An interview with Ken Scholes

Written by Seregil of Rhiminee (February 27, 2010) [Articles / Interviews]

Ken Scholes is an American fantasy and science fiction author. He is the author of The Psalms of Isaak.  His official website can be found here. has had the honour of interviewing Ken Scholes.


Hi Ken and thanks for allowing to interview you.

Here's the first question: Can you tell us something about yourself?

Yes. I was born in Seattle and grew up mostly in a logging town at the foot of Mt Rainier, in the Cascade Mountain Range. I started writing fairly early, influenced by books, movies, television and games like Dungeons and Dragons. I spent a year in the U.S. Naval Reserve and then joined the U.S. Army where I found myself stationed in Germany. Afterwards, I spent a few years as a Baptist minister while finishing my BA in history. But gradually, a change in beliefs took me down a different road. I started selling short stories in 2000, won Writers of the Future in 2004, and wrote my first novel (LAMENTATION) in 2006. I live in Saint Helens, Oregon, with my wife and twin daughters. Currently, I'm working on REQUIEM, volume four of the Psalms of Isaak.

How did you become a writer and what inspired you to write your first stories?

I'd been in love with Story since I was small. TV, movies, books, games. Then I read Bradbury's essay "How to Keep and Feed a Muse" when I was thirteen or fourteen years old. I knew when I read it that I had to be a writer. I started writing and submitting short stories right away though those first ones weren't very good.

What kind of books do you read? What are your favourite books?

I've always read widely. Mysteries, westerns, science fiction, fantasy, technothrillers, horror, mainstream, poetry, non-fiction. My favorite books are A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT and THE HOBBIT.

Which do you prefer more – fantasy or science fiction?

I like both but it really depends on the mood I'm in at the time. Alas, I don't read much these days apart from non-fiction because the muscle I use to write is the same one I use to read and I've been doing quite a lot of writing. I've got a stack of books waiting for me when I finish THE PSALMS OF ISAAK.

You've written several short stories before you began to write Lamentation. Was it difficult to write a longer story?

Yes. I was quite daunted by the idea of writing a novel, which is why it took me so long to try. I still prefer the quick "in and out" of a short story. But I'm learning to love writing novels. It gives you a lot more room to tell your story.

The Psalms of Isaak is based on the short story "Of Metal Men and Scarlet Thread and Dancing with the Sunrise." What inspired you to write this series?

The story itself was intended for the mechanical oddities issue of a magazine but they closed to submissions before I finished. I wrote in my work notes that I hoped to tell more stories with those characters but I really had no sense at the time that I would. The story was accepted at Realms of Fantasy and when it came out, the art they'd commissioned for it (linked at my website) hit me like a brick. Allen Douglas's painting of Isaak weeping in the impact crater was very powerful and I realized when I saw it that there was more to Isaak's story than I had thought. So I set out to write more short stories and eventually, on a dare from my wife and Jay Lake and at the encouragement of many other friends, I sat down to write LAMENTATION.

How did you come up with the idea of combining fantasy and science fiction elements? Were you trying to tell a good story in a new way?

Well, I was just trying to tell the story in my head. There wasn't much intentional about it. I really had no sense of what was good or new about it.

Can tell us anything about the forthcoming third book, Antiphon?

ANTIPHON picks up about six months after the end of CANTICLE. All of the regulars are back along with a few scenes for Arch-Engineer Charles. We get a little further towards solving the mystery of destroyed Windwir and we get a lot more information about Neb's role as the Marsher's Homeseeker and what the mechoservitors of Sanctorum Lux have been up to.

The characters in The Psalms of Isaak feel realistic. Is it difficult to create this kind of characters?

I'm told characterization is an area of strength for me. I don't find it particularly difficult, though I'm sure there are varying opinions on how well I do it. I just think about what they want, what they love and what they fear. Then, I try to force them to face their fears while pursuing what they want or love. And in this series, I start with some typical fantasy characters – the dashing prince, the wise Pope, the orphan who is more than he seems, the beautiful and deadly assassin/spy, the child queen – and then I try to mix things up a bit as they are changed by the challenges they face.

Lamentation and Canticle contain an excellent map of the world. Do you think it's important that fantasy and science fiction books contain a map?

I like a good map – it's a holdover I'm sure from my D&D days – but I don't think it's critical. I sometimes even think that people can so tied up in the world that they miss the story. Still, I'm pleased that my books have maps in them.

What are your strengths and weaknesses as a writer? Have you ever thought about these things?

I have thought about these things. I get feedback from readers and writing friends on these things. I'm told that my prose and characters are strong and that my economy of words – learned, I'm sure, in short fiction – is a great strength. I also tend to write fast with clean drafts. As to weaknesses, I think setting detail is a place where my sparseness doesn't always help me though some of that is intended. I also just lack experience with novels in general. I've only written three at this point.

Is it difficult to write novels when you have a day job and infant twin daughters? How do you find time for writing?

It is Very Difficult. And since the girls were born, it's been nearly impossible to write. As they get older and their sleep patterns improve, I'm hoping to get back to something close to my old productivity.  Whatever it is, it will mean waking up between 2am and 3am to accomplish the goal. And with writing, it's not so much finding time as prioritizing it. Unfortunately, it just hasn't been as high a priority here in the survival mode of infant twins.

Have you given any thought to what you will be writing after The Psalms of Isaak?

Yes, I have. There's a trilogy waiting to be written out of my story "Invisible Empire of Ascending Light." Frederico and Amal's story in "A Weeping Czar Beholds the Fallen Moon" is another that wants to be expanded into a series, along with more stories set in the world of the PSALMS OF ISAAK both before and after the events in this current series.

Here's the last question: Is there anything you'd like to add?

Fans of the series should check out "A Weeping Czar Beholds the Fallen Moon" over at and folks who enjoy my short fiction can pick up a good chunk of it in LONG WALKS, LAST FLIGHTS AND OTHER ODD JOURNEYS. A follow-up collection, DIVING MIMES, WEEPING CZARS AND OTHER UNUSUAL SUSPECTS, is coming out in July. Details on all of this and scheduled appearances are available over at