Codex Blog Tour: Lawrence M. Schoen

Published on April 13, 2011 by

I’ve decided to be a host blogger in the Codex Blog Tour. What is the Codex Blog Tour, you ask? It’s a chance for me to interview some of my fellow members of the Codex Writers.

My first victim guest is Dr. Lawrence M. Schoen, who is not only one of the founding members of Codex, but also (if I recall correctly) the one who proposed the Codex name.  I first met Lawrence in person at Philcon (a convention in Philadelphia, not a convention for people named Phil) in 2004, where he did an excellent reading of his story “The Sky’s the Limit” from the All Star Zeppelin Adventure Stories anthology.  I’ve since been to several of his readings, and they are always entertaining.

In addition to being an author, Lawrence is also a publisher (more on that later), psychologist, and klingonist.

So, without further ado, here’s the interview:

Eric: I’ve read your first Buffalito novel and most of the short stories set in that universe, but for those who aren’t familiar with your work, could you describe what a Buffalito is and a bit about the Amazing Conroy, your main character?

Lawrence: Probably the first thing you’d notice about a Buffalito is how incredibly cute it is. Picture an American Bison shrunk down to the size of the proverbial breadbox. Now give it big, cartoon eyes and the personality of a playful puppy. At this point the similarity to terrestrials animal ends, because buffalitos can consume anything (wood, metal, toxic waste, you name it!), and then, through some internal process that would terrify physicists if they understood how it worked, these same adorable creatures transform whatever they eat into oxygen, which they release as flatulence.

The Amazing Conroy is a stage hypnotist. He’s made a career of working in some pretty sleazy dives and bars, often as not on alien worlds. He’s a xenophile, and so he’s as likely to be trancing aliens as humans. He’s also a foodie, and whenever he has any money to spare, he can be expected to blow it on a fancy meal. Conroy’s a decent guy, but he has a touch of the rogue about him too. In the first story, “Buffalo Dogs,” circumstances present with a unique opportunity, and he jumps in with both feet and his life is changed. Some of the changes don’t stick (which is the point of the first novel, Buffalito Destiny), but the one that does is Reggie, the buffalito that comes to be his companion throughout the rest of the series. A great many of the conflicts in Conroy’s life come about because he manages to break an alien monopoly on buffalo dogs and sets up his own company leasing the services of these amazing creatures.

Eric: Does someone need to read your prior Buffalito stories in order to enjoy your latest novel?

Lawrence: Not at all. Each novel does build on events that have happened in a prior story (“Requiem” in the case of Buffalito Destiny, and “Telepathic Intent” for the sequel, Buffalito Contingency), but the relevant details are recapped in the novels so you can start with the books without missing anything. That said, I’m hoping that my next contract with my publisher, Hadley Rille Books, will include a collection of all the various short stories I’ve published in the “Conroyverse,” including new ones that I’m in the midst of writing (including a story that takes place between the two novels).

Eric: Most of your work seems to make use of a deft sense of humor.  Do you have any advice for writers about incorporating humor into their stories?

Lawrence: Don’t force it. Either you can write humor, or you can’t. And even if you can, your idea of what is funny is not going to appeal to everyone. Some people think Pratchett is a hoot, other people just don’t get the fuss. Ditto Douglas Adams. I think the only reason I manage to be humorous is because I’m deliberately writing light. I go out of my way to write happy stories where the good guy wins, where the bad guy is either vanquished or redeemed, and where all the loose ends are wrapped up in a neat little bow by the last page. I think that approach predisposes my work to be amusing. That said, I do now and then write dark, and even there I’m prone to have a character or two who is amusing, even while going about doing dark things.

Eric: In addition to being an author, you’re also a publisher. What made you decide to get into publishing, and how has it changed your perspective as an author?

Lawrence: I originally started Paper Golem with the intention of just doing a single book, a reprint anthology featuring some of the writers from the online writers’ community known as Codex. [Prime Codex, which includes my story “Salt of Judas.” — Eric] That experience was a real eye-opener. I’m a big believer in learning by making mistakes, and it’s fair to say that I learned a lot! I was at a point in my life where I had a decent day job, a stable home life, and I was about to turn 50. Publishing suddenly struck me as an opportunity to “pay it forward” and give something back to this community that has given me so much.

As usually happens when you try to do something for other people, it comes back at you tenfold. By editing and publishing other authors — including plenty who are much better than me — I’ve gotten to climb into their heads while they’re deep in storytelling mode, to see how other people go about this craft we share. I’m not sure what’s impressed me more, the raw awakening of seeing some huge differences in how other writers work, or the subtler effect when I compare myself to someone who has a very similar process except for one minor thing, and the impact that one bit makes. Bottom line though, by being a publisher I become a better writer. And that was wholly unexpected and a great bonus to fall into.

Eric: Besides your latest novel, are there any books, websites, etc., you’d like people to know about?

Lawrence: In addition to the two Amazing Conroy novels, my publisher at Hadley Rille Books put out a short story collection compiling much of my fantasy output. It’s called Sweet Potato Pie and Other Surrealities, and it’s got a little bit of every kind of fantasy I could think of, usually with a slight twist (as one examples, the zombies that are on the cover are actually working as farmhands, tending the fields for the title story).

I’m also very proud of the books I’ve been publishing. With Paper Golem I’m trying to fill some niches that I think are lacking. One of these is to provide a market for novella length speculative fiction. That’s what the Alembical series is all about (and one of the novellas from the last volume is up for a Nebula Award this year!). Another niche involves taking a stand in support of short story writers who haven’t broken through with a book yet by creating single author collections. We did this in 2009 with Cat Rambo and Eyes Like Sky And Coal And Moonlight, and we’re about to do it again with a new collection entitled Rejiggering the Thingamajig and Other Stories by some guy named Eric James Stone. You might have heard of him. And if that weren’t enough, we’re about to start off on a new short story anthology series called Cucurbital where all the authors have begun their stories with the same set of prompts. I’m very eager to see what that’s going to look like!

I have a site up at that’s part blog, part showcase. I’ve started posting PDFs of some of my short fiction, and I’ll be supplementing that with ePubs and mp3s as well. These are stories that I’ve already sold one or more times, so I’m perfectly happy to give them away, sending them out as ambassadors of my mind, if you will. I also use the site to do interviews (not unlike this one), promote books I’ve read and enjoyed, talk about my life, my wife, my dog, and post a daily podcast to help people learn Klingon. You know, all the usual stuff an author does. We all speak Klingon. You knew that, right?

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One comment on “Codex Blog Tour: Lawrence M. Schoen”

  1. MG Ellington says:

    Thanks for the terrific interview. The questions were things I definitely wanted to know. I loved the answers.