Welcome to my weekly Author Spotlight. I’ve asked a bunch of my author friends to answer a set of interview questions, and to share their latest work.
Today: Brian Yapko is a lawyer in three states. His debut science fiction novel, El Nuevo Mundo, was published in Spring of 2022 by Rebel Satori Press; hjs short story Paradox of the Twins was recently published by The Ancible (Autumn 2022); his novella, San Damien versus the Red Daggers will be published in 2023 by Bewildering Stories, his novella Erica Victor will be published in April 2023 by Gypsy Shadow Publishing, and his novel The Bleeding Stone will be published in late 2023 by Rebel Satori Press. He is the author of over two hundred published poems (including several prize winners) and multiple short stories. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico with his husband, Jerry, and their canine child, Bianca.
Thanks so much, Brian, for joining me!
J. Scott Coatsworth: When did you know you wanted to write, and when did you discover that you were good at it?
Brian Yapko: When I was in my late teens/early 20s, I studied English Literature at U.C.L.A. When I actually tried my hand at writing original poetry I liked it and thought my work was pretty good. But I put creative writing aside when I went to law school and spent the next 35 years doing legal research and writing legal briefs. When Covid brought my law practice to a standstill, I returned to creative writing – poetry, short stories and a space opera trilogy. Since my creative-writing renaissance in 2020, my writing has received a surprising amount of love and acceptance for publication. I’m about to turn 62 years. When all is said and done, I can truthfully say that I didn’t discover that I was actually good at creative writing until I hit 59. So there’s hope for any late bloomers out there!
JSC: How would you describe your writing style/genre?
BY: My style is a combination of legal clarity and classical poetry. My years writing legal documents has forced a very direct and economical writing style. However, these days I write far more poetry than prose so my work often incorporates literary devices – I’m big on metaphor, allusions to literature and history, the occasional direct quote from Coleridge or Shakespeare. My genres are science fiction/fantasy, poetry and the occasional non-fantasy short story.
JSC: What do you do when you get writer’s block?
BY: Hah! I get writers block all the time. However, as a lawyer who has to meet deadlines, I have learned to write even when I am uninspired, even if it’s just one sentence. Because one sentence will lead to a second and then a revision and then an idea for a new plot point. If I’m really stuck, I write letters to myself to talk about the piece – What is it I hope to achieve with this work? What do I really care about in this story? Writing a supportive letter to myself helps me detach from the work, see the bigger picture and get back to why I wanted to write this piece in the first place. My level of inspiration is generally directly proportional to my level of perspiration.
JSC: How did you choose the topic for El Nuevo Mundo?
BY: Like my main characters, Daniel and Nicky, I’m a gay man who lives in Santa Fe with my husband and dog. Santa Fe is a fascinating place with huge historical resonance. I wondered why it had never been used as a science fiction setting before – especially when Roswell which is only a few hours away, is not nearly as culturally or architecturally unique but nevertheless seems to get all the UFO action. That led me to the thought: What if Santa Fe became ground zero for an alien conquest of the Earth? And that led directly to the story of “El Nuevo Mundo.”
JSC: Who has been your favorite character to write and why?
BY: My favorite character in “El Nuevo Mundo” is Daniel Vigil-Cruz. He has a lot of layers to him. In addition to being the husband of the narrator, Nicky Clements, he is a sculptor extraordinaire, exceedingly handsome, uniquely thoughtful, and someone who harbors a unique talent and a devastating secret. He may well hold the key to Earth’s salvation – or its destruction at the hands of the evil Zolteots.
JSC: What was the weirdest thing you had to Google for your story?
BY: This alien conquest story set in Santa Fe, “El Nuevo Mundo” has a lot of historic resonance concerning first contact and subjugation of different peoples. The Spanish took Native American territory, revolutionary Mexicans took Spanish territory, then the U.S. took Mexican territory. The Zolteots taking Earth is only the latest in a long line which begins with the Aztecs conquering neighboring tribes. I therefore invoke many Aztec references and, to make that work, had to learn a lot about the Aztec gods of life and death.
JSC: What are some day jobs you that you have held? If any of them impacted your writing, share an example.
BY: I’ve been a lawyer now for 35 years, much of that time in California but also in Oregon and my adopted state of New Mexico. Being a lawyer hasn’t just affected my writing style or fueled my hunger to write creatively. In my practice I have both observed and participated in much of the parade of life, with clients and adversaries of every persuasion. I’ve faced every type of conflict you can imagine from murder to divorce to medical malpractice to complaints about the neighbors’ music. Working on literally thousands of cases through the years has given me an insight into human nature, history and current events which cannot be learned in school or in social media. How could these experiences not impact my writing?
JSC: What fictional speculative fiction character would you like to spend an evening with, and why?
BY: I’m a happily married man, so by “an evening with” I’m going to assume you mean dinner and a deep conversation! That being said, I consider the original “Dune” series to be the gold standard of science fiction, never equaled , let alone surpassed. The protagonist of the first three “Dune” books is Paul Atreides (played by Timothee Chalamet in the recent film remake.) I would love to sit down with Paul, offer him a shoulder regarding all of the tragedies he’s had to overcome, and then listen in awe as he describes how to survive living with all of the burdens of the future of humanity on his shoulders while haunted by the actual acquired memories of every single one of his ancestors. And with all that going on, how does he stay sane let alone remain charismatic and engaging?
And now for Brian’s book: El Nuevo Mundo:
Mankind’s survival hands in the balance… In the year 2066, the artist haven of Santa Fe, New Mexico emerges as ground zero for the conquest and destruction of Earth by the evil Zolteots. Nick Clements and Daniel Vigil-Cruz — a writer and an artist still deeply in love after 12 years together — become the improbable fulcrum through which Earth might survive. As they weigh what must be done to save our planet, they are forced to confront shocking truths which will transform the Earth — as well as their future together — forever.
Alright. Saturday morning, October 31, 2066. I got up first and made coffee. When I saw Daniel zombie-walk into the kitchen I almost dropped the coffee pot. He looked just awful! His face was unusually drawn and there were dark circles under his eyes. He said he’d had a bad night – a night of grief and war-dreams. Clearly.
We let Ariel out in the rain. At least the air was fresh and clean. Everything glistened. Once Ariel came back in, Daniel and I had our coffee and toast in silence. I’ve never seen him so jittery and distracted. He didn’t check email, ignored the news. At one point I saw him just staring at the wall. I finally tapped on the shoulder. “Corazón,” I said. “We can’t put this off any longer. Let’s get’s ready and go over there.”
He looked at me blankly, then nodded once. Softly, he said “Si, Nicky. ¿Como no?”
I drove us in his car to the Galleria Astra. My own car was still parked there under Astra’s alder tree.
We knocked on the heavy oak door. When there was no answer, I used the key I had kept from yesterday. Astra had said I would need it.
We walked into the gallery. It smelled musty and there was a slight echo. No one was there and it still felt like a haunted museum. Daniel called out Astra’s name but… nothing. We knew why, of course. Then we walked into the old part of the house where the original pine floor creaked. I stopped in the parlor briefly to look at the faded sofa where Astra had sat yesterday afternoon. The terror I felt when Astra had used her mind to control my body and move furniture still made my pulse race. But now everything looked tidy and quiet and sad.
My breathing got shallow as we approached the bedroom. Stay calm, I told myself. The door was closed. We knocked. No one answered.
Daniel took my arm. “Nicky, would you mind if I go in first? Alone?”
I understood. “Of course.”
Daniel entered the bedroom and closed the door before I could peek in. I heard a noise that sounded like muffled sobbing for three or four minutes. Then silence. After another minute or two, I knocked. Daniel said for me to come in.
When I walked into the bedroom, he had already covered Astra with the blanket so that I couldn’t see her dead body. I knew she was gone because her bifocals were on the nightstand. I had never before seen them off her face.
Daniel was kneeling beside the bed. His cheeks were wet. I turned away as he whispered something to the blanketed body. I wanted him to have his private moment.