4 Feb 2011

This Much I Know Is True - An interview with Ren

Hey everyone, happy Friday! As ever it's interview time and tonight I'm sitting on my virtual l-shaped sofa with steampunk author @rencummins. We're having sushi tonight - not pizza, gotta vary the diet - and drinking stout (Ren) and pink fizz (me). We are listening to music as well (unlike last week) - and seeing as I detest Coldplay (Ren's first choice) instead we've got the Tron soundtrack playing as it's by the gods that are Daft Punk (which we both like) Tonight's interview is a little bit longer than normal, but it's a good 'un so grab a drink + snack + enjoy the show!

A little background for you, Ren lives in Washington state, with his wife and one daughter, two dogs and one cat. He grew up wanting to be Spiderman, but eventually settled into the much more realistic careers of musician and writer. He likes to indulge in the occasional video game, book or philosophical speculation and he’s generally up for a decent cup of coffee, and doesn’t mind if it’s from Starbucks!

Me: Right, lets start with a toughie! What is the best piece of advice you've ever been given? 
Ren: Okay....during my last semester at college I met with my department counsellor/English lecturer, who, in one of the first classes I'd had with him, had taken great delight in kicking me in the philosophical testicles . In spite of my dread, we had a very transformative meeting as he asked me point blank what I hoped to gain from an English Education. He told me that he knew I could write, and I had points of view, and was very skilled at storytelling... but the only remaining element, was in having sufficient life experiences to draw from. And those, he pointed out, you don't have to rack up tremendous school loans for. He told me if I was truly determined to be a writer, the best thing I could do was get out and live my life. I don't think this advice is for everyone, but for me, it forced me to really face my relative indecision about what I was going to do with the rest of my life.

Me: That makes a lot of sense - good advice indeed....but what originally made you start writing? 
Ren: Well, I originally wanted to be a comic book illustrator but as it turned out, I wasn’t that good at it . But the stories, the modern epic mythos of those characters really started me on that path of storytelling from an early age. Spiderman, the X-men, Batman, Green Lantern – I loved those characters and all the exceptional adventures and dramas in which they were engaged just remember reading those and thinking, “wow, someday I want to tell a story like that.”

Me: Ah okay, books are just so inspiring, but I like that it was comic books that got you going. I can see where the steampunk style you write in comes from now. For the benefit of our readers though, could you explain a little bit about what the steampunk genre is?
There's a lot of debate as to whether or not "steampunk" is actually a genre or not. Some people imply that it’s actually a lifestyle or a sub-genre or a stylistic template for storytelling. I personally see it as a setting flavor for books and music and art and fashion and movies, etc. To really understand the essential foundation of steampunk, you need to break it down into its etymological origins. All these many “-punk” terms came from the sense of “rebellion against the machine” which emerged in the late 1970s and early 1980s. You had Cyberpunk first, as a classification of cybernetics and punk rebellion to describe the resistance to becoming part of the information network, building on the fears of loss of individuality and that sort of basic human response to the information age. But Steampunk takes that a step further, treating mankind’s more industrial tendencies with far more reverence and painting the more earthy stylization of construction and “the machine” with a much more elegant brush.

For further explanation, I’d recommend Matt Delman’s wonderful discussion over on Doctor Fantastique’s Show of Wonders – Matt is the managing editor for Flying Pen Press’ Steampunk & Co. imprint, and he truly knows his stuff.

Me: Wow, thanks - that's really interesting - readers, I encourage you to click on the link for more! Let's now have a slightly easier question - What is your favourite book?
It’s a tie between “The Prophet” by Kahlil Gibran and “The Tao of Pooh” by Benjamin Hoff. They both literally changed my life. If you’ve read either one, you know what I’m talking about here. "American Gods" by Neil Gaiman is very solid, too, which also managed to inspire some ideas for a future series of books. But more about that another time. *chuckle*

Me: That brings me neatly back to asking you about your writing - what do you love (or hate) about the actual process of getting words on the page?
Oh, it’s very much a love/hate relationship. I’ve got a biorhythm that works with the writing in a very organic way. When I feel my mood dropping into the “craptastic” realm , it’s usually because I’m about ready to write and write and write. And that part can be rather annoying. Sometimes, I’m not so much “writing” as I am “taking dictation” – but those are the good times. Other times, I have to wrestle the words onto the page. I don’t mind that so much, but it can be exhausting. The side I think I’m less of a fan of with respect to writing is that it tends to be such a solitary process. Muses, brainstorming sessions and critical interactions aside, the actual process of writing is just me and the page for long hour after long hour. That part can be fairly challenging; not just for me, but for the other people in my life.

Me: That's interesting and I really agree with you about the challenges it can pose for other people in your life. Following on neatly from what you were saying above - what is the nicest thing you have done?
I try to be conscientious of others; I let people merge etc but I think those are just manners, you know? One thing I’m bearing in mind at the moment is that I’m stepping into that crazy and mysterious realm where writing stops being just a hobby and starts being my actual job; and I remember how hard it’s been to get to this point. In light of the present fears flooding the publishing industry, working together is going to be far more productive than working against each other. So perhaps this sense of responsibility isn’t entirely selfless, but I also can’t ever allow myself to be blind to the reality that we never truly get what we sincerely desire all on our own. Thus, we not only need help, but we must be that help for others.

Me: And.....(picks question from box of random questions on floor) what is your favourite song?
Though this kind of changes from week to week and day to day (and moment to moment), the ones that are consistently in the top however-many would be “If I ever lose my faith in you” by Sting, “Clocks” by Coldplay and “the 1812 Overture” by Tchaikovsky . Oh, and “Imagine” by John Lennon.

Me: Interesting mix there - I'm not sure what I expected though Second to last question now...what really annoys you?
Styrofoam , People who speed up, pull in front of me and then slow down, People who get mad at customer service people – especially right before I need to talk to them about something, Oh, and taking a drink from what I think is hot coffee only to find that it’s since grown cold. Ew! Finally, people who write on their hands. I don’t know why, but this totally messes with my head.

Me: And finally, what do you know to be true about life?
(laughs) Wow, this is a tough question for a guy who borders on the edge of agnosticism. I hope a lot, and I try to be a good man, but in the end I try to focus on family and friends and in doing the right things in life. After all is said and done, it’s really the only thing we have any actual power over, so we might as well step up and do our best. I focus on the life we have right now and not waste the precious time worrying about what may happen later. Which is perhaps a very strange admission to make, considering that my current novels are about life and death and the immortality of the soul.

I believe that there is something to be learned from every person you ever meet, and to walk away from any social interaction (especially the significant ones) without learning that truth makes for a wasted opportunity. Perhaps one of the biggest struggles that most people seem to face is in waiting for the universe to tell them what to do; sometimes what the universe requires of us is to make up our minds; to have enough faith in ourselves to step out into that uncertainty and be brave enough to keep walking until we get additional information..

Me: Wow thanks for all your well thought out answers, you've been an amazing interviewee. Really thought provoking. Let's head off to the pub now!

If you're interesting in finding out more about Ren + what he's up to check out his professional website at www.renwritings.com and blogs at http://anachronology.blogspot.com You can also find him on twitter - @rencummins and Facebook.

That's all for today but don't forget to check back on Sunday for Top 10 Poems and a photo essay on monday!

Thank you and goodnight

Stupidgirl has left the building


  1. Rebecca,

    You and Ren did a fabulous job. I would like to thank you both for my new better understanding of Steampunk. Yeah!
    Thanks for inviting & thanks for sharing.

    Sammy Sutton
    King Solomon's Journey
    The Dominguez Adventures

  2. Like the idea of steampunk, a new take on ludite-ism. And a reaction to the 'resistence is futile' creeping Borgism facing us all. Also like the bit about writers helping and encouraging each other. Too often, once people get 'in' they somehow manage to forget who let them through the velvet rope. Good Interview as always!

  3. Enjoyed the interview very much. And I also like Coldplay! ;)

    Have been guilty of waiting for the universe to tell me what to do. *shamefaced*

    Leap of faith, then.

    Thank you both for being so lovely.