Today I have Christian Schoon, author of Zenn Scarlett, for an interview. Welcome Christian!
Tell us about yourself and why you wanted to become an author.
My motley past includes spending my senior year of high school as an exchange student in Sweden, followed by working my way thru college in a series of rock bands and acting with a touring theatre company, followed by stints as an in-house copywriter at the Disney studios in Burbank, then freelance work as a scriptwriter in LA (Power Rangers, animated Batman, Hanna-Barbera’s Gravedale High & others). More recently, I’ve begun writing young adult books, living in Iowa where I help rescue and re-hab neglected horses and exotic beasties like black bears, mountain lions, pythons, alligators and other critters. I’ve almost always been an active writer in one way or another, and after my volunteer work with animals collided with my long-term sci fi obsession, Zenn Scarlett’s adventures were a natural result. Plus, I love the whole idea of crafting an entire universe from little digital pixelated scribble marks that then end up deposited on processed sheets of dried wood pulp.
What is your greatest achievement?
Well, I married smart, so there’s that. But creatively, the Zenn Scarlett series of books is something that I’m proud of to the point of being just a tad annoying.
What keeps you awake at night?
We have many cats living in the house. They all want to sleep on the bed. You do the math. Otherwise, I worry a lot about what humans are doing to the planet and all the other creatures trying to survive our short-sighted tenure here. We need to be way nicer, in all kinds of ways. Seriously.
How would you like to be remembered?
As the author who created a book series that inexplicably generated a sudden global wave of benign tolerance, open-mindedness and goodwill in all of humanity that miraculously transformed the Earth into an ecologically sustainable paradise devoid of hatred and cruelty and suffering and war and online trolls.
What is your favorite quote and why?
“I have no doubt that in reality the future will be vastly more surprising than anything I can imagine. Now my own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.” J.B.S. Haldane (also attributed to A.S. Eddington, but my money’s on Haldane)
I like it because, you know, it’s almost certainly true. And for an SF writer, it’s this central premise that lets us propose future realities that are as exotic as can be conceived of, and yet, internally consistent and credible.
Who is your favorite author and why?
Philip Pullman, because his take on fantasy world-building and characterization is so incredibly cool.
What is the scariest part about writing and publishing a book? What is the most rewarding?
That your writing will suck. That’s pretty scary. And the reward: a reader who says something like “Whoa. Never read anything that transported me outa this world like THAT before!” and mean it in a good way.
How has your previous life experiences helped shape your writing?
When I worked at Disney, a big part of my job was writing the back-of-box marketing synopsis, taglines and other copy for movies being released on home video. So, that meant I had 150 to 200 words to say everything about a film that would not only honestly represent the movie but also convince someone to buy or rent it. And that makes you be super economical with your words. I also wrote lyrics for some of the bands I played in. That gave me a feel for and appreciation of the poetry of language and conjuring imagery to evoke a certain emotion or response, again using very few words. Then there was the challenge of writing Zenn’s prickly relationship with the arrogant trouble-magnet Liam Tucker. For that, I simply called on my experience as an all-American boneheaded junior high school kid who fell spectacularly in love-so-epic-it-can-never-die, got his heart pulled out and torched to a cinder with a flame-thrower, thought he would die but somehow didn’t, and then fell into the next love-vortex and did it all over again. Hey, write what ya know, right? (Actually, this isn’t necessarily good advice. Sometimes, you gotta write what you know absolutely zip about. But if you do, you need to make an extra effort to camouflage the fact you don’t know jack. Bit of a conundrum….)
Where did your inspiration for Zenn Scarlett come from?
Zenn Scarlett was inspired by the volunteer work I do with various animal welfare groups and the wonderful animals – mammal, reptile, avian – that I was able to interact with. I’m also friends with the veterinarian who helps take care of our animals here on the farm and who runs a shelter for exotic animals. Her work healing this wide range of creatures also fed into my early thoughts about a book about the adventures of a young exovet.
Did Disney help contribute to any part of the writing? The genre or other ideas?
Not really. By the time I started thinking about Zenn, I’d been gone from Disney for over a decade. But as I mentioned above, my work as a writer at the Mouse House helped me hone my craft in general. And this one time, as part of what they call the Disney Way One managerial training, I got to dress up as Eeyore at the Disneyland park in Anaheim and go out and mingle with the public and the sheer, pure, industrial-strength love that kids radiated when they spotted that donkey was more awesome than I can even describe. The minders actually had to come out and tell me three times that it was time to stop and come back inside. If nothing else, it showed me in concrete terms the impact a well-crafted character can have on young minds.
What has been the toughest criticism? What has been the best component?
The hardest criticism for me to take was when an early reader of the story responded with “This isn’t ready to be published. At least, not by me.” Now, the truth was that this person was absolutely 100% can’t-argue-with-it right. The book was entirely too raw and I shouldn’t have been submitting it all, to anyone. But it was still tough to hear. In retrospect, of course, I’m glad they said it. It made me dig back in and start the revision process that the story clearly had to go through. The best component for me came when I got an email from my eventual agent saying “This is kind of like some other good sci fi stuff out there, but it’s also completely fresh and different and I want to help you get it published.”
What is the best writing advice you can give?
Sit down and write. Every day. Write lots. Then revise what you’ve written and get opinions from people who can be objective. Not your friends or family. Not some pretend “agent” who asks for money to read your stuff and makes promises that sound too good to be true. Find people who have no vested interest in being nice to you. This may all sound simple, but it can be hard to achieve. But you’ll know down deep when you’re getting honest feedback. Don’t stop till you get it. Then, decide what changes will help the writing, toss the rest, and write and re-write some more. There are no guarantees, of course. Maybe you’ll write great and powerful wordage and no one will notice. But percentage-wise, if you write good material, it’ll find its audience. Persevere.
Thanks for your time. Great advice and awesome insights into your book world.
I grew up in Luverne, Minnesota, population roughly 4,500. (My family
and closer friends would argue with the growing up claim.) Spent my
senior year of high school in Sweden as a foreign exchange student. (I
lived in a Stockholm suburb called Djursholm: “Animal Island.”) During
various breaks and wanderings-off in college, I did some acting, toured
with a theatre troupe, sang lead, played bass and/or wrote lyrics for a
number of rock bands (two of them pretty decent, one of them opened for
Santana), shingled roofs, sold Halloween costumes, wrote for a med
school paper. After ten years, I ended up with a degree from the School
of Journalism at the U of Nebraska, moved to L.A., bounced around, got
my first serious writing job at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank,
spent a few years there, went out on my own as a freelancer, wrote
entertainment industry ads, trailers, DVD box copy, etc., cranked out
scripts for a number of kids/teens TV shows, moved from L.A. to Iowa
(!), wrote my first books, landed a skilled and resourceful literary
agent (that would be Adam Schear of DeFiore and Co., New York), was
elated to see my Young Adult science fiction series sold to Strange
Chemistry, new imprint of one of the most admired indy genre publishers
in the solar system. And… here we are.
These days, my wife Kat and I live in a rambling Victorian farmhouse
on 11 acres of rolling Iowa prairie, where we ride herd on three
ferrets, a rotating cast of about a dozen rescued horses and/or donkeys
and one busy little Aussie-mix mutt named Django (the guitar virtuoso,
not the Tarantino film). When
not SF-ing, I continue to write marketing materials for the
dreadwizards of the entertainment industry. I’m also a member of several
awesomely awesome local animal welfare groups who re-hab wildlife, work
to humanely reduce feral cat populations through Trap/Neuter/Release
programs and periodically schlep stuff or do some writing for the
groups. Part of this involves providing barns, sheds, corrals,
enclosures and other spaces on our farm for temporary housing of
everything from full-grown black bears and cougars, to orphaned coyotes,
raccoons, possums, feral cats, the occasional white tail fawn and,
rescued from some over-eager barn cats, one very cool least weasel.
Goodreads | Amazon | Author blog | Twitter: @cjschoon
Zenn Scarlett debuts in the U.S. on May 7, 2013, in the UK on May 2; published by Strange Chemistry, the new Young Adult imprint at Angry Robot Books.