Good morning, friends! It’s Friday, which means time for a fresh Starving Review, which also means it’s time for a fresh Starving Interview! Let’s grab a coffee and sit down with the chef of the week, S. Spencer Baker, author of Slabscape: Reset and talk shop.
- Please introduce yourself to my literary foodies!
G’day. I’m usually known as Steve Baker but I’ve also been S. Spencer Baker for the past five years because, well, just Google “Steve Baker” and you’ll see. There are thousands of these damned impostors out there. One blighter even claims to be a British Politician! It’s embarrassing. My middle name really is Spencer (no one would make that up) so I used that to separate me from the blathering crowd. I was brought to this planet 59 years ago against my will and have been dreaming of leaving it ever since. I have already left more places than I have lived, starting with the utmost nothing-ever-happens part of middle England and winding up (for now at least) in something’s-always-happening Tokyo because Tokyo is as close to a spaceship as I’ve been able to find.
- Do you do any work outside of the writing kitchen? Any non-work interests?
I have managed artists for most of my career. It sounds posher if you call it a career, but in truth it was just a series of events. I’ve been involved in music, design, film, advertising and consultancy. Writers aren’t the only ones who starve.
Non-work interests? Hmm. Does sleeping count as an interest?
- What is your latest dish to be served up? Are there any past pieces of literary cuisine you think we should take a bite out of?
My latest book, which is also my second book, is called Slabscape: Dammit. You’ll gather I’m working on a series. Dammit has been out (Kindle first, then paperback) since last November so I’m currently working on Slabscape: Reboot which I’m hoping to get finished before the invasion. I was asked why so many SF writers produce series and my answer was; ‘You’re kidding, right? I’m going to go to all this trouble of inventing an entire universe and populating it with characters I love, alien beings who are cool, new rules of physics you could only dream were true, and only write one book about it? Are you crazy?’.
- What made you want to put on the chef’s hat and whip up your own books?
The stark realization that I was going to die and I’d never done the one thing I dreamed of when I was a kid. I wasn’t given a terminal diagnosis or anything, there’s just a point in your life when you realise that death doesn’t only happen to other people. I suppose I’m a slow learner. Also, no-one was writing the type of stuff I wanted to read so I thought I’d give it a go – at least I knew I’d have an audience of one.
- Do you have a genre of specialty or do you dabble? Why?
SF is my drug of choice. Some, but not all, of my stuff tends towards the satirical. Slabscape is best categorized as pre-apocalyptic, post-scarcity, far-future, humorous science fiction. Is that a crowded genre or what?
Why? I’ve written about the why before. The bottom line is I’ve always felt let down by the present and bitterly disappointed that the future we’ve been promised isn’t even remotely close. I have great hopes for the future, I’m just sad that I almost certainly won’t get to see it. SF is the only solution for whatever the opposite of nostalgia is called (shall we invent a word?).
- Style! Every literary chef aspires to have their own unique one! What do you think sets yours apart and why?
I don’t think of it as style, I think of it as ‘voice’. Do I have a voice that is identifiably mine? It’s a tough one. When you first publish, it’s inevitable that reviewers (if you get any) will make comparisons. A touch of x with a splash of y, not as good as literary-hero, on a par with someone-you-never-heard-of. Some of the comparisons people make are flattering (so I blush and argue, internally, that they’re wrong) and some are plain nuts (so I go red and argue, again internally of course, that they’re wrong) but some are absolutely right. I’ve been influenced by everyone I’ve read in some way. It would be impossible not to be. But I write in what I think is my voice and although I’m still honing and polishing what that is, it makes me smile when my friends tell me they can hear my voice in their heads when they read my stuff. It must be awful for them.
- Even the best of us find inspiration is the dishes of others. Do you have any literary inspirations, heroes, and influences?
Pretty much everyone and everything. I mean it. The list is too long. It starts with HG Wells and Jules Verne, goes all the way through the SF ‘greats’ and shoots off into the alleyways and byways of weird British humour, magical realism, crime noir, comics, screenplays and even John Masefield (bet you didn’t expect that). However, I’m going to pick one hero for you today: Iain M Banks. If you love ‘proper’ SF and haven’t yet read his ‘Culture’ series, you have a wonderful treat waiting for you. If you have read them and don’t agree with me that Excession is a masterpiece then I suggest you re-read it. It’s a stunning, breath-taking work of unmatched imagination handled by a writer at the top of his game. Iain re-inspired me to have a go and do what I’d dreamed of. I’m pretty sure I’ll never reach his level of literary class, but I might accidentally slip out a decent sentence or two by dint of trying.
- Let’s get into the meat and potatoes: the art and craft of writing itself! Do you have a preference of points-of-view when you write?
So far, I prefer the omniscient narrator perch. It’s a lot of fun. I’m also working on a graphic novel with an illustrator friend of mine at the moment and that’s mainly first person which is interesting and a bit of a challenge.
- Sparse or wordy, how do you like your descriptions served up? Are you a Hemmingway man or do you like some saucy adjectives with your nouns?
I’m a screenplay-style man. Keep it short, try to paint as clear a picture as briefly as possible and let the reader fill in the blanks. Long descriptions tend to slow things down too much for my liking. I don’t want any extra padding because I prefer my paperbacks to be able to fit comfortably in a jacket pocket. I’ve co-written some screenplays too (unproduced) and learned a lot about succinct descriptions during that process.
- Picking off the menu of base literary conflicts, what’s your favorite and why?
I don’t have a favourite. They all have their place and uses. After all, conflict is a tool that reveals more about your protagonists and each type of conflict tells you something different. I suppose I enjoy man versus idiot bureaucracy/society quite a lot. Inner conflict has a lot of scope for humour too.
- What do you think is more important to your recipes, plot or characterization? Why?
I’m going to vacillate again here. Characters are crucial, but they have nothing to do and no arc without a decent plot. Sometimes the plots are there just to show a particular side of a character, sometimes the characters determine the plot whether you want them to or not.
- We all know that the first taste means the most! What do you do to get that first bite hook with your readers?
I’m still experimenting with this. In Reset I have the true inciting incident occur before page one, but it’s not revealed in full until about a third of the way through – perhaps this should have been brought in sooner. In Dammit I have it on page one. In Reboot I have it at … Ah ha! Nearly caught me out there eh? You’re not getting me that easily.
- The most important of questions: Cake or pie?
Pie. Made in Melton Mowbray with spiced pork, gelatine, and a moist, thick pastry crust.
- Finally, if you could give one piece of advice to aspiring literary chefs out there, what would it be?
The same advice I’ve given to aspiring creatives for years; keep on doing it and don’t give up (I have to listen to my own advice quite frequently). I should also add a codicil; don’t take any advice from an author who’s only published a couple of short novels too seriously!