A short interview with Gary Wassner
Monday, January 15, 2007
Q: Please tell me a little bit about yourself.
GW: A little bit? A pile of contradictions. I'm not anything you'd expect me
to be. It would be better if you asked my children this question.
Q: How long have you been working on the GemQuest series?
I started the first book, The Twins, in 1999. I haven't stopped for more
than four weeks since then.
Q: What draws you to the epic fantasy format?
GW: I like to close my eyes and go somewhere else. I do that when I write, even
though I take far too many of the world's problems with me. I thought I
could get away from all of that by writing fantasy. But I was wrong. I
couldn't change my nature. Then I thought I'd see the big picture and be
able to write about that. But it became very personal, very fast. Actually
from the first chapter of the first book. Fantasy always inspired me as a
child and as a young adult. I was a student and then a teacher of
philosphy, so it's no surprise. One is, in many respects, the formalization
of the other, at least as far as metaphysics and ethics are concerned. Of
course, that's a conceptual stretch, but there is a great deal of truth to
it. I could write about ideas and incorporate them into a world that
doesn't resemble this one in any way at all. I could write about the things
that are meaningful to me - ethics, choice, meaning, loyalty and compassion,
human value, nature's worth - without sounding like I was preaching or as if
I had an agenda. I don't have any agenda. I just need to work my concerns
out through stories.
I also love to write in a style and a language that people might not speak
in today, though I've refined that over the course of the series.
The fantasy genre was natural for me as an author, more natural than anything
had ever been before.
Q: What kind of research have you done for the GemQuest series?
GW: Not much, honestly, at least in any formal way. I've studied hand to hand
weapons, armor, things of that sort. The majority of my research, if you
want to call it that, involves a continuing interest in philosophy -
phenomenology, metaphysics, ethics. I've studied the art of writing too,
but in a very informal way.
Q: What prompted your decision to publish with Windstorm Creative?
GW: I come to the author's table from a very different place than many of my
contemporaries. I wanted freedom. Writing is a passion for me (I don't
mean to say that it's not for others) and I write because I love to, not
because I have to. I wasn't interested in spending years searching for an
agent and then for a publisher. I wanted to focus on continuing to write
this series. I've always had this strange fear of time catching up with me,
and I feel as if I'm always trying to out run it. I couldn't go through the
traditional process that most authors feel they have to go through in order
to build a career. I refused to be consumed by it, and I'm just not a
traditional person. My life both as a father and as a businessman, had been
successful in part because I followed my heart and pursued a very unique
path. I couldn't see changing the way I live my life at this point.
Windstorm is an author centric press. They are very organic in their
approach to the business. And they produce a good product. They approached
me and I felt that I could publish with them without the sense of big
brother watching me. I didn't want deadlines looming all around and the
added pressure of that world. I've been determined to preserve my love for
writing throughout this entire process, and that's not always easy to do.
Windstorm has allowed me to do just that.
Q: What do you consider to be the central themes of the GemQuest novels?
GW: How we make choices in our lives. For me, that's one of the major themes.
How do we evaluate situations, friendships, circumstances, and decide what
course of action to take. How we define good and evil - what it means to
each of us, the subjectivity of ethics. Is there right and a wrong in this
world, and if so, how do we justify our actions? What makes our lives
meaningful? Love? Art? Power? Family?
Q: Does writing fantasy allow you to address certain themes more easily than mainstream fiction?
GW: I've never written main stream fiction, but I always assumed fantasy would
make it easier. It's easier for me to incorporate poetry and poetic
techniques in my fantasy series than it would be for me in a modern day
novel. It's easier to personify good and evil in fantasy. Anything is
possible and I'm not restricted to the circumstances of everyday life in
order to communicate my ideas. If I want my characters to have visions,
they can have them. If I want them to be telepathic, they can be. There
are no limits to the possible in fantasy, and I can let my story go and not
feel that it's getting out of control. There is no control, only
Q: What other works do you have in the pipeline?
GW: I've been writing a lot of children's books recently, mysteries, fantasies,
adventures. And I have a novel in the works dealing with murder behind the
runway in the fashion world. I'm also collaborating with a literature
professor on a book about our very different paths to fantasy. She's a
science fiction scholar who pioneered feminist SF criticism.
Q:What kind of advice do you have for a prospective author?
GW: You have to love what you are doing. If you don't, then you won't make it
through the process. Your writing has to be paramount. Write what you
believe in and don't try to write to a trend or for an agent or a publisher.
Agents come and go, editors move on, publishers add and drop authors and
ideas all the time. What's popular today won't necessarily be popular
tomorrow. Your writing has to fulfill you if you contemplate making it
something you intend to do as a profession. And don't have any illusions
about it. Once you complete the manuscript, the work isn't over. Be
prepared. Find the people in the industry you can trust, whose writing you
respect, and listen to their advice. I've learned more from a few of my
fellow authors than from anyone else in this industry. Search out the
honest ones, the ones who haven't been blinded by the lights, and listen to
Q: How do you balance the demands of writing, having a day job and having a family?
GW: I'm compulsive and obsessive. (laughs) I love the things I spend my time on.
I choose to write. I choose to spend time with my family. I choose to work
during the day. Balancing it all has never been a problem. Each aspect of
my life supports and enhances the others.
Q: While a series, each GemQuest novel is somewhat stand-alone. Was this a deliberate choice?
GW: No. It wasn't. I had no idea that there was going to be more than one book,
when I began writing. As I write, each story seems to come together by
itself and reach a resolution by the end of the book. I don't outline and
plan. I write and the story happens. But I love it when the pieces fall
together midway through, and I begin to see the end. It's like a roller
coaster ride for me. I go up and down and up and down, and then I start to
go way up and up and up. When I can just about see the top of the final
peak, I start to imagine what it will be like when I reach the summit. As
soon as I can see it, it's pure joy. I reach it, cross it, and the downhill
run to the conclusion is the most exhilirating of the whole trip.
Q: In general, what do you think is the appeal of fantastic fiction?
GW: It's different for everyone. I read so many readers' comments about it.
For some it's the escape, for some the philosophy, for some the poetry, and
for some it's the adventure - the battles, the swords and the wars. And I'm
sure there's a multitude of reasons I haven't mentioned. I loved reading
fantasy because it was a very emotional experience for me. I was moved by
the heroism and the compassion. I saw a movie this weekend, a very
traditional story based upon a true situation, and there were moments when
my heart was in my throat and my eyes welled up with tears.......but out of
joy. It was so human, so endearing, and the triumph against all odds was
uplifting. That's what fantasy did for me.
Q: You're very active in the online communities devoted to fantastic
fiction. How has this activity affected your work and your career?
GW: I'm not sure, to be honest, but I know it's been of great assistance to me.
I've met some truly wonderful people through my online presence. Writing is
a very lonely profession. I stay connected this way. But it's the
relationships that I've made that endure beyond the blogs and forums that
are truly meaningful. In fact, some of them have been invaluable to me as
an author. Sometimes I think though that I'm too honest online. It feels
private, but it's so not private at all!
Q: They say we wear our influences on our sleeves; what are some of the
influences on your sleeve?
GW: Nietzsche, no doubt. Leonard Cohen. I have to say Tolkien, (I read him
when I was at a very impressionable age) because he made me realize that I
can incorporate outrageous, imaginary creatures in my books and not seem
foolish and feel as if I have to apologize for my choices. For me, he
validated my imagination.
Q: You've participated in several science fiction conventions. What is
your impression of these gatherings of fans?
GW: Actually, I've only been to a few. I go to WFC each year and I thoroughly
enjoy it. It's not a fan based convention and I'm not sure it's typical of
the conventions in the genre. I went to Glasgow last summer, but I didn't
spend that much time at the Con. I was on vacation.