Interview: Meet Author Eliot Baker
Today, I’m delighted to welcome Champagne Book Group author Eliot Baker to my blog. His debut novel, The Last Ancient recently released in Champagne’s sci-fi/fantasy line, BURST Books.
Hi Eliot! Tell us a little bit about yourself. Something not in your bio, perhaps?
Hi Celia, thanks so much for having me here! In addition to the stuff on my bio, a big influence on my life has been the extent to which I’ve travelled and lived in different parts of the U.S. and Europe. I’ve been living in Finland for over three years now, which puts me at that bizarre point where I feel like a stranger in both countries, but pleasantly so. When I come home and walk through an American parking lot and into a supermarket, I say to myself with a bad pan-Euro accent, “Eevreetheeng ees so BEEG in Ameerika!” But living in different places, with radically different value systems, forces you to expand your perspective. It’s good for the soul.
How long have you been writing? What genres do you write?
I started writing around the time I started reading, largely because I looked up to my mother so much. She (Sharon Baker) was a published sci-fi novelist. Wanting to make my own way, I avoided writing sci-fi/fantasy in the early going. That’s completely changed. Urban fantasy is my main thing. I love creating a realistic setting, in which real characters are struggling with real problems, and then add to their burden a mythological creature or occult danger or an extra sense. In addition to urban fantasy, genres of ongoing projects include: YA mystery/horror, New Adult Lab Lit (yes, that actually is a genre, I’m told); a Middle Grade fantasy, one zombie horror/comedy thing, and historical thriller.
What made you choose the genres in which you write?
Two things: life experience and entertainment taste. I write about young people in a science lab because it’s something I’ve done and found fascinating. I write about a conspiracy of demons trying to overthrow a Seattle high school because I enjoy reading and watching such things. And I write about a journalist on Nantucket battling an occult conspiracy because it unites my life experience with my interest in the fantastic. Also, I have to admit, my fantasy stories usually contain something deeply personal to me that I mask with symbolism and convey with allegory. That’s the core elegance of sci-fi/fantasy, for me. You can express complex and frighteningly personal ideas subtly, with a compelling, fun story.
You used to be a journalist. Does that influence your fiction writing?
Oh, absolutely. Journalism was the best thing that could have happened to me as fiction writer, starting with the scope of knowledge you attain and the people you meet. Those alone can yield tons of story and character ideas. As for the writing itself, I learned the joys and rewards of researching and outlining a story. I have a pretty wild imagination and journalism gave me the discipline to focus it. But at a skills level, the tools I learned as a journalist have been vital: everything from story arc and structure, to situation-appropriate style, to scene setting, brevity, and accuracy—there’s just so much you learn when you’re forced to write 10,000 words a week of clean copy on a multitude of topics that thousands will read and hold you accountable for. Also, this is really important: the core principle of journalism is your lead, your first sentence, your thesis statement. Being able to capture the entire mood and scope of a story with a lead is so hard, and so critical, to a good story. If you can’t do that, you probably don’t have a strong grasp of your story, and then you have to really examine your story’s symmetry. This holds for genre fiction as well, although there’s a little more leeway.
What’s on your bookshelf and/or in your To Be Read pile?
You mean besides Celia Breslin’s urban fantasy Bloodline series? I was just at a bookstore in Helsinki and I picked up, Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall,” fell in love with the first chapter, and bought “Bring up the Bodies,” too. Also picked up Kevin Powers’ Iraq war novel, “The Yellow Birds.” I have a Finnish sci-fi author’s book beside me as we speak, Hannu Rajaniemi’s The Quantum Thief. On my iPad I have queued up Veronica Roth’s “Divergent,” Peter Brett’s, “The Warded Man,” and Glenn Duncan’s “Tallula Rising,” sequel to “The Last Werewolf.”
Do you have a favorite author?
My reigning favorite author is Cormac McCarthy, going on eight years or so now. Muscular, poetic writing conjuring images and characters that burst from the page and linger long after the last page is turned. But he’s experiencing a pretty big challenge right now from Neil Gaiman, whose “American Gods” is a masterpiece. As a kid, I was inspired to write by Hunter S. Thompson, Mark Twain, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Sounds like a motley trio, but I appreciate good lyrical writing, and you could set all their books to music, the writing just sings. In high school my favorites were easily Stephen King and Anne Rice, read everything they wrote up to 1997 or so, and I still read King every so often. Also really like J.R.R. Tolkein, R.R. Martin, Greg Bear, Mika Walteri, Phillip Pullman, Phillip Roth; and Jared Diamond and John McPhee on the non-fiction side. Went through a big Herman Hess phase in college.
What two authors would you love to chat with over a meal?
Shakespeare–just to see if he actually was human and not a god–and, if I’m eating with him, Hemingway, no doubt. He’d kill the main course and cook it himself. But seriously, as for living authors, I’d love to listen to Stephen King and Cormac McCarthy talk about writing. King’s “On Writing” was deeply inspirational. It helped me sit down and complete my novel. His approach and philosophy of writing is just so… right. And McCarthy has this mystical quality about him that I’d love to tap into, as well as learn from his writing inspiration from his own son. I’m going through something like that myself now my son and daughter (I’ve started a book for her and I promised the little guy he’d get one, too). Once you have kids, they change the way you think about what’s important in a story.
Describe a typical day in the life of Author Eliot Baker.
A typical day starts with the battle of getting my two kids up and into their three layers of Finnish winter clothing for daycare. After that’s all settled, I come home and start my day going over my email and social media while drinking some coffee, and then I open up the word doc of whatever I’m working on. Then I go teach communications at the local university, go lift weights and run at the gym, pick up the kids and either take them to a hobby or I go to mine: I sing in a heavy metal band. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. Haven’t been doing it long, but screaming Metallica and Pantera songs really helps stave of Seasonal Affectivity Disorder in these long, dark winters.
Quick note: my less typical, but ideal, day as an author here in Finland involves going to a family cabin with no indoor plumbing in the middle of nowhere, lighting the sauna fire, roasting myself in an 80 degree Celsius sauna and dipping into a freezing lake, followed by hyper-focused writing for 16 hours a day, three days straight. When my wife and in-laws have the time, they are wonderful about taking the kids and giving me the occasional writing holiday. The results are simply magical. Man, keyboard, and story become one.
Do you listen to music while you write?
Sometimes, when the music is necessary to bring me into the world. For instance, right now I’m writing about teenagers in Seattle, so I listen to both the Seattle grunge of my youth to capture that teenage feeling, and I’m listening to the stuff kids are listening to these days, like Imagine Dragons, to transpose that feeling to today’s world (which is so different from the one I remember graduating from in 1995). But if I’m, let’s say, out at the cabin and it just gets so quiet I start to go loony, I do I put on something without vocals, maybe some Sibellius or Grieg, or something with very subtle vocals, like some soft Indie rock.
Tell us about your new release!
Thank you so much for asking! The Last Ancient is available now on Amazon.com and at burstbooks.ca and should be available everywhere else any day now. It is billed as a historical mystery, but this is very much a tale of supernatural suspense and it’s bursting with romance, from sweet to steamy. I pitched it as urban fantasy, but the historical elements central to the plot’s occult mystery loom large.
The deer mutilations. The disease. The political conspiracy. The murders. Even the creature. They’re all connected by the ancient coins. But how?
Simon Stephenson, a journalist on Nantucket Island, is beset by panic attacks and a host of dangerous characters — some natural, others less so– while gathering ancient coins left at crime scenes. Piecing together the clues with his knowledge of science and ancient history, he discovers a diabolical plot hatched by occultist arms dealers while he tracks a mythological creature hunting on the island. In the meantime, he sheds light on the dark past of his father who, before his assassination, was the world’s most feared arms dealer–amongst other, darker things.
No one on Nantucket is what they seem. Not his bridezilla heiress fiancee. Not a gorgeous rival TV reporter. Not his Greek hit-man-best-friend. And especially not himself.
About the Author