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Ken Scholes: Ambushed by Story
posted 30 March 2009
Ken Scholes was born in Seattle and grew up mostly in "a little logging town 20 miles from Mount Rainier." He served in the Naval Reserve and the Army, briefly attended community college, then worked as a traveling minister and musician. He was pastor at a small church while earning a degree in history from Western Washington University. In 1994 he left the ministry and worked various jobs, including a decade in non-profit management, before settling into a civil service position in government contracts and procurement.

Scholes began publishing with "The Taking Night" (2000) and has published almost 30 stories in Talebones, Clarkesworld, Weird Tales, Realms of Fantasy, and other magazines and anthologies. Notable short work includes "Edward Bear and the Very Long Walk" (2001), Writers of the Future third prize winner "Into the Blank Where Life Is Hurled" (2005), novelette Last Flight of the Goddess (2006), and "Summer in Paris, Light from the Sky" (2007). His short stories have been gathered in Long Walks, Last Flights and Other Strange Journeys (2008).

Story "Of Metal Men and Scarlet Thread and Dancing with the Sunrise" (2006) is set in the world of fantasy series The Psalms of Isaak, and forms part of his debut novel Lamentation (2009). At least four additional volumes -- Canticle, Antiphon, Requiem, and Hymn -- are forthcoming.

He lives in St. Helens, Oregon, with his wife, Jen West Scholes, married 2004.
Photo by Beth Gwinn

Excerpts from the interview:

“My first baptism into story was watching Speed Racer every day when I was three or four. I grew up completely ambushed by story and found it a great place to hide. Speed Racer, UFO, Space: 1999, Star Trek, Land of the Giants, Time Tunnel.... I would watch all these amazing science fiction and fantasy shows, but I didn't really like books until third grade or so. My mom and stepfather would go junking to secondhand stores on a pretty regular basis, and one day my stepfather brought home a couple of science fiction books: Trapped in Space by Jack Williamson and Runaway Robot by Lester del Rey. I took Trapped in Space and climbed up into the crook of a weeping willow tree, and it absolutely morphed me into a different person. It was way better than a 30-minute shot of Speed Racer or an hour of Star Trek.

“I was hooked and from that point on, everywhere I went I had books. I read everything! Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Tom Swift, media tie-ins, plus science fiction and fantasy -- Tolkien and Heinlein and Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising; all of these grabbed me. And then I discovered Ray Bradbury and Stephen King. I think Bradbury's Martian Chronicles was on TV, and then I got the book. I read R is for Rocket, S is for Space, and all the other collections and novels.”


“After I won Writers of the Future, I was starting to treat writing as a business and had left nonprofit management because it took up too much brain space. I got a job processing government contracts where I didn't have to think a lot. I took my laptop to work and wrote stories on my lunch breaks. When Lenox Avenue was doing a Mechanical Oddities issue, the first line of what would become 'Of Metal Men and Scarlet Thread and Dancing with the Sunrise' came into my head. I had no idea what the story was; I just knew, 'There's my mechanical oddity: Isaak the metal man.' It's basically Rudolfo's point of view in Lamentation, when he first meets Isaak.

“When I finished it, they had already filled up Lenox Avenue, but Realms of Fantasy took it. I never really thought much of that story, but now I think it may be one of the first times when I fell into my voice as a writer.”


“I had all these people telling me it was time to write a novel, but the ones who convinced me were my wife Jen and my pal Jay. They took me to dinner on September 11, 2006, and finally started debunking all of my excuses. Jay said, 'I think you write fast when you want to. If you can finish a first draft before World Fantasy, I will take you around and introduce you to everybody I know that could possibly want to look at it.' When I fell back into the age-old excuse men come up with, about how they won't be able to help out around the house so much if they're completely buried in writing a book, Jen said, 'I think you can do this too, and it's only six and a half weeks -- I'll handle it.'

“It was a grueling experience, because I was so afraid and I'd never done anything like it before. Jen noted that it was a lot like having a whole relationship experience crammed into six weeks -- honeymoon, fights, breaking up, making up with my book. But I wrote in every gap I had: early in the morning, on my lunch break at work, in the evening, on weekends, in the car (if we were making trips of more than an hour, she'd drive so I could write).

“It took six and a half weeks to write that first draft, and I think two and a half weeks to revise it. For revision, I just had to write a couple of chapters I'd forgotten, important pieces that really made the story. "Jay had said as soon as I was finished he would set up drinks with his agent, Jennifer Jackson. And that's how I got the agent I wanted. In October 2007 she called, saying Beth Meacham had taken Lamentation for Tor -- just 13 months after that dare took place. Earlier I had been thinking it might be a trilogy, but the way my first readers were raving about the manuscript I started thinking, 'Could this be a five-book series?' And Tor gave me a contract for five books, with an option on a sixth, based just on what they read in Lamentation. I was flabbergasted!”


“So much of my fiction isn't fiction; it's dealing with conflicts, with fears, with loves. It's the soup of my subconscious. I take inciting events and losses in my characters' lives from a lot of conflicts inside myself. I just have a muscle in me that processes life through story. Along the way, I learn things about myself that I wouldn't learn otherwise, and I learn things about the world I live in that I wouldn't necessarily learn otherwise. I tell people that writing for me is a lot like putting my underpants on my head and letting everybody see it. You wouldn't know it, I think, to read it. But people who know me will read my stories and see the stuff I'm processing.”

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