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June 19, 2013 / minusbar

Guest Post: Ken Scholes, author of The Psalms of Isaak


By Ken Scholes

I wonder how badly it dates me that I remember this:

It was a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup commercial that played throughout my childhood.  There was some kind of accident – two kids bumping into each other, one with peanut butter and the other with a chocolate bar.  One kid exclaimed in surprise “Hey, you got peanut butter in my chocolate!”  And the other followed up with “You got chocolate in my peanut butter!”  Both tried the result of that happy accident and the indignation vanished, replaced with delight at their discovery.  And then the announcer said something to the effect of “Now, two great tastes that come together as one!”

It was probably my first lesson in the whole being more than the sum of its parts.  The advertising must’ve done the trick; to this day, I find the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup to be the King of Candy.

The Psalms of Isaak was one of those happy, accidental collisions.  And believe it or not, there were some folks, when Lamentation came out, who were a bit indignant themselves about finding robots in their epic fantasy and wizards in their science fiction.  I think we tend to be creatures of habit and as much as we say we want to be surprised by something that’s different, deep down inside, we cling to the tropes and memes of our favorite genres.  I know I’m guilty of the same from time to time.

In the beginning, when I wrote “Of Metal Men and Scarlet Thread and Dancing with the Sunrise,” I was aiming for science fantasy.  But I was also only building enough of a world and enough characters to carry the weight of a 5,000 word short story – I never imagined it might turn into five volumes, approximately 750,000 words and…well…about seven years of my life.  But even as it became more and more clear that I was going to tackle my first novel – and my first multi-volume series – that I was also going to be putting peanut butter into someone’s chocolate and vice versa.  And it became clear as I sat with the story and let it grow – especially with the addition of Neb and Winters and the Marsher prophecies – that I was actually experimenting with Clarke’s third law.  And as I stepped back from the story and watched it evolve, I also saw that I was doing this while using the tropes of both epic fantasy and science fiction – a robot becoming “human,” a post-apocalyptic society created and protected carefully by scientists, a dashing and dangerous prince, an orphaned boy destined for something great by way of prophecy, a ruthless courtesan/spy in service to her family of spies, and so on.  But I didn’t really set out to do this intentionally – it emerged from the soup of my subconscious, drawing from the many kinds of stories that had influenced me since early childhood.  As I saw what my muse, Leroy, was up to, I jumped in and became more purposeful about it.

So far, the experiment seems to be going well though I know of some diehard epic fantasy fans who were unenthused about the robots and a few diehard science fiction fans that found the “magick” difficult to swallow.  Still, I’m really trying to tell the story I want to tell and my audience are those who are enjoying the books.  And oddly enough, Lamentation has become, I’m told, I kind of gateway book for people who like neither science fiction nor fantasy – maybe the toughest audience yet.

One member of that audience was my father.  He spent years encouraging me to pursue writing, usually with the caveat that he wished I would write “something real.”  I remember very clearly the day he said, “Kenneth, who the hell wants to read stories about three-eyed alien babies?”  (Um, I do, Dad.)  Just six months before he died, he read an ARC of Lamentation.  I was writing the very last sentence of the very last paragraph of Canticle when he called.  Of course, I stopped writing and took his call.  And then I listened for thirty minutes as – for the first time in my life – my father raved and raved about how good the book was.  “Kenneth,” he told me – he always called me Kenneth – “this isn’t science fiction and fantasy; it’s just a good story.  And you have no idea how it’s going to change your life.”  He died the week before Lamentation came out, and each time I visited him in the hospital, he asked if the book was out yet.  Truth be told, his response to my work alone would’ve been enough for me.  But the fact that as I write this blog post, I’m sitting in a café in Paris preparing to be a guest at France’s Imaginales festival – where Lamentation won best translated novel a few years ago – says I’m off to a fine start.

At the end of the day, I think my job as a writer is to follow my muse into the places he takes me, whether I’m mixing peanut butter and chocolate, peas and carrots or even water and oil.  And from those places, to tell stories that excite my own imagination and hopefully that of others.

While here in France, a French fan posted what I think is the highest compliment I could ever receive:  “Your books make us dream.”  That’s the bar I’m reaching for, both in what I write and in the stories I love to read or watch.  I hope you’ll join me along the way.


 KEN SCHOLES is the author of the acclaimed series The Psalms of Isaak, which comprises Lamentation, Canticle, Antiphon, and now Requiem.  He lives near Portland, Oregon, with his wife, Jen West Scholes, and their three-year-old twin daughters. Visit him on the web at

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A huge thank you to Ken for stopping by to share this lovely piece of insight about his work! If you haven’t already, please check out his Psalms of Isaak series. It’s top notch fantasy from a top notch guy!


Roger Bellini


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