Stephen B. Pearl is a generalist, knowing enough about a lot of things to get himself into trouble. His belief that good fiction is founded on good fact does tend to lend his writing a realistic air that is occasionally superseded by his other belief that given time, effort and an open mind, you can work your way around most problems. For example, in Stephen’s opinion the light speed limit is a challenge to be surmounted, not an imposable barrier.
Stephen writes in a verity of genera encompassed by the term Speculative Fiction. His tendency to apply the tropes of one genre to another lends a fairly unique taste to his work. From hillbilly mechanics in the Tinker’s World series of Post-Apocalyptic novels to explanations of the metaphysical mechanics of how spells work in his paranormal work, Stephen demonstrates a real skill for sharing the mechanical How to’s of an issue in an engaging and simple manner.
As is the case with many writers he has had a varied job history that encompassed everything from Lifeguarding to being a Mad Scientist for a children’s after-school program.
In life, Stephen is a cat enthusiast, enjoys waking in the woods and nature, keeps company with his wife of over thirty years and lives somewhere in Hamilton Ontario, a nice city if you ignore the city council.
Stephen, thank you for agreeing to this interview. You were recently interviewed on the Fantasy Fiends Podcast with Andy Peloquin and Stevie Collier, where you had a great conversation about metaphysics. How has your fascination and direct experience with the unknown enhanced or influenced your writing?
It really depends on the book. For the Tinker’s World series, Cats, and Slaves of Love, it touches on character as my leads are Pagan and adhere to a Pagan world view. Beyond that, it doesn’t have much influence in most of my SF with the notable exception of War of the Worlds 2030 where the mental discipline involved in practicing a mystical tradition allows for the operation of a direct biomechanical interface.
On the other hand, my paranormal works, Nukekubi, Worlds Apart, and The Hollow Curse are heavily influenced by metaphysics. I tend to use the Western Esoteric System as the basis for my magic systems. I jack the power level to make it more interesting, but the principles are there.
My experiences growing up in a haunted house and dealing with the spooky side of reality do crop up in my writing as more or less a background note. My strongly held belief that ‘magic’ is just another aspect of natural science that we have yet to fully embrace is a standard in my work.
Another aspect is the fact that I like to tap into mythology and incorporate it where I can. The myth of the departure of the Fey in Worlds Apart is one example. The use of a Nukekubi, a Japanese yokai or goblin, as the antagonist in Nukekubi is another.
For my Norse Fantasy, Viking Adventure, Horn of the Kraken, my working knowledge of the Norse Runes came in quite handy. It was also advantageous that I’ve done work with spirit entities because I could reflect that into my Seithkona character. Seithkona were Necromantic witches. Fortunately, my own path, neo-Egyptian, doesn’t demand that a man live as a woman to study death magic. The Seithkona did. In the Norse myths, Odin himself had to live as a woman while he trained in this form of sorcery.
By the way, to all you folk that are clutching your holy symbols and grabbing garlic, Death is a natural part of the cycle of birth, life, death, and renewal. If you want a fair depiction of the personification of death as I see it, check out the disk world books by Terry Pratchett. I get on well with Anubis, he freed my parents of pain when no other healer could help, he is a good friend.
My nine years as a member of the Society For Creative Anachronism also helps with much of my fiction. I’m covered in rust, but I know the fundamentals of several kinds of swordplay and several middle ages trades. It comes in handy.
In the past couple of years, you have released stories in a few anthologies, including Group Hex Vol. 1, Group Hex Vol. 2, and 1984 in the 21st Century: An Anthology of Essays. Do you have a favorite story among the collection? What is the story about?
Oddly enough, the favourite short I’ve had published isn’t in one of these. (Blushing) It’s a story in Happy Milf Day called Three Parts Love. It is about a couple deeply in love who have drifted apart because of the pressures of life and parenthood. They use their wedding anniversary as an excuse to reconnect on the physical, mental and spiritual levels. I feel it expresses the essential nature of the Wiccan wine blessing, “For there is no greater power than that of a man and a woman joined in love.”
One that is less risqué that I also like is Better The Devil You Know, in Morbid Seraphic volume 1. Sorry to go off script again. Basically, it plays with the idea of good and evil and questions how the line is blurred. Things that may appear evil at first glance may be a great good when you explore the long-term consequences. Plus, it has a drop-dead gorgeous, red-headed Succubus as the ‘female’ lead. I’m a guy, I’m not going to change, but I try not to be a pig about it.
You have dabbled in multiple genres including paranormal fantasy, romance erotica, and science fiction. What led to the diverse interest? Have you had to overcome any hurdles in marketing to different reader groups? What advice would you give to other multi-genre authors?
What led me to my diverse interests? I think I owe that to my Dad. My father was a research chemist but had grown up tracking rabbits in the forests of 1930 Nova Scotia. My Dad loved to know things and growing up to get any positive regard I had to be able to intellectually hold my own. Kinda tough for a kid who’s youngest sibling is seven years older than him. All things considered, I don’t know that my interests are more diverse than most people, they are simply focused differently. Team sports bore me, and I’ve never bothered to learn anything about them. I’d rather dive in and see a fish in its own habitat then put a hook in the pore little thing. Not to say that I don’t eat fish, and I have killed for food, but, unless it is a necessity, I’d rather live and let live.
Science and philosophy capture my interest. I get a lot more out of a space shuttle launch than a football game. This isn’t condemning people who enjoy sports, it is simply stating where my interests lie.
An extension of the above is that I write what interests me, and I’m interested in a lot of unique things. One novel I’m trying to find a home is Dinosaur’s Ending, Sentient Neolithic Dinosaurs at the time of the great Cretaceous extinction. It gave me an excuse to read up on Dinosaurs and tribal cultures and do a lot of museum crawls. I had a membership at the Royal Ontario Museum for a few years, and I put it to good use. Great Museum if you’re ever in Toronto.
I suppose being multi Genera has made things a little difficult with marketing. The fact that I bill myself as a Speculative Fiction author mitigates the problem. The common thread in my work is an element of the fantastic, be it science, magic, or both. Also, I like to mix the tropes of various genera. For example, I give explanations of how magic works in my paranormal books reminiscent of the technical explanations you get in science fiction.
As to advice? Write what you love. Love your characters, at least some of them, love your world. Create the book you’d want to read over and over again, because with editing you will, but also because if you feel that strongly you will bring the words to life and make a better product.
Your most recent release was Cats in 2018, which reminds me of several fun stories from my childhood. Tell us a bit about your story, the target audience, and what inspired you to write these stories.
Cats follows the classic science fiction trope of, ‘It’s a great idea but what could go wrong.’ I think the book blurb says it well.
The cerebral interface has revolutionized society. Need a ride? With a thought, the cab is on its way. Want an adventure? Enter a VR 5 computer game nearly indistinguishable from reality.
Amanda arranges for her Big Sisters Program little sister, Rachel, to spend a day gaming as a fourteenth birthday present. Amanda never suspects that her insane ex-boyfriend, Jim, will use a computer virus to trap her and her companions in the game.
A pleasant diversion becomes a life and death struggle as her party seek a way to come back to the real world without triggering a program that will cause nanobots to rip their brains to shreds.
To complicate matters, in the game scenario the adventurers have been transformed into cats. Will the party survive? Will Amanda admit that Rachel’s older brother, Tyrell, might just be her future? Will the computer virus Jim used to trap them become a cyber plague that could kill thousands?
In writing the story I looked at the recent advances in nanotechnology and neuroscience and extrapolated the cerebral interface, we will probably have something like the CI in the next hundred years or so. I then asked what would humans use this for. As I walked down the street dodging the shambling hordes of cellphone zombies I received my answer. I also have been involved with Role Playing Gaming, so I thought with the capacities of the CI you just have to figure people would use it to immerse themselves in game scenarios. From there I just took the good and bad from gaming and projected it into my world.
The inspiration was a chance to play with the lines of reality without falling back on a worn-out SF trope. Also, I like kids as a whole, and I think our homogenized, don’t drink from the hose society does them a disservice. I wanted to give a taste of reality. Some have called the book late, young adult and I’m good with that, though I’d say it has a lot of appeal for adults as well. Then there is my love of cats, who for the most part I get on better with than humans. I wanted to give something back to the species. That’s why a portion of all proceeds from the sale of cats will be donated to pet charities.
(Special note added after the writer imperfect panel, one of my furry companions performed a couple of cameos, she had a tail to tell. 😊 )
The final key was when my mum in law gave me a painting inspired by one who was, is, and forever will be, very precious to me. That painting became the cover art for the novel.
The Tinker series, including Tinker’s Plague and Tinker’s Sea, takes place in a post-apocalyptic world. Set the scene for us and the plot of this fascinating tale. What themes did you include in this series that you hope connects with readers?
The history of the Tinker’s World series is the history of our world. Moving forward, sometime in the mid-twenty-first century the number of nuclear disasters finally forces them to shut down the nuclear reactors.
Progressing to the early twenty-second century, two circumstances collide. One climate change reaches a tipping point were the last congenial places for human habitation on the planet are about to be lost. Two, solar flares trigger a massive EM burst that knocks out the global power grid. The powers that be make a conscious decision to only reestablish the power grid in so far as sustainable sources can maintain it. This is the time of the Collapse when ninety per cent of the population in western nations dies over a five-year period. This number is not unreasonable because of the amount of energy we use to clean our water. Already we have a population with no immunity to many waterborne pathogens. Couple this with a lack of advanced medical care, food shortages, intertribal warfare over resources, and a ninety per cent death rate might even be conservative.
The Tinker’s World starts in the year 107 Post Collapse. Two high tech societies have held on in the Ontario area by centring on the Hydro-Electric plants. Novo Gaia and the United Grid Regions. Everywhere else is called the dark lands. The dark lands have a largely pre-electric technology, a dodgy water supply and no central government, having become a collection of city-states.
Tinkers, Doctors of general applied technologies, wander the dark lands helping people bootstrap themselves back to energy abundance by selling them sustainable energy generation technologies. Tinker’s also supply medical and veterinary services as well as other basic skills that the largely uneducated dark landers lack.
The world of the tinkers is one of extremes. In the Bright Lands, Novo Gaia and the United Grid Regions, the technology is slightly more advanced than we are accustomed to, people live in relative comfort. The limiting factor to all things is the amount of energy available.
In the dark lands, most people are illiterate and doing subsistence farming with poisoned well water, toxic soil and few comforts. This is shown by a simple thing. The Inn in Eden Mills, the town is a real place you can visit, has a viewing room. This is a room with a working television. It is a marvel that draws people from kilometres around so they can pay extra for their meal and watch a show as they eat. The Inn keep has been working with the tinkers for years adding solar panels, methane composting septic system and wind turbines to his place to power this and other wonders.
The main theme I’ve tried to include is hope. No matter how bad things are if you are willing to work for it, and release your preconceptions, they can get better. That and that we have what we need to avoid the future I postulate. We just need to apply it. Every technology I have in the Tinker’s World books exists or is in the prototype stage. If we start applying them now and get a handle on global population levels, we don’t need to fall so far.
What can we expect from you in 2019? Anything else you would like to add?
I am currently editing book two of the Bastard Prince Saga, The Spear of Destiney, where my band of intrepid Norse persons seek yet another relic of awesome power to keep it from the crusaders that would dominate the world and crush all under their heel.
I also want to set up a crowdfunding to start doing audiobook versions of my books. As a note, anyone who does this kind of work I’m looking for bids so I can set my funding goals. I’d want at least one male and one female voice actor, three would also be good one narrator one female one male. I’d also like some light background sound. Things like rain falling when appropriate. If this might be up your street drop me a pm on FaceBook.
I also want to say thank you all for reading and thank you Joshua for giving me this opportunity.
Ankh Em Ma’at (Life in balance, an ancient blessing)
It has been a pleasure, Stephen! Please tell us where fans can find you online.