Interview 111, Noah Lemelson, author of The Sightless City, Conclusion

Welcome back to the conclusion of our interview with Noah Lemelson, author of The Sightless City.

Read Part 1 here.

Read Part 2 here.

Read Part 3 here.

Airship Ambassador: COVID has really put a damper on travel. Have you been to any on-line or physical events? What has that been like, and the reader reaction?

Noah Lemelson: I did one in person event in LA, a reading a month after publication in a local art gallery. We took significant covid precautions, and the event went excellent!

AA: Congratulations! How do you keep a balance between writing and the rest of your life?

NL: It’s a difficult balance. The key is that novel writing is an endurance run, just to keep at it little by little every week, to keep up the motivation while still giving yourself time to decompress. Time to yourself, to relax and be with your thoughts, can be just as important as actual writing. Though, of course, writing doesn’t happen unless you do eventually write.

AA: That’s a key for a lot of things – take that first step and then keep taking another step, no matter how slowly, just keep taking them. Do you get to talk much with other writers and artists to compare notes, have constructive critique reviews, and brainstorm new ideas?

NL: I have worked with a writer’s group for the past several years, and I think it’s one of the most important sources of support, notes and community a writer could have. I highly, highly recommend it. Writing can too easily become a solitary discipline, it’s really important for writers to stick together and support each other.

AA: Would you agree that writers need to be readers, too?

NL: Hard to say actually, a lot higher if we include audiobooks, but I love to read. For every book I get to there’s a dozen I still need to find the time. It a Sisyphean task, but we must imagine Sisyphus happy.

AA: Now that is definitely something every reader can identify with. There’s no such thing as having too many books, or having a to-be-read list that is too long. As a reader, what has made you stop reading something before finishing it?

NL: Other distractions mostly. Though I do have a bugbear with protagonists whose authors think are too cool for school.

AA: What do you consider your first real writing experience?

NL: I wrote a short story in high school that I wish I kept, but my first foray into writing was a filmmaking class in 9-10 grade. I was a terrible director, mediocre editor, but wrote some good scripts (at least by juvenile high school boy standards).

AA: The first step is very important! How have you and your work grown and changed since those scripts?

NL: I certainly hope so! I did my undergrad in biology, so I’m a big proponent of evolution.

AA: In your experience as a writer, what have been the hardest and most useful skills to learn?

NL: Knowing how to take notes from others. Figuring out what notes to use, what notes hint at a problem even if they give the wrong solution, and what notes can/must be ignored.

AA: Separating the chaff from the wheat and still being able to make good bread. When you are writing these days, is some aspect still a challenge? What come easily, or at least easier, for you?

NL: Lengthy action can be a challenge. There’s a lot to balance in a fight scene or other multi-page action scenes, description, dialogue, choreography, and you still need to be attentive to each character just as you would in a slower paced scene.

AA: Lots of details to track in longer scenes like that. Is there a story would you like to write but haven’t, yet?

NL: I have a whole virtual notebook full of them. I have enough to keep me till my death bed, and new ideas come at an exponentially faster rate then I can write them. The next short story I want to write is a take on the haunted house genre, IN SPACE!

AA: I can relate to that – too many ideas and no where enough time to make them all happen. Writing can be a challenge some days. What are some of your methods to stay motivated and creative?

NL: I usually sit at the keyboard messing around an hour or two until the weight of guilt from not writing compels me to panic write.

AA: Guilt can be such a motivator, LOL. How is Los Angeles for writing?

NL: You don’t get any cool points for being a writer in LA, for one. Everyone is trying to be a writer, or actor, or director, or something. It can be hard to convince people to drive an hour on the 10 at 5 pm on a weekday to go to your thing. There are great communities and people in LA, but you have to find them, and that can be tricky. I’m grateful both to CalArts and to the UCLA Extension Writers Program, for introducing me to great people.

AA: In your experience, does it seem like readers prefer a print or electronic format? Do you have a preference?

NL: Ebooks are great, but there’s something special about having a printed copy in your hands. Though I don’t have all the sales data yet, so I haven’t a clue what’s selling more.

AA: There is something special about having a tangible item in hand and on the shelf, although moving them is a whole different story! Ebooks are much lighter in that regard. If you weren’t an author, what else would you be doing now?

NL: I’d be a mediocre biologist.

AA: Most of the authors I’ve talked with have some type of day job and that writing is their other job. What has that situation been for you and how has it helped/hindered begin a published writer?

NL: Recently I’ve been teaching. And it some ways, that job has taught me something. It taught me that being a teacher is hard!

AA: I’m sure none of it got easier during the many days or lock down and initial resumption in person. Looking beyond steampunk, writing, and working, what other interests fill your time?

NL: I enjoy low key hikes, lazy days in with my wife and cat, and probably too much video games.

AA: How do those interests influence your work?

NL: As a kid who grew up loving video games, I was always fascinated by the worldbuilding present in RPGS like Warcraft, Warhammer, Mass Effect, ect. The setting of The Sightless City traces its evolutionary lineage to attempts to create hypothetical game settings back when I was a teenager.

AA: There’s only so much time in a day – what interests don’t you have time for?

NL: I’ve always wanted to try my hand at designing a board game.

AA: Games led to writing, so it’s not much of a leap towards gaming, again. What other fandoms are you part of (as a fan or participant) ?

NL: I used to be big on Star Wars, Warhammer, and Pokémon as a kid, though I never did many fan activities. Fanfiction’s not my jam, but I respect that a lot of genre writers start that way, and I can see its appeal. With all the giant cinematic universes and sprawling multimedia stories out, I’ve actually come to appreciate smaller self-contained works.

AA: There are so many stories to tell, and other perspectives to tell them from. Fan fiction can help boost other people people’s creativity, too. What is on your to-be read or watched pile right now?

NL: I’m finishing up the second book in Octavia Butlers Xenogenesis trilogy. My to read pile is way too messy to say for sure what I’ll pick up next.

AA: Are there people you consider an inspiration, role model, or other motivating influence?

NL: I owe a lot to Brian Evenson, who taught me at CalArts. He’s an amazing horror writer who’s managed to break through that pesky wall separating genre from literary. On a personal level, I take a lot of life inspiration from my late grandmother.

AA: What event or situation has had the most positive impact in your life? What has been your greatest challenge?

NL: It might be too obvious, but “meeting my wife” has to be high on the positive impact list. There’s always challenges that come up with family, career, just life in general, I’ve been lucky not to have anything unusually disastrous recently.

AA: What is the best advice you’ve been given?

NL: True friends (and family) are beyond precious.

AA: Definitely great advice! When you do interviews, what is something that you wish you were asked about but haven’t been?

NL: Anything where the answer is Ursula K. Le Guin or Stanisław Lem. People aren’t reading enough Le Guin or Lem!

AA: That’s a good hint for future interviews! Any final thoughts to share with our readers

NL: Steampunk is the retrofuturism of the 19th century, cyberpunk the retrofuturism of the late 20th century. I’ve very curious what will be the prefix for our current era. I suppose that means we have to figure out what our vision for the future is, and what that will communicate to future generations about our values, ideals, fears, anxieties, and hopes.

Thanks, Noah, for joining us for this interview and for sharing all of your thoughts. We look forward to hearing about your next projects!

Keep up to date with Noah Lemelson’s latest news on his website and on Twitter.

You can support Noah Lemelson and our community by getting your copy of The Sightless City here.

Published in: on February 3, 2022 at 1:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

Interview 111, Noah Lemelson, author of The Sightless City, Part 3

Welcome back to part 3 of our interview with Noah Lemelson, author of The Sightless City.

Read Part 1 here.

Read Part 2 here.

Airship Ambasador: There is that phrase about advanced science and technology being like magic, which does feel like what the Engineers can do. How did you help the readers to feel the The Sightless City history?

Noah Lemelson: I tried to give hints of the history through landscape, architecture, and objects. It’s a world of ruin, where a lot is reused, and everything new is built on something older. People scavenge old weapons, refurbish old vehicles, and decorate their homes with both the art and trash of past eras. I tried to show how people were adapting to this broken world, and how the remnants of the past still affect the present.

AA: It’s an enjoyable read, and truth be told, I was rooting for Sylvaine as the underdog. Looking now at writing, and rewriting, The Sightless City, what was your schedule?

NL: I started writing the novel in 2015, and it went through a lot of different forms, starting as a series of short stories, then one novel, then a trilogy. I began to look for an agent and publisher in 2019, and it took a year before I found success at Tiny Fox Press (never did get that agent). Luckily, I had done most of my editing before sending it out, so the editing schedule with Tiny Fox wasn’t all that high pressure.

AA: Low pressure is nice to have, and your proactive editing must have paid off. Some people find writing a short story with memorable, meaningful characters and concise story to be a challenge, while others find that easier and writing novels is the challenge. How is that situation for you, and what is your approach to make it easier?

NL: I write both and find neither to be inherently easier or harder. You have to be much more strategic with short stories, you can’t waste time, or give yourself the space you might allow yourself in a novel. Novels are more about balancing many factors over a long time. Precision vs logistics.

AA: If someone likes “X”, then they’ll like The Sightless City. What is “X”?

NL: The Half-Made World is not a bad comparison, neither is Retribution Falls, and I think people who like China Miéville’s work will find a lot to enjoy in The Sightless City. Basically, anyone who enjoys deep gritty worldbuilding with complex characters and a layer of dry humor will find something to love.

AA: Those are good comparisons to help similar readers learn of your work. What do you think puts this story on someone’s must read/have list?

NL: I think it sits at a unique meld of genres, steampunk and noir, post-apocalyptic, horror, and even some hints of western. There’s no other setting quite like Æthmach, more traditional fantasy mixed with steampunk, all through the dust-scuffed lens of a half-apocalypse.

AA: Looking to the future, if The Sightless City were made into a movie, who would you cast as the main characters?

NL: To be honest, I do not pay enough attention to actors to give good answers here. I think I’d ideally avoid someone big-name, I’d rather it be a springboard for fresh actors who can inhabit the role without the audience baggage of past fame.

AA: The would be a nice opportunity to let someone just run with their expression. How about a soundtrack for The Sightless City, what would that be like?

NL: Hmm… Well, I was listening to a lot of Sunday Driver while writing it.

AA: What are some memorable reader reactions to The Sightless City which you’ve heard about?

NL: I’m not sure if it counts, but my most treasured reaction was when I was able to give my grandmother an early copy of the novel before she passed.

AA: My condolences to you and your family on your loss. I’m sure it was as much a gift and pleasure for her to read your accomplishments. What kind of attention has The Sightless City generated since it was released?

NL: Kirkus called it “A gripping mystery with an exceptionally fleshed-out world,” and Publisher’s Weekly said it was “…sure to entertain any fan of gritty speculative fiction.”

AA: They are not wrong in those comments. How are new readers finding you?

NL: I’ve been trying to reach out through blogs and social media, but truth is I’m not sure which methods are getting the most readers.

AA: Every author I’ve talked with has a different journey to seeing their works in print. What was your publishing experience like?

NL: They key is to get used to rejections. It’s hard to get something published, and there’s a whole lot of no’s before you reach a yes. Once I had a draft I was happy with, the process was just a grind of sending out email, going to conventions, and constantly rewriting my query letter. After a year of this, I saw that Tiny Fox was open, sent in a letter, and after a little back and forth, was pleased to be accepted for publication.

AA: Publishing has always seemed like a challenge for most writers, perhaps even more so now when there are so many other channels of communication and information. Authors aren’t just competing against other printed stories, and then not even just against television, but now there are all other forms of entertainment to take up every spare second in a day. For the aspiring writer, what lessons did you learn about having an agent and editor, their feedback, and your writing?

NL: Most of my editing was before I sent it to a publisher. I think publishers want something close to ready, they don’t always have the time to edit it significantly. Tiny Fox gave good notes, and was flexible in the editing process.

Time for another break in our Interview with Noah.

Look for part 4 where Noah talks more about the characters and the details of their world.

Keep up to date with Noah Lemelson’s latest news on his website and on Twitter.

You can support Noah Lemelson and our community by getting your copy of The Sightless City here.

Published in: on February 2, 2022 at 9:40 am  Leave a Comment  

Interview 111, Noah Lemelson, author of The Sightless City, Part 2

Welcome back to part 2 of our interview with Noah Lemelson, author of The Sightless City.

Read Part 1 here.

Airship Ambassador: That strength/fragility aspect comes through before and after each success. Each of them is motivated by something, even when they can’t identify or describe it to themselves. How does their motivation guide and justify them in their actions? Is there a line for them in good vs evil, or noble purpose vs personal selfishness?

Noah Lemelson: Marcel and Sylvaine are driven by the need to prove something about themselves, both to the world and to quiet their own self-doubts. Marcel’s has a desperate need for heroism, and Sylvaine wants prove herself as more than just a Ferral, a beast-person. Marcel’s goals are inherently moralistic, he always wants to do the right thing, while Sylvaine’s is more amoral, (though not immoral) and personal. Ironically the moralistic ideals of Marcel are more easily bent towards darker actions.

AA: Looking behind the scenes, what did you do to increase the reader’s mental or emotional connection to the characters? How did you keep them as relatable yet still grounded in the circumstances of the story?

NL: I think I tried to ground the protagonists’ goals in relatable emotional desires. You don’t have to have been a questionable “war hero” to have done things you have complicated feeling about, you don’t have to be a ferral trying to be an engineer to feel undervalued, or to want to prove something about yourself. I don’t think the circumstances alienate the reader, as long as the characters are reacting in a way that fits their past, relatable experiences.

AA: Sangleum and “The Knack” are big factors the world of The Sightless City. Why are they important in telling the story?

NL: Sangleum is the fuel for everything in the world of the Sightless City, autocars, æroships, factories, war machines, and of course it powers Ætheric Engineering. Ætheric Engineers, at least those with “The Knack,” can use sangleum to warp metal at a touch, construct machinery with a snap, or infuse their inventions with near-magical properties.

AA: What are some of the interesting and important details within the world of The Sightless City?

NL: The world of The Sightless City has been through a lot. A century before, The Calamity ripped a hole in the center of the world turning it into a vast wasteland. A lot still survived, but the scars are too large and too central to be ignored. Underneath the wastes sit not only the destroyed land of Vastium, once the center of human civilization, but ancient ruins beneath that as well, of a civilization who reached far greater heights of technological advancements, before disappearing without a trace. Yet the world they left behind is not only for humanity. Other-folk also exist, such as the crimson-skinned Mutants, the giant horned Salvi, or the furred and clawed Ferrals, each trying to make their way in a world sometimes cruelly dominated by humanity.

AA: The various hints throughout the story definitely lead to more questions about what came before, what really happened, and certainly, what might come next. What passage, paragraph, or scene was really memorable to write? (description of, or copy in text)

NL: Without spoilers, the epilogue allowed me to get way weirder and surreal, and hint at what exists in the seams of the world. It was a lot of fun to write.

AA: Was there any scene-passage-text-etc that you loved but which just didn’t work and had to be cut?

NL: I tried several attempts at a prologue, including a lengthy one from Kayip’s perspective during the Battle for Huile, which I kind of loved, and was hard to cut.

AA: Ouch. Similarly, what kind of back story is there for The Sightless City which didn’t make it into the final book?

NL: Tons of world building that can’t fit in, including two millennia plus of history, as well as cosmology that even the characters would not be aware of. Some of this will sneak into future books, though not all.

AA: That’s potentially a good problem to have, but knowing there’s a solid foundation for the story we are reading means there will be continuity. When people read The Sightless City, what would you like for them to take away from the story and the characters that they could apply to their own lives?

NL: The world is a complex place. It’s worth struggling to do the right thing, but it can be just as hard to figure out what the hell that is.

AA: That’s something many people can relate to. Did elements of your own life and experiences play into The Sightless City?

NL: It’s hard to make too strong of a comparison, I live a rather pedestrian and sedate life, but I do love exploring old, ruined buildings, and I think that aesthetic filters into The Sightless City.

AA: What was one memorable story while writing this story?

NL: Originally the trilogy was one book. I remember distinctly being told I was writing a trilogy without realizing it. I stood my ground and confidently stated The Sightless City would always be one book, and never a trilogy. A week later it was a trilogy.

AA: Funny how stories can grow like that. Can you share a little of what is coming up next?

NL: The next book will leave Huile as Marcel, Sylvaine, and Kayip travel into the Wastes, beyond the bounds of civilization, in the pursuit of Lazarus Roache. They will see another side of the world, one harsher, where the ideals and ideologies of the Resurgence, the Principate, and even the Engineer’s Guild are just distant stories, where even the veneer of law has peeled away. They will be forced to fend both with the strange creatures and violent inhabitants of the Wastes, but also with parts of their past finally catching up to them.

AA: Challenges in front and behind. What kind of research and balance went into creating the The Sightless City world?

NL: It’s hard to point to specific research, but I am a voracious reader, and love nonfiction on history, as well as mythology, which deeply influenced The Sightless City. Some ideas also came from a class I took in college, Magic, Science, and Religion, which looked at the strange ways these concepts can blend together, merge and morph, which played a lot into both ætheric engineering, and the religions of The Sightless City.

We’ll break here in our Interview with Noah.

Look for part 3 where Noah talks more about the characters and the details of their world.

Keep up to date with Noah Lemelson’s latest news on his website and on Twitter.

You can support Noah Lemelson and our community by getting your copy of The Sightless City here.

Published in: on January 31, 2022 at 8:55 pm  Leave a Comment