Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Lawrence M. Schoen Author Interview

Photo Content from Lawrence M. Schoen

Lawrence M. Schoen holds a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology, with a special focus in psycholinguistics. He spent ten years as a college professor, and has done extensive research in the areas of human memory and language. His background in the study of human behavior and the mind provide a principal metaphor for his fiction. He currently works as the director of research and chief compliance officer for a series of mental health and addiction recovery facilities in Philadelphia.

He’s also one of the world’s foremost authorities on the Klingon language, and since 1992 has championed the exploration of this constructed tongue and lectured on this unique topic throughout the world. In addition, he’s the publisher behind a speculative fiction small press, Paper Golem, aimed at serving the niche of up-and-coming new writers as well as providing a market for novellas.

In 2007, he was a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. He received a Hugo Award nomination for Best Short Story in 2010 and Nebula Award nomination for Best Novella in 2013, 2014, and 2015. In 2016 he won the Kevin O’Donnell Jr. Service to SFWA Award, and his book Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard was finalist for the Nebula Award for Best Novel and went on to win the Coyotl Award. In 2017 he turned in the sequel to that work (codenamed: The BARSquel) as well as the fourth novella in his Amazing Conroy series, the ongoing adventures of ta stage hypnotist traveling the galaxy in the company of Reggie, an alien buffalito that can eat anything and farts oxygen. By the end of the year he anticipates completing the first book in a new series about lost cities and the advancement of human civilization.

Lawrence lives near Philadelphia with his wife, Valerie, who is neither a psychologist nor a Klingon speaker.


File Size: 4850 KB
Print Length: 432 pages
Publisher: Tor Books (August 14, 2018)
Publication Date: August 14, 2018
Sold by: Macmillan
Language: English


"Weird, wise, and worldly, Barsk: The Elephants' Graveyard is a triumph.” —Robert J. Sawyer, Hugo Award-winning author of Red Planet Blues

“The second you encounter the arboreal uplifted elephants who speak with the dead, you know you're reading a work of singular imaginative power. It's a delight from beginning to end.” —Walter Jon Williams, Nebula Award-winning author of the Metropolitan series

“A captivating, heartwarming story in a unique and fantastic world... as rich and mysterious as Dune.” —James L. Cambias, author of A Darkling Sea

“A heartfelt and wonderfully weird book: a space opera about kindness and memory.” —Max Gladstone, author of the Craft Sequence

“A masterful, onion-layered tale of pariahdom, treachery, and genocide that ultimately reveals the true deathlessness of hope and love.” —Charles E. Gannon, author of Fire With Fire

“Combines excellent characters and a fascinating world. What really makes it work is how he deftly weaves together startling SFnal ideas with character-based intrigue. You'll really care for these characters, even as you find them believably alien. I found it a compulsive page-turner and immensely enjoyable.” —Karl Schroeder, author of Lockstep

“Powerful. Grand in scope, yet deeply intimate. Schoen gives anthropomorphism some serious spirituality. It got inside my head in the way that only an exciting new idea can.” —Howard Tayler, Hugo Award-winning creator of Schlock Mercenary

Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that writing was not just a hobby.
I've never thought of writing as a hobby, so this is a tricky question to answer. Writing, and more generally storytelling, is something that I've always done. I had an obscure leg disease that limited my physical activity from age 5 to 13 and often had my leg in cast. As a result, I started reading way above my grade level from day one. When the other kids were running around on the playground, I was sitting on a bench with a book. I think that naturally led to where I am today.

Did it take a long time to get your first book published?
“Long” is one of those relative words. It seemed like forever to me, certainly. But in fact it was a natural extension of writing short stories. In fact, I'd been selling short fiction to Eric Reynolds, the man behind small press Hadley Rille Books, who at the time was only publishing anthologies. We met face to face for the first time at the Denver Worldcon and agreed that we both wanted to be publishing novels. I sold him my first book on a handshake in the Dealers' Room and emailed him the manuscript from my hotel room that night.

In your new book; THE MOONS OF BARSK, can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about it and why they should read your novel?
It's several years after Barsk: The Elephants' Graveyard. A lot of what you think you know to be true from that book turns out to be wrong! Pizlok, the precognitive (elephant) boy who believes he can speak to moons is back, but now he's a young adult. For the last few years he's been educated by a long dead artificial intelligence that contains all of humanity's stories, and he decides it's time for him to go on his “hero's journey.” Because this is a novel, things don't go simply and he gets it horribly wrong. The boy who cannot feel pain nonetheless learns what anguish is. He also grapples with questions of destiny and determinism. Or more specifically, if the future is fixed and he can see what is going to happen, how then can he have free will? In addition we have half a dozen other POV characters including his mentor Jorl, his young daughter, more developments of future physics around the subatomic particles of memory and personality from book one, spies, intrigue, betrayal, galactic politics, and questions of how to resolve intertwined issues of history and racism. Obviously I'm biased, but I think it's even better than the first book.

What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating your characters?
There's that transition between something you know, a fact or an idea, and truly understanding it. In the course of this book, Pizlo recreates Joseph Campbells classic The Hero with a Thousand Faces. It's one thing to believe that, yes, sure, everyone of us has a story, that we're all the heroes of our own tales. Embracing this idea, carrying it from the novel into real life and seeing everyone around you — not just people you know but folks in line ahead of you at the market, sitting next to you on the bus, yelling at you in traffic — is the hero, that villains are heroes, that little children who have no idea what the future holds for them or what paths they'll walk, all of them are heroes too. So many stories going on all around us that we'll never learn. It's… sobering.

Aside from Pizlo, which of your characters do you feel has grown the most since book one and in what way have they changed?
There's a minor character in the first book, Dabni, who is a major character in this book. I can't tell you how she changes without giving major SPOILERS and I don't think anyone reading this wants that. So let me instead point to Jorl. He's the protagonist of the last book, and while he's still important here, he's dropping back. He's tired and spent from the actions of book one, he might even be broken. But here he is still trying to do the right thing, trying to make a difference, being a force for good in a complex universe that would really rather he just gave up. Jorl reminds me of a very important lesson: that no matter how futile one's actions may seem, as long as you have heart they will sustain you and make a difference. Jorl is at the point where he's done the Big Thing in his life and now has to continue living. It's not like he's Frodo and gets to sail away to the Grey Havens with the elves. He has a wife and child, friends, responsibilities. He's changed the galaxy and now he has to live in it like an ordinary person.

What was the most magical thing that happened during your writing process?
There's a new character in the book who shows up in the very first chapter. He was supposed to be a minor character only he wouldn't let that happen. Seeing him unfold was magical. I knew a couple things that he had to do, but most of what ended up in the book with him was a complete surprise to me.

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
Oh my god! Where do you get these questions? Um... off the top of my head, I suspect it would be big fun (and dangerous for the galaxy) to introduce Pizlo to a young Ender Wiggins.

Any new and exciting books that you would like to share?
I just had the privilege of reading an advance copy of The Sol Majestic by Ferrit Steinmetz. It was sooooo good. I'm not sure when it comes out, but you definitely want to get him on here and share the book with your readers. Right now I'm finishing up reading the most recent book in Kevin Hearne's Iron Druid series, and it's a hoot and a half.

What part of Jorl did you enjoy writing the most?
His relationships. Even though he takes a step back from the spotlight in this book, he actually gets more complex. He's saved his world from two major threats in the last book and almost no one knows. He's balancing knowledge and power (which he doesn't want to use) with the responsibility of being a galactic senator, mentoring an adolescent who can see the future, being a new husband and father, and all the minutia of daily living (like arguing with his landlady). For an anthropomorphic elephant living tens of thousands of years in the future, he's remarkably human to me.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
I was sitting in a bookstore with my writing group doing the critique thing as we've done for more than a decade. One of them had brought in a copy of Barsk for me to autograph. A young couple are walking by and they stop and approach us, asking “Are you Lawrence Schoen, the author of Barsk? We loved that book!” I was utterly gobsmacked and my writer friends all laughed at me. I'm glad they were there because otherwise no one would believe such a thing really happened.

Which incident in your life that totally changed the way you think today?

Years ago, a routine medical exam revealed that my wife had the early stages of a kind of cancer that is almost never diagnosed until it's too late to do anything about it. But by this fluke we detected it while the whole thing was still self-contained, “encapsulated” was the word the doctors used. She had surgery and they pretty much just plucked this thing the size of a plum out of her chest. One moment she had cancer and the next she was completely cancer-free. I think about this often and it reminds me how blessed I am. There's still plenty of crap in my life, but so much that is miraculous as well. I choose to focus on the latter. It's a better way to live.

Who was the last person you slow danced with?
That would be my wife, Valerie. I'm a terrible dancer, but it makes her happy to dance with me, so I do.

Who was your first girlfriend?
Ann Richardson (if you're reading, this, “hi, Ann”). Ann wasn't the first person I dated, but certainly the first person with whom I had any kind of “relationship.” Ah, to be sixteen again.

Tell me about your first kiss
So, I was young and in love and the object of my affection had moved from Los Angeles, California to Dallas, Texas (or rather, her father's job had moved them). The summer of my sixteenth birthday I boarded a bus to Dallas and spent about a week visiting her. I remember we went into the guest room where I was staying in the late afternoon and spent hours and hours kissing.

What did you do for your last birthday?
Absolutely nothing. It was just a couple weeks ago. I was busy with writerly stuff and really didn't get around to observing it other than to proclaim when I woke up “Today is my birthday and I don't have to do anything I don't want to do.” My wife and my dog were both present. Neither said a word.

What is your happiest childhood memory?
I'm one of those people who somehow hasn't retained many memories from childhood. This is somewhat ironic because my doctorate is in cognitive psychology and I'm supposed to be an expert on human memory. But you asked for a memory, so… my parents both worked, and they worked hard. Maybe once a year they'd take a few days off, throw the kids into the station wagon, and drive to Palm Springs. We'd check into a crappy motel and all my parents wanted to do was just relax, lay out by the pool, soak up the sun, and not do anything. I remember one time though that I'd read through all the books I'd brought and was bored bored bored. I persuaded my parents to take me to the local public library. I was able to get a temporary library card and could check out five books. I took them back with me to the motel and was happy.

Where can readers find you?
In the flesh, I'll be at the 76th World Science Fiction Convention (aca WorldCon) in San Jose, August 16th to 20th. I expect to show up for the first day of the Baltimore Book Festival on Friday, September 28th, and then spend the rest of the weekend at Capclave in D.C. From November 1st to 4th, I'll return to Baltimore for the World Fantasy Convention, and on the 16th I expect to spend the day at Philcon.

More generally, I have an active presence online. My website
http://www.lawrencemschoen.com continues to have a weekly blog piece in which authors drop by to talk about their most memorable meals. I probably spend more time on Facebook and Twitter (https://www.facebook.com/lawrencemschoen and https://twitter.com/klingonguy respectively) then is good for me, but that's par for a genre writer in the early 21st century.

In no particular order:
1) Restaurants. The demands of sharing food with another person, be they friend, lover, relative, business associate, or enemy, creates a great dynamic and the particular demands of a restaurant colors and (you should forgive the word) flavors the encounter in ways that other venues cannot touch.

2) Ancient cities. The history of the place, the things that everyone knows about them juxtaposed with some obscure facts that I've uncovered in my research makes for a great mix. Then add characters and plot conflicts and everything that is old becomes new again.

3) Future cities. Everyone knows how things work now, and how they don't work. Changing a few of these things because “it's the future!” allows me to take the familiar and turn it on its head. The readers expectations are challenged and transformed.

4) Alien cities. Much like future cities except the ordinary things form human civilazation may not apply, may be completely wrong, or may be mofidified in ways that croggle the readers' understanding.

5) Home. Specifically, a character's home. Because it's not about the physical place, but rather what that place evokes and elicits for the character. Little things, stupid things, are going to have ridiculous amounts of emotional weight that simply doesn't exist for the other characters. It's a great opportunity for a writer.

6) Libraries and used bookstores. For many writers, as for many many readers, these are holy places. Even if you're not writing a fantasy, even if nothing magical actually happens, there is a feeling of “potential” present, all those worlds that exist between the covers of those books.

7) Spaceships. What can I say, I like to write science fiction and that often involves travel between planets or between stars. What will we take with us when we go into space? How comfortable will we make the experience? How difficult/different from other modes of travel will it be?

8) Mexico. I'm not sure why, but I keep finding myself being drawn back to vanished Mayan cities. Sometimes I'm writing about them as they exist today, in ruins, surrounded by jungle, devoid of inhabitants. Sometimes I'm writing about the past and the places are thriving centers of culture and ordinary life. And you know, I've never actually been to any of them. Maybe next year.

9 & 10) Archipelagos and Rainforests. Much of the action of both Barsk: The Elephants' Graveyard and The Moons of Barsk take place in cities built high in the trees of rainforests, rainforests that happen to exist on islands strewn across a pair of archipelagos. When I wrote the first book, I'd never been to either an archipelago or a rainforest, except in many hours of research to get my facts right and create the proper feel for these kinds of miraculous places. Last summer I was able to visit both kinds of places. I hiked through El Yunque, Puerto Rico's (and the U.S.'s) only tropical rainforest. And then a month later I traveled to Sweden and rambled over and across bridges between the islands that make up Stockholm as well as boarding a boat to explore them from the water's perspective. In both cases, I was really happy to discover I'd gotten them right for my books.

Years after the events of Barsk: The Elephants' Graveyard, the lonely young outcast and physically-challenged Fant, Pizlo, is now a teenager. He still believes he hears voices from the planet’s moons, imparting secret knowledge to him alone. And so embarks on a dangerous voyage to learn the truth behind the messages. His quest will catapult him offworld for second time is his short life, and reveal things the galaxy isn’t yet ready to know.

Elsewhere, Barsk's Senator Jorl, who can speak with the dead, navigates galactic politics as Barsk's unwelcome representative, and digs even deeper into the past than ever before to discover new truths of his own.

You can purchase The Moons of Barsk at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you LAWRENCE M. SCHOEN for making this giveaway possible.
5 Winners will receive a Copy of THE MOONS OF BARSK (Barsk #2) by Lawrence M. Schoen. 
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  1. A Japanese good luck frog--my wallet will never be empty.

  2. "Choose a unique item from your wallet and explain why you carry it around." I don't use a wallet, but I have a wallet somewhere with my Social Security card in it. I guess that's unique!