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, Stephen B. Pearl – Stephen B. Pearl is an ex-lifeguard, mystic, science enthusiast, home handyman, backyard mechanic, and writer. The face he wears changes with the company he keeps.
His cats know him as pride alpha. Servant might be more accurate, his wife, Joy, runs the pride. Stephen just tries to stay out of her way.
He brings his varied experiences to the books he writes which range from Paranormal, Nukekubi, Worlds Apart and The Hollow Curse to Science fiction, Tinker’s Plague, Tinkers Sea, War of the Worlds 2030, Cats, Slaves of Love, and to be released in December 2020 Cloning Freedom as well as historical fantasy the Bastard Prince Saga, Horn of the Kraken and coming soon The Mistletoe Spear. Following from the Horn of the Kraken Stephen has co-authored two gaming modules, Dead Man’s Blade and The Horn of the Kraken Adventure for the Fate of the Norns Ragnarok RPG system.
Stephen likes to weave real science and romantic sub-plots into his work. Stories of people being empowered by love where the power and security of love allows them to triumph in other areas.
Stephen currently lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada and has a fondness for using his local geography in his works.
Brain Lag: http://www.brain-lag.com/stephenbpearl.php
Drive Through Fiction: https://www.drivethrufiction.com/product/151000/Horn-of-the-Kraken
Thanks so much, Stephen, for joining me!
J. Scott Coatsworth: How would you describe your writing style/genre?
Stephen B. Pearl: I’m a pantser. I have a solid idea of what the world I’m writing in is like then I populate it with characters that have the skillset and attitude to do what I need them to do then. I then come up with a central conflict that grows logically out of the world I’ve created. After that, I roleplay with myself tossing obstacles in the path of the characters and letting them work out how to deal. Sometimes they surprise me.
For example, In the Tinker’s World series, my post-oil future, our world but about 200 years from now with logical extrapolations of the mess we are making. From that, I ask what will go wrong? Then I have my tinkers and their supporting associates that try to fix the mess. So far, I have a plague released from an abandoned bioresearch facility. A decrepit nuclear submarine leaving radiation all over the great lakes. An illegal toxic waste dump uncovered by flood waters, and a damn getting ready to burst and flood a town. In that series.
Beyond that I write primarily speculative fiction, SF Fantasy, urban fantasy, historical fantasy. I like to say, “If it’s weird I’ve probably written it.”
I enjoy exploring a topic and trying to step away from the everyday.
JSC: Have you ever taken a trip to research a story? Tell me about it.
SBP: I’ve done short trips for several of my works. The Tinker’s World series occurs in Southern Ontario, at least so far, so it’s my own back yard. While I was writing Tinker’s Plague I drove around the Guelph area and fell in love with the town of Edin Mills. For Tinkers Sea I was mapping out the book using Google Maps and tourist sights when I received one of those, Have a free vacation for checking out our facilities, offers in Owen Sound. It seemed providential. Kind of a bland vacation but I got to check out several of the places that Tabby, my aquatic tinker, would visit during the course of the book.
For the Chronicles of Ray McAndrues I have used ‘research’ as a good excuse to go for walks in the Hamilton area. Many of my favorite places have found their way into Ray’s adventures. Interestingly enough he lives in the apartment I lived in immediately before buying my house. I’ve recently been spending a bit of time in the Lock Street area of Hamilton refreshing and updating my memories of the region.
JSC: What is your writing Kryptonite?
S.B.P.: She’s blond, has a faint English accent and walks into my study at random intervals carrying a cat and insisting I drop everything midsentence so I can give said cat attention because she is convinced that he is neglected and feels left out. Then after she has driven the thoughts out of my head, she will refuse to do anything fun I might suggest and go back to do her own work leaving me to pick up the pieces.
JSC: What do you do when you get writer’s block?
S.B.P.: Housework, car maintenance, yard work, house repairs, work on the game I’m designing, research. Any of these until they become more onerous than writing then I’m back at the keyboard. Writers block happens, but too many people use it as an excuse. If you determine that you will do something and not just wallow in it your mind will quickly realize that there is no profit in being blocked and let you get on with the less onerous work of writing.
JSC: What do you do if you get a brilliant idea at a bad time?
S.B.P. : I may jot it down, but it depends on what I’m doing. If I don’t have to think much to do what I’m engaged in, like gardening, I’ll think the idea through and iron out the bugs while I’m working away. This keeps it fresh in my mind and allows me to get something else done. If what I’m doing requires thought I’ll try to link the idea to something that will remind me of it.
JSC: Are there underrepresented groups or ideas featured if your book? If so, discuss them.
S.B.P. : I try to mix things up. Years ago, I saw some author interviews with, ‘persons of colour,’ is that acceptable this week? In any case, they were commenting on how unrepresented they were. It made me think and I looked at my own work. I don’t apologize for it because we tend to write what we see and in my area back then it was predominantly heterosexual Caucasians I came in contact with. I did, however, when it was pointed out as a general issue, put an effort in to write human beings who happened to be of other races, sexual orientation and ethnicities. Note I wrote human beings first. As such I have a mix in my books but often it doesn’t change things that much because it is more important that someone grew up on a farm with that set of experiences and skills than where their great great grandfather came from. For my future work, I try to express the Rodenberry ideal where folk are folk.
With gender issues, I don’t much care if my characters want to kiss boys, girls or both. I tend to write my male leads as heterosexual because I’ll admit I find it a little more comfortable to do so. Write what you know, but it doesn’t stop me from having strong secondary characters of different stripes. In the Hollow Curse I did a segment with Sapphic lovers living in England in the year 1774. I really like the characters.
I try to reflect the world around me as per diversity as well as taking into account what is likely to be the case in the time period I’m writing in.
Because I try to write diverse characters I’ve been accused of cultural appropriation by a fellow who’s never read my work. Funny thing is, I’ve had other people comment that they thought it was great that I wrote human beings who happened to be, Black, Asian, Gay, Trans, Bi, who actually were Black, Asian, Gay, Trans and Bi. It all gets quite silly. Folk is folk, I wright about folk.
JSC: How did you deal with rejection letters?
S.B.P.: I collected the stock ones into a cardboard box and then when I was feeling really down I burnt them one by one. It was and is very cathartic. The ones with advice or a personal touch went in two categories. Ones that were worth something because they held useful advice and or encouragement and the ones that were of no value. The former are kept and used as reference the ladder go in the burning box. The reality of the industry is you are going to get rejected. Holding animosity about it doesn’t help anybody but the act of burning the letters helps to vent negative emotions and really who does it hurt?
JSC: How did you choose the topic for Cloning Freedom (coming in 2020 from Brain Lag Publihing)?
S.B.P.: I wanted to do a work in space that was different from most of the stuff out there. I’d watched a documentary that as a minor point spoke about wormholes and how it might be posable to form a point to point fold in spacetime that would effectively allow one to step around light-years of distance. The thought came to me that if this system of FTL was the only one that works what would be the logical consequences?
The documentary had said it would take the energy of an exploding star to create one of these FTL conduits. Well, you can imagine that making these things could pretty quickly degrade a galactic environment so something would have to be done to control their creation.
Thus, an interstellar Republic would grow out of the necessity of limiting the destruction of suns.
Why a republic? Because each species would have its own needs and requirements. A few things would affect multiple species and would have to be addressed by a government with galactic clout, but most things would still be under the preview of the species level of government or below.
Now for the switchboard. By anchoring one end of the point to point FTL wormhole into an orbit around a common star it would literally open up over a hundred systems to each member species.
To limit the destruction and bring new species into the Republic, a system of monitoring for supernovas would have to be established.
When a species triggered a nova to make a stargate the Republic would dispatch a ‘greeting’ force. The greeting force would inform the new species that they had violated the galactic environmental protection act and offer them a choice. Be bombed back into the stone age or accept the onetime species-wide pardon and Join the Galactic Republic. This involved them surrendering one end of their star-gate to be anchored in the Switch Board System.
Why a switch board you may ask. Because in my galaxy every technological species at some time or another has developed something analogous to the old telephone switchboard, so they all had a word for it, and it mirrors the function quite nicely.
To make things more interesting, I surmised that the star-gate couldn’t be close to any major gravity wells. Thus, they are anchored out beyond the ort cloud of the star system. Since habitual worlds tend to be relatively close to their stars this means that generally it will take weeks to travel to the star-gate then weeks to traverse the switchboard system to another gate and weeks to reach your destination in the next solar system. I postulated an average of about a month and a half to travel between worlds which meant that even worlds under the same species government would have a high degree of autonomy for practical government. I did this for dramatic effect, but the logic for the science holds up
So now with my galaxy set up I introduce humanity as a very minor technologically backward species.
Humans being human have created e-entertainments a full VR5 plus emotion entertainment. They use clones to enact adventures that people then vicariously experience. The clones have no rights. Clones resulting from medical practices are second class citizens. Now I’m set up for my conflict.
A studio clone is marked for death to punch up the next dramatic cycle of the show she’s on. A retired space service captain who was cloned after taking a lethal dose of radiation in the line of duty liberates the studio clone.
A chase ensues as well as a huge political kafuffle as their story threatens to galvanize an equal rights for clones’ movement.
Human nature doesn’t change, sadly, so I can play out circumstances that harken back to Spartacus, the underground railroad, the emancipation of orphaned miners from the English mills and the rest of humanity’s sordid past in a new environment.
JSC: What qualities do you and your characters share? How much are you like them, or how different are they from you?
S.B.P.: I think I project a bit of myself into all my major characters. The ones that are most like much-perfected versions of myself are Brad from Tinker’s Plague and Ray from Nukekubi.
Brad is a tinker, doctor of general applied technologies, who wonders the dark lands, Areas without electricity, helping people bootstrap themselves back to energy abundance. He is curious and interested in many areas but also despite himself can’t stop giving a damn. He’s smarter than me, probably more courageous, definitely less screwed up, but I like to think there is a core of similarity.
Ray has studied magic most of his life and sees himself as someone who does what he has to. He also is a sucker for a damsel in distress and or a dame with great legs who’s just plain trouble. 😊 He also works as a lifeguard. I got my national Lifeguard Service certification when I was 17, as young as the law allowed. I also have a Royal Life Saving Society Distinction award and a bunch of other aquatic qualifications. In addition, in my much younger days I trained as an Emergency Medical Care Assistant EMCA basically a Canadian EMT 3. I incorporated all of that into Ray. Now Ray is better looking than I am, smarter, he knows at 26 what it’s taken me 58 years to learn. Considerably more powerful as a person overall. He also is actually moderately successful with the ladies, something the eluded me until I met the woman who has been my wife for over 33 years.
It is fun to write both these characters as to an extent they are the road not travelled. Making allowances for the fact that they are in different worlds of course.
JSC: If you were stuck on a desert island all alone with only three things, what would they be?
S.B.P.: Assuming a radio is out of the question and assuming things I can carry on my person. Also, assuming there is a supply of freshwater and exploitable food resources. Deluxe swiss army knife, deluxe multi-tool, survival knife with all the trimmings. Given these three items I think I could manage for a few years.
Better still, my pants and vest with all the stuff in the pockets and my emergency gear from my car. Kinda encompasses the above list and quite a bit more.
Funny story. I was at a SF convention some years back and because of my work in the Tinker Books I was placed on a panel about surviving the apocalypse. The chap I was on it with was career military and quite a nice fellow to boot. In any case we were talking about preparedness and he pulled out a flint fire starter he kept in his pocket. I pulled out a lighter and said it was the poor man’s version. He pulled out another piece of survival gear and I followed suit. By the end we each had a small pile of equipment in front of us and the audience were looking around with, ‘what do these guys know that I don’t,’ expressions. Add to that, ‘I don’t know what is coming but when it comes, I’m on their team,” as a general tone. The audience reaction was hilarious.
That same panel a woman was shocked when she found out I had an emergency first aid kit in my vest pocket. I mean, doesn’t everybody?
Here are a few of Stephen’s recent books:
And now for Stephen’s forthcoming book book: Cloning Freedom:
Retired Space Services Captain Ryan Chandler liberates Rowan, a clone used as an emotional surrogate to make E-entertainments, immersive VR5 + emotion entertainments, and must help her escape UES, United Earth Systems, territory to a planet where she is a person under the law. To succeed, they must evade a manhunt supported by the state that fears Rowan’s liberation might be the triggering event of a clone rights movement that could cost the establishment billions and shake the foundations of human society.
Can a washed-up captain in an antiquated, military-surplus, heavy lander challenge the might of a corrupt human government? Can a young woman, who days before thought it was the early twenty-first century, even survive in the world of 3,675 CE? Will the Interspecies Republic step in on the issue of humanity’s enslavement of clones? Will anger yield to gratitude, and can gratitude grow into love? Ryan hopes so but can only wait on Rowan’s choices.
“When human tech is up to it, the lizards are afraid that we might pay them a visit of the gunship variety. They pulled their stunt on Silvanus before we were well known as a species.”
“I get the feeling humans don’t have the best of reputations.” Rowan’s brow wrinkled. A pebble floated into the air and flew towards a boulder.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING! ARE YOU CRAZY?” Ryan’s shout held panic. He grasped her by the arms and stared into her face.
“What did I do? Let go of me!” The pebble fell to the ground as she jerked away from him.
“I… Oh, stardust! Rowan, swear to me you won’t use your power unless it’s a matter of life or death. Please!”
Rowan saw real fear in his face. “What’s going on?”
Ryan swallowed in a dry throat. “I was hoping to have you on the Star Hawk before I had to get into this.”
“Give me the short version.” Rowan started walking again. Ryan took a compass reading and followed her example. Soon they were side by side.
“The short version. If you use your power, you could die,” explained Ryan.
“This is becoming a repetitive theme. Why?” Rowan sounded annoyed.
“The best human telekinetics, that can control the ability, can only move a few grams over short distances. When they engineered your genome to incorporate the otterzoid level of the ability, it put an incredible strain on parts of your brain.”
“Right. On set, do you remember how there’d be a slow period every year, and you always got sick for a few days during it?”
“On set… that ‘set’ was my home, buster.” Rowan looked straight ahead, refusing to acknowledge Ryan.
“Sorry. In any case, those times you were recovering from a bio-intervention.”
“Huh?” Rowan looked puzzled.
“At night we’d knock everyone out, kidnap you, take you to the studio facility and do repairs. The main one with you was to inject stem cells into your brain, to replace the brain cells that died every time you used your power. We’d also replace your control pack.”
“Oh, Divine! What about my father?”
“He isn’t as much of a problem, human telepathic levels are naturally higher than the telekinetics, so we didn’t have to repair him as often.”
“We were… are, pieces of meat to you!”
Ryan scuffed his feet. “Not to me.”
They walked in silence for a long time before they topped a hill. Rowan pointed into the distance. “What’s that?”
Ryan gazed in the direction she indicated. There was a line of dark green. “That’s a green belt. An area around a human habitation where the terraforming has reached stage four. In the middle of those trees is the town we’re looking for. With luck, we’ll be able to catch a mag-lev and be at the Star Hawk before nightfall.”
“Then what?” Rowan paused to stare at him.
“Then we leave this world and take you someplace where who you are is more important than how original your genes are.”
Rowan nodded. “Ryan. I’m sorry if I’m bitchy to you. My world is upside down, I’m scared, and I want to blame someone.”
Ryan smiled and touched her cheek. “You have a right. Just please try and remember, I hate the studio almost as much as you.”
Ryan started toward the line of trees. “Lots of reasons. I know Kadar told you I’m a clone. That’s one of them. I hate how they make us second class citizens. Another.” Ryan looked at the ground and took a deep breath before continuing. “I guess I’d have to tell you sooner or later. I have a wife.”
“WHAT? YOU’RE MARRIED!” Rowan’s face reddened to almost a healthy shade, despite the fact she was living on artificial blood.
“It’s not what you think. My marriage ended long ago. I was just too stubborn to admit it. Maybe it was because I was away so much during the wars. Joslin got lonely, I guess. She started obsessing about e-entertainments. You see, e-entertainments can be addictive. When I got out of the hospital, after my discharge, it went from bad to worse. You see, she…”