Ken Scholes is the author of the Psalms of Isaak, a multi-volume post-apocalyptic, epic fantasy series that includes the novels Lamentation, Canticle, and Antiphon. In his words, Scholes writes “about people facing dark circumstances, doing what they can to rebuild from those circumstances. Themes of survival, redemption, hope, struggle and even love seem to show up in my work. And ultimately, I think I’m really just processing my own life experiences, my hopes and dreams and fears, bent through the lens of fiction.”
Elegant and innovative, Scholes’ prose is marked by an astounding warmth and familiarity.
“Speculative fiction,” said Scholes, “is the sandbox of ideas — a place where we can try out what-if’s and see what sticks. It also can provide (as it did in my case) a great foster home to grow up in when you’re own home isn’t such a great place to be.”
I first got to know Scholes when I interviewed him for “Keeping Ahead of the Fear”, which appeared in issue #37 of Clarkesworld Magazine. Below, we catch up after a busy year. Antiphon is in bookstores. His infant daughters are toddlers now. Last month saw the publication of his third short story collection, Diving Mimes, Weeping Czars and Other Unusual Suspects. And his fiction is better than ever.
When last we spoke, you were excited about a “small but fun project” that you couldn’t quite talk about yet. So can you talk about it yet?
Ken Scholes: Alas, after a long stretch of talking about it and trying to figure out a contract, I just learned [a few weeks ago] that the project has gone away for now. I can tell you that it was a short novel, and was to be an authorized sequel to a favorite book of mine by a favorite author. It may come back ’round again. Things are wacky in the Wonderful World of Writing.
What’s the coolest part of Antiphon for you?
Ken Scholes: Well, Antiphon‘s the first novel that I finished and thought, “Hey, this doesn’t suck.” I had a hard time with the first two books — I was pretty convinced they weren’t any good. So it was nice to reach the finish line on one and feel pretty solid about it.
I think what I’ll remember most about Antiphon, though, is that it was the book I was writing when I said goodbye to my dad and hello to my daughters. I was maybe a third of the way into the book when he died in February 2009 — just a week before Lamentation came out. And I was right at the tail end of it when my daughters were born in July.
As a (relatively) new father and (sort of) new novelist with an accelerating career, how do you balance family and writing? How do you maintain the time and space both commitments require?
Ken Scholes: Simplest answer is: I don’t. My life is wildly out of balance and I’m constantly struggling to regain it. I don’t see nearly enough of my friends or family. I don’t write nearly enough or as quickly as I used to because I’m tired most of the time. We try to find little tricks (writing in the car while Jen drives us to work in the mornings) but those tricks come with a price (losing an hour of time that we can talk.) I get up around three in the morning, feed the babies as they wake up, ride my bike five to eight miles and then get some words in if the babies go back to sleep. If they don’t, I shift from writing to some aspect of the business that I can do while monitoring them (I can’t get into the fiction zone without blocking out my children…which isn’t a smart move with exploratory toddlers.) Once Jen’s up and getting ready, I can hide someplace in the house with headphones on and get a bit done. Some days, I write in the car. Some days, I write on my lunch breaks. And a lot of weekdays, I write when I get home at 5 PM until just before the girls go down at 7 PM.
Weekends then become family time because there’s a bit more wriggle room with no day job to tie up eleven hours of the day with work and commuting. I was keeping the girls with me on Fridays and we just recently decided to put them in daycare every other Friday to see if a day of writing and resting would help me.
We’re also looking into borrowing the various beach houses of friends and family so I can go off and write on weekends (I’ve heard Mike Moscoe speak glowingly of burst-writing in a hotel one week of every month.)
It’s a heuristic process and we just keep trying new things. But I’ll be honest (though I hate sounding like a whiner): I’m tired all the time, I’m never caught up, I’m constantly stressed. I just keep telling myself that it’s short term sacrifice for long term gain. And I keep my fingers crossed that the series will either take off sales-wise in a bigger way soon or that I’ll build the critical mass over the next few years by putting enough books out there so I can lose the day job and just focus on writing and family. Or get to a place where I can slow down. I do believe it will happen; it’s just a matter of time.
What have your daughters taught you about writing? Have they changed your vision of the world?
Ken Scholes: They’ve not changed my vision of the world but they’ve certainly changed my sense of purpose and they’ve changed why I write and who I write for. I write for them now in many ways — it pays their daycare and it paves the way for them to have a life unlike the one I had growing up in that trailer with that crazy mom. It’s already introducing them to a diverse cast of aunts and uncles — a rich tapestry of creatives that will have been present in their lives from the very beginning.
And they are changing me. Lizzy and Rae are little time machines that take me back to revisit my own childhood. That is certainly life-changing, to see it from the other side of the table. I’ve been told for years that once I had children, I’d revisit my own early years as they hit the various developmental stages and so far, that is holding true.
I suspect that the changes that they bring to my writing will start showing up in the next few years as I start processing it all, again through that lens of fiction.
What’s next for you?
Ken Scholes: Well, I intend to finish the Psalms of Isaak by mid-2011 or so. My agent, editor, and I will start talking at some point about what’s next. I know that I want to keep growing with Tor and that at some point, I will want to revisit this world. I’ve got several series planned there. But I also have some new things I’d like to tackle, including a more traditional epic fantasy. I suspect my next round of books will include the start on a new series exploring the Czarist Lunar Expedition and Felip Carnelyin’s 100th tale, referred to in the series and in “A Weeping Czar Beholds the Fallen Moon”. I’m also interested in doing some stand alone projects and, at some point, a book about a couple of feisty red-headed twin dragon-slaying ninja warrior princesses and the fits they give their kingly dad.
And beyond that? I want to write in other mediums once I’m full time and have better balance. I came to Story through TV and movies, so I want to dabble there. I also got a lot of Story out of comic books and would love to convince DC to let me try something out with them once I have more credibility and connections.
Oh, and I want to take a nice long vacation someplace warm with fruity drinks that have umbrellas.
Jeremy L. C. Jones is a freelance writer, editor, and teacher. He is the staff Interviewer for Clarkesworld Magazine and a frequent contributor to Kobold Quarterly. He teaches at Wofford College and Montessori Academy in Spartanburg, SC. He is also the director of Shared Worlds, a creative writing and world-building camp for teenagers that he and Jeff VanderMeer designed in 2006.