Saturday 20 October 2012


What is the name of your latest book, and if you had to summarise it in less than 20 words what would you say?
My latest book is the fourth book in my post-apocalyptic Demonworld series, and it’s called Shepherd of Wolves. In nineteen words: The Suicide Contracts risk their lives to save a world beyond repair, but a bloodthirsty nihilist offers a counterargument.

Who is your publisher? Or do you self-publish?
Self-publication is the way to go! For years I tried to get traditionally published. I got more rejections than I’ve ever heard of any other writer getting, by far. I couldn’t even get published by any small press short story publishers, which I always found particularly painful because those guys aren’t even out to make money – they just like publishing stuff! As for getting books published traditionally, now that I’m older I can admit that my books weren’t good enough to be published at the time. I did have potential, though, and I was a pretty creative dude, but I never got anything more than a form letter response. I eventually got traditionally published, but in a non-traditional way, by becoming a video game reviewer. I was your typical critic with a history as a failed artist, but man, I loved it – from my perspective, I was finally writing to entertain people, people enjoyed reading my stuff, and I was getting paid to do it! I learned a lot. I learned how to write faster, and I learned that sometimes the nonsense that sounds good in your head doesn’t sound so good when it’s on printed paper. I also learned a lot about how an artist can be taken advantage of; I structured my entire life around one particular game review magazine, but then it slowly became more and more obvious that my paychecks were being replaced by promises, then by outright lies, until finally I found myself deep in debt and with nothing to show for it but regret. I’d worked for ten or more years to get my big break, and when I finally got it, it burned me. I started drinking a lot. I would stay up all night playing a video game called Oblivion, which is funny because that’s what I was seeking – oblivion. I’m just grateful that self-publication and indie publishing have become power players, because I can’t imagine what I would have become otherwise. No, actually, I can imagine what I would have become: I would have ended up working one more box-moving, file-organizing, mess-cleaning job, and on my breaks I would have talked about Ursula K. Le Guin or Philip K. Dick to anyone who would listen, but otherwise I would have been a lost soul in a dark and scary world.

Do you have plans for a new book? Is this book part of a series?
I’ve always got a dozen plans, plans within plans, and more than a few fallback positions that I can run to when things don’t go according to plan. Right now I’m rewriting and cleaning up Demonworld Book 5: Lords of the Black Valley, so my Amazon readers can find out how Wodan is going to go about carving a sanctuary, a homeland, out of a hostile world ruled by monsters that want to drive humanity into extinction (or worse). In my spare time I work on the sequel to my gamebook Heavy Metal Thunder, which is called Sol Invictus. Both of those series are epic in length and scope (lucky for me I’m a workhorse), but those two series are also a part of an even greater epic that spans – get this – a twenty-six thousand year cycle. It’s like a “postmodern Mahabharata”. The great thing about this is that nobody has to know about that to enjoy any one series; at first, the connections are going to be subtle… and I mean over-the-top, in-your-face SUBTLE.

What genre would you place your books into?
Science fiction, or “speculative fiction” if you want to get all fancy. Even though science fiction is considered much more mainstream than it used to be, I think it still carries the stigma of being escapist. I take my entertainment very, very seriously. I don’t read just to pass the time, and the sci-fi that I like tends to be the stuff that has something to say about real life, or at least the aspirations and fears of real people. That’s why my favorite sci-fi giants are Ursula K. Le Guin, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Frank Herbert, and Philip K. Dick. Don’t let the spaceships and exotic aliens fool you; they’ve got a lot to say about humanity.

What made you decide to write that genre of book?
In general, I like to write about the “human condition”, but I’ll be the first to admit that that sounds vague and pretentious. While I could write a book about people in a contemporary setting dealing with one another’s small betrayals and blessings, I think that small-scale writing like that misses a great deal that’s going on in the world around us. People have blind spots, dark places that they can’t stand to look. Because of that, I think we miss out on the fact that a lot of our development has been controlled by forces we don’t understand. For instance, let’s take secret societies, or even the idea of conspiracy theories in general. A science fiction audience is a lot more forgiving with the idea that shadowy groups pull the strings of the “powers that be” that we see every day. Someone who watches Star Wars will have no trouble at all accepting that Senator Palpatine was behind the separatist rebellion because he was secretly a dark lord of the Sith, but in real life that very same audience member wants to believe that the story of America is the story of the Democrats versus the Republicans as seen on the mainstream news networks. A Democrat might accept that corporations are run by psychopaths, and a Republican might accept that lots of people in government are psychopaths, but the two can never allow themselves to think that the real enemy, the “bad guys”, are the psychopaths themselves. Some psychopaths are very intelligent and very charismatic, but what unifies them all is their lack of conscience and their bottomless hunger. They simply aren’t like the rest of us.
But the thing is, only a crazy person can think those things. You’re off-roadin’ it when you start to imagine that these guys might have their meetings behind closed doors rather than out in public.
That’s why science fiction is perfect for me. If you show the bad guys closing the doors on their meetings in the dark dystopian world of 2100 AD, it instantly becomes plausible. In science fiction, you can write about any facet of the human experience without worrying about a lot of taboo-filters that stories with contemporary settings simply won’t make it through.

Do you have a favourite out of the books you have written? If so, why is it your favourite?
I’ve written and rewritten most of my Demonworld books at least once, and one that I wrote a few years ago, but haven’t yet rewritten to make it good enough for public consumption, is Demonworld Book Six: The Love of Tyrants. It may be my favorite, at least as far as the first seven are concerned. At this point in the story, Wodan has already become so powerful that no human can stand against him. To continue walking the path toward making his dream a reality – that is, the dream of making the world a better place – he will have to confront the demons that are pushing mankind toward extinction. But they’re so powerful, and there are so many of them, that he’s not sure what to do. He knows that the old ways of thinking aren’t going to present any new ideas, so he goes on a pilgrimage to the holy land of Srila, a strange oasis high in the frozen, barren mountains.
The story walks a fine line. Most sci-fi books have a materialistic philosophy at their core, and any religious undertones usually come from a sort of scientific-spirituality, like the idea that man’s use of science and technology will eventually help him achieve godhood, or at least become something more than a brute beast. I spent about ten years as a hardcore atheist, but I’ve seen enough general strangeness to decide that the world is more complicated than is allowed within a materialistic paradigm. On top of that, I’ve seen people get excited over shiny gadgets that often end up being more frustrating than they’re worth, so I can see an element of inhumanity, or at least a lack of dignity, in the corporate iUtopia offered to people who are, let’s face it, too smart to take seriously any overly-literal religious behavior modification programs. On the other hand, there’s something really amazing about mankind’s ability to make air conditioners and turn one of Mother Nature’s most ill-conceived seasons into something tolerable, so please don’t think that I’m turning my nose up at our technical know-how.
In Demonworld Book Six, I tried to present a holy land that’s populated by the serene and the ego-oriented, seekers and know-it-alls, brutes and pacifists. Wodan, the main character, goes on a quest so odd and enlightening and brutal that it will, hopefully, be “subtly obvious” that he’s operating on more levels of existence than just this literal, material plane that we worry about so much.

Do you have a favourite character from your books? And why are they your favourite?
I’ve never been a fan of writers making their supporting characters more memorable than the main character, as if they were afraid that making the protagonist something more than a simple Everyman would completely alienate the audience. My favorite character, who I’ve been working with for quite some time now, is Wodan from the Demonworld series. He’s the hero of the series, but he’s not some brooding simpleton who does the “right thing” because he just so happens to be the hero. He’s an intense, weird little dude driven by a belief that the world can be a better place than it already is. He believes in the power of kindness but, because he lives in a dark world, his helpful nature drives him to commit brutal acts of unbelievable savagery against the powers that be. In the beginning of the series, he’s not very physically strong, so he has to be cunning to outwit his enemies. I think that heroes should be larger than life; their spark burns brighter than the average human’s, so as the series progresses and Wodan goes through a few years of fighting and surviving and helping others to help themselves, Wodan’s soul burns intensely bright. His dream of making the world a better place becomes a nightmare for the demons and psychopaths who rule the world. The stakes get higher and higher and eventually Wodan becomes like a force of nature – something beyond human, something godlike.

Would you ever ask a reviewer to change their review if it was not all positive about your books?
No way! The world is a pretty harsh place, and not all people are open to all ideas. When you’re in a life-or-death battle against the world, begging for mercy would be a show of weakness. Someone who is giving everything they’ve got toward becoming a writer, or an artist of any kind, should have already made a death-vow against begging for mercy. So far, I’ve been impressed by the all-around smartness of my readers and their positive reviews. They’re an interesting bunch, and they pick up on all kinds of stuff. They’re curious, their eyes are open, and they know how to dream.

Do you think e-books will ever totally replace printed books?
I’ve been hearing this hope and fear for years now. A lot of it is driven by this idea that technology will improve and become more shiny and convenient at an exponential rate, until we finally achieve a technological “singularity”, an idea that would never have happened if consumerism hadn’t become the One True Religion. Printed books are never going to be done away with. Gadgets are fun, and they look really nice when they first come out of the box, but they rarely work the way we want them to. Ever pulled a printed book off the shelf only to have your personal library “crash” and become unreadable? It’s extremely rare. Sure, access to Wikipedia makes owning an expensive, cumbersome set of encyclopedias kind of unnecessary, but owning printed books, and being able to count on them being there when you want them, will always be a part of how we read.

Do you think children at schools these days are encouraged enough to read and/or do imaginative writing?
I can’t say whether they are or aren’t, but I think the problem goes deeper than that. If someone in power realized that the world had become a gray, dull, hateful place, and that creativity was the solution rather than another problem to be controlled, they would just pass a law making it mandatory for children to read X number of creative books in school and levy harsh penalties against those who unwilling to “be creative”. That’s how they work. Our rulers have no understanding about the power of culture and human ingenuity. They fear everything, and they think that only their strange demands and harsh enforcement of order keep humanity from tearing itself apart.
Since the “bad guys” have already won, kids are going to have to encourage themselves and trust their own instincts about what they need. The adults can no longer be trusted. A child’s mind is hard-wired to learn and see the world as a place full of potential. A kid who loves to read has to have enough strength of character to pull twenty books off the shelves and not worry about a few dimwits who laugh at him. How else is he going to find the kinds of books he needs when he’s only sampling one genre every six months? On the other hand, a kid who’s more kinesthetically minded, and doesn’t really care about wallowing in imagination, just needs to get outside and play some rough games and not worry too much about a bunch of eggheads answering questions in class before he can. Every human has a unique identity and a path that belongs only to them. Schools try to enforce uniformity because our leaders have these weird dreams of control, but I’ve seen enough identity crises in my time to know that the human species can’t blossom into something amazing until we let go of those dreams of control and just be ourselves. Looking like an idiot is only the first step.
It’s hard for a writer to admit this, but you can’t pick up that knowledge from reading. You have to experience it first-hand.

Where can readers follow you?
People are really enjoying my blog post about the mind-blowing occult connection between Pee-wee Herman’s Big Adventure and the major arcana of the tarot, which can be found here:

Otherwise, Kyle B. Stiff can be found here, here, here and here:
Twitter: @KyleBStiff

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