Interview with Stan Sudan

What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
I love, love, love that we are sentient, feeling beings on some sort of cosmic mission to define ourselves. It's truly amazing that we walk around in animated muscle, bound together in a psycho-sensory way by nothing more than strings of ganglia, trying as hard as we can to figure out why we are here. We're both, at once, a walking-talking science experiment, and the undefinable ingredients to a Science Fiction script. Sometimes I wake up and it's like I'm living in the Twilight Zone. How much better can it get than that?

Whether it's to record a profound dream, or to work on a manuscript, I think it's significant--at least inspirationally--to say that the first thing I do, even before I eat--like today--is that I turn on my computer and start writing, or editing, or working on my writing. It's noon. And I'm still in my jammies. Because it's the weekend. I covet my free time with more tenacity than a starving dog holding onto a butcher-shop bone. I still haven't eaten. And I'm still writing. So...in a nutshell? Writing. I know it's clichéd. But it's what gets me out of bed each and every day--even on those days that I have to trudge off to work. After all...there's evening...and the weekend.
What are you working on next?
Editing, editing, editing. I have seventeen manuscripts on my computer. My current hope (and plan) is to get one novel edited and published just as soon as the other goes to press. It's way past time for me to get published. And I apologize for holding onto all these novels for so long. They need to be shared. Sisters of Light is not the first book chronologically, but one has to pick a place to start. So I did. And Dancers of Light and Darkness is the result. The other stories will just have to wait.

The Dancers of Light and Darkness series is equally about the heroine Iya-Ko-Naya and her Sisters of Light, as it is about the hero Shatwa Hei and his Brothers of Light, as it is about the heroine's and hero's friends, families, and their encounters with Sisters and Brothers of Darkness, their families and their friends. It's a huge endeavor to decide on the flow of an epic fantasy or adventure series. Next up, after Sisters of Light--which tells the story of how the two little Legacy-gifted Sisters of the Clan of the Mountain, Iya and her Sister-cousin Sweet-Star, become Medicine-Riders--is Dancers of Light, which tells about the transformation of Iya's biggest up-Mountain rival. After that, Medicine-Riders, which tells about Shatwa Hei, and the re-Awakening of his Ancient Skills.

Brothers of Light, the fourth novel in the series, following the opening trilogy, goes much deeper into Shatwa Hei's training as a Guardian, and unveils yet more Secrets about Iya's Medicine-Riding Sisters as both the Outsider Apprentice and his Runner-Sister are confronted with Darkness on the Spirit-haunted Flatlands.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I have to laugh. For a writer, is there truly life not writing? Ok. I teach. That's been my profession the last twenty-five years. And I love teaching elementary school.

Because we spend so much time in the tradition of oral storytelling in the younger grades, teaching has contributed profoundly to my tale-telling skills. BUT, and it's a big but, it seriously impacts the time I get to spend writing. My own children are out of college, and my wife tolerates--even believes in--my writing. Which helps. More than helps. It's as though she now enables a compulsive disorder--writing! I say that because she brings me lunch or dinner on a plate and sets it beside the computer; she has learned to stand back and wait till my fingers stop moving before she asks me a question, and no longer wakes me up when I've fallen asleep at the keyboard. It's a genuine joke around our house how many pages of d's or z's or single letter pages of writing have had to be deleted from having fallen asleep with my finger still on a key. But...hmmm. Yes, there are moments when I don't write or work. Gardening, playing with our Siamese cutie-cat, taking walks, and getting sucked into movies. Other than school and writing, though, there's not much left. It's why it's taken half my life to accumulate enough text to now consider publishing it.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
Usually when I am researching, or looking for references. It's pretty random. I give a lot of books a chance to give me that Ray Bradbury, off-the-shelf moment of falling in love with them, before I politely say goodbye. I love CG artwork. So book covers are a big initial attraction to me. Then it takes a grammatically well-written book to grab and hold me. I hate first person. And I usually don't open a book that has a lot of spelling or grammatical mistakes in its overview. Being a teacher has honed my editing eye toward catching mistakes, so it's a good clue, if there are mistakes in the book description, that I will have a hard time reading beyond the mistakes. I take note of reviews, and then I have my favorite authors.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
It was a science fiction short story for a sixth grade Read Magazine contest--which I won--when I was twelve years old. I never stopped writing after that. When I was young, space was as vivid a frontier as the ocean might have appeared to the students of Henry the Navigator. So I chose to write a story about a becalmed spaceship, with a female crew of heroines that was ultimately saved by another ship. The teacher teased me, in a polite way, of bringing romance into a science fiction tale. But I knew from that moment on that I wanted more than anything to be a writer. The rules of the contest were simple: We were to be given a leading paragraph from a famous short story that we had not heard or read, and then we were asked to complete what the teacher had presented.

The story the teacher introduced began with a flickering light, that came into view, then disappeared. Now, as a writer, after all these years, I might have considered a lighthouse. But then, in the science-fiction-obsessed mind of my youth--I was never without a comic or novel under my pillow--the image that came to me was of a spaceship, adrift in the asteroid belt, the shadowed sunlight alternately reflecting off it's hull, then disappearing when it floated into the umbra of each asteroid. We had another assignment, as well, similarly constructed, from the short story A Descent into the Maelstrom, by Edgar Allen Poe. None of us had a clue as to what would happen. The teacher read the first couple of paragraphs, then we were asked to write the conclusion based on our rather limited awareness of what would sink faster into the giant whirlpool--a smaller object, or the larger--requiring us to decide whether we remained with the trapped ship, or whether we leapt and swam. Needless to say, most of the class of scientifically challenged, but extremely willful sixth-graders would have gone to their watery doom. Only a handful chose a successful outcome.
What is your writing process?
Definitely the 80/20 principle. Eighty percent perspiration, twenty percent inspiration. In my fanciful imagination, I dream of being able to write directly to finished manuscript. I still fantasize that successful, prolific writers do that. But I'm probably mistaken. I read once that Stephen King can do that. But my ancestry is not as deific as his has to be. So eighty percent--probably ninety-five percent in my case--is spent on editing. Ideas and copy flow from my imagination as easily as an open spigot. Maybe that's from years of being a teacher. Or vice versa. But I only have a limited number of buckets. My file cabinets are full of drafts and plots and storyline sketches. My first three novels I wrote in first person--as that truly is the easiest way to create stream of consciousness, although I do not use that technique any more. I went back and rewrote them in third person. That's when they split into multiple novels. I like third person more, as it personally gives me far more creativity, especially in dialogue. I still immerse myself fully into the point of view of each character, but there's something about the god-view that puts me in charge of the brush that paints the picture. I want to be in the heads of all my characters.

If I have an idea, I immediately set it in a location, describe the setting in detail, then imagine a character entering that space. Then I bullet-stream the action and speech, with absolutely no punctuation, in short phrases, so I can keep up with the ideas. With the rough outline in hand, I go back and begin punctuating dialogue and adding modifiers and shifting the chronology. I alternate between description and character interaction; doing them simultaneously is far too distracting for me, as I tend to go off on tangents in the environment. "See this rock..." "Oh, you mean the one that came from..." and then I'm off describing a scene when I should be working on subtly revealing character flaws or motivation through dialogue. Only after all that is done, do I then go back and insert metaphors and similes.
How do you approach cover design?
I'm an artist. So I would love to do my own covers. And I do, in the rough stages to help bolster the finished concept. There's nothing more exciting than opening a working draft and seeing a mock cover. I listened once to a motivation talk by Wayne Dyer on the topic of envisioning outcomes. He used authorship as an example. He explained how he would make a mock cover, complete with his own photograph and the book's working title, then place it on a blank book before sticking it on the shelf above his computer along with his already published books. I do that with stock or borrowed photos and photo-shopped text, which I place onto the mockup and stick it on page one of my drafts. But then I delete it (Smashwords no-no to have an extra cover page) and leave the work to the professionals. I do have set ideas at the concept stage, but I'm easily proven wrong. As a supervisor in a lead art group, I had to learn to entirely trust the creative genius of my colleagues. It's both an honoring of the designer's skill, and a means toward supporting their own livelihood. I feel good about that. And hey, the more genius that can embrace and surround my book, the better!
What are your five favorite books, and why?
Not in any particular order, of course, but I'll only list Sci-Fi and Fantasy, because that's what I write, although I do go for classics, too, such as Wuthering Heights and Tale of Two Cities--even Gone with the Wind--if I had to name only a few of the many time-tested novels that I grew up with and still adore. I'm far more attracted to writing style than to plot.

Memory and Dream, by Charles de Lint. Above all other authors, he has perhaps influenced my writing the greatest. This book is a favorite only because it was the first ever that I read by de Lint. His ability to subtly capture and realistically present urban fantasy, and the depth with which he engages the reader in social issues, are skills to be emulated by the best of authors. Neil Gaiman, I would bow down to. But to de Lint, I'd have to prostrate myself if I ever met him.

The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula Le Guin. I have always been a fan of feminist science fiction. This book is nonpareil in its examination of not only sexless androgyny, but as a means toward opening dialogue about transgender issues, it has it's own separate pedestal. It is so unique that an entire genre should have followed in its wake. This book is a must-read for anyone delving into the arena of interpersonal relationships. I could go on. My bookshelves are filled with more books by Le Guin than any other author, including The Lathe of Heaven and the Earthsea trilogy.

Foreigner, (series) by CJ Cherryh and Witch World, (series) by Andre Norton. (Sorry it's a tie.) Both are equal in their abilities to capture the most subtle of nuances of alien culture, and to so capably describe alien landscapes. I fell in love with Alice long before I even encountered Carolyn. But it's the feminist determination, especially in Norton's works, that won me over in both. Cherryh most recently has steered my imagination toward a blend of genres, and freed me to infuse modern romance and fantasy, and to be bold in my own assertion of cultural influences that often defines, and not merely guides, the worlds in which the characters in my own writing reside. Besides, I find comfort in book-candy.

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and Stranger in a Strange Land, both by Robert Heinlein. Because I'm a closet libertarian? Or just an old-fashioned rebel at heart? These are foundational books on alternate societies--something that I carry close to my heart, my work, and my writing. I would not be who I am without having read Asimov, Bradbury, Zimmer-Bradley, Clarke, Farmer, Herbert, Huxley, Modesitt, Niven, Orwell, Robinson who colored Mars, Pohl and Pournelle and a host of others, all of whom influenced not only my writing style, but my very humanity. Heinlein was ahead of his time in attempting to define social alternatives. In that realm, for me, he still reigns supreme.

I could go on, but the list would be well over a hundred. Or two.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in northwestern Montana, at a time when the land was underpopulated, and nature reigned supreme. To have been raised in an environment that was so greatly influenced by nature has always been a point of reference for me that finds its way into all of my writing, whether it's a simple description of storm clouds, or how muddy one can get from pushing a stuck vehicle out of a rain-deluged roadbed.

I spent long, hard days working on the farm, to which I attribute most of my practical life-skills--all of which are vital components that I constantly utilize in my writing, from milking cows by hand, to butchering livestock, harvesting crops, hunting, fishing, growing vegetables and fruit, canning, smoking meat for winter use, shoeing horses, herding cattle, building and carpentering, felling trees and rebuilding engines, or simply remembering the spoken lore of my mother and father, aunts and uncles, and grandmother and grandfather--how to make willow-whistles by hand, or how to use saplings to divine for water, or that pinch of spilled salt tossed over a shoulder to ward off bad luck, or planting by the phase of the moon...or that cow-horn planted in the corner of a field that contained mystical qualities that helped nourish the crops...or the around-the-dinner-table tales of psychic discoveries in Russia, which made me dream of far greater possibilities than being a mere farmhand...or being taken outside to watch Sputnik transect a perfectly black, nighttime sky. Which we did. And it was as fabulous as it was soul-grindingly difficult. I still can conjure that starlight-backed image in my mind's eye, and feel the excitement in my gut at humankind having touched the heavens.. So much of my childhood, which I imagine is also true with everyone, defines who and what I am, including my writing.

My spare time was spent, literally, in Huck-Finn-and-Tom-Sawyer-ish fashion, lazing on a dock or lying on a float-boat or hanging a fishing line into the deep, wide river into which we all could dip our hands or a cup and drink to our heart's delight. It's gone now. That idyllic place. But it remains buried in my soul, and burned into my brain as indelibly as a hide-seared brand, preserved forever as a resource for writing. Farm-life was tough. No ifs, ands or buts about it--both physically and emotionally. A farmer's will is as resolute as the hard muscles that come from days of pitching hay or wrangling stock or setting posts, or sitting up long hours midwifing a heifer or filly--which still comes in handy at one or two in the morning when that final chapter-paragraph is resisting being birthed. But it's the moments of smelling trampled, wild peppermint, or fresh-cut hay, or dew-laden grass that fling me back so deeply into those memories--of letting my sweating brow rest on a filthy forearm as I take a breather, or leaning back on a just-set fence post, gauging the time by hands, or fingers, tipped up to the westward-marching sun--that remain most strongly with me, even to this very day. A half-century later I can still smell, or taste, and remember how each of those experiences felt.

Those, and a thousand other stolen moments--hiding for a while from work-responsibilities, lying down in chest-high alfalfa or orchard grass, staring up at the cotton-puffed cumulus clouds, dreaming about one day becoming an author--those remain my most poignant memories. As a writer, that truly is a unique and blessed reservoir upon which to draw.
What's the story behind your latest book?
Dancers of Light and Darkness is an epic fantasy series about a Sister of Light, Iya-Ko-Naya, and her Promise-bound Brother of Light, Shatwa Hei, who, with the help of their Warrior friends and their Medicine-skilled relations, are challenged, sometimes brutally, to reawaken the long-forgotten memories that lie dormant within their Legacy-carrying Souls. They are inexplicably tied to the undying fate of Dah'jeh-le-vah, the Mountain of the Ancestors, which simultaneously sits in two worlds--in Real-time and in Shadow. Their only chance for survival as they walk into the Spirit-touched lands of both worlds is to fight an endless battle, lifetime after lifetime, against a living Darkness that pursues them into the Ancestrally haunted Canyons and the Wastelands that lie below the Mountain.

Sisters of Light, Dancers of Light, and Medicine Riders begin the series as a trilogy about an Ancient past that more than haunts the young, Storytelling Sister. Iya is a gifted Singer, Healer, Medicine-Rider, and a Keeper of the Ways of her People. After committing to a protected, sequestered life as Daughter of the Mountain, Iya joins with her Outsider Medicine Brother, her Medicine-Riding Warrior-Sisters, and her Flatland-Guarding Medicine Brothers to defend both their culture and their land against the growing threat of Darkness.

Weighing their own, personal needs against the huge demands of those they have sworn to protect, both Seekers of Light must rediscover a renewed capacity for love, and ultimately learn the true meaning of forgiveness. Iya-Ko-Naya, who carries the difficult burden of an imposed forgetfulness that came with the rebirth of her Ancient soul, must struggle to come to terms with the responsibilities of a completely different, yet equally powerful Path toward Light in her dual roles as both a Healer and a Keeper of the Ways of the ancient traditions of her People, the Kah-ta'i-hai'a.

Shatwa Hei is sometimes contemplative, but is an incredibly earnest young Medicine Warrior, who has retaken his Medicine Name. In so doing, he has reunited himself with a powerful, ancient Destiny that is as merciless in its reawakened Truth as it is filled with Legendary, Warrior-from-beyond-the-Stars intention. He reluctantly discovers that his namesake, with the potential to re-awaken all of the memories and skills of that ancient Warrior-from-beyond-the-Stars, is none other than Koh-Kah-na'a-Shatwa-Hei, First-Seeker-of-Truth, also known among those who remember the Legends, as O'hai Na'a-Ka'o, Star-Man.

Confronting their own, personal issues and inner demons from separate, abusive childhoods, Iya and Shatwa Hei re-form their once-deep, slowly Remembered Warrior-bond, which has forever reunited them in an ageless alliance against Darkness. Ultimately, the two must together overcome the stigma of the young Medicine Brother's unwanted heritage. Both Iya and Shatwa Hei, along with two other Flatland Guardians, Jonathan and Stands-By-The-Brook, are avid and gifted students of the Elder Medicine Man, Illikahn Eagletree.

Sisters of Light, the first book of the beginning trilogy of the entire Dancers of Light and Darkness series, unveils the youthful story of Iya-Ko-Naya, whose Legacy-given destiny is to become Daughter of the Mountain. Both she and her beloved Sister-cousin, Tah-Nak-Te'o-Hai, are raised on the verdant slopes of Dah'jeh-le-vah, the Mountain of the Ancestors. The two are unrelentingly compelled, as tiny Sisters of Light, by the Dreams that Dah'jeh-le-vah brings to those who are Destined to become Seekers of the Ways.

With single-minded intention, the Dark Ones who oppose these tiny, un-Awakened Sisters of Light, lie in wait, lurking in the up-Mountain Canyons, just as they have since the beginning of time. Beneath this threatening mantle of Darkness, the two young Sisters begin to re-learn how to step into Shadow, and to walk unseen among the shadowy specters of the Ancestors who dwell in the up-Canyon traces.

All the while Walking that brutal, proverbial Path to the top of the Mountain of the Ancestors, Iya-Ko-Naya and her beloved Sister-cousin, Tah-Nak-Te'o-Hai, spend their entire youth fighting Darkness, and learning about the Ancient Ways from their Grandmother, Nora-Feather. Their long-awaited Warrior-Destiny follows them all the way into the desert, where they join a nomadic, landless Clan of Free-Rangers.

Grown now into lovely, hard-working Sisters of Medicine, forever stalked by the Dark creatures who slip into real-time from the Shadow-filled domain of Ancient Medicine and Magic that is known as Otherworld, the two Sisters of Light, along with their Medicine Brother, Shatwa Hei, must together learn to Walk in that powerful Realm, which is accessed through Dreaming, and by learning to literally step through the veil between worlds into Shadow. One by one the Warriors each discover that the Dark Beasts were created by Darkness for only one task--to devour all Light.
Published 2014-10-29.
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Books by This Author

Sisters of Light, Book One of Dancers of Light and Darkness
Series: Dancers of Light and Darkness. Price: Free! Words: 138,960. Language: English. Published: December 29, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Fantasy » Epic, Fiction » Fantasy » Paranormal
(5.00 from 3 reviews)
Sisters of Light, Book One of the beginning trilogy, unveils the epic story of Iya-Ko-Naya, whose Legacy-given destiny has always been to become the Keeper of the Ways of her People. As a Shadow-fighter in an ancient culture that has survived for millennia, Iya, along with her Sisters of Light and her Brothers, fights to save the children from a Darkness that has returned from the distant past.