Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Interview With Author Sean T. M. Steinnon

Here's an interview with Sean T. M. Steinnon, author of the anthology Six With Flinteye. He's perhaps the best published author in his age-range, but that's just my opinion.

What do you think is the reason why your readers love the character Flinteye so much?

Hmm...I think it's several things, really. First, there's the stories themselves: Fast-paced space opera that focuses on characters, action, and exotic settings rather than advanced science and social woes. I think people enjoy that kind of fiction and aren't finding enough of it. Then there's Jalazar Flinteye himself. The stories are all (well, almost all) narrated in first person from his perspective, so the reader gets to see the stories through Flinteye's heavily tinted lens. He has a wry sense of humor but rarely laughs. He's very much driven by emotions-often deadly ones-and has a brutal side to him, but also has a strong sense of justice and a personal code of honor that he (usually) follows.

Readers also tend to enjoy his robot sidekick, Axten. Axten is something of a jester, but there's also a serious aspect to him, and I think he has an interesting relationship with Flinteye. Then there's something else which I think readers appreciate: Flinteye is a hero. The stories are basically optimistic, and the bad guys are usually either dead or otherwise thwarted by the end.

How did you come up with the idea for Flinteye?

There's two elements to this one: The name and stories. The name I came up with one day while I was wondering what Captain Flint's (from Treasure Island) first name was. I thought it was "Salazar" (turns out it was Nathaniel). So I swapped the "S" out for a "J", and I had Jalazar Flint...Flinteye. And that's a name worthy of a character to match it. Everything else is inspired primarily by Star Wars-in particular, places like the cantina from A New Hope and Jabba's Palace in Return of the Jedi. That seamy side to the universe interested me-there was more to this galaxy than pristine spaceships and clean good guys vs. clean bad guys. I also spent several years reading every Star Wars novel I could find, and these only re-enforced that interest. So, once I started writing, it wasn't long before I turned to doing space opera as viewed from the underworld of the galaxy.

Shabak is another character you've written a couple stories about. What, in your opinion, is the attraction of writing re-occurring characters in fiction? And in reading about them?

If a character is cool and interesting, it naturally follows that writing several stories about him is a good idea. It allows you to explore the character more deeply, perhaps to tell a broader story above the level of the individual tales, and to show the same character reacting to many different situations. They're fun to read because, if one story was great, the others should be too. Reading a new story about a character you've enjoyed is like meeting up with an old friend. It immediately gives you a grounding in the story.

With e-zines like Ray Gun Revival and Flashing Swords attempting to re-invigorate the Space Opera and Sword & Sorcery subgenres, what do you think the future may hold for those and other "Golden Age"-styles of SF/F?

As far as short fiction goes, I think many readers are sick of the stuff the big print magazines are putting out-literary experiments and dark, angsty tales which are often too weird or too negative for the average reader. S&S, space opera, and high fantasy are the subgenres that sell best in book form, but oddly enough they aren't popular in short fiction these days. I think places like Flashing Swords, Ray Gun Revival, and Pitch-Black Books (the publishers of some excellent heroic fantasy anthologies) are helping to change that by publishing short fiction that more closely resembles the stuff readers shell out for when they head to the bookstore. That can only be good for the health of short story publishing in general and those genres in particular.

How important do you feel "small press" publishers are to writers? And to readers?

I like small press publishers because they buy my stuff. More generally, I think they provide a way for a beginning writer to get his work in front of some readers and refine his writing skills to the level where he can sell work to professional publishers ( i.e., big houses like Tor and Baen that will pay hot mounds of cold cash for your books). As for readers, I can only speak for myself, but I do really enjoy some small press products-the magazines Black Gate and Paradox are excellent when I get around to reading them, and I love Pitch-Black's heroic fantasy anthologies Lords of Swords and Sages and Swords (I've actually got a story in Sages and another one in the upcoming Lords of Swords 2). Whatever kind of fiction you like, odds are you can find some of it coming out from some small-press publisher or magazine.

What type of music do you enjoy, and have you found it to be helpful to your writing?

Lessee...a few different kinds. My favorites are probably singers like Josh Groban, Sarah Brightman, and Charlotte Church who do classical singing with a modern vibe. I also enjoy Irish music (the Clancy Brothers, The Chieftains, The Kells), Mozart, and movie/musical soundtracks like Braveheart and The Phantom of the Opera. I've been known to listen to a bit of opera, Christian rock, John Denver, and They Might be Giants. I usually do listen to music while I write, but it often has nothing to do with what I'm writing-i.e., Flinteye will be wading through a brutal knife-fight while I listen to the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem sing about whiskey and Irish wenches. Then I'll listen to the Van Helsing soundtrack during a contemplative stargazing scene.

Occasionally, though, I will actually pick music to match the tone I'm going for, which can be an aid to writing. It helps the words flow and helps keep me from getting bored.

What are the current and future projects you have coming up?

I'm working on a space opera novel entitled Memory Wipe, which will be serialized in Ray Gun Revival--the first chapter was released in their second issue. My next big short story publication is a Shabak tale upcoming in Lords of Swords 2, an anthology of heroic fantasy from Pitch-Black Books. I've almost finished with a Flinteye novel which I'll be sending out to publishers before the end of summer. I'm also continuing to work on short stories--right now, my focus is on various Shabak tales. I'm also going to be writing a couple stories for Carnifex Press' Freehold shared-world anthologies. I'm signed up to work on the Ghourlesh trilogy. I'm hoping to do National Novel Writing Month again this year, but I'll be attending the University of Wisconsin--Madison, so it remains to be seen how much time I'll have. Admittedly, though, the class schedule I'm looking at is pretty light, and I'll have my computer when I'm down on campus, so hopefully it won't cut into my writing time too much.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Epica - We Will Take you with Us

This DVD provides 2 studio sessions: one that involves the whole band with a small string symphony and a choir, and an "unplugged" acoustic session. In addition, there is also a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the sessions. In the Extras features you will find Epica's first two music videos, "The Phantom Agony" and "Feint", along with a making-of featurette for each. There are also other goodies like Weblinks, etc.

The songs played are from their 2003 CD, The Phantom Agony. Three of the songs ("Façade of Reality," "Cry for the Moon," and "Seif al Din") create a mini-concept about religion in general, the Judeo-Christian religions in particular. The rest of the songs range from philosophical ("The Phantom Agony") to personal and emotional ("Illusive Consensus"). 5.1 Surround Sound is the preferred way you'll want to listen to this DVD, but there is a stereo option for those who don't have the 5.1. The acoustic session also includes the cover of "Memories" from the musical, Cats, and I must say I've never heard it sung better. Simone's mezzo soprano voice has a way of making even their edgiest and heaviest songs sound heavenly.

We Will Take You with Us is a perfect companion to The Phantom Agony, but it is also a must-have for Epica fans. In the behind-the-scenes sections you learn a lot about how they got together, their musical goals and aims, and the tragic event in Holland that inspired the song, "Feint". You'll likely end up playing this DVD on an almost daily basis.

Format: Color, NTSC
Studio: The End Records
Price: $17.98

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Interview With Guitarist Ad Sluijter of Epica

How did Epica get started?
We started out in April 2002 after Mark was asked to leave his former band, After Forever. We already wrote some music together once in a while so we went searching for other musicians right away which took us until October. In November we recorded our first demo, in December we did our first gig, and in January we recorded our debut album which was released several months later. It all went pretty fast.

Epica has an interesting blend of several styles. What inspired you to blend those styles together? And how difficult was it to do so?
Actually this happens pretty naturally just because of the simple fact we are all influenced by different stuff, so when you blend in all of those different ideas you get a pretty mixed up song, hehe.

Considering the musical blend - the combination of acoustic, classical, and metal - I bet your live performances can get quite interesting.
Unfortunately we don't have the budget to have a choir and orchestra live, so we have the choir and orchestra recordings from the studio running along on ProTools, which is the best solution in this case. As for the mix with acoustic and electric, we try to work in an acoustic ballad in every setlist.

On your website I saw epic SF/F films like "Dracula", "Lord of the Rings", "Star Wars", and "The Matrix" listed as favorite films among the various band members. Has Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror been inspirational to Epica's musical style, and if so in what ways?
I'm not sure in which way these movies influence us, but I know their soundstracks do.:)

Your lyrics have powerful messages in them, both socially and spiritually. Was this intentional or did it naturally evolve from the musical style blending that makes Epica so epic in scope?
Mark tends to write a lot about religion while Simone writes a lot about more personal stuff, I don't think they write about that 'on purpose', it's just that these subjects appeal to them, so you can say that it is a naturally thing.

Your CDs, The Phantom Agony and Consign to Oblivion, sound like concept albums. Could you tell us the concepts behind them?
Both of them contain a mini concept. On TPA it is "the embrace that smothers", and on CTO it is "a new age dawns". The first one is about religions like Islam and Christianity, and the second one is about the Mayan culture.

What are your future plans?
We just recorded a live DVD which is edited at the moment, which will be released in September. Also in September we will be touring the USA and Canada with our friends from Kamelot. After this tour we will be entering the studios to record the follow up of CTO which will be released somewhere around May next year.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Consign to Oblivion - Epica

Epica's Consign to Oblivion is possibly one of the best CDs I've ever listened to. No, forget "possibly", it is. Let's face it, rarely these days can you find a CD that never gets old even after the 50th time playing it. There is a diversity of sound and style on this CD that you won't find on any others. A combination of pop, classical, and metal which shouldn't work yet does. If you're into hard-hitting heavy metal, you'll love this CD. If you prefer classical or film music, you'll love this CD. If you prefer softer, "poppier" music...you know by now what I'm about to say.

But what amazes me most is the sheer depth of the lyrics. You don't hear the usual "Woe is me" emo whining from this band or the obviously cheap partisan shots you hear from other bands. Epica's messages are powerful, meaningful, and also relevant to our modern times while simultaneously timeless. Even the more personal lyrics written by Simone Simons possess a level of cultural awareness that many modern songwriters lack, and there is nothing politically correct about Mark Jansen's lyrics, either.

Epica, and bands like them, are at the forefront of a new wave of metal, and I for one am glad to see that wave on its way to America. Our culture is in desperate need of it.

Best Song: Don't make me choose! But if forced to choose, I'll have to go with "Consign to Oblivion (A New Age Dawns, Part 3)." Everything that makes Epica such a great band can be found in that epic, 10-minute mix of bombastic film music, angelic singing, and heavy-metal riffs, grunts, and screams.

Coolest Part: Dispersed within the CD is a 4-song mini-concept about the destruction of the Mayan culture at the hands of the Spanish Conquistadors. And these four songs taken together make for some of the most powerful music you'll ever hear.

Best to listen to while reading: Lord of the Rings of course! Or any piece of Epic/High Fantasy or Space Opera. In fact, listening to this CD is like listening to the soundtrack of an epic film. Got a Gladiator- or Braveheart-style of book to read? Read it with this CD.

Format: Audio CD
Label: The End Records
List Price: $13.98