Fellow author Brent Nichols was kind enough to drop by Krogfiction for an interview. His short story The Gears of Justice will appear in the soon to be released Dark Oak Press anthology Capes and Clockwork.
Brent Nichols is a writer and technical trainer based out of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He wrote his first novel (a bad one) in 1988, and has been learning the writing game ever since. He's had stories placed in a number of anthologies, including Edge Press's steampunk/kung fu mashup Shanghai Steam and Bundoran Press's Blood and Water, as well as Capes and Clockwork. He is the author of the Gears of a Mad God novella series currently available wherever fine ebooks are sold, and available as paperbacks from Amazon. When he isn't writing he hikes and bikes and hangs out with his wife Tammy, who is far better than he deserves. Look for him online at steampunch.com.
1) Why do you write?
That's a good question, and a lot of glib answers come to mind. I write because the voices in my head won't shut up otherwise. I write because I must. Because I'm not cut out for proper employment. Because it beats working for a living.
On a more serious note, I think that part of the reason is that storytellers, novelists, made a big impression on me as a child. Reading was my escape from a dreary life, and authors had a tremendous impact on my life. People who died before I was born were affecting the way I thought, the way I viewed the world. I didn't think about the authors much, but on some level, they were my heroes. In my life, they were the people with power and influence. I admired them. I wanted to wield that kind of power.
Not everyone is affected much by storytellers, but I certainly was. They were magicians, alchemists, forming emotions and perspectives out of paper and smears of ink. Authors had real status in my world, and I naturally wanted to emulate them.
Beyond that, I am by nature inclined to tell myself stories anyway, so why not write them down? To share those stories with other people brings me a giddy delight and a fierce sense of pride. For me, writing is quite rewarding, and now that I'm finding an audience, I couldn't possibly stop.
2) What is the purpose of writing fiction?
Fiction hasn't got just one purpose. Fiction entertains. Everything else that fiction does is somewhat secondary, because if we're not being entertained, we aren't going to go along for the ride and reap any of the other benefits. No one will sit still for very long to take in a lecture, or a sermon, or a stern talking-to.
Fiction shows us new worlds, new perspectives, new ideas, new ways of looking at things. I grew up with a lot of narrow-minded, racist, foolish people around me, and I gained some measure of wisdom and tolerance and perspective and worldliness from the role models I found in fiction. As a youth I was a better person than my environment would seem to allow for. As a young man I sought diversity in people and places and experiences, because the fiction I consumed told me there was a broad, fascinating, wild world out there.
Fiction lets us experience emotions that aren't there in our day-to-day lives. When I'm full of rage and frustration I read about Conan or Jack Reacher destroying their enemies, and I feel better. I don't have to lash out at the moron beside me on the train. Fiction brings me catharsis.
I read about Robinson Crusoe, alone on his empty island, or the Count of Monte Cristo in his cell, and it enriches my relationship with my wife. I don't have to lose her to realize how much she means to me. My authors have shown me what life would be like without her. I don't have to make dreadful mistakes in my personal relationships. I've got fictional characters to do that for me, and I learn from their blunders. I know what it feels like to lose control, give in to rage, and cause irreparable harm. I didn't have to hurt someone to feel it, either.
Fiction broadens our horizon. I'm less likely to hold "those people" (whatever group you choose) in contempt, or fear them, or hate them. I've spent time with stranger people by far, from the farthest corners of the Earth to the distant past to other planets. Everyone has something of an "us and them" mentality, but for readers, "us" is a much bigger, more diverse group.
3) Where do you find inspiration for writing?
Stories are all around us. I don't have time to write down every tale that occurs to me. I have a constant urge to take the people around me, their stories, my own experiences, and flights of fancy, and melt them all together in the crucible of my imagination and turn them into something powerful and compelling and moving. I don't have to look for inspiration. I marinate in it.
On another level, I'm inspired by all of the arts. Music, painting, sculpture, all of it, when it's done well, fills me with a kind of sweet envy. I want to elicit the same emotions, create the same beauty or heartache or sweet yearning. I want to do with words what someone else does with a guitar or a chisel and mallet.
Other writers, of course, inspire me as well. The good writers make me want to reach their heights. Poor writers make me want to show off what I can do. All of them inspire me to be part of the vast literary quilt that wraps warm and rich around the shoulders of our culture.
4) Without spoiling the plot, what inspired you to write your story for Capes and Clockwork?
I'm fascinated by the potential of steampunk, by the way it embraces technology at an accessible level. Try taking apart your iPad some day and tinkering with it. There's really nothing you can do, no matter how clever you are. The technology of the nineteenth century, however, was within the reach of a person of sufficient intelligence and determination. I can imagine tinkering with a steam engine, or using the parts of a fountain pen to jury-rig an adjustment to a spring-propelled brass toy.
I'm less fond of Victorian England. I have nothing against the foggy gas-lit streets of London, but steampunk shouldn't be geographically constrained. "The Gears of Justice" took me to the mean streets of 1885 Vancouver and a Canadian take on steampunk and crime. Vancouver, it turns out, was a fascinating place in 1885. The more research I did, the richer the story became. That's the beauty of steampunk. It lets us mine the fascinating wonders of the past without being constrained by exact historical detail. I can write about the Great Vancouver Fire as it actually happened, and its impact on a team of masked crime-fighters who only exist in my mind.
5) Who is your favorite author? Why?
How can anyone have one favorite author? I admire George RR Martin for his fascinating, astoundingly complex characters who demand to be loved or hated or both, and make my own characters, and those of most authors I've read, seem thin and inconsequential. I hail Heinlein, who showed us mankind at its best, with people who were smart and resourceful and above all competent, doing what needed doing, and doing it well, in an endless variety of fascinating times and places.
Robert Jordan took the tropes of high fantasy and elevated them. His Wheel of Time books are a towering literary achievement. There are very few authors who could hold me with one story through fourteen thick volumes. He's astounding.
Spider Robinson makes me laugh out loud, and inspires me to love humanity. C.S. Forester thrills me and makes me feel like a ten-year-old boy, first discovering a wide world of adventure. David Gerrold shows me that we haven't yet begun to explore how fascinating and astonishing and thought-provoking science fiction can really be. Robert Asprin delivers high adventure and real human drama, and does it while making me laugh out loud on almost every page.
I could spend all day listing my favorite authors. They are legion.
6) What is your favorite book? Why?
Robert Louis Stevenson enriched my childhood tremendously with Treasure Island. I can't think of another book that transported me more completely. It put me on a tall ship in the wide ocean, surrounded by pirates, and I've never forgotten the experience. There are a hundred or so other contenders for favorite book, but Treasure Island is way up there.
7) Do you like to read your own work out loud to an audience?
I learned long ago to be comfortable speaking to crowds. I did standup comedy in my mis-spent early years, and I work now as a trainer, spending much of my time in front of a classroom. It lets me approach readings without the usual baggage of raw terror.
Reading my work out loud is fascinating and surprising. I get laughs where I don't expect them, praise for details I thought were insignificant. When people are silent with anticipation, or react to a particularly emotional turn of events, it's tremendously gratifying. Writing is such a solitary activity, and reading is usually done in complete disconnection from the author. Reading my work to an audience is a rare opportunity to make writing interactive, to experience my audience as they experience my words. I don't get many opportunities, but I learn from it every time, and I never fail to enjoy it.
Thank you for your time, Mr. Nichols.