Monday, February 21, 2011

Robert E. Vardeman interview

Robert E Vardeman has been reading science fiction since he was eight years old. Vardeman has written several dozen short stories (about a quarter collected in Stories from Desert Bob's Reptile Ranch) and more than 100 science fiction, fantasy and mystery novels.  His most recent is a reprint by Zumaya Otherworlds Publications of a space opera, The Genetic Menace, and forthcoming from the same publisher is the second title in a fantasy series, In the Sea Nymph's Lair. 

Western fiction includes the NM Book Award nominated Drifter under his Karl Lassiter pen name and the February 2011 release Sonora Noose writing as Jackson Lowry.

Many titles are now available in electronic format from Amazon, Barnes&Noble and his Cenotaph Road Store at

He currently lives in Albuquerque, NM with his two cats, Isotope and X-ray.  One out of three of them enjoys the high-tech hobby of geocaching.

Tell us about your new novel

Sonora Noose follows a worn-out deputy US Marshal, Mason Barker, as he tries to hold his personal life together while tracking down a sadistic Mexican bandido, the Sonora Kid.  As a symbol of his determination to stop the outlaw, Barker fashions a be filled with the outlaw's neck.  As too often happens in real life, Barker gets his wish to see the Kid hanged.  But the price is high, very high.

How is this novel different than your previous novels?

My previous westerns have been published under my pen name "Karl Lassiter."  A new publisher, a new character, a new chance to explore southern New Mexico under the new "Jackson Lowry" name are all excitingly different.  More than this, I am trying newfangled approaches to getting eyes onto the novel.  I wrote an introductory  short story using Mason Barker ("Fifteen Dollars") and made it free to read at or for download in epub format from my online store at

What are the triumphs and trials of writing a series?

Since 1984, I have written more than 100 titles in a long-running western series.  The thrill is coming up with plots that aren't similar yet using the same character and keeping him true to his nature.  I would love to make Sonora Noose the first of a series following a more realistic character, with problems that may or may not be solved, riding a region of the Southwest peppered with great possibilities for exciting stories.

Why do you write westerns?

The lure of the old West was instilled in me growing up in El Paso.  Back then the city was much smaller and striking out across open desert to find horny toads and other exotic critters was easy.  Dog Canyon carried stories of Apache ambushes.  Hueco Tanks was a stage way station.  Arrowheads and pottery littered the desert.  History surrounded me and sparked my interest in TV shows such as my favorite, Have Gun, Will Travel.

More than this, the West is a pivotal time in US history.  Honor and courage were a part of everyday life.  Exploration and colorful characters and the sheer pluck needed for survival all contrast so much with our 21st Century world that it is impossible not to draw comparisons--and want to write of them.

When did you know you were a writer?

I've been writing full-time for more than 35 years and it still hasn't sunk in that's what I am.  Nowhere growing up did it occur to me to write.  I was a science nerd in school and wanted to be a nuclear physicist.  College degrees: BS in physics and MS in materials engineering.  Research work at Sandia National Laboratory in the solid state physics department--that was my career trajectory.  Accepted at UC Berkeley to work on my PhD, I quit Sandia and had four months to kick back before school started.  A friend of mine, Geo Proctor, convinced me to coauthor a science fiction story with him.  It sold.  On a lark I sent off a proposal for a fantasy.  It sold.  Faced with the decision of finishing the book for Dell or going to school, I did the novel.  And had sold two more novels by the end of the first year.

It is all like riding a bronco.  I spend a lot of time in the air, looking around in wonder.  The hard landings only make me rebound and there is that wonderful view from up in the air again.  I've kept writing science fiction, fantasy, mysteries, thrillers and...of course...westerns.

But it hardly seems as if I am working at writing as opposed to playing hooky from a real job.

What’s a work day like for you?

In the past few years, it has changed.  I used to get right to work on a novel (usually) or more rarely, a short story.  Now I spend a few hours on the Internet checking e-mail, doing my blog (  about writing, the west and how it all ties in with science fiction, updating my Web site and, brand new for me, working at VIPub.  More than a year ago, I coined the term VIPub (Vertically Integrated Publishing) to reflect the changing world of being an author.  I have a couple dozen novels and short stories on Amazon, Kindle, iBookstore, Fictionwise and other platforms (in addition to my own online store at requiring work not only writing, but publishing, promoting and selling.

If the work on all this is over quickly enough, I can get to writing by 1PM or so.  Dealing with being a mini-publisher in today's e-world is increasingly time consuming but the need to write (and for me it is an addiction) requires hours at the keyboard.

Some of the other hats I've put on in recent years are instructor at Long Ridge Writers Institute (I have about 200 students), doing some freelance editing and, most recently being an editor.  For 6 years I've worked on the editorial staff of four annual Fantasy Football magazines and three years ago took on editor-in-chief at a local (Albuquerque) magazine, For Your Family.  This has since folded but I moved on to co-edit the recently released sf alternate history anthology Golden Reflections and (as of this very day I approved the page proofs for an off-the-wall anthology, A Career Guide to Your Job in Hell--this one is available in both e-book and any day now in dead tree format.  I also had a story in Career Guide set in modern day New Mexico, out near the wind farm at Willard, NM.  The title?  "Avian Evisceration Device.")

What’s a day off like for you?

I don't understand the question <g>

I try to combine trips to do autographings with some time off.  A few years ago I went to the inaugural Tucson Festival of Books (and, sadly, this was the last time I got to talk to Elmer Kelton) and then bopped on up to Phoenix for the Renaissance Faire and the Festival of the West.  Sandwiched in there was a week poking around Tombstone and indulging in my favorite hobby, geocaching.

Around home, in addition to geocaching, I love movies and everything about them.  Good, bad, in between.  They fascinate me both in filming and watching.  (Check my IMDB listing for some of the film work I've done)

If you could be anything other than writer, what would it be?

I ask myself this every few years.  So far, there hasn't been anything occur to me.

How do you define success?

Doing what I love to do and being paid for it.

What’s next for you?

I have a contract for two more series westerns.  A rewrite on a tie-in novelization for the Sony videogame God of War 2 (to be published Sept 2012) might be required, but I doubt it.  There are lots of books I need to get prepared for electronic publication.  A decidedly different western (for me, at least) tentatively titled Dead Man's Hand will be sent to my agent in a day or two.  I have a short story promised to a fantasy anthology (and have a story in the June anthology Hot & Steamy: Tales of Steampunk Romance).  An sf short story has been worming its way to the surface of my mind for a few months now--that *has* to be written.  I'm getting all the ducks in a row for a pulp collection about the old standby theme of mad scientists.  And a friend is working to develop a new pulp world that fascinates me.

Other than that, I'm going to kick back and goof off...until the cats start looking at me as if I am dinner.  Then it'll be back to work so I can feed them.

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