Monday, March 10, 2014

Q&A: Adam Stemple

Adam Stemple ( is an author, musician, web designer, and professional card player. He has written five novels, including Pay the Piper (with Jane Yolen), winner of the 2006 Locus Award winner for Best Young Adult Book. Of his debut solo novel, Singer of Souls, Anne McCaffrey said, "One of the best first novels I have ever read."

The Hostage Prince, a fantasy novel for young readers, came out last summer; what else is happening on the writing front these days?

B.U.G. (Big Ugly Guy), which I co-wrote with my mother, Jane Yolen, was chosen as a Notable Book in the Older Readers Category for 2014 by the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee. The book was part of our Rock N' Roll Fairy Tales series, but done for a different publisher. It involves a golem, a garage band, and a bullied boy.

The Last Changeling, sequel to The Hostage Prince and second in the Seelie Wars trilogy, should come out in 2014. My mom and I are hard at work on the final book in the series and also turned in the first of a planned three-book graphic novel noir detective series set in 1920s Edinburgh where the detective is a gargoyle.

Tell us more about the Seelie Wars trilogy.

The Seelie Wars is set in Faery, where an uneasy peace between the Seelie and Unseelie kingdoms is about to fall apart. It has two very damaged main characters: Prince Aspen, a hostage from the Seelie kingdom to insure the continued peace, who has been raised in the Unseelie court, and Snail, a midwife's apprentice for the Unseelie court. When war seems imminent, Aspen is convinced by Old Jack Daw, an advisor to the Unseelie king, to escape before he is executed. Meanwhile an incident in the Queen's birthing chamber lands Snail in the dungeons. She escapes with Aspen, and together these two must overcome their mistrust and contempt of each other to stay alive and make it to Seelie lands and what they hope will be safety.

When does the second book come out, and what’s next for Aspen and Snail?

The Last Changeling is aimed for a summer or fall release, I think. Aspen and Snail are on the road and trying to evade the two armies that are after them. They fall in with Professor Odds's group of traveling players, where they deal with three dwarven siblings, a strange and beautiful singer, twin Sticksmen with no memory of where they came from, and Professor Odds, a very smart man who hates Aspen and has plans for Snail.

You have an extremely fruitful collaboration with your mother, having written three novels and counting together so far. What's it like working with Jane Yolen?

My mother is a machine. We exchange chapters by e-mail, me taking a week or two to finish mine and her sending me hers seemingly three minutes after I send her mine. We generally exchange a few chapters back and forth and then meet up in person to plot. The graphic novel work has been a bit different, as I've been doing a lot of the scene writing, and she's been doing the setting of the panels and formatting.

What else are you working on? Do you have a seekrit project?

Aside from the Seelie Wars, I'm working on Stone Cold with my mother, the graphic novel trilogy mentioned earlier. As for secret projects, I'm shopping an epic fantasy, Duster, to a number of publishers. It's dark and bloody and has maybe my favorite protagonist in an aged and fat veteran who is forced to face his past when war erupts and his family is in danger. I'm also working on an untitled novel about a hit man, a weather girl, and a scientist, trying to survive a zombie outbreak in a Midwest medical facility.

Two of your fantasy novels, Singer of Souls and Steward of Song, feature music, and you're a working musician yourself. Are you playing in a band currently?

I play a lot less than I used to. My current band is tentatively called The Boys from the County Hell and is an Irish duo with my former Tim Malloys cohort, Big John Sjogren. We play at Irish pubs in the Twin Cities.

Do you write songs in addition to performing? What's the creative relationship for you between playing music and writing fiction?

I do write songs. There is a lot of similarity between writing music and writing prose. There's a certain level of perfection needed in songwriting that isn't necessarily needed in novel writing. Every line needs to be just right in a song: melody, rhyme, meter, scansion. Either it all works together or the whole song falls apart. In prose, though you obviously aim for every sentence to be perfect, in an 80,000-word piece a slight imperfection is not going to ruin it.

When you write, do you listen to music, or do you prefer silence?

I cannot write and listen to music with lyrics. I can't create my own words when someone else's are being sung in my ear. But I believe I write better when I listen to instrumental music. The music occupies the whirring part of my brain that wants me to do anything other than the task I'm concentrating on allowing the rest of my brain free rein to get the job done. I can also write if the song is being sung in a language I don't speak. This allows me to indulge in my guilty pleasure while writing: French cafe music.

You've written a book about poker. How did that come about? Does card playing work its way into your fantasy fiction at all, or might it in the future?

The book is called No Limits: The Fundamentals of No-Limit Holdem. It was written with my longtime friend the professional card player Chris "Fox" Wallace and is available at I've been playing poker for many years, and it has been a significant portion of my income. I also give poker lessons and was an instructor at PokerXFactor, as well as running my own training site.

Pete Hautman is also an avid poker player, and I did a story for his anthology Full House.

What do you read about in your everyday life? What books might we be surprised to find on your shelves?

Everything. I am currently reading Kedrigern in Wanderland, a humorous fantasy by John Morressy; Song of the Vikings: Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths, a biography of the thirteenth-century Icelandic writer Snorri Sturluson, by Nancy Marie Brown; and a Harlan Coben thriller, The Woods. After telling you what I'm reading right now, I think it would be foolish to be surprised by anything I have on my shelves.


Jane Yolen said...

French cafe music--really? How come your mother never knew this?


tate hallaway said...

I bet there's a lot of things you don't know, Jane... and Wyrdsmiths will NEVER TELL!!

Great interview, Adam!