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, Steven Harper – Steven Harper Piziks was born with a name that no one can reliably spell or pronounce, so he often writes under the pen name Steven Harper. He lives in Michigan with his family. When not at the keyboard, he plays the folk harp, fiddles with video games, and pretends he doesn’t talk to the household cats. In the past, he’s held jobs as a reporter, theater producer, secretary, and substitute teacher. He maintains that the most interesting thing about him is that he writes books. Steven is the creator of The Silent Empire series, the Clockwork Empire steampunk series, and the Books of Blood and Iron series for Roc Books. All four Silent Empire novels were finalists for the Spectrum Award, a first!.
Thanks so much, Steven, 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?
Steven Harper: I started writing my first novel when I was nine years old. It was about a boy who gets kidnapped by aliens who live under the ocean. I’m sure if I read it now, it would make me both cringe and melt with nostalgia, but the manuscript has long since vanished. I figured I was good at writing when I got a letter to the editor published in the local paper when I was thirteen and everyone I ran into for a week mentioned it to me. Never give a teenager a swelled head!
JSC: How would you describe your writing style/genre?
SH: I write a little bit of everything, really–fantasy, SF, steampunk, mystery, thriller, TV and movie books, non-fiction. I go for a conversational, oral storyteller kind of style because my day job is teaching school, and I tell a lot of stories at work.
JSC: What was your first published work? Tell me a little about it.
SH: A few months after I got that letter in the paper, I sold an article to The Mother Earth News, a national publication. I originally wrote in something for one of their letter columns, and my mother said I should put my age on the letter, so I did. Pat Stone, the editor, wrote back and said that I should query an article for them, and he sent instructions on how to do it. I was raising rabbits at the time, so I wrote a query about that topic. They bought the article. Thirteen years old and published in a national magazine! (If you Google “I’m a Hare-Raising Kid by Steven Piziks,” you can actually find the piece on-line, even though I wrote it back in 1981.)
JSC: What’s your writing process?
SH: I have to work out plotlines on my feet. When I get an idea for a book or story, I go for a long walk to lay down the plot in my head, then run back home to jot down notes so I don’t forget. Then I write a long, careful synopsis. My record is sixty pages! After that, I write the actual prose. I have a reputation for being a fast writer, but that’s because I rarely tell anyone I’m working on a book until the synopsis is done, and by then I “only” have to do the actual writing, which takes just a few months. No one sees the months and months it takes to wrestle the synopsis into existence.
JSC: Tell me one thing hardly anyone knows about you.
SH: I grew up on a farm. Because I have a Master’s degree in English and using a large vocabulary comes naturally to me, people usually assume I grew up in a big city, but I never set foot in a large city until I visited Chicago when I was twenty! I grew up shoveling out cow byres and chasing escaped horses and baling hay.
JSC: Do you write more on the romance side, or the speculative fiction side? Or both? And why?
SH: Spec fic. I use romance as a subplot. I’ve never mastered the trick of writing about a relationship as the main plot.
JSC: What pets are currently on your keyboard, and what are their names? Pictures?
SH: I have two cats, Dinah (the skittish one) and Bernard (the bold one). I had to talk my husband into allowing them. He didn’t grow up with pets in the house, but I had both cats and dogs. We finally settled on a compromise–just cats. But that was fine with me, since dogs are a lot more work.
JSC: Are you a plotter or a pantster?
SH: Plotter. If I don’t know exactly where the story is going, I get nervous. I’ve done pantsing. The Dragon Men and The Havoc Machine were both pants novels because I only had five months to write them in, and it was an exercise in terror for me!
JSC: If you could create a new holiday, what would it be?
SH: June 26th – Marriage Equality Day. There would be fireworks of all kinds.
JSC: What are you working on now, and when can we expect it?
SH: I just finished “Bone War”, the final novel in the Books of Blood and Iron trilogy. Now I’m waiting to hear from another editor for the go-ahead on another project I’m actually not allowed to talk about yet! When I can say, I’ll talk about it on my blog: http://spiziks.livejournal.com While I’m waiting, I’m also working on a gay YA novel set in a fictional version of the town where I grew up.
And now for Steven’s latest book: Blood Storm:
Ages ago, those who had the ability to change their shape lost it, leading to endless bloody battles for supremacy between the races—until one reluctant hero stepped forth to restore peace to the world.
Even though Danr the half troll ended centuries of fighting, he still is not living the quiet life he longs for. Rumors have arisen that certain people are once again wielding the power of the shape. If Danr could learn to use it, he could become fully human and spend his life with his beloved, Aisa. But he is not the only one who craves the gift of changing form.
Slavers have taken Danr’s friends captive, demanding the power of the shape as ransom. To obtain it, Danr must cross paths with the Fates, Death, and a giant wyrm that lives at the bottom of the ocean—before other, more dangerous parties uncover the secrets of shape changing….
The golden sun burned bright overhead, drilling Danr’s eyes and giving him an instant headache, the downside of being part troll. He treaded water with Talfi’s corpse over his shoulder. He was at the base of a low cliff. Away to his right, the rocks went off into the ocean, but to his left the cliff came abruptly down to a sandy beach. The water swirled and vibrated—the last of the tunnel collapsing. Vik’s balls, he’d gotten out just in time. Talfi had damn well better appreciate this.
Danr swam alongside the cliff toward the beach. The ocean was shallow here, and it didn’t take him long. Aisa, Kalessa, and Ranadar were waiting for him, and they helped drag Talfi across the damp sand until he was above the tide line. Talfi’s tongue protruded, and his head lolled at an angle that turned Danr’s stomach. They all flopped down on the beach.
“My Talashka,” Ranadar said sadly, stroking Talfi’s slack face. Ranadar was handsome, even for an elf. His cheekbones were sharp enough to strike flint on, and his emerald eyes gave quick contrast to his sunset hair. He avoided the usual overly embroidered robes and vestments other elves wore in favor of rough silk in forest brown and green. Talfi was no slouch, either. Even soaking wet and . . . well, dead, his brown hair and fair skin and molded face created a handsome picture. Kalessa was striking, in her own way, with her lithe build and green-tinted skin and striking auburn hair. Danr felt the odd one out—tall and blocky, with shovel hands and coarse black hair and a jaw that jutted pugnaciously forward. Aisa said his eyes—brown—were deep and rich and that she could fall into them, but Danr always felt a pang of jealousy at Aisa’s beauty, Kalessa’s exoticism, Ranadar’s sharp features, and Talfi’s fine ones. It came of being a half-blood, caught between races, and there were times he hated it.
“He still looks dead. This is disappointing.” Aisa dropped the giant squid’s ink sac on the damp sand with flopping noise. She wore a loose-fitting red tunic and trousers instead of a dress, done in the style of her homeland across the Iron Sea to the west. Although she bared her face these days, she usually wore a hood or scarf over her hair. Right now everything was sticking to her, and Danr forced himself not to stare at the outlines of her body, though he still peeked. She caught him, and shook a mock finger at him.
“Never mind Talfi,” Danr said, flushing a little. “How’s your head?”
“Achy.” Aisa touched the spot where the stone had hit her. The sea had washed the blood away. “I will have a bruise beneath my hair, and it would be best if someone woke me at least twice tonight, but I will be fine.”
“I am fine as well, in case anyone wants to know,” Ranadar complained. “Only my Talashka is dead.”
“You are a prince among elves,” Kalessa said. “Surely your head is harder than any rock. Talfi’s is another matter.”
“My Talashka,” Ranadar repeated, and kissed Talfi on the lips. Danr shifted uncomfortably and glanced away. Learning that his best friend was regi—not a nice word, but Danr had never learned a polite one—had caught Danr off guard, but he had finally forced himself to realize it was foolish for anyone, especially a half-blood, to judge someone based on who he fell in love with. Still, it looked weird to see two men together like that, especially a human and an elf. Danr supposed eventually he would take it in stride, but for now he had to remind himself not to flinch. And he would remind himself. Talfi was his best friend, and Danr wasn’t going to give that up over a few strange kisses.
“What is taking him so long?” Kalessa drummed her fingers on the squid beak. “Usually, he’s—”
Talfi gasped hard in Ranadar’s arms. He jerked once and sat up, blinking in the sunlight and the surf. “What—? Where—?”
“You’re with me, my Talashka,” Ranadar said, touching his hair. “Everything is fine.”
“Vik!” Talfi massaged his neck. “And, ow!”
Everyone breathed a relieved sigh. Danr felt a little weak. Last year, Death had awarded Talfi half of Ranadar’s remaining days to keep Talfi out of the underworld, which apparently meant that Talfi couldn’t die, but no matter how many times Talfi came back to life, a small part of Danr always wondered if this death would be the last, and it was always a rush of relief when he came back.
“What do you remember?” Aisa asked.
Danr leaned closer to hear the answer. Aisa’s questions was more than academic. At one time, each of Talfi’s deaths also wiped his memory clean. That had changed, but only last year.
“I remember you.” Talfi pointed to Ranadar, then to Danr and Aisa and Kalessa. “And you, and you, and you.”
It was an old joke, but they laughed anyway.
Talfi continued to rub his neck. “That was not a fun way to die.”
“Are any of them fun?” Kalessa inquired. “I only ask because one day, I am sure it will happen to me, and I want something to look forward to.”
“None of them are fun,” Talfi said, then looked at Ranadar and smiled. “Well, maybe the little death isn’t bad.”
“The little death?” Danr said.
“It’s an elvish phrase,” Ranadar said, “for that moment when a mama and a papa—or just two papas—become very close to each other, and they—”
“Let’s get back to town,” Danr interrupted, standing up. “Before another squid comes looking for a meal.”
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Steven Harper Piziks was born with a name that no one can reliably spell or pronounce, so he often writes under the pen name Steven Harper. He lives in Michigan with his family. When not at the keyboard, he plays the folk harp, fiddles with video games, and pretends he doesn’t talk to the household cats. In the past, he’s held jobs as a reporter, theater producer, secretary, and substitute teacher. He maintains that the most interesting thing about him is that he writes books. Steven is the creator of The Silent Empire series, the Clockwork Empire steampunk series, and the Books of Blood and Iron series for Roc Books. All four Silent Empire novels were finalists for the Spectrum Award, a first!