Let’s start with an introduction: Who is Scotto Moore?
I’m a playwright-turned-novelist, an amateur house music DJ, and a curator of bizarre and beautiful media, sitting somewhere between absurdist and existentialist on the “why is life even a thing” scale.
Your latest novel, Battle of the Linguist Mages was recently published by Tor.com. It has a really intriguing premise: How would you introduce it to a potential reader?
The book is a near future science fantasy adventure about Isobel Bailie, an extremely talented VR gamer who learns that her skills in the game have uses in the real world. She finds herself caught between a powerful conspiracy and spellcasting anarchists in a struggle to save the world from a vicious threat on its way to Earth from beyond this dimension of reality altogether.
And then, if the potential reader was still paying attention, I’d also mention that the game she excels at is a medieval rave themed game called Sparkle Dungeon.
What inspired you to write the novel? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
The novel’s roots are in a pair of plays I wrote and directed, a science fiction piece called Duel of the Linguist Mages in 2011, and a farcical romantic comedy called Balconies in 2014. It occurred to me I could take some of the menacing characters from the former and introduce them to the zany characters from the latter and pull off something pretty unique. I’m not using the plots of either of those plays, but you can see the influences of both plays in the book for sure. I still invented quite a bit for the book – Isobel Bailie isn’t in either of the plays, for instance.
As far as general inspiration, my craft hasn’t evolved toward being able to sit in the chair and just start writing until the ideas come. Usually a setting or a premise will hit me out of the blue and I’ll know it’s got legs if I start ruminating on how it might work. And that rumination period can last for months and months before I decide to even start an outline. And then typically I throw out most of that once I do start writing because now the ideas are finally flowing and they’re getting better as I go. I’m enjoying writing contemporary fantasy or science fantasy right now because I can stretch my imagination in several directions at once and still pull it all together.
How were you introduced to genre fiction?
As a kid, I used to spend hours of unsupervised time during summers at our local library, where I read absolutely anything that looked tailored to my age group, regardless of genre, and when I burned through that, I’d start to look around for other paperbacks I could devour. So I could be reading Encyclopedia Brown one day and weird science fiction the next day. I remember reading all of the Dune books that way one year, not that I understood a hint of subtext in any of them. I did eventually get a bit of a formal introduction to science fiction in college, taking a sci-fi class in the English department. It was very much an introduction to the classic canon. This was the early ‘90s.
How do you like being a writer and working within the publishing industry?
I’ve been extremely fortunate to work with an excellent editor and a fantastic team at Tor.com who’ve provided so much support and enthusiasm. It’s been humbling having this experience and I don’t take it for granted. I’m still learning my way around the industry at large. I was a playwright for nearly fifteen years working on the fringe in Seattle and figured I’d be doing that forever. Publishing is so much slower than theatre was for me, and theatre can be supercharged with an electricity that publishing lacks. But publishing feels immensely satisfying in a different way, because the output is an artifact that might live for years, whereas theatre is so ephemeral it’s almost painful sometimes.
Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
I used to outline extensively, but these days I’m all about the flashlight method, just outlining the next immediate bit I need to write, lather rinse repeat. I’m also not afraid of the page one rewrite as a tactic, literally throwing an entire draft into the trash and starting over from scratch. You preserve key characters and ideas and some of the beats, but otherwise, it’s a new ballgame. Sometimes abandoning your current approach altogether and starting over can be super fruitful, and it can save you from a hundred iterative revisions that frustrate you as you try to “fix” an unworkable draft. They say “kill your darlings” and what could be more of a darling than your entire draft?
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 wrote a trilogy of “screenplays” when I was in grade school, these hand-scrawled fantasy adventures that barely made sense. The members of Queen were characters. Be ambitious! Then in high school I wrote my first novel-length thing and my first one-act play, and I look back on them both as being pivotal steps for me. I’ve raided ideas from that novel for years, and the play was an absurdist romp that ripped off Ionesco but helped me establish a core part of my aesthetic. That style of anything-goes absurdism has definitely carried forward as a minor but noticeable thread in almost everything I do – not quite everything, I’ve written some serious realism along the way, but almost everything.
I went to college to study theatre and wrote several plays there, and I also managed to write my first novella and my second novel during that time, and those pieces do hold a really fond place in my heart, just because of the confidence they gave me to keep throwing stuff at the wall in the hopes something would eventually stick.
But I never really thought I’d become an author until recently. I think by 2019 I realized I had a shot at being an author instead of a playwright, which turned out to be fortuitous, given that live theatre mostly shut down in 2020 due to the pandemic. And now I’m having so much fun writing prose that I don’t see an immediate return to playwriting in my future even if theatre boots back up.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
I don’t think I’m qualified to judge an entire genre, whether you mean science fiction or science fantasy. I just don’t read enough, especially since the pandemic started and my attention for longform fiction really waned. But I will say that the last five books I read seem to have little in common with each other and are standouts in their genres, which is fantastic to me; they’re all making unique, indelible marks, carving out their own territory and owning it. I like to imagine I can make that kind of mark as well with people who enjoy outlandish plots full of weird ideas and lots of compassion for their characters. Historically I don’t always write in that style, but currently I’m on a streak.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline, and what are you working on at the moment?
I’m heads down on revisions for a new thing that I started working on in 2020, and then I have another thing waiting in the wings that’s been through two drafts but needs at least a third major rewrite. I’ve been relatively productive during the pandemic.
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
I’m currently reading There Is No Antimemetics Division by qntm. I’m most of the way through it and I think it’s brilliant and chilling and freaky. It’s super unpredictable and I feel like I’m the perfect audience for it. If you imagine a meme as an idea designed to be virally transmissible in culture, imagine an antimeme as an idea designed to be forgotten. Then imagine what kind of menace might lurk within antimemes that we can’t remember, and this book just rockets off the launchpad with that as a starting premise.
If you could recommend only one novel or book to someone, what would it be?
I always recommend The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins. It’s a modern-day fantasy that’s nominally about a group of orphans in the suburbs trying to survive when their father figure abandons them, except their father figure is the supreme being of the universe, and they’ve each got a sliver of his power to work with. But for a book with such weird and interesting metaphysics, it’s very droll in its storytelling. I reread it while I was writing Battle of the Linguist Mages and found it very inspiring when I was deep in the trenches.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
I used to be an a cappella singer. And the last play I wrote was an a cappella science fiction musical. I know a cappella is a little more hip these days than it used to be, but still, it was my jam for a long while.
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
This has been such a long road. Not counting the plays, I started working on the book in 2018, which was finally published in early 2022, so my anticipation has built quite a bit over that time. I would love to see Battle of the Linguist Mages find its audience over the next twelve months now that it’s out in the world.