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, Vance Bastian – Vance is an amazing writer, a talented voice-over artist (who also does audio books, if you’re interested), and and one of the founding members of the WROTE podcast. He’s also a helluva nice guy.
Thanks so much, Vance, for joining me!
J. Scott Coatsworth: How would you describe your writing style/genre?
Vance Bastian: Slightly snarky, fan-boy urban fantasy with hidden linguistic gems. I love inside jokes that don’t detract from the plot in any way. For example, all of my Sandmen have agent handles that come from words related to dreams or sleep in other languages.
JSC: What was your first published work? Tell me a little about it.
VB: Slumberscythe – Book One of the Outré War. There are two distinct heroes. Agent Sopora is an agent for the Sandmen – a shadowy espionage group whose operatives all have sleep and dream-related powers. Sopora has been neutralized, and all she can do to complete her mission is reach out through dreams. The other hero, James, is a social media marketing manager with absolutely no agent training at all. But he is descended from Sandmen and Sopora can reach him. His innate fan-boy desire for superpowers leads him to follow up on the information she shares and he finds himself entering into the tensions between Sandmen and another bloodline, the Reapers.
JSC: Are you a plotter or a pantster?
VB: I am pretty evenly balanced between being a Plotter and a Pantser. My whole series has a skeleton of a timeline that has individual character goals and world events marked out. From that, I’ve written a one-sentence logline of what I want to happen in each chapter.
However, when I sit down to write the characters who are in focus in the scene usually hijack my chapter goals and issue a list of their own demands.
JSC: What’s your writing process?
VB: I get up, look at the outline, hit the gym and let ideas percolate. When I’m back home and showered, I start typing. Something. Anything. Within a matter of minutes I’m in the groove and the story flows. When my fingers are tired, or I’m not at my computer, I will dictate to my phone and copy it over later.
No matter how I’m capturing the story, I narrate out loud as I write. Nothing helps written rhythm like hearing it spoken aloud.
JSC: Tell me one thing hardly anyone knows about you.
VB: I have a fascination for getting into places I really don’t belong – The catacombs and ossuary under the Notre Dame, boarded-up castles in Ireland, temple renovations in Egypt – and testing one of two premises: “Nobody will question you if you act like you belong” and/or “Everybody loves a dumb lunk/Canadian/whatever who was just looking for a wounded animal that ran in here.”
JSC: What was the first speculative fiction book (sci fi, paranormal, fantasy, horror) that you ever read? How did it influence you?
VB: J. R. R. Tolkein’s “The Hobbit” opened my mind to what a book can do for the imagination. Donald J. Sobol (The Encyclopedia Brown series) and later Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes) held my attention as series writers who made a living with the pen. They were probably the first who made me think, “This could be a career.”
JSC: If you were stuck on a desert island all alone with only three things, what would they be?
VB: You realize the way that’s phrased makes it sound like a genie’s lamp will be involved. So the dream answer is: A fully staffed and stocked yacht, a winning lottery ticket, and a magic potion that will grant whatever power I whisper over it before I drink it. If you want survival realism, the Sam Gribley in me would answer: A tarp, a water extraction kit, and fishing gear.
JSC: Which of your own characters would you Kill? Fuck? Marry? And why?
VB: W“Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
It is by those words that I guide the deaths of my characters. I don’t actually want to kill any of them – some are utterly loathsome and selfish, but they all have roles to play. Until they don’t.
Fuck? Quite possibly Atli. He’s got triumph and tragedy in his history, a great outlook, and a solid sense of who he is in the world.
Marry? Possibly Magnus. You’ll meet him in my upcoming Caesar’s Shadow.
JSC: Do you have any strange writing habits or superstitions?
VB: I engage storytelling creativity by narrating out loud as I type. Sometimes I use dictation software, sometimes I want the keys under my fingers.
JSC: What are you working on now, and when can we expect it?
VB: Styxgate – Book Two of the Outré War. Spring 2016.
The second book of the series, James has a lot to learn and a secret he needs to understand.
Caesar’s Shadow – Book One of the Outré Bloodlines. Winter 2015.
A standalone, historic tale focusing on a girl with bloodline powers. Set in Imperial Rome.
And now for Vance’s new book: Slumberscythe:
After a series of dreams where James relives a female espionage agent’s 1972 missions, slightly overweight, slightly narcoleptic, slightly middle-aged, chronically single and gay James is shocked to learn the shadowy events really occurred. When operatives with dream-related powers show up in his life looking for him, he needs to find someone who can teach him to use his bloodline’s supernatural abilities.
His strange dreams lead him to unlikely help – a young reaper who fancies herself a Valkyrie. Halldora’s a closeted gamer-chick who grew up in the half-hidden world of the Outré. She’ll show him how to survive if she can get over her own baggage.
With a little luck, and a lot of help, James might just figure everything out.
Right after he gets these Sandman agents off his tail.
I wanted to climb into the Death Buggy, but the doors were locked. That caught me off guard. I looked the Jeep over, but didn’t see a single broken window or means of exit. And yet, there I was on the outside. Which also meant the key was still hidden under the passenger seat cover where I’d put it before going to sleep. Yes, I was becoming that paranoid. A quick check of my pockets confirmed I didn’t have the key on me. Nate had thoughtfully put the Death Buggy’s hard shell roof on, so I couldn’t just peel back a corner. I’d have to remove it, and that required a screwdriver unless I could get inside to pull the release handles.
Wondering at the extent of my powers, I concentrated on the lock, willing it to unlock. I scrunched up my forehead. I even made a few Jedi-like passes with my hands. Nothing.
Sighing, I hobbled my way up to the Wal-Mart.
The frost on my pants was mostly melted. I say mostly, because the ancient man they had greeting shoppers helpfully pointed out, “You’ve got some ice on you, buddy.”
“Air conditioner’s busted.” I lied. “I need a screwdriver.”
“That’ll be back in hardware. Need a cart?” He pushed one toward me.
“For a screwdriver?”
“Ya never know what you’ll find.”
“Thanks, I’m good.”
He shrugged and went back to sucking on his teeth and staring at the girl trying to open the coffee and concessions stand.
Stores like this are completely surreal to me. Right up front are inflatable yard statues next to gallon jugs of predator pee designed to ward off critters. The very critters who, apparently, posed for the inflatable yard statues. I guess the Wal-Barons can’t make a profit if people actually enjoyed looking at nature as it went about its business.
My wet shoes started squeaking on the dirty tile and the sound went right into my pounding head. I angled off toward the clothing. The racks were on that weird industrial carpeting. It also meant I’d have to walk past the women’s undergarments. I suspect every man in America-whether gay, straight, bi, or transgender-probably feels like a pervert walking past women’s underwear in Wal-Mart. Specialty underwear stores at least try to emulate some sort of boudoir atmosphere where a woman might feel empowered and beautiful. Not the Wal-Mart. Nasty panties on plastic hangers hung forlornly right next to the wall of unsexy industrial bras. I didn’t understand why they didn’t just sell the women’s undergarments in Valu-Paks of three like they did the men’s, but trying to make sense of it made my head pound even more.
My shoes had stopped squeaking by the time I reached Hardware. I found what I needed for breaking into the Death Buggy. Nate used to lock his keys in it all the time, so we eventually broke, I mean rigged, the tailgate lock so that it could be coaxed open with a screwdriver. Or “jimmied open” as Nate used to say just to annoy me. He knew I hated it. He said it anyway. Every damned time.
I decided to detour through Wal-Mart’s grocery section. My go-to food when I had a headache was beef jerky. I can’t explain why it made me feel better. The protein was probably the magic. I grabbed two bags. As I was leaving the aisle, I saw a black suited agent run toward the back of the store.
What the hell?
My aura! I pulled it in tight like I’d been practicing. The very sensible part of me told me to wander like a spaced-out Wal-Martian to the checkout and get out. The adventurous, and might I add cocky, side of me wanted to follow the agent. I followed.
He met up with another agent back in Hardware. I walked past their aisle and wandered down the next one, straining to hear their conversation.
“… entire parking lot is covered in dream bubbles and frost. Morpheus is positive it’s him.”
“Your bubble analogy is weird. Has anyone but Bruadair even laid eyes on the guy?”
I imagine the momentary silence carried a meaningful look regarding Bruadair, but I couldn’t see it.
“The trail stops here. Or it heads back the same way.”
I heard them moving in the direction of the food, so I walked the opposite way and stayed hidden behind the endcap. They followed my trail to the jerky without another word. I knew right then they could follow me if I didn’t keep my aura pulled in tight. And something about my explosive exit from Sopora’s dream had sent out a strong signal. I’d have to be more careful. Somehow.
I wandered around the back of the store looking at all the sad cast-off items that weren’t good enough for the main aisle shelves. In a place like Wal-Mart, that meant I was looking at all the junk. I couldn’t help but feel a bizarre, poetic kinship with this stuff. All the other merchandise that had shipped with these items had gone on to a home and was being used for its purpose. Yet these random things were here alone, unused, and maybe even a little undesirable. None of them were currently in season. On the bright side, none of them were predator piss either. Wal-Mart keeps that stuff near the door.
Reaching the back corner, I turned and started toward the front of the store checking that my aura was pulled in tight. I didn’t run into any more agents, just the windbreaker woman from the parking lot with a six-pack of dish towels in her hand. She froze when I came around the corner. She was up to something. Hating myself for doing it, I looked at her gargantuan purse. It was bulging and not so flappy anymore. I must have still been reeling from the dream because a high-pitched whine started ringing in my ears.
I turned and walked the other way. I didn’t need any part of that. I had snitched once back in second grade. I had been beaten until I was bleeding every night after school for two weeks as a lesson of what happens to tattle-tales. No thank you. I didn’t need one of the people of Wal-Mart pounding me into the ground. Sopora’s missions were doing an adequate job of that already.
Having no desire to walk all the way back past the aisles of misfit merchandise, I turned a few aisles over. It was thankfully, blissfully empty. As I neared the front, I couldn’t help but notice one of the agents sitting in the concessions area. I didn’t see his partner anywhere. I knew that suddenly turning around would look really strange, so I checked that my aura was pulled in tight, tried to walk casual, and I went to pay for my screwdriver and jerky.
Only one register was open, and the old cashier with her magenta-colored hair and vibrantly pink lipstick was being inordinately chatty with the dude in front of me. He looked miserable.
“Oh, Greek Yogurt! I read that’s really good for you. Better than ‘Merican yogurt, but don’t tell anyone I told you.”
The guy mumbled something like, “I just like the taste.”
“Bananas, there you go. Those are always a really good deal here. Are you sure you wouldn’t want a bunch that’s a bit greener? They’ll last longer?”
“And look, Band-Aids. I hate it when I run out. That’s always when I get a paper cut that bleeds and bleeds.”
He didn’t even try to interrupt. I’m pretty sure he had just decided it would go faster if he didn’t give her any conversation to latch on to. I tried to nonchalantly make sure most of him was between me and the agent, but not entirely. I didn’t want to look like I was hiding. I noticed the back of his neck was getting redder by the second.
“Beard dye? Oh, you couldn’t possibly be old enough to need this. Is it for your father?” She looked at him with her watery eyes.
He just shook his head, “nope, mine.” He started fidgeting with his wallet, pulling his bank card. I could tell he was hoping and praying she’d shut up and finish the transaction in peace.
“Ah.” She reached for his last item, the one the poor guy had been dreading.
He swiped his card much harder than necessary.
“Oh.” She continued undeterred. “Preparation H?” She held it up as if seeking his confirmation. “Oh don’t worry hon, hemorrhoids are the worst. This’ll help, though. You know what else I do?”
Please don’t make me hear it. Please don’t make me hear it. PLEASE oh PLEASE no…
“I alternate sitting on a baggie of ice cubes and a hot water bottle. Switching temperatures like that helps the healing process.”
Oh god, not only did she go there, she kept going.
“Of course, water bottles are kind of old fashioned. If you don’t have one, a warm bath is nice too. Oh, and make sure you buy some moist towelettes. Dry toilet paper will only aggravate it. We have some nice medicated ones in the pharmacy.”
The poor guy and I were both stricken mute by the idea of this old woman’s aggravated fanny. There was nothing we could do to un-hear what we’d just heard.
Nobody escapes the Wal-Mart unscathed. Nobody.
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Vance Bastian has a degree in linguistics, a sordid past as an actor and director, and a confusing job as a production editor bringing other people’s books into the world. He asks that you don’t hold any of those jobs against him.
Quite recently he’s come to love his gig as a podcast host, audiobook narrator, book reviewer, and author. He’ll let you hold these against him all you want.
Vance’s life goal has always been to master the art of the tale. He brings a powerful, visual, action-oriented storytelling background to his novels.
Vance lives with his fiancée and their feisty dog. He’s pretty sure both of them think he’s insane for pursuing a creative life.