Saturday, December 20, 2014

History and Horror, Oh My: Scott T. Barnes

Scott T. Barnes writes primarily science fiction and fantasy. His short story "Insect Sculptor" won second place in the Writers of the Future Contest, 2011. Since graduating Odyssey, the Fantasy Writing Workshop in 2008, Scott's short fiction has appeared in over a dozen magazines and anthologies. A country boy at heart, having grown up on a California farm and cattle ranch, Scott adores the history of the West with passion that can be plainly seen in "The China Queen." His fourth-grade reader Rancho San Felipe—A Story of California One Hundred Years Ago, coauthored and illustrated by Sarah Duque and published in conjunction with the Olaf Wieghorst Western Heritage Center, is used as a textbook in several Southern California schools.

When did you know you wanted to become a writer?
I remember wanting to become a writer from the age of 11 years old. A couple of years ago when I won the Writers of the Future Award knowing if that memory were accurate or not became important to me. I went back through my mom’s old photos and found a shot of me banging away at our manual typewriter on my first book. It was about skeletons with flaming heads (walking dead) and a flaming sword. As I recall I wrote 65 pages on it. It was called The Fire Skeletons. I would give much to find the original manuscript.

How did you pick the genre/setting/era you (usually) write in?
My first love has always been fantasy followed by science fiction. When I was young, early elementary school, my mom would leave me at the bookstore in the mall, go shopping, and return to collect me 3-4 hours later. She knew right where to find me—in the science fiction and fantasy section of B. Dalton. And so I write mostly fantasy with the occasional science fiction piece. Since I grew up on a farm with a family much concerned about its history in farming and cattle ranching, I am also passionate about Western Americana. Both of these loves, speculative fiction and Western Americana, can readily be seen in “The China Queen” in History and Horror, Oh My!

How did you come up with the idea for your story in History and Horror, Oh My?
The original seed for this came from a “24 hour” story assignment at the Writers of the Future event. The winners of that award get treated to a week of education by some of the best writers in the field. The two lead teachers when I was there were Tim Powers (The Anubis Gates) and Nina Kiriki Hoffman (Permeable Borders). They assigned everyone the task writing a story in 24 hours after 1) picking a random book from the library, 2) interviewing a random person on Hollywood Blvd., and 3) picking a random object from a hat. All of these writing prompts had to be used in the story.

From the library I grabbed a book on sheep ranching, from the hat I picked some sort of object that might have been a miniature bracelet, and on the street I ran into an honest-to-goodness world-class magician. From there grew “The China Queen.” While I had the draft done in 24 hours, it took me a couple of years to dust it off, polish it up, and submit it here.

Did you encounter any obstacles in researching the setting?
It took some research to get the 1860s era correct. I’m a stickler for detail so I had to place my imaginary sheep ranch on a real map from the era. I had to know what guns people would be carrying, what clothes they would be wearing, what books they would be reading and so forth. It helps that I raised sheep to show at the local fair every year and so I had some background on that already.

Do you have a favorite historical period you enjoy reading or writing about?
Probably my favorite era to read about is the 1840s when fur trappers were wandering the west. It was really a wild place. Unfortunately, very few of them wrote down their adventures, and fewer still did so without exaggerating outrageously. George Frederick Ruxton is the best of the writers from that period, in my opinion.

Who is your favorite author, and what really strikes you about their work? 
I wish I could surprise you here, but the authors I like are the same ones everyone likes. Ursula K. LeGuin and J.R.R. Tolkien are probably the top two. I flatter myself in thinking that my prose is not dissimilar to Neil Gaiman’s in terms of style. I would also like to emulate Roger Zelazny and Barry B. Longyear. I love lush prose (think Isak Dinesen), a tight plot and complex characters (Barry B. Longyear), and soaring feats of imagination (Ray Bradbury). Each of the authors I cited above, LeGuin, Tolkien, Gaiman, Longyear and Zelazny, carries off all three remarkably well. Bradbury and Dinesen sometimes fall short on plot.

What are you working on now?
I have finished the first draft of a story much like Watership Down except with salmon as the protagonists. That has taken A LOT of research to get right. I’ve read books and spent hours on the internet. I have interviewed biologists, ichthyologists, sailors and fishermen. I have hiked the Hoh River valley in Olympic National Park.

The research is done, the photos taken and resources studied, the story spread across the canvas--now the revision begins. I hope to have the final draft done by this summer.

Okay, so you're an author. What do you enjoy reading?
I read a lot of fantasy and science fiction, about a book every two weeks, but I force myself to read outside of genre for every third book. That has broadened my horizons considerably. I read biographies, histories, romance, mysteries, you name it. The best books I have read recently were Roger Zelazny’s Amber series. I get the most story ideas from nonfiction. In fact, I forgot to mention a fourth source for “The China Queen”: My Wicked, Wicked Ways, the autobiography of Errol Flynn. One incident in that book also lent an idea to this story. What an interesting read. Did you know Flynn was a slave trader before getting into movies?

Read Scott's story for yourself!
History and Horror, Oh My! is now available in ebook formats on Smashwords and in print and Kindle formats on Amazon.

If you'd like to read more of his work, Scott also edits the online magazine His website is

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