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Kilts and Historical Fiction: An Interview with Sam Snoek-Brown

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August 25, 2014 by Nathaniel Tower

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with the kilt-wearing, novel-writing bad-ass Samuel Snoek-Brown. We chatted about his affinity for kilts, why fiction writers do research, and some book that’s coming out soon.

NT: Let’s get straight to what everyone wants to know: how much of Hagridden did you write while wearing a kilt?

SSB: I didn’t write any of it in a kilt, sadly—it’s generally pretty rare that I’m kilted while writing. I did, however, write much of the first draft in a lungi, the thin, skirt-like wrap that South Asian men wear. No, seriously. We were living in Abu Dhabi at the time, and even in the fall, the weather is warm enough that the lungi was often the most comfortable “pants” I could wear.

kilt

NT: What would people from the 1200s think about Hagridden? What about people from the 2400s?

SSB: Oh, I’m pretty sure if I’d written this book in the 1200s I’d have been burnt alive for sorcery. They would have used the books to start the fire. They would have loved the way the pages burned. But a few centuries later, as tensions rose in America and people began to worry about the great divide in the nation, someone would find an old copy, probably in the Jefferson collection of the Library of Congress just before it went up in flames in 1851, and they would look at this book as prophecy. And they’d ignore it, because that’s tabloid bullshit, and the Civil War would wind up happening anyway.

hagridden

In the 2400s, I really want this to be some lonely nerd’s favorite book, the one he won’t shut up about the few times someone’s unlucky enough to get him started on books he’s read, but he’ll really only love it because he’s something of a digipunk, with his antique Google Glasses and his forearm-mounted phablet that you have to go to all the trouble of touching to operate, who isn’t into all the cool stuff like retinal tattoos and extra-long toenails hanging over your hoversandals, and he’ll love this book just because it’s so old and no one else even knows about it.

NT: Okay, a serious question. This book obviously required a lot of research. Why would a fiction writer want to undertake such a thing? Don’t we write fiction so we could make shit up?

SSB: Every writer is different. One of my favorite authors, Tom Franklin, has written almost nothing but historical novels, yet he hates doing research and tries to get away with as little as he can. But I’m a history nerd—before I got to college, I was considering a career in history—so I do this kind of research anyway, just for fun. I may as well get some fiction out of it!

That said, you’re right: we should be making things up, and it’s far too easy to bogged down in research and forget about telling a damn good story. I have a whole series of blog posts on researching for fiction, but one of my favorites is my advice to “shoot the bullet.” It’s a long story, but the short version is this:

This writer was working on an action sequence in which a character has been shot in the leg but must run to escape his enemies. So he aims his pistol at his own thigh and fires a second bullet into his leg— his bullet strikes the first bullet and knocks it out the far side of his thigh, with the second bullet following it. Problem solved!

Of course, this writer didn’t want to sound like an idiot, so he ran the idea by a medical doctor.

The doctor, of course, laughed in his face, because no such thing would EVER be plausible in real life. But then the doctor leaned in close and said, “But the way you describe it, shooting the bullet sounds cool as hell. You should let him do it anyway!”

My point is: Sometimes the research can get in the way of a damn good story. Sometimes you just need to shoot the bullet.

NT: Back to kilts. Which fictional character would you most like to see wearing a kilt and why?

SSB: I should say Darth Vader, but I’ve already seen that—here in Portland, we have a kilted Vader who rides a unicycle while playing the bagpipes. (This sounds like a joke. It’s not. It’s Portland.)

NT: What are the three best words in your new book?

SSB: Absquatulated. Bousillage. Rougarou.

NT: In one word or fewer, tell everyone why they should buy Hagridden.

SSB: ROUGAROU!

NT: Will Hagridden be the next Game of Thrones?

SSB: Ha! I doubt it. Not counting the hurricane or characters already dead before the book begins, I only managed to kill about thirty or so people in this novel. George R.R. Martin kills that many characters in a few paragraphs!

ssb author

NT: Thanks for taking the time to chat with me. Good luck with the release!

Don’t forget to order your copy of Sam’s fantastic new book.

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