Sunday, October 13, 2013

Feature Interview: Author Brandon Black


Brandon Black, author
Brandon Black is a New Orleans based writer, publisher, and editor of steampunk science fiction and fantasy, in spite of the fact that he does not wear a spiffy monocle or handlebar mustache. He has contributed work to such anthologies as DREAMS OF STEAM III: GADGETS and is the editor and publisher of newly released steampunk anthology, NEW ORLEANS BY GASLIGHT. He was kind enough to sit down for an interview in my posh airship, The Doomtown...which has a striking resemblance to my living room in my apartment in Metairie.






KARMA GIRL: I’m going to give you my usual UNUSUAL DISCLAIMER.


BRANDON BLACK: Okay.


KG: Ladies and gentlemen, this is Karma Girl, your chief stewardess on the good dirigible, Doomtown. On behalf of our drunken captain and our legally insane crew, welcome aboard! At this time, we request that all compact telecommunicatorial pods, individual portable auditory musical storage devices, and aetherial adventure simulation machines be turned off for the full duration of the flight, as these items might interfere with the navigational and communication equipment on this airship.


BRANDON: (Interviewee turns off compact telecommunicatorial pod.)


KG: We remind you that this is a non-smoking flight, so please refrain from lighting pipes and hookahs until we land, as we wish to make it to port without blowing ourselves to bits. In case of crash landing, parachutes are available for our first class patrons. Everyone else will be required to place their head between their knees and kiss their ass goodbye. Upgrades to first class are available...for a small fee.


Thank you Brandon for agreeing to this flight...I mean, this interview.


BRANDON: Well, I’m rethinking that now.


KG: (Interviewer laughs maniacally) Okay, first question. Who is Brandon Black? What are his hopes, his dreams, his humble origins, and does he have an arch nemesis?


BRANDON: I don’t have an arch nemesis. Not yet. I used to have one. I had the best arch nemesis a boy could have. Scott Smith. He was the greatest Klingon Captain of star fleet battles ever. He was brilliant. He was ruthless. He would mark off a crew unit from his crew. He would kill ten of his own crew anytime they missed with the heavy disruptors. He would lure us into all sorts of traps. He taught us tactics the way Napoleon taught his enemies tactics-by beating the living shit out of them over and over and over again. And because he did such a great job of role playing a Klingon, you really, really felt like you were fighting the good fight and saving the Federation and all that kind of stuff. Yeah, it was a great time in my life.


KG: Your arch nemesis is a Klingon named Scott? (Insert raised eyebrow here)


BRANDON: Well, the player was named Scott. He never had an actual Klingon name. But yes. A Klingon named Scott.


KG: Hail Scott! (Beating chest in a manly fashion)


BRANDON: He wore glasses. He was a classic Klingon. This was before head ridges and all that.


KG: Now you know, if ever I do any kind of role playing, if I play Star Trek...I’m going to make a Klingon named Scott. It’ll just be too good to pass up.


Your chosen genre appears to be steampunk.


BRANDON: Yes.


KG: Can you explain what exactly is steampunk, and how did you become interested in this genre?


BRANDON: Steampunk is science fiction from how we perceive a Victorian viewpoint might be. There’s a difference between actual Victorian science fiction-written by Jules Verne and H.G. Wells-and steampunk. Steampunk is our...going back and viewing things from a Victorian perspective and applying that to science fiction.


How did I get involved in steampunk? You can do anything you want in steampunk. Anything at all. There are authors who found that they were competing with themselves. That if you wrote a western and your western was really well received, from that point on your publisher wants you to write westerns. Your fans want you to write westerns. So if you turn around and write this period romance under the same name, you’re going to get fans that are mad. And they are going to go on Amazon.com, and they are going to write bad reviews ‘cause they didn’t like a book they knew they weren’t going to like before they picked it up. And so authors have like, you know, two pen names...three pen names, if they are very prolific writers who write in different fields because they don’t want...a name becomes a label, like a brand name, and you don’t want to have this brand be mistaken for that brand, even though it’s the same person…


Yeah, but in steampunk, if I want to write a science fiction story, I can write a steampunk story that’s science fiction. If I want to write a steampunk with magic, I can write steampunk fantasy. If I want to write a steampunk romance or steampunk erotica or steampunk horror, I can do anything I like.


KG: So it’s a versatile genre?


BRANDON: Yes, incredibly so.


Dreams of Steam III: Gadgets
KG: You submitted a story for an anthology, DREAMS OF STEAM III: GADGETS called "Time and the Wrinkled Prostitute", a story not about an aging whore and her exploits-and for that I’m grateful-but a prostitute who is accidentally trapped in a time traveling device. Where did you get the idea for this story, and how did you come up with the title?


BRANDON: Most of your time travel stories involve a scientist or the developer of the machine being flung forward through time. Even Back To the Future, eventually Doc, you know, travels through time himself, builds a time traveling train, etc., etc. So it occurred to me what if the story was from the scientist’s point of view, but he wasn’t the one that was traveling through time. Somebody who wasn’t a scientist and had absolutely no technical ability was the one that was in dire straights, being flung from one time period to another. And that’s where I got the basic idea.


There’s a famous story called A WRINKLE IN TIME which is where the idea of a tesseract was introduced into science fiction. We would say a wormhole. But that was basically what happens in my story. The scientist, he perceives time as these independent streams flowing all around each other, and he basically [has] a wrinkled knot so there are several of these streams that are all in one place converging. And she gets caught in that wrinkled knot. And thus, as you say, it’s not about an aging prostitute. It’s about her having become wrinkled, by passing through the wrinkled knot.


KG: Does she get paid extra for that?


BRANDON: I think she deserves to be paid extra for that. And she winds up fabulously wealthy, so...


KG: It works out.


BRANDON: It does work out.


New Orleans by Gaslight
KG: NEW ORLEANS BY GASLIGHT, a locally produced steampunk anthology, was released in May of this year. Can you tell us more about this project, and were any prostitutes harmed in the making of said anthology?


BRANDON: No, no prostitutes were harmed. None were hired. Or were recruited in any way, shape, or form...since this is being recorded...(Interviewee leers suspiciously)


KG: So say you.


BRANDON: Yep. Yes, officially…(Interviewee leers even more suspiciously). So say I.


The project...it’s really hard to explain in just a few words. I worry. I worry, and I’m told I’m a bit paranoid. And so I have a tendency to want to test out some of my more elaborate ideas before implementing them. I had the idea of doing an anthology and then it occurred to me, I need to tell people what sort of stories I’m looking for. And so, I started trying to put together a set of writer’s guidelines. I did research. I went to some of the most influential and largest magazines on the planet and looking at their writer’s guidelines and what they were offering. Almost universally, they offered next to nothing at all. The New Yorker, The Atlantic, your largest non-science fiction magazines almost all say, “Buy a copy and read it and you’ll know what sort of stuff we print.” And I’m like, “Well, that’s really helpful!”


KG: That’s a scam right there.


BRANDON: Some magazines will offer to send you a cheaper version. You can buy one as a review example copy, yes.


KG: One they’re about to throw away I bet.


BRANDON: I started writing a set of writer’s guidelines for a steampunk anthology set in New Orleans, solving the problems I could anticipate-mainly, how was I going to have authors deal with the issue of slavery and the Confederacy and all that, especially since that’s a pretty depressing subject, and steampunk is a very optimistic genre. And so, I came up with what I thought would be a nice solution, but I didn’t want to force it on anybody. So I said, “Do what you want. Here’s a suggestion.” I posted these prototype guidelines to Facebook and asked my friends what they thought of it, and it just sort of...I lost control at that point. People loved it, thought the idea was fantastic, started telling other people about it. It was like, “Oh well, I’m working on my story now!” And I’m like, “Uhh...I’m just trying to get your ideas about…” But no. It was too late.


It happened again. I just put together another set of guidelines trying to see...’cause I was afraid that if I told people, “I want to see this, this, this, and this,” that they would say, “Well, you’re stifling my creativity, and I don’t want to participate in the project where it’s just a checklist for writers.” But again, I took the attitude of, “You don’t have to do this. These are just suggestions.” And again, I hadn’t even posted the guidelines openly and I’ve already got a submission. I’ve already received the first story for the anthology.


KG: And this would be CAIRO BY GASLIGHT?


BRANDON: No, I’m referring to the FEYFIC project. FEYFIC: THE OTHER WORLD. CAIRO BY GASLIGHT...I stand corrected. You are right, actually. I have also received a poetry submission for CAIRO BY GASLIGHT, but I haven’t entirely got that all up on the internet either. It’s going to be set in Cairo.


KG: This one’s going to be set in Egypt?


BRANDON: Your story has to be set in Cairo, at least in part. It doesn’t have to be Cairo from beginning to end. It’s my philosophy that literature is not created by a formula. We’re trying to put as few restrictions on people as possible. All your story has to be is a steampunk story set at some point in Cairo, and you can take it from there.


KG: You wanted it to have a certain flavor, but if it’s gumbo, that’s okay?


BRANDON: Yes. The writer’s guidelines provide a number of possible ideas and uses of the setting to inspire people to give them ideas, but Cairo is a very exotic location. The city of minarets, the Great Pyramids, the Nile...it’s Cairo! It’s Egypt! It’s replete with story concepts and if you can tie that to steampunk, you’re good to go.


KG: What was the hardest thing about editing the last anthology (NEW ORLEANS BY GASLIGHT)? Did you have to defeat a giant squid?

(Interviewer has reason to believe giant cephalopods are Brandon's true arch nemesis. Mr. Black will neither confirm nor deny this fact.)


BRANDON: No, I did not have to defeat a giant squid. Mechanical or otherwise.


The learning curve was tough. I did not realize when I started the project how ill prepared I was for it. I had to learn advertising from basic principles. I had to arrange for a team of editors. I had to decide policy. I chose to submit my own works to the readers just like anyone else and, in fact, a poem I had put forward for the anthology was rejected. I’m not happy it was rejected, but I’m happy that I came up with a process that assured a high level of quality for the product.


KG: So there will be no vendetta?


BRANDON: No. No. I asked Cathy Chandler, who I trusted more than anybody else when it came to poetry, to be my permanent poetry editor because of that. So you could say I promoted her for it.


KG: Are there any other projects that you’re currently working on, other than CAIRO BY GASLIGHT?


BRANDON: FEYFIC: THE OTHER WORLD is an anthology about the fey and Faerie. I’m hoping it will create a new subgenre, hence the term fey-fic, and I’ve written a fey-fic manifesto to describe the attributes of that new style of fiction. That’s what I meant when I said it happened again. I posted the fey-fic manifesto to Facebook to see what people thought of it, and I got my first story, like between 5 and 6 AM the next morning.


We’re going to do more BY GASLIGHT books, of course. I’d like to do a Kickstarter. I want to do another New Orleans steampunk anthology, but I want to do a Kickstarter so that we can pay the authors, and thus, draw more stories from professional authors as well as emerging authors.


KG: To try to get some big names.


BRANDON: Yes.


KG: We have now come to that most auspicious point in the interviewing process when I ask my intended victim three unequivocally bald and undoubtedly impertinent questions, or what I like to call, THE SERIOUS THREE. Are you ready, good sir?


BRANDON: Uh...I’m as ready as I’m going to get.


KG: QUESTION #1: Who would most likely win in a fight? Captain Nemo or Victorian era Batman, Sherlock Holmes?


BRANDON: You are describing Sherlock Holmes as a Victorian era Batman? If there were a Victorian era Batman, he would win period. Over anyone. But Nemo or Sherlock Holmes? It’s a fight. Nemo’s going to win.


KG: Why do you say?


BRANDON: Nemo is a man of action. He is not..I mean if we’re talking about the actual historical characters, Sherlock Holmes is a drug addled, violin playing detective. He’s the last guy I’d want in a fight.


KG: But he’s clever.


BRANDON: (Gives the interviewer...a look) It’s a fight! [A guy] who’s got two feet on him and who’s all muscles and has a big stone is going to kill him.


KG: You’ve got a point there.


QUESTION #2: If you owned your own airship, how would you pimp your ride, what would you name it, and what would the vanity plate say?


BRANDON: My airships are basically 19th century naval pre dreadnoughts that can fly. That’s as pimped out as you need right there.


KG: So no 1960’s fins? Maybe some flames painted on the sides?


BRANDON: (Gives interviewer another...look) No. No.


KG: Some fuzzy dice hanging from the ship’s wheel?


BRANDON: Naval pennants. Flags. A crew in military dress. Yes.


KG: No Fuzzy dice.


BRANDON: No fuzzy dice.


KG: Dude. I’m so disappointed.


QUESTION #3: Where can my readers hitch a ride on the HMS Black (Facebook, Twitter, blog, port of call)? I’ve heard that you have a new blog.


BRANDON: I’ve got brandonblackonline.com. I’ve got a Brandon Black author Facebook page. Just earlier this morning I’ve created Facebook pages for CAIRO BY GASLIGHT and FEYFIC: THE OTHER WORLD, and Black Tome Books as well.


KG: Well, I shall place my monocle in my eye and say, “Pip! Pip!” and “Thank you!” and “Cheerio!”


BRANDON: If I can, please tell your readers that we have an official book signing and release party on the 15th at the East Bank Jefferson Parish library at 7PM.


KG: Alrighty, I will.

BRANDON: Thank you. That was fun.



The book signing and release party for NEW ORLEANS BY GASLIGHT is set for this Tuesday at the East Bank Regional Library at 7PM. Let's show our support by attending. Do not bring squid.

On behalf of Doomtown Dirigible Airlines and the entire drunken, insane crew, thanks for joining us and see you soon! If we don't blow ourselves up before then.
 

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