10 Questions with World Fantasy Award-winning Author Lewis Shiner (@lewisshiner)

This Author Spotlight

Lewis Shiner

World Fantasy Award Winner
Author of Seven Novels

Exciting news, gang: a brand new round of Author Spotlights is on its way, featuring a number of accomplished and talented writers.

The first of these is Lewis Shiner. Lewis Shiner is the author of BLACK & WHITE, FRONTERA, and the World Fantasy Award-winning GLIMPSES, among other novels. He's also published four short story collections, journalism, and comics. Virtually all of his work is available for free download at www.fictionliberationfront.net.

1.How did you get into writing and why do you write?

I've been writing fiction since I was four and started my first novel at seven, so it's hard to remember exactly what prompted it. I got uprooted a lot as a child (my father was in the National Park Service and we moved at least once a year), so books were one of the few constants in my life. I expect that's why I came to love them and want to write them myself.

As to why I write, that's changed over the years.  Initially I wrote to be rich and famous. When that didn't work out, I came to discover that it was an innate need, a way to process the events of my life and my feelings about them.

2.What do you like best (or least) about writing?

First drafts are the hardest, especially the early stages, because that's when I create the scaffolding that has to support everything else. I retype everything at least once and sometimes twice, and that second draft, when I'm retyping the rough work of the first draft and smoothing it out--the hard work of craft as opposed to the undependable magic of inspiration--is my favorite part. I also find that my first drafts are more and more polished, so the rewriting is less work. I've gotten to where I don't like finishing anything, because that's when my grandiose dreams for a project run up against the real world.

3.What is your writing process? IE do you outline? Do you stick to a daily word or page count, write 7 days a week, etc?

I used to outline, but more and more I just take my head full of vague ideas and start typing.  That way my characters can surprise me and the plot can develop more organically.

I have a day job and a full life, so I don't always manage to write every day, but I try. I don't have any artificial goals that I set for myself--I just write as much as I can. I enjoy the process and I know that my whole life is better when the work is going well, so that's incentive enough to write.  Weekends are my most productive time.

4.Who are some other writers you read and admire, regardless of whether they are commercially “successful?”

From the past: Dickens, Tolstoy, Eliot, and Conrad. Current writers I really admire include Ann Patchett, Barbara Kingsolver, Jane Smiley, and Karen Joy Fowler. I also love a good UK police procedural, of which my favorite practitioner is Barry Maitland.

5.Should the question mark in the above question be inside or outside the quotes? 

Outside.  The question mark refers to the sentence as a whole, not the contents of the quotes.

6.What’s your stance on the Oxford Comma?

The Oxford (aka "serial") comma is the only way to go.  Omitting it, like so many other rules in the AP Style book, hearkens back to the 19th century when every comma literally cost money. The Chicago Manual of Style has completely overshadowed AP Style.

7.What are your books about and how do they come to fruition?

Well, I've got seven novels and a career-retrospective short story collection in print, and they're all pretty different.  They range from hard SF (FRONTERA) to mainstream regional comedy (SLAM) to subjective time-travel (GLIMPSES and DESERTED CITIES OF THE HEART) to rock and roll realism (SAY GOODBYE) to mystery/suspense (BLACK & WHITE, DARK TANGOS).

The best metaphor that I've been able to come up with for my gestation process is that of a sieve. The intersection of a number of ideas forms a kind of mesh, and bits of other things start to get stuck in it--characters, scraps of dialog, visual images, and so on. If a lot of stuff clumps up in the sieve, then I've got a novel. If it's only a few bits, it may be a short story or nothing at all.

8.What’s your current writing project?

For the last five years I've been working on a gigantic mainstream novel about the sixties with the working title OUTSIDE THE GATE S OF EDEN.  Hundreds of characters, starting in 1965 and going to 2020, set mostly in Texas, but also San Francisco, New York, rural Virginia, Tupelo, New Orleans, and Guanajuato, Mexico.  It's currently over 350,000 words, and I'm finally closing in on the end. It attempts to answer the question: What happened to the idealism of the sixties and how did we end up with the greed-based culture of today?

9.What book(s) are you currently reading?

I just finished Sara Gran's CLAIRE DeWITT AND THE CITY OF THE DEAD, which I loved, and THE BASTARDS' PARADISE by Kathe Koja, which is astonishingly well-written. I'm currently reading travel guides to Madrid for an upcoming vacation.

10.Who or what inspires your writing?

It's a question of following my passion. Anything can set me off--a song, an article on the Internet, a passage in the Times Book Review, an argument with a friend. The trick is recognizing that flash of interest, seeing the possibilities in it, and knowing how to convert that passion into the framework for a story.

Finally, is there anything you’d care to add? Please also include where people can read your published stories, buy your book, etc.

All of my novels are in print and available as trade paperbacks or ebooks through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc. All of my short fiction is online at fictionliberationfront.net.

Thank you, Lewis. An impressive body of work worth reading. Let us know when that epic novel is ready.

Be sure to visit Lewis's website to read his work. And follow him on Twitter: @lewisshiner

And keep your eyes open for forthcoming interviews with equally-talented writers.


  1. Lew Shiner doesn't mention 'soul', or 'honesty',or 'compassion', which he should, because they're there in everything he writes.


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