I am delighted today to have Shane Stadler on the blog for an interview. Shane is the author of the awesome and twisted Exoskeleton and and its sequel, Tympanum, both of which I have praised (and rightly so) in my reviews of the respective books. In this interview, I got the chance to ask Shane some questions about those books and how they came about. I hope you find hope his answers as interesting as I did.
Let’s get the obligatory questions out of the way first. When did you first start writing fiction and what inspired you to do so?
I wrote some short stories as a kid and took a creative writing class in college (most of my time had been packed with physics and math classes), but I can nail down to within a few days the start of my fiction writing “career”. It was August 3rd 2008. I had just moved to a new university (Louisiana State University) and my department was still finishing my new lab. I had a few weeks to burn and I’d realized it was an ideal opportunity to start the novel I had always wanted to write. I had many ideas, but never had the time – it was now or never. I realize now that I should have started writing long before.
As far as Exoskeleton goes, what was the initial inspiration for that idea? Where did it come from?
That’s difficult to explain. In Exoskeleton, I placed the protagonist (William Thompson) in what I thought was the worst possible situation without the possibility of relief–even death was not an option. I lived through William (as I try to do with every character) as I wrote, and the story just generated itself. It converged with little resistance to the conclusion that there was no other way to cope with such a horrific situation–something extreme would have to happen. If there was something there beyond the body–soul or consciousness , or whatever you want to call it–it would do whatever it could to detach itself from the situation. It would separate. The question was whether that took place in reality, or it happened only in William’s mind.
It’s common knowledge that the Nazis had a deep interest in the occult. It is also common knowledge that many of their scientists were brought to the US under Operation Paperclip. Given that, are any of the novels based on facts that you uncovered? The Exoskeleton idea itself, for instance? Or the idea of soul separation?
The US acquired well over 1500 scientists and engineers from post-war Germany after the war through Operation Paperclip and other means. Most people know that the German rocket scientists were instrumental in developing our space program and getting us to the moon. Much of the information in Tympanum is based on fact, although embellished and extrapolated as might be expected. Regarding Exoskeleton–the Exoskeleton itself and the concept of separation–all I can say is that there are elements of truth in it…
What influence did your scientific background have on the books? Did it shape the plot in any way?
My science background had influenced everything. The most obvious were the technical aspects of the story; being an experimental physicist, I design and build a lot of things (much like an engineer). This includes mechanical design, electronics, computer interfacing, optics and sensing, etc., so I should have a good grasp of these things when I write about them.
Something that might be less obvious is how the large volume of scientific writing that I do affects my fiction writing. This is a double-edged sword: on one side it helps me to organize a complex story in a logical way. On the other side, I often have to fight a passive voice that can come off as mechanical and dull. What’s interesting (to me anyway), is that I’ve noticed that writing fiction has positively influenced my scientific writing–it has removed some of the stylistic constraints that I’ve followed for a long time.
Questions of existence and why we are here as humans come up in the books. Are these questions you have a personal interest in or did they arise purely from the story itself?
I remember lying in the grass under an oak tree one summer, staring at the blue sky and clouds and thinking about those things. That was when I was five years old. So I have had those questions in my mind from the beginning. I don’t think I’m unique–a lot of people struggle with those ideas. But it’s difficult for me to discern whether my interest in those philosophical questions is what drove the themes of Exoskeleton and Tympanum, or it was the stories that pulled them out of my mind.
How do you find the writing process itself? Is it a struggle most of the time or does it come easily to you?
It fluctuates. There are times I get going so well that I don’t realize how much I have written or how long I’ve been working. Other times I get very little accomplished. All I can say is that I look forward to getting started every morning.
I imagine a fair amount of research went into the books. How long did it take you to compile all that research?
You’re right, there was a lot of research in these novels–especially Tympanum. I’d estimate that a quarter of the time was spent on the research for Tympanum, maybe more. The problem was not only digging up the information, but verifying it (certain aspects, anyway). However, the research was enjoyable. It also gave me a good break sometimes to read instead of write (a dangerous occurrence for me).
While you were researching, did you find yourself sucked into the conspiracy theory world? Given the nature of the story, I would imagine you ended up exposed to all kinds of crazy theories involving the Nazis, the CIA, government cover-ups etc.
I did, but not just because it was entertaining: this stuff actually does lead to many intertwined conspiracy and cover-up theories. This applies to both Tympanum and Exoskeleton.
Omniscients. Made up or do they really exist in some form? (And by the way, I couldn’t help picturing Horace as Christopher Lee!)
I don’t know definitively whether Omniscients (or similar entities) exist. But who knows? Perhaps they should. And Christopher Lee would have been perfect to play Horace! He even had some of Horace’s background (a WWII vet, etc.). I loved that guy. So many of the greats have left us.
Will Exoskeleton be a trilogy or do you plan to write a series? And how long do we have to wait on the next book?
I don’t know. I’m ~25% into the first draft of the third book–tentatively called “Omni”. My feeling right now is that there will four books, but we’ll see … could be three, could be five. All I know right now is that I don’t want it to end yet–just having too much fun!
Thanks for taking time out to answer my questions Shane!