Meet the Winners! Scott Parkin
Continuing our series with this year’s Writers of the Future winners, I’ve finally got hold of second quarter winner, Scott Parkin.
Stuart: Welcome Scot. Introduce yourself.
Scott: I’m a software technologist specializing in enterprise IT who’s decided to jump into this fiction thing with both feet after dabbling for twenty five years. I’m also a trained operatic bass, trombonist, and former electric bass player for an alternative rock band. I’m happily married for twenty four years and have six children (the oldest studying veterinary medicine in college).
I once read every book (including the dictionary and encyclopedias) in my grade school library; about 5000 titles. I think Tolkien is overrated .
Stuart: Wow! I know when I was a kid, I went through the juvenile section of the library in one summer, but I only read what interested me. You must have had real dedication! So what got you into writing?
Scott: Reading and the movie, The Dark Crystal. I taught myself to read at age five and have never looked back. My voracious curiosity led me to sample many different kinds of writing and I found the mythopoeic genres (science fiction, fantasy, horror, folklore) to be the most engaging, interesting, and informative. While I enjoy all reading, speculative fiction thrills me.
But I had never considered actually writing fiction until I saw the Jim Henson film, The Dark Crystal. It was visually beautiful, but featured a story that I found hopelessly cliché and trivial, so I sat down to write the story it should have told (for the record, I did a lousy job—this fiction stuff is hard). I’ve been hooked ever since.
Stuart: I think we’ve all been there, at least for a little while. Describe your “writer’s cave”:
Scott: I surround myself with technology and books—a full-wall bookshelf; computer table with my domain controller, central media library (audio and video), and laptops; and a desk, a heavy steel government surplus jobbie from the 1950s, with my PC and audio system. The closet is stuffed with computer parts.
Music remains one of the joys of my life, so I have a full home theater system hooked up to my computer and floor-standing main speakers and center channel sitting on my desk behind my two oversized monitors. None of these silly, palm-sized computer speakers for me. I knock dishes off the counter upstairs when I crank it up.
Stuart: Ha ha! When I was a kid, I used to do that with Bach organ music on chrome tape. Now-a-days I use isolation headphones. How about talents or hobbies?
Scott: I’m an occasional woodworker and DIY guy. The operatic bass thing is a little unusual, I guess, though I’m way out of shape from when I actually studied thirty years ago; I still have a better than two octave range and can hit the pedal b-flat with consistency, if not thundering power.
Stuart: Impressive! I used to have a two octave range from choir, but it’s depressing how it fads if you don’t use it. So how long have you been entering WotF? Is this your first contest win?
Scott: I first entered back when Algis Budry was the coordinating judge–contest year 4 or 5. I’ve ended up with something like a couple of dozen honorable mentions, semi-finalists and finalists.
So far I’ve actually made more money from mainstream fiction than sf (though with the WotF antho that might finally turn around).
Stuart: Star Trek or Star Wars?
Scott: Yes. And Firefly, Babylon 5, and Farscape as well (though not so much Stargate or either Battlestar Galactica). If I have to pick one, I’ll go with Star Trek.
Stuart: Good answer. I’ve never understood the animus in some quarters. I like them all, and I’d through in Warehouse 13 and Eureka as well. Pantser or Plotter?
Scott: Research-buoyed pantser. I always start with a core character or situation and a target endpoint. Then I fly completely by the seat of the pants through story ideation in the first draft. I think the truest, most vital stories emerge from the subconscious and my job is to grease the skids then let the story reveal itself as I go; structuring and deepening are part of the rewrite. Which is odd, because my day job for more than twenty years was to plan out every detail of a software project in advance.
Stuart: Coming from the same background, I found the same thing. It’s a very different approach, this artistic creation gig. What’s the nuttiest thing that ever happened to you?
Scott: For some reason I keep getting mistaken for famous people. At different times I’ve been accused of being Steven King, George Lucas, and Orson Scott Card. At a local convention many years ago one fan refused to believe I wasn’t Card (big guy with a moustache named Scott—had to be Card, right?), and kept pestering me for an autograph. So I finally obliged. Somewhere out in the weird wide world there’s a copy of Ender’s Game with my signature (Scott R. Parkin) inside a giant O opposite its title page.
Stuart: Ha ha! You know, I got to meet Scot Card last year. He was the honoree at our awards gala. I know he’d have howled at that! If you had a superpower, what would it be?
Scott: Speed (think Flash). It’s the one superpower than can functionally duplicate many others (flight, teleportation, invisibility). Since super-speed requires commensurate brain processing, you can even simulate super-intelligence through brute force processing power and trial-and-error effort.
Stuart: Ah, the mind of the scifi author at work. You and I should hang out. When you were a kid, what was your favorite toy?
Scott: When I was six I had a metal, battery-power robot that would walk, then open its chest and fire two laser guns. I thought that was the coolest thing ever, and I would run it until the batteries died, over and over again. The other thing was any metal spike (nail, bolt, whatever), a coil of wire, and a battery.
Stuart: Oh yeah! The big honking lantern batteries, and the wire would get hot!
Scott: I was fascinated by electromagnets from the age of seven, and built increasingly powerful versions for years before moving on to electronics and disassembling things to see how they worked. I used to trawl gar(b)age sales for all kinds of devices.
Stuart: Me too! I miss those days of junk drawers and a permanent solder station. If I’d had an adult to guide me, I might be an engineer now. Okay, so if you adopted a unique wardrobe tag (ala Dr. Who’s scarf/bowtie etc.), what might it be?
Scott: Dragons, preferably as either a shirt or a vest, though I’m not opposed to jewelry. Asian dragons, by the way. The serpentine kind with no wings (dragons fly because they’re magical, not because they’re aerofoils). I’m not a big fan of hats.
Stuart: Thank you. Look at a dragons wings. Look at a pterodactyl. Discuss. So tell us about your winning story.
Scott: An experiment in form composed entirely of five-word sentences (and some other five-count Easter eggs that I’ll save until it’s published). I was working on the idea of “character is setting” and trying to internalize what that meant, so I chose an artificial hedge that would force me deeper into POV’s unique mindspace and demand that I stretch myself beyond comfortable limits to express his reality.
Stuart: Whoa! Well that will be an interesting read!
Scott: The ideas of constructed beings and organic limitations on thought and perception have fascinated me for years (think Oliver Sacks and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat). My original concept was an AI with control over powerful weapons technology that was programatically limited to five-word memes to keep it from turning on Humanity—full creative and decision-making capacity, but fundamentally limited scope.
Stuart: Kind of like people.
Scott: A fail-safe of sorts to keep human commanders on-mission, to narrow its ability to be swayed by external argument during negotiations. As I sat down to write, though, the story changed entirely and became an extended metaphor and existential exploration that tied a half-dozen other stories I’d written into a coherent universe. It’s a tale of a meme-limited organic being created by Earth scientists to negotiate a peace with an unknown alien race capable of genetic manipulation and elemental deconstruction with alarming ease—his own body an organic firewall against that terrifying capacity; give up as little data as possible by streamlining his DNA to the minimum necessary footprint. They then strand him in deep space on a mission to keep the aliens at bay for as long as possible.
A prime example of why I’m a pantser—where I started and where I ended were entirely different places, though the core ideas remained consistent.
Stuart: Fun stuff! Well I can’t wait to read it, and meet you in person one of these days.
Watch Scott accept his award on the Writers of the Future website, Sunday, April 12th.
If you haven’t already done so, visit my subscription page and I’ll send you a signed e-edition of my winning story from last year.