Interview with Gary Wassner

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about the GemQuest series?

Gary: Where do I begin? I have been living with the story and the characters for five years now, and it is hard to answer that question simply. A synopsis is certainly not what you want. You can read that on my website.

GemQuest is a character driven story. The people who inhabit the books are very very real to me. When I picture them in my mind’s eye, each one has a unique expression and manner, a specific way about him or her. They have lives and families, and their pasts are complicated and marked by tragedy and triumph, loss and attainment. But ultimately, they live in the present, and the present for them is fraught with difficulties, both moral and physical. Their world is in turmoil, and all the decisions that they make impact upon the future of their world. Nothing is easy for any of them, yet they manage to maintain a sense of hope and purpose, sustained by their value systems, no matter how arduous their present circumstances seem to be.

Though it may seem as if I haven’t really answered your question, essentially, that is what the series is about; people caught up in a world seemingly on the brink of disaster, struggling to find a means to make it a better and safer place.

Q: In many ways your series is a classic Epic Fantasy series, what new aspects do you feel you have brought to the genre?

Gary: Yes, it is classic Epic Fantasy. I wanted it to be exactly that. Nevertheless, my characters are deep feeling human beings, and I hope that the moral dilemmas that they face and the way that they come to understand the choices facing them are unique. They make mistakes, they change their minds, they do not understand everything that they face, and they learn more and more as the books progress. None of them know the right path to take, and with each decision that they face they grow. I spend as much time and effort as I can, without being pedantic, attempting to discuss the ethical issues that are most important to me, and as the series evolves, the characters become deeper, smarter and more astute. The process of coming to individual awareness is a dialectical one, and it parallels the plot. Each battle and each confrontation leads to a resolution, and then a higher understanding, a sublimation so to speak. I want my readers to think and to feel at the same time. I want them to be anxious and excited by the story, as well as to be moved by the weight of the many decisions that must be made and the consequences of those decisions. I want my readers to think about how the daily decisions they must make impact upon their own lives and the world in which they live.

Q: How do you go about keeping track of everything that has gone before when you write such a series?

Gary: To be honest, sometimes it is not so easy. I have written almost 2500 pages of text and the series is not over. For the most part, the same characters that appeared in the first book are still central by the end of the fourth book. It is the secondary characters who are more difficult to keep track of. But, this is a world that I could easily live in. I see it as clearly as I see the real world. Still, I refer to the glossary myself when I am utilizing characters who have not appeared in a while, just to make sure that I remember them accurately. In many respects, it is not so different from my memories of old friends whom I still infrequently correspond with, though I no longer see regularly, or places I have traveled to years ago. How does everyone keep track of everything in their real life? Just as reading an old letter or glancing at an old photograph can instantly bring them back to me, so can rereading a descriptive paragraph or some dialogue. As far as the story is concerned, I try to keep a running list of what I refer to as unfinished threads. If I introduce an object of power or I bring in an idea or a character whose efficacy might not be relevant to that particular moment in the action of the book, I’ll jot it down and save it on that list. I look at it once in a while and remind myself of those things I might want to complete at a later point. I am actually surprised myself when I look at the glossary and see how many characters and places I have created. In my mind, I think of them no differently than people I have encountered over the years or countries I have visited on my travels. They are a part of my memory now, and when I write, I look back and recall them as they were the last time I was with them or visited there.

Q: What plans to you have for the future?

Gary: I am very excited about the release of the first three books in the series. My publisher, Windstorm Creative, believes strongly that fantasy, in order to be successful, requires a shelf presence in the stores. So, they are releasing I, II and III at the same time. I have been so busy getting the manuscripts ready for publication, that I have hesitated to start the fifth book. But, I have completed the fourth in the GemQuest series already, The Revenge of the Elves. Thus, I am one book ahead as far as I see it. That one should take another year to reach the shelves. As soon as I feel comfortable that I can write uninterrupted, I will begin the next one. In the interim, between the completion of book IV and now, I have written three young adult mysteries, three young reader fantasies and one young adult thriller, ranging in length from 65 pages to 220 pages. The first book in the young reader mystery series is scheduled to be released sometime in 2005. Though I enjoy writing children’s books, my heart is in the world of GemQuest, and I am very anxious to get back to it and to continue the saga.

Q: People often wonder how writers get started, what’s your story?

Gary: I started writing this series rather late in my life, though there was never a time when I wasn’t writing something. For many years, I aspired to be a lyricist and I wrote countless poems. I have three sons who are the best friends I have in life aside from my wife, and participating in their lives has kept me very busy. In addition, I own and operate a business in New York City which requires my daily attention. As my children grew up, I found the time to write more consistently. The advent of the laptop also facilitated my ability to write anywhere at anytime. Honestly though, I cannot remember a moment in my life when I did not aspire to write a book. Fantasy was a natural genre for me. My background is in philosophy, and I have always been fascinated with the moral underpinnings of human behavior. I taught ethics on the University level, and my interest in the field has never wavered. What motivates the choices we make? Is there such a thing as right and wrong that is not relative to a particular time and a specific society? What makes a life meaningful and worthwhile? Are we really as separate and detached from nature as modern living leads us to believe? In my books, I can explore these issues without being technical and boring. I can also include poetry within the text, which is not quite so easy to do when you are writing mysteries or contemporary fiction. Fantasy characters can easily break into verse without seeming foolish. So, basically, I started writing because there are things I want to learn and things I want to say.

Q: Do you recall any book or author that you read when you were younger that inspired you?

Gary: I am extremely sentimental. When I was very young, I read a book called The Trolley Car Family. I have honestly never forgotten it. A poor family had to create its life anew after losing its home and everything material that it had. They moved into a deserted Trolley car on an abandoned railroad track and turned it into a warm and magical place to live. It evoked a feeling of safety and accomplishment amidst adversity that was so strong for me as a child. It was inspiring, silly as it may sound now. Later, I discovered Grimm’s and Anderson’s fairy tales. I had two old, hard covered copies and I read them over and over again until the pages literally fell out of the bindings. C. S. Lewis was my next hero until I discovered Tolkein when I was in college. From then on, I was hooked on Epic Fantasy.

Q: What has the Internet meant for you as an author?

Gary: The internet is incredible!! As an author, you can reach so many people in so many places that you could never have found otherwise. You can also participate in discussions and forums at anytime of the day or night, and express your ideas to whoever is listening. The feedback in invaluable! I will tell you one short story that really testifies to the power of the internet. I met a girl from mainland China in a discussion at SFFWorld.com one day. She was literally breaking her country’s rules by entering the discussion, and her words were somewhat cryptic and guarded. But she expressed her dismay at the lack of fantasy in China today, and at her inability to purchase it online or anywhere. Apparently, the genre is not looked upon favorably by the authorities even now. I offered to send her a copy of The Twins, and she was ecstatic. She did not expect it to arrive easily though, as she seemed to think that it might be confiscated in customs. I fedexed it to her and she received it in three days. She told me that she read it out loud to her entire family. They were overjoyed. Without the internet, how could this ever have occurred?

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