The Write Stuff – Monday, February 4 – C. S. Ferguson Interview

I asked this week’s guest, C. S. Ferguson, to tell us something about himself. This was his response:

I live in the Pacific NW with my wife, two sons, a cat who thinks she’s a dog (she plays fetch), and a dog who thinks he’s a cat (he stalks and pounces). I enjoy camping, diving, swimming, lifting weights, reading, and just about anything that can act as a creative outlet.

I more or less spend all day every day studying or creating. I’m constantly outlining new novels and writing them, drawing things, painting, designing tabletop games, or studying whatever interests me at the time. Mythology. Anthropology. Military history. Ninjas. Pirates. The histories of various pop culture phenomena, like Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. Typical guy stuff, I suppose. I have no a social life (99% I on the I-E continuum) so I have a lot of free time to do these things.

I prefer science fiction and fantasy because of the creative freedom afforded in the more speculative genres. How else could I write a story about a mute psychic special agent chasing a group of washed up space pirates trying to bribe their way through an FTL jumpgate during an interplanetary civil war?

WordFire Press released his latest science fiction release, Devils & Black Sheep, on January 23 of this year. Its premise is as follows:

In the distant Heracles system, at the edge of explored space, the last pirates of the once-infamous Crimson Star fleet are trapped. Civil war has broken out between the seven systems of human space and the jumpgates that supply interstellar travel are closed down to all but official traffic. The pirate leader, retired university math professor Tybalt, is desperate to escape the system and attempt an experimental cure for the degenerative condition that got him fired from the university. Their pilot, corpulent ex-gangster Falstaff, clings to the hope that he can reconstitute the pirate fleet and return them to their former glory. Their surgeon, ascetic psychic Tamora, has grown disillusioned with their lifestyle and wants to return home to her monastery and a simple life of meditation. Their enforcer, retired military android Nicodemus, never found further employment except as a janitor until a law enforcement agent approached him about infiltrating an infamous pirate group. He has spent years sabotaging their efforts and is nearly ready for the endgame that will bring down the last of the Crimson Star pirates for good.

Soured by the Bureau recently moving him from active status to a support role, legendary but aging lawman Neil Tesso wants to reinvigorate his career and convince his superiors to return him to active status with the elite Spacetrooper raid teams. With the increased pirate activity in his home system and the growing civil war, the Core government on old Earth threatens martial law. Desperate to avert the arrival of the insidious Inquisitors and the suffering that follows and seeing an opportunity to convince his superiors of his continued worth despite his age, he pursues the pirates with zealous determination.

What neither side knows is that among the Crimson Star’s most recently pirated cargo is a crate of almost immeasurable value.

What do you want readers to know about your book?

That it exists. After that, I’ll let the book tell them everything they want to know about it.

Aside from the plot, is there a story behind it?

I set out to write a story about people who think, instead of people who constantly act and react. That was my diamond-hard core of intent. I hope it’s apparent.

Why is your writing different from other authors in this genre?

It would be astonishingly arrogant to claim that my work stands out. There are a lot of fantastic authors with a lot of fantastic ideas. That said, I’m more interested in thinking characters than action characters, and am more interested in the bungled mistakes people make than in their perfect decisions. So I guess I write stories about non-badasses, which is different.

What was your path to publication?

I submitted the first 10k words for consideration. About a month later, I got a reply asking for the whole manuscript. I submitted that, and a few months later the manuscript was selected for publication. The publisher assigned me an editor, and we collaboratively tumbled down the sharp corners over several months. The whole process from query to published novel took about a year and a half.

What are you working on now?

Gamewise, I’m working on a narrative role-playing system with campaign settings for D.J. Butler’s Rock Band Fights Evil urban fantasy series, Quincy J. Allen’s Blood War Chronicles western steampunk fantasy series, and Kevin J. Anderson’s Saga of Seven Suns space opera series.

Bookwise, I’m writing a sci-fi series about angels having lost Armageddon and being forced to integrate demons into their society. It’s told mostly from the angelic point of view, from an ensemble cast. The central theme is Nietzsche’s Warning.

What else have you written?

A whole lot of NaNoWriMo novels.

What is your writing routine?

The first thing I do is create characters. I write them out as an upbringing, achievements, traumas, personality, and goal. Then I imagine those characters telling me their story, and I write down the outline for the story that they would tell me. When I write, I aim for ~10,000 words per day. I dislike editing, so I write finished prose from beginning to end. When the manuscript is complete (complete and finished are different things), I do global searches for words I don’t like and find a better way to say them.

Do you create an outline before you write?

Yes, but my outline is quite loose. Sometimes the characters derail my outline and the story takes a different direction than intended, though. Pesky things, characters. They never do what they’re told.

Why do you write?

I can’t stand not to. Take away my computer and I’ll write stories by hand. Take away my paper and I’ll scratch stories into the dirt with a stick. I keep a notepad by my bed because I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night having dreamed a scene, or a character, or even an entire new story. I’ve dictated a story outline into my phone while grocery shopping. I’ve also typed one into my phone while at a rock concert.

At this stage in your career, what is your greatest challenge?

Balancing work with family. I tend to get lost in projects and become an absentee husband and father. I schedule an hour a day with each of my kids and with my wife to make sure I don’t become a total stranger.

Tell us about your thoughts on collaboration.

I love collaborations. I sent out a request for short fiction submissions for a game I was working on, and that’s how I started down this path. I met a lot of great writers who submitted a lot of great stories. I bought the best ones for the game, and those authors got excited and introduced me to their friends and collaborators. It grew from there. The best thing you can do for your career is be competent and cooperative. If you are, collaborators will actively seek you out.

What life experiences inspire or enrich your work?

I’m a boring person. Anything I’ve done, thousands of other people have also done. But I try to capture the experience in my writing. I’ve stood at the top of the highest peak for a thousand miles in every direction and watched the clouds sail past beneath me; I’ve writhed in agonizing pain and truly doubted whether I’d live long enough to make it to the emergency room; I’ve stood in the middle of a desert and wondered at the vast sea of sand extending to the horizon in every direction; twice, I’ve held a seconds-old newborn in my trembling hands and cried because I knew I wasn’t up to the job. Life is experiential. So I try to see what the character sees, feel what they feel, and describe the experience.

Do you have another job outside of writing?

I’m a game designer, digital and tabletop.

Describe a typical day.

Wake up 5:15 a.m, leave for gym at 5:30, lift weights from 5:45-6:45, back home by 7:00, clean up, eat breakfast at 7:15. Check email (10 minutes or two hours, depending on the day). Phone calls (also 10 minutes or two hours, depending on the day). Second breakfast at 9:00, brunch at 11:00, and lunch at 1:00 p.m.. By afternoon, I’m caught up on contacts and ready for nuts and bolts work. Writing. Drawing. Reading. Background research. Market studies. I eat again at 3:00 p.m. and break from work at 3:30 to play with my kids. Diablo with Dad is a thing in our house. I play an hour of multiplayer Diablo with each of my kids, and I make it a habit of ruining it by turning the whole thing into a series of life lessons. “We defeated Belial on Torment! High Five! Now, how do you think it would work out if you faced Belial as a level 1 character? Life is like that. You can sit around in town and stay a level 1 character forever, or you can go out, take some risks, get bloodied up, get stronger, level up, equip better gear, and go farther than any level 1 character could even dream of going. But if you just stay in the safety of town, you’ll live your entire life as a level 1 character.” Eat dinner at 5:00, then return to work. I stop at 7:00 to eat supper with my wife, and we watch one episode of whatever show she wants together. Then I work until 9:00, at which point I clean up again and go to bed around 9:15. Repeat, seven days a week. Saturday and Sunday mornings are for chores and errands instead of phone calls, but I still occasionally field a call.

What motivates or inspires you?

Watching documentaries about the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs, and about World War 2. Those were iron men.

How do you pick yourself up in the face of adversity?

Ignore it. 90% of adversity is imaginary. Nothing in my life is hard. Omaha Beach was hard. This? This is nothing.

If you could do anything differently, what would it be?

I believe that kind of thinking is a pitfall of self-defeat. We make the best decisions we can, given the information we had at the time. Sure, there are things I could have done better. But that assumes I had different information than I had at the time. I didn’t, so if I was in the same position all over again, I’d make the same decision.

What is your greatest life lesson?

I believe that life lessons are experienced, not taught. My life lessons would be meaningless to anyone who hasn’t experienced my life.

What makes you laugh?

When my cat paws at my face in the middle of the night because she wants under the covers with me.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Stephen E. Ambrose, Antony Beevor, Robert Bloch, Philip K. Dick, Adam Makos, Andre Norton, Jeff VanderMeer, A.E. van Vogt, Kurt Vonnegut.

Thanks so much for sharing your time with us. Before I present our visitors with an excerpt from Devils & Black Sheep, followed by your book buy and social links, I’d like to conclude with a customary Lightning Round. In a few words as possible, please answer the following:

My best friend would tell you I’m a: Loner

 The one thing I cannot do without is: A happy wife.

 The one thing I would change about my life: Nothing

My biggest peeve is: People talking loudly

 The person I’m most satisfied with is: My wife

 Do you have a parting thought you would like to leave us with?

 Up Up Down Down Left Right Left Right A B Select Start

Excerpt:

He turned and looked at Leer. The officer was motionless, a skeletal game piece, a mute specter of a secret policeman whose mind Staff could only guess at.

“The silent treatment,” Staff said. “More silence. How do you get anything at all out of your detainees, if you stand there and stare at them? I’ve got bunny slippers that are more intimidating than you are.”

He snorted and looked away from the officer.

An odd sensation trickled into his mind, again. His mind became cold, as if something had been poured into his brain, icy, flowing, snaking along each crevice and dripping into mental caverns that he didn’t know existed. He clenched his teeth and groaned against the pain, but it didn’t help. He tried to blink away the discomfort, focus through the wavering, twisting images in front of his eyes. It didn’t work.

“Drugs?” he gasped. “Really? ISB isn’t happy with their secret police interrogation tactics, you have to resort to drugs, now? You’re pathetic.”

A frigid lance of pain stabbed through his mind and shot down his neck, and he curled in agony.

I will kill you, Staff thought. You’re Number One on my list, when I get out of here. You’re done. I will crush you, and I will laugh in your face as you fade to black. But most of all, I’ll stab you straight through that stupid mask.

Pounding pressure stomped through his head, but the cold sensation faded and Staff fell back onto the bed. The wraithy officer remained mute and still as a tombstone.

“Okay,” Staff said in between panting breaths. “That one was special. I liked that. Do it again.”

He focused his body on relaxing, each limb in its turn, and waited for the chilling sensation in his head. But it didn’t come. Instead, the sinister officer reached up with a long-fingered hand and triggered the handcuffs. They snapped open with an ominous ring and fell to the floor.

Staff launched himself out of the bed in a blur of motion, his face curled in a mask of rage, his hands reaching for Leer’s throat, that thin, skeletal neck that he was certain would snap like a stick in his grip. Leer stepped aside, the subtlest twist of body, and Staff smashed into the wall. Veteran of a hundred brawls and boarding actions, he was back on his feet in a blink and lunged at the officer again. Again, Leer took a single step away, and Staff crashed into the bed that, a moment ago, had imprisoned him.

“You’re a fast little bastard,” Staff said. “But all I need is one hit, and you’re going down. You’re dead. I may look fat, but I’ve got a hell of a lot of muscle underneath it.”

He’s fast. Damn fast. I need to take him seriously, wear him down, play the long game. I’m not as fast as I used to be in my younger years. Or in my leaner years.

Meaty fists held up on either side of his face, Staff took a steadying breath and settled into a fighting stance, high on the balls of his feet, every joint loose and ready to move. He expected his silent opponent to do the same. But Leer stood straight and tall, hands dangling loosely at his side, feet flat on the floor.

This guy’s an amateur.

One hammer-like fist shot out at Leer’s mirrored mask, and Staff smiled in anticipation of the victory. Leer stepped back, the slightest motion, but enough to stop outside of Staff’s reach. Still, the gaunt officer was infuriatingly balanced, in perfect posture, upright and absent any lean or tilt. Twice more, he jabbed out at Leer, and twice the officer stepped away.

I’ve got you now, Staff thought when Leer put his back to the wall. Nowhere to run, you dodgy little bastard. And if you’re a witch, I’ll kill you and everyone you know with my bare hands.

His next punch sailed through empty air as Leer stepped aside, almost before the fist began to move. He lunged in for a powerful tackle, arms spread wide to grab the officer and pull him to the ground … but Leer stepped aside and twisted away with the speed and grace of a swallow in flight, and once again Staff slammed into the ground empty-handed. And Leer’s arms remained at his side, having not yet moved since the melee started.

Those of you who would like to follow C. S. Ferguson online can do so here:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/darth.ferguson

You can purchase a copy of Devils & Black Sheep here:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B07N1XV16J

 

 

 

 

 

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