E. E. Knight Interview
Posted: Mar-10-2015 at 7:31am
INTO VAMPIRE EARTH
An interview with E. E. Knight
Daniel E. Blackston
Good SF writers don't just make books, they make worlds. When the world is both real enough and fantastic enough, an ineffable magic holds sway and words on a page swirl to worlds of wonder and adventure--of legend, and for the privilege of entering that world and living in it a while, readers will happily depart with their hard-earned pay.
This wonderful fact is evident in the electric success that's recently circuited E. E. Knight, author of the critically acclaimed and popular Vampire Earth series. His debut novel, Way of the Wolf was originally released by iPublish, and garnered enough popular interest that ROC decided to issue the series in paperback. The second book in the series, Choice of the Cat was recently released and readers will be happy to learn through the following interview that additional Vampire Earth books (as well as other works under Knight's byline) are forthcoming.
Knight is also ready to launch an RPG verion of Vampire Earth. I was happy to discuss his recent success, as well as his future plans, in the following interview.
What would you say is the biggest difference in being a 'discovered' as oppossed to 'undiscovered' SF writer? Money? Fan mail? Do you feel any palpable change in your everyday life?
There's that special little thrill you get when you go in and see your book on the shelves next to so many other names you've followed and admired over the years. It's like having grown up on the poor side of town and suddenly finding yourself with a membership to an exclusive country club.
Most SF publishing insiders would freely admit 'luck' plays some part in any SF novel or series reaching publication, but do you think there are ways for ambitious writers to make their own luck? Any strategic advice?
Thomas Jefferson put it best: "I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it." Certainly a part of it is being at the right place at the right time--I was at World Fantasy 2001 in Montreal, and through a chance meeting got my agent, which led to the Roc deal, and so on. Networking is important. Get to know pros; many of them are astonishingly giving of their time and experience. Heinlein's "pay it forward" ethic runs pretty strong it the sf/fantasy crowd. Have that "elevator speech" describing you and your manuscript in about forty-five seconds down pat.
But the one piece of advice that really made a difference in my career was my aunt, who writes children's books, telling me: "write a story you'd love to read." As soon as I started writing to entertain, thrill, and move myself, rather than an editor or some imaginary audience like "people who like Anne Rice or King," I started having success.
The Vampire Earth series combines many of your early SF influences: Tolkien, apocalyptic themes a la 'Mad Max', the perennial powerhouses of alien invasion and vampires, plus a dose of the kind of heroic adventure that thrived in the era of the old pulp mags. Is it important for SF novelists to dream big? Is there something intrinsic to SF that novels in the genre should be epic?
They don't call it "space opera" for nothing. To an extent the environment contributes to the story, and there's no bigger environment than the universe (well, the Mind of God, if you follow Thornton Wilder's envelope addressing protocol). Unknown lands, tremendous distances, and even great relationships take years to explore and define--look at Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind.
"Should be" epic? Not necessarily. Some of the stories that most moved me were confined to tiny, well-defined areas. I'm thinking of Bradbury's When Soft Rains Fall (a house) and Saberhagen's Goodlife (a small slice of a huge spaceship).
Seems to me that both you and another recently very successful SF novelist, China Mieville, have a number of things in common. First, that your debut series is likely to be both remembered and read well into the future. Second, that both of you managed to attain originality in a dangerously cliche ridden field. Thirdly, that both of you have shaped your debut series out of childhood visions and themes that have fascinated you from earliest memory. Does it take all this--and more--to accomplish successful commercial fiction? Are the days of the 'pot-boiler' numbered?
Pot-boiler? I think you just answered your own question. Orwell used that phrase in one of his letters, I remember, dismissing one of my favorite works of his, Keep the Aspidistra Flying. Now it's a minor classic. I can't speak for China, but I'd be thrilled if I'm still being read "well into the future." Actually, I'm still getting used to the idea that I'm being read now. Some works thought to be "classics" a week into release fade from public consciousness very quickly, others labeled "pot-boilers" seem to stay in print year after year after year.
I think you hit on the reason with your use of the word "vision." Why is Lovecraft still being read, examined, re-read, and re-examined? The strength of his vision. R. E. Howard is still popular because of the scope and life he brought to his. Peter Jackson worked eighteen hour days (or more) to put together his vision of Tolkien's vision. Steven King has produced a range of works... his more pedestrian titles (and Lord, please grant me the sales numbers of the most pedestrian of them) like Maximum Overdrive are basically situational, whereas his best loved and most devoutly re-read: the Dark Tower series, The Stand, The Shining, are the products of his singular vision. China Mieville has it in spades.
How important is 'world-building' to effective SF writing? Any tips for writers (or inside info for curious readers) about how you personally go about transcibing the worlds of your imagination to the page?
Some writers do wonderful characters, others have great plots (the best, of course, are superb at both) and some are middling but get by on world-building--I've heard Tolkien lumped in the last group. I'm proud of my world-building; I'm good at it, so I play to my strength.
A big part of the trick is to know way more about how the world works than your reader. If you give them little glimpses, they'll have a hell of a lot of fun trying to put together the whole picture--assuming you've done the groundwork and made it consistent. Don't give the villain's nefarious plan away in a big speech, James Bond style... have the protagonist encounter it bit by bit and put it together herself.
Your world is like a big Baskin Robbins, with the ice-cream flavors labeled: "religion", "politics", "social customs and mores", "leaders", "geography", "myths" and so on. In each chapter you're only going to give a few scoops from a couple of ten gallon tubs, and even by the end of the novel you're nowhere near empty.
Fans of VE also have an opportunity to live in their fave SF world, don't they? Tell us something about the RPG version/incarnation of Vampire Earth.
We're just about to start play-testing. I'm an old-fashioned, pen-and-paper RPGer from way back, so when fans started asking for a game, I jumped at the chance to do it. We're using some open-source rules (the Action! system), modifying them for the world, and writing a sourcebook that should be a fun read even for folks who don't want to game. I didn't have much luck generating any interest for it in the pro RPG world, so I'm putting it out myself with the help of a few friends. I hope players will forgive a wart or two in exchange for the ability to adventure in their own private Vampire Earth.
Tell us something about the latest book in the Vampire Earth series. Released recently, available in bookstores and... ? Will you be making author appearances as well?
Choice of the Cat is the second book in the Vampire Earth series, widely available at the moment--though shelf-lives of mass markets often aren't much better than milk.
In this one, Valentine learns to become a Cat, one of the spy-saboteurs who operate deep within Kurian (i.e. vampire) territory.
By the time this interview is published I will probably already have made my appearances. I do attend a few cons. People interested in seeing me live (not necessarily an interesting experience) can always check the "appearances" schedule on my website
What other projects are you involved with lately? Are there new series' forthcoming; in the works? Short fiction?
I have a Lara Croft: Tomb Raider media novel coming out in August titled The Lost Cult. It's very Lovecraftian. There's also a short called "Sunk By Naval Gunfire" coming out in Hellbound Books anthology It Came From the Cinema, appearing sometime this fall.
I'd like to ask you how you feel about the 'new wave' of e-publishers, POD publishers, and independent publishes in general. Do you feel alternative publishing is a good road for an aspiring novelist?
I got my start with an e-publishing venture AOLTWBG tried called iPublish. It died with a bunch of other dot-coms, but I did gain some early fans. Ebooks are great, I'm a believer, though personally I like to read on paper. If electronic publishing is the only way you have to work with an editor and get your novel out there, go for it, but be very careful about what rights you're giving up and for how long.
Any thoughts about the future of speculative fiction in general? Do you think massive online role-playing games, video, and other electronic media are hurting or helping fiction writers such as yourself? Do you think mass market novels will remain pretty much as they have for decades or is some astounding change around the corner?
Reading is unique in that it is the one art form that requires just as much of an act of imagination on the part of the audience as it does from the creator. I hope we never lose that, because I think it's the visions inspired by reading everything from War of the Worlds to Altered Carbon that feed some of the spectacle we see on screen, and in computer games, today. Reading trains and grows the imagination.
I think hypertext novels could be interesting, allowing the reader to choose a character or plot thread and follow it, but the work involved on the part of the author would be awe-inspiring, it would be like writing ten books and I doubt you'd get paid as much as you'd get paid for one.
Outside writing, I think we'll see a convergence of MORPGs and cinema, where the computers driving the graphics get powerful enough so that you can't really tell the difference between what's on your screen and what's coming out of Hollywood, though I wonder how the storylines will be kept interesting.
With three more Vampire Earth books already contracted and other projects blossoming all around you--what would make the future look brighter right now? What ambition seems to be beckoning you these days?
I'd like to make the leap to hard-cover, I suppose. Mass-market originals are the Rodney Dangerfields of the publishing world. No respect.
copyright © 2004, Dan Blackston
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