As promised, for this Leap Year I am interviewing fellow author Tristan Black Wolf. Today, he answers eight questions and speaks a little about his own work, including his short story The Laputan Factor. And since reading the gentleman's own words is the best of all introductions, let us get right to it...
Coyote: What kind(s) of books do you read? Do you have any favourites?
Tristan Black Wolf: I cut my teeth on mysteries, as I would listen to my father read to my mother before sleep. Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine was on our subscriptions list, without fail, for two dozen years or more. Christie, Sayers, Stout, Koch, Conan Doyle, Asimov (the Black Widowers puzzle mysteries, among others), and later, Lawrence Block became one of my all-time favourites.
Ray Bradbury was the man whose writing made me want to be a writer. At the age of 10, I discovered The Illustrated Man, and I was permanently hooked. I got to correspond with him, later in life, and he became my most powerful mentor. A very sweet man, and I miss him... but so glad that we got a chance to meet by correspondence at least.
I tried to make a list of all the books I’ve ever read, and to keep track of the ones I’m reading now. It’s just over 1100, so a list of authors would be extensive. Let’s say “eclectic” tastes, eh? I will just add this, however. I once took a graduate-level course, at San Francisco State University (go Golden Gators!), in the 19th century Russian short story. Karamzin, Dostoevsky, Gogol, Turgenev, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Pushkin. What a treasure-trove of delights!
(If you just have to know, the list is here.)
Coyote: If you weren’t writing books, what would you be doing with that time and energy instead? Why?
Tristan Black Wolf: I’d still be doing something with communications – voice-over work, radio, even mediation (I did take a training course in the basics). At the risk of sounding dangerously cliché, I’m not sure that I can do much else in life, other than write. I’ve performed work as a technical writer, project manager, and business analyst, and I’m at least reasonably good at it, but truth told, creative writing (whatever the length of the tale) is where my heart is. If you’re heart isn’t in what you’re doing, that’s the best signal that it’s time to try something new.
That, in my opinion, is the “why” of all life: The heart. Live what you love, who you love, how you love. I guess that sort of makes me a “child of the 60s,” but I can live with that.
Coyote: What first inspired your writing of The Laputan Factor? How did the project begin?
Tristan Black Wolf: I am a devoted fan and friend of the furry artist Dream and Nightmare. In February 2013, I was looking through his artwork and saw what looked like one of those “Wish You Were Here” vacation postcards, and a story started working in my brain. It’s often that way, for me – characters come to me, wanting to tell their story, and I do my best to listen. (My short story “White Nights” is about that idea.) In this particular case, I thought it might be a short story, perhaps 3-4000 words. After 44,000 words, I finally wrapped up a tale that had no ending when I first started writing.
Night (as he enjoys being called) consented to draw the cover and ten interior illustrations (the book is available as 6x9” soft-cover and in eBook formats of different kinds; check out my Author House page or BN.com, Amazon, and elsewhere). I was very flattered that he enjoyed the story so much! Although not quite long enough for the National Novel Writing Month festivities, I did end up writing it in about 22 days.
And the moral of the story, Constant Reader: Start writing, and keep going until the story is told... even if you don’t know where that is when you start. You’ll know it when you get there.
Coyote: Tell us a little about the story.
Tristan Black Wolf: Night O’Connell is a programming genius who suffered a minor breakdown at his work. After a short hospital stay, he was all but ordered to take a seaside vacation with his lover, Donovan, to recuperate. At the same time, in the Gorgonia Tertia sector of the galaxy, a hot-shot fighter pilot named A. B. Kovach is undergoing flight simulations aboard the starship Heartwielder, in anticipation of some trouble in the vicinity. These two young males are literally worlds apart, yet thrown together into a web of intrigue, hidden agendae, half-suspected conspiracy, somewhere between a dream and a waking nightmare. The problem is, only one of them is real.
...or at least he thinks he is...
Coyote: What are some of the recurring themes of your work, and why are they important to you?
Tristan Black Wolf: A great deal of my work, past and present, has to do with relationships – how people interact with themselves, each other, their world. Many (perhaps all, in the long run) of my stories are character-driven. My haunted-house-murder-mystery novel Tea for Twenty (available in 6x9” soft-cover, hard-cover, and eBook) has a fairly simple plot, truth told – but it’s a plot that would not have happened at all if the characters weren’t who they were to each other. The reason that the story unfolds the way it does is the direct result of the individuals involved.
I am the hope-full romantic, and I love a good love story. One of my stories, “After Hours,” is a very Bradbury-esque story that is posted on my SoFurry page as well as offered in the PDF format (the link here) to my Patreon patrons. I think you’ll find it quite romantic, in several senses of the word. Safe for work – it’s romantic, not graphic!
On that thought... yeah, I’ve written some “naughty bits” in my day. (I blame it on being lonesome. After all, ya gotta blame something, right?) Even there, however, the story has to have a touch of romance, a soupçon of comedy, or (preferably) both. In one non-sexual story, I take three paragraphs to describe a “first kiss”; it was predicated on one fellow telling the other that “toe-curling is my specialty.” Sometime after the kiss, he asks his new love, “How are your toes?” to which the answer is “Curly.”
A favourite of my few graphic tales concerns a science nerd and an economics geek who end up (no pun intended) intertwining, with a great many jokes and puns about science and economics both. The deeds are described well enough, but the comic interplay makes it worth reading for the comic romance of it all. And this, I think, segues well into a point to be made regarding the next question...
Coyote: There have been other science fiction stories with anthropomorphic characters, of course: Larry Niven’s Kzinti and C.J. Cherryh’s Hani are just two well-known examples. But those were alien races, with the story showing them in comparison to humanity. Your tale has anthropomorphic characters as the sole crux of the story, with no standard humans in sight. They are the measure of normalcy; in a very real sense, they are the humanity of your universe. What are some of the challenges you have faced as an author of this story and others like it, and what are your hopes for the future of similar tales?
Tristan Black Wolf: Contrary to popular belief (and part of my answer to Question 5), not all furry writing is smut. It’s easiest to find the “naughty bits,” in furry art or writing because, as is true of the Internet in general, porn gets the most hits. I’m honoured to know a few purveyors of high-quality fiction (and yes, a bit of porn thither and yon) in the furry community. Australian writer Gabriel Clyde is a stellar example; his novelette Six Ribbons is a magnificent, historical, romantic tale that is suitable for all audiences, although written for an adult’s understanding and appreciation (again, not in the sexual sense). Even some of his more graphic sexual work, such as Murum Aries Attigit, is also a fine drama, with an historically accurate ancient Roman setting.
I’d like to add that it’s not just art (like Night) and writing (like Gabriel). Flare Starfire is a magnificent creator of music. He’s not a composer; everything he plays is completely improvised and recorded on the spot. He channels his muse directly, and with a passion rarely felt in this day and time. Also, feel free to download his entire library – he produces only for tips. My story “After Hours” was inspired by his work, and we have yet more collaborations that will become a volume called Stories Made from Starfire. Please, go download and enjoy some magnificent music!
Since about 2010, I seem to have abandoned humans altogether, as source material for writing. My NaNo for that year was The Man With Two Shadows,and I’m not telling tales out of school to tell you that a human from this world finds a parallel world with anthromorphs. It was my first major work within the furry world. I found an astonishing array of characters and the ways they can express themselves – scent, sound, posture, acuity of sight, the full-body sensory experience, much more.
“Furry” (anthropomorphic animals, or therianthropes) are the idealized crossroad between the human animal and other animals. Animals tend not to waste, not to foul their living space, behave out of an appropriately limited self-interest rather than trying to “screw each other for a percentage,” as Ripley put it in Aliens. Add in the human means of thought and communication (words, dreams, what-ifs) and the human potential for generosity, unselfish love, awareness of self, spirit, and environment, and you’ve got a truly ideal creature. My parallel world, for instance, is comparable in development to this one, yet has only 1.5 billion in population and no development of fossil fuels (partly because it stinks somethin’ awful!).
My work is considered “niche writing” for this reason. I have no control over that; these are the characters who come to me, offering to tell their stories, and I love them all too much not to oblige. With rare and unfortunate exception (no names mentioned), furry authors are overlooked in the mainstream market. Powerful writers like “Poetigress” (Renee Carter Hall) and “Huskyteer” (Alice Dreyden) are shunted to the side in favour either of smut or poorly-written (and smutty) popular work. I’ve been honoured by the comment of one of my readers that “I have to hope that the universe will one day become fair, and that Tristan's work will get the recognition it deserves. This [chapter of the ongoing story Expectations and Permissions] is the level to which furry writers should aspire.” (Cite your source! https://www.sofurry.com/view/906614) I cherish those words so very much, and I keep aiming for that perceived perfection with every story.
My hope for the future is that people see past the myths and all-too-easily found examples of furry porn and see that there’s some very good work out there. I hope that my own work could be considered part of that realm, although that’s for others to decide (he said, at least attempting a tiny bit of modesty, after all these words!). Disney thinks that they’ve discovered furry with their movie Zootopia, the tag line of which is “Like nothing you’ve seen be-fur.” Oh, puh-leeze! I’m working up a web comic with artist Ryokn Dusky called Natural Habitat, and our first comic is a direct response to that bit of wandering stupid! We hope to have seven or eight strips up by the end of March 2016, after which we’ll start seeking crowd-funding, so look out... we may be approaching you with forepaws held palm-up in a universal gesture of “Gimmie!”
Coyote: If The Laputan Factor were to become a movie or cable series, who would you like to see play what characters, and why?
Tristan Black Wolf: Wow... there’s an idea! There is a movement toward all-furry films, with humans in high-quality fursuits (Bitter Lake is an example, although I’ve not seen it). However, I think animation would suit well. So... who to voice the characters? (Bear in mind, I’m an old gray-muzzle, so I’ll think of few new actors these days...)
Night – Hugh Jackman’s “Swordfish” style. Kovach – Hugh Jackman’s “Wolverine” style. Donovan – Timothy Hutton. “Sarge” Sumner was based on a cross between George Kennedy and Al Matthews (the Sarge in Aliens). Doc Hazlitt was based on William Windom, who I had the privileged to know; he’ll be tough to cast. Gemini – Neil Patrick Harris. Perryman – Michael Beck. Concierge – a wonderful fellow I know by the moniker of Tessellating Hexagons, who has a BRP to die for. Baptiste – Gillian Anderson (American accent). Sodus – Jeff Bridges. That’s the main bunch. As a voice actor (for you old-school anime fans, I was the original Ikari Gendo in Neon Genesis Evangelion), I might throw myself into the mix just for fun, although not too large a role. Rover, perhaps. But you’ll have to read the book to find out who that is...
Tristan Black Wolf: First of all, thanks for reading through all this (already just shy of 2200 words!) Second, if you take time to peruse my other words, I thank you for that also, and very much so. It’s a writer’s lot to crave that his work be read, be heard, and for that reason, never let your words go out alone – send your heart with them. Dangerous, yes, but until you’re ready to risk that much, you’ll never know what you might be able to say. To paraphrase my mentor, I wish you to be in love for the next 20,000 days, and to share that love with your words. Go forth. Love. Write!
You're more than welcome, Tristan! And thank you for your time, your answers, and your well-wishes. To find out more about Mr. Black Wolf, please click on the links below...
Tristan Black Wolf is an author, actor, improvist, pathfinder, pundit, and polymath. When he’s not occupied looking up fancy words to describe himself, he writes and publishes novels, stories, blogs, the odd screenplay or twenty, and various observations about the world at large. He has published “Impossible Things,” in Children of the Moon (Misanthrope Press), which was nominated for the Cóyotl Awards; “The Dare,” “No More Monday Memos” (cited for an Editor’s Choice Award for Best Use of Anthropomorphism), and “Only Love Survives” in Allasso (Pink Fox Publications); and several works in NAF (North American Fur). He is a member of the Furry Writers’ Guild. He has participated in the National Novel Writing Month competition (www.nanowrimo.org) five times, winning four. The result of the first win is his novel The Man With Two Shadows, which won an Honorable Mention in the 2013 Great Southeast Book Festival (New Orleans) and 2nd Place in the 2013 Great Northwest Book Festival (Seattle). His 2015 win, Grayson’s Triad Book 1, is available exclusively to his Patreon patrons (www.patreon.com/