Featured Author – Lawrence Schoen

AuthorPhoto Today I have the privilege to feature a great author, Lawrence Schoen!

Hi Lawrence! Welcome, take a seat, grab a drink and make yourself comfortable. 

Howdy.

I would like to thank you for taking the time to come on over to my blog and let me question you about the more important things in life. Erm, I mean … Well you’ll find out what I mean.

But first things first, nuqDaq ta’ SoH pol yuc, or “Where do you keep the chocolate?”  for those who like your wife do not speak Klingon.

Do you even like chocolate?

Well, first things being first, let me correct your Klingon usage. What you wanted to say was nuqDaq yuch Dapol. What you said was something like Where do you accomplish. Chocolate (misspelled) keeps.

Hahaha, I stand corrected! I love the fact that you are an expert in Klingon! I’ve learned something today. Something I will never forget, thank you for that. 🙂 But where do you keep it?

My answer is likely to be burghwIjDaq vIpol yuchwIj – I keep my chocolate in my stomach.

And yes, I like chocolate. You have some to give me right? Because, it would be unthinkably offensive to bring up the topic if you weren’t going to provide some. I’ll just wait here for it…

Of course I have chocolate for you! A nice chunk of real, dark, and pure Swiss Chocolate. Yes, the real deal! Unless you’d rather have a bit of Lady Godiva from Belgium?

(Silence descends upon us as we savour the chocolate I’ve put out on the table)

Can you tell me if there’s any dish or beverage which plays a major part in your life and/or books?

I’ve written three books (two novels and a collection of short stories) about a stage hypnotist, the Amazing Conroy, and I plan to write at least five more novels and more shorts for him too. Conroy is a gourmand, and his adventures routinely contain descriptions of alien meals, some fancy some not but all wondrous. A consistent item (in that I make reference to it over and over again) is a beverage Conroy favors called Uncle Waldo’s raspberry root beer. Personally, I have no idea what it tastes like, but Conroy seems to get nostalgic for it when he’s traveling the galaxy.

Oh, that sounds like a brewery has its work cut out for them! I like the sound of it. 🙂

Knowing this now, I (and I think my readers too) would like to know if there is a dish you prepare on a regular basis and would you like to share the recipe with us?

Once upon a time, I was a bachelor and did all of my own cooking. Then I married the incomparable Valerie, who — among her many other talents and skills — trained as a professional chef. This doesn’t necessarily mean that she cooks for me all that often, but it does mean that in our home the kitchen is clearly her domain and my presence there is only suffered now and then (much like the room that is the library is my domain, and while she’s allowed to enjoy it any time, her books don’t live there, just mine). The truth is, with the schedules we keep, I spend far too much time and too many meals eating out. I’d doubtlessly be healthier if I didn’t, but there you go.

None of which answers your question though.

picture from cookingclassy.com

picture from cookingclassy.com

Hmm. What springs to mind is a chili dish that I like to make. I use three kinds of beans, stewed tomatoes, and pork sausage. I cook it slowly, and if possible (i.e., if I’m not so eager to eat it that I can wait) I’ll let it cool down, pop it in the fridge, and let the flavors from all the ingredient merge and continue to evolve overnight, and then heat it up the next day. When served, I add copious amounts of shredded, extra-sharp cheddar cheese, and often a injudicious tablespoon of butter or margarine. It’s a wonderfully simple and satisfying dish on a cold winter’s day.

 Blimey! That is a dish worthy of a page of it’s own. I love chili! But I’ll add sour creme instead of butter the next day and chopped fresh, home-grown tomatoes. Sometimes I even add a few bits of 82% pure chocolate to melt in and add their flavour to the spice.

Anyway, back to you.

Being born in California and the eternal sunshine pounding down on you during your youth do you now still love the sun or would you rather live in the mountains?

Sunshine has its place, and I particularly like it in dappled doses on a fine autumn day as I lay out on my hammock in the backyard, my faithful dog keeping me company, my laptop balanced on my chest as I type.

Back in my professor days, I tromped around the country before finally landing here in the greater Philadelphia area. I don’t much care where I live. I like being within an hour’s drive of an airport so that when the urge/need hits, I can go somewhere else with relative ease. I like having a good internet provided around (which is much less of a difficult thing to come by here in the 21st century than it was in the 20th). I like being near a body of water, even if I never bestir myself to actually go out and gaze upon it or dip a toe into i.

I prefer living where there are seasons (as opposed to southern California where they don’t necessarily have seasons as the rest of the US understands the term), but I am no fan of humid weather. Mountains might be a nice change of pace, or the high desert. I suspect that when I’m ready to retire, my wife and I (and the dogs) will endeavor to move around a bit each year, avoiding the worst seasons at home and dropping in on friends and colleagues around the country. If any such are reading this, please leave a key under the mat.

If traveling the galaxy would be possible and other intelligent life exists in the universe, which planet would you visit first?

I seem to be in a cranky/pedantic mood as I respond to these questions. Sorry about that. But, as I am, I have to point out that your question has problems. First, you invoke a galactic scale but that ask about planets. We’re only just beginning to glimpse and discover exo-planets in other star systems, but we don’t really know much about them. So I can’t address that aspect of the question. Next, you ground the question in the idea of intelligent life being out there, so I can only assume you mean that to figure into my answer, which means I’m constrained to say either “I’d go to a planet where there are alien people to hang out with” or “I’d go somewhere they aren’t.” In my case, if you’ll grant me that these aliens are friendly (or at least open to the idea), I would definitely go visit. How could I not? Not just as an SF author, but also as a linguist and psychologist. Woo hoo!

Sounds reasonable enough. 🙂 By the by, I love your cranky/pedantic way of responding to this question. Sorry for the interruption, please continue.

Closer to home though, and ignoring intelligent life, I’ve always had a hankering to visit Pluto (sadly demoted from being a planet, and so technically doesn’t qualify as a valid answer to your question). Lately I’ve also been thinking about the moons of Saturn (did you know there are sixty-two of them, by some estimates. Sixty-two!!!), and I’m toying with a story idea that would involve all of them. Titan is just under half the size of Earth and looks like it has an atmosphere of sorts. It’s sure to be a tourist destination before too long.

Titan_surface_synthesis

As a psycholinguistics professor and sci-fi lover/author have you ever constructed a  new language to use in a book?

I’ve done this with pieces of languages several times, but never a full blown language. To my knowledge, only J. R. R. Tolkien did that, and he wrote the languages (yes, plural, as in more than one) long before he wrote the books he used them in.

Aspects of language often figure in my fiction, sometimes explicitly, sometimes less so. I recently turned in a story that had a major plot point that turned on the concept of “fourth person” which only occurs in a few languages in the world (including Ojibwe, which is why I got to play with it, having set my story in Minnesota).

I know you’ve been nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Novella this year, but are there any other nominations or awards you are particularly proud of?

A few years ago I was nominated for a Hugo for Best Short Story. As with the Nebula nomination, both works were published by Hadley Rille Books, a small press based in Kansas City, MO. I mention this because I think it reflects an important change, that fiction from markets other than the “big three magazines” are being recognized. This is pretty remarkable stuff, particularly for an award like the Hugo. Fans are reading further afield than ever before, and that changes things. In a good way, I would argue.

On a related note, a couple years back I was nominated for the Washington Science Fiction Association’s Small Press Award. This honors a short story from a small press, and the truly exceptional thing was that my nominated story (which happened to be an Amazing Conroy story) appeared in an obscure anthology from a very small press in Ireland. How cool is that?

Very cool indeed, Mr. Schoen. 🙂 

Okay, with the personal stuff out of the way, I would like to move on to the more writing related questions.

Can you tell me how you celebrate finally getting that tricky chapter (or para) right?

It depends. Sometimes the proper celebration is to go to sleep because you need it. Sometimes the right thing to do is to simply acknowledge you’ve done it and move on without any hesitation to the next piece, taking advantage of the momentum. Sometimes it’s an excuse to take my wife out to a fancy dinner.

And what is the title of the book you would like to talk about now?

I’d like to talk about a book that I’m working on now. It’s current title is BARSK: THE ELEPHANT’S GRAVEYARD, and I’m writing it for Tor Books right now, and it wouldn’t surprise me if their marketing department comes back and says “Dude, that title’s too weird, call it something else.” To give you just a tiny idea of what it’s about, here’s the four-word elevator pitch. Ready? DUNE meets ANIMAL FARM.

Now that is an intriguing pitch, both books are top shelf on my reading list. 

Did you have difficulty coming up with the title?

This title is a compromise. The original title that I had in mind was simply BARSK, which is the name of the planet where the action starts, the protagonist’s home, the place where we eventually return to by the book’s end. But you can’t know any of that until after you’ve read the book, so that title is just a mono-syllabic collection of sounds and has no meaning of it’s own. Hence the expanded title.

Ah, that makes sense, but the one word title is very … Well, it would draw me to pick it up and read. But then again, I’m funny that way.

If you would have to change the genre in order to be able to publish it, what would it be then? i.e. would you conform to the market?

That’s a very tricky question because in many ways the book doesn’t fit well into the genre (and so kudos to my editor at Tor for seeing the greatness and beauty in the book and somehow convincing the bean counting folks to take a chance on it.

I think the real answer to your question can be found in asking why someone writes. If you’re writing to put food on the table and roof over your head (and seriously, there are much easier ways to make a much better living) then you write what will sell. You write what jobs come your way. You write what’s hot because you know you can sell it and then move on to write the next thing. If you have a DayJob that covers your living costs, or a spouse with such a thing, or a rich relative who has died and left you (and/or your spouse) a tidy sum, then you have the luxury of writing what you want to write and not caring so much about whether it can be published (let alone sell well). You get to indulge being an artist. Of course, happiness is probably somewhere in the middle, writing something you want to write that will also be commercially viable, something that people will want to read. It is a beautiful thing being at a convention and being asked to autograph someone’s copy of your book. It is a transcendent joy to have a fan come up and gush about how much he or she enjoyed reading it. It never gets old. Ever.

I can imagine that and to be honest? I would love to have that happen to me, even if only once. 

Now tell me, what don’t you like about writing.

That it’s both hard and easy at the same time. That it takes and takes and takes and can leave you so drained, both emotionally and physically, and yet can be so damn satisfying and uplifting and enervating. That you can often miss what you’ve put into your writing until long after it’s done and only then see something, or have someone else point a thing out to you, where your unconscious slipped something in for all the world (but you!) to see.

What do you do marketing wise and what do you think generates the most attention to your books?

Possibly in part because I’ve been blessed with a truly talented artist (this is where I plug the work of Rachael Mayo, okay, now we can move on), I’ve become very fond of postcards. Lately, I’ve included links and QR codes on postcards which allow someone to go to a website and download a piece of fiction for free. I have reason to believe I was the first genre author in the US to use QR codes in this way, though now it’s commonplace. It’s a great way to use the current technology to reach out to an ever more technologically sophisticated audience.

A great and innovative way which only a sci-fi/tech-savvy person could have come up with.

Now for something else, when you’re on a roll, the muse is in the house and happily guiding your pen, what would seriously drive her/him away?

The sound of someone in pain. I can work through all sorts of other noise and random distractions, but if someone is hurt and cries out my attention shifts in that instant.

That says a lot about your personality, thanks for this insight. 🙂

What does your muse look like and does he/she ever play tricks on you?

I’ve never seen my muse directly. I think, at least for me, it’s like the wind, observed by the things it touches, the way it changes what’s around it. It plays tricks by messing with my head, causing me to see things in a scene that I thought I had all worked out and suddenly transforms into something utterly different and better. Which is to say, I think the muse is a manifestation of my own unconscious mind trying to have a conversation with me.

Do you ever speak to your characters and do you get along all the time?

All. The. Time. I used to work out scenes while taking walks in a public park, speaking aloud the dialogue between characters as I walked. This got problematic, as you might imagine. It’s easier when you’re driving alone in a car, or riding a bike, but it’s also very distracting (honest, officer, I never saw the speed limit sign, Captain Wilmington was explaining to me about how he deduced the location of the alien city based on the patterns of erosion on the fins of a shuttle in the junk yard).

Some characters I get along with. Some not. They’re people, and so the usual warnings apply.

How right you are! 

Would you be able to come up with a credible excuse why you haven’t written a whole day? Remember, I have to believe it!

Here’s the thing: I don’t believe in excuses. You can call them reasons, or justifications or rationalizations. It doesn’t matter. Either you do the thing, or you don’t. Having a good reason or a bad one doesn’t change the fact, it just provides a story about it.

What’s important is choice. What do you choose to do, consciously and deliberately, or unconsciously. What are your priorities, and do you choose to keep to them (and if not, then maybe those really aren’t your priorities).

Living with free will is brutal. It provides no cover. All you have is your own sense of integrity. If I can slip over from Star Trek to Star Wars here, I’ll invoke that little green guy, Yoda, who said “Do, or do not. There is no try.” Believe that!

I think you are absolutely right, I couldn’t have said it better. 

And finally why would you ever want to live life behind a keyboard slaving over a manuscript?

Back when I was professoring, I used to teach a course in Psycholinguistics, and on the first day I would present my students with this statement of fact connundrum: acquring our native language is at one and the same moment the most cognitively complex thing any of us will ever accomplish in our lives and the most powerful tool we ever possess, and yet it is woefully inadequate to really express to another human being the depths and breadth of your most profound internal experiences.

I’m very much a “it’s about the journey, not the destination” kind of guy. Writing is all journey. It’s a journey of self-discovery and self-improvement. It’s a voyage of creation and inspiration. It’s a commitment to striving for excellence to invent and bring into being something that never existed for anyone else before and to wrap it up with pretty paper and shiny bow and say, “here, I made this, I think you’ll like it if you’ll only take some time to read it.”

Also, sometimes people bring you chocolate.

And I am very glad you took the time to come and collect my chocolate, giving me the honour of interviewing you while we enjoy the finer things in life, Chocolate! 

Okay, now that we have the mandatory questions out of the way, shoot your mouth off. Tell me whatever you want the blab about. But please no cat’s, dogs, or children. Make me laugh, or cry, or even envious. Tell me something none has ever heard before. Hehehe, love those little dirty secrets, real or make believe. 🙂

I’ve been writing about a stage hypnotist for years now, and though I have a doctorate in cognitive psychology and have known enough about hypnosis to fake it convincingly for my fiction, I finally decided to take things to the next level. Last February I went off and spent a month (about 80 hours, all told) being trained and certified as a hypnotherapist. It’s given me some wonderful tools and some new ways of viewing the world around me and the people in it. It also reaffirmed and made explicit something I’d suspected but hadn’t really articulated, which is this:

All of us possess all the resources we need to resolve any and all problems we may have in life.

That’s powerful stuff, and hypnosis has shown me how to help both myself and others live happier and more powerful lives, and it’s disturbingly easy to achieve.

So one of things I’m doing this year is using my newfound powers for good, and actively using hypnosis to help other writers. This is also in the genre tradition of “paying it forward.” I’ve been developing materials that help writers use trance to overcome common problems such as writer’s block, turning off the internal editor, developing the habit of writing every single day. And I’m putting these things out there for free at a website called www.hypnosis4writers.com because doing my part to increase the range and quality of what gets written is both wonderfully selfish and selfless at the same time.

Sorry, but I have to interrupt you here to urge all writers reading this to take a look at that site and take to heart what Mr. Schoen offers. Bookmark it and come back regularly to check for files to listen to. Go on, please.

I have a really blessed life. I’ve gotten to do a lot of amazing things as teacher and author and publisher and klingonist and hypnotist. I’ve met wonderful people, eaten insanely delicious meals, visited breath-taking places, touched many people’s lives and maybe even made a difference in some of them. I must be doing something right, because you’ve asked me to be here on this blog and right now someone I may never have met, may never get to meet, is reading my words. Maybe some part of this will touch a chord in that person; maybe that person will have long since tossed up both hands and muttered “what a pompous ass!” Who knows. I’m not even sure which response would be better, and in the long run I suspect neither will the reader. But it’s a cool question, particularly when, like the distinction between journeys and destinations, I find questions much more interesting to ponder than their answers.

I am very glad you took the time to ponder on my questions and give me a wonderful set of answers. Thanks again and I hope you will honour me again with your presence when you have a new book, or the Hypnosis site is fully functional and want to give it a bit of a push.

To all readers/writers who have enjoyed my interview with Dr. Lawrence M. Schoen :: author :: publisher :: psychologist :: hypnotist :: klingonist, I say tell this Campbell Award nominee :::: Hugo Award nominee :::: Nebula Award nominee::: what you think of our interview by leaving a comment. Or visit him at his own domains:

www.lawrencemschoen.com ::: www.papergolem.com ::: www.hypnosis4writers.com

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6 thoughts on “Featured Author – Lawrence Schoen

  1. He sounds fascinating and that he enjoys life and creating life through books. I am glad to have read this blog. I know that his sister, Adrienne, is very proud of her brother. As she should be.

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