Ken Scholes Interview

Since so many people appear to believe that Ken Scholes' Lamentation (Canada, USA, Europe) could well be the fantasy debut of the year, I thought it would be a good idea to invite the author and give him the opportunity to introduce himself.


- Without giving anything away, can you give us a taste of the story that is LAMENTATION?

Windwir, the greatest city of the Named Lands, seat of the Androfrancine Order and home of its Great Library, is utterly laid waste in an act of terrible violence. LAMENTATION follows the lives of several key witnesses to that city’s fall as they seek to solve who caused its destruction and why.

- Tell us a little more about yourself. What's the 411 on Ken Scholes?

Well, I’ve been showing up here and there in the short fiction world for nearly a decade with my first short story appearing in Talebones magazine back in 2000.

I’m originally from Washington State though I currently live in Oregon with my amazing wonder-wife, Jen West Scholes. I spent most of my younger days in a trailer near the foot of Mount Rainier. I started writing stories in second grade and started trying to publish them in high school.

I’m a former gamer (D&D, Gamma World, Boot Hill, Top Secret) who misses his Xbox 360 these days and has occasional visitation rights to it between novels. You can find at least a few videos of me singing and playing guitar out there on Youtube. I’ve done a little bit of a lot, work-wise, to include running nonprofit community and economic development organizations, fixing label guns, serving in two branches of the military and (for a short spell) being a Baptist minister. Currently, I work in procurement and contracting for a local government agency.

- Can you tell us a little more about the road that saw this one go from manuscript form to finished novel?

The Psalms of Isaak, the series LAMENTATION is a part of, started out as a short story, “Of Metal Men and Scarlet Thread and Dancing with the Sunrise.”

When Realms of Fantasy bought it, they hired Allen Douglas to do the art. And when I saw Allen’s artwork I had the sudden realization that there was much more to the story than I had realized. I quickly sketched out what I thought would be a sequence of four short stories around the destruction of Windwir, then wrote the second short story.

Unfortunately, it didn’t quite stand alone for Realms of Fantasy’s tastes, but the editor wrote a nice note on the rejection, encouraging me to write a novel in that world with those characters. I’d also recently won the Writers of the Future contest and there was suddenly a lot of encouragement from friends, family, editors and readers to write a novel.

Ultimately, I wrote LAMENTATION on a dare from Jay Lake and my wife, Jen. I took the first and second short stories and then just filled in the gap of time between them. Jay had told me that if I had the first draft finished in time for World Fantasy 2006 (just seven weeks away) he would introduce me to everyone he’d met so far that might be helpful in finding a publisher for it. Jen had told me that if I would just write in all the gaps of time I had, she would take care of everything else in our lives. I was frequently writing in the car, on lunch breaks, in the evenings, in the early mornings.

In the end, I finished in time and the result landed me an agent and a publisher within just 13 months of starting the novel.

- What can readers expect from the upcoming sequels? Any tentative titles and release dates?

The series continues to carry the story forward as the characters from LAMENTATION (and new ones we meet along the way) continue dealing with a world without Windwir.

CANTICLE will be out in October 2009 – it picks up about seven months after the events in LAMENTATION. I’m currently working on ANTIPHON, which should be out in Spring 2010. I’ll start drafting REQUIEM in the next few months and should have HYMN, the final volume, finished by Summer 2010.

Beyond that, I have a few other series in mind for this world. Some with the characters we meet in the Psalms of Isaak and some of the ancestors and descendants of those characters.

- Will you be touring to promote LAMENTATION this winter/spring? If so, are there any appearances you would like your fans and potential readers to know about?

I’ll be making appearances as far north as Village Books in Bellingham, WA near the Canadian border and as far south as Borderlands Books in San Francisco. I’ll be in Seattle at University Bookstore on February 17, Powell’s in Beaverton on February 18 and back in Seattle February 20 at Third Place Books.

I’ll also be at Radcon in early February and Norwescon in April.

Folks can get more details either through my blog ( or at

- What was the spark that generated the idea which drove you to write LAMENTATION in the first place? I know it all began with the short story "Of Metal Men and Scarlet Thread and Dancing with the Sunrise."

I think I touched on this one above.

- What do you feel is your strength as a writer/storyteller?

I think my strengths are probably in creating characters that feel real and in creating novels that move at a fast pace using an economy of words honed during my time in the short fiction world.

- By the same token, what would be your weaknesses, or aspects of your craft you feel you need to work on?

I think setting – and the more mundane details of world building – are probably the areas where I could do the most work. But at the same time, I’m really not too interested in overdoing those, either. For me, I like Elmore Leonard’s notion of pulling everything out of a manuscript that isn’t story.

- Were there any perceived conventions of the fantasy genre which you wanted to twist or break when you set out to write LAMENTATION and its sequels?

No, not especially. I just found the story in my characters and followed it. I’m sure along the way that I twisted or broke conventions but truly, I don’t think much about those things. Telling the story – making it true to the characters and their world – is what I keep at the forefront of my mind. I think at the heart of it, conventional or unconventional, people read for story.

- Tor Books seems to be pushing LAMENTATION as if it might be the fantasy debut of the year. Are you happy to have such a positive buzz surrounding the book, or are you afraid that this might raise readers' expectations too high?

Tor has been amazing to work with. And I had wanted Tor – they were my first pick for The Psalms of Isaak because I like the way they take care of their other series. They’ve really gotten behind the books and have been a great support to me.

The buzz is definitely a two-edged sword. On the one hand, I’m delighted that people are loving the book so much. Because Tor made so many ARCs available, I’ve been getting a great deal of feedback both in reviews and in reader response. It’s been highly favorable so far and that’s been a great encouragement to me as I’ve worked through the second volume and now the third. On that other hand, there are times when I get a bit nervous. What if the second or third or fourth or fifth books don’t live up to the promise of the first? But really, the best thing I can do is focus on telling the story and try not to think too much about the other stuff.

- You have been a prolific short fiction writer these last few years. Do you have a different approach when you write short stories and novel-length projects?

Definitely. Because I can write a short story in a handful of hours – either in one burst or over a span of a few mornings. My average short story length is about 4,000 words and I can usually knock out about a thousand words per hour in short fiction. But if short stories are a spring, novels are more of a marathon. Though I wrote LAMENTATION fairly fast, the other volumes seem to take about six to eight months to complete. That’s a lot of time, and those words come slower – maybe because I’m still pretty new to novels. There are days when I’m getting 300 or 500 words per hour on a book. And with a short story, I can contain most of the story in my head while I’m writing it. A novel is just too big so I end up using a combination of brief notes and an outline to keep it all straight.

In the end, it’s the same principle: Apply butt to chair. Apply fingers to keyboard. And then work steadily until it’s done.

- The fact that there is a website dedicated to your work is an indication that interaction with your readers is important to you as an author. How special is it to have the chance to interact directly with your fans?

I think interaction with readers is not just special but crucial. I see writing a bit like owning a tour bus and my readers are those brave souls who plunk down their dollars to climb aboard and let me take them on a spin through the wacky woods of my Imagination Forest. Interacting with them is an important way for me to know if they feel they’re getting their money’s worth out of that tour. It often encourages me and sometimes it even gives me a nudge in a new direction based on what I learn they’re interested in or curious about.

I’m sure as I get busier that I’ll have to find clever new ways to interact with my readers but these days, I’m pretty easy to find. I can be reached through my website and blog...I’m also on FaceBook. And I make a point of getting out to a few conventions per year. Usually Worldcon and World Fantasy along with a handful of local ones – Orycon, Norwescon and Radcon. And of course, I have book store appearances here and there. Down the road, I’m hoping to add a couple of random conventions that will let me get around to meet my readers in other parts of the country.

- Given the choice, would you take a New York Times bestseller, or a World Fantasy Award? Why, exactly?

Well, given the choice, I’d like a few dozen of each, actually. Still, this is a good question. I think I’ll have to go with the bestseller. It would indicate a level of commercial success that ideally would let me focus on writing full time as a way of supporting my family.

- What authors make you shake your head in admiration? Many speculative fiction authors don't read much inside the genre. Is it the case with you?

There have been quite a few and my influences have changed as I’ve grown both as a reader and a writer. Bradbury was probably my first. Burroughs, Howard, Moorcock, Leiber, Waldrop, Dick, Ellison, Zelazny and Stephen King have all left me slack-jawed in wonder at one time or another. I also enjoy Elmore Leonard, Tom Clancy, Ken Follett and Nelson DeMille.

I’ve always read outside the genre – I grew up reading mysteries, westerns, and spy thrillers along with a smattering of classics, poetry and non-fiction. But since I started writing novels, I’ve noticed that I read less SF/F. Presently, I read mostly non-fiction though I often find myself pining for a good novel.

- Cover art has become a very hot topic of late. What are your thoughts pertaining to that facet of a novel, and what do you think of the cover that graces LAMENTATION?

I think a good cover can get a reader to pick up a book and give a closer look. Irene Gallo, the Art Director at Tor, does an amazing job of finding the right artists for their books. I was delighted that she hired Gregory Manchess for my cover. He is a brilliant artist and his cover for LAMENTATION blew me away. I know he’s working on CANTICLE’s cover even now and I can’t wait to see how that comes out. I know it will be stunning.

- More and more, authors/editors/publicists/agents are discovering the potential of all the SFF blogs/websites/message boards on the internet. Do you keep an eye on what's being discussed out there, especially if it concerns you? Or is it too much of a distraction?

I try to keep an eye on what’s discussed but I’m sure I miss a lot. I rarely keep up on blogs and barely keep my own blog maintained. And lately, I’ve just not had time between the novels and the day job and my really busy life.

- Honestly, do you believe that the speculative fiction genre will ever come to be recognized as veritable literature? Truth be told, in my opinion there has never been this many good books/series as we have right now, and yet there is still very little respect (not to say none) associated with the genre.

I’m not sure that it matters much, truth be told. I think a lot of genres get overlooked but ultimately, it’s individual books that are proven over time to rise to the level of veritable literature. I don’t worry too much about my work being part of a “respectable” genre. For me, I’m happy to just tell a story that readers enjoy, that carries them through to the end.

- Anything you wish to add?

Nope, I don’t think so.

3 commentaires:

Anonymous said...

Nice interview, Ken!

Unknown said...

Ken, I had no idea that you wrote the book on a dare! Dude, you so owe him dinner. The story is fantastic! The SF/F world is going to love The Named Lands and everyone in it.

Jim Shannon said...

I'll look for it when its out in paperback. I just found this site and its great.