Saturday, October 31, 2015

Author Interview: Stephen Zimmer

Continuing my contribution to the Hellscapes Vol. 2 Blog Tour, I present an interview with the award winning author Stephen Zimmer! 

SW: First, I want to thank you, Mr. Zimmer, for having me as part of your blog tour! You are one of my favorite local Kentucky authors and it has been a pleasure to enjoy your fiction.

SZ: Thank you and very honored you like my work, that means a lot to me.  I really appreciate you being on the blog tour!

SW: I want to jump right into Hellscapes II since this book has stayed with me after every story. 
Entering Hell
From the first story onward, you have characters who have forgotten their past and struggle to survive nightmarish horrors only to reveal why they ended up in the worst place imaginable. Did you establish a moral code that would land them in the depths of hell before you began writing this? What influenced you in coming up with this code?

SZ: Ultimately, the Hellscapes collection is an exploration of evil in all of its forms, both the simple forms and the complex.  The characters and their stories serve a function in illustrating the kinds of evils depicted, things that cause great harm and suffering in our world. 

The code really boils down to the “do unto others as you would have them do to you” idea, as in this case the characters are made to face the things they did to others and suffer the consequences.  Accountability is the governing rule in terms of these characters.  They do not get away with the lives they destroyed and the great harm they did, by conscious choice, to others in their physical lives. 

SW: Continuing with these characters, you set it up so that each one began with amnesia making them slightly more accepting of their bizarre surroundings and also slowly aware of their past as the torture progressed. Was it difficult to start each character from scratch or did you already have an idea of what each person would have done to deserve their fate? What brought you around to some of the political issues you brought up?

SZ: The amnesia and the slow cognizance is part of the horror and builds up toward the climax of each story.  It is part of the punishment of these characters, in having the clarity of the nightmare unveil before them. 

Each story and character, as I had mentioned before, involves an exploration of a different kind of evil that I observe in our world.  The kinds of evil are extensive, the challenge is in how to represent it in the dark, intense, and sometimes fantastical sense that they appear in these various tales.

The more complicated kinds of evil, such as the characters who had great political and economic power in their daily lives, are, in my view, among some of the worst evils in terms of the sheer numbers of people that are affected and the levels of suffering and harm that are caused, and become seeds for even more evils (such as in an economically devastated community, which often gives rise to all kinds of crime, substance abuse, domestic abuse, broken homes, and other evils arising abundantly in poverty-stricken areas).  In the hell settings I have all kinds of ways to represent the complex kinds of evils, including those deriving from political power, and I think a good case is made as to why I view these evils as being among the worst. 

SW: As these men and women stumble along, they come across some of the most haunting beings in modern fiction, the Crusher and Weaver for example. What is your inspiration for such monsters? How do you go about imagining them so that you can describe them?

SZ: I haven't gone into the origins of some of the inhabitants of Hell such a the Crusher and the Weaver, but I think it is obvious to the reader that both are demons, whereas there are hints that characters like The Stranger (In Hellscapes, Volume I,  “The Smallest Fish”) and the Hustler (in “The Club” of Volume II) have human origins and now serve a role in Hell dealing with the incoming condemned souls.

All of these special characters just might reappear in other Hellscapes tales in the future, you just never know. ;)  

But they do serve a very important role in many of these stories, a little bit like a chorus in a way, and a little bit of the support structure for the connectivity running between all of the Hellscapes stories. 

SW: One thing that really sticks out to me was the modernization of hell, the great city of Malizia and the nightclub therein. Do you see hell advancing with our technology, demons with smartphones, ghouls driving hybrid cars, unseemly beasts snapchatting or do you think hell will stop bringing all the modern conveniences just to torture the younger generation? 

SZ: The presence of the modern world is reflected in hell, but if you notice it is most often portrayed with a decaying and broken-down vibe.  In the city of Malizia, you do not see any cars actually moving in the streets, and what order there is exists in pockets, nothing overarching like a police force for the whole city.  The modern elements are a shadow of what is in our world, meant to be a backdrop for the characters as they slowly come to awareness of their fate and the fact that they earned that fate. 

As I want this to be a serious exploration of evil, I don't want it to ever get “campy”, so the use of any technology would have a definite purpose, such as in the story “The Riot” where there are moving vehicles and other technological devices.  It has to hit the plot.  But in the right context, I can make use of certain things from our time for sure.

SW: You spend a lot of time down under but can we hope to see a glimpse of the other side in future books? What draws you more to the darker side?

SZ: The Hellscapes tales are a dedicated exploration of the forms of evil that exist in our world, so it is not likely there will be a glimpse of Heaven in these particular collections.  But that does not rule out other collections or kinds of stories, even Dante ventured beyond Hell, right? :)

SW: Moving on from Hellscapes, I would like all my readers to know about your awesome urban-fantasy collection the Rising Dawn Saga. These were the first books I ever read of yours and they are some of my favorite. What can you tell us about this amazing series?

SZ: The Rising Dawn Saga is a unique series, true cross-genre, ensemble cast storytelling on an epic scale.  Dystopian and apocalyptic, the Rising Dawn Saga draws in elements of all kinds of genres, from the paranormal to the military thriller, from science fiction to fantasy, from horror to the mythical. 

It tells the story of a cast of characters who are brought into resistance against an emerging shadow government that has been developing for literally centuries, a movement called the Convergence, that is leading toward a global system of government.  These elite powers are in league with dark supernatural forces that form one side of a cosmic war against the things of light. 

This series draws in cultural elements, mythical traditions, and elements from all around the world, making it a very internationally flavored story.  At the moment there are four books out in the series with plans for seven and I really enjoy hearing from the different kinds of readers who embrace it, as the readers come from a wide range of favorite genres themselves.  I've had those who love science fiction the most, fantasy the most and horror the most come to love the Rising Dawn Saga, and I love to see this cross-appeal. 

SW: I also picked up the first book in your fantasy series, Crown of Vengeance. What can I expect when I start reading this fantasy saga?

SZ: You can expect epic fantasy with an ensemble cast set in a very rich and diverse world that is explored extensively over the course of the full series.  It starts with some modern day characters, but once the characters find themselves in the world of Ave, the action stays in Ave.  It doesn't go back and forth between the modern day and then. 

As the story progresses and you begin to meet the characters in Ave,  new story threads develop following some of these characters, giving the reader a number of perspectives on the full story being told in the book.  

With the variety of lands and cultures, including many non-human ones, and the diverse ensemble of principle characters, I feel this series has a lot to offer the epic fantasy reader and I hope you enjoy it!

SW: I've heard that you've written in the steampunk genre as well. How do you go about switching your mindset for each new genre you take on? Can we hope to see a Stephen Zimmer Romance in the future?

SZ: Not sure just yet about a full blown Stephen Zimmer Romance, though I'd welcome a great one right now in my personal world, haha!  However, I have been bringing more romantic elements into my storytelling, such as in one short story in Chronicles of Ave, Volume I (“Moonlight's Grace”) .   I do have a very supernatural story with a strong romantic core sketched out, but haven't fleshed it out just yet.

I enjoy the challenge of writing in different genres.  Each of them has certain characteristics that define the genre, but at the core of all of them are the same things that drive any story, characters and plots.  In other words, the engine in all of the stories have a commonality in how it works while the body style might be very different in nature between one thing to the next.

I find at this point that writing in different genres keeps the mind and creativity very refreshed, as when I return to a given genre I am usually very enthusiastic and recharged to dive into it.

SW: My favorite book of yours is Heart of a Lion, the story of Rayden Valkyrie. What can you tell the readers about this instant classic?

SZ: Heart of a Lion kicks off the Dark Sun Dawn Trilogy, and is hard-hitting, dark-edged sword and sorcery.  Rayden Valkyrie is the central character, and this particular book finds her on a journey that takes a big detour that brings her into conflict with an entire empire, ultimately.  It is very action-intensive, but I also feel that it shows Rayden's many dimensions and strengths that go beyond the physical fighting aspects (though she is a great warrior and wields both sword and axe in a very lethal manner). 

SW: What's next for Stephen Zimmer? How do you decide which storyline you're going to pursue?

SZ: Right now I'm working on the followup to Heart of a Lion, as well as the fourth book in the Fires in Eden Series.  I am always developing some short stories, some of which might be Hellscapes tales, some of which might be in a Chronicles of Ave volume, or even a new Harvey and Solomon steampunk tale.  But those are the two main book projects I am focusing on right now.

SW: As a fellow Lexington writer, I wanted to ask what inspires you in Lexington and around the state of Kentucky to write such imaginative fiction?

SZ: Kentucky is a great state to live in with a variety of beautiful scenery.  Forests, mountains, rivers and more abound in this state, and there are some wonderful things surrounding the horse industry here that offer a lot to inspire.  This state also has a rich literary tradition in a variety of areas from poetry, to novels, to short story-telling, and hopefully I can do my part to add to that in the area of speculative fiction. 

SW: The first time I met you was at a signing event at the awesome bookstore, Joseph-Beth Booksellers. How has Lexington's and Kentucky's in general rich literary culture influenced you?

SZ: Interesting you asked that, as I just mentioned that in my last answer! But the rich literary culture of this state is something I have a deep respect for and it demands that I always give my best.  I am very inspired by the literary history and writers present in this state, and don't forget that Kentucky was a source of inspiration for J.R.R. Tolkien's hobbits, in terms of the people of Appalachia!

SW: This year was the second, and my first, year of the Imaginarium convention in Louisville. What inspired you to put on such an enlightening event and how do you find the time to manage all these aspects of your career and still remain a Krav Maga master?

SZ: You are too kind, but I am no master of Krav Maga.  I love the system, advocate it, train very hard in it and it has been at the core of my physical journey these past eighteen months (I had training in other styles of martial arts when younger, but when I decided to make a dedicated physical commitment just over 18 months ago, I chose Krav Maga for a number of reasons and have found that it fits me very well all around). 

Now, as far as Imaginarium, I just simply saw the need for an accessible convention centered around creative writing, something that would balance a convention-style atmosphere with all the content of a major writing conference.  I wanted something much more affordable than the writing conferences that can range in the hundreds of dollars for a registration.  I also wanted something inclusive of all genres and different kinds of creative writing, including screenwriting, comics/graphic novels, poetry, and more.  With Imaginarium, you have that and we are taking the next step in 2016 on October 7-9.  I invite folks to visit to find out all about it. 

Time management with all that I have going on can be tricky at times, but I have my approach and system and can handle it. 

SW: Lastly, I wanted to shout out my fellow members of the Lexington fiction writers group, they have helped me so much in my writing and understanding my voice and they also told me about you for the first time. How have fellow authors, readers, editors, publishers, and others helped you on your journey to becoming the prolific writer you are today?

SZ: From helping you hone your craft, to learning aspects of the industry, to helping you network, to helping you promote, to watching your back (in the case of an editor), to supporting your work and believing in you (my readers do this in a big way), all of the kinds of folks you mention have been major parts of my journey as a writer.  I am taught, inspired, and guided by so many that I have come to know, from all of the groups you mention.  All have had their mark and are reasons why I've been able to get to the release of my eleventh book this past week.  

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