I’m been a fan of Ken Scholes‘ work ever since I reviewed the first book of his The Psalms of Isaak series, Lamentation, for Realms of Fantasy magazine. Its mix of forgotten ancient technology, religion and magic reminded me of several favorite works, including Jack Vance’s The Dying Earth and M. John Harrison’s Viriconium stories. Scholes writes high-concept sci fi/fantasy, and he makes it fun. Sadly, these things aren’t always the same thing. In contrast, Happily, Scholes’ books are both cerebral and a pleasure to read.
I’m not the only fan of his work, either. My colleague Shawn Speakman has written about Scholes’ Psalms of Isaac series, too. Here’s what he had to say in 2009. Looks like we’re on the same page.
It is quite unique and very well written, two things I demand of fantasy these days, and if you haven’t read it yet go out and buy a copy! Good stuff!
Anyway, I had recently asked if Scholes could contribute a guest post for Unbound Worlds.com, and boy am I happy I did. I think that all of you who are writers will find it quite inspirational.
HOW FAR OUR DREAMS MIGHT TAKE US
By Ken Scholes
Right now I’m riding across the French countryside by train from Paris to the town of Epinal for the Imaginales festival. As I sit and type this blog post, the landscape is rolling by – fields of green and gold with forests springing up like islands. I’ve seen sheep and cows at pasture, windmills – modern and ancient – and every so often, small villages in the distance, their single church spire rising above the town’s center, dark and gray. The sky is gray, too, as the day winds down.
This is my first time back in Europe since 1988 when I was a young soldier stationed near Stuttgart. And this is my first time in France.
But more than that, it is the first time the dark and murky soup of my imagination has transported me to the other side of the world to be the guest of a convention. So of course, I came early to take advantage of the opportunity. I’ve been in Paris for the last eight days, out making friends in a variety of venues with a borrowed guitar, a French cellphone and a now-tattered map of the city, gathering ingredients for Story everywhere I go. I’ve prowled Paris by subway and on foot, staggered by the power of this place and the kindness of its people.
It’s been an amazing trip. And it’s all because I took that dare, seven years ago, from my wife Jen West and my pal Jay Lake. “Go write a novel, Trailer Boy,” they commanded me. And I did. And Tor picked up Lamentation and its four sequels. And then other countries jumped onto the bandwagon. And then the French gave it an award. And, as they say, voila! Here I am, riding a train by twilight in a place so heavy with history and awe that my breath catches in my throat, my eyes tear up, and I find myself flooded with gratitude.
So how did I get here? I’ve been thinking about that all week.
Because you know, the cards weren’t really stacked in my favor. I grew up pretty poor in a trailer on the outskirts of a smallish logging town. My mother was riddled with undiagnosed personality disorders, my father was absent, my stepfather was a mean drunk and worse. Somewhere between age two and four, the battleground of my childhood landed me a dose of PTSD that made the uphill climb even steeper and with heavier rocks. And yet here I am, riding on a train, watching the French countryside slip past.
Here are the things that I think made it happen:
First, I found a foster home at an early age. It was Story and it gave me worlds and worlds to explore and escape to via television, movies, books and eventually games. I devoured every kind of story I could put my hands or eyes on and when Dungeons and Dragons showed up, I started crafting stories with others in mind (the players I was DMing.) Being anchored and at home in Story made my own storytelling muscles strong.
Second, I did whatever I had to do in order to solve my problems and find my happy place. The best advice I’ve ever heard (years after I was actually putting it into practice) came from Kris Rusch, who said, “If you want to solve the problems in your writing, solve the problems in your personal life.” I whole-heartedly agree. All of us have things to work through and if we choose not to give ourselves to that work, then we stay in varying degrees of “stuckness.” If you want to be successful and functional as a writer, start out aiming to be successful and functional as a human.
Third, I got to know myself and used that self-awareness to my advantage. By knowing what I’m good at, not good at, motivated by, de-motivated by, etc, I’ve been able to focus on my strengths and play to them while addressing my weaknesses. It’s how I knew that if I had a guitar and a French phrasebook and a map and a cellphone, I would make a ton of friends in France and leave my own little mark on that place even as it left its mark on me.
Fourth, I became an active part of my tribe, extending help and kindness to others and receiving the same back, not in order to get ahead but because it’s the right thing to do on this little rock we all share. We do the work of writing alone but we live our lives as writers, ideally, connected to others. And those connections can often lead to even more connections and more opportunities to help and be helped, to give and to receive. They also become the character interactions we write about, made more real by their grounding in real life.
And fifth: I treated writing like a job, not a hobby, and once I did, it started acting like a job and paying me to do it. Which mean, above all else, writing a lot. Then writing more. And then writing even more.
I’ll be in Epinal soon for the festival. I can’t wait to see what happens next. Meanwhile, I’m wildly grateful at just how far our dreams can take us if we dare to dream them out loud.
He fell in love with Story at a young age and consumed voracious amounts of it through television, movies, books and games. His major influences include Batman, Ray Bradbury, Star Wars, Speed Racer and TSR Role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons, Boot Hill, Gamma World and Top Secret. Ken has always read widely though science fiction and fantasy is the genre he calls home.
Ken started writing and submitting his own stories in high school before taking a long stretch of time to do other things. His eclectic background includes service in both the U.S. Navy and U.S. Army, a degree in History from Western Washington University and time logged as a preacher, a musician, a non-profit community and economic development director, a public procurement analyst and a label gun repairman. One of Ken’s more interesting journeys is his transition from being a faith-based Baptist minister to a reason-based humanist and author.
Ken’s first story appeared in Talebones magazine in 2000. Since then, he’s gone on to publish over thirty short stories, three novels and two collections. In 2005, he won the Writers of the Future award and in 2007, Tor offered Ken a five book contract for his series, The Psalms of Isaak.
The first novel, Lamentation, won the American Library Association’s RUSA Reading List award for best fantasy. Lamentation went on to later win France’s Prix Imaginales award in 2010. To date, the series continues to pick up fans and critical acclaim internationally, published in France, Germany, Japan, Russia and Spain in addition to the US.
Ken is a frequent panelist, presenter and teacher at various conventions and workshops. He especially enjoys working with new writers.
Ken is also a musician. He taught himself to play guitar as a teenager and learned how to perform on the streets of Stuttgart when he was a young soldier stationed overseas. Having written over sixty songs, Ken plays a wide range of music to diverse audiences, mixing familiar covers with his own original tunes.
He lives in Saint Helens, Oregon, with his wife, Jen West Scholes, and his twin daughters Elizabeth and Rachel. Visit him on the web at www.kenscholes.com.
Ken Scholes’s debut novel, Lamentation, was an event in fantasy. Heralded as a “meszerizing debut novel” by Publishers Weekly, and a “vividly imagined SF-fantasy hybrid set in a distant, postapocalyptic future” by Booklist, the series gained many fans. It was followed by Canticle and Antiphon. Now Scholes has finished the fourth book in the series, Requiem. ??Who is the Crimson Empress, and what does her conquest of the Named Lands really mean? Who holds the keys to the Moon Wizard’s Tower???The plots within plots are expanding as the characters seek their way out of the maze of intrigue. The world is expanding as they discover lands beyond their previous carefully controlled knowledge. Hidden truths reveal even deeper truths, and nothing is as it seemed to be.