Monday, September 26, 2016

Author Interview: Brian Niemeier

Brian Niemeier is quickly establishing himself as a force within the sci-fi/fantasy publishing world as a force to be reckoned with.  He earned the distinction of being voted six of five for the Hugo's Campbell Award for Best New Writer, followed quickly by being awarded the inaugural Dragon Award for Best Horror Novel for Souldancer, the sequel to this month's Puppy of the Month. 

Despite the accolades and his busy schedule as a regular on both Geek Gab and the SuperversiveSF Roundtable, he graciously took a few minutes to answer a few questions from the Contributors.  Presented here as a Q&A, the questions for this interview have been edited for clarity and consistency, but Mr. Niemeier's words are untouched.

PotM:  Thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions for the Book Club, we’ve had a great time reading Nethereal.  Before we get to the book, let’s talk a little bit about you.  The big news first: Congratulations on your No Award, and even more so on your Dragon Awards win.  It was well deserved.  Where in the house have you chosen to display that gorgeous blown-glass trophy?  

BN:  Thanks.  The Dragon's on the mantel. I'm traditional that way. 

Rabid or Sad?
What’s the best way to follow your writing progress?  Twitter, blog, mailing list?

I recommend my blog for keeping score on my long game:
Twitter for my fruit fly attention span game:
Let’s move on to the Puppy of the Month, Nethereal. It’s clear that you drew from a wealth of inspiration for both the story and setting of Nethereal.  Most readers will catch the references to pulp tales, Dante’s Inferno, and anime, and at least one described the setting to a less grimdark Warhammer 40k.  It’s clear from the many biblical references that you have formal training in Biblical study as well.  Are there any other sources from which you drew inspiration that casual readers might miss?

There’s a movement gaining traction in certain quarters, spearheaded by Jeffro Johnson’s Appendix N project and the Puppy of the Month Book Club, to revive the spirit of pulp era SFF. I enthusiastically endorse the pulp revival, but contrary to the impression that readers of Nethereal may take away from the book, my familiarity with the great pulp masters is honestly quite limited. I’ve mostly read Lovecraft and a couple of R.E. Howard stories. I do fully intend to explore Burroughs, Brackett, and “Doc” Smith; plus Walter B. Gibson’s work on The Shadow.
In hindsight, I think it’s safe to say that the Soul Cycle—Nethereal in particular—is responding to the same creative exhaustion in contemporary genre fiction that’s motivated the pulp revival. Almost every story released by the major movie studios and publishing houses is a copy of an imitation of a deconstruction of 70s and 80s homages to the pulps. Writers like Jeffro want to get back to the primary sources to work around the artistic dead end that SFF has devolved into. Certainly going back to the vine and growing a new branch from there is an approach that stands to bear fruit.
Instead of retracing my steps back to the main road, I came at the problem sideways; essentially by chance.
Anime and tabletop and video role-paying games—especially JRPGS—exert more influence on my writing than any SF book except Dune. The weird phenomenon of readers saying that these influences led me to produce something original seems counterintuitive at first; especially when you consider how derivative anime is of Western influences.
But the key difference between J. J. Abrams rehashing Spielberg and Hideaki Anno drawing inspiration from Childhood’s End is that with something like Neon Genesis Evangelion, Clarke’s story is filtered through the radically different perspective and tropes of Japanese culture. And tellingly, Anno wasn’t afraid to heavily salt his series with overt Christian imagery—something that, if you try it in the West, may not get you anathematized but will get your work pigeonholed into a very specific subcategory.
What this means for my writing is that I got most of my classic SF tropes secondhand through Japanese media; then distilled the hybrid influence into a kind of story that diverges from what most SFF fans are used to.

It's not terribly surprising that there would be such a convoluted path of inspiration behind Nethereal.  Anyone who has read the book will know why.  The background of the Netherverse plays a critical role in the storyline, and it’s clear that the two were developed in tandem.  Did you have specific plans for the sequels as you wrote Nethreal, and if so…how many sequels did you map out before you began writing the series?

The Soul Cycle sprang from a truly epic case of world builder’s disease. My initial notes on the universe go back over fifteen years.
I had four books in the continuous main series at least roughly outlined before I started writing—and I actually started with Souldancer before going back and writing Nethereal as the first book in the cycle—plus another series of four prequels that flesh out the background of ether-running, the origins of the Guild, and the history of the Purges.
All told, I’ve got four books in the Soul Cycle and four more books in an as-yet untitled prequel series planned. I’m also keen on the idea that multiple readers have suggested of doing an anthology of short stories that fill in the corners of Nethereal’s setting—fleshing out characters’ backgrounds and the like. That project is probably a ways off, though.

The Frisky Pagan had a specific question about the "clay tribe", the term the Gen use to describe humans. It is a curious term, with a certain religious significance.  Is there is a specific reason you chose it, and why the Gen use it to describe humans, but not themselves.

I'm glad TFP raised that question. Back before the Purges, the Gen culture had a strong tribal dynamic that affected everything from an individual's social standing to the professions that were deemed proper for him.
Gen tribes take their names from natural substances that are thought to exemplify a tribe's essence. You'll note that Jaren is identified as having Fire Tribe heritage. Leaders like the king of Avalon descend from the Gold Tribe.
The Gen had a million year or so head start on humans. They'd already mastered agriculture when we first started living in caves. At a loss for how to fit mankind into their social hierarchy, the ancient Gen named us the clay tribe. 

So in regard to TFP's second question, assigning humanity a tribe actually is the Gen's way of applying the nomenclature they use for themselves to us. It's a linguistic acknowledgement that both species are related.
Gen and human anthropologists have varying theories for why clay was chosen as the substance that best describes man. Some say it's because humans are more malleable and versatile than the Gen, which is largely true. Others consider it a term of condescension bordering on a racial slur that equates humans with a base material akin to dirt. Both could be right.
In terms of the meta-narrative, I drew from both the Genesis 2 account and Ovid's four ages.

Do you have a target release date set for the third book in the series?  How about a title?

Soul Cycle Book III is titled The Secret Kings. I’m working hard to give it a Christmas 2016 launch. For those who want a foretaste, there’s a preview of The Secret Kings at the end of Souldancer.

You suggested on Twitter that you would be writing a short story or two set within the Soul Cycle Universe.  Do you plan to self-publish those as well or submit them to a magazine such as Cirsova, Asimov’s, or  Clarke’s World?

This would be the proposed anthology I mentioned before. I would self-publish it; no question.
Old guard short fiction magazines are dying faster than the big New York publishing houses, though I’d definitely love to see one of my stories published in Cirsova someday. They seem to have discovered a winning formula of quality content and crowd funding that makes short fiction viable. So yes, Cirsova and Sci Phi Journal are about the only magazines I can think of right now that I’d consider doing business with.

You recently worked with Castalia House on a free give-away for Nethereal for those who purchased Grow or Die.  Do you have plans to work with Castalia House in the future?

Yes. I can’t divulge too many details yet, but Castalia House editors have already publicly stated that I’m in talks to write for them. I find the prospect highly exciting, since besides Baen, CH is pretty much the only publishing house that I have any interest in working with.
Now is also a good time to preemptively answer a couple of questions that several readers have asked me about my upcoming work with Castalia House.
First, rest assured that my CH project will not interfere with my ongoing work on the Soul Cycle.
Second, current and future works in the Soul Cycle will continue to be published by me as an independent publisher and author. Castalia House has expressed no interest in taking on publishing responsibilities for my indie books, and has in fact pointed out that doing so would likely be detrimental to both parties.
That said, I can’t wait until Castalia House unveils what we’ve got in store for our readers. It’s gonna be game-changing.

You're such a tease.  Castalia House has high standards, and your work seems a natural fit we can't wait to see what your collaboration has in store for us.  Thank you for your time, Brian, we look forward to reading more from you in the future.

Thank you. My novels Nethereal, and its Dragon Award-winning sequel Souldancer, are both available from Amazon.

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