Welcome to the slightly grainy world of the Call Back Interviews, a chance for previous guests to return for a more detailed, in-depth chat. The word counts are off and the axe is back on the wall where it belongs – so why not relax and kick back in a patented, 50s-through-70s-styled green leather chair and get ready to talk about Life, the Universe, and Everything…
…as steampunk author Daniel Ausema recently did.
Welcome to the leather chair, Daniel. So, ’tis the month of NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month – are you one of the millions with 50,000 words on your November slate?
Thanks, it’s real comfy. I like the energy of NaNo, on my first three attempts I reached my goal and was thrilled with the novels I’d written. One of these became Season Two of Spire City. However, recently I’ve had too many other commitments–for example, a newborn baby–so I abstained. Last year I set a lower goal and reached that, so this year I’m hoping to do the same, but focusing on short fiction. I love short stories, both reading and writing them, but I haven’t done as many as I’d like. It feels good to get back into that.
You said you grew up in “scenic” West Michigan and now live at the edge of the Colorado Rockies, but my guess is your current environment is no less visually stimulating.
I’m very influenced by my environment. What stands out in the part of Michigan where I grew up is the variety. Fields of wheat, hay and corn, stands of trees, big orchards, carrot and onion farms, and you never had to go far to find a little glacier-carved lake surrounded by trees. Tree-covered hills are a big part of my psyche!
Now I live where the high plains run into the Rockies. We look out our back yard onto some of the most prominent peaks of the United States behind lines of other, shorter mountains. Come from a wetter climate to a drier one, all the colors seem drab and washed out, there’s nothing vibrantly green, yet you come to see the beauty in those paler shades, and certain times of the year the foothills are breathtaking.
I took a college class in improv comedy and Free Play was our main text for the class. We were encouraged to take out-of-the-ordinary classes for one month every year. So I learned the theory behind improv and exercises that help comedians develop their routines. The real focus was to learn how that mindset can be a spark for writing and other creative acts.
The thing that stayed with me most is a quote about the old Sanskrit word lîla, or divine play, how it means “creation, destruction, and re-creation, the folding and unfolding of the cosmos.” I’ve always loved games and that resonated with me. I like to say that I play with words when I write, but that isn’t to trivialise it at all. Play is something I place on a high pedestal.
You described yourself as a writer and stay-at-home dad – sounds like you’re living the dream, relaxing at home and writing all day… How long have you been juggling your artistic goals and raising a family?
A life of ease, indeed… or something like that. My oldest wasn’t quite one when we moved to Colorado, and I started staying home to care for him, so it’s been about a decade. The balancing act varies, since my youngest was born it’s been much more difficult to find writing time. But I try to write every day, or do something writing-related. Some days that’s revising earlier things, some days it’s answering interview questions…
You said your eldest son has become one of your fans, even though Spire City isn’t aimed at his age group. I guess he’s first amongst your beta-readers now.
Actually, no. He’s only ten, so most of what I write really isn’t going to be things he’ll like. Spire City always had a slight YA edge, so it’s not that far out of reach for him. As he gets older, though, perhaps he’ll move more into that sort of role.
Do you have any plans to write something specifically for a younger audience then?
I have a few ideas I might try. One is the generation spaceship project I mentioned before, science fiction with a Harry Potter sort of feel. The other idea was just the barest hint of a thought, until a couple of months ago I decided the time was right. I’ve finished a rough draft of about 20,000 words, but I like to give things a few months before doing any sort of revisions, so in another month or two I’ll take that out and start passing the chapters along to him– once I’ve done some editing, of course.
Readers aren’t so used to serial forms any more, but one of the places it’s still familiar is television. Some shows return us to the status quo each episode, so they can be seen out of order, even missed entirely, and there’s an analogue there to classic Sword & Sorcery shorts, like in Conan. But I also wanted the longer arcs we see in TV shows, so in Spire City there’s a mix of episodes that cycle us back and those that propel the characters into new situations. The later seasons are increasingly focused on moving the story ahead.
What do you like and dislike about the format?
The only drawback is that people don’t always know what to make of it. Review sites don’t want to jump in and review an individual episode, but by the time the full season is out it’s no longer a new release! It’s not a novel, not quite, but not really a series of short stories either. I like the feeling of blazing my own trail, but it is a struggle to get others to follow that trail and discover where it goes.
Presumably Spire City won’t go on forever, though. What do you see as your next step?
Season Three will definitely be the end of these characters’ struggle, so without any spoilers let’s just say that this story arc will be completed. I may return, I’ve ideas for longer stories that would be fun to write, whether they would be novels or serialized or something else entirely. There are already a few Spire City short stories out there, including one in the upcoming anthology Steampunk: The Other Worlds.
But Spire City is not the only setting I’ve written in. There’s The Darkside Codex, which you and I have both titles in, and I’m working on another novella set there. I also have a few less genre- specific fantasy novels that I’m aiming for traditional publishing, if I can. But I’m always on the lookout for new opportunities. New short stories to write. New poems to write. I refuse to lock myself in any sort of narrow route.
My thanks to Daniel for baring his soul and being my first “longer-form” interviewee—the first episode of Spire City: Season Two comes out at the end of this week, I wish it the best of luck!
Click the pic to check out the other Call Back Interviews! (Currently, there are none. However, the Hollywood Interviews are lots of fun!}