Monday, June 4, 2012

Interview with Author Stephen Zimmer

Last summer, as I was going through the "likes" on the Kentucky Geek Girl Facebook page, I noticed one from someone by the name of Stephen Zimmer. Up until that point, most of the people who liked the page were those that I had invited to be a fan or were somehow connected with the blog. So, it was refreshing to see what I thought was organic blog and Facebook traffic. It was shortly thereafter that I attended the George R. R. Martin book signing at Joseph-Beth and saw a banner hanging from the banister which read talked about a local author's book signing later that month. The name on the banner was "Stephen Zimmer." I was delighted; an author, A CELEBRITY!, liked my humble little Facebook page! A couple of months later I had the pleasure of meeting him at a book signing at The Morris Bookshop, where he informed me that he was the Literary and Gaming tracks director for FandomFest, a convention which I attended last summer. We chatted for a few minutes about my thoughts on the convention. Fast forward a few months to a lovely spring day as Stephen and I sat down at (of course!) the Bronte Bistro at Joseph-Beth for me to learn more about his inspiration as an author and what we can expect from FandomFest this year. I'll be including the FandomFest portion of our interview with this week's preview of the convention, which will be held June 29-July1.

Stephen Zimmer is originally from Denver, Colorado and moved to Lexington with his family when his father took a job at the University of Kentucky School of Medicine. About Lexington he said, "I just never left, but it’s turned out to be a great place for what I do now because Lexington is so centrally located in relation to so many larger urban centers. It’s turned out in retrospect to be a good place to be an author."

Stephen is part of a stable of authors with Seventh Star Press, a small press publisher based out of Lexington. It was established in 2008 and specializes in speculative fiction. Other authors from Seventh Star Press include Jackie Gamber and Steven Shrewsbury. They release titles in all formats and more information about the company can be found on their website. His newest book in the Fires of Eden series, Spirit of Fire, is available now. Check back to Kentucky Geek Girl on Sunday, June 10 for a stop on the Spirit of Fire book tour!

Many thanks to Stephen for having a cup of coffee with me and answering the following questions:

Is there anything that gravitated you toward fantasy?
Yes, it was a function of my mother reading to me as our main entertainment when I was really young. Lord of the Rings Trilogy and the Hobbit and during my formative years, fantasy was one of the first things that I really loved. It was an outgrowth of my mother’s love for fantasy. Then reading the Chronicles of Narnia set me on my path.

Did you become interested in writing as a result of your early exposure to fantasy?
Storytelling and writing both. I didn’t really consider writing until later in high school, then I decided I would write books and be serious about it. I would come up with ideas, playing Dungeons & Dragons, in grade school and high school, but as far as writing, it was a decision that I made in later high school, to focus on that.

What was your first story?
I actually dived into the deep end of the pool, I have three books worth of material for a series that I’m not sure will ever see the light of day unless I overhaul it, but for its time, it’s what I would consider an urban fantasy. It was a modern day fantasy story, rather fantastical, and I actually completed about three books worth of material for it. That was kind of my proving ground, what I learned from it was fantastic: going through the process, finishing the books, planning out series titles, and that helped me prepare for what would become the other two series. 

I’ve always been  a fan of medieval fantasy like Lord of the Rings, but urban fantasy is something that I’m new to. Is urban fantasy set in a contemporary setting? 
Yes, the traditional definition of it gravitates toward urban settings, but I think that definition has blurred a lot. Now, I think it’s almost another name for modern fantasy or like contemporary fantasy. My Rising Dawn saga takes place in a number of settings. It has cities, it has rural locations, it has supernatural realms, it’s really across the spectrum, but it still falls under urban fantasy. So, I think the definition has expanded and blurred over the years. It’s not just quite about vampire hunters anymore.

How did you become interested in filmmaking?
The same thing. Like I said, my storytelling and writing formed and I’ve always loved the visual. For me, the first magical film experience was the first Star Wars. That’s the one that really captivated me as far as what’s possible on the big screen. As a space opera, space fantasy, it appealed to all of those things that I loved about Lord of the Rings, it had an epic scale, the ensemble cast, the multiple plots going on. It really got me thinking about movies. I gravitate toward epic movies, but again, that was also a late high school thing. In college I got formal training with camera work and photography and so at that point I started doing some serious short films, a documentary, and some other projects; then I did my first feature.

What do you think you would be doing if you weren’t an author?
That’s a good question. Probably working in television media. Growing up, I had an interest in paleontology, but that kind of faded as the high school years hit. I would probably be in some aspect of commercial production or television journalism. 

In 2011, in a review for the new Game of Thrones series New York Times writer Ginia Bellafante expressed that sex scenes were inserted into the show specifically for the female demographic. She went on to say that no woman would choose The Hobbit at a book club, rather they clamor for romance novels. This prompted mass protest of her writing and spurred the formation of the Geek Girls Book Club. What do you think about this slant on women and fantasy?
I think it’s basically bunk. I’d say a clear majority of my readers are female, it could be as high as almost 60%. I think it’s really patronizing to say that women wouldn’t enjoy that genre with all the things it has to offer. I don’t think that Tolkien necessarily wrote strong female characters, but there’s plenty that do now. I’ve been told by my female readers that I do write good female characters. You can look at a lot of these series and definitely things have changed a lot. There is more of a mix of other elements that are there today that weren’t there decades ago and I think it’s patronizing to say that women shouldn’t like fantasy. I have encountered the type before, female writers who think that women can only enjoy paranormal romance. It’s basically calling female readers unsophisticated, it’s insulting.

What is your favorite convention experience?
I would have to say my most pleasant experience is probably Mid-South Con in Memphis. I had just an amazing time there last year. Just from day one until the end, the way the panels worked, to the dealers room and everything else, and the release of Jackie’s [Gamber] Redheart, everything about just went so smoothly. The best live book event or tour stop would be Joseph-Beth [Booksellers] hands down.

Have you ever given thought to graphic adaptations of your stories?
Oddly enough, I’ve talked to someone about doing a collectible card game for my medieval series. Then the other thing that I’ve been interested in is more of my horror writing, which fits with the themes in my fantasy writing. It’s very visual, very visceral macabre, graphic elements. It’s very intensive kind of style, but I think that it lends itself really well to graphic novel format. An artist created a full-page panel from one of the short stories just to test it out and it looked so cool that I was like “Oh wow, we could really do something with that” So yeah in the long run I’d definitely like to do some graphic novel stuff. It’s almost like storyboarding for film, in a much fancier and more complex way.

What are you working on now?
We’re gearing up for my sixth novel in the Fires of Eden series, the medieval one and then I will go right into the fourth Rising Dawn saga book. I’m constantly writing short stories. I’ve started to release some that are set within the worlds of my two series and the readers seem to like having more content in those worlds. I do have a few anthologies that should be out in the next year. You can expect another Harvey Solomon steampunk story for sure. I think that we can expect one to two more anthology appearances as well in addition to that one. 

Do you like the steampunk genre?
I think it’s a blast. For me, it was venturing out of my comfort zone and that’s why the editor challenged me to do that originally and that became my short story in Dreams of Steam 1, "In the Mountain Skies." And the response to that was good enough that they wanted me to do another Harvey Soloman story in Dreams of Steam 2 and that’s the one that came in fourth in the readers choice poll.

How did you become involved with Seventh Star Press?
I was the first author and so it was very intimate at that time, a very small operation. It’s still small, but there are seven authors, 4 editors, two cover artists, and so now it’s a nice little family of people involved. From those earliest roots I’ve become much the representative and because of my media background I’ve done a lot on the PR side too. I help with PR for everyone now and do informal representation. I’m the point person, setting up booths at conventions.

E-books can be so widely distributed. Do you still prefer print versions to electronic copies?
It’s a part of our life whether we want it or not. Nothing beats holding a print copy and it juts feels like “Ha! We accomplished this.” There’s no comparison, but the reality is that e-copies are going to be the majority of the market share; print copies will still have a place. People who really like authors are going to want to have print copies of those book. It may not be as mass market as it used to be, but a good book store will still be viable. Part of our thing is that we’ve always advocated being available in any format, so we have limited hardcovers, soft covers. I always like to be available in all formats. We might do some carefully chosen things on Kindle Select. I just don’t want to cut off readers. 

Stephen will be at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Lexington, KY on June 22 at 7:00 pm discussing and signing Spirit of Fire.

Many thanks again to Stephen Zimmer for being my first author interview. I'm very grateful to him for all of his support!


  1. Great questions :) thanks for hosting the interview

  2. Great interview and thanks for your answer to women enjoying fantasy novels. I'd assumed those extra TV scenes were inserted for the guys.