Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is happy to have Ryk E. Spoor visit us during our Oziana celebration on May 17! Ryk has visited us before with some of his other science fiction and fantasy work, now he joins us with his latest novel, Polychrome: A Romantic Fantasy, set in the Land of Oz as created by L. Frank Baum.
Thank you very much for joining us, Ryk! Can you please tell us briefly a little about yourself and your writing?
Well, I was born in Omaha, Nebraska, and I’ve lived several other places around the country, but I’ve spent most of my life in upstate New York, so I feel mostly like a native Northeasterner. I was the classic nerd as a kid, skinny, thick glasses, and always reading – I averaged a book a day from the time I was maybe 6 or 7 up through my early college years. The Oz books were my first major love as a reader, from about 7 on; I read a mix of pure science books (volcanology, biology, astronomy, etc.), SF, and fantasy.
In 6th grade my homeroom teacher Mr. Dickinson gave me a battered old copy of “Doc” Smith’s Second Stage Lensmen and that became my next HUGE inspiration and influence and caused me to really start devouring my dad’s entire large library of SF novels. I became pretty much the Compleat Geek through high school and then wandered through a total of three majors, and worked at places ranging from McDonald’s to a small publisher to the R&D firm I currently work for, IEM. In about 2000 I got into an online argument with Eric Flint which ultimately led to my being published. Insofar as my personal life, I’m married to a wonderful lady named Kathleen and we have four children – two boys, two girls –- one poodle, and a bunch of chickens.
What was the inspiration for Polychrome? What were the steps you took to bring it from initial inspiration to the finished book?
As I said previously, the Oz books were my first literary love, and within those books, the character Polychrome, the Daughter of the Rainbow, was my favorite – in retrospect I realized she was my first real crush, long before I knew what that meant.
However, the immediate inspiration for Polychrome came when I was driving home from work one day and saw this absolutely incredible double rainbow which persisted for something like fifteen minutes; that’s almost unheard of in this area of the world, and I managed to get some so-so pictures of it (I used one of them as part of the background for the Kickstarter page). At one point of my drive, it looked as though the end of the rainbow was coming down into the parking lot of Westgate Plaza, and I suddenly had an image of Polychrome dancing down the rainbow and ending up here, in this mundane world. That image stuck with me and started my brain throwing out other random images, but I shoved those away because I had other things to write. And then one day I woke up and the entire book was laid out in my head – and it took my other writing hostage. Literally; I found that I could not write anything else unless I also wrote at least a chapter of Polychrome. “Nice deadlines you’ve got there. Shame if anything were to happen to them.”
In some ways Polychrome is also a terribly self-indulgent novel, so I was reluctant to even show it to my beta-reading group at first – and when I did, a lot of them were really doubtful. And then… they ended up pretty much unanimously telling me that this might well be the best thing I’d ever written.
What was the biggest challenge in writing and putting out Polychrome? How did you overcome that challenge?
There were a couple of major challenges. The first was just getting up the guts to try to publish it. As I said, while I tried to make this a real and worthwhile novel, it was also self-indulgent in the extreme, and I had to overcome rare feelings of embarrassment just to contemplate showing this to my beta-readers, let alone anyone else. But finally I did start submitting it, at which point it became clear what the other problem was: Polychrome doesn’t fit in any normal category, especially for an Oz novel. Oz books fall generally into three categories: new Oz books for their original audience (children); reimaginings of Oz in one way or another (e.g., Tin Man, The Wiz); and deconstructions/parodies/cynical reinterpretations (Wicked, A Barnstormer in Oz). Polychrome is none of these; it is an attempt to tell an adult-reader-level story set in a world as close as possible to the “real” Oz as I can get. And, as Mari Ness and others such as John Bunnell have noted in their reviews, that’s something that’s just never been done. And that showed up starkly when I submitted it. Multiple publishers requested it. One of them hemmed and hawed about it for two years. But ultimately they elected not to publish it, at least in part because they really didn’t know what pigeonhole to use to publish and promote it. So I finally decided that I would find out if there was enough interest to make it worth my time to publish it myself. To publish a book takes both time and money – quite a bit of money, if you’re trying to put out a book that’s of the same quality as those from the big publishers, and since I am a pro author, I wasn’t going to accept a half-assed quality version of my work. So I put up a Kickstarter… and not only did it make the funding target, it made the next stretch goal, giving me the gorgeous Bob Eggleton cover. So I knew there was enough interest, and I had the resources to make the book… and here we are!
While you’re writing, do you prefer music, silence, other? Please elaborate!
I need music. I write with headphones on, and the music must be instrumental – or at least the voices have to be singing words I don’t understand (i.e., Japanese or some other language) so they don’t distract me.
I actually tend to construct soundtracks for many of my works as I write; Polychrome has one of 21 tracks running over an hour. The largest portion of my music collection is soundtrack music from movies, anime, TV shows, video games and so on, with smatterings of classical and other music. Usually I end up selecting specific songs for an “opening theme”, some for specific characters or events. The opening theme for Polychrome is called “Run For Your Life” and is the OP for the video game Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis; the lead-up to the final battle is “The Greatest Story Never Told” from Doctor Who; the character Zenga’s “big scene” has the appropriately named “Super Strength” by the band Two Steps From Hell. The music often inspires the scene as well as the scene inspiring the selection of the music, to the point that I write some scenes with a particular song on repeat to evoke the images that I want.
What are some of your writing-related hobbies, crafts, addictions?
Besides reading, probably the largest single influence as well as recreation is roleplaying games. I’ve been an RPGer since 1977, and started running games both live and online in 1978; I’ve been pretty much continuously involved in one campaign or another ever since, and one of my players has been gaming with me since 1979. This is not just a game but a worldbuilding and writing tool; more than one of my books has significant elements taken from my gaming.
I also do a fair amount of videogaming, again mostly RPG related like Skyrim and Oblivion, the Persona series, the Fallout series, and Star Ocean, among others. These can also sometimes be inspirational.
Of course, I also watch various shows and movies in the SF/F vein and get into new shows, webcomics, etc.; my current favorites are One Piece and Homestuck.
What else can we expect from you in the near future?
Well, as of signing time my epic fantasy novel Phoenix in Shadow, sequel to Phoenix Rising, has just come out; in about a year you can expect to see Phoenix Ascendant, the final novel in what I call the Balanced Sword trilogy. I am very happy with the way these last two novels have worked out and Phoenix Ascendant may well be the best thing I’ve ever written; it’s certainly a book I’ve been waiting a long, long time to publish (the basic story idea and outline dates to 1991).
I’m currently working on Castaway Odyssey, sequel to Castaway Planet which came out in February; this is set in the same universe as the Boundary trilogy and is a hard-SF adventure focused on, as you can probably guess, a group of people getting marooned on an unknown alien world and how they manage to survive. I have also started on the third book in the Arenaverse series, tentatively titled Challenges of the Deeps; this one will try to wrap up some of the significant prior plot threads. Finally, I have a contract for a book titled Princess Holy Aura, first in what I hope to be a series titled The Ethical Magical Girl. This is my attempt to write a mahou shoujo or Magical Girl novel, which I don’t think has ever been done on this side of the pond before. It will be both serious and funny by turns, I think – there are some absurdities inherent in the genre that I will play with, but the story will still be a serious novel within the framework of the genre.
Where can people find your work? (Besides ABSW ;)–though they should totally check here first!)
Most of my books are published by Baen Books and thus are available in most fine bookstores (and even some not so fine ones) as well as on all the major online outlets. Polychrome is my first self-published book; it’s available as an eBook through Amazon, iBooks, B&N, and Smashwords, and as a physical book through CreateSpace (Amazon) for the Trade Paperback or Lulu.com if you want the really fancy-fancy hardcover.
How can we follow your work, share your awesomeness, or otherwise stalk you in a totally non-creepy way?
The best way to stalk me online is either to watch my website at http://www.grandcentralarena.com, or to find me on Facebook. Generally there it’s best to look for my personal connection, because while I have a FB author page I keep forgetting it’s there!