Author Interview: Sean Sakamoto

Sean Sakamoto is one of the authors in the (very!) soon-to-be released urban fantasy anthology, Urban Harvest: Tales of the Paranormal in New York City, and I’m so happy to have him featured on my blog for an interview.
 
What do you like about writing in the paranormal genre?
 
Albert Camus famously said, “Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.” If that’s true, and I believe it is, then paranormal, or any speculative fiction, is an even greater lie through which we can tell an even greater truth. I love the freedom to create any device to get at the heart of a story, and genre frees me to do that. If I need to explore how blind optimism can be dangerous, then I can create a virus that causes optimism and wreaks havoc upon the world. If I want to explore the sheer terror of being stopped and frisked by uniformed police, why not show my city under occupation by aliens who can grope my mind and broadcast my secrets? Genre, and specifically paranormal, give me a language for going deeper into the horror, adventure, or hilarity of the human condition.
 
What prompted you to write this story?
 
In my story, Ghosts of New York, 8 million ghosts are released from a rotten seam of rock in the dig for the second avenue subway line. Every New Yorker gets one ghost, and that ghost tells the truth about them to everyone nearby. I wrote this story because I often feel like I’ve got a ghost on my shoulder that whispers my worst fears into my ear. “Your writing sucks. You have no imagination. Everyone knows you don’t belong at this party. You’re getting too old for this kind of fun.” ad nauseum. One way I have found to get on with living my life despite these nagging doubts is to admit that some of them are true. My worst fears are true, and once I’ve been honest about it, I have nothing left to hide. Yes, I’m no Shakespeare. Yes, I’m getting old. Yes, I’m usually not the brightest guy in the room. That’s fine. Once I embrace the truth, as unflattering as it is, it has no power over me. I wanted to imagine a way for all New Yorkers to confront this, and have it literally play out. I wanted to take the power away from the ghosts that whisper in all of our ears.

 
What other things have you written/are you writing?
 
I was recently the story editor and associate producer on Star Trek: Secrets of the Universe. It aired on History, and it was a look at the science of Star Trek, and a glimpse behind the scenes and on the set of Star Trek Into Darkness. I’m also writing an apocalyptic novel called Rictus, about a pharma virus that jumps the lab and infects the world with blind, relentless optimism.
 
Do you consider your writing character-driven or plot-driven?
 
I consider my writing idea driven, and then it’s up to me to make the plot fun enough, and the characters interesting enough to keep the reader interested. Ideally, nobody would spend any time at all pondering the idea behind my writing because the story is too much fun. I’m not trying to lecture or teach anyone anything, I just find that some kind of overall idea to explore is how I find my way into a story and then I need to tell it well enough that readers have a great time with it. Ideas are what get me writing, but my purpose is to entertain. 

 
Do you plot ahead of time, or let the plot emerge as you write?
 
I plot ahead of time. I usually have a shot list of scenes that will get me to the end, and then I write my way through each scene. If the story is thin, I’ll add some scenes to help connect the major points, or flesh out a character. I have to work out the plot before I write because I find it too confusing to tell the story and work out where it’s going at the same time. That feels like multi-tasking to me, and I’m easily frustrated. If I feel like I don’t know where my story is going, I can easily become overwhelmed and get lost on the internet in full retreat. I need to break my story down into discrete steps and small goals to keep myself focused and prevent panic.

 

Do you have a writing mentor or inspiration?
 
I enjoy the podcasts Starship Sofa, and The Functional Nerds. Those are both great for keeping up with stories, ideas, and TV shows that are good. I’m always looking for more sources, especially for independently published fiction. I attended Viable Paradise, a Science Fiction and Fantasy writing workshop and I learned a ton while I was there. It really helped me understand how to write science fiction and fantasy for an audience and I’d recommend applying for anyone who wants to spend some time with great writers and editors and learn about the work.
 
When and how did you first become interested in writing?
 
When I was a kid, I remember sitting with a neighborhood friend and making up stories to pass the time. I was probably 13 or 14 and I realized then that I wanted to be a writer. I loved being able to let my mind run, and I loved the feeling of being in a new place that was being invented word by word. Since then, I feel most comfortable when I’m reading a story and it takes me over. I love the feeling of immersion in a world that was utterly constructed by an author. I seldom feel that way as a writer, but that is a feeling I want to provide readers. When I first became interested in writing, it was because I thought I had a lot to say and I wanted people to pay attention to me. 
 
As I’ve grown, that has changed for me, thankfully. Now I want to give people something. I’ve shifted my internal focus from me to them, and I think my writing has improved as a result. It’s wonderful to be part of a conversation whether as a reader or a writer, and that’s all I’ve really wanted I think.
 
What’s your writing schedule? Do you have a favorite place to write?
 
I have time to write in the mornings, but I often squander it. I find it hard to focus, and I’m easily distracted. I’d love to bring more discipline to my schedule. I don’t have a favorite place to write, but I am thinking about finding one. I’ve got a great son, and wife, and a busy life, so I make time to write when I can. When I have to write something professionally, as I did with Star Trek: Secrets of the Universe, then I work every chance I get. But with my own projects I’m less disciplined.

What’s next?

I’m rewriting Rictus, which I hope to finish by Spring. I’m also co-publishing a series of speculative fiction with Saif Ansari called Slipstream City. In our first volume, Tales from Other New Yorks, we had stories set in New York City. Our next volume will contain stories on the theme of Occupied New York. The stories will all be speculative fiction, all exploring some aspect of life in New York City under occupation. The stories could be set in any time with any aspect of occupation that the author wants to explore. I’ll have a piece in there about New York City under alien occupation, with mind-probing checkpoints and the measures that ordinary citizens take to resist this dismal life. It should be fun, and I’m looking forward to seeing what other writers come up with for the anthology.
 
Anything else you’d like to add?
 
I want to thank Donna for putting this together. I hope we feed some people with the proceeds of this book. I’m very excited to live in a time when interested readers and writers can put together a book around ideas that excite them and connect on a kindle, or any e-reader. This is an amazing time for fiction and I feel lucky to be able to read so much great stuff nowadays. 
 
 The following is a short excerpt from Sean’s story in Urban Harvest.
 
Ghosts of New York
 

“Hey, loser! Outside already? Why not noodle on your guitar for a few hours at home and call yourself a musician?” The words were a whisper, but their meaning was loud and clear. Bill, a man in his late 30s, winced into the insults and kept walking down Grand Street, heading to the Delancey Street station.

“Great isn’t it? That moment of optimism before the coffee wears off?” The mist hissed as it formed into an oblong face inches from Bill’s nose.

“Morning, Spork,” Bill said. The mist ignored him, as usual, and continued its tirade.

“Going to an interview, eh? This is gonna be good. I wonder how long it’ll take ‘em to figure out you’re completely useless?” The voice came from a misty figure that hovered in the air, floating backward as Bill walked. It breathed its misty words just inches from his face. Bill called the ghost “Spork” because its forehead bulged like the back of a spoon and the wisps of mist that made up its head tapered into points like the tines of a fork.

Bill sighed. “Just…go back in that hole you came out of!” he shouted. A woman walked by, caught his eye, and gave a wary look of sympathy before she quickly passed him; a big-nosed wisp hovered by her side.

Bill wanted to pretend that Spork wasn’t striking a nerve, but he just couldn’t fake it this time. The morning coffee kick was just running out, as Spork had predicted. The bright future buzz that Bill relied on to get him out of the apartment was fading into the mid-morning crash, and he needed to stay happy for his first job interview in months. It was a perfect time for Spork, the ghost that haunted him, to show up. Perfect for Spork, anyway. Not so good for Bill.

“Are you going to tell them about the arrest?” Spork hissed into Bill’s face. The sprite’s breath was a cool mist with the musty smell of a subway tunnel on a damp day. Six months ago, Bill would have taken a swing at Spork, but it never mattered. None of the sprites ever reacted to anyone, aside from a moan when someone smiled. But that didn’t happen much anymore; smiles were in short supply. But talking to them? Useless, like yelling at a cloud. They just kept doing whatever they were doing, oblivious. Only, unlike a cloud, they tormented the people of New York City.

 To read the rest of Sean’s story, check out Urban Harvest: Tales of the Paranormal in New York City, available from Amazon this Sunday (tomorrow)!

Author Interview: Laura Wenham

 Laura Wenham is one of the authors in the soon-to-be released urban fantasy anthology, Urban Harvest: Tales of the Paranormal in New York City, and I’m very happy to have her featured on my blog for an interview.
 
Your story, Coexistence, is about dragons who live under NYC. What prompted you to write this story?
 
The idea for my story began when I got my first job in Manhattan and walked every day past manhole covers that were constantly emitting streams of steam and smoke.  At first I largely thought how inefficient the steam heating systems were to be losing so much heat. Then, as I kept walking past them, I thought all of that smoke would make a good cover for dragons hiding underground.  Then I began to wonder how much evidence you would need to support the idea of underground dragons and what the likely reaction of the rest of society would be if a scientist claimed to have discovered dragons under Manhattan.  I couldn’t figure out what might cause a scientist to seriously research this until the various steam pipe explosions began happening in Manhattan. Like the character in my story, I walked right past the hole left by the explosion  in front of NYU’s library, which made quite an impression on me. 
 
What other things have you written/are you writing?
 
I have folders full of stories and poems and songs on my computer. I am very good at coming up with interesting ideas and very bad at figuring out where the plot and characters want to go. I am currently working on two different short stories. One of them is based on the idea that we become able to communicate with our dark-matter doppelgangers and the new rich tourist activity is not traveling into space, but instead meeting their doppelgangers in a room sealed by plasma to keep the universe from exploding – until one of the dark-matter  doppelgangers is murdered after the meeting and the detectives on our side of the universe have to figure out the motive without access to any physical evidence. The other story is about these tiny kangaroo-like robots that are built to be used for surveillance of enemy terrain (http://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/robotics-hardware/tiny-jumping-robot-finds-room-for-a-tail). When the military figures out a way to also have them radiate to increase the enemy’s feelings of fear,  an anti-war group decides to make them broadcast feelings of peace, make them self-replicating, and releases them in the US, with wide-ranging results. I am also trying to write down the amusing anecdotes of my 2.5 year old son’s daily adventures. 
 
Do you have a writing mentor or inspiration?
 
I am extremely grateful to the members of the Mom’s Writer’s Group at the Midshore Mothers’ Center (http://midshoremotherscenter.org/) who, when I described my story idea to them, patiently encouraged me to actually finish and submit it. I would also like to thank my various friends who read the final draft for mistakes, particularly Preston Ray, whose edits were extremely helpful in decreasing my word count without losing content. 
 
What’s your writing schedule? Do you have a favorite place to write?
 
With a 2.5 year old, my writing time is limited – which is why I value the free write time we have as part of the Mothers’ Center group as well as late nights in bed typing (sometimes incoherent) story ideas on my iPad. 
 
What’s next?
 
Our Writer’s Group starts up again in early October, so I intend to keep working on the two stories I mentioned above (as well as the several ideas I will probably come up with between now and then). 
 
Anything else you’d like to add?
 
I love the idea of writing anthologies and donating the profits to charities, particularly when they are local, meaningful charities such as City Harvest. Not only am I now a published author, but as I encourage my friends and family to buy the anthology on Sunday because I want them to read what I wrote, I also do so knowing that they are helping out a great cause! (And I have to confess I am terribly curious about and anxiously waiting to read the other stories in the anthology!)
 
 The following is a short excerpt from Laura’s story in Urban Harvest.
 
Coexistence

I knew I had to have an excess of proof in order to not be seen as another Bigfoot or Loch Ness Monster hunter. I spent months, and then years, creating the most thorough maps of the NYC underground. During this time, I became increasingly oblivious to events on the surface. The friend whose apartment I had been using moved during one of my long periods underground. When I resurfaced to shower and pick up my unemployment checks, I was very surprised to knock on his door and meet a nice Asian couple who had no idea who I was. My belongings, and one of my few remaining connections to the surface world, were gone without a forwarding address.

I can’t explain the patterns I saw without my data, which the FBI confiscated when they arrested me. It’s probably collecting dust in an FBI basement now, but back in the spring of 2014 with everything right in front of me, I thought I had developed enough of an understanding of the markings that I was considering altering them to attempt communication with my theoretical life forms. Before I could do anything, however, the decision was taken away from me.

I was camping in a small open area formed by the intersection of two of the marked tunnels when I saw it. This was not a small tube worm or hydrogen-sulfide breathing scorpion. Emerging from the smaller tunnel was what I would best describe as an earth dragon. Not a winged creature like Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon, but instead similar to a large worm-snake with a scaly covering of rock in every earth-tone imaginable.

As the dragon stretched to pull itself out of the tunnel, I could do nothing but stare in awe. The tangled asbestos fibers were clearly from a pelt that covered the dragon’s ventral side. As it emerged fully into the room, I realized it had a “head” end which had circular shiny, almost polished areas, and a “mouth” area which had shiny white crystals inside, while its “tail” end came to a sharp point. It was, I would find out later, on the smaller side for a dragon—but at the time the fact that it was probably three feet around and six feet long was impressive enough. 

 To read the rest of Laura’s story, check out Urban Harvest: Tales of the Paranormal in New York City, available from Amazon this Sunday!