Q: Welcome back! Today, we’re getting to know science-fiction author Scott Azmus. Hi, Scott! How about we start with some warm-up questions?
A: Hello, again. Sure thing.
Q: What is your favorite drink and why?
A: The best beer in this part of Wisconsin is New Glarus “Spotted Cow.” On some late nights, I also have a taste for quietly sipping room-temperature Patrón, Añejo Tequila.
Q: What’s left on your bucket list?
A: Well, I always wanted to do a radio interview. No? I used to joke with my physics students that the August 2017 total solar eclipse was the last thing on my bucket list and that I was now ready to kick. They only believed that a little bit, and only because they often seemed to figure that I was about 65 million years old. But seriously? I’d still like to visit Australia and live on the Moon.
Q: If you had to eat the same meal every day, what would it be?
A: Meatloaf, mashed potatoes and gravy with corn. Or maybe just ribs!
Q: What’s your phobia and why?
A: I have a fear of phobias!
Q: Why do you write what you write? When did you start writing?
A: I began sharing science-fiction stories in my early teens. I remember watching the first Moon landing and really idolizing the Gemini and Apollo astronauts. I looked at the Moon through a telescope for the first time when I was twelve. The mountains and craters and seas simply blew me away! About a week after that, I refused to turn down the weekly hits countdown on a transistor radio and had a pretty brutal encounter with my father over it.
Q: Brutal? Sorry to interrupt…
A: He nearly wrenched one of my arms out of its socket, before literally tossing me out the front door and onto a pile of that week’s outgoing trash. I wasn’t allowed back into the house after that and went to live with my mom shortly thereafter.
Q: Were you a troublemaker?
A: Probably. When the Navy ran their first background check on me, they came up with a list of the 18 schools I went to between kindergarten and high-school graduation. By the time I was 11, I’d already been off to live in a bunch of different situations where I’d had to learn to look out for myself. After somewhat being in charge of my life’s direction, I guess I found it difficult to live in a daily-changing family situation with a lot of arbitrary and capricious rules. Anyway, when I turned 12 one of my aunts gave me two science fiction books. Time for the Stars, by Robert Heinlein and Larry Niven’s Ringworld. Couple that with a daily dose of after-school Star Trek reruns, and I was hooked on science fiction.
Q: Sounds like a series of difficult but transformative events. Were you a good student?
A: I tried to be, although being the new kid in town year-after-year has a way of making ordinary events seem confusing. At least most of the science I was learning stayed the same from town to town! I was reading about a book a day at one point, science books and science fiction, barely sleeping at night, and invented some of my first science-fiction scenarios around the 1973 appearance of Comet Kohoutek. Somewhat fascinated by Captain Kirk’s leadership style—what there was of it—I think I even developed something of a secret personality crutch that helped me hold steady and look toward a brighter future.
Q: Okay, I can’t quite leave that alone…
A: Science made a lot of sense to me, and one of my Apollo-era heroes was Apollo 17’s Harrison Schmidt. He was a geologist and the only scientist—to date—to go to the Moon. Like Harrison Schmidt and also “Spock” aboard USS Enterprise, I wanted to be a “science officer.” I then read Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins’ book Carrying the Fire and had a plan. I enlisted in the Navy and earned a Navy ROTC scholarship at the University of Colorado. Once commissioned, I served aboard the Spruance-class destroyers Leftwich and Ingersoll. Communications officer, gunnery officer, navigator.
Q: Were you a Star Wars fan?
A: Absolutely! In fact, well before the first Star Wars movie, episode IV, I was always diagraming spaceship interiors and telling stories about the “Time Travel Forces.” I was even president of one high school’s “Space and Astronomy Club.” So, yes, I was a true geek. But then Star Wars hit the big screen! And I actually gained some cool notoriety from that…so, just in time for senior year, I’d not only (finally) grown to over six feet tall but science fiction geekiness was at least a little bit cool. Without radio or TV, I was even able to sneak out of a lot of work in Navy basic training, because the other recruits did my field day chores in exchange for telling impromptu science-fiction stories.
Q: You’ve mentioned Star Trek and Star Wars. Any favorite sci-fi movies?
A: The Fifth Element. GATTACA. Galaxy Quest. Alien & Aliens. Sunshine. The Truman Show. Forbidden Planet. Interstellar. 2001, A Space Odyssey. Blade Runner. The Matrix. Serenity. Arrival.
Q: Back to writing. When did you sell your first story?
A: My first professional sale was to Charlie Ryan at Aboriginal Science Fiction. The story was called “The Catafalque.” The magazine hit newsstands in the Spring of 1999. I also had two big sales with Writers of the Future. “Reflections in Period Glass” and “Red Moon.”
Q: Is there anyone special who cares what you write?
A: Just every reader on the planet! Oh, you mean like my wife and kids? Sure. Dora has put up with me for some 36 years now and is my first-line editor. If she doesn’t straight-out throw up when she’s reading one of my stories, I figure I might be onto something. All of our kids are grown and out of the house at this point. But even by text and email, they help with character names and motivations as well as approving book covers and such.
Q: Do you have an ideal audience in mind when you write?
A: People who at least like science and have a sense that we’re all missing something important in today’s political/social climate. Or people who may have a sense that there’s an underlying subtext to reality. Looking back, almost all my central characters are on something of a rags-to-riches arc. Given my deep background, I am uniquely positioned to see and articulate some of that. Although I grew up crazy poor and thoroughly unwanted, I have excelled as a Navy officer, owned a bookstore, been married for 36 years and helped put three kids through college. I’ve taught every flavor of science from biology to chemistry to astronomy and advanced placement physics. I’m passionate about words and writing and I try to improve my skill set every time I sit down at the computer. Reading, even for pure escapism, can improve our imaginations, boost creativity and heal the deepest wounds. Beyond merely trying to entertain, it’s cool to imagine relating a shared dream or maybe even connecting with others across time and distance.
Q: What projects are you working on right now? How do you work to improve your writing?
A: I am about to release my first science-fiction anthology, and I also have several other finished manuscripts on hot standby. They each need one final polish, but then should jump up on Amazon and elsewhere sometime soon. All science fiction. I am getting better at deep point of view, showing more than telling, and conveying character emotion. Reader satisfaction is key. Providing value. I am always focused on putting my reader first and trying to please them by adapting, changing and improving my writing to better satisfy.
Q: How soon will you upload your first books to Amazon?
A: Should be any time now. The Many Moons anthology should launch about the same time as my first science-fiction novel.
Q: Tell us about some of your storylines.
A: Broken Bells involves a young man who has to learn to tap hidden dimensions for power in order to free his people. Part quest novel, part post-apocalyptic time-travel adventure, and part love story, it’s actually set in humanity’s near future. Cross the Sky follows a group of eight young women, a heist crew, as they fight to recover the lost starliner Aquila. Home Before Dark involves corporate espionage, evil cross-dimensional aliens and near-future access to nearby alternate realities. Lesser Beings and Rituals of Sacrifice deal with a young diplomat and his career dealing with aliens and with his own very strange personal evolution along the way. Coming up on the third book in the series, readers may be wondering if the main character will become a monster or just merely superhuman. Fire and Forget will be the first of many novels taken from the true archives of the Time Travel Forces.
Q: What’s your personal process for taking a book from idea to finished product?
A: Characters come first for me. For instance, I’m now in the process of mentally auditioning potential series characters for Fire and Forget. Meanwhile, I am also scouting potential locations and plotlines. I’ll outline how the story needs to start, but then write day-to-day with the usual hero’s journey story arc out in front of me. Once I have a rough draft, I like to let it sit for a month or so before revising. Then, if I don’t feel like flushing the whole thing, I try it out with first readers before it goes to my editor. After entering changes, the story can go through several more drafts before I feel like it’s ready for polishing. Unfortunately, I often introduce even more typos and such at that late stage and generally have to read the entire manuscript out loud looking for issues.
Q: Do you have an office? Are you a Windows or Mac person? What music do you listen to when you write?
A: I have staked out a special corner in the master bedroom. Our two Alaskan Malamutes, Zeke and Zooey, spend six days a week there with me from about eight in the morning to late mid-afternoon. Recently, I have hired a cat named “Kaylee” to help with punctuation since she likes to walk on my keyboard. After returning to being a “Mac person,” I’ll never go back. I write my first drafts using Scrivener. I then revise in Pages and Word before formatting with Vellum. I listen to Zhu, Rüfus du Sol, Bob Moses, Ladytron, Haelos, Late Night Alumni, Hooverphonic, Röyksopp and Parralox. Favorite voices come from Susanne Sundfør, Helen Marnie, and Colleen D’Agostino.
Q: What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses as a writer?
A: Weaknesses: conflict avoidance and sometimes liking my characters too much. Impatience when it comes to keeping the plot moving ahead, and lack of marketing experience. Strengths: excellent science concepts and deep grounding in the history of science-fiction. Commitment and perseverance. I’d like to get better and more subtle at conveying character emotion so that each story better resonates with my ideal readers.
Q: Why do you want to write and sell more books?
A: I want to share new worlds and characters, evoke vicarious emotions, entertain with cool science concepts and—with alien/human interactions—share positive messages of diversity and richness. If I can create some kind of unique buzz about my character interactions and developing abilities as a writer, it might go a long way toward proving that I haven’t been wasting my time all along and that the weird, internal character paradigms I subconsciously connected with as a kid remain a solid foundation.
Q: Day to day, what is the best part of writing?
A: Even when I carefully plot a scene, I often don’t know what’s coming next until the words spontaneously spill out on the screen. I write nearly every day and once in a while I even sail past all the crazy tides and dangerous shoals of frustration and self-criticism. Oh, and I absolutely love fan mail! Another writer once wrote that my story, out of an entire anthology that we were both appearing in, was the best of all. An actress from Babylon 5 (Patricia Tallman, playing the empath Lyta Alexander) once had me “autograph” a story called “Red Moon” for her and said that she liked and remembered one of my previous stories.
Q: Is there any bad writing advice you’ve tried to follow? What’s the worst thing you ever wrote?
A: I’ve learned that you can’t sit around waiting for inspiration. You can’t wait for your “muse” to check in. You have to write every day and let the words add up. Some writers say that they don’t know where their ideas come from, but I absolutely do…so that makes things a little bit easier for me. The worst thing I ever published was “Egging” in a little magazine called Little Green Men. I think it sold for $40 or $45. I’m still trying to decide if I should include it in my new anthology just to show the whole spectrum from blah to (laughing) brilliant!
Q: In your spare time, what’s the thing that makes you feel the most you?
A: Astronomy. Running at speed with my dogs. Book collecting. Beekeeping.
Q: Introvert or extrovert?
Q: Okay, we’re running out of time. Final questions now. What’s the best thing you’ve ever done?
A: Being in love and being a good husband has been outstandingly rewarding. I’ve loved almost everything about being a dad. I was quite the great, deep-ocean navigator. I don’t know. Dogs and cats usually don’t hate me at first blush.
Q: Favorite writing snack?
A: I have no idea. Garlic-stuffed olives? Fig Newtons? Jalapeño-flavored potato chips? Jelly Belly gum drop blackberries?
Q: Tell us one last thing or two about yourself that not that many people know.
A: There’s a hole in my pocket. Oh, and I like yard work and guinea pigs. I also collect minerals. And…telescopes!
Q: Last question. If money were no object, what’s the first thing you’d buy just for yourself? Seriously, what’s the one outrageous thing you’ve always wanted to own or do but haven’t had the courage?
A: Wow. I guess I’d want to own my own space yacht and travel to Mars! Or maybe a star gate? A team of Alaskan Malamute puppies and snow sled? The possibilities are endless!