I recently got the chance to speak with author and producer Lancelot Schaubert whose book Bell Hammers is available to read now. Keep reading to see what advice Schaubert has for his fellow authors and what he enjoys most about writing.
What inspired you to write BELL HAMMERS?
An accident. Normally I write scifi, fantasy, and the like, but I started interviewing the elder men in my family because there’s so little institutional and familial memory in Southern Illinois. As I did, I started to undercover multiple, multiple lawsuits my family should have filed against a couple of energy corporations. I wanted to tell their stories.
Was there a book or author that you admired that played a role when developing BELL HAMMERS?
With his last words to me, my maternal grandpa Deno Bubba recommended Paul Angle’s Bloody Williamson as a key to unlocking some of my family’s past. The further I went into that book, the more it taught me about what my own family had experienced and the more clues it gave me for exploring resource surveys and economic development plans from the midcentury that had been hiding in corporate libraries in New York City.
It is often said that in order to write something, you must believe in what you are writing. Do you agree with that?
I mean, yes.
C.S. Lewis said writers ought to know exactly what they want to say and say exactly that. If you didn’t want to tell the truth, why write? I definitely believed that we needed to expose the evils that large cities and corporations visited upon Southern Illinois, things that continue to harm the people that live there, that even screwed up my life still — but I believed I should do it hilariously. I think I did. My brother — who calls me his big sister — doesn’t think I’m that funny. He’s the sort of guy that, in terms of lived experience, wracks up several one-armed stripper stories before settling down and starting a family.
Do you have a set schedule for writing, or are you one of those who write only when they feel inspired?
I write only when I’m inspired every morning at 9am sharp.
Tell us about your writing style, how is it different from other writers?
By style, I assume you mean prose and narrative? Three ways:
In terms of prose in this novel, BELL HAMMERS, I focused on evoking the extremely regional dialect of Southern Illinois as well as the sort of long-winded sentences that oral storytellers in those regions use. You know, the sort of sentences that are short stories in and of themselves:
Beth tucked her chin and grinned like she did when she’d fished for a compliment and got what she wanted but still hadn’t expected on account of that insecurity her own daddy’d put in her.
That sort of thing.
In terms of stylistic flair, I’m a huge fan of old english alliterative meter, not mere alliteration, but the sort of alliteration that shows up all the time in English phrases like black and blue, spick and span, in for a dime in for a dollar. Our language works that way. Even in the previous sentence. Or something like:
…tanned hides of those heifers of Jim Hunter’s that they’d barbecued after accidentally killing them with…
It’s not a perfect example, but it definitely has several feet taken straight out of an alliterative poem.
As for narrative, my narratives are wild. Absolutely badshit crazy. This novel is about four generations of carpenters taking on a major oil company using pranks. Practical jokes. This novel seems literary and historical fiction, but three major events of it connect to an entire universe full of giant wolfsnakes and magic and shapeshifters who confront Big Data’s spying. So I guarantee, even if you hate my books, you won’t encounter a story like mine anywhere else.
What, according to you, is the hardest thing about writing?
Explaining to everyone important in your life over and over again how short the time is, how long it takes to write a novel from start to printed hardback — often 2 or 4 years — and getting them to respect it as much as if you went outside to pull the weeds. People don’t really respect your time as a writer. They think it’s stupid or childish or that other things should take precidence. No one asks a farmer fifteen times a day why he’s sowing seeds or buying more acreage or walking the borders of the land.
What would you say is the easiest aspect of writing?
When you get into the world and you just go. You just take off running and flying and sailing the stars. There’s nothing like that other than maybe sledding down a massive mountain you climbed yourself or camping alone in the wild or full immersion in a culture and language you’ve never known. It’s not unlike culture shock — invigorating, intoxicating, real. Mostly just real. Tolkien taught us that. I think when we’re making something, we’re testifying to the truest nature of ourselves and reality: that we’re created beings. Anyone that doubts that hasn’t thought through the contingent state of affairs in which we find ourselves. Gravity, for instance, or super strings vibrating in the tenth dimension or even the multiverse — none of these things contain the cause of their own ontology. And interacting with your own characters is a way to get perspective on that.
Have you ever experienced “Writer’s Block”? How long do they usually last? Any tips you would like to share to overcome it?
Rothfuss says that plumbers don’t get plumbers block. I agree with that, however I know that he’s had swaths of dryness. King has — his block for The Stand lasted a year. Everyone has. I think two things we forget make us more stuck:
1. We forget that all writers are humans and humans can get depressed. When they do, they get stuck. Frozen in time. That’s not a writing thing. That’s just a human thing. Happens to carpenters and CEOs and stay at home moms.
2. We forget that a large swath of writing is thinking, as hinted at with the “write what you believe” thing above. If you’re stuck, you likely need (a) research, (b) imagination, and (c) memory to pull from and to do the hard work of solving the puzzle. That’s really all it is. Recently I wrote myself into a corner 30,000 words deep on the 10th draft of THE MOST pain in the ass story I’ve ever worked on. So I went back to the start and looked at the decisions I’d made and reworked the step outline from scratch. I’m writing forward now, slowly, working those notes back in and eventually will arrive back at that 30,000th word. It’ll end up cutting some 20,000 words from the previous draft, maybe more. And it took about 3 weeks to figure out the problem. But enough walks, enough sitting on a hillside away from the internet and doing the hard work of outline and backstory, and I’m back at it.
I could have fretted, right? I could have sat and stewed that it was taking 3 WHOLE WEEKS and I got zero wordcount in. But then I might get depressed. And then I’m right and truly double stuck because I’m a writer who isn’t doing the hard work of thinking and I’m also a human who’s depressed.
Rather than all that drama, I’d much rather go easy on myself, take the 3 weeks to think and plan and solve the puzzle. Remember. Imagine. Do some more research. Then when I write forward it’ll come out quick as a feverdream when the fever breaks. Quick as Jesus rebuking the fever clean out of Peter’s mother. It comes that quick. But you can’t fret about it. And because it takes 3 weeks or so to do that hard work, depending on the size of the problem, novels take a long time. And all that walking and thinking? They’ll shame you for it. They’ll talk like you’re doing nothing, wasting your life, not making a good contribution to society.
But their entire idea of society is predicated on writers, so forget them. Forget all about them. You go away and think and solve the problems they haven’t even dreamed of yet. They’ll thank you when you’re dead. Or they won’t. But you’re not doing it for praise or money or power anyways. You’re doing it because it’s good, beautiful, and true.
Any advice you would like to give to aspiring writers?
Read. Think. Write. Revise.* Repeat.
*meaning write the whole manuscript over again.
Are you working on something new at the moment?
Writing for me is like sowing orchards, so I have different nurseries at different stages. Cold Brewed — the graphic novel — is coming out in print in January 2021 after BELL HAMMERS. Of Gods and Globes 2 comes out soon. So that’s new to the reader, though not to me. THE GREENWOOD POET is a sort of romantic, nature-based meditation on gothic urban cemeteries. “Old growth” in terms of the orchard.
Mid-growth is a horror novella IT RIDES UPON US is basically Over the River and through the Hood — Red Riding Hood meets The Warriors with a giant wolfdragon as the badguy. THE FACELESS is my answer to warrantless wiretapping, sensors, and cameras in the big data future — you know, flocks and murmurations of drones and whatnot. OVERMORROW is a sort of reverse Narnia for kids. FISTFUL OF DIAPERS is a picturebook western. Working on all of those, more or less.
New saplings? I’m working on a novel called ARCANUM, DARKE COUNTY that’s my response to SALEM’S LOT. An old school vampire horror with a unique mythos. Some others, but like I said, different projects at different stages.
There’s always something new in the Vale Short Stories series.
Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Well one time Remmy of Bell Hammers had to have a bunch of Freemasons and Shriners over for dinner that he didn’t like all that much but he had to on account of how much influence they had in the town, he just had to do it. So he bought up some old chairs and took out the planks underneath and reupholstered them with some old curtains he’d found out by the side of the road. Well they all stood respectfully when Beth came in, all around the table and Remmy said, “Let’s stand and say grace standing.” And he said, “Thank you, Good Lord, for humbling us like you do and dragging us low so that we can know what it is to suffer well like your son.” And then he said, “Let’s be seated,” and all ten of those Freemasons and Shriners sat down on those chairs that had nothing but fabric and they all bust right through, butts and all, dangling out the holes like some sort of barreled boys.
Please pre-order BELL HAMMERS at:
- Your Local Bookstore
- Book Depository
- Abe Books
- Try a free sample of Bell Hammers
About the author
Lancelot has published work in anthologies like Author in Progress, Harry Potter for Nerds, and Of Gods and Globes — the last of which he edited and featured stories by Juliet Marillier (whose story was nominated for an Aurealis award), Anne Greenwood Brown, Dr. Anthony Cirilla, LJ Cohen, FC Shultz, and Emily Munro. His work Cold Brewed reinvented the photonovel for the digital age and caught the attention of the Missouri Tourism Board who commissioned him to write and direct a second photonovel, The Joplin Undercurrent, in partnership with award-winning photographer, Mark Neuenschwander.
He remains a committed husband to the grooviest girl on earth and is a public advocate for more free-range trees. You know, Ents.
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