Interview with Tim Susman
Posted February 23, 2014on:
This interview is part of the Book of Apex Blog tour. Want to win a copy of the book for yourself? Click here for some give aways!
What a great experience to get to interview Tim Susman, author of Erzulie Dantor (read the story here, read my review here). I knew that Tim was involved with small press publishing, but until now I had no idea it was his press that published Ursula Vernon’s Hugo Award winning Digger! How cool is that? You can learn more about Tim at his website, but before you click on that, let’s do the interview, ok?
LRR: Your story “Erzulie Dantor” takes place in a disaster ravaged Haiti. Can you tell us what inspired this story?
T.S.: My sister-in-law organized a relief effort from the hospital in Denver where she worked and went with them to Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake. We followed the pictures and stories she sent back, which painted a vivid picture of the devastation and desperation there. That was in the back of my mind when I was researching werewolves of different cultures and found the Haitian je-rouge. It was a mysterious creature in legend and also on the Internet; I could find very little about it. So it occurred to me that where there is disaster and tragedy, there are also people willing to take advantage of the disorientation of others. From there, a story about jealousy and voodoo took place, and when I found Erzulie Dantor in the pantheon of Haitian gods, I had the last piece of the story.
LRR: What is your favorite type of fiction to write? Are there certain ideas or themes you enjoy writing about?
T.S.: I have in the past couple years written science fiction, fantasy, contemporary fiction, mystery, and horror…but if you pin me down to one, I like writing contemporary fantasy. A lot of my longer fiction is written with anthropomorphic animal characters (“furry” stories, about which more below); no matter what the setting, it’s always the characters that push me to finish stories. My works often involve questions of self-discovery or self-actualization, especially in the areas of sexuality or creative inspiration. I don’t like “message” stories, but I think that the best works do contain something that the reader can take away to make his or her life better, and that’s something I try to include in all my work.
T.S.: New Tibet is a shared universe I created that takes place in the far future of Earth, primarily on the eponymous planet. In this future, humans have bred/created animal people, originally to be soldiers and workers, later to be explorers. New Tibet is a colony world whose only habitable landmass is at one of the poles, so it is always winter (though sometimes Christmas). The animal-people who colonized it are those adapted to arctic environments: arctic foxes, snowshoe hares, polar bears, wolves, Siberian tigers, etc. The corporations that own the mineral rights (the planet’s main value) advertise this new frontier as a land of opportunity, but the only opportunities are the low-paying jobs in service industries, mining, refining, and shipping. Two crime syndicates exploit the workers further, lending money and selling drugs that get them through the day. Colonists attracted by the promise of wealth find themselves in debt without enough money to buy a ticket off-planet, and so in these harsh economic and climatic conditions, they must rely on each other.
The stories I’ve written explore the class conflicts on the planet, often broken out across species lines. In one story, a fox goes into debt to one of them to buy his lover an off-planet ticket, but his lover doesn’t want to leave him behind; in another, a wolf working for one of the syndicates assumes responsibility for a child orphaned by his colleagues who is a witness to his father’s murder. The novel, Common and Precious, follows the chairman of one of the corporations, a powerful tiger, and his daughter, who is kidnapped by people who want to ransom her for the money to renovate their local hospital. The kidnapping goes wrong almost immediately; as the daughter learns more about the desperation of her kidnappers (and, eventually, some of her own history), her father tests the limits of his power in his attempts to find her.
LRR: You recently did a series of James Bond flash fiction on your blog. Can I assume you’re a huge Bond fan? What inspired this series of flash fiction, and who is your favorite Bond?
T.S.: The flash fictions are actually inspired by the titles of Bond songs, not themed to the Bond world itself–they cover subjects as varied as androids with diamond brains and prosthetic limbs on the moon. I am a Bond fan, though, and growing up, we had a cassette of Bond movie theme songs. Recently I found an album of Bond movie theme songs that included all twenty-three songs up to (not including) “Skyfall,” and I had a lot of discussions with friends about which was best, so I decided to rank them. It’s impossible to rank the songs without noticing that a lot of the movie titles make terrible song titles–but they make great story titles, and since I wanted writing prompts just to flex some writing muscles, I decided to write spontaneous flash fictions with the titles of the songs.
I have trouble picking my favorite Bond. The Daniel Craig movies stand above the rest, for me, and I love his realization of Bond. If he remains this good over a couple more movies, I think he might cement his claim to “best Bond.” Right now he’s my favorite. I grew up with Roger Moore’s Bond, so I *like* him more than Connery, though I recognize that in many ways Connery was better for the role (and in general, his movies were better). I also have to give honorable mention to George Lazenby, who did a pretty good job in his one movie.
LRR: You’re the co-founder of Sofawolf Press. Can you tell us a little about your experiences running a small press? What’s been the biggest surprise? What’s been the biggest challenge?
T.S.: Jeff and I started Sofawolf Press (back in 1999) to give a more professional presentation and exposure to some of the great stories we were seeing floating around on mimeographed and photocopied pages at furry conventions (the furry fandom likes art and stories with anthropomorphic animal characters a la Disney’s “Robin Hood” or “The Lion King”). There isn’t a large market outside the fandom for these works, but the fandom was and is growing, and at the time, the advent of digital printing meant that what had previously been out of reach for smaller circulation magazines was now affordable. We started the press with the idea that we would publish only the best stories, and that we would be professional in our presentation to the public and in our dealings with creators, and we’ve maintained that philosophy throughout the life of the company. It’s been a lot of work, but one of the rewarding parts of it is that we can attend conventions and interact directly with our customers–many of them are friends. There are now two more successful small presses serving the fandom, and we are delighted to work with them as friends to grow the base of readers for all of us.
The biggest surprise, I would say, was when one of our publications, Ursula Vernon’s “Digger,” won a Hugo award for Best Graphic Story. We approached Ursula to ask if she wanted to package her popular webcomic about ten years ago, and she’s been an absolute delight to work with (as anyone who’s met her can attest). We always knew that she deserved all kinds of awards for her comic, but we never thought we would be applauding her as she walked up on stage to accept a Hugo.
The biggest challenge has been finding ways to reach people. It’s a lot like trying to sell a story to an editor, to be honest. You have to compete with a world in which potential readers walk through a slushpile every day, and you have to grab their attention and keep it. Things like a Hugo award help, but even within the furry fandom–people who are our primary readers–there are people who don’t know about our books and stories.
LRR: What writing projects are you currently working on?
T.S.: Right now I’m collaborating on a comic script with an artist, a cyberpunk/noir detective story set in an Augmented Reality city. I’m also working on a contemporary furry fiction novel with supernatural and historical fiction elements, and a historical fantasy novel set in a magical college in 1815 Massachusetts. I still write short stories as inspiration strikes.