I’m excited to have another special guest visiting the blog today. Please welcome Eric Scott Fischl! Eric is a fellow Angry Robot author, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at Worldcon during my recent visit to U.S. Eric lives in Montana’s Bitterroot Mountains and writes novels of speculative historical fiction and the supernatural.
So let’s get to the interview, shall we?
Eric, how did you come to be a writer? Was it always something you were interested in or did you fall into it?
I’ve always been an obsessive reader and always wanted to write … I fiddled around with it off and on for a long time, but more off than on until a few years ago when I decided it was time to either put up or shut up on the writing front. So I knuckled down and got serious … and I guess here I am.
What were your favourite books/films growing up? What kick-started your creativity as a child/teen?
I read just about anything I could get my hands on, a lot of fantasy and horror and science fiction, plus whatever spy books or mysteries were laying around the house. Probably two of the most impactful books I read was in 1984, when I was 11: Dune and Orwell’s 1984. I’ve since read them both at least a dozen times, if not more (and still have the same tattered, duct-taped copies). There is plenty about both books that I didn’t understand as a kid, but they’ve just stuck with me. I coincidentally happened to read Dune about a month before the Lynch movie came out (unbeknownst to me), which made me about the only 11 year old in the theater audience who knew what was going on. Actually, probably plenty of people didn’t know what was going on in that glorious mess of a movie. In terms of kick-starting my creativity, I didn’t do a lot as a kid aside from noodling around at this and that until I was in the later part of high school, when I got very focused on music for a few years, got an education there, and discovered I was only an adequate musician at best. So back to writing, which I’d always suspected was the creative endeavor that was the best fit for me.
You write ‘speculative historical fiction’. Can you tell us a little bit about your novels, Dr Potter’s Medicine Show and The Trials of Solomon Parker ?
Dr Potter is the story of a traveling medicine show (appropriately enough), working its way around the Pacific Northwest of the US during 1878, hawking a cure-all elixir that hides a dark, alchemical secret which is very, very bad news for some unfortunates. Solomon Parker is a very loosely related standalone that picks up the life of one of the characters in Dr Potter, years later. It’s a careful-what-you-wish-for type of story set between 1900 and 1917 in Butte, Montana, during the years of the copper boom, in which the protagonists are stuck in the middle of some bored, meddling gods who have an agenda of their own.
They sound great! What inspired you to write these particular stories?
I’ve always been a history nerd, so that definitely influences the things I like to write about. Dr Potter was partially inspired by an article I’d read years before, about how alchemy was more of a proto-science than a mystical discipline, in a lot of ways. Plus, I’m a sucker for charlatans and the grotesque, so splicing the medicine show idea in there, with a dash of Civil War medicine, was a lot of fun. I live in Montana and have a fascination with the Copper War years here … this is a terrible pun, but there is just a ton to be mined there, subject-matter-wise, which is how I came to Solomon Parker. Without trying to sound too grandiose, both books have some philosophical ideas I wanted to explore, which was the framework that the stories rest on. So more the “here’s what I’ve been thinking about, now where/what to wrap around there, story-wise”, than the other way around, i.e. a great story idea that spawns some deeper thoughts about life. In reality, it’s probably a combination of both, but I do tend to skew towards the “hmm, I’m thinking about these ideas” first rather than being struck by a particular plot.
Interesting! So, if you could raise them from the dead, which three real life historical figures would you invite to dinner and why?
I’m terrible answering these kinds of questions. I’d like to say “Oh yeah, Newton, and Da Vinci, and Christ, and the Buddha, and Cleopatra” and all the other usual answers but, I’ll be honest: if I was sitting at a table with any of those people, I wouldn’t have a damn things to say. “Math? Oh, um, yeah, I … totally understand … math. And ethics, yep, uh huh. Hey JC, could you whip up more wine? Here’s a jug of water, do your thing, dawg.” So in the interests of an honest answer here, I’m going to say: Caravaggio and Mozart, because they were both lunatics who really liked to have a good time, which seems like a good sort of dinner guest. Lord Byron, for similar reasons. Or maybe Caligula, just because that would be messed up and interesting. I’ve seen the movie. Don’t judge me.
If you weren’t a writer, what would your dream job be? Do you have a secret passion that we don’t know about?
My dream job would be to not need one, to be able to swan around the world doing my thing, free from responsibility. I think I’d really be very good at that. My passions aren’t all that secret: I like to cook a lot of fussy, elaborate meals and I try to spend time outside, either playing with my dog or roaming the mountains or sitting with a cocktail and a book.
What’s the one piece of advice you wish someone had told you when starting your writing career? What do you know now, that you wished you knew then?
The advice no one gave me is self-inflicted: it’s to become part of a writing community of some kind. I didn’t do that, just wrote in secret like a weird hermit, without showing my work to anyone, so there was no one to tell me I was being an idiot. I would have been a better writer earlier if I’d engaged with others. There were so many things I learned about how to write that I may never have figured out on my own. I’m not saying you need to get an MFA, or even be part of a formal writing group, per se, but engaging with other writers, learning to read critically and take criticism, that’s invaluable. The other advice I’ll give is the obvious one that everyone probably gives, but it’s warranted: keep at it. The only thing keeping you from writing, and writing to the best of your abilities, is you; that’s also the one thing you have control over. Getting published, how well your books sell, all that, you have very little control over that. Writing the best book you can write is all there is, so if that’s what you want, there are no excuses for not doing it.
What can we expect from you next?
I have a few projects in the hopper, in various stages of repair. No public details yet but expect more speculative hist-fic, maybe something else …
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