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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 underway?

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, though.

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 taking shape.

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 streak...

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 probably ever.

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 sales.

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

2014-08-23 16:14:46
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.

2012-04-01 07:02:28
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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