Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Interview with Daniel Ausema

Today, I welcome to my blog another contributor to the Unburied Treasures anthology, Daniel Ausema, author of Musa Publishing's Spire City series.

Hello, and many thanks for agreeing to be a guest on my blog. Can you tell us something about yourself — who is Daniel Ausema when he's not writing?

Thanks for having me here. I'm always writing in many ways, thinking about stories and letting the words and images bounce around in the back of my head even if I'm not actively typing/scribbling/tapping away. But to answer the question, I'm a dad. For close to a decade I've been staying home with my (now three) kids. Prior to that, I'd worked in education, especially what's called experiential education, which is things like high ropes courses and teambuilding exercises and other learning-by-doing programs about history and science.

How long have you been writing, and what have you had published?

My first publications were just out of college, almost fifteen years ago. Those were mainstream, literary works. For the past seven or eight years I've had dozens of short stories and poems published in fantasy, science fiction, and horror magazines and anthologies. And then of course I have the serial fiction project Spire City. More about that below. My work tends toward the artsy, literary side of things, atmospheric and lyrical, though hopefully not in an obscure or opaque way.

If there's one thing anyone who's read your work will remember, I think it's your strange and impossibly inventive settings. I'm incredibly envious of your ability to come up with these. Do they come naturally to you, or do you have to work hard at being weird?

Trick question, trick question! Hmm, well it certainly comes from the things that I enjoy reading. I do deliberately make sure I'm not turning down any idea just because it seems too weird. And also, when I have an idea that feels only OK, I'll push myself to look at it more closely, try to find an interesting angle or approach. Which tends to make ideas weirder. Whether that means it's natural or something I work hard at... Chicken first, or egg? I suspect the answer is, “Yes, both.”

And speaking of strange and wonderful settings brings us to SpireCity, your serial currently being published by Musa Publishing. Can you tell us something about it, and why you decided to go with a serial rather than a more conventional format?

About...seven years ago, I had an SF novel nearly accepted by Aio, a small press that was making a name for itself with absolutely gorgeous print books. One of the publisher's comments was that she kept opening the files of each chapter I'd sent (on CD by snail mail back in those days) and imagined them as a Charles Dickens sort of serial. Unfortunately the press closed shop before we could finalize any contracts. But her comment stuck with me and made me wonder what it would take to write something deliberately for serialization, to try to take advantage of the different way of reading that would result.

To fit the Dickens comment, I decided that steampunk would be a natural extension of the idea, and I'd already written a novelette in Spire City. So the two ideas came together, and I joined that with a ragtag bunch of outcasts who've been targeted by a mad scientist's deadly serum. Spire City: Infection is their story.

I use television terms for the story (the original drafts actually had commercial breaks built in instead of scene breaks), though it was always written to be read, not to be a TV script or anything of that sort. So we've just finished the 13-episode first season. Which, if I understand right would be called a series instead of a season in the U.K.? And there are two more 13-episode seasons to go.

Yes, although season is becoming more common now. Whatever they're called, it's good news that there are more of them.

Your story in Unburied Treasure, A Map Is Not the World, seems to me to be largely about the differences and connections between concepts and reality, and this kind of playing with ideas also seems very characteristic of your work. Can you tell us something about the story?

The story started (quite a few years ago) with an image someone shared with our writing group as a prompt. It was of a person kneeling down while tiny skeletons fell from his? her? fingers. Around that time I'd just finished reading the novel Falling After by Paul Witcover, which alternates two storylines, one in the real world and one in a role-playing sort of secondary world that tweaks the standards of RPGs just enough to be fascinating.

I think that format is what inspired me to do the back and forth here, though I chose both storylines to be in fantasy worlds. There's a deliberate band-of-would-be-heroes feel to the group in the one storyline. And the connection between the two stories is never explicit but up to the reader to connect. The title, of course, is a reference to “a map is not the territory,” which was a sort of common phrase well before my time that I encountered in college classes in the context of the connection (if any) between words and the objects they refer to or signify.

So what about the future? What projects are you working on, and where do you see your writing career going?

Well, Spire City will be the big thing in the next couple of years. Season 2: Pursued begins serialization on November 28, with a new episode every three weeks. Then Season 3: Unwoven will begin a year later. I've also had one novella published in Musa's shared world, The Darkside Codex, and I hope to have at least one more come out. I also did some writing recently for a start-up card game company, which was a lot of fun. So I'd be open to doing something else along those lines, if something comes up.

Beyond that, I continue to write short fiction and poetry, and I have at least a couple of novels that I still believe in enough to shop around to agents and major publishers. A lot will depend on what if anything comes from any of those. At the moment I'm taking a short break from any big projects, but I've got a couple of ideas for what novel-length work I might begin writing next, in addition to all the revisions and rewriting of earlier things. Those ideas will continue simmering in the back of my brain for a few more months at least before I feel ready to write them.

I'll look forward to seeing where you go next. Many thanks, Dan, for coming on my blog and sharing your thoughts.
You can follow Dan's writing at his excellent blog, Twigs and Brambles, and find the whole Spire City series at Musa Publishing.
Links to buy Unburied Treasures can be found on this page.

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