While best known for her The Legend of ZERO series, Sara King is one of the most prolific Sci-Fi & Fantasy authors writing today. We’re fortunate enough to be working on several projects concurrently with her, including ZERO, the free serial Tales from the Battered Mind, the forthcoming, Chronicles of a Vampire Queen: Alaskan Fang: Book 1: The Samurai — which will go live just in time for Halloween! — and more. With all our joint projects, we thought it was high time for our audience to get to know Sara a little better. But beware… there’s strong language ahead…
We’ve been having a blast producing Tales from the Battered Mind as an anthological serial! How does your process for writing short stories differ from your novel-writing process?
Obviously, it doesn’t, because the last “short” story I tried to write (last week, when Soundbooth asked for another one for Tales from the Battered Mind) ended up being 35k words in four days, with no sign of stopping. /sob.
You were born and raised in Alaska, which is the setting for your Guardians of the First Realm series. What parts of the series are influenced by your life in Alaska?
Eeeevvvverything. I always find it hilaaarious when I read books supposedly set in Alaska where the author comments on the “oak” or “maple” trees or talks about seeing bears or wolves everywhere (I’ve only seen a handful in my life) or acts like everyone up here lives in log cabins and only bathes twice a month… It’s the little stuff like that. I’ve had a lot of Alaskans read my books and write reviews that say, “OHTHANKGAWD this person has actually lived here!!” Verbatim. Like twice. We Alaskans know we became a novelty to the rest of the world about 15 years ago, and it’s irritating as shit.
Since we’ve started working with you, we’ve noticed that you are as prolific as you are creative. How do you get inspired? Moreover, how do you stay inspired?
I have a Muse and I have as many amazing brainstormers as I can find (finding excellent brainstormers is hard, so I’m constantly on the lookout for new ones to add to the group). Honestly, I think the best inspiration for me is working with a brainstormer who desperately wants to read the next page. I grew up writing for my little brother, and that work dynamic basically carried over to Real Life.
As someone who writes in many different sub-genres of Sci-Fi and Fantasy, which one is your favorite and why?
I don’t really have a favorite, but I can tell you what my least favorite is: hard Sci-Fi. Fuck that shit. Might as well put my nipples through a chain grinder. A good story needs to be about characters, not machines, tech, and what little our scientists currently can extrapolate about the world (as though that could never change). As long as a project’s got great characters, I can roll with it. I do appreciate some element of paranormal/fantasy/tech that makes the world more interesting, though.
What are your top five favorite books (by other authors)?
George RR Martin (all). If you’re going to force me to pick others, I’d say I looooved a lot of Stephen King’s earlier works, and they inspired me to write strong characters starting when I was eight (though he also has problems staying in a close third person POV sometimes). Anne McCaffery’s Pern books were amazing when I was a kid. And, of course, Ender’s Game. I read it back in the 80s and it blew my mind.
What are the themes you write about in your fiction, and what about these themes appeal to you?
I’d say trust between two human beings (or a human being and a robot, ethereal, etc.) is probably my most poignant one, the one that really drives my best stories. So much in this world is untrustworthy, untruthful, broken, embittered, or disingenuous that I have faith that two beings can find great hope in the idea of trusting one another. The other really powerful one is with great responsibility comes great loneliness, as Forgotten says to Joe in Zero Recall. The more power someone has, the less they can trust other people, and the less other people trust them, and the more alone they are. One can be surrounded by sycophants, users, followers, devotees, etc. and still be completely alone. When I was writing Forgotten, it was downright painful to experience his isolation, because he epitomizes a powerful entity that anyone and everyone would use as a tool if they could… unless they’re a pissed off Congie, a destructive shit of a Baga, a Huouyt with a conscience, or a Jahul without his nutrients.
What is one thing you wish you saw more of in the fantasy and Sci-Fi genres?
Good fucking stories. Full stop. I’m tired of the melodrama, the formulas, the attempts to monetize. I just want some great character stories again, like Firefly or the Cumberbatch version of Sherlock Holmes. Stuff that gets into the characters’ heads and tells real stories of real people, not focuses on ooooh pretty settings! (Here’s looking at you, you colossal ass-cracks of wastes of time who wrote GoT Season 4-8…but especially 8. Fuck you. You took something utterly magical that was making the lives of hundreds of people better and shat all over the story in the name of getting it over with and pretty cinematography. I hope your family recognizes its mistake in nurturing you to the abomination you currently are and [REDACTED] and then realizes they gave you too much air and then [REDACTED] with the duct tape so your [REDACTED] and then shrivels and falls off).
How do you find the experience of listening to an audiobook differs from the experience of reading a book?
I have trouble hearing spoken words (some sort of undiagnosed hearing problem), so audio isn’t really my go-to; but holy shit, Soundbooth has been blowing me away with their renditions of my work. I didn’t really know what I was expecting — didn’t really have high hopes after the first two voice actors took my money and never produced — but this has been amazing.
Outside of reading and writing, what are some of your other hobbies?
Being in the woods, gardening, creating massive black-skinned ninja chickens of death that come on command, and cooking.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
In all seriousness, I’ve been completely impressed by Soundbooth, and that’s hard to do. I’m a neurotic workaholic (when I’m working) and take extreme pride in making a good product that people can enjoy— often to the detriment of my health —and I was ecstatic to realize you guys at Soundbooth are the same way. Well, maybe not the writing 400k words in six weeks so you go blind part. That happened, and that sucked. But you seem to take your jobs as entertainers seriously, and I appreciate that…
But wait, there’s more! Sara just so happened to have some awesome questions from her fans lying around. So, we’re pleased to be able to make this piece a “double feature” — which is an SBT Author Spotlight first!
How old were you when you wrote your first story? — Submitted by Deb Blair
Four! And I wrote two of them. “Sammy the Snake,” and “Bob the Brontosaurus,” both fastidiously hand-crafted on yellow legal paper and bound in exquisite stapling work, complete with breathtaking illustrations. I gave Sammy to a special editor friend who helped me write Alaskan Fire and Alaskan Fury, but Bob was unfortunately lost to time. My editor said Sammy looked like a pile of poo, but I’m sure he’s in the minority with that opinion.
If you weren’t a writer, what you want your career to be? — Submitted by Crystal Dawn
Stare at an empty Word document thinking about how to become a writer. It’s all I’ve wanted since I made the decision to be a writer at three. There literally is nothing else for me (hence why the depression was so bad for three years, and I was pretty much useless when my writing mojo ‘broke’). If you’re talking hobbies, though, I raise those black-skinned, black-meat chickens and I’m breeding them with monster, 20-lb chickens to create a hybrid ninja species to help me take over the world.
Do you do a lot of research for your books, or do you just have an eidetic memory that soaks in all of the interesting subjects you read to then apply to your stories, like rain falling in the desert? — Submitted by Deb Blair
I used to have an eidetic memory, but that’s pretty much kaput now. But I still subscribe to like 12 different science and history and archaeology magazines and soak up as much as I can. Lots of times, little tidbits from those articles will just randomly drop themselves into books like ZERO. But then again, some of it is completely me. For instance, I was suggesting jellyfish gene modification on human skin cells to introduce a natural glow for tattoos before that was a thing. But that idea, too, was spawned from — I believe — a National Geographic article where scientists had introduced jellyfish DNA into kittens to make them glow in the dark.
How does living in a remote part of Alaska inspire your writing? — Submitted by Valesa Linnean
I spent a lot of time in the Bush growing up and was raised by some awesome early Alaskan settlers who taught me to think differently about life than your average suburbanite (easier to survive in the Bush when you don’t sit around waiting for someone else to save you). I think that translates pretty well into the books, where the heroes are more likely to take charge themselves, vs. wait for someone to get them out of the problems they’re in…
If you were a super villain who conquered the world, would you be a cruel or benevolent tyrant? — Submitted by Zachary Bulacan
The glorious thing about being Conqueror of the Known World is that you don’t have to pick one mindset or the other. The world, quite literally, is your oyster. Since you have no one to answer to but yourself, your ruling style is likely to be as mercurial as your moods. Generally, I think I’d try to stay benevolent, though the moment some ridiculously starry-eyed, wannabe superheroes dared to conspire against me in their sneaky little powwows in some rat-infested basement, it’d pretty much be a free-for-all until they’re all dead or in chains or something. Then I’d be back to magnanimity, handing out cups or rice or coffee to the peasantry to their roaring applause again.
What is your favorite alien in ZERO and why? — Submitted by Shareen MP
The Geuji and the Jreet. The Geuji because I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be totally helpless except for a savant’s brain. To rely upon the kindness of others in an unforgiving world… That’s always twitched my heartstrings. As for the Jreet, you gotta love a huge, honorable snake-dude who goes invisible and gets all stabby when you innocently tell him his mother has bad breath.
Do you ever consider that some, or all, of your different book series might happen in the same universe, or do you subscribe to a multi-verse? — Submitted by David Rivera
Actually, I’ve already worked out where Outer Bounds and ZERO could coincide, if we ever wanted to go down that path… 😉 But generally, I try to keep the worlds separate, because it’s easier on my brain to not have to remember all the terms for all the worlds all the time. Plus, Outer Bounds clearly lays out the multiverse idea when Anna and Milar are bouncing through time. Soooo… both?
Who were the most difficult characters to write and why? What about the easiest characters to write? — Submitted by Lia Schwinghammer
Good question! I actually don’t have a most difficult character to write. Usually, if it’s difficult, that means it’s boring, and I immediately catch myself and figure out why and fix it. I think the closest to a “hard” character to write was the straightlaced Inquisitor Imelda in Alaskan Fury. She was necessary to the storyline, but it was really hard to get into that brainwashed hardass mindset. Now, if you wanna talk about *easy* characters, that would be Slade from ZERO, Anna from Outer Bounds, the djinni from Alaskan Fury, Forgotten from ZERO, and Stuart from Millennium Potion. The more emotional, psychotic, extreme, damaged, or interesting a character is, the more of a blast I have writing it. Oh, and Daviin ga Vora, because who doesn’t love a Klingon in the shape of a gigantic earthworm that can go invisible and stab things with his chest? 🙂
Which mineral has the best personality and why? — Submitted by Glenn Zisa
Chalcopyrite. It’s stable, heavy, solid, and has a great feel. That, and if you tumble it, it’s literally like holding nuggets of gold. Mmmmm. Gooolllld.