The Zenn Scarlett Blog-a-Palooza Tour is in full swing, and Christian Schoon was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about the book (which drops May 7th), and much more!
Please welcome Christian to the blog!
Christian, you have a journalism background and you’re also a scriptwriter. Have you always wanted to write novels? Will you tell us a bit more about yourself?
I think I started to imagine that writing novels might suit me after I’d had a little experience writing scripts for television when I lived in Los Angeles. TV and film are collaborative, you spend a lot of time in meetings, or chewing things over in conference calls, and your script becomes a group project in lots of ways. And, at least in LA, you spend a lot of time commuting. Now all this is great (except for the freeway time) as long as you’re happy with the final product. After I moved back to the Midwest where I grew up, I started to look at novels as a way that I could be writer/director/cinematographer/art director of my story. The more I explored the medium of the novel, the more it seemed to be a good fit. Plus, I enjoy animals of all kinds, and owning a farmstead here in Iowa with lots of pastures and barns and out buildings lets me have all the critters I want, more or less (still don’t have a wolverine or an African elephant, but ya never know….). So, now I continue to write freelance projects for some of my LA entertainment connections, but also write books where I can control all the elements and do it without leaving home or sitting around a conference table for hours at a time in Burbank eating bagels and juggling input from five other professionals with strong opinions about my story. “What if Zenn was a robot?” or “Hey, instead of an exovet, how about a ventriloquist?” “Mars? Disney hates Mars. They won’t touch Mars. What if Zenn lived on a houseboat in the Baltic?”
Zenn Scarlett is about a 17 year old exoveterinarian who tends to lifeforms of a very different kind. What inspired the character of Zenn? Will you tell us a little about the book?
The primary inspiration for Zenn and her critters is the volunteer work that my wife and I started doing after we moved from LA back to the sylvan pleasures of the American Midwest. I’ve always loved animals of every stripe, but the groups we now started working with brought me into contact with a whole new spectrum of life and a fascinating range of medical issues and procedures. So, I’ve spent time getting to know first-hand the physiologies and behaviors of bears and cougars and Burmese pythons and alligators and emus and coyotes. This transferred directly, well OK, indirectly, to Zenn’s experiences with 80-foot whalehounds, swamp sloos longer than a battleship, single-cell cryptoplasmoids the size of a couch. Zenn is in her novice year of exovet training. Her school is the renowned Ciscan Cloister Exovet Clinic, a science-centered cloister on the outskirts of a Martian colony cut off from Earth and teetering on verge of social collapse. Extraordinary alien life forms, exotic medical procedures, xenophobic paranoia, ominous instances of cross-species ESP and what may or may not turn out to be romance ensue…
What kind of research did you do while writing Zenn Scarlett?
A little bit of everything. If I needed to double-check my vet facts as I created my creatures and their ailments and the devices used to treat them, I’d pick the brain of our local vet, who’s had experience with both exotic wildlife and domestic animals. The other main area of research pertained to Mars itself. I have a lot of Mars exploration books, books about the Mars rovers, maps of Mars. And, of course, I turned to NASA’s website or other astronomy and exobiology sites for info on the Martian environment, geography, etc.
What do you love most about writing science fiction?
One of the main elements that attracts me to SF is the opportunity to create an entire world, more or less from scratch in the case of a colonized Mars, and then populate it with a viable, credible culture and people and alien races and alien creatures. This is big fun and it never gets old. Probably the main challenge is to distill your vision down from the infinite fascinating possibilities and then integrate what’s left into a believable stage for your action to play out on.
What are some of your favorite authors or novels? What are a few that have particularly inspired your writing?
I really enjoyed Philip Pullman’s Golden Compass and follow-on books. T.H. White’s Once and Future King is another grand fantasy read. And, having read Edgar Rice Burroughs early on in grade school, I have to credit his Barsoom books with planting Martian ideas in my head.
What’s something in particular that you like to see in a good book?
In general, I much prefer a writing style where the author disappears, where the technique doesn’t involve a lot of flourishes or semantic flash, but keeps the language simple but evocative so you can fall into the story completely.
If you could experience one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
Tough question! But a good one. Maybe The Hobbit and LOtR trilogy. That’d be a blast to read with no prior warning about the epic awesome to come.
What would you like to see readers take away from Zenn Scarlett?
I’d like readers to feel like they’d been transported to Zenn’s world for a while… and feel a little wistful at having to leave it! (No worries. Sequel in the pipeline.)
When you manage to find some free time, how do you like to spend it?
I can really get into a good old-school high volume blues-rock band playing live at a favorite watering hole. Or: hanging out on the farm with the wife and the animals on a hot summer evening just as the bats start dipping in and out of the big red cedars lining our country road.
What’s next for you?
Finish up the sequel to Zenn Scarlett, which will be published early next year… and then get back in touch with you for some questions about THAT book!
About ZENN SCARLETT:
Zenn Scarlett is a bright, determined, occasionally a-little-too-smart-for-her-own-good 17-year-old girl training hard to become an exoveterinarian. That means she’s specializing in the treatment of exotic alien life forms, mostly large and generally dangerous. Her novice year of training at the Ciscan Cloister Exovet Clinic on Mars will find her working with alien patients from whalehounds the size of a hay barn to a baby Kiran Sunkiller, a colossal floating creature that will grow up to carry a whole sky-city on its back.
But after a series of inexplicable animal escapes from the school and other near-disasters, the Cloister is in real danger of being shut down by a group of alien-hating officials. If that happens, Zenn knows only too well the grim fate awaiting the creatures she loves.
Now, she must unravel the baffling events plaguing her school, before someone is hurt or killed, before everything she cares about is ripped away from her and her family forever. To solve this mystery – and live to tell about it – Zenn will have to put her new exovet skills to work in ways she never imagined, and in the process learn just how powerful compassion and empathy can be.