Featured Author Interview: Tee Morris

We’d like to extend our gratitude to Tee Morris and Pip Ballantine for allowing us to feature them this month. In case you missed it, we’ve review their previous collaboration Phoenix Rising as well as its sequel The Janus Affair which launched yesterday. In addition, we reviewed Morris’ Billibub Baddings and The Case of The Singing Sword and Ballantine’s Geist. We hope you’ll check out the reviews and then pick up the books. It’s okay, you can thank us later.

The following is our last post in our May Featured Author segment, an interview with Morris. And, as a bonus, check out the newly released trailer for The Janus Affair following this interview.

Thanks so much, Tee and Pip for supporting LitStack. It’s been a pleasure!

LS: Humor seems to play a big part in your writing. Where do you think your humor sensibilities come from?

My background is in theater, and it has been something I have always enjoyed — making people laugh. Comedy, whether Shakespeare or improvisational, is a real love of mine, and I try to bring that sense of humor in everything I do. I think humor is essential in everything, no matter how dark the material, as people seek out entertainment when they want to escape.

LS: What are the elements of a truly great comedy? Do you have a favorite?

Truly great comedy should not be afraid to get honest when and if the story deems it so. For me, the go-to example of that is the TV show EUREKA. You can spend the first forty minutes of this fifty minute show and be laughing out loud, and then spent the last ten of it crying into a Kleenex at the touching moment two characters share. The other side of that coin, too, is you can be enjoying yourself, turn a corner, and suddenly the tension in the room is high. Comedy and danger work very well together, and I think the best of comedies play with that.

LS: As Bryan Camp mentioned in his review of Phoenix Rising: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, there seems to be an lack of humor in SciFi and Fantasy. Why do you think that is? 

Science Fiction and Fantasy, when you look at the classics like Asimov, Heinlein, Bradbury, and others, they worked very, very hard to be serious in order to be taken seriously. The isolated incidents of humor in this genre — okay, the good examples of it — could be caught in episodes of THE TWILIGHT ZONE where Serling didn’t mind giving a nod and a wink to the camera. However, a lot of humor before Adams and Pratchett (the two authors that humor tends to be measured by now) came across a bit campy; but I believe humor was always kept at arm’s length (and to a degree, still is) on account of Science Fiction and Fantasy being looked down upon. You can still be taken seriously and still have a sense of humor, I believe. If encouraging a sense of whimsy or — dare I say — fun somehow downgrades my work, I think the people reading it are far too serious to begin with. There is room for a good laugh, and often times it is needed. Otherwise, your work may come across as heavy-handed. That doesn’t mean it is taken more seriously. It comes across as pretentious.

LS: What has your writing journey been like? Did it begin with a love of reading in childhood? What was your favorite book as child?

My writer’s journey actually was a bit of a misstep as I was pursuing my first love which is acting. Didn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy writing. I used to write stories back and forth with friends all the time, and really found both my loves of writing and acting given equal time when I played Dungeons & Dragons. My parents were not big readers, but I was into big books with plenty of depth. My first “game changer” when it came to reading was the first book in Terry Brooks’ epic SHANARRA series. SWORD OF SHANARRA began the journey for me, and it led bad to the classics and the contemporary works of the genre. I really didn’t find myself in a novel until 2000 when I was online role-playing and found myself co-authoring an epic adventure. From there, my journey to get published began, and for many years I was learning the business through Dragon Moon Press. With the publishing of The Janus Affair, I have been working as a professional author for a decade.

And the journey is still continuing. And I’m still learning.

LS: Talk, if you would about inspiration. How important do you think outside influences are in motivating your muse? What type of inspiration do you rely on? Music? Art? Fiction?

Outside influences are very important to me, and music tends to have the heaviest impact on me as a writer. I have mapped out scenes and settings when letting my iTunes library play, and I find myself always drawn to film soundtracks. They provide me the best moods to write in. I also enjoy art and cinema, but I don’t think I (intentionally) lift scenes from art or film. I remember the feeling, the emotion, and the set-up for that particular moment, and then I try to capture that moment in a bottle.

When I read others’ fiction though, I just cross my fingers and hope I’m that good, or that people enjoy my work as much as I enjoy the works of others.

LS: Steampunk is such an important facet in your work. How has the genre impacted your life and what led you into it?

It was the photography of J.R. Blackwell that first introduced me to steampunk. It was a genre I kept hearing about again and again from both her and her husband, Jared Axelrod. Then came GIRL GENIUS, and the more I found out about steampunk the more I realized how long of a fan I had been of the sub-genre.

Steampunk has been described as being many things, and there are many in the genre who are trying to nail down a “proper” description of it, but I really believe — especially the more I write in it — steampunk is science fiction with a lavish style to it. When you step back and look at the rich, lush beauty of Captain Nemo’s quarters or step back and take in the epic feel of Professor Loveless’ hideouts, you get this sense of style and panache all mixed with the power and potential of technology. That, to me, is steampunk; or at least what is at the heart of steampunk. The impact the genre has dealt on both me and Pip has been introducing our work and our imagination to a much larger audience, and that audience — as far as we can see — are having a blast playing in our world. That is something we both really appreciate.

LS: What are your “top five” steampunk novels?

I’ve already mentioned the GIRL GENIUS world, and right next to that I will put Jared Axelrod’s BATTLE OF BLOOD AND INK graphic novel. (I’ve been impatiently waiting for that one as you can see.) I’m also returning to the classics of Wells and Verne (but can they really count as steampunk as they were around before the term was coined?), but my own reading time has been limited to not only writing but producing other steampunk short stories.

We have a companion podcast for the Ministry series called Tales from the Archives, and there we feature original short fiction set in our alternative Victorian Empire. It has been fascinating inviting others to play in our ‘Verse, many of whom either have never podcast or never written steampunk. We’ve been given glimpses of the global reach of the Ministry, and both Pip and I are reminded of how many talented storytellers are out there, simply waiting for an opportunity to tell their own adventure.

Yes, quite humbling and incredibly inspiring.

LS: Every writer struggles with rejection. What has your writer’s road been like? Did you ever want to give up? What kept you going?

I still remember when I was searching for a home for MOREVI, my first novel. I still have, in fact, the many, many rejection letters I received on this journey. I remember one week, though, receiving a letter from a group called CrossQuarter Publishing. I rolled my eyes and said, as I opened the letter, “Go on and sing along if you know the words…” and I read aloud “Dear Mr. Morris, Your short story has been chosen for our anthology.” It was an important lesson — there are times when, yes, you will want to give up, and when you think you’re done, there will be an opportunity that comes along and takes you completely by surprise. No, it doesn’t always happen like this, but yes, you must remain vigilant. You also need to accept defeat, know when to return to an idea and develop it, and when you must stand your ground and continue forward. It’s not always or easily done, but you find that inside you. With time, you begin to figure out how and then you have to be willing to learn how to evolve with the business around you.

Something we are all doing right now.

LS: How does your and Pip’s personal relationship impact your work, if at all?

I trust Pip implicitly. She is my best sounding board for ideas and for character developments. Sometimes, she and I will lock horns over the details of a setting or of a situation, and we find out ways of making it work. I feel that the trust we share in real life only grows stronger, and together we figure out how to make our work — both shared bylines and solo — stronger for our audiences. It’s a very special relationship, I feel, we have; and I don’t take it for granted. Not for a day. I’m very, very lucky to have Pip as a critic and as my biggest fan.

LS: The scope of the publishing industry is changing. What is your opinion of the evolution of the e-book and self publishing and their impact on the industry?

This previous weekend at Balticon marked my tenth year as a published author, as I had mentioned earlier in this interview. Back then at Balticon 36, and for several years after, I was on panels praising the small, independent houses and what we had to offer. Now, at Balticon 46, I was talking about making the jump from small, independent publishing to large, corporate publishing. For ten years, I’ve heard the eBook authors foretelling the downfall of the Big 6 and for ten years I watched some Big  Six published authors wave from ivory towers, very secure in their positions in the industry.

Here’s what I have learned: you have to keep your eyes and your mind open to possibilities and opportunities.

There is nothing set in stone. Not any more. The eBook revolution happened faster than even the eBook publishers expected, and now everyone is trying to find proper footing in a landscape that, much like a beach, is shifting underneath their feet. I think the corporate publishers have to understand the technology happening around them — social media, digital publishing, online security — in order to properly keep their work relevant. I also believe independent houses need to acknowledge that corporate publisher still have an advantage in physical distribution, so they should focus on their own strengths and avenues. Find out what they can do in other platforms — podcasting, blogging, and portable media options.

I also think authors need to understand the business of writing as well as the business of survival, and stop thinking that things such as marketing, design, and product management is someone else’s job. New, original content is only part of your survival plan as the writer. You need to begin to think bigger than that, and find out what you can handle (and what you can’t) in this brave, new unknown called the publishing industry. We have to be more than writers. We have to be producers, business partners, editors, and marketing agents.

And, just recently for my own strategies involving THE JANUS AFFAIR, I became a filmmaker. We have to become hybrid creatures that don’t necessarily know everything but know enough to be dangerous. Otherwise, we risk obscurity.

Yes, I’m a bit terrified. I am also quite driven to succeed. So, with that in mind, my journey continues.

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