Stacks of comics and episodes of Star Trek: The Original Series and The Twilight Zonee paved the way for Ken Scott Smithís vivid imagination. And while the Avengers, Captain Kirk, and Rod Serling were not ideal role models, his creative writing juices were flowing.
His love of science fiction and fantasy led to a career in the laboratory, where he conducted experiments and published results as a research scientist. After earning a masterís degree in business, he racked up thousands of frequent-flyer miles as a marketing executive and did consulting for the biopharmaceutical industry. But amidst the business proposals and annual reports sat War of the Oaks and Symphony of Ages, among others, nuggets of inspiration and the fodder for fantasy adventures.
Ken lives in the Bay Area with his wife and two children. He enjoys attending sci-fi and fantasy conventions, often in costume, mingling with science fiction and fantasy fans and letting his geek flag fly.
When did you first discover speculative fiction and how did it affect you?
I remember sitting in my parentsí attic and finding a box of comics. I must have spent 3 hours up there. With every turn of the page, my imagination was in overdrive. I soon found myself doodling heroes and writing dialog in my Trapper Keeper (yes, I had a Trapper Keeper). It was no surprise that creative writing was a subject that I really enjoyed and excelled at in school. I just knew I had a novel brewing inside waiting to come out. After dozens of short stories and a couple of screenplays, I took the plunge and wrote my first novel, Horsemen Chronicles-Host of the Armageddon.
What are your three favorite books and/or authors and why?
Early on, Emma Bull, War of the Oaks and Elizabeth Haydon Symphony of Ages were great influences for me. Emma Bull was a true urban fantasy pioneer; Elizabeth Haydon was marvelous at spinning stories across a series and keeping readers hungry for more. I am always enamored with novels from Stephen King and Dean Koontz as they have that knack for suspense and tricking the reader into believing one thing and then revealing another. I enjoy Clive Cussler as his stories depict fresh situational adventures that keep readers asking, How is he going to get out of that?
What is the hardest part of writing speculative fiction? How do you cope with that?
I think the hardest things for all writers are keeping it RealĒ and keeping it New. It may sound trite, but itís true, especially for speculative fiction. You need to keep your story grounded in some type of reality (even the weirdest fiction has some rules) and it always has to be fresh. You never want your readers thinking, I donít understand, what the hell just happened? Or Oh, this was done in that other book or this was like that movie! For me, I always try to trick myself, be unpredictable, throw an unexpected curve or twist as I write. It often happens as Iím writing and I ask myself, What if Ö.? Or sometimes Iíll have an epiphany at 2am.
What are you working on now?
Well, I just completed the sequel to my first urban fantasy novel, Horsemen Chronicles - Host of the Armageddon, and Iím happy to announce that Book 2, Horsemen Chronicles - Path of the Reliquary, has been accepted for publication by Bedlam Press. Now I get to focus my energies on the launch of this sequel and the promotion of the Horsemen Chronicles series as well as continuing to develop the storyline for Book 3.
Every speculative fiction writer specializes in something Ė universes, creatures, languages, technology, magic, etc. What are your specialties?
I think my forte is unique universes or at least alternate realities and the characters that dwell in them. I enjoy playing the What ifÖ? game that often leads to some great storylines.
What are some of the values you want your fans to take away from your novels?
The idea of overcoming adversity is a common thread. The challenges we face day to day vary, be it a drive or fear, but weíre all confronted with something, and itís in all of us to rise to that occasion and accomplish that goal or conquer that fear.
What are your professional and/or personal goals for the next decade?
My family, and in particular, my two kids, take priority over everything else. Given that my wife is a flight attendant and often away on trips, I play the role of both mom and dad. Be it getting the kids to school, cooking, cleaning, chauffeuring, helping with homework, it all falls on me. Ensuring my kids are happy and healthy is THE GOAL for the next decade. In addition to my Super Dad role (which I love), I am also founder and Principal of Life Science Strategy Group, LLC, a consulting firm serving the biopharmaceutical industry. The continued success of my consulting firm and its members is a key professional goal. Lastly, and assuming that I do get a few spare minutes each night, writing is a means to decompress from the day, and escape from the reality of screaming kids and P&L statements. My goal is to wrap up the Horsemen Chronicles series with Book 3 and then explore other areas of speculative fiction.
Since Speculative Fiction is often interwoven with spirituality (myths, legends, science, etc), please describe your personal spiritual path and how it is reflected in your writing.
As the son of a devout catholic mother, I was immersed into Catholicism from catechism, to confirmation, to serving as an altar boy. But as I grew up, science always held a fascination for me and I found myself at a crossroad where faith meets fact. Divided, I really focused more in the good and bad in people and less on a particular doctrine. But I can remember one moment watching CNN, days before the birth of my son, and the anchor was reporting on another military conflict, another epidemic, another natural disaster. I thought to myself, the world couldnít be this messed up on its own, there has to be someone or something pulling the strings, and then all my catholic experiences came flooding back, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, what if they were real? I started writing the Horsemen Chronicles the very next day.
Conventions Ė do you attend? Which ones are your favorites? Describe your costume/persona. What are your favorite activities (filking, panels, book signings, gaming, etc.)? Do you have a memorable experience about a con?
I love conventions and have and still attend many (in costume) including Comic-Con, Dragon-Con, and Wonder-Con. My brother, a former male stripper (yes, I said stripper) who has a talent for designing his own costumes, started making super hero and fantasy costumes and attending the Cons. He invited me to come along and given weíre about the same build, I wore a lot of his costumes, walking the floor and having my picture taken with other conventioneers. Since then, I never miss a Con if I can help it. The most memorable Con experience was when my brother and I were invited to dress as Spider Man and Doctor Octopus and faux-battle in one of the convention halls. It was a blast and the crowds loved it.
Do you have a motto?
Not really. But I have to say that my motherís motto is rubbing off on me: Happy as a Lark in a park. Itís a bit old fashion, but for her, as long as she wakes up every morning, no matter what is going on with her or the world around her, she has such an amazingly positive attitude. Iíll have to ask her if I can nationalize her motto when Iím her age (75 years old).
What advice and/or warnings do you have for burgeoning writers?
Writing is fun, writing is hard; writing is personally rewarding and equally frustrating. Write for the right reasons, because at the end of the day, you write for yourself and no one else. Lastly, donít be afraid to take risks, find your own voice and just write.
You canít tell a book by its cover; however, you must SELL a book by its cover. Tell us about your book covers and how they came about.
David Barnett and his graphic arts team at Bedlam Press do an incredible job on book covers. The style is edgy and captures the essence and feeling of the story.
Do you follow specific blogs, tweets, or other column-type formats? Which ones and why?
In this day and age, there are just too many social media vehicles to track and follow on a routine basis. Itís safe to say that I try to allocate some part of my free time at night (after kids and consulting) and read the latest tweet or blog.
How do you feel about movie conversions of books and novelizations of movies?
Some movie conversions of books work, while others donít. The conversions of Stephen Kingís stories Stand by Me and The Stand were pretty good. Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings were very successful. Twilight was a conversion bomb. Novelization of movies has always seemed counter intuitive to me. Nothing is better at visually depicting a story than oneís own imagination.
If one of your books becomes a movie, who would you want cast into which roles?
Faye: Jessica Biel
Ben: Joe Manganiello (i.e., True Blood) or Andrew Lincoln (i.e., Walking Dead)
Michael: Penn Badgley (i.e., Gossip Girl)
War: Javier Bardem
Pestilence: Cillian Murphy
Death: Parker Posey
What was the oddest experience youíve had selling your books?
That would be on a flight to Hawaii. My wife, a flight attendant working the flight, had mentioned to her flight crew that her husband in seat 22C had written a great book. She had gone as far as to show them her copy. The next thing I know, sheís sold her copy and Iím signing the book between beverage services. Awesome!
Do you belong to a writers group or any other support/hobby group?
Unfortunately, no. If I had extra free time, I would love to belong to and participate in a formal writers group. However, I am lucky enough to know a neighborhood author, Liza Percer, who lets me bend her ear now and again.
Horsemen Chronicles-Host of the Armageddon, Bedlam Press, 2012, Urban Fantasy, ISBN 9781479210978
Horsemen Chronicles-Path of the Reliquary, Bedlam Press, 2014, Urban Fantasy,