I had a nice little Q&A with author Ken Scholes via email a few days ago about his book Lamentation, and I’d like to share an edited version of that transcript here with you all.
Having this kind of open communication directly with the author of a book adds a whole other element to reading. It becomes sort of… interactive, I suppose. And as much as I hate to say it, not wanting to have a bias as a writer, Scholes’ willingness to talk with a blogger of my meager station encourages me to follow his forthcoming books a bit more closely than I would have. All of that aside, though, he has earned the dollars that I’ll spend on the future entries into The Psalms of Isaak series with a more than solid debut in Lamentation. You can check out my review here, if you missed it.
Here’s the (edited) transcript of the conversation:
After a bit of banter back and forth, me thanking him for responding to my email and him thanking me for the favorable review, we were off discussing the book.
Me: On to the big stuff.
And now that I'm here, I hesitate to ask any of the big questions for fear of spoiling myself. I suppose that one of the things that I noticed about the book is the obvious lack of any real bad guy. I mean, on the surface of it (early on at least), it seems like Rudolfo and Petronus are the guys we are supposed to root for, and Sethbert is the guy we should hate. But as the book progresses, and the more we find out about the machinations of Vlad Li Tam, the well defined roles of bad guy and good guy start to blur, and by the end the reader is left with a decision rather than an answer. That's how I felt, at least.
I mean, it's obvious that Sethbert isn't the nicest guy in the world, but I found myself wondering about history's "good guys". Do we know that George Washington was a nice guy? Does one have to be nice in order to be a hero? And even more shocking to even think about is the notion that (possibly) sometimes the only thing separating villain from patriot is time and perspective. (Please don't misunderstand my intentions here. I'm not even remotely suggesting that terrorists who blow up cities and attempt genocide are heroes. Especially in light of the events of the past decade. But unless I've missed my mark, you're leaving the question of Sethbert's overall guilt in the grand scheme of things up to speculation.)
So, I found myself wondering if in some way you condone the destruction of Windwir. Was the Androfrancine's power such that it had corrupted and lead them so far from their original path that the only way to save what they purported to represent, was to wipe the slate clean of their existence? And to a larger extent, is the world of Lamentation, past and present, a direct reflection of our own decadent society? And is your portrayal of it a condemnation of both their society and ours?
Maybe these questions are too heady? Perhaps I'm reading too much into it. But I found the moral ambiguity that you hinted at (the gray areas) to be interesting, if quite a bit unsettling.
Once again, thank you for crafting a story that has transcended the ordinary, opened the door for original thought, and inspired its readers to think a bit about what they've read.
Scholes: Thanks again for the review. It's always great to see people are enjoying what I'm up to with this series. And I'm glad to hear the books are gaining a foothold in our community. I know it's a bit different in that it really doesn't have the normal Prophesied Hero = Good/Dark Lord = Bad approach that many books in the genre have. I intentionally try to show the gray. It is definitely an exploration of similar issues in our own world both in the past and in the present. I have a degree in history and spent a good deal of time studying it. And often, history is initially written by the victors with their own biases and filters. Had the British suppressed the U.S. rebels, I'm confident that the prevailing view in their history of it all would be that Washington and the others were villains rather than heroes. So I do think time and perspective come into play. I also think, at the same time, that whether one is perceived as a hero or a villain, individuals are responsible for their actions. And I think that understanding the motivations behind those actions doesn't excuse them but rather explains them within a context. And hopefully gives us perspective that can help us steer history away from repeating itself.
I don't in any way condone the "ends justifies means" approach espoused by Sethbert, House Li Tam and the Androfrancines or the use of violence that flows out of that ideology. But it's an ideology at work in our world today and I wanted to re-create that, dressed up as fiction, so that we can explore it in an "imagined" context of a different world. I wanted to show that Sethbert was a patriot and hero in his own eyes while being a villain in the eyes of others. And he was manipulated into that belief (and the subsequent action) by the control of information and misinformation. Not only is it a good exploration for our times but it's also a rich tapestry for dramatic tension and conflict. I truly didn't have any moral or allegorical intentions beyond just an exploration of familiar themes and the very real notion that most villains are attempting something they perceive as heroic. It makes for richer stories that resonate deeper with us, I think, when we can scratch the surface of behavior and dig into motivation.
I think your statement that the reader is left with a decision rather than an answer is actually a pretty profound one. And that approach lets the reader do some heavy lifting. I was definitely aiming for the readers to come out of the book with more questions than answers since we continue to learn more throughout the series but I'd not thought about it in terms of a decision. Of course, I know who really brought down Windwir and why.
You'd also posed an interesting question about Petronus and my connection to him. I drew a lot for his character from my years as a minister. Like Petronus, I couldn't continue that role after seeing the underbelly of religion despite a nostalgia I sometimes feel for what seemed a simpler time in my life. I'm more comfortable with questions than answers now (the opposite of who I was back then) and I see much more of life in the gray rather than the black and white. With the Androfrancines, I created a wholly secular order that used the trappings of religion to control human behavior and set societal boundaries via controlling information and technology and magick and using it to stay in power and guard the light of human knowledge. Eventually, they go to far and it undoes them. But like Sethbert, they go too far out of a belief that they are protecting the people in their care.
I want to invite you to check out the Barnes and Noble Fantasy and SF Book Club (on their site) where there are some threads about Lamentation and Canticle (don't read the Canticle thread if you've not read the book as it contains spoilers.) There's a lot of good talk over there including speculation about the series.
I hope you continue to enjoy the series. And if I didn't quite hit the answers to your questions, drop me another note and I'll take another quick stab at them. I'm really gratified to see readers digging into the meat of the story.
I’d like to thank Ken Scholes again for taking the time to answer some of my questions, and for allowing me to post his answers here. And I’d like to encourage you, if you haven’t already, to head over to the nearest book dealer and pick up Schole’s Lamentation. I don’t think you’ll find yourself regretting it.