Author Interview: The Song Remains the Same

Back in November of 2010, I interviewed Garrett Calcaterra about his first published novel.  Since then, he’s published two more books and continued to eke out some great short fiction, all while teaching full time and making noise in a rockband.

I was able to track him down and ask him some questions in advance of his newest book, Dreamwielder.

1)       This is the third book you’ve published.  You have had dozens and stories and articles published over the last decade.  Do you feel you’ve made it?  Are you a legit author now?

I guess I would have to answer yes, but don’t’ take that to mean I’m content. Dreamwielder getting published by Diversion Books is definitely the biggest achievement in my career so far, but at the same time, it’s a book that I finalized over two years ago. I think it’s a mistake to determine whether you’re a legitimate author based solely on publication success. Finding publishers for Umbral Visions and The Roads to Baldairn Motte, finding an agent, and now getting Dreamwielder published are all accomplishments I’m very proud of, and they certainly validate that I’m making progress as a writer, but that’s just it—it’s only a validation of the process. I’ve been writing for a long time. I quit my career in the health and safety field six years ago to really focus on making a career as an author. Sometime in the last six years I realized that I’d finally gotten a good handle on the craft, and the stuff I was writing was professional quality. I think it’s at that point I became a legitimate author. I wrote with more confidence, I started calling myself an author, and began dealing with editors, agents, and other authors as a peer as opposed to a fanboy. Now the publications are starting to catch up with me. Hopefully there’ll be a lot more to come!

2)       With a young protagonist and fast-paced plot, this book has a YA feel to it.  Was that a conscious choice, or just a by-product of writing such an accessible book?

I wasn’t aiming to write YA fantasy, but I definitely wanted it to be something that was appropriate for all audiences from teen to adult. I think if you have a young protagonist, you sort of have to make it age appropriate for a younger audience. At the same time though, I didn’t try to write down to a younger audience, and I didn’t lighten it up to make it G rated. There’s some pretty dark stuff in there. My hope is that it’s a good read for anyone who likes fantasy.

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3)       How has it been working with Diversion books?  Have we come to the point where an e-publisher is just as legit as a traditional one?

Diversion has been great. They love the book and have been really enthusiastic working with me, which is a good thing. It’s always nice to feel wanted. The craziest thing is how quickly they work. With a traditional publisher, it could be years after acceptance that your book finally lands on bookshelves. These guys are cranking my book out my book in 4 months! And they know what they’re doing too. Everyone there has experience with the big publishing houses, and they left to start up Diversion because they believe in e-books. I have run into some resistance from reviewers and vendors who still don’t want to deal with e-books, and I don’t necessarily blame them, but those sort of problems have not been a big deal. The e-book market has opened up a whole new world of potential readers, and Diversion is at the top when it comes to getting e-books into readers’ hands. That’s why I went with them as opposed to going with a smaller press that would put the book in print.

4)       You’ve recently acquired a Kindle and are now selling many of your stories electronically.  Are paper books doomed?  Or will deadtree and electronic co-exist indefinitely?

No, I don’t think paper books are doomed. I think we’ll see the sales percentages of print and e-books start to level off here in the next year. The way I see it, readers just have more options now. I like my Kindle for reading short fiction and magazines (and playing vapid, time-wasting games of course), but when it comes to novels I still prefer print. I still stamp my favorite books with my name so no one steals them and I still keep them meticulously shelved on my overburdened bookshelf. I think most avid readers are the same—some stuff we want in print, some we want to read on our e-readers.

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5)       You’ve recently taught a class on steampunk.  What are a few of seminal works everyone should know?

Well, the term “steampunk” was coined by K.W. Jeter to describe the stuff he, James P. Blaylock, and Tim Powers were writing in the 80s, so that’s the place to start. Jeter has Morlock Night and Infernal Devices; Blaylock has Homonculus and Lord Kelvin’s Machine (and tons of short stuff—dig up his Langdon St. Ives collections); and Powers has On Stranger Tides and The Anubis Gates. None of them fit the modern steampunk aesthetic perfectly, but they’re the seminal works. You’ll find that they’re largely inspired by Victorian and early 20th century era fiction—particularly H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Edgar Rice Burroughs—but they also incorporate a lot of mythology and folklore, including everything from Arthurian legend to voodoo. I should probably also include Michael Moorcock’s The Warlord of the Air. It doesn’t fit the modern mold of steampunk either, but it predates the steampunk works of Jeter, Blaylock, and Powers, and definitely has trappings of steampunk. Namely airships and the “punk” anti-imperialistic sentiment that has been incorporated into the modern steampunk aesthetic.

6)       You are well-read in the classics, both literary and genre.  But who are some of your favorite current writers?

Yikes, I’m not as well read as I’d like to be with contemporary writers. Well let’s see, there’s the aforementioned Blaylock and Powers. George R.R. Martin, Chuck Palahniuk, Neil Gaiman. You turned me on to Paolo Bacigalupi recently. And Bill Bryson on the non-fiction front. I do read a fair amount of short fiction in journals and magazines, so I’ve read a lot more contemporary authors than that, but those are the ones I find myself continually going back to.

7)       I like the words “chicanery,” “masticate,” and “impecunious.”  Are there any words you’d like to see used more often in writing? 

Feculent, flummoxed, and pontificate.

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8)       I’m still a big fan of your first novel.  Do you have any plans to make that available to readers?

None. Perhaps I’ve been too harsh a critic of myself, but when I shelved Praxis of the Gods after rewriting it multiple times and failing to find a home for it, I decided it was best left shelved. In many ways it was a highly ambitious novel and I think there’s probably some great ideas and action sequences in there, but I don’t know how well it holds up as a novel. Honestly, it’s been years since I’ve last looked at it. I’m sort of scared to now.

9)       What power would make you a better assassin: the ability to change into any human, or the ability to change into any animal?  Think carefully: there’s only one right answer.

Tough one. I say the power to change into any human. Don’t get me wrong. Animals are kick-ass—getting to tear apart someone as a mongoose would be sweet!—but not everyone regularly interacts with animals, particularly not people in positions of power. Everyone has a few human confidants however. If you could become that confidant, you’d have unfettered access to your target at their most vulnerable point. “Why of course it’s me, Stephanie. Never mind that knife in my hand. Let’s go to our bedroom and have androgynous vampire…I mean, uh…Mormon copulation…”

ED Note:  He choose wrongly.  As a fly or a flea, you could gain access anywhere, turn into a honey badger, kill your target, and then turn into a mouse and scamper out through the sewers.  Animal is clearly the better choice.

10)    You got a beer kit for Christmas.  What is the first kind of beer you’ll make? And if you could only drink one style of beer for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Damn, that’s a tough one. The first beer I’ll be making with the new kit is an IPA, because that’s what came with the kit. After that though, I’ll be making all kinds of crazy stuff. I have this really cool book called Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz and it has recipes to make everything from mead to wine to cider and beer fermented with naturally occurring airborne yeast. The cool thing about the kit (Brooklyn Beer Making Kit) is that it comes with all the glassware you need to make just about any sort of fermented beverage. Prison hooch, anyone? If I could only drink one style beer for the rest of my life, it would be an American style red. Speaking of, I think I’ll head out to fridge and grab one now. Cheers!

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