Let’s start with an introduction: Who is Ken Scholes?
He’s just this guy. Sorry. Douglas Adams reference. I’m Ken Scholes. I’m a dad to a couple of wonderful twin girls. I am a civil servant and sometimes consultant who plays music in the gaps. And I write stuff.
My short stories have been showing up in print since 2000, and have been collected in three volumes published by Fairwood Press. In 2005, I won the Writers of the Future award and tackled my first novel. A year later, Tor picked it up along with the other four (unwritten) books in the series a decade ago this month. Lamentation came out in 2009, and the others have gradually followed.
Your next novel, Hymn, will be published in December by Tor Books. The final book in your Psalms of Isaak series, how would you introduce the series to a new reader?
The world’s most important city is destroyed on the first page of the first book and a mixed group of people impacted by that desolation set out to play their role in history as they try to solve who destroyed the city of Windwir and why. It is a distant future post-apocalyptic saga about human resilience and human nature. I reckon I would point them toward the first novel to give it a try. I am told that the books get progressively better after the first one. Of course, I am too close to it all to see it clearly.
What can fans of the series expect from the final book?
Well, I definitely deal with the really big cliffhanger at the end of Requiem. And I wrap up all of the bigger questions as I land the last of the larger story. And, of course, I do bring in some surprises right away and take people to yet more corners of Lasthome they’ve not seen before. When people talk to me about the books, they are usually most pleased with the world building and the characters, and I think think fans will be happy with how I wrap things up if the feedback from my first readers is any indication.
What inspired you to write the novel and series? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
I draw my inspiration from Everywhere and Everything. Odd bits of life that intersect and strike my curiosity. In this case, I started with a short story back in 2005 called “Of Metal Men and Scarlet Thread and Dancing with the Sunrise“. It originally came out in Realms of Fantasy in 2006, and when I saw Allan Douglas‘s art for the story, I was immediately struck with how much bigger Isaak’s story was. At the time, I had no idea it would be five novels; I sat down and wrote a second short story and sketched out plans for two more. But on 9/11/06, Jay Lake and my wife at the time took me to dinner and dared me to write a novel from those two stories. So Lamentation — and the Psalms of Isaak — were born.
How were you introduced to genre fiction?
I was already into the genre by way of television — Star Trek, Speed Racer, Batman, the Planet of the Apes series. My stepfather brought home used copies of Trapped in Space by Jack Williamson and Runaway Robot by Lester Del Rey back in 1976, when I was in the second or third grade. I’d liked picture books far more than chapter books up until then but I climbed up in a weeping willow with those books and read them. After that, I was hooked. I still have those books in my library. Along with about 6,000 more.
How do you like being a writer and working within the publishing industry?
It has its ups and downs. Right now, after twenty years of pushing the rock rather hard, I’m taking a break from it all. I’ve enjoyed my writing and publishing life, though. The best part is the people I’ve met and the friends I’ve made along the way.
Now that the series is complete, what are the most important lessons you’ve learned about writing a series?
First and foremost, that life happens and doesn’t care if you have a deadline or a publishing contract. Second, self care and self awareness are the tools of a marathon writer. Know yourself and take care of yourself. Third, I think having a world/series bible with maps and notes might be really helpful in keeping all of the details straight. I’m not sure it’s in my strengths-set to work that way since I often discover my world, characters, and plot as I’m writing. But there were a lot of times where a central repository of details would’ve been useful.
Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
I write best to music and my best time of day is early morning. But when I’m on a book, I have to write in the gaps of time I get — any 15 minute block is helpful. My research tends to be a mix. For instance, I visited the great salt plains in Utah for inspiration for my Churning Wastes. For short fiction, I often use road trips to find interesting places and people to write about.
When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?
I realized it when I was pretty young — thirteen or so — and I read Bradbury’s “How to Keep and Feed a Muse” [which can be found in Zen in the Art of Writing]. I started writing short stories after that, then learned to type as soon as I was old enough to take typing in high school. My first was “The Attic,” about an old man going through a box of photos on his porch, reminiscing as he waited for the Soviet missiles to hit.
I do look back on it fondly, but my relationship to writing has changed a bit in the last few years. I’m using this sabbatical to think about what I want to do next in that world and to re-explore why I do it.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
I think as our field opens up to a more full range of human expression that we’re seeing a lot of amazing stories and storytelling show up. I’m a white straight cis male on the edge of fifty and I grew up mostly reading white straight cis males also on the edge of fifty. My work — especially my early work — shows that pretty clearly. I love the expansion we’re seeing and the impact it’s having on those of us willing to learn from it. Of course, that opening up has led to a lot dinosaur roaring as the rest of us primates evolve so while I’m thrilled at the expansion, I’m heartbroken over the ugliness I’ve seen in the ongoing culture war.
I’m probably the wrong guy to ask where my work fits into it all. I hope it does, and I hope my work stands the test of time, but I don’t really have an opinion on it.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline, and what are you working on at the moment?
Right now, I’m taking a break from it and focusing on my kids, my job and my recent move to Cornelius, Oregon. I’ve not written anything new in about eighteen months — the longest break I’ve had in twenty years. Before I took the break, I had a non-fiction book in the works about my experiences with C-PTSD that I was working on with Manny Frishberg and Dr. Eugene Lipov. And several other potential genre projects. I’ve committed to a few short stories in early 2018, and have another nonfiction project I’ve been researching for the last year, Three Facts of Life (That Can Change Your Life). Lately, I’ve also thought about writing young adult or middle-grade fiction for my daughters, or writing mainstream fiction under a pen name.
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
I am reading The Dispossessed by Ursula LeGuin. Before that, I finally finished Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land. In the world of non-fiction, I’ve been listening to a lot of Alan Watts’s books on Audible — largely collections of his lectures. Out of Your Mind is probably my favorite of his. I’ve also really enjoyed The Inside Out Revolution by Michael Neill, Invisible Power by Ken Manning, Robin Charbit and Sandra Krot, and Brainworks by Michael Sweeney.
If you could recommend only one novel to someone, what would it be?
The Tenth Man by Graham Greene.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
That I’m a former Southern Baptist preacher turned secular humanist SJW?
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
I’m excited to see Hymn come out and wrap up a decade of life with the Psalms of Isaak. And I’m also excited about turning 50 in January — what a journey it’s been! But mostly, I’m looking forward to settling into my new house and new job with my daughters over this next year and seeing what Leroy my inner redneck muse comes up with next.