Let’s start with an introduction: Who is Wayne Santos?
The simplest, one-line answer is “Canadian-Filipino Gen-X Geek.” That sums up everything in a nutshell. I’m a second-generation Filipino that grew up in Edmonton, Alberta, which some refer to as “Texas North.” I’m a child of the 80s, so I was there when Neuromancer made its debut, everyone was flipping out over Blade Runner, and I did watch The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi in the theatre. I also did time rolling four, six, ten, and 20-sided dice in Dungeons & Dragons and other tabletop role-playing games, and, yes, we did it in the basement.
But I also graduated out of university and then spent the next 13 years or so living and working in Southeast Asia, specifically Singapore. That was an eye-opener, since I looked Southeast Asian, but had a North American accent, and sensibility, so it was confusing for everybody. It was a weird feeling to grow up looking like a minority, but not feeling like one, because I shared the same culture as everyone else. Then move to another country and switch to not looking like a minority, but feeling like one, because I culturally did not belong in this world, but no one knew it as long as I kept my mouth shut.
I think it gave me a balanced perspective when I came back to Canada. There were preconceptions I didn’t like or took for granted about North America that were destroyed or dramatically altered once I lived in another part of the world and got exposed to so many other languages and cultures.
Your debut novel, The Chimera Code, is published by Solaris. It looks pretty cool: How would you introduce it to a potential reader? Is it part of a series?
It’s a cyberpunk/magic hybrid. So you’ve still got your cyborg warfare, your deep level hacking intrusions and your multinationals running corporate espionage ops closer to off-the-books military raids. But you’ve also got people that can hurl lightning out of their hands and cure cancer just by laying on hands and mumbling a few magic phrases. The Chimera Code is really for anyone that always wondered what kind of permutations arise from the question, “What do you get when you mix a cyborg, a hacker, and a combat mage, and give them a lot of money to run a job for you?”
The novel is all about Cloke, one of the premier combat mages of the 22nd century, and fireball-for-hire. She needs to fill out a hole in her roster, leading her to a new recruit named Zee, and together they take on a job from one of the weirdest clients Cloke has ever dealt with. Cyberpunk and sorcerous shenanigans take place in Singapore, Japan, and even off-world.
I’m also happy to say that on the book itself, it says “Book One of the WitchWare” series, so hopefully, I don’t die before being able to bear that out.
What inspired you to write the novel? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
I’d always loved the cyberpunk genre, and one of my seminal influences as a kid was first William Gibson’s Burning Chrome short story collection, and then Neuromancer. Stuff like Blade Runner was just more fuel for that fire. But then I came across a tabletop role-playing game called Shadowrun that took all that and then threw dragons, elves, dwarves, and orcs into a world with hackers and street samurai.
I really enjoyed that crazy mix, but I always wondered what that world would have been like if only one fantastical element had entered, and that was magic. What would that do to the society? To science? To the economy? The more I thought about it, the more I saw that a cyberpunk world with only magic weaved into is fabric could have a lot of interesting nuances, and texture, and be able to get more detailed with exploring it, because there were fewer big-ticket items, like dragons, to worry about.
In general, though, my inspiration comes from multiple sources. Books, of course, are a major one, but I am also massively influenced by the other media that grew up along with Generation X. So I’m just as likely to be shaped and influenced by an excellent console role-playing game I’m currently playing as I am by the book I’m reading. Anime is also another very, very big influence, and of course, so are video media like films and TV. Comics are also huge, as anyone who reads The Chimera Code will probably notice immediately. Then there are tabletop role-playing games. I haven’t sat down and played one for years, but they were pretty formative for me as an 80s kid playing them. Dungeons & Dragons was my gateway drug, but that quickly branched out to Gamma World, Star Frontiers, Traveller, Robotech, Marvel Superheroes, Beyond the Supernatural, Call of Cthulhu and Vampire: The Masquerade.
How were you introduced to genre fiction?
I’ve already mentioned that William Gibson was the writer that blew my mind back in the day, but he wasn’t my first dip into genre fiction. My earliest memory of encountering genre fiction was being selected by my fourth-grade teacher to read The Hobbit to the entire class for the final period of the school day. The whole book. From start to finish. It took weeks. At the time, I thought it was because I was a pretty good reader, and he was impressed by that. With a Gen-Xer’s cynical eye, I now realize he probably just wanted 20-30 minutes where he didn’t have to do anything and go back to taking care of his fish since he also ran the school’s aquarium club.
On my own, while I liked fantasy, I really gravitated towards science fiction, and then horror. I went through the classics of SF like Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, and Herbert. But by the time I was in Junior High, I was also falling into the pit with stuff like Stephen King, Clive Barker, Robert McCammon, and Graham Masterton.
There were also comics, of course, I was more a DC than a Marvel kid, though I read both. It wasn’t until university, though, that the rest of the world finally admitted that when I was reading comics, it wasn’t just junk. So suddenly things like Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen and, of course, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman were all respectable fiction I could publicly admit to reading and enjoying.
How do you like being a writer and working within the publishing industry?
It’s weird and creepy in a pleasant way that I’m still not used to. For most of my working career, I’ve been a professional writer, but not in fiction. I started out as a copywriter in an ad agency, and that somehow ballooned out into a bunch of other things, including writing for TV, for websites, for magazines, and even a stint in game journalism, all either full-time in an office or freelance at home.
But that kind of professional writing is worlds away from the fiction publishing industry. In those jobs, you’re a cog. People don’t know or care who you are, the most important thing is, you produced something readable within the allotted deadline, and then it’s off to another assignment. Or you get tasked with an interview, so you load up your recorder, think up your questions, and then try to be engaged with the person you’re talking to while hoping the free food buffet for game journalists doesn’t run out of that mini-burger sandwich you’ve got your eye on.
Now all of a sudden, I’ve got editors that I don’t have to worry about pissing off because they are asking me, what I think of changes they’d like to make to the manuscript because they respect my creative choices. That still feels suspiciously like a scam to me, where I’ll give an answer, and they’ll all be, “Ha, ha, no, we really don’t care what you think, just rewrite this and get it back in an hour or you’ll never work here again.”
Only that keeps not happening, so I’m feeling lost and uncertain and scared. But also it’s… nice? Which is not something I normally associate with writing professionally. Also, these interview things are super weird because I’m so used to being the one fielding the questions and grumbling about how much transcribing I’ve got ahead of me.
Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
No, not really. I’m horrible that way and an incredibly bad example to other aspiring writers out there. I strongly urge you to not follow anything I do since I don’t do much of anything, at least, not systematically.
My writing and plotting are very much of the discovery/seat of the pants process. I might have a few specific events in my head for the book, but the rest of it is untamed wilderness, and I just move through it to see what I uncover.
As far as working goes, I currently work fulltime as a freelance writer, which means that my work schedule is whatever jobs I happen to have lined up for that day, week, or month. So I work on my fiction writing whenever I’ve got a decent chunk of time free that’s not for freelance commitments. That might mean writing for the whole day if nothing’s on the docket, or just for a half-hour before starting the details for another job come in.
Research is very much a rabbit hole for me. I’ve had excellent results with randomly chasing things down and finding only tangentially related topics that expose me to previously unknown levels of the WTFness. There’s value in that, so I don’t mind getting way off track.
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 seriously considered becoming an author in the ninth grade, which would have made me… 14? 15? In junior high, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with myself, and I had three “streams” to choose from, art, music, and writing. I already knew I wanted to do something creative, that was just a given. My childhood had been full of geeky stuff, and I was already trying to draw anime characters, play catchy SF/anime tunes I heard on the piano, or just tell my own stories.
The problem was with art and music, I could already see on the horizon a ceiling I’d hit and just not get much better at it. Writing seemed to have a much higher ceiling. And I’d already managed to scam my way through a few essays in school by ditching the essay format entirely and writing it as fiction instead. When a province-wide essay evaluation got me the highest mark in the school by thinking, “screw it, I’m going to write a story instead,” that’s when I figured I’d probably better pursue this.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
My no brainer take that I’m sure more set-in-their-ways old school readers would take issue with is, “Boy, it sure is less white and straight these days, isn’t it?”
I’m actually quite pleased with the way the science fiction and fantasy genres have opened up. I’m also amazed that I’m not the first writer of Filipino descent to be published, I’m already following in the wake others, like K.S. Villoso and Paul Kreuger. I’m glad to see that the speculative genres finally caught up with TV shows like Star Trek, and there’s a diversity of writers, protagonists, and worlds to explore beyond just White Whiteman Adventuring In A Straight White Christian World. Going up against enemies who are suspiciously Not White, but that’s pure coincidence and doesn’t mean anything even though they speak broken English with Asian accents.
When I was a kid, growing up, it was a given that I’d never see myself in these stories, because I never did. I loved my Asimov, and my Clarke, and even my Barker and King, but these stories were always about a world where I didn’t have a place because I didn’t matter, only white people mattered, and as a kid, I adjusted to that reality, and what these stories were telling me.
It even affected my writing for years, where I only wrote about straight white people, even though I wasn’t white myself, because those were “real” stories, with “real characters” and if I was ever dumb enough to write a character that wasn’t white, it was immediately fake and not good. It’s an opinion I still see propagated even today, with stuff like the sad puppies movement.
Thankfully, I don’t feel that way anymore, and I have no issue with seeing other protagonists take the stage, even though that’s not what I grew up with as a kid. Science fiction and fantasy are supposed to be weird and new and have strange ideas and elements.
I see myself fitting into the genre as… comfort food? I have no illusions about my skills as a writer. I know many people who blow me out of the water in terms of the beauty of their language, the lyricism of their descriptions, and that’ll never be me, even though I’m desperately jealous of people with that kind of language command. I’m too fond of blowing stuff up. So I think if you’re looking for genre fiction that’s diverse, but isn’t going to bowl you over award winning, dense, beautiful prose, then I’ve probably got you. My main thing is fun characters and dialog. And explosions. So many explosions…
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline, and what are you working on at the moment?
There’s always something in the pipeline, it’s just a matter of what you can or can’t talk about. There are three things already finished that are in imminent stages of release, but I can’t really mention them, though I can say they’re not full-length novels. I might even be able to get away with saying that some of them are not in book format at all.
I do have some other things that I’m currently working on that are full-length books, however. One is basically done and is in the process of editing. I’m not going to say too much about it, except that it’s The Breakfast Club goes to Hogwarts, by way of Persona 5, and is about the worst magical reform school in America. The other one, still in drafting mode, is about… insurance adjustment investigation. Basically, those people that come in to investigate a claim and make sure this isn’t some kind of fake death fraud to force an insurance company to pay millions of dollars. Only now with demon or dragon damage. Please believe me when I say it’s a lot cooler than it actually sounds, or so I hope.
I’m also working on a comic with my wife. She’s a fulltime illustrator, and mostly known for her work in children’s books, but she’s had a project that she’s been carrying around for 20 years, and she got fed up with it being in limbo. So I’m working on that with her because she needs a writer. One that you can threaten with banishment to the couch at bedtime if the script sucks is definitely a power dynamic she enjoys.
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
Right just now, I am going through another fellow Solaris alumnus, Suyi Davies Okungbowa, and his urban fantasy, David Mogo: Godhunter. It definitely scratches that Harry Dresden itch but does it in Lagos, Nigeria. I’ve always enjoyed urban fantasy, and my first few attempts at novels, as well as some current projects, are in that vein. So I really like what he’s done, adding in a setting I know pretty much nothing about, and introducing me to these pantheons and cultures that are rarely touched on.
I’m also really enjoying the style. I guess these days I’m one of those rare birds that are still sticking with old fashioned third person. I see first-person a lot, it works very well in David Mogo. I find the language easy, approachable, and boy does it ever move.
If you could recommend only one novel or book to someone, what would it be?
This answer is going to rotate constantly based on any given mood and period of my life. For now, I think I would actually say, read Moonshadow, written by J.M. DeMatteis and mostly illustrated by Jon J. Muth in watercolors so beautiful they make my heart ache.
When people talk about comics in the 1980s, usually The Sandman, The Dark Knight Returns, and Watchmen come up. But Moonshadow came before all of them, in 1985, and was one of the craziest, most experimental things Marvel did at that time. It’s a picaresque journey of a boy raised in an intergalactic zoo cut loose on a wild and uncaring universe. It’s a comic I still regularly come back to time and again for the kind of truth that makes sense when you’re young and becomes brilliant when you’re old. It was recently reprinted and released as a gorgeous hardcover by Dark Horse, and the paintings inside are still breathtaking, while the story becomes wiser the older I get.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
If you keep an eye out about 36 minutes into the 2012 remake of Total Recall starring Colin Farrell, you’ll see me in the bottom right frame of a cyberpunk style establishing shot, haggling for roots and herbs. So yes, I have been a Hollywood extra in a big-budget cyberpunk movie, and all I got out of it was standing under a rain machine for several hours.
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
I’m going to give the super boring answer, but it’s 100% true. I just want to be able to go to a restaurant, sit down, eat, and not catch anything potentially lethal. I’ve spent a good chunk of my professional life working at home, so that’s not a big deal, but I miss sitting down at the corner booth of a favorite diner, getting greeted as a regular by familiar waitstaff, and just having a nice, comfort food meal with friends. The simple things, y’know?
I would also like my book to be well-received, but I think the diner thing is way more in my control than the reception thing, so I’m trying to stick to something within reach.
Over the years, Wayne Santos has written copy for advertising agencies, scripts for television, and articles for magazines. He’s lived in Canada, Thailand and Singapore, traveling to many countries around South East Asia. His first love has always been science fiction and fantasy, and while he regularly engaged with it in novels, comics, anime and video games, it wasn’t until 1996, with his first short story in the Canadian speculative fiction magazine On Spec that he aimed towards becoming a novelist. He now lives in Canada, in Hamilton, ON with his wife. When he’s not writing, he is likely to be found reading, playing video games, watching anime, or trying to calm his cat down.