Ken Lizzi is an attorney and the author of an assortment of published short stories. When not traveling – and he’d rather be traveling – he lives in Portland, Oregon with his lovely wife Isa and their daughter, Victoria Valentina. He enjoys reading, homebrewing, and visiting new places. He loathes writing about himself in the third person. Connect with Ken on Facebook and Twitter.
About the Book:
In the tradition of Edgar Rice Burroughs’John Carter of Mars, Under Strange Sunsbrings the sword-and-planet novel to the twenty-first century. War is a constant, and marooned on a distant world, former Special Forces soldier Aidan Carson learns there is nothing new Under Strange Suns.
Read Chapter One
Q: Congratulations on the release of your latest book, “Under Strange Suns.” To begin with, can you gives us a brief summary of what the story is about and what compelled you to write it?
A: “Under Strange Suns” is the story of a burned-out, former Special Forces soldier hired to search for the lost inventor of the Faster-than-Light spaceship drive. You can blame this one on Edgar Rice Burroughs. ERB popularized the sword-and-planet genre with his “A Princess of Mars” back in 1912, the first of the John Carter stories. But what cut it with readers in 1912 might raise some eyebrows a hundred years later. So when I decided to dip my toe into the sword-and-planet genre, I knew that getting my characters to another world would require a bit more heavy lifting on my part. The resulting novel, “Under Strange Suns,” works the mechanism of space travel into the narrative itself, driving the plot (in addition to driving the characters to their destination.)
Q: What do you think makes a good science fiction novel? Could you narrow it down to the three most important elements? Is it even possible to narrow it down?
A: As with every story, the primary consideration is to entertain. With science fiction, a secondary requirement is novelty, or at least some twist on a familiar theme. And finally, the story must entertain. Yes, I used entertain for two slots. That factor is twice as important as any other.
Q: How did you go about plotting your story? Or did you discover it as you worked on the book?
A: I worked out a moderately detailed outline, broken down into chapters and describing the events each chapter must cover. Once I began writing, the outline became more of a mission statement or list of suggestions. But most of the events described in the outline made it into the novel in one form or another.
A: Since the impetus for “Under Strange Suns” was “A Princess of Mars,” I knew the main character would be a soldier. Other than that, his character owes little or nothing to John Carter. I spent some time in uniform, many years ago, and did have the opportunity to train and hobnob with members of the Special Operations community. Aidan Carson’s personality is based to some extent on my foggy memories of those unique people.
Q: In the same light, how did you create your antagonist or villain? What steps did you take to make him or her realistic?
A: My villains are fanatics, true believers. The primary step required to make them realistic was reading the news. Other than that, I needed to show sincerity, that the villains truly believed their actions were not only justified, but moral, even laudable.
Q: How did you keep your narrative exciting throughout the novel? Could you offer some practical, specific tips?
A: Know when to end the chapter. Cliff-hangers never go out of style, because they work. Try to leave the reader with a desire to find out what happens next.
Q: Setting is also quite important and in many cases it becomes like a character itself. What tools of the trade did you use in your writing to bring the setting to life?
A: With an alien landscape as a setting, I tried to reinforce the novelty and unique aspects of the place. I used frequent repetition to reinforce the unearthly lighting that two suns would provide. I also employed intermittent description of alien flora and fauna to occasionally remind the reader he’s no longer in Kansas.
Q: Did you know the theme(s) of your novel from the start or is this something you discovered after completing the first draft? Is this theme(s) recurrent in your other work?
A: I considered theme at the outlining stage and stuck with it. The theme, or related aspects, have cropped up in my other work, yes. But theme is secondary to the obligation to (say it with me) entertain.
Q: Where does craft end and art begin? Do you think editing can destroy the initial creative thrust of an author?
A: There’s a question for you. Something to hash out over a pitcher of beer. I’d suggest that from traditionally published debut writers up through the ranks of mid-list authors, craft predominates. Art dominating craft, for better or worse, is found among either the self-published or the best-selling traditionally published authors. In between those two poles, editors are going to push conventional narrative voice and technique. And in most cases, I’d guess, rightly so. But I’m just speculating here. And without that pitcher, damn it.
Q: What three things, in your opinion, make a successful novelist?
A: A firm grasp of craft, perseverance, and the ability to entertain.
Q: A famous writer once wrote that being an author is like having to do homework for the rest of your life. What do you think about that?
A: No one ever paid me to do homework. I like this writing gig better. Less math.
Q: Are there any resources, books, workshops or sites about craft that you’ve found helpful during your writing career?
A: Any book on craft is useful. I’ve read several. The good advice stands out by repetition from multiple sources.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers about the craft of writing?
A: Pay close attention to your editor. Even if you don’t agree with a suggestion, consider the reason for it.