Some Thoughts with ... Eric Lewis

22 Apr 2024

The Author/s

Eric Lewis

Eric Lewis

What, about me? Hell I don’t know, I’m not interesting. By day I’m a PhD research scientist weathering the constant rounds of mergers and layoffs and trying to remember how to be a person again long after surviving grad school. In addition to subjecting my writing to one rejection after another, you can find me gathering to myself as many different sharp and pointies as possible — you can never have too many, as a certain someone often says — and searching for the perfect hiking trail or archery range.

My stories have been published in all the places noted on my Short Fiction page, and now I’m having a go at getting my novels published.

The Interview

1.- Could you introduce yourself to the readers of the blog?
Sure, I guess you'd say I'm an amateur writer of speculative fiction, mostly low fantasy but also some sci-fi. I'm 43 years old and have lived all over the northeast US. I have three novels out so far, making up my Heron Kings saga, which is set over several centuries of my fantasy world. Two of those were published by a small press and the third by myself, so a good part of my time 'writing' is actually trying to get anyone to know about my work! I also have published about two dozen short stories in various minor magazines, and republished most of those in my short story collection As It Seems. I began with trying to write grimdark fantasy, but now that's only on occasion. By day I'm a research scientist, but I try not to let that interfere too much.

2.- When did you start writing?
To some extent, for as long as I can remember. But I began to treat it as a serious hobby around 2006, in graduate school. I would be sitting in some boring meeting or seminar, pretending to take diligent notes but really be outlining a random scene I had bubbling up in my head. I started doing the cliché thing of sitting in cafes and writing on weekends, and I began writing bits and pieces of a story about deadly forest rangers using stealth and guerrilla tactics against their enemies. This would eventually become the bones of my second novel, The Heron Kings' Flight. It was terrible of course, incoherent and rambling and self-indulgent. I had no idea what I was doing, but it was a start. After writing about 200,000 words and realizing I had improved somewhat but it was still going nowhere, I started over. In 2014 I began the first novel that I would actually finish, and a year and a half later I had the first draft of The Heron Kings, which I still think of as a prequel instead of the first in a trilogy. It took two years of revising and querying to get even a small press interested in it, but at last it came out in 2020, though nobody noticed.

3.- How would you say your writing process has evolved from your first book to the latest one?
For one, I've really come to appreciate the discipline it takes to maintain consistent character points of view. In the initial drafts of my first works, every character was a POV character, and I hopped from one head to another without care. It took some real effort to rein that in and keep to only, say, three or four POV characters. I also learned the value of an outline to keep the plot from running away from me. I'm much more attuned to things like character arcs, laying out motivations clearly, expressing themes, and of course story structure. I'd say my writing has become more technically proficient, but I'm also afraid that I've lost a certain vitality, some energy that was present in my first book that I'll never get back. One can get boxed in by learning the 'correct' way of doing things, and sometimes I think that's hurt my imagination. Like they say, youth is wasted on the young.

4.- Why would you say gaslamp is so interesting as a setting?
Well for my first two books it was the standard medieval setting most fantasy writers start out with, and for many that became stale a long time ago. I've grown up reading as much historical fiction as fantasy, if not more, and much of that was also set in pre-industrial times, so it was a familiar place to start in. But I think there's been over the last few decades a real desire to break out of that, so you see things like urban fantasy, steampunk and so on. I think Gaslamp Fantasy is another subgenre still in the process of establishing itself as a separate category, but that opens up a whole new aesthetic and blends elements of different genres in fresh ways. I think the distinctive style of the Victorian era, the sense of wonder people had at the scientific advancements of the late 19th century, both blend well with the fantastical possibilities of speculative fiction. I think books like Pete McLean's Priest of Bones and its sequels are a perfect example, as well as shows like Carnival Row. There's been a criticism of high fantasy that the worlds seem to go on for thousands of years never developing beyond the Middle Ages, such as in A Song of Ice and Fire. I wanted to go in the opposite direction and fast-forward my world to an early industrial level, and the semi-magical energy substance Vril from my second book was a perfect vehicle for that. The social implication of how people would integrate magic with, say steam engines or airships is as fertile a ground for stories as dragons and wizards.

5.-How did the idea of The Artificer’s Knot appeared?
I had just finished my third novel, The Heron Kings Rampant, and I was glad to be done with the trilogy. I wanted to do a stand-alone story with a single point of view, one protagonist instead of three or four. Several of my short stories had toyed with the idea of the ingenious University student expelled for unjust reasons, so I decided to expand on that. The idea of the title referring to a physical knot but also a moral knot struck me before I even knew anything at all about knots, but as soon as I came up with that title I knew I wanted to use it. The story was kind of a vacation for me, where the stakes were a bit lower, the action & adventure more contained in the capital city of my world. A minor character from Rampant that I loved writing was the gangster Gouger Nebb, and I knew I wanted to do more with him. I had so much fun writing his dialogue, but I couldn't keep that up for a whole book so I made him a major, but not main character. I also wanted to explore the world a bit more in this time period, so I set it a dozen years after Rampant. In that book my protagonist was an alchemist, so I thought it would be fun to make alchemists the villains for this one. I'd also spent two books building up Vril as an energy source, so I also wanted to explore its possible downsides. I think in retrospect I made a mistake in casting petroleum as the cleaner alternative, which in that technological period it potentially could be, but perhaps it may come off as 'pro-oil' to readers, which I certainly am not. I was more interested in the idea of the elite alchemists' monopoly and how it might be broken, and oil just seemed the logical choice. I drew a lot of inspiration from various sources: Gangs of New York, There Will Be Blood, Peaky Blinders, The Godfather, and of course Dishonored, and I wanted to blend them all together without being weighed down by this saga that I'd just spent years of my life with.

6.- Which authors would you say have influenced your writing?
An eclectic group, I'm glad to say. I fell in love with Robert Graves' Roman historical fiction books I, Claudius and the sequel Claudius the God. His vivid, lurid stories told with that old style poetic prose was so impactful and fun to read, and I so wanted to be able to mimic that style. I also very much enjoyed Colleen McCullough's Masters of Rome series. I was heavily influenced by Sharon Kay Penman's medieval saga about the Plantagenets, as well as her Welsh princes trilogy. I was sad to hear when she passed away last year. All of these authors were masters of making major historical characters feel like real people, and of connecting great events to common human motivations.
As far as speculative fiction, Frank Herbert was probably my greatest influence. For a long time I read Dune at least once per year. I think his ability to hop into and out of the heads of all his characters made me mistakenly think I could do the same, so it took me some time to learn that I was not, in fact, Frank Herbert. But his grasp of the interconnectedness of literally everything really opened up possibilities for the kind of stories I would love to write.
For sheer fun and imagination I was very struck by Peter S. Beagle, author of The Last Unicorn. I think I read that book at the same age he was when he wrote it, so that might have been a factor, but he really showed what one could accomplish when imagination can draw on existing fantasy conventions without being bound by them.
Finally, I'd say Joe Abercrombie was the inspiration for me to try my hand at grimdark, which my first novel The Heron Kings was an attempt at. His ability to describe dirty, bloody scenes in almost poetic fashion, to inject dark humor into grim situations were things I'd never read before I got my hands on Best Served Cold. I'm very envious of his ability to make me care more about one of his characters in three lines than any of my own. I still try at times to mimic his style, and fail. No one really can, I think.

7.- You are also a big Dishonored fan from what I can see, why do you find it as fascinating?
Dishonored is my absolute favorite game, and the only one I still play at my age, mostly out of nostalgia. The aesthetic of the world, the art style and music are just beautiful, even though the setting is grimy and horrific. The combination of early industrial and magical elements blend perfectly in the way I mentioned before, though it's done much better than I ever could. I feel like the game takes steampunk and brings it down into a darker, more serious attitude. The oppressive feeling of the city, and its cruel, unsustainable reliance on magical whale oil itself becomes a character of the game. There are many subtle or not so subtle Lovecraftian elements woven in as well, which always add another layer of depth. The plague setting puts a patina of decay on top of everything, and that makes it so much more real than, say, a shining clockwork city or white marble castle.
And again it captures that feeling of wonder from early industrial science and technology inventions from the last century, making it feel so relatable. Of course I love stealth games in general, and games that allow maximum player choice and are also crammed with so much lore than you could spend forever just replaying and wandering and learning about the world. All this was a great inspiration for The Heron Kings Rampant and The Artificer's Knot. Vril is basically whale oil from the game with a bit of a mask on.

8.- What does Eric Lewis likes to do in his free time?
Well as I mentioned, a lot of my time is spent not writing but feeble attempts as marketing. I'm continually making images and ad banners to post on various social media platforms, book trailer videos for my YouTube channel, posts on my own author site, that kind of thing. None of it gets any attention, though. I wouldn't say I like doing it, but it has become a habit.
I've also begun making lore videos about Dishonored for my channel, and those have gotten a few views but not many. From all this I've learned a few basics in image and video editing. I enjoy hiking the nearby trails and waterfalls, weather permitting, and in the past I took up archery specifically as research for my first two books. It's hard to find an open range these days, though. I've developed a fondness for antiques- maps, coins, and even swords, but collecting those can get very expensive very fast. I've also been known to post some of my odd cocktail creations on occasion.

9.- What can we expect from Eris Lewis in the future?
Right now I'm working on a story titled While We Bleed. It's set in a more Renaissance-like period of my world, with rapiers and flintlocks, but in a place far from my previous stories, completely separate from anything else I've done. The main character is a notorious mercenary, a real bad guy. When a deal goes wrong he escapes with his life, but not his memory. He's rescued without any recollection of the villain he was. But when his past catches up with him, his hands remember how to use a sword even if he doesn't. Realizing his true identity, he must race to stop a scheming Baroness from unleashing a horrific weapon which he himself obtained for her. But redemption might prove even bloodier than revenge. Right now it's only novella length, and it might end up longer but still a shorter novel. It will probably come out next year.