Everyone, please welcome author Garrett Calcaterra. He recently approached me with reading his latest book, Dreamwielder (just came out this month). As usual, I tend to go through an author’s website before reading their book, and he looked so interesting I had to ask for an interview. Lucky for me, and you too, dear readers, he acquiesced. What follows is a little info about him, his latest book, and a damn entertaining chat about beer, writing, dogs, and his band Wheel House. Enjoy!
Garrett Calcaterra is an author of dark speculative fiction. His books include Dreamwielder, The Roads to Baldairn Motte, and Umbral Visions. In addition, his short work has appeared in dozens of magazines, journals, and anthologies. He is a member of the National Writers Union and teaches writing at various academic institutions. When not writing, he enjoys hiking with his two dogs and quaffing good beer.
Legend has foretold the demise of Emperor Thedric Guderian at the hands of a sorceress with royal blood, and the Emperor has made it his legacy to stamp out all magic from the Sargothian Empire in favor of primitive coal fired smelters and steam powered machines. When Guderian’s minions discover a Dreamwielder on a seaside farmstead, a chain of events forces Guderian’s new threat—the young Makarria—to flee from her home and embark upon an epic journey where her path intertwines with that of Princess Taera, her headstrong brother, Prince Caile, and the northman Siegbjorn, who captains a night-flying airship.
Dogging their every step is the part-wolf, part-raven sorcerer, Wulfram, and Emperor Guderian, himself, a man who has the ability to stint magic and a vision to create a world where the laws of nature are beholden to men and machines. Only by learning to control the power she wields can Makarria save her newfound companions and stop the Emperor from irreversibly exterminating both the magic in humans and their bond with nature.
1) You have three books out, one a mosaic written with two other authors, one that contains two novellas, and now a full-length fiction novel. Please share a little of your experiences in writing in these three different styles?
You know, when I look back at all three books now, the growth and progression of my writing is very apparent, which is a good thing I suppose. My first go at writing a book was a sprawling novel called Praxis of the Gods. It was a great learning experience and there are some fantastic aspects of the book, but I simply wasn’t there yet as a writer—my skills were too raw and the resulting story left a lot to be desired. After giving up on trying to get that book published I went back to writing short fiction. During that time I was really forcing myself outside my comfort zone to get better, and the two novellas that comprise Umbral Visions came from that period. “The Shadow” was written first and it’s very experimental with aspects of meta-fiction. With “The Key Ring” I pushed myself to explore the dark inner workings of my protagonist and reinvent the haunted house story. It was probably several years later that Craig Comer and Ahimsa Kerp asked if I wanted to join in on a mosaic novel project they had thought up. One of them had pondered what The Lord of the Rings would be like if told from the perspective of Sauron’s soldiers, and that got the whole thing rolling, the idea being to tell the story of a war from both viewpoints. It was a lot of fun. I got to take part in the world building phase and then we each came up with our own characters and wrote interlinked novellas that told the story of this civil war from multiple vantage points. By the time I was finished writing my portion of The Roads to Baldairn Motte, I knew I was ready to write a new full-blown novel. I started writing Dreamwielder back in 2008 and it took me about three years to go through the entire process, which included a major rewrite. The resulting product is a novel I’m very proud of. I don’t know that it will change anyone’s life, but it is a good fantasy novel, I think, and it’s a great testament to all the work I’ve put into my craft. The world building I put into the story was far more involved than anything I’d done before, the plot is complex and sprawling with about a dozen viewpoint characters, and the narrative voice is an omniscient one that rides the line between YA and darker adult fantasy fiction. The true test will be how readers respond to the book. If I did my job well, the reader will notice none of this craft business and merely get caught up in the characters and a compelling story.
Absolutely. Go live life! A lot of young writers think you get better by burying your nose in books and then practicing your craft. Certainly that’s part of it, but if you want to write stories that move your readers, you have to experience life. Lots of it. You need to experience love, grief, pain, and joy. Otherwise, how can you expect to write about these things in a believable manner? And then there’s the intimate know-how of how things work. How do you replace your breakpads? How do you pick a lock? How do you hone a straight razor and then shave without cutting open your jugular? How do you make a roux? How long does it take to grow tomatoes from a seed? How do you mix a good Manhattan? These are the little things that go into stories and make them feel real, and to that end, a good writer needs to be a jack of all trades.
3) I notice quaffing good beer is one of your favorite past times. Do you brew? Or do you have a favorite microbrewry nearby that is worthy of a visit?
I do brew my own beer, but not as often as I like. I was just about to start a batch in the new glassware I got for Christmas, but my dog Jager was bored apparently and ate all of my malted barely, along with half the plastic bag it came in. I tried malting my own barley (which simply means sprouting it), but the grain I got at the grocery store was either sterile or irradiated. I’ll have to find some organic, viable barley somewhere and try it again. I don’t have any favorite local breweries (I live in Orange County—not exactly a region known for it’s beer making prowess), but I make it a habit to visit breweries whenever I travel (which again, is not as often as I like). I visited Firestone Brewery this last Fall and if all goes to plan I’ll be visiting Kona Brewing Company in Hawaii this summer. One of these days I’ll finally do a camping trip to Andersen Valley Brewing Company and happily stumble back and forth from the brew pub and my tent each day. Oh, and I’d love to go back east and visit the Dogfish Head brewery. Oh, and the Pacific Northwest… I could go on and on about beer for hours. If there are any publishers out there who want to pay me a huge advance to travel around and write about the great microbreweries in our country, please, call me!
4) Rock, blues, and funk all in one band. Please tell me a bit about how Wheel House came to exist?
Rock music has been a love of mine since high school. I played trumpet in grade school, but gave it up when I was in high school because it wasn’t “cool” enough for me. Luckily, it gave me enough of a musical foundation to pick up other instruments. In college, I picked up the bass and played in a short-lived alternative/prog rock band. After that I just sort of monkeyed around on my own for years, playing guitar and bass as a hobby. When I started dating my partner, Mandy, who is a classically trained singer, we decided to jam in the garage with my roommates Pete and Eric. It was crazy. We went into it with no expectations, but somehow all jelled immediately and started writing songs. The concoction of rock, blues, and funk is simply a melding of all of our musical influences, and it works. The biggest difficulties we’ve had so far were agreeing on a name for the band and a name for our new EP.
5) How did you celebrate that first time experience of having a piece accepted for publication?
You know, I’m not sure I even remember now. Probably with a hoot and a little victory lap around the living room. The first one was a small publication, and I think it might have even been a poem. I slowly worked my way up the totem pole to bigger and better publications, so it’s been incremental and I’ve never had that jaw dropping acceptance letter I didn’t see coming. Hopefully the trend keeps on going. My goal is to finally get to the point where I can make a living from my writing. If and when I finally get a decent royalty check and don’t have to work over the summer digging ditches, I’ll celebrate in grand fashion.
Of course! The aforementioned barley stealing dog, Jager, is a ten year old black lab and German shepherd mix. My other dog, Jack, is a seven year old yellow lab and Great Dane mix. (Yes, yes, my dogs are named Jager and Jack. What can I say? I was in my twenties when I got them.). They’re both huge, in size and personality. Jack is a little high-strung around other dogs and new people (he thinks he’s a chihuahua), but he’s a sweet, intensely loyal guy. Jager’s nick-name is Houdini because he’s a magician, sneaking in and out of places he has no business being. We’ve had some great hikes together, but they’re starting to get to the age where they can’t handle ten mile days with packs anymore. Just an hour and half long walk to the park this weekend has them limping around the last couple of days.
7) This is where you let me pry a bit and please do tell me about some ongoing or upcoming projects or events?
My pleasure. My newest work in progress is a near-future literary sci-fi novel tentatively titled Remember the Future. It’s about a man named Cabell trying to make it with his family as hi-tech homesteaders in a world besieged by a harsh ecological climate. The son is clairvoyant to a small degree, but this only muddies up the issues Cabell has to deal with. Unlike with Dreamwielder, I’m not outlining this novel in advance. It’s very much a character story, and I’m essentially throwing Cabell into a tough situation and letting him write the story. That’s my hope, at least. I’m only a chapter and a half into, so we’ll see what happens in the coming months. Thanks so much for having me by to talk. It’s been great!
Places to stalk Garrett Calcaterra