Tim Akers grew up in deeply rural North Carolina, the only son of a theologian and could probably talk us blue in the face on religion and philosophy. A Chicagoan, who once attended Wheaton College, his Burn Cyle books on Veridon, from Solaris, mix urban fantasy, steampunk and crime noir. His latest novel, The Horns Of Ruin, is out from PYR Books and described as a steampunk, sword & sorcery, mystery. He can be found as @TimAkers on Twitter, online at shadoth.blogspot.com, his website/blog, or on Facebook.
SFFWRTCHT: Let’s start with the basics: where did your interest in science fiction and fantasy come from?
Tim Akers: I got into science fiction and fantasy when I was a kid. It was the literature I naturally gravitated toward as a child. We had one B. Dalton about thirty minutes from my home, and I remember clearly just standing in fascination at all those covers. My favorites evolved over time. Saberhagen, Brooks, Laumer when I was younger. The Books of Swords, Berserker, Bolo. Those are the ones that loomed large in my younger days. William Gibson changed the way I thought about books. Gibson introduced me to a love of language that proved crippling later in my career. Something I’ve learned my way out of. It’s easy to overwrite, sometimes. For me at least.
SFFWRTCHT: How did the mixing of genres come about like you do in The Horns Of Ruin?
TA: Mixing genres is just something that came naturally. I’ve never been really strict about my borders, genre-wise. It’s subjective, but it’s easy to get bogged down in that one aspect. True for all aspects of writing. In The Horns of Ruin, I just wrote what I wanted, and let the labels fall where they may. Lot of anime influence in that one. You can over plot, over characterize, over write, over backstory. The trick is bringing balance to the narrative. Trick is to identify your weaknesses and strengthen them, while not using your strengths as crutches.
TA: Steampunk – I don’t really define it. I think it’s dangerous to do that, creatively. Once you consider what elements you can include in something, you’ve gimped your narrative. I don’t sit down to write a specific kind of story. I write a story and let someone else label them. Never intentionally wrote a steampunk novel. In my head it was always cog-noir or new weird thriller, or something. The first time the word steampunk was attached to my first book was during a party at World Fantasy Convention by my editor. I hadn’t considered the label.
SFFWRTCHT: Ok, well obviously William Gibson was an influence. Would you say you’ve been a steampunk fan a while?
TA: To be honest, a lot of the “definitive” steampunk novels don’t attract me. I like the aesthetic but not necessarily the execution. Ironically, Difference Engine was Gibson’s only book I didn’t love, but I was in a different space, mentally, when it came out. Different pacing from much of his other work, I found. : Difference Engine‘s pacing may be due to Bruce Sterling’s influence. Reads more like one of his books, I think. I should reread it.
SFFWRTCHT: Do you think New Weird is dead now? If so, what will be the next trend?
TA: I think New Weird has stopped as a marketing element, yes. But I think it’s still being written and read.
SFFWRTCHT: Where did the idea for The Horns of Ruin come from?
TA: The core idea for Horns of Ruin came from the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode where the aliens could only speak in shared metaphor. From there I got the idea for story as magical source, and eventually as deity. It kind of spun out of control from there.
SFFWRTCHT: Your lead character is the last remaining Paladin of a religious order with two competitors or rival groups. How much does your background with religion influence the portrayal of religion in your books?
TA: Well, religion is kind of core to most of my narratives. My dad was a theologian, my upbringing was toward apologetics. It permeates a lot of my mental space. The best part about writing the current work is coming up with new heresies. Everyone should do this. It’s therapeutic.
SFFWRTCHT: Do you consider yourself a religious believer? Or just a well taught religious thinker?
TA: Formerly religious, formerly spiritual. Now I’m just well positioned to meditate on its nature.
SFFWRTCHT: The story moves at a fast clip and also seems to have echoes of mythology. Did Greek or Roman myths influence you?
TA: I’m well read in many mythologies, but wasn’t drawing specifically from one set or another. The way mythology is formed, that’s what influenced me.
SFFWRTCHT: Robert Holdstock used a lot of classic Greek poets as source for his fantasy novels. Which are your classical sources?
TA: My classical sources for current work, besides the historical placement, are primarily Mesoamerican. The way they dealt with duality in their deities, and in their lives Not specific stories, but more their approach to the subject.
SFFWRTCHT: How much research did you do in building your world?
TA: In my first three books, no research. In the current work, too much research. I feel that I’m better at making things out of whole cloth, from the ground up. I like the way a fresh world feels in my head.
SFFWRTCHT: The latest project being the one dealing with the Crusades? Reformation as sword & sorcery? Is that how you described it?
TA: The Crusades are one part. Reformation. The conversion of Clovis, the early heresies, the absorption of the pagan into the sacred. I’m drawing from a broader set of historical events, all linked by the movement of religion through culture. I originally described it as the Reformation as a Knightly Adventure. But it’s broader than that. Though if I had to summarize it, I would call it a meditation on the nature of evil in man.
SFFWRTCHT: Do you think the religious underpinning or the spirituality that informs your work makes it a more difficult sell?
TA: Religiosity is written to be an undercurrent. I don’t sell a book about how heresy informs religious and spiritual awakening. I write a story about knights, and why they do what they do. Here’s a link to meditation on my blog about how I write about religion and morality – nondidactically t.co/X3hnAmW.
TA: I had many Veridon stories in Interzone, about four years ago. Those stories let me sell the novel, unwritten, to Solaris.
SFFWRTCHT: Speaking of Veridon, where’d the idea for those stories come from?
TA: Veridon started with me thinking that I wanted to write a fantasy novel, but instead of using the typical medieval tropes I wanted to use the material of the Victorian age. Specifically Victorian era america.
SFFWRTCHT: What’s your writing process like? Specific time set aside to write? Grab it when you can?
TA: My goal is 1000 words a day. The trick is that you can’t over-fetishize the writing process. I have a dayjob, a wife, a World of Warcraft raiding schedule. There’s a lot of time when I’m not writing. So when I can, I have to write.
SFFWRTCHT: Do you start with characters sketches or outlines or just let it unfold as it comes?
TA: The world comes first for me, and then the world informs the characters.
SFFWRTCHT: From what I’ve been told, your first publishing experience was a bit of a nightmare?
TA: Long inspirational story. Basically, Solaris bought my first book on proposal. I loved that book, wrote the hell out of it, etc. When it was just out of editing, but well before it hit stores, Solaris put themselves up for sale. It was a death knell for the book. They weren’t allowed to market it, weren’t allowed to send out review copies… That book hit shelves at terminal velocity, made a clean hole in the floor and kept going. Point is, I kept writing. The second book in that series didn’t come out until two years later. But you just have to sit down and chew through that. But even when I don’t have total publisher support, I still have my book in every Barnes & Noble in the country. Hard to turn away from that.
TA: Generally positive reactions. Always gonna be people that don’t like what you’re doing. And I really don’t hold much weight for reviews. They’re opinions.
SFFWRTCHT: What role do beta readers play for you in the process now that you have a publisher?
TA: I’ve never used beta readers. I have complicated opinions about writers groups, etc. Writers will tell you how they would have written something. I don’t need that, because I am also a writer.
SFFWRTCHT: Besides the knightly adventure, what other projects can we look forward to from you in the future?
TA: That’s my only project on tap. First time I’ve been writing without a contract in three years. It feels weird.
Interviewer Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.