National Bestselling author EE Knight was born in La Crosse, Wisconsin and grew up in Stillwater, Minnesota. Currently, he lives with his belly dancing librarian wife and two kids in Oak Park, IL, a suburb of Chicago known for Frank Lloyd Wright and Ernest Hemingway. He wrote his 1st story, a fanfic based on Creature From the Black Lagoon, as a ‘tween. He sold the 1st Vampire Earth book, Way of the Wolf, in 2001. “iPublish” folded in the dotcom bust,but Wolf had attracted the interest of both an agent and publisher and appeared on shelves in 2003. His second series, a family saga about a group of dragons called the Age of Fire, began to appear in 2005 with Dragon Champion. Outside of writing he enjoys gaming (both tabletop and console) reading, travel, music, movies. And often teaches or speaks at cons. Find Eric online at http://eeknight.com/Home.aspx, on Facebook, and on Twitter as @eeknight.
SFFWRTCHT: Let´s start with the basics: Where did your interest in Science Fiction and Fantasy come from?
EE Knight: My interest – started with movies. I liked the “big bug” features and stuff like Pal’s War of the Worlds. My dad was a big sf reader and gave me my first books. I started with the Lensman and Skylark series by E.E. “Doc” Smith. I think my dad named me after his favorite author at the time – my mom claims it’s a mix of EE Cummings and T.S. Eliot, her favorites. I moved on to Saberhagen’s Berserker books, Alan Dean Foster’s Humanx, McCafferey’s Pern, and then Dune and Azimov and Heinlein. Then I started playing first-gen D&D (later AD&D) and started reading the famous pulp S&S guys like R.E. Howard.
SFFWRTCHT: When did you start writing seriously and how long until your first sale?
EEK: I wrote a lot in high school and college, and always thought of doing a novel, but I was busy earning a living. I had an early mid-life crisis in my thirties and got serious about the writing (this was mid-90s). I wrote a very bad first novel, and from that experience learned that I had to write first to entertain myself. So I started the Vampire Earth, which mashes up a lot of elements I like in my fiction: post-apocalyptic, alien invasion, monsters… Completed Way of the Wolf in the late 90s, then went to work selling it and writing the next couple. It wasn’t so much that I was certain of publication, it was more like I had nothing better to do. I was selling furniture then.
SFFWRTCHT: Did you study creative writing at all in school? How´d you learn your craft?
EEK: No, didn’t study it at school but I dabbled in journalism back then. Writing is a trade, not a profession. You learn by doing. I have read a lot of books about writing, though, trying to learn. I still read them.
EEK: I wrote Dragon Champion just because I wanted to do a anthropomorphic animal book and I love dragons. From the time I wrote “The End” it took about a year to sell, as I remember. I’m one of the first sf/fantasy authors to make the jump from ebooks/print-on-demand to traditional publishing.
SFFWRTCHT: Are you a fulltime writer now? On average, how long does it take you to write a book?
EEK: Yes, full time writer. I used to do a book about every six months, but with the kids, it’s more like 9-10 months to do a manuscript.
SFFWRTCHT: Do you start with characters sketches or outlines or just let it unfold as it comes?
EEK: Generally I start with the world. With a built-out world you automatically have some plot points and character background. I tend to do a very loose, 1-2 page outline. The only time my outline was longer was the Lara Croft book — every little twist and turn had to be approved by the game people. I used to put characters and location notes and stuff on index cards, but now I use Scrivener.
SFFWRTCHT: I hear that’s the burden of writing tie-ins.
EEK: Yes, with Lara they jerked around with the outline for seven months or so, then expected me to write it in a month. Still, worth it for the experience. Plus I gamed her a lot, so it was just plain cool to be able to do my own Lara story. I also play Warhammer/40k, I’d kind of like to do a book for them, too, if I could find the time.
EEK: With the Age of Fire books, it seemed like an elegant thing to do. Write three unique stories beginning with a “Rashamon” scene then try and tie them back together. I’m sure someone’s done it before me, but no names leap to mind with a big series.
SFFWRTCHT: Did you plan out the series before you wrote it?
EEK: With Age of Fire, I only knew from word one that the Copper would end up leading (and then losing) a dragon empire. And that the three dragons would have to set aside their differences for the good of their kind. Also, that the final three books would show that each of them were partly right, partly wrong in their philosophies about how to deal with the homnids.
SFFWRTCHT: You include a glossary of Drakine words. Are those words you made up or were they inspired by another source?
EEK: Drakine just sort of grew on its own. I just wanted a few words to add verisimilitude, I didn’t want to invent a whole tongue. There’s a bit of German in it, which seems a very dragony language.
SFFWRTCHT: How do you define epic fantasy? What are the key elements in writing it?
EEK: I suppose time-scale is what distinguishes it from regular fantasy. You’re either covering a big chunk of world (Tolkien) or a big chunk of time (Asimov).
SFFWRTCHT: Time-scale being the length of time during which the story takes place?
SFFWRTCHT: So something can feature elves & dragons and be “regular fantasy,” or can take place now-ish and be “epic?”
EEK: Yes, I think “epic” just means biggish or longish. Exact content doesn’t matter, provided it’s fantasy.
SFFWRTCHT: What kind of research did you do on dragons before writing?
EEK: I didn’t do much research on dragons because they’re such an impossibility. I more tried to come up with sensible reasons for making their legendary attributes (like hoarding gold or living underground) have a natural biological source.
SFFWRTCHT: How do you gauge if you’ve anthropomorphized a creature clear out of its animal nature?
EEK: That’s a tough one. I just tried to walk the line Kipling or Richard Adams did and while essentially making them people, give them a set of biological imperatives as well as species-specific cosmology.
SFFWRTCHT: Let´s talk about the Vampire Earth series. That has nine books. Was that all planned or did you just keep coming up with more?
EEK: VE was always going to be a long series. I just sold 10 and 11. I like vampires and I was sick of the emovamps. I wanted to make them nasty again. Keeping it fresh is tough.
EEK: More the older books. Wells, Lovecraft, Stoker. The atmosphere each creates is the big draw. I loved Wells’s vision of man under the heel of the Martians.
SFFWRTCHT: What´s your writing process like? Specific time set aside to write? Grab it when you can?
EEK: My writing process used to be write in the morning, editing and other business in the afternoon . Now I just have to grab time when my wife can be with the kids or they’re asleep. I have a tough time when I can hear them.
SFFWRTCHT: Have you written short stories, and do you approach them differently from novels?
EEK: Sadly, I don’t approach short stories much different than novels. They take me a long time because I’m working out the world.
SFFWRTCHT: For short stories set in your series: how do you walk that line of not “spoiling” for new readers if story is between books?
EEK: Haven’t done much short fiction in the novel worlds. Just one, in fact, “Beyond Camp Six.”
SFFWRTCHT: What role do beta readers play for you in the process now that you have a publisher?
EEK: Betas are still important, but they tend not to get enough time with the books because I’m so near — or past, *gulp* deadline.
EEK: I can’t draft to music. I like just a little bit of background business while I’m drafting. I’ll work at the library or a coffee shop to get that. Sometimes I’ll have a movie going as background noise. I do edit to music, though.
SFFWRTCHT: Last question, What projects are you working on for the future that we can look forward to? Obviously Vampire Earth 10 and 11. What else?
EEK: I’m doing a big story that’s like Flash Gordon crossed with a Cecil B. DeMille bible epic.
Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012 along with Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales 6, an anthology headlined by Mike Resnick which Bryan edited for Flying Pen Press. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.