Steven Karl Zoltán Brust is a fantasy writer known for his Vlad Taltos Novels and Khaavren Romances, as well as several stand alone novels including Brokedown Palace and Agyar.
Spherical Time: To begin, can you describe where and when you work? Do you write at a desk or table longhand, or straight into a computer? What time of day do you find you write the best?
SKZB: I seem to live on a 26-hour day--that is, my schedule seems to advance two hours a day. I get up, get coffee, do my email, open up the file of whatever I'm working on, and let it stare at me while I wake up, or browse the web, or play a computer game, or whatever. If it's the beginning of project, I just pick at it while doing other things. If it's near the end, I probably spend the whole day writing. In between, things seem to open up a bit as I'm starting to get tired, which I think accounts for the 2 hour shift; I don't like to quit when things are flowing.
Spherical Time: How do you plan out a book before you write it? Your longest running series, the Vlad Taltos saga, contains numerous connections, references and hints about books that were not or will not be published until later. How much work had you done when you began writing Jhereg and other Vlad Taltos novels?
SKZB: I sometimes plan out a book in great detail--500 Years After and Brokedown Palace both had extensive plot outlines. Other times, I have no clue what will happen in the next paragraph--Teckla and Taltos were both like that. I prefer the latter--it's more fun to tell myself a story. I had bits and pieces of Vlad's career in mind when I wrote Jhereg, and have accumulated more, but I ignore them if I come up with a better idea while writing a scene.
Spherical Time: Do you follow a strict method when writing a novel, and if so, can you describe it?
SKZB: Nope. I have a lot of different approaches. My favorite involves starting out with a cool opening sentence, then a cool sentence to follow, and I keep doing that until I need to figure out what the book is about.
Spherical Time: As a beginning author, what were your largest challenges and how did you overcome them?
SKZB: My biggest challenge was a tendency to write a chapter or two, go back and fix it, and keep doing that until I lost momentum and stopped. I had to force myself to get to the end, no matter how bad it was, and worry about fixing it after I had a first draft. Part of it was convincing myself that I was just writing it for my own pleasure and I had no intention of submitting it. That got me to the end, and through the revisions, after which, of course, I promptly submitted it.
Spherical Time: When you published your first novel, did you use a literary agent, or did you submit directly to the publisher? At the time, how extensive were your writing credits?
SKZB: I submitted it directly to the publisher, then, once I had an offer, had an agent negotiate the deal for me. At the time, I had no writing credits.
Spherical Time: What motivates you to write? Where do you find inspiration?
SKZB: I want to make people feel the way I felt when I first read Zelazny's Lord of Light.
Spherical Time: One of the reasons that I think that your work impresses me so much are the incredibly detailed settings of the Dragaeran empire. Do you have any advice for writers on how to craft their worlds?
SKZB: Start with the food and work out from there.
Spherical Time: The Khaavren Romances are in a distinctly different style than the Vlad Taltos books, and I've noticed that recently you seem to be alternating between a Vlad Taltos novel, and then one or two Khaavren Romances. Why does writing in multiple literary styles appeal to you?
SKZB: While, the whole point of style is that it has to bounce off the story in an interesting way. You can't really separate them. So far, I've been lucky enough to be able to just write the next story I felt like writing. Finding the right style, or voice, to match the story is really the fun the part. Okay, one of the fun parts. To only use one style would be to deprive myself of a lot of the fun.
Spherical Time: I believe that you belong to a writers group or club called the Scribbles. Do you have any suggestions for finding or starting a writing group?
SKZB: First of all, get it out of your head that you need a writers group. You don't. You need to write, and after you've written, you need to be self-critical, and re-write. If you find that the editor who lives in the back of your head isn't good at his job, then /maybe/ a writers group will be useful. I got very, very lucky with the Scribblies--we work together very well, and egos don't get in the way.
I have tons of specific advice on how a writers group should work. I can tell you exactly what to do, and explain why any other way of doing things is nonsense. Unfortunately, I can then name successful writers groups that violate every one of these rules. So I guess, on reflection, that wouldn't be useful.
Spherical Time: Is there any mistake that you've made along the way that you can help new writers avoid?
SKZB: Probably not. It is so different for everyone. As I said above, I had the problem of constantly revising before I'd finished the first draft, and I had to get past that, but there are others who can revise as they go and still make progress. I don't know. If we were sitting down a glass of Laguvullen in a nice, smoky bar, and talking, I could probably come up with a lot of bullshit, but the fact is, anyone who is determined to write well enough to publish will put in the work it takes to do that, and will make his own mistakes along the way, and correct them as he goes.
Spherical Time: What is your favorite word or phrase?
SKZB: This week, it's "I'm your huckleberry."
Spherical Time: Most writers love to read. Previously you've mentioned that you like Dumas, Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Trotsky, and Zelazny, as well as long list of contemporary authors, of whom I only recognize a select few. Are there any authors that you've read recently that you enjoyed and would recommend?
SKZB: John M. Ford. Pamela Dean. Emma Bull. Will Shetterly. Jacqueline Carey. John D. MacDonald. Tim Powers. John Scalzi. Elizabeth Bear.
Spherical Time: Any final advice to aspiring writers?
SKZB: 1. Don't tell anyone who doesn't need to know that you're writing a novel. It is so much more fun to see the looks on your friends faces when you tell them you've sold a novel they didn't even know you were writing.
2. For the same reason, once you do sell your novel, when someone asks what you do for a living, do not say "writer." It is so much more fun, when you can finally quit the day job, to be able to say it for the first time. I still smile when I remember that.
3. Read outside the genre.
4. Concentrate on basics, such as grammar, and constructing a good sentence. If you can write a good sentence, you can do any form of writing.
5. Figure out what lies you need to tell yourself in order to produce your best work, then put lots of effort into believing them.
6. Forget "self-publishing." It's a scam. Writers only sign checks on the back.
7. Take a chance. Do something you don't think you're good enough to pull off.
8. Figure out what you're bad at, then write something that forces you to work on it (this is really only for after your first novel; for the first one, it's okay to write around your weaknesses).
9. Remember that getting to the end of your first novel is the most difficult thing you will ever do as a writer, whether it publishes or not. Once you've done that once, you can do it again. Get cocky about it.
10. Have fun. Write cool stuff.
11. Remember what Twain said: "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug."
12. This one is probably the most important: write something you wish someone else had written, because you want to read it.
13. Don't forget the food.
14. Write about people you'd be interested in following around to see what they do.
15. Take some literature courses so you can grab any "Writer Toys" (©: Emma Bull) that seem like they'd be fun to play with, discarding everything that doesn't excite you.
16. Study history.
17. Ignore people who try to give advice to aspiring writers. They don't know shit.