A regular on the convention circuit Stephen has a talent for connecting with his readership as well as juggling the twin challenges of writing and film-making.
Here is what he said when I caught up with him.
Could you tell our readers a little about yourself?
I am an author and filmmaker based out of Lexington, Kentucky here in the USA. I have two ongoing series, the epic fantasy Fires in Eden Series, and the epic-scale urban fantasy Rising Dawn Saga. I also write the Harvey and Solomon Steampunk stories, and will soon have some tales coming out in the near future within the horror genre.
Being a writer is part of who I am, not what I am, in a very real sense. I would also describe myself as a person who embraces the ideas of self-determination and individual freedom. The most precious and vulnerable minority in the world is the individual. There is only one of each of us, irreplaceable in all of eternity.
Nothing makes me more happy and inspired than to see people go after their personal dreams without hindrance as long as they are not engaging in the use of force or fraud.
Who or what inspired you to be a writer?
For me, a love of stories and storytelling drew me towards being a writer, and my love of stories originated with the improvisational stories that my father used to tell me when I was a very young child, as well as the books my mother read to me.
From the Land of the Lost-style tales my dad told to me when I was very small, to my introduction to Tolkien and Lewis from my mom, my path on the fantasy road had definitely begun.
My roots as a writer were being an avid reader, and it was not until later in high school that I began to get more serious about crafting tales. I honed my writing on a couple of novels that are currently well-sequestered, as they would require a major overhaul to get them to a point I would want to present them to my readers, but the process of writing a couple of complete novels really helped my development.
Late in college I began the early stages of what would become the Fires in Eden Series and the Rising Dawn Saga, though both would require a bit of time to bring them to where they could be taken to an editor for serious consideration.
What authors inspire you?
The big two for me are J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. From there, I would have to say writers such as Glen Cook, David Gemmell, Guy Gavriel Kay, George R.R. Martin, C.S. Friedman, Clive Barker, R.A. Salvatore, Piers Anthony, Robert E. Howard, Sir Walter Scott, and Roger Zelazny. All of them appealed to me for different reasons, such as the gritty realism in Glen Cook's novels, the emotional punches in Guy Gavriel Kay's stories, and the heroic flare of Robert E. Howard.
What advice would you give to other aspiring authors?
Remember that the worst that anyone can do is say no, so keep knocking at doors and submitting your work. Never forget to keep reading, as reading is the exercise of the mind and the nourishment of the imagination. Don't worry about word counts; just try to write on a regular basis, even if it is only a few hundred words due to time constraints. It is the consistency that is most important, not how much you get done in one sitting.
How many hours a day do you actually spend writing?
On a normal day 4-5, though I do get some 8-10 hour days, depending on whether I am able to get in two sessions on a given day.
Who is your favourite fictional character?
I have to say my sentimental favourite is Reepicheep, the noble mouse in The Chronicles of Narnia, especially in Voyage of the Dawn Treader. He embodies honour and loyalty, and proves that heart can overcome all limitations. Those are the kinds of things that resonate strongly with me, and I hope that people find those kinds of values reflected in my own work...
Which character/s from your book series The Rising Dawn and Fires in Eden would you say are most like you?
In the Rising Dawn Saga, I would have to say Godral, and in the Fires in Eden series, I would say Janus. Obviously, I do not suggest that I am a seven foot tall shape-shifting, werewolf-like creature when I say Godral, but rather for other qualities, such as seeing a bigger picture in things, and remaining iron-solid in determination. Janus reflects more of my introspective side, and constant struggle with the bigger questions of life. He is also a dreamer (and in many ways Godral is too), which definitely reflects my nature.
What do you expect your readership to get out of your stories?
My readers can get what they want to out of my books. They can enjoy a high octane fantastical adventure, or they can find other layers, some relevant to the world of today, and others meant to inspire and give hope to those going through the shadows of this world. My books have layers, and readers can enjoy one or more of them, as they see fit.
Did you always intend to write two series or did the books just evolve in that way?
The books simply evolved. I had a modern day story I wanted to tell, as well as one set in an epic fantasy setting, and both were pounding in the mind to get out there so I had to open two gates and get to work! LOL
I know they are a long way away but do you already know how your two series are going to end (no spoilers please!)?
Absolutely. I knew the end before the beginning, in fact. I think it is very important to know where you are going when you undertake a series, and I had no problem with either of my series in this respect. I can assure readers of spectacular conclusions that will be true crescendos for the two series. They will be very, very satisfying conclusions that bring all threads together.
You are a regular presence at conventions across the US how important is it for you as a writer to be able to connect to your fans in this way?
I am not one of those writers that sits home and thinks that some twitter and Facebook interactions serve as a full interaction with readers. It is the readers that determine whether or not I achieve my dream, it is the readers that make my path possible, and I never forget that.
The least I can do is make myself accessible, as much as possible, to meet them in person. Nothing replaces personal interaction, and with as much respect and appreciation I have towards my readers, I am more than happy to take on the grind of doing conventions and events so that I can shake their hands, hug them, look them in the eye, and visit with them. It is a way of showing my gratitude to them, in my eyes. It is very, very important to me.
What can your fans expect from you in the future?
My utmost, unwavering commitment. The two series are full-steam ahead, I also have a growing body of short stories in the Chronicles of Ave and Annals of the Rising Dawn collections, which will eventually result in some print single-author collections, I am definitely planning on more Harvey and Solomon stories, including possible novellas, and I have sketched out some other ideas for series, including one in the space opera area. I always wanted to accomplish full series in past, present and future type settings, so the idea of a space opera series attracts me a lot. I also have some plans in the film arena as well, with some feature-length projects that I hope to be involved with or getting underway in the near future.
Do you have any other hobbies outside of writing?
I have a wide range of interests, from the outdoors, hiking, things like that, to the ocean, with scuba-diving and fishing, to firearms (used responsibly, of course), hard rock and heavy metal music, movies, and much more. I love travelling, and feel enriched by every trip I take, and new country I have the opportunity to visit. I wish I had the time right now to enjoy some of those things more, as my time is so strained lately.
What do you hope to achieve as a writer?
I hope I can bring a little light and hope to people going through tough times. Maybe give people some different things to think about, and find encouragement and some inspiration from.
We are living in some very daunting times, and a lot of people are hurting and struggling, and I truly hope that my work can, in some way, give the folks who have a ‘live and let live’ mentality some encouragement to fight the good fight against the shadows of coercion and authoritarianism.
To me, that is where my work can make a difference, though if it just allows for some readers to escape and enjoy a good adventure that is perfectly fine too. Like I said, my work has layers, and the readers can choose which layers they want to explore.
Thank you very much for your time Stephen.
Ultimately, this is the strongest entry in the series so far and if Zimmer can learn to trust his audiences to fill in the gaps and use their imaginations more often, he will produce much tauter, sharper and streamlined adventures. This is another highly engaging and entertaining epic and you can see the upward trajectory of the series in terms of quality. The only sad thing is I have a twelve month wait for the fourth one!
The underdog versus a ruling elite is something that we can all relate to no matter what world you are from and there are plenty of parallels with our own history and culture to keep the reader on their toes. This reads like a modern day C.S. Lewis and Zimmer manages to pull it all off with great aplomb. I cannot wait to read the next in the series.
If ‘Crown of Vengeance’ was about the exiles then this entry is very much about the inhabitants of Ave, particularly their struggle for freedom. Hefty at over 700 pages long, but ultimately rewarding, this epic and ambitious Fantasy adventure will appeal to anyone who enjoys reading of bravery and heroism in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds. I am certain that this entry will continue to enthral its fans. Bring on book three!
This, the third episode in the Rising Dawn Saga sees the stakes get raised higher. The quotes preceding the novel from historical figures are a chilling introduction to what one can expect from this outing. The story picks up with Friedrich continuing his journey into the Abyss with powerful Avatar Enki. Their quest takes them to the edge of Hell itself. Meanwhile martial law is declared across the UCAS and there is a terrifying outbreak of a deadly virus that will affect the entire world with millions of lives threatened. War with the East ensues and a new technology known as Living ID is forced on the population.
Zimmer manages to keep things riveting whether he is describing a land dispute or a battle for the entire world. There are lots of different threads to this story but Zimmer weaves it all with his usual storytelling guile and expertise. This is an enjoyable bridge to the next edition in the series.
All of these short stories are a nice introduction for those unfamiliar with Zimmer’s work. If you want to test the water before committing to the two epic series of novels then these offer a little background and insight into their worlds. Conversely if you are already a fan then these provide fascinating additional insight as well as new characters and new lands. Taken as a whole these short stories reminded me just why Zimmer is a favourite fantasy writer of mine as well as an author to look out for.
The Exodus Gate is a sometimes tough but ultimately gratifying read, a book that Fantasy Book Review recommends for lovers of thoughtful-fantasy. It is also a book with an ending that is near-prophetic, written as it was before the world’s economic meltdown.