Today I am posting a recent email interview I conducted with Ashanti Luke. Ashanti studied world philosophy and religions, Creative Writing, and Professional Writing at the University of Southern California. After living in Los Angeles for 17 years and working in advertising and the entertainment industry, Ashanti moved back to his hometown of Richmond, Virginia where he worked for the US Census Bureau and as a personal trainer and tutor.
Ashanti is the author of Kindred Spirits, Dusk and Nightfall and has had stories publishing in Kasma Science Fiction and in Horror, Humor, and Heroes. He has worked as a writing instructor for Richmond’s Podium Foundation and currently holds a position as an English professor. Ashanti currently lives in the outskirts of Richmond with his wife and four children. He is currently researching Dusk 2: Evensong, and it should be available by the beginning of 2015. Information can be found at his website, which is an artistic showcase for Dusk, Nightfall, and Evensong and contains audio samples of Dusk and Nightfall.
Here's the interview:
· Who are your influences?
Octavia Butler, Orson Scott Card, and Philip K Dick are my main sci-fi influences, but my writing also has heavy influence from Hong Kong Cinema, particularly old John Wu and Tsui Hark as well as stage plays like Les Miserables, Pinter’s Betrayal, and just about anything Tom Stoppard or David Mamet.
· When did you begin writing?
I began writing when I was young, and I began outlining my first novel when I was 16, and I began drafting it when I was 19. I went to graduate school for writing, so I completed that novel (Kindred Spirits) for my thesis. My household, however, was inundated with storytelling as my mother was both an elementary school reading teacher and a professional storyteller.
· How do you come up with your stories, characters, character names, POV, etc?
Many times I begin with a ‘what if’ or an interesting idea, and then I begin to build characters around that idea. I feel very strongly that the characters should make the story happen, and often the backgrounds for my characters come about because I need characters that would find themselves in (and often eventually out of) the situations that are put before them. I feel like any good story is character driven, and the more complicated the plot is, the more, let’s say ‘particular’ the characters have to be. I often say the more characters I am working with, the more real friends get ignored.
As far as names go, I like the names of the characters to have some outside meaning without being obtrusive or necessary to the story. My characters also have various ethnic and national backgrounds, so many times their names are reflective of those backgrounds, or function as a part of their personal progression before we meet them in the story. As an example, in the story Aiwass in Nightfall, Johan Roeland DeGraaf is a Dutch Canadian who, in 1904 is a detective in the Providence, Rhode Island constabulary. He is charged with rescuing 14-year old H.P. Lovecraft from mysterious kidnappers, and because of the events of the story, becomes the inspiration for Inspector John Raymond Legrasse in Call of Cthulhu.
· Do you work from an outline?
I work from an outline, but the average person would need the Rosetta Stone and an Orphan Annie decoder ring to make sense of most of my outlines. I tend to jot ideas down and pile ever more detailed information into the document until the story itself coalesces around it or it osmoses into a second document where I begin writing. It is a very organic, but necessary, process for me.
· Tell me about your favorite scene in your novel.
There are so many scenes is Nightfall, but I would say my favorite scene in the collection is when Mori Mak, a young high school girl who delivers pizzas to support both herself and her alcoholic father fights off two would-be muggers using a martial arts training that is as lethal as it is colorful and unlikely.
· Can you tell us a little about your writing philosophy?
As I mentioned before, I feel characters should always drive the narrative. I also believe in adding deeper meaning to the stories, but having that meaning not get in the way of the accessibility and ubiquitous humanity of the tale. I also believe very strongly in research. Good research and good characters can make even the most unlikely story seem believable.
· Have you ever tried writing in any other genres?
Kindred Spirits is arguably a suspense thriller with science fiction elements. I tend to mix staples of other genres into science-fiction because I also believe that science fiction should ultimately be about humanity or the human condition. In that way, nothing that touches the human heart and elicits an emotion is off-limits. Nightfall contains a wide range of story types all under the veil of science fiction, and all with some relationship to the timeline and events in my novel Dusk, which is the first book of a trilogy. It is completely unnecessary to know the events in Dusk, but Nightfall and Dusk complement each other, and the stories in Nightfall lend insight to many of the themes, events, and characters in Dusk, as well as those that are forthcoming. I suppose the short version is even though I am a science fiction author, the science fiction I write is enhanced, I believe, by elements from many different genres.
· Do you have any interesting writing-related anecdotes to share?
One thing that is interesting, I think, is that Dusk began as an idea for a short story. As I began delving into the motivations of the characters, however, the story began to expand. As more characters were introduced, various other motivations increased the story to novel-length. There was one final motivation that brought about, quite literally, the end of the world, and expanded the scope of the overall idea to a trilogy. The concept for Nightfall came from the idea that there were so many stories to be told from different perspectives of human experience within the timeline and universe of Dusk that it was easy to create ‘one-off’ stories that were self-contained, but benefited from the overall richness and detail of the world without the world itself overwhelming the narrative. At the end of it all, I would like to write a fictitious history textbook that details all of the events of the full narrative in the same manner as real textbooks catalogue our history. I think it would be fun for both myself and readers.