsciously.
Finally, as an expert in the Klingon language, do you have a message for us in Klingon? (Translation also helpful for most of us.)
Klingons are very fond of pithy aphorisms. There’s even a book of them. In that spirit, here are a few of my own making:
bIqonbe’chugh vaj bIyInlaHbe’
If you do not write, you cannot live
laDlu’meH QaQ DaHjaj
Today is a good day to read
yuQDaq yIlDab ’ach loghDaq yInaj
Live on a planet, but dream in space!
Thank you, Lawrence!
For more information about his books and interests, see http://www.lawrencemschoen.com