Please welcome Lawrence Schoen to the blog! He stopped by to answer a few questions about his new book, Barsk, and we’ve also got a copy of the book to give away to one lucky US winner (courtesy of Tor)!
Will you tell us a bit about BARSK and what inspired you to write it?
Although the book deals with a lot of ideas like intolerance and prophecy, for me Barsk is about the power of a friendship that transcends even death. It’s a quiet theme that runs through the background of the book, and while all the other flashy stuff is happening in the foreground, the complexities, the willingly assumed obligations stemming from the relationship between Jorl and Arlo, defined almost everything for me.
What kind of research did you do for the book, and what is your writing process like?
I spent a lot of time at the zoo. Seriously, I bought a membership, and I’d go several times a week for half the day. The elephants came to recognize me as an individual and would greet me (which tended to confuse other people a lot) with a wave of their trunks when I walked up.
As for my process, it’s constantly changing. I began as a pantser but nowadays I outline the entire project far in advance until I know how each scene contributes to the story, to the characters, and to the plot. Only when I have all that in place do I start to write. And of course, the act of actually writing, of coloring in between the lines of my outline, changes what I’d planned. I wish I could explain it better, because it’s magical.
You have a background in psychology, but have you always wanted to be a writer?
It’s not so much that I’ve always wanted to be a writer, as that I’ve always written. Even when I didn’t know what I was doing, that didn’t stop me. When I went off to college and then grad school, there were things I wanted to be, and lo, now I am. But the writing has always been there.
Will you tell us more about yourself and your background?
As a child, I was diagnosed with a rare bone disease that severely limited my physical activity (as one example, I wasn’t allowed to ride a bike until I was thirteen) and cut out a lot of play. The problem went away once I hit my teens, but prior to that I often had a cast on my leg, which further hampered things. So at age five when the other kids in kindergarten were running around the playground, my cast and I were sitting on the sidelines with a book. This doubtless contributed to both my becoming such an avid reader and fat.
What’s one of the first things that you can remember writing?
In first grade I made a diorama (as we did back then, out of an old shoebox) and included a story about ghost who haunted people all year long, except on Halloween when he turned into a pumpkin.
What are some of your favorite authors? Is there anyone that has particularly influenced you?
The authors who influenced me growing up aren’t so much the ones I read now (owing in large part because I’ve long since read all their stuff). I devoured Burroughs and Heinlein and Le Guin and Zelazny. The way I initially look at writing has been shaped a lot by their works.
Nowadays I’m always on the lookout for a new novel by Karl Schroeder or Daniel Abraham or China Miéville. I’ve started reading Kameron Hurley and she’s amazing. And Max Gladstone, he dazzles me.
If you could experience one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
Wow, what a brutal question. I think I’d probably answer this differently every time, but in this moment I’d say… A Princess of Mars. I’ve reread the book and I don’t understand how it’s the same thing I read in my youth. I didn’t see anything racist or sexist in it back then. Rather it was full of innocent adventure and discovery and delight. All that other stuff somehow got filtered out.
What are you currently reading?
Just this morning I started Matthew Kressel’s King of Shards. I’m not very far into it, but I’m already really enjoying it!
What’s next for you? Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I’ve just begun work on a new Fantasy series that runs from 5000 B.C. to the present and lets me play with lost cities, both ancient and modern. It explains the secret force that have been responsible for the progress of human civilization and what’s at stake is whether it will evolve to take us to the next level or stall out and leave us as we are.
I’m also looking forward to continuing with the story I’ve started with Barsk. I’ve got hundreds of uplifted species and thousands of planets that I’ve created, so there’s no shortage of things to talk about, both with the Fant characters we’ve already met and others we’ve barely glimpsed.
And I’m far from done with the series of light and humorous tales I’ve been telling of my traveling hypnotist and his alien companion animal, the Amazing Conroy and Reggie. I’m expecting they’ll get into more trouble quite soon.
The Sixth Sense meets Planet of the Apes in a moving science fiction novel set so far in the future, humanity is gone and forgotten in Lawrence M. Schoen’s Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard
An historian who speaks with the dead is ensnared by the past. A child who feels no pain and who should not exist sees the future. Between them are truths that will shake worlds.
In a distant future, no remnants of human beings remain, but their successors thrive throughout the galaxy. These are the offspring of humanity’s genius-animals uplifted into walking, talking, sentient beings. The Fant are one such species: anthropomorphic elephants ostracized by other races, and long ago exiled to the rainy ghetto world of Barsk. There, they develop medicines upon which all species now depend. The most coveted of these drugs is koph, which allows a small number of users to interact with the recently deceased and learn their secrets.
To break the Fant’s control of koph, an offworld shadow group attempts to force the Fant to surrender their knowledge. Jorl, a Fant Speaker with the dead, is compelled to question his deceased best friend, who years ago mysteriously committed suicide. In so doing, Jorl unearths a secret the powers that be would prefer to keep buried forever. Meanwhile, his dead friend’s son, a physically challenged young Fant named Pizlo, is driven by disturbing visions to take his first unsteady steps toward an uncertain future.