Interview with Lawrence M. Schoen, author of Barsk

Today my guest is Lawrence M. Schoen, author of a new book just out from Tor, Barsk: The Elephant’s Graveyard.  

It’s an exciting new series (and getting a lot of amazing press), and I’ll be able to chat with Lawrence in person about his book when he comes to Texas in February for ConDFW!  (And you should come see him there, too!)

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The Sixth Sense meets Planet of the Apes in a moving science fiction novel set so far in the future, humanity is gone and forgotten in Lawrence M. Schoen’s Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard

An historian who speaks with the dead is ensnared by the past. A child who feels no pain and who should not exist sees the future. Between them are truths that will shake worlds.

In a distant future, no remnants of human beings remain, but their successors thrive throughout the galaxy. These are the offspring of humanity’s genius-animals uplifted into walking, talking, sentient beings. The Fant are one such species: anthropomorphic elephants ostracized by other races, and long ago exiled to the rainy ghetto world of Barsk. There, they develop medicines upon which all species now depend. The most coveted of these drugs is koph, which allows a small number of users to interact with the recently deceased and learn their secrets.

To break the Fant’s control of koph, an offworld shadow group attempts to force the Fant to surrender their knowledge. Jorl, a Fant Speaker with the dead, is compelled to question his deceased best friend, who years ago mysteriously committed suicide. In so doing, Jorl unearths a secret the powers that be would prefer to keep buried forever. Meanwhile, his dead friend’s son, a physically challenged young Fant named Pizlo, is driven by disturbing visions to take his first unsteady steps toward an uncertain future.

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I was lucky enough to get a chance to chat with Lawrence before the book came out (and he got too busy!), so I ran a few questions by him about this book (and a few of his earlier ones as well.) So without ado, here’s Lawrence:

Tell us a little about your upcoming book, Barsk, something that’s not in the blurb.

People are finding all sorts of subtext in the novel that I don’t remember putting into it. I suppose at some level, all books are a projective test and readers will discover something of themselves within the pages. For me, one of the most important ideas that I did include is that some friendships can transcend even death.

How long has this book been in your head? What led to it coming out in it’s final form?

I started writing this book more than twenty-five years ago. It’s actually the first novel I ever completed. Which is probably why it was so bad. I hadn’t learned enough to know just how badly written it was. Thankfully, despite my attempts to sell it, no publisher bought it, and I eventually stuck it in a drawer. I just didn’t have enough skill to tell the story the way it needed to be told. Fast forward a couple decades and when I had an opportunity to pitch it to an interested editor I’d grown enough as an author to do the story justice, keeping the awesome ideas and rewriting everything else.

Which was your favorite character to write? Why?

That is such a cruel question. I don’t tend to think in terms of favorites in any aspect of my life. That said, I’m more fond of some characters than others. There’s a lot of me in Jorl (or a lot of Jorl in me?). He has an amazing life and so do I.

Pizlo is the obvious underdog (under-elephant?) in the book. How can you not love him? He’s so damaged and he doesn’t know it, and he’s overflowing with potential. Keep an eye on him; he’s only six, and he’s destined for greatness, if he survives.

The Matriarch is an intense character. She’s so sure she’s right that most of the time she can’t even make room in her reality for the possibility that she might be mistaken.

I really like Druz because she makes the Sloths proud, and of all the other races of the Alliance her people seem to have the least dislike of the Fant. Maybe their slower metabolism makes them more sensible.

And I adore Lirlowil, my sybaritic Otter. She really deserves the chance to be the hero of her own story for all the grief I put her through in this book. Maybe some day…

Can we expect  to see more in this setting after this book?

I hope so! I’ve written proposals for two sequels and they are sitting on my editor’s desk. I’d also like to write some side stories — maybe even a novella — from the perspective of one or more of the other races of the Alliance. I’ve barely scratched the surface.

What about your previous series? Will you be adding more tales to the Buffalito Saga?

There are five more novels in my head to complete the story arc that I set up with the end of the second book. There’s a galactic war coming that almost no one in the galaxy knows about, and Conroy is being maneuvered to be a general. Whether or not I get to write those five books may well depend on how well Barsk does, and if I can use it to leverage a deal with a publisher.

At a minimum though, I have a fourth novella already outlined and waiting to be written. It includes a popular supporting character, LeftJohn Mocker, and features the return of a previous character. It’s also intended as backstory for a possible spin-off series.

And what’s one thing about you that every reader needs to know?

It’s taken me a long time to reach this realization, but I no longer engage in any kind of “zero sum” games. My success or happiness should never be dependent on beating someone else, or taking anything from anyone. Every situation I encounter nowadays, I ask myself how I can reframe it into a win-win scenario. I believe this above all else is why my life is so blessed.

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Lawrence M. Schoen holds a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology and psycholinguistics. He spent ten years as a college professor, and has done extensive research in the areas of human memory and language. This background provides a principal metaphor for his fiction. He currently works as the director of research and analytics for a series of mental health and addiction recovery facilities in Philadelphia.

He’s also one of the world’s foremost authorities on the Klingon language, and since 1992 has championed the exploration and use of this constructed tongue throughout the world. In addition, he’s the publisher behind a speculative fiction small press, Paper Golem, aimed at showcasing up-and-coming new writers as well as providing a market for novellas. And too, he performs occasionally as a hypnotherapist specializing in authors’ issues.

In 2007, he was a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. He received a Hugo Award nomination for Best Short Story in 2010 and Nebula Award nominations for Best Novella in 2013, 2014, and again in 2015. Some of his most popular writing deals with the ongoing adventures of a space-faring stage hypnotist named the Amazing Conroy and his animal companion Reggie, an alien buffalito that can eat anything and farts oxygen. His latest work is a very different kind of book, an anthropomorphic SF novel that explores prophecy, intolerance, friendship, conspiracy, and loyalty, and a drug that lets you talk to the dead.

Lawrence lives near Philadelphia with his wife, Valerie, who is neither a psychologist nor a Klingon speaker.

 

Where to find him:

Website: http://www.lawrencemschoen.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lawrencemschoen

Twitter: @klingonguy

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