Interview with E.E. Knight

Since Way of the Wolf published in 2003, Knight has seen publication of 2 more Vampire Earth novels – Choice of the Cat and the recently (March 2005) published Tale of the Thunderbolt. Late in 2004, Knight kicked off the Lara Croft/Tombraider franchise for Del Rey books and will see another Vampire Earth novel (Valentine’s Rising) publish in December 2005 as well as Dragon Champion, the first of a new high fantasy saga. E.E. Knight’s Web site can be viewed at: http://www.vampjac.com/vampireearth/ and he runs a forum at: http://www.fossilrecords.net/vampireearth/index.php I corresponded with E.E. Knight over e-mail recently…

Rob Bedford: Your first two Vampire Earth novels published in 2003 and 2004, respectively, to positive response, and by the end of this year you will add another 3 books to the list, in addition to the Lara Croft novel published last August. An impressive string of books in your first three years, to say the least. Was it strict disciple that afforded you the ability to publish so much so early in your writing career? Or something else?

E.E. Knight: Backlog, pure and simple. I was doing Vampire Earth novels for years on native faith and chutzpah. While WOLF gathered rejections up and down Manhattan I kept plugging away at the next, and after that the next. The third was written by the time the first was sold, so it wasn’t as though I had to scramble to come up with book 2.

The Lara Croft novel was a financial stopgap that came at just the right time. I’d sold the first threeVampire Earth novels for a lowball figure and it helped fill a hole in my checking account until the royalty checks for the VE books got going.

The high fantasy project, Dragon Champion, percolated for a long time. I worked on it here and there when I needed a change of pace from VE, so pulling it together and turning it into a novel was a natural step as soon as I got my first Roc contract

RB: Way of the Wolf was initially published with iPublish. How did you make the move to a more traditional publisher, ROC books?

EEK: The unfortunately-named iPublish (scans to me of self-publication, but that wasn’t the case, AOL/Time Warner Book Group ran it) met a fast demise in the dot-com Challenger/Hindenburg/ Titanic — choose your metaphor according to taste — wreck. . . one month after they produced WOLF, actually. No one ever established a correlation between the two events.

By a happy chance I met my agent, John Silbersack, through Mr. Paul Witcover at World Fantasy Con 2001 in Montreal. He extracted my rights from the iPublish wreckage in one of the most deft bits of career salvage I’ve every heard of and sold me rikki-tik to Penguin/Roc. Of course it helped that Claire Zion, executive editor at iPublish before flame-out, landed at Penguin, and I had a bit of a vamp fan in Laura Anne Gilman at Roc. So you see I’ve been lucky. Further proof that God looks out for children and fools.

RB: From perusing your Web site (http://www.vampjac.com/vampireearththe Vampire Earth books have a RPG background, and you’ve got an impressive amount of background information for the world posted. How long did the world develop before you began seriously considering publishing?

EEK: The world had its first iteration in an “Aftermath” RPG campaign. My gaming group really liked the world, sort of Omega Man as realized by George A. Romero with French Resistance flair, and I always felt it would make a great something. Screenplay, book, role-playing-game, first-person-shooter, whatever. One night shortly after I turned thirty I had one of those drunken Peggy Lee “Is That All There Is?” epiphanies and decided to go back to writing, something I’d messed around with in high school and college but never seriously pursued. I started taking classes at my local community college and reading books about writing, joining writer’s groups, and so on. Anyway it got me out of the house and away from all my Squad Leader supplements.

The world lay fallow for over a decade while I occupied myself with selling dog food and french fries. But Vampire Earth was always rolling around in the back of my mind. When I finally realized I should write to please myself rather than an imagined audience of editors and fans, I got out the defibrillator and revived the auld sod.

RB: When I’ve recommended the books to other people, I always say the books have a somewhat pulpy feel to them. What writers and/or stories would you consider the strongest influences on the VE venue?

EEK: Lovecraft, as you’ve probably noticed. H.G. Wells, War of the Worlds was the first vampires-from-space story. Anything John C. Campbell would have liked, I’ve always been drawn to stories about solitary, competent men. Matheson’s I Am Legend. Probably the single genre that most influences VE is Westerns, oddly enough. Like Warring States Samurai stuff and Pirate-age books, Westerns (and my dystopic post-apocs) are stories of either a lawless land or one where justice is decided by the strong. There’s plenty of room for your hero to be heroic in that kind of setting.

RB: How important has the Internet been for the flourishing of the Vampire Earth, especially considering the forums you have?

EEK: The Internet allows me to interact with my fans in what amounts to real time. While I write to please and entertain myself, I do listen to what my fans have to say and try to give them the things they ask for most. Probably the #1 thing I hear about right now is “more Bears.” You’ll see a lot of them up-close in #4 but Val has a couple things to do yet before he becomes one.

RB: Vampire novels are almost a dime a dozen nowadays, practically a genre unto itself.

EEK: Agreed. I’ll take the Seinfeld out and say “not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

RB: However, you have managed to inject a more science fictional flavor to these books than many of the predecessors. Have you seen a stronger response from Science Fiction fans or fans of Vampire Fiction?

EEK: Oh wow, I mean, can we talk? I’m always ready to talk up my fans so let me say this: the vast majority of the mail I get comes from people who read widely, often multiple genres plus nonfiction. There is a bit of a hurdle getting core SF fans to read it. Most are like: “C’mon, vampires? Gimme a break!” and yes, it’s not Asimov or P.K. Dick or even Star Wars-style space g gshootouts (see Seinfeld defense above) but it is operatic action with a generous dose of aliens, good and evil, a deep alternate history for the poor Earthling livestock, plus the occasional sexy bit. I’m not an idea guy buy any means, I’m more of a story guy. If you liked Battlefield Earth or Starship Troopers or Footfall or Ringo’s Human-Posleen War you’ll probably grok Vampire Earth.

RB: Did the overall story and world start out as dystopic sf or vampire fiction? Or did the two ideas come together at the same time?

EEK: Dystopic sf. I’m an old Orwell hand.

RB: I’ve said in my reviews the books have a cinematic feel. When writing the story did certain scenes appear as if on screen? These books and the overall story would make a great television show, have there been any offers?

EEK: I do think visually (the quick-n-easy test to determine this is get in an involved conversation with someone. If they look up when they think, they’re most likely Visual-Spatial. If they look right-and-left and focused-center, they’re probably Auditory-Sequential learners) and tend to play out my scenes in my head, like I’m the director of a play and I can freeze my cast at will and wander around the props and decide what to talk about.

You’re the only interviewer to mention television, most people ask about movies. I believe VE is better suited for television, my natural storytelling style is pretty episodic to begin with.

RB: How was writing for a “media franchise,” or what have you, for Lara Croft? How much leeway were you given?

EEK: Better than I expected it to be, but that may be due to the professionalism of the Del Rey team. Lara had certain behaviors (alcohol and drug use, explicit sex, nudity) that were verboten by Eidos, no ifs ands or buts. Other than that I had tremendous latitude and just a little bit of interference from the game people. They kept wanting her to kill more animals she came across, which struck me as a bit silly but I suppose it fits the game.

RB: Dragon Champion, publishing later this year kicks off your new series, The Age of Fire. On the surface this seems a bit of a departure from the Vampire Earth, in that it looks more so to fit the mold of Epic Fantasy. Aside from great storytelling and plausible characters, what can we expect when Dragon Champion hits the shelves?

EEK: You’re making me blush. I was yours at “recommended the books to other people,” by the way.

Yes, it’s a departure. For one thing, the POV character has four legs, wings, and breathes fire, a substantial switch from David Valentine. I intentionally wrote the dragon fantasy to be an all-ages tale, like the very best of Disney or Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter…in other words a story adults and students with the reading ability to handle my Fogg index level could enjoy without my usual underclassman pulchritude. VE is very much for an adult audience, for the dragon fantasy I wanted to write something for the dinosaur-crazy, sword-and-sorcery reading eleven-year-old I was.

RB: Will Valentine’s Rising be the final Vampire Earth novel? If not how many more do you plan on writing? Is the world something you would open up to other authors, for an anthology?

EEK: A lot of this is depends on sales. I wanted to do as many as C.S. Forester did of the Hornblower series, i.e. about a dozen. That’s what I’ve thumbnailed out anyway. So far my publisher is along for the ride. A couple of bad books and that could change.

As to an anthology, I feel a bit presumptuous in saying anything about that. I don’t feel that I’ve been Valkyried off to genre-Valhalla just yet, but I‘m grateful to even be asked. If there are a bunch of writers clamoring to come over and play in my sandbox they’re not emailing me. I’d be agreeable to the idea, as long as they didn’t use any of my primary characters. Lovecraft is an idol of mine, and he pretty much made his Cthulhu Mythos open-source, to use today’s terminology. My one qualm is that a lot of authors could probably do better than I.

RB: When time allows, what writers (in and out of FSF) do you find yourself drawn to reading?

EEK: My Web site lists a bunch so I don’t want to repeat all of them. Lately I’ve been reading a lot of Tim Powers. I think I was underdeveloped as a reader when he started off, and I’d never picked him up until I met him at a con and found him charming and illuminating. His writing is that in spades. I’ve also recently discovered Dennis L. McKiernan, a wonderful and surprising fantasy writer. Laumer, Heinlein, H. Beam Piper are three of my favorites, along with Fred Saberhagen, Poul Andersen (a victim of serial-number-filing…the metaphysics of the Reapers were inspired by Call Me Joe), Richard Matheson, and Alan Dean Foster, who (whether he likes it or not) is something of literary a father-figure to me — I‘m fondest of his oddball stuff like the shorts, Spellsinger books or the mountain-lions-on-ice he invented for Tran-Ky-Ky.

Pop fiction tastes include Stephen King, Michael Crichton, Alistar MacLean, Wilbur Smith, Ira Levin, pre-franchise Tom Clancy and Ian Fleming. I’ve mentioned Westerns — you can’t go wrong with Louis L’Amour or Zane Grey. I’m an obsessive Orwell reader, though to tell the truth a couple of his earlier novels aren’t worth opening. I read my battered old Complete Sherlock Holmes every couple of years. My triumvirate of all-time favorite novels areWatership DownGone With The Wind, and Sophie’s Choice, probably in that order. Nabokov once defined a great novel as anything worth reading twice, so those three are exponentially great to me.

RB: Any advice for aspiring writers?

EEK: Writing is a trade, not a profession. You learn to write by writing, evaluating what you’ve written, and then improving in your next project by applying what you learned. As you grow in skill better and better jobs come along. Study the work of writers you admire. Perhaps early on you’ll learn through imitation, as a sculptor or a painter does, before you develop your own style. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Above all, write to please yourself. Make yourself excited, or scared, or weepy, or amused. You’ll stay interested in your writing that way — and as a bonus, an editor might just have the same reaction.

RB: Have the quick release of your books and subsequent foreign rights afforded you the luxury of writing full-time?

EEK: Yes, I’m a full-time writer, for reasons you stated above. That and the fact that my wife’s job has great health benefits.

RB: Any closing remarks or anything else you’d like to say to potential readers of your work?

EEK: I’m not much for perorations. I’ll just say thank you for reading this interview. As to reading in general, I’ll go with a quote:

 

“Books are masters who instruct us without rods or ferules, without words or anger, without bread or money. If you approach them, they are not asleep; if you seek them, they do not hide; if you blunder, they do not scold; if you are ignorant, they do not laugh at you”

– Richard De Bury

Discuss this interview in our forums: http://www.sffworld.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=7

Copyright 2005 Rob H. Bedford

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