Author Spotlight – T. Eric Bakutis
Joining us for today’s Author Spotlight is T. Eric Bakutis!
Eric is an award-winning author and game designer based in Maryland. His first fantasy trilogy, Tales of the Five Provinces, is now complete, and his first science fiction novel, Supremacy’s Shadow, is now available. You can also read his cyberpunk police procedural, Loose Circuit, for free at http://www.loosecircuit.com.
Thanks for joining us today, Eric. Let’s start small: tell us about a great book you’ve read recently!
Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames, which I read thanks to the awesome recommendations of Fantasy Hive members. I just loved everything about this book, to the point where I wish I’d written it myself. For me, it was the perfect mix of tense action, laugh-out-loud-humor, genuine emotion, and a plot that kept me hooked from start to finish. Read it!
Okay, time to escalate things: reality warps and you suddenly find yourself leading a D&D-style party through a monster-infested dungeon. What character class are you, and what’s your weapon of choice?
I’d probably end up as a mage of some sort. I’ve always had an affinity for puzzle and problem solving (which is why I enjoy coding and game design so much) and solving problems by figuring out how to use a limited toolset in a creative way is something I’ve always been very good at. No robes, though – I’m going with full heavy armor, dammit. If I can’t dodge, I’d like to survive.
As for my weapon? Preferably something ranged that requires minimal training (a wand?) as I’d prefer to deal with any monstrosities before they are close enough to bite or claw at me, and not worry about dropping a quiver full of arrows or snapping my own fingers with a bow string.
When you’re not trawling through dungeons, do you prefer to type or to hand-write? Why?
I can’t imagine writing by hand, and my hands cramp sympathetically even thinking about it. I’ve been committed to word processors since middle school, when I hunted and pecked with two fingers, and currently type an average of 80 wpm (words per minute). This allows me to really cruise when I get time to write (5-8k on a good day, given a 3-4 hour window) and I can’t ever imagine giving up the ease to get my thoughts on paper, quickly, and revise them just as quickly.
And how do you like to work – in silence, with music, or serenaded by the damned souls of a thousand dead shrimps?
Unfortunately, we have a strict “no dead shrimp ghosts” rule in our house (ever since that incident with the Danish necromancer and the Smurf colony) so as lovely as that might sound, it’s out.
I always write with music. It’s usually a mix of show and game soundtracks (instrumental), and recently, Youtube mixes of epic instrumental tracks, though I do listen to actual rock or metal from my personal library if I’m familiar enough with the album that it doesn’t distract me. Much of my cyberpunk police procedural, Loose Circuit (for example) was written to the soundtracks of Psycho-Pass and Ergo Proxy (both excellent shows in different ways). Everything I write is better with music.
Are you an architect or a gardener? A plotter or a pantser? D’you write in your underwear, or in a deep-sea diver’s suit? Tell us something unusual about your writing method!
While I started as a pantser with my early (unpublished) stuff, absolutely everything I’ve had published has been after transitioning to a plotter. I’ve just found it too easy to write myself into a corner, otherwise, and since my day job is game design (where I’m always juggling lots of moving parts) I find myself obsessing with knowing where every plate I’m currently spinning is at every point in the book, and what my characters are up to even when they aren’t on the page.
Essentially, I write plot-centric books (where I try to spool out each important revelations, twist, and character details in the most efficient way possible) and outlining before writing is how I’ve found I can best do that. I find it much easier to reliably foreshadow events and build consistent character arcs if I know what events will occur and where characters will end up. That said, I will totally change my outline in mid-novel if I have a better idea, but an outline is essential to get me started.
That said, I totally pants short stories. If it’s 5000 words or less, I just write until it’s done.
What are your most significant non-book fantasy influences?
Genre TV shows, anime, and videogames, in particular RPGs. Games include The Legend of Zelda, Crystalis, Lunar: Silver Star Story, Star Control II, Dragon Age, Mass Effect, and basically every Final Fantasy ever. Anime would be Starblazers, Robotech, Ghost in the Shell, and Psycho-Pass. As far as non-anime shows, I’d list Avatar (TLA and LoK), Babylon 5, Battlestar Galactica (reboot), Firefly, Buffy, Angel, Highlander, Supernatural and (most recently) The Expanse. I frequently pick up a new show or videogame between novels, and it almost always recharges me and gets me going again.
As a result of all these influences, I’d say my work has a heavy focus on world mechanics (I love designing systems!), snarky or funny dialogue (pick any Marvel movie), dramatic acts of badass heroism, flawed and vulnerable heroes, and, most importantly, antagonists who have grounded, understandable reasons for doing what they do. Evil for evil’s sake bores the hell out of me.
I also have a strong preference for ensemble casts, and feel even minor characters deserve names and backstories, even if I don’t actually reveal those to my reader. I want to know the story behind my characters, no matter how minor their role, because I’ve found that’s the best thing to make my writing feel “real”. Even if their appearance in my book is one page, they have a life outside of that.
What was the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it?
The new season of the rebooted Voltron (Netflix), which is honestly just terrific. It’s from the same studio that did Avatar: Legend of Korra, and I love the animation style, character relationships, often hilarious dialogue, huge cast, and (with the introduction of Lotor in Season 2) relatable antagonists. Even Zarkon (who felt one-note at first) proved to be more tragic than he first seemed once his backstory was revealed.
The world shifts, and you find yourself with an extra day on your hands during which you’re not allowed to write or otherwise do any work. How do you choose to spend the day?
I’d absolutely be adventuring in Skyrim VR, in which I have currently clocked (checks Steam) 190 hours (most of which has been played from 10pm onward, given I have a three-year-old). While the initial addictive rush that followed my intro to virtual Skyrim has faded, I still feel the need to jump back in and have another adventure with my huge cast of friends. I AM THE DRAGONBORN.
I use a mod, Advanced Follower Tweaks, that allows me to roll through Skyrim’s vistas and caves with a full party at my back, like Dragon Age, and I have also applied a ton of visual upgrades that make Skyrim VR look *stunning* in my Vive Pro. It’s as close to living in Skyrim as anyone can get, and I get a rush (and a workout!) from smacking enemies in the face or shooting them with my bow.
Also I own three houses and a massive palatial estate created by a talented modder. That helps.
If you could choose one punctuation mark to be made illegal, which would it be and why?
Semi-colons, but only under duress! I mean, I like all my punctuation marks, but if I had to choose one to sacrifice (like, to Boethiah or something) the semi-colon would be the unlucky victim. I’m hard-pressed to think of any story I’ve used it in recently. Ellipses, by comparison…
In no more than three sentences, tell us a little something about your current work in progress!
I’m currently outlining and writing sample scenes from the third (standalone) book that takes place in my Supremacy universe, where I set my two most recent “grimsnark” scifi thrillers, Supremacy’s Shadow and Supremacy’s Bounty. My universe is basically a Star Wars ripoff except without FTL, and my Empire and Rebellion have lots of shades of gray rather than being flatly good or evil. Right now my third book is basically John Wick meets Terminator 2 and it’s going to be amaaaazing….
If you could co-write or co-create a series (like The Expanse, or the Malazan Book of the Fallen), who would you choose to work with and why?
I know a ton of awesome authors and would be happy to collaborate with any of them, but I want to specifically call out Mike Kern (@miekkenr) who writes great fiction and shares many of my tastes. I think we’d collaborate well. While he’s currently shopping around his YA novel (Battlestar Galactica meets The Battle of Britain, with an YA cast) you can currently read his H1Z1 fanfic, Dark Winter, for free. He’s a great author, and I want him to hit it big some day soon.
What’s the most (and/or least) helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
One of the best pieces of advice I ever received came at a RavenCon (the second con I ever attended after publishing my first book, Glyphbinder) from Janine Spendlove. After I made a joke about competition, Janine pointed out that my fellow authors were my allies, not competition. She is absolutely right. Authors are just tremendously supportive folks. We want each other to succeed.
I’d never really thought about that fact before (outside of my own writing group) but practically every author I’ve met has been eager to geek out about our shared interests and, where possible, support each other’s work. I’ll call out Laurel Anne Hill and Stuart Jaffe, in particular, as they were among the first authors I met. They not only welcomed me into the writer community but actually took time to read and blurb my work. I’m still tremendously grateful for their advice and support.
If you could visit any country at any point in history, where/when would you go, and why?
Personally, I’m not a fan of historical times, as common as those are in portal fantasies. I don’t want to worry about if the water I’m drinking will kill me, or live in a time before antibiotics were invented. If anything, I’d want to go into the future and visit a country like, say, Sweden, 200 years from now. I’d love to see how humanity has progressed, as a whole, and feel those countries that are most stable now would be the most likely to still be around and thriving 200 years from now.
Also, I bet they’d have really good virtual reality.
Every writer encounters stumbling blocks, be it a difficult chapter, challenging subject matter or just starting a new project. How do you motivate yourself on days when you don’t want to write?
I don’t, a lot of the time. I’m fast enough that when I do sit down to write, I make good progress, so I rarely if ever push myself to write. Not pushing myself is, honestly, the best way I’ve found to get actual writing done. If I’m not motivated to write, I play a new game, or watch a new show, or read a new book. If it’s good, I get inspired. I get excited about the plot revelations and character arcs I’ve just experienced, feel the desire to write my own, then jump back into my current project gleefully.
There’s been a few occasions where I forced myself to write, but my work is never as good.
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
Cary Obsorne’s Glaive series (starting with Iroshi). It’s freaking telepathic ninjas in space! The protagonist (Iroshi) is half Duncan McCloud, half Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Iroshi and its sequels have super cool alien world exploration, crazy sword fights, and a great scifi plot. Eventually Iroshi goes on to found a super-elite group of telepathic ninja envoys and mercenaries. Seriously, it’s great. I met Cary at a con years back and still see her every so often at Armadillocon, and I love this series.
Finally, would you be so kind as to dazzle us with what we like to call a ‘shark elevator pitch’? (It’s exactly the same as an elevator pitch, but with sharks.) (Well, one shark. Which, by the way, is currently picking between its rows of teeth to try and dislodge the remains of the last author who stepped onto its elevator.)
Ahem. So: why should readers check out your work? A shark elevator pitch of your own book(s) in no more than three sentences – go!
I write grimsnark. It’s like grimdark, but people spend as much time making smartass comments and dropping sick burns on each other as they do getting shot and tortured. Also there’s powered armor and laser swords and OW STOP BITING ME HELP HELP.
Grimsnark sounds fantastic, Eric! Thanks again for joining us today, and good luck with the sharks…
T. Eric Bakutis is the author of Supremacy’s Shadow, the Tales of the Five Provinces trilogy, and the free web serial Loose Circuit.