A few days ago I asked 2016 Campbell Award nominee Brian Niemeier if he’d be willing to submit to an e-mail interview for the readers of this blog. He’s graciously agreed, and he’s taken the time to answer a rather lengthy series of questions. To avoid the dreaded “TL;DR” kiss of death, I’ve divided the interview into three parts. The first part focuses on Mr. Niemeier’s most well known work, the Soul Cycle series. The second part focuses on writing and Mr. Niemeier’s experiences therein. This third and final part focuses on Brian himself. Without further ado, here’s the first part. Text in bold is mine. The rest is Mr. Niemeier’s, presented exactly as he gave it to me – with one small note. My original set of questions had two questions inadvertently jammed together due to a formatting error. I have split apart both the questions and Mr. Niemeier’s answer to preserve the original intention.
Aside from authors and works previously listed as inspiration, can you tell us what your own favorite sff authors and works are?
Frank Herbert’s Dune series—the odd-numbered books only, of which book five is the last. Prequels? What prequels?
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said and Blade Runner (yes, the movie; not the book) by Philip K. Dick
Hyperion by Dan Simmons
Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy—the print and graphic novels
Watchmen by Alan Moore
Favorite current sff show and/or movie?
If you want to be a professional writer, you have to give something up. I gave up TV.
Movies are another story. Guardians of the Galaxy is my ideal space opera. I’ll count myself truly blessed if I can approach that aesthetic, tone, and mood someday.
But the Captain America series is still the best in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Interstellar and The Martian are two of the best hard SF films ever made.
Followup Question: Team Cap or Team Iron Man?
Favorite current sff books?
John C. Wright’s Count to Eschaton Sequence
The Cunning Blood by Jeff Duntemann
CTRL ALT Revolt! By Nick Cole
Larry Correia’s Grimnoir series—yes, it’s sci-fi, folks.
Your blog is titled “Kairos.” Can you tell us where that came from and why you used it for the title?
For the full answer, go read Souldancer.
Short answer: it’s one of two Greek words for time.
Chronos is mundane, sequential time. Think of languishing in your final class on Friday afternoon back in high school, watching the clock tick off those last ten minutes.
Kairos is sacred time; otherworldly. It’s the word for feast days, or the experience of watching a tropical sunset and, for an unquantifiable moment, touching eternity.
Shorter answer: the title is very pretentious.
Philosophy and religion seem to be recurring underlying themes in your work. Do you have a background in these areas?
Yes. I hold a master’s degree in theology from a Catholic university of note.
No. Not that one. The non-heretical one.
You also blog at SuperversiveSF. Can you tell us how you got involved there, and how you got involved in the Superversive movement in general?
Jason Rennie, the Hugo-nominated editor of Sci Phi Journal, published my first professional short story “Strange Matter”. We have enjoyed a fast long-distance friendship ever since. Jason is also the mastermind of Superversive SF, and he asked me to write for the blog.
I became aware of the Superversive movement through Jason, my novel editor L. Jagi Lamplighter-Wright, and master essayist Tom Simon whose work I’ve greatly admired since before his landmark essay on the subject.
Heroic courage in defense of the beautiful, the true, and the good is the heart of every Superversive story. The great philosophers from Aristotle to Aquinas to von Balthasar all championed these virtues in the arts, so being a writer and a theologian, the Superversive movement is my natural home.
The word “Superversive” is still kind of settling in on exactly what it means. What does it mean to you?
I hold to Mr. Simon’s original definition of the Superversive story as one in which the main character doesn’t simply bear wrongs patiently; he takes the risk of becoming a hero. In so doing, he upholds beauty, truth, and goodness.
What did you do before you started writing?
I was messing around on the internet.
Do you still have a “real” job? If so, what do you do?
I’m a medical debt collector. Certain parties may consider my love for Christ and my hatred of error to be grounds for getting me disemployed. On the bright side, if they do I’ll have more time for writing.
I think it’s fair to say that your Campbell nomination came as a direct result of making both the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies lists, and if you hadn’t been on those lists it wouldn’t have happened. What are your personal thoughts on this?
Your analysis is correct. I’m grateful to my readers who recommended me for the Sad Puppies list—initially without my knowledge. I’m also grateful to Vox Day, who only put me on the Rabid Puppies list after his first choice was ruled ineligible.
Those who cast votes based on the Sad and/or Rabid Puppies list did so fully in accordance with the Hugo nomination rules. Their wishes carry no less weight than those of other paid members in good standing of Worldcon.
How do you feel about the Puppies campaigns in general?
Sad Puppies was an inevitable response to the overall decadence and hastening decline of the New York publishing establishment.
Recall that Sad Puppies founder Larry Correia began his writing career far from the island of Manhattan as a self-published author. His detractors misinterpret him—perhaps unintentionally—to say that there is a conspiracy against non-Leftist authors. The old gatekeepers, and the authors beholden to them, look at themselves and see no collusion; no bias. They see themselves merely behaving and thinking as all well-meaning people ought.
They should look at their sales figures. That might show them just how universal their worldview really is.
Let the CHORFs blame Sad Puppies on sour grapes over Larry’s Campbell loss. Even if he’d quietly accepted the insults that followed and had written yet another best-selling novel instead of starting SP, someone else—another lowbrow type from flyover country, no doubt—would eventually have felt the CHORFs’ petty lash and done something similar.
Worldcon should hope that someone would have. We’ve seen yet another year of record-shattering, Puppy-driven turnout. Those who’ve been quick to dismiss the Puppy campaigns as irrelevant or to vote their nominees below No Award should ponder the likely results of driving the SP and RP members—and their membership fees—away for good.
Because greater SF fandom is expanding to the corners of the map, and rumor has it that somewhere to the South, there be Dragons.
A few days ago I asked 2016 Campbell Award nominee Brian Niemeier if he’d be willing to submit to an e-mail interview for the readers of this blog. He’s graciously agreed, and he’s taken the time to answer a rather lengthy series of questions. To avoid the dreaded “TL;DR” kiss of death, I’ve divided the interview into three parts. The first part focuses on Mr. Niemeier’s most well known work, the Soul Cycle series. This second part focuses on writing and Mr. Niemeier’s experiences therein. The third and final part focuses on Brian himself. Without further ado, here’s the first part. Text in bold is mine. The rest is Mr. Niemeier’s, presented exactly as he gave it to me.
You’ve stated elsewhere that you actually wrote Souldancer first. How did that happen?
Like most behind-the-scenes accounts, that statement is true, but the whole story is more complicated.
I spent high school and my early college years marinating in SFF stories from various media: novels, movies, animated and live action television series, American and Japanese comic books, video games, pen and paper RPGs. I think that eventually these influences coalesced into a set of ideas that were as desperate to break out of my head as Frank Morris was to escape from Alcatraz.
I tried all sorts of creative outlets—even building homemade models. I filled pages with notes, which, unknown to me at the time, constituted world building. As an early form of beta testing, I worked some of these concepts into a couple of D&D campaigns. I went as far as drawing half of what later became Nethereal in comic book form (trust me—you do not want to see it).
Only after all of these attempts had failed to express the story in my mind did I try writing a novel.
One benefit of all this trial and error was that I knew exactly which story I wanted to tell. Set on a once-thriving world laid waste by a fiery cataclysm, it was the tale of a young nomad abandoned by his tribe in the desert. At first he just fought to survive, but he rapidly got embroiled in world-shaking events. At the critical point, he had to choose between saving himself and risking his life for love.
Somehow I finished the first draft of Souldancer. It was a monster weighing in at over 300,000 words. It also sucked, as first drafts of first novels are wont to do.
At that point, I shelved the project, consoling myself that I could at least scratch “write a novel” off my bucket list. I left my unfinished secondary world and went back to school.
For a year afterward I bounced around between bouts of comical underemployment before my mom, who is a librarian, said, “Why not sell your book to a publisher?” I objected that it wasn’t in salable shape, and she reminded me that I had the time to get it in shape.
Revisiting Souldancer Version One after many years showed me that 1) it needed far more work than I thought, and 2) the start of the book wasn’t the story’s natural beginning. I dug out my old notes and started writing what I came to realize was the outline for a whole new book—a prequel to Souldancer that ended up being Nethereal.
There are years of redrafting, revisions, submissions, rejections, and research between then and now; but that’s the rough background.
What made you decide to get serious about writing?
The knowledge that my life is contingent upon some form of gainful work, and that I honestly can’t do anything else for a living but write.
In all candor, my only choices are earning a living as a professional writer, or early death. So I’d better write.
How long did it take you to write your first novel?
That’s tricky. If we’re talking Souldancer, from first draft to final draft, it took me over thirteen years.
How much time do you spend writing every day?
Four [Editor’s note: I assume he meant four hours per day], when I had the luxury of unemployment. Now I have a full time job with an unconventional schedule, so I write when I can for as long as I can.
Did the second one go faster?
To be honest, I don’t really know. I switched back and forth between the first two books over a span of sixteen years, which are now kind of a blur. I’m gonna say they took equally long to write.
The third one will definitely be finished much faster, now that I know what I’m doing.
Did you try submitting your works to any traditional or indie publishers before you self published it? If so, what was the response like?
I started submitting Nethereal right around the time that indie started becoming viable. My research was still telling me that tradpub was a smarter move—with Kindle an unproven novelty and Borders still open, I don’t think I was wrong.
Every aspiring author knows what the responses were like. They fell into two categories: nothing and “Thanks for your submission, but this just isn’t a good fit for us.”
NB: one instance of the latter type of reply came to me from some editorial intern at Tor Books. I suppose I owe him a drink.
Why did you decide to self-publish?
I’m not one of those guys who tried to break in for years before finally throwing up my hands and uploading a stack of unsold manuscripts to Amazon. Nor do I think that all publishers are in league with Satan.
For me, whether to go traditional or indie is a purely mercenary decision. I was still shopping Nethereal around to agents and editors until quite recently.
I kept doing my homework throughout the submissions process, and it was the hard data presented on sites like Author Earnings and A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing that ultimately won me over to the indie side.
It was still a tough call, but now the numbers overwhelmingly support self-publishing. The market shares of tradpub and indie have flipped over the past two years. The only publishers who are likely to weather the storm are reader and author-centric houses like Baen and Castalia.
What’s been the hardest part of self-publishing for you?
Marketing. Like most authors, I’m an introvert. Then again, the idea that traditional publishers’ marketing departments handle all of their authors’ promotions is simply false. All authors bear the primary burden of promoting themselves these days, so marketing is a difficult aspect of publishing in general; not just indie.
For us other indie authors, what’s been the most effective method of marketing your books?
Because I started from scratch with no advertising budget, I couldn’t build a highly effective platform right out of the gate. To compensate for my lack of resources, I got more prominent folks to lend me their platforms.
To be clear, this doesn’t mean sponging off of others. I always make a good faith effort to offer people something of value, however small, before asking them for help. If you want an author higher on the totem pole to promote your book, promote one of his first. Before seeking a guest spot on a podcast, review one of their episodes.
Of course, I’m still slowly building my own platform; improving my blog and expanding my social media following. The end goal is to make these traffic sources self-sustaining, but it takes patience.
What’s been the least effective thing that you’ve tried?
Promoted tweets. You may as well just burn the money—and I’m not the only one saying this.
[Editor’s note: I’ve had exactly the same experience. Promoted tweets are a total waste of money.]
Tune in tomorrow for the third and final part, where we discuss Brian’s life and how he came to be involved in the Superversive science fiction movement and the Sad/Rabit Puppies campaigns.
A few days ago I asked 2016 Campbell Award nominee Brian Niemeier if he’d be willing to submit to an e-mail interview for the readers of this blog. He’s graciously agreed, and he’s taken the time to answer a rather lengthy series of questions. To avoid the dreaded “TL;DR” kiss of death, I’ve divided the interview into three parts. This first part focuses on Mr. Niemeier’s most well known work, the Soul Cycle series. The second part focuses on writing and Mr. Niemeier’s experiences therein. The third and final part focuses on Brian himself. Without further ado, here’s the first part. Text in bold is mine. The rest is Mr. Niemeier’s, presented exactly as he gave it to me.
Congratulations on the Campbell Award nomination!
Thanks! I didn’t become an author for validation, but it’s encouraging to know that people are getting value out of my writing. The readers are my bosses, so a Campbell nomination is like the ultimate employee of the year award.
Where did the inspiration for The Soul Cycle come from?
My influences don’t overlap much with other authors in my genre. I drew inspiration from some classic SF books and films, but the rest is mostly 90s anime, JRPGs, and tabletop RPGs. I’d also be remiss not to credit my otaku and gamer friends for helping me refine my ideas and giving me several new ones (see my books’ acknowledgments).
Which works and authors would you say influenced the series?
In terms of classic SFF: Frank Herbert’s Dune and H.P. Lovecraft’s Dream Cycle. Also Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”.
A partial list of other influences includes: Star Wars, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Dante’s Divine Comedy, Ghost in the Shell, Akira, The Sandman by Neil Gaiman—especially Season of Mists. Folks have pointed out similarities between Nethereal and Outlaw Star, but I already had the story sketched out before I watched the series.
What was your favorite moment of the series to write?
My series highlight moment is a sequence one-third of the way into Souldancer. Unfortunately, it doesn’t lend itself to spoiler-free description. I’ll just say that it’s a confrontation between the dual protagonists, when both characters lay all their cards on the table.
What was the hardest part of the series for you to write?
The same scene mentioned above. I don’t know how many revisions it took, but finally getting that scene right (with Jagi’s help) is what convinced me that the book was finally ready for release.
The story seemed to me to have a heavy influence from Dante’s Divine Comedy. Is that real or am I imagining it?
Good eye! Nethereal’s hell is informed by the Inferno, but it’s not a 1:1 reproduction. Each of the Nine Circles is associated with a particular vice, but not the same as in Dante’s hell.
How many more books do you plan for the series?
Two more after Souldancer, which will make the Soul Cycle a quadrilogy.
Can you give us a hint of what we should expect in the next book(s)?
I’m writing the first draft of Book III right now. Since Nethereal and SD have set everything up, expect an even more fast-paced story that’s much heavier on action. The fantasy and horror elements will still be there, but it’s predominantly a space opera.
Book IV takes place a couple of centuries after Book III. My readers can rest assured that I know where the series is headed, and I think they’ll find the conclusion satisfying.
Do you have plans for any more novels outside of The Soul Cycle?
I have the first draft of a fantasy novella that I need to go back and revise in the near future. The plan is to flesh it out to novel length. I’ll keep you all posted.
Oh, and I’ve probably got enough background material for four Soul Cycle prequels.
For those of us anxious to read it, can you tell us when we should expect your next novel?
My new day job is slowing my writing down, but I’m well into the first draft. When that’s done, I’ll go back and revise it; then hand the second draft to my beta readers. I’ll revise again based on their reactions, send draft three to Jagi, and do the final draft based on her notes. When the art and formatting are done, it’s time to launch.
My goal is to release two novels per year. I’m confident I can meet that schedule in 2016.
Tune in tomorrow for Part 2, in which Brian gives the best answer I’ve ever heard for the question, “what made you get serious about writing?”