Interview with Mayer Alan Brenner
Visit Mayer Alan Brenner's website by clicking here
1) Now that your books have appeared again as kindle (and iBooks)
editions, do you feel the urge to write more? Do you have any projects
I actually never stopped writing after Spell of Apocalypse appeared in
paperback from DAW in 1994; what stopped was my ability to get
published. Since my experiences in paperback are ancient history,
prospects are now more promising. I have probably half-a-dozen novels
in the drawer at this point, but the one I've been working on for the
last several years has me particularly obsessed. After a bunch of major
drafts it may getting close to ready to go. It's a different sort of
epic urban fantasy.
2) When did you first realize you wanted to write?
I spent many of my formative years living two blocks from the
local public library. I started with the kids' section and read my way
around the shelves in alphabetical order before jumping into the adult
fiction. I didn't read every last thing - who does? - but I did vacuum
up every book of interest, including their entire nascent sf section.
By the time I was eleven or twelve, I realized that I was anticipating
endings and plot twists, and then (slippery slope, definitely) noticed
that I was mentally rewriting whatever I decided needed more work. It
took years before I started to seriously act on those tendencies,
3) What authors did you enjoy most when you were young? How did they influence your work?
One of the paths of least resistance on the way to becoming a
sff writer is to read, obviously, and when I was growing up it was
still possible to read pretty much everything. As I was chewing through
the public library I also went on book scouting expeditions in
different parts of Los Angeles. At that time, Hollywood was a mecca of
used book stores. Over a period of years I amassed several thousand sff
paperbacks, one box lugged back on the bus at a time, and fairly
complete runs of Astounding/Analog, F&SF, Galaxy, If, and even a
pretty good set of Unknowns. (No Weird Tales, though - they'd been
scavenged before I started showing up.) And I read most of it.
As far as the Dance of Gods books went, however, the main direct
influences were Fritz Leiber, Glen Cook, Terry Pratchett, and the
deCamp and Pratt Enchanter stories. There's one character in the Dance
books who's a fairly blatant riff off and response to Robert E. Howard,
and another character started off as a pastiche of Dashiell Hammett's
Continental Op. There are a few bits in Spell of Catastrophe (AKA
Catastrophe's Spell) that are Marx Brothers take-offs and some other
flotsam and jetsam shows up here and there.
4) Besides your "Dance of the Gods" series, did you ever publish any other works, for example, short stories?
No short stories; every time I started one it tried to turn into
a novel. I did have a novel-length publication under a house pseudonym
as a work-for-hire.
5) For those people who haven't heard of you, talk about your books a little. Give them a quick idea of what they're about.
The four books of The Dance of Gods are built around a sprawling
crowd of raffish characters, too smart by half for their own good and
more than a little self-reflective, in a series of overlapping and
colliding storylines. Some of the cast members who appear in the first
book in the series, Spell of Catastrophe, include:
Maximillian, the Vaguely Disreputable - free-lance adventurer and nostalgic technologist
The Creeping Sword - hard-boiled nom-de-plume
Zalzyn Shaa - physician, occasional bureaucrat, and man with a curse
The Great Karlini - research thaumaturge
The former Lion of the Oolvaan Plain - retired barbarian
Jurtan Mont - youth with an unusually melodic seizure disorder
Haddo - animal wrangler and pilot
Assorted gods, revolutionaries, insurgents, servitors, and cataclysms - the traditional cast of thousands
Many of the characters are less than impressed by the use of magic.
Rather than experiencing a sense of wonder, they're more likely to
respond to a spell casting with a muttered "yeah, whatever," and try to
bang you over the head with a skillet while your invocation is still
For that matter, the approach to magic may be better suited to
engineers or programmers than mystics: more procedure-based than
object-oriented, perhaps, but communing with nature is usually the last
thing on these practitioners' minds. For that matter, I'm not sure the
combination of magic-code hackers, molecular nanotech, and
network-mediated consensual reality of the gods is something that could
ever be summarized on a back-of-the-book blurb. You won't find any
grand battles between good and evil; more of a struggle between
self-interest and unintended consequences.
The books straddle an attitudinal divide: too funny to be serious and
too serious to be funny. But it's the characters, really, not the
author! They approach their roles with a jaundiced eye and a sarcastic
6) Tell us about yourself. Where you came from, what you like to do as
a hobby, that sort of thing. Just leave out any incriminating bits.
Some days it feels like it's all incriminating...
I have engineering and medical degrees; I've never practiced medicine,
although I did spend a long time developing healthcare information
systems. These days I'm spending more time writing than I have in
7) What do you think of the rise of e-books and self-publishing? Is it great for authors and readers, or not?
We wouldn't be having this conversation if it weren't for the rise of the internet, ebooks, and self-publishing.
The four books of the Dance of Gods were originally published in
paperback by DAW between 1989 and 1994. Back then, the options open for
an author to self-promote were virtually nonexistent. If the publisher
did no promotion - which was almost always the case for a down-list
author with no name recognition and no track record - you were pretty
much at the mercy of attractive cover art (for whatever value of
attractive was working that month) and the slim chance of landing an
end-cap display. I did local radio and got some local bookstores to let
me do signing events, which was all educational but did nothing for
But jump ahead to 2007, when I decided to find out if the Dance of Gods
could attract more of a readership than they were able to at their
original publication. The rights to the books had reverted to me, so
when I put them up at www.mayerbrenner.com
for free download they started jumping off the page (so to speak).
After I got a plug from Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing - which got echoed
among numerous other sites for the next few weeks - lots of fresh people
showed up. I was emailed by several orders of magnitude more readers
than I'd heard from over the entire life of the books. Ultimately,
being able to demonstrate that level of interest paved the way for the
commercial ebook republication of the books. I'm also hoping that the
route to getting some fresh stuff into the light of day has also been
eased... but we'll see. That story is still happening.
8) What do you think about the current trends in sf and fantasy fiction?
If I understood what current trends actually were I might have something intelligent to say about them...
As long as we continue to have writers putting their heart and thought
into telling the stories they need to tell, I'll be interested to see
what they come up with!
9) What about the future excites or worries you the most?
We live in an age of wonders, and fortunately for those of us
who live in the developed world, we're in a position to take advantage
of them. As much of a futurist philosophy as I'll admit to is "the
future won't be as good as we hope or as bad as we fear."
10) Is there anything we didn't ask that you'd like to mention?
Thanks for seeking me out and asking me to do this! I've enjoyed the opportunity.
The Dance of the Gods Series:
Visit Mayer Alan Brenner's website by clicking here
I snagged the books on first release and have rerereread them yearly since. Self published or no I'd buy the next one or two released by this author sight unseen, then let them stand towards more to come.
I have greatly enjoyed the "Spell" books and long looked for other works by Mr. Brenner. It would be wonderful to see a resurgence of interest in his work. I relate to his idea of self-interest versus unintended consequences!
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