Welcome back to my feature on Luther Siler, author of Skylights, The Benevolence Archives and The Sanctum of the Sphere. Today I would like to share an interview with you. I had a great deal of fun discussing Luther’s reading and writing habits, so much I couldn’t resist a few follow up questions! If you don’t already follow Luther’s blog, you’ll soon discover that he has a great sense of humour and an engaging voice.
An Interview with Luther M. Siler
Author of Skylights, The Benevolence Archives, and The Sanctum of the Sphere
Mel: Do you have any strange writing habits (like writing in your favourite pair of socks? A beer in one hand, your pen in the other!)
Luther: I use it more for heavy-duty blog posts than for fiction, but I have this Jackass wristband that I wear every now and again when I really need to concentrate. I did the last 10K words or so of SANCTUM in a day, because if I didn’t finish the book I was going to go mad, and I’m pretty sure I had that wristband on the entire time. I need to be listening to music, but that’s about it.
Mel: Anything is particular? The film score by John Williams perhaps? Or do you just rock it out with your favourite musical accompaniments?
Luther: Rocking out, and to a wide variety of stuff, although I seem to recall Mac Lethal, Mika and Chuck D getting a fair amount of rotation while I was working on this particular book.
Mel: What book do you wish you had written?
Luther: John Scalzi’s LOCK IN. Saladin Ahmed’s THRONE OF THE CRESCENT MOON. The entire HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE series. Andy Weir’s THE MARTIAN. No doubt many others.
Mel: I imagine, like Weir, you had to do a fair bit of research for Skylights. You’ve talked about your interest in statistics on your blog, but how did this translate to the book – did you have to make a conscious effort to pull back, or was it easier because of your teaching background?
Luther: Keeping Zub in his own voice whenever he was explaining anything was REALLY tough, because the sixth grade curriculum includes astronomy and that unit was easily my favorite part of the year when I was teaching sixth grade. He tended to sound a lot like me in those moments. I ended up being pretty happy with the amount of exposition I included in the book– I think it’s all stuff that needs to be there, and enough non-sci-fi people have enjoyed the book by now that I think I did a decent job of not being overwhelming. Those who complain will be forced to read THE MARTIAN, by Andy Weir, which was one of my favorite books of last year and includes actual equations and chemistry.
Mel: Who would play your favourite characters in a movie?
Luther: Most of the BENEVOLENCE ARCHIVES characters would have to be mo-capped CGI– Grond is eight freaking feet tall and Brazel is covered in fur, but Zub from SKYLIGHTS was explicitly based on DJ Qualls. I could also see Jim Parsons playing him, but Qualls is a little bit more manic and twisted than Parsons is. You’ll have to go find one of my old archaeology professors to play Tsvika.
This is Asper. Xe’s real.
Mel: Qualls certainly fits the image in my head, though I can see Parsons fitting the role too. That doesn’t always happen. Is there a particular character that stands out for you – a person you envisioned in your head who doesn’t translate to film?
Luther: I’d have a hell of a time casting Gabe, actually. I’m tempted to racebend him and cast Don Cheadle or somebody.
Mel: How important are names in your books? Do you choose based on the sound of the name, its meaning, or some other method?
Luther: Pretty important, actually. Zub’s nickname is a reference to Robert Zubrin, who is a champion of Mars exploration, and his actual name came later. Both of Gabe Southern’s names are family names, and Zvi is named after that professor I just mentioned. Most of the rest of the characters in that book are named after former students. I wrote a whole article on my blog about naming practices for BENEVOLENCE ARCHIVES– long story short, I’m really careful about names in that setting, and there are rules. Grond is named after an old D&D character. Note that the name was not originally intended to be a reference to the ram in RETURN OF THE KING, but I’m not bothered that it worked out that way. 🙂
Mel: Maybe that’s the trick, a respectful nod to those who influence us in some way. I’m sure you’ve been asked by a friend or family member to write them into your work – are you ever tempted? Or does that go against one of your rules?
Luther: The biggest butthead in fourth grade is a tuckerization. She didn’t ask, and I don’t know if she’s noticed yet. She made me send her a signed copy of the book, though.
Mel: If you had an endless budget, describe the trailer for Skylights.
Luther: I’m starting to think that you picked up on one of the things I tried to do with that book, which was to have it feel cinematic. 🙂 I’m not sure about the entire trailer, but I know exactly what the last shot should be– a Michael Bay-style swooping camera shot of a monkey in a spacesuit taking a flying leap into a black, bottomless pit. Then, BOOM: Title card.
Mel: Skylights would certainly translate really well on the big screen. Have you created any of your own trailers? If not, would you consider making one to tease your readers?
Luther: I haven’t. I’m not terrible with iMovie, but I’ve never quite figured out what book trailers are for. I may need to spend a couple of days watching a bunch of them and see if inspiration strikes me.
Mel: List five adjectives to describe yourself or your writing habits.
Luther: Um… “flailing” and “panicked” should probably be two of them. I’m not good at this. Is “Batman” an adjective? It is if he says it is, right?
Tell us about your next project.
Luther: My next book is currently planned to be a nonfiction book about teaching called SEARCHING FOR MALUMBA– mostly a collection of reedited blog posts, although I’ll be drawing from previous websites I’ve run and writing some new stuff as well, so people who have been reading infinitefreetime since the beginning won’t be seeing nothing but old stuff. That said, I’ve tried to write that book three times and walked away, so it may not happen. I’m planning for it to be out this fall. After that, the sequel to SKYLIGHTS and then another short story BENEVOLENCE ARCHIVES collection.
Or maybe something else. We’ll see.
Mel: I’m thrilled to hear a Skylights sequel is on the cards. I think we can all relate to those difficult projects, the equivalent of a literary brick wall. Do you have any tried and tested methods (other than letting it sit for a while) when the going gets tough?
Luther: Blind panic generally works well for me. That said, sometimes I just have to let a piece sit until I know where it goes next. Sometimes just skipping to the next chapter will work, but not always; frequently if I’m having trouble getting through a section it’s because the section is wrong and I just don’t know how yet.
Mel: What has been your greatest challenge as a writer so far?
Luther: Time. Writing nonfiction is terribly easy for me, but I need an hour of staring at a blank screen and “thinking” before I can get even a couple of sentences of fiction out– the fact that I have three books out is a small miracle. I need to either get more efficient as a writer or get real famous real quick so that I can quit my day job and have the desk time to write. I will admit that my teacher’s schedule does help, because beginning a project is always the hardest part. But I’m still working six days a week at two different jobs right now and have a three-year-old in the house, so finding time to write fiction is occasionally really, really difficult.
Mel: I imagine you have to find new and inventive ways to steal time, as it were, to write. Inspiration can strike in unusual places too. Can you give us an example of an occasion when an idea hit and you just had to write it down?
Luther: I have an app on my phone called “Wunderlist” that I use almost solely to record story ideas as they occur to me. Some of them are only a word or two long, and occasionally I look back at them and realize I have no idea what the heck I was thinking later. I really wish I could remember what was going through my head the day “Mars Needs Internet!” got entered into that list.
Mel: Are there any genres you would love to explore?
Luther: Sooner or later I’ll write a straight fantasy book. I’d love to do a detective story, and historical fiction appeals to me as well, possibly combining the two– but I don’t know that I’m a strong enough plotter for a detective story and the idea of doing all the research that would be necessary for a historical fiction makes my teeth hurt. One of these days, though…
Mel: Perhaps something like Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency – I could see that!
Thanks so much for agreeing to the interview, Luther. I’ve had an absolute blast, and I’m sure the readers have too!
Luther Siler was born in 1976 in northern Indiana, where he currently resides along with his wife, three-year-old son, two cats, and a dog. In his spare time he works at a school helping other people be awesome. he writes about space gnomes and Mars.
But nothing is ever normal for Brazel, Grond and Rhundi.
A simple act of motorized larceny quickly explodes into a galaxy-spanning adventure for the two thieves. Blade-wielding elves, a fast-moving global war, a secret outlaw space city, incomprehensible insectoids and one impossibly lucky human are just the start of their problems. And that’s before they learn that someone from Grond’s past has gotten the Benevolence involved…
What is happening on the ogrespace moon Khkk?
Who are the Noble Opposition?
And what is the secret of THE SANCTUM OF THE SPHERE?
Thanks for stopping by. If you have any other burning questions for Luther, please feel free to leave them in the comments.