Monday, September 9, 2013

Interview: Ken Scholes author of The Psalms of Isaak series

Leaping Ken

We have an interview with Ken Scholes, author of Requiem (The Psalms of Isaak #4).  Let’s welcome him as he answers a few questions about his fantasy series. 

Faith is a major theme for your series – The Psalms of Isaak. Tell us about the role of faith within your series and how you went about creating it.

Well, faith often plays a major role in life so it seemed to me that it would translate over into a fictional setting as well. I wanted to show different worldviews in collision and I wanted to explore religion in the sandbox that fiction provides.

I have three faiths of a sort at work in the world of the Psalms of Isaak – with a fourth and possibly fifth emerging in the last volume. Requiem

The Androfrancines have been the dominant group in the Named Lands for two thousand years when the series opens. They are a group of secular humanists who’ve used the trappings of religion to create a hierarchy worshiping the light of human accomplishment that they believe will protect this last pocket of human survivors on a world decimated by continuous apocalypse. Juxtaposed against them is what they perceive as the “mystic madness” of the Marshfolk and their Dreaming Kings. The Marsh Kings have dreamed in the Named Lands of a promised home and a Home-seeker, their visions written down and kept within a massive cave.

As the series progresses, we meet the Y’Zirites, followers of the ancient Moon Wizard who established his reign and the reign of the Wizard Kings to follow. The Y’Zirites believe that the shedding of blood and the manipulation of bloodlines will ultimately heal the world and they cut the words of their gospels into their flesh as testament to their faith.

All of these worldviews provide a rich sandbox for me to explore the ideas of religion – “institutionalized faith”, if you will – being used as both a weapon and a tool within a survival-based society. In creating them, I drew a great deal from my background as both a former clergyman and a history major to find that mythic cadence and rhythm that religious beliefs have at their core.

I understand that your series is also a blend of fantasy and science fiction. Can you give us some details on this genre blending mix?

With the Psalms of Isaak, I’m telling a story that all of my protagonists would insist was fantasy but as readers progress through the series, they learn that things are not what they seem. In writing the books, I’m intentionally using the tropes of epic fantasy characters (the dashing prince, the dangerous courtesan spy, the orphan boy of promise, the hidden king) but trying to tip them on their heads into a world that, with the discovery of a robot early in the first book, seems more and more like an extrapolation on Clarke’s Third Law.

Of course, when I’m writing I’m not thinking about genre. I’m thinking about the characters and the problems they are facing and throwing whatever Leroy (my redneck muse) cooks up at the wall to see what sticks. My own tastes are wide-ranging and I read a lot of different stories across many genres. So it’s never really crossed my mind when I’ve shifted across genre borders to borrow this or that trope. I’m told the series has elements of technothriller, mystery and even literary fiction woven into it along with the obvious science fiction/fantasy elements.

Tell us about some of the female characters in the series.

The first that we meet is Jin Li Tam, the forty-second daughter of Vlad Li Tam. She and her brothers and sisters serve House Li Tam as spies with unflinchingly loyalty to their father. She is ruthless, deadly and beautiful and, until now, has been content being one of her father’s many arrows. But as events unfold, she finds herself facing a life different from any she ever imagined in a world collapsing under the weight of loss and war…and she finds herself torn between who she was made to be by her family and who she is becoming by her choices.

Winters was born into the series when my wife observed that I had a shortage of female characters in my cast. I’d fallen into a pit that many male fantasy authors fall into but this young Marsher woman helped me start my climb up and out. We know little about her when we meet her in the first book, but she takes on a central role by the second book as she balances young love, shifting faith and her role as a spiritual leader among her people during a time of growing unrest in the Named Lands.

Marta showed up and surprised me in Requiem. She is the twelve-year-old daughter of a woman killed when Windwir fell and for me, she took over the book despite how few scenes she actually has. Following her journey from that first encounter with the mysterious metal man in the forest through her later interactions with Charles to the last scene of the book really moved me (which doesn’t often happen) and I’m excited to see what awaits her in Hymn.

Of course, there are other female characters – Lynnae, Ria, Queen Meirov of Pylos, Sister Elsbet – but these are the ones that are most central to the story. I’ve been really grateful for the women in my life – including readers of the series -- who’ve taken the time to help me learn how to write better female characters. Before the Psalms of Isaak, I was largely too afraid of getting it wrong to even attempt it but this part of my evolution as a writer (and a human) has been one of my biggest takeaways from writing the series and something I’m committed constantly improving upon.

Which of your characters did you enjoy the most when writing about them?

I don’t think I had one that enjoyed more than the others. It’s a pretty even spread and an almost familial kind of love-hate relationship when I spend time with them. On a good day, I have a great time with whichever character I’m writing and am caught up in their sorrows and joys as they go about their business. On a bad day, they become unwelcome house-guests and it can get a little grueling to even see their name on my screen.

You have one more book to complete in this series of five, where do you plan to go with your writing once this series is finished?

Well, I have a few ideas. I’ve been wanting to tackle a YA urban fantasy novel. I also have another more traditional fantasy series in mind, tentatively called “Tears of the Gods.” But I’d like to take a break and do something outside of the genre, too, as I diversity my writing career.

Ken Scholes is the author of the acclaimed series The Psalms of Isaak, which comprises Lamentation, Canticle, Antiphon, and now Requiem. His short fiction has appeared in Realms of Fantasy, Polyphony 6 and Weird Tales. He is a winner of the Writers of the Future contest. Ken’s background includes service in two branches of the military, a degree in history, a brief stint as a clergyman, an even briefer stint as a label-gun repairman and over ten years experience managing nonprofit organizations. Originally from the Puget Sound area, Ken currently lives in Gresham, Oregon, with his amazing wonder-wife Jen, two cats, five guitars, and more books than you’d ever want to help him move.

Blurb for - Requiem:  Ken Scholes’s debut novel, Lamentation, was an event in fantasy. Heralded as a “mesmerizing debut novel” by Publishers Weekly, and a “vividly imagined SF-fantasy hybrid set in a distant, postapocalyptic future” by Booklist, the series gained many fans. It was followed by Canticle and Antiphon. Now comes the fourth book in The Psalms of Isaak, Requiem.

Who is the Crimson Empress, and what does her conquest of the Named Lands really mean? Who holds the keys to the Moon Wizard’s Tower?

The plots within plots are expanding as the characters seek their way out of the maze of intrigue. The world is expanding as they discover lands beyond their previous carefully controlled knowledge. Hidden truths reveal even deeper truths, and nothing is as it seemed to be.

Tor Books | June 2013 | Hardcover | 400 pages


ediFanoB said...

Thanks a lot for this interview which reminded me that I read book one in the series, bought book two and three and lost track.

Unknown said...

Hi Edi -
Sorry it has taken so long to respond. We are in England at the moment and have been traveling.

I still have yet to read book one in the series, but have found it in audio. So I have some catching up to do. I will look for your reviews of books number 2 and 3.

Thanks for commenting!

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