Today’s guest is Zachary Jernigan, author of No Return, Published by Night Shade Books, released in March 2013. I had the opportunity to meet Zachary at the 2013 71st World SciFi Convention held in San Antonio Texas, and I’m honored that he has bravely challenged seven of my deadly questions.
Hi Zachary, welcome.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. (Anything you choose, where you went to school, what awards you may have won, or more interesting still, tell us how you were raised by a maternal Polar Bear who taught you how to catch arctic char with your teeth…)
I realize you were joking around, but I was actually raised by a maternal Polar Bear. Her name is Skittles, and she works in health care. I think being raised by her taught me a few things. One, I can tear off a man’s arm and beat him to death with it pretty easily. Two, eating out of trash cans is very cool. Three, I don’t like global warming, as I need sea-ice to float on to visit her every year at the North Pole.
Oh! I’m also a writer. I listen to a lot of rock music. My favorite color is brown. (No, seriously. Brown. How boring is that?)
You name appears on the cover of the novel No Return, what genre is it and what is it about? How do we know you really wrote it?
Oh, good grief, it does! I’ll answer these questions in reverse order, because I’m a jerk who pays no attention to rules.
My picture is in the freaking book, dude. I can show you the signed contract. Those two things seem like proof to me. The more important bit of proof is this, though: I tried to get someone else to pretend they’d written it, and there were no takers. If you can find someone unwise enough to claim my violent sexfest of a book (more on the sex in just a moment!) as their own, then maybe we can have a real argument about it.
The genre? It’s basically a mash-up of science fiction and fantasy. I’ve called it space opera that reads like epic fantasy, and I think that’s pretty close. Quite a few people have labeled it New Weird, and I can see that even though that wasn’t exactly what I was shooting for. To me, I’m just a big fan of a lot of science fiction from the late 60s — New Wave stuff, like Roger Zelazny and Samuel Delany — and writing fan fiction as a result.
What other projects have you completed or are in the works? Anything you dare to share with us?
Well, right now I’m working on the sequel to No Return. It’s called Shower of Stones, and it’s totally kicking my butt. I’m not one of those folks who’s in love with what he’s writing. I usually think it’s crap, which is nice, because when it’s not crap it’s a great surprise. It also stinks sometimes, because often it actually is crap, confirming all of my fears.
Thanks for bringing it up, Jake. Jerk.
I also have other projects kind of, vaguely, in process, though I only do one at a time — and rather poorly, at that. The excerpt I included for this interview is from an unfinished novel of mine, History of the Defeated, which is about the most bad-ass woman in history transporting a psychopathic little boy across a post-steampunk wasteland. It may be what I pick up after finishing Shower of Stones, or it may not. Some of that depends on whether or not I think I can sell it.
I’ve read your short story, I’m an Animal. You’re an Animal Too. As an author, you seem very at ease writing about sexuality which seems challenging for many writers. Do you have any advice or insights as to how to write believable, stimulating, yet tasteful sexuality?
Hmm. That’s a really good question. First off, thanks for reading the story — really, that means a lot to me. I suppose writing about sex just doesn’t seem like too big a deal. That sounds dismissive, but I don’t mean it that way: I simply mean that sex, like any other active scene, should be written in the spirit you want to convey. Sometimes, I’m shocked by the way the tone changes when people start banging.
I mean, seriously? Why’d it suddenly get all goofy? (There are a lot of goofy sex scenes out there. Some people think mine are goofy, too.)
Sex occurs, all the time. It’s something we’re all interested in, so my advice? Just write about it without attaching any huge stigma to it. Use it like any other tool in your toolbox to move the story forward in whatever manner you see fit.
Lastly, don’t get discouraged when people tell you it’s not necessary. Realize that they prioritize different things in fiction. (To them, perhaps, a two-page description of a sword being forged is not gratuitous — where, for another reader, that two pages were just as masturbatory as, um, an actual masturbation scene.)
Do you specifically read your same genre, or do you branch out into arenas other than what you write?
I’m one of those goofballs who reads almost nothing outside science fiction and fantasy. I do read pretty widely within that realm, though. Honestly, I just don’t get excited by fiction that doesn’t have a speculative element of some kind. The thing that always strikes me about reading, however, is that anything you read should make you curious about the world around you. Fiction (and nonfiction, of course) should, I think, be a gateway to reading about so many other topics, even if you only do casual research on Wikipedia, as I do.
What scares you?
The fact that my parents will die someday. I honestly don’t know how anyone copes with this when they love their parents as much as I do mine. Maybe other people are stronger than me. (Okay. Shouldn’t say maybe. Obviously, most people are stronger than me.) It drives home how important it is to express love, and not run away from it simply because you know the object of your love might one day be gone. This realization has helped me cope with the fear of losing my parents and others close to me, and I fully believe it has made my fiction better in ways I only slowly comprehend.
What are your thoughts on the future? Will we make it, or will…(aliens invade, super-flu kill us, Jesus take his followers surfing…)
I misread this question as What are your thoughts on the future? Will we make out, or will…
That’s the question I’m choosing to answer, because, again, I laugh at rules! Hahahahaaaaaa!
I think we’ll make out. It’ll be really gross for both of us.
Thanks for interviewing me, Jake!
Here is my excerpt:
Beyond Tannerton, the city gave way to the ruinland known as the Byre. The immense plateau on which the abandoned cityscape rested was tilted ever so slightly downward, causing westerly travelers to feel as if they were always on the verge of toppling forward. The fact that every street ran perfectly straight exacerbated this sensation, forcing the mind into a near trance where it became easy to misjudge distances. Fortunately, the monotony was not entire: time had eaten away the harsh edges of the ancient stone and grey-bricked buildings, and toppled them into the street and onto each other.
By the time Teres and the boy had descended ten miles into the Byre, the horizon already occluded any sign of Fallot at their backs, making it seem as though they had passed out of the reach of civilization. The ruinland stretched before them in geometric patterns, surrounded them in its derelict embrace.
Men no longer lived here, in these squat two- and three-storey edifices. No one remembered a time when they had.
Inevitably, others had moved in. Spotted deer and collared peccary families scattered at Teres and the boy’s approach. Half-feral dog packs—mottled groups of mutts and pedigrees, castoffs from the city—followed for a time, moving parallel to the two travelers through abandoned buildings. Now and then, a calico monkey screeched from a rooftop. The ironwood cypress, which grew twisted and small throughout Fallot, was here a gigantic thing, thrusting up through concrete foundations, punching through roofs and walls. Crows cawed, Mockingbirds mocked, and the call of hatchlings filled the air.
Teres had traveled through the Byre on several occasions, and never enjoyed it. She would never admit as much aloud, but the ancient city spooked her in a way the continent’s other ruinlands did not. Most places had the decency to decay naturally, from the ground up. Their lanes and alleys cracked. Their paving stones were shoved aside by trees and shrubs eager for light.
In the Byre, however, the roads did not crack. They did not tarnish or scuff.
But for the rubble and dust of toppling buildings that partially covered it, the main avenue on which they progressed was as smooth as glass, as flawlessly white as unveined marble, yet it did not reflect the sun back into their eyes. In some places, it formed a bridge over land that had collapsed underneath it. Teres had crossed such bridges before, though she would rarely do so again after seeing that the road was no deeper than the thickness of her forearm.