Thursday, August 29, 2013

Spotlight on Sunburst: Rio Youers

The Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic is a juried award to recognize stellar writing in two categories: adult and young adult. The awards are presented annually to Canadian writers with a speculative fiction novel or book-length collection of speculative fiction published any time during the previous calendar year. Past winners include Guy Gavriel Kay and Cory Doctorow.

I asked each of my fellow short-listed authors for the 2013 Sunburst Award if they would write a piece for my blog. Here’s this week’s feature, an interview with Rio Youers.

RioYouers is the author of two novellas, Mama Fish (Shroud Publishing) and Old Man Scratch (PS Publishing)—the latter earning him a British Fantasy Award nomination in 2010. His novelette, This is the Summer of Love, was the title story of PS Publishing’s first new-look Postscripts anthology, a publication in which Rio has appeared three times. His short fiction has also been published by IDW Publishing, Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy, and Shroud Magazine.

Rio’s debut novel, End Times, was rereleased by PS Publishing in the autumn of 2010. His first short story collection, Dark Dreams, Pale Horses, will follow in 2011, with a short novel, Westlake Soul (ChiZine Publications), slated for release in the spring of 2012.

Rio was born in Amersham, England, but has been living in Ontario, Canada since 2001.

The Sunburst Jury says:

"In the midst of life, Westlake Soul is as good as dead. A surfing accident has left him trapped in a vegetative state inside his now useless body, but as compensation he has been given extraordinary mental powers, as well as a bitter enemy: Dr. Quietus, an embodiment of death itself. Westlake copes with his tragedy and the grief of his loved ones through soaring acts of imagination—but are they really all in his head? Youers’ masterful storytelling leaves us wondering just what Westlake is capable of doing, once he sets his formidable brain to work on the problem. Westlake Soul is poignant, funny, and extraordinarily moving as we share Westlake's thoughts, hopes, and dreams, and watch as he - and those around him - struggle to cope with the changed reality of their lives."

Interview with Rio Youers

1. I read on your blog that Westlake Soul has been optioned for movie by some very capable people – congrats. In what ways do you think WS would make a good movie, or why do you think they chose it for possible development?

First and foremost, it’s an incredibly visual story. Westlake is a superhero, of sorts, who can astral project—from his vegetative state—anywhere he wants. So we have the ocean and the moon and everything in between. We also have raging battles in the psyche where Westlake continually fights death, and these are given an almost ironic, comic book emphasis. I had a lot of fun writing these visual scenes, and I think they could translate to the big screen to spectacular effect.

Moreover, there’s a very human aspect to Westlake Soul: his determination to recover and live a normal life, and how his condition affects the people he loves—the heartbreaking decisions they have to make. This is the core of the story, obviously. It’s tragic and relatable, in book or on film, and I think it becomes something quite unique when juxtaposed with the fantasy.

Essentially, Hollywood loves movies about superheroes and underdogs. With Westlake Soul, you get both.

2. What was the genesis of Westlake Soul for you? When did you know you had a solid idea for a novel, and how did the story take shape as time went on?

My ideas come out of nowhere, and they always take me by surprise. I may hear a snatch of conversation, or see something either random or utterly normal … and then my mind is running and before long I have a partial idea. And that’s all I have when I sit down to write the story. I never plot or plan, and never know how the book is going to end. I figure I’ll find out when I get there. So yeah, I just go for it—seat of the pants—and let the story fill in the blanks. It’s the way I have always worked, and it seems to work for me.

Westlake Soul was different, though. The idea came to me in that nebulous, half-state between being asleep and awake, where you’re still dreaming but are aware of what’s going on around you. That’s where I first met Westlake, and he brought most of the story with him. I leapt out of bed and wrote the idea down (I still have that sheet of paper), knowing I had something that would work. It wouldn’t be easy, but it was solid. It was a few years before I started writing the novel ... and it never deviated from that original concept. There were blanks, of course, but I filled them in along the way, just like I always do.

3. What does it mean to you to be a writer?

That’s a tough question to answer. Maybe even impossible, because I’ve always been a writer—even before I was a writer, if that makes any sense. I suppose I should be grateful that I have an outlet for all of the weird and sometimes disturbing detritus in my mind. If I wasn’t a writer, I’d need a damn good job to pay for all the therapy.

4. What’s your favourite part of being a writer?

When you get an idea so outlandish, and difficult, that you don’t think it can be done. But you challenge yourself and go for it ... and you do it; you knock it out of the park. That’s so rewarding.

5. What’s your least favourite part of being a writer?

Having to ask publishers for the money they owe you. It happens less now that I’m working with better editors and bigger publishers, but I still have to drop an awkward e-mail from time to time. It’s never fun.

There are other disappointments along the way, but they’re all part of the job. I was recently asked to pitch for a major comic book series. I gave it everything I had and came up with a concept that I believed worked on every level ... and it seemed for a while that the gig was mine. Then the publisher/studio decided to go with another writer. I was crestfallen—still am. I’m usually good at handling rejection, but that one burned.

6. What does the Sunburst nomination mean for you, at this point in your career?

It’s an incredible accolade and I’m immensely proud to be nominated. Standing alongside so many worthy authors makes it all the more rewarding … not to mention the fact that it’s a juried award; you are nominated purely on merit, and not because you have a lot of friends/recommendations within your society or association. It makes all the hard work worth it.

Establishing a name for yourself in this competitive industry is difficult. Juried awards like the Sunburst go a long way toward helping you achieve that.

7. What’s next for Rio Youers? Anything you can tell us about that you’re working on? Oh, and are you one of those authors who doesn’t like telling anyone about his new work-in-progress, or one of those who doesn’t mind talking about it, to some extent?

Yeah ... I really don’t like talking about my current project. Partly out of superstition, but mostly because—being a seat-of-the-pants writer—the story has a tendency to change lanes and take wild turns. So I prefer not to divulge too much until I fully know what it’s about, and where it’s going ... which is usually at the end.

I can tell you that I’m pretty deep into a new novel, and that—so far—I’m delighted with the way it’s shaping up. That could all change in a hurry, of course. But for now, it’s looking good.

As for what’s next ... I have a lot of short stories in the pipeline, having worked with great editors like Stephen Jones, Christopher Golden, and Jon Oliver. I also have a novella and a collection forthcoming from Cemetery Dance.

8. What does “literary success” mean for you?

Making a living writing impactful, well-received fiction, without compromise.

Find Rio on Twitter: @Rio_Youers

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