Welcome to this week’s Superversive Sunday Spotlight. Every week we will chat with a Superversive author that you really should be reading.
This week we welcome Superversive author, Henry Vogel:
How long have you been writing?
There are two answers to that question. If you only look at science fiction novels, I’ve been writing for eight years and released my first book six years ago. But back in the 1980s I wrote comic books and was part of the independent comic book movement.
Since fewer people will know anything about my comic book writing, I hope you don’t mind if I expound on that for a bit. I really didn’t get into comic books until I was a freshman in college. That was comparatively late in life for the time (1975), since most fans started and stopped reading comics between the ages of 10 and 14. Seven years later, with the help (and financing) of fellow comic book fan David Willis, I wrote and we published the first issue The Southern Knights, about a superhero team based in Atlanta. We selected Atlanta because it was two hours down I-85 from Clemson University, where David and I were students. (I was on the lazy-student ten-year plan, having left Clemson for a semester and then re-enrolled with a different major.)
The comic book format is a great fit for my short attention span style of writing. (My attention span was such a roadblock to novel writing that I didn’t overcome it until 2012.) Over the next eight years I wrote and helped publish 60 comic book issues. Along the way, I also became the first online comic book professional. That was 1984 on Usenet, the Internet’s predecessor.
Fifteen years after I stopped writing comics, I stumbled across Bruce Bethke’s Friday Challenge weekly writing group. Essentially, Bruce tossed out a writing prompt and we had a week to write something based on it. The prompts ranged from real life issues to wild ideas like “the Star Trek death scene you always wanted to see.” The highlight was online discussions and reviews of the submissions, and it created a real sense of community among the dozen or so regulars in the group. It also rekindled my interest in writing and got me thinking about writing novels. It took years of increasing participation in the group before inspiration struck.
I’d begun novels several times before 2012 but my short attention span balked at the size of the project. The trick that got me past that involved writing short “chapters” of a story and posting them online on a regular schedule. I needed the obligation to my handful of readers to keep me writing, and that turned the huge project of writing a novel into the small, manageable project of writing the next chapter to post online. It seems like such a small thing, but in the last eight years I’ve produced over a million words of fiction.
Which writers inspire you?
Many writings inspired me over the years, but three stand out among them. First and foremost, must be Edgar Rice Burroughs. I love his sword and planet tales—especially his Mars and Venus books—which is why my first three books (and another three since then) are my takes on sword and planet adventures. I even gave my sword and planet hero the last name Rice, taken from Burroughs’ middle name. The idea of dropping a man into a strange world filled with swashbuckling adventure appeals to me. Throw in an alluring romance and you’ve got the ingredients for a great story. That’s why the second name on my list is Leigh Brackett.
Brackett’s sword and planet stories have a harder edge than Burruoghs’ do, but they’re just as fanciful and exciting. But she also delved deeply into space opera—she was the Queen of Space Opera, after all—and told exciting tales of daring men and women thrust into strange situations that brought out the best in them. She’s also the perfect foil to the claim that women were shunned in the early days of science fiction.
Finally, I must credit Gary Gygax with my development as a writer. While he wrote fiction, it was his work polishing and publishing Dungeons & Dragons that had the greatest impact on me. Who could resist the lure of experiencing fantastic adventures as a participant rather than a mere reader? Not me. I immersed myself in D&D to the detriment of my college education, but to the enhancement of my abilities as a storyteller. Nothing honed my grasp of story elements, of what intrigued people, of what bored them, and how the players interpreted—or misinterpreted—the events I presented better than role-playing games. I can honestly say I’d never have become an author without the experience I gained running role-playing games.
So, what have you written?
Sixty to seventy comic books, all but a handful of them featuring characters I created or co-created, and sixteen books. The books fall into several series, though I should note that every book stands on its own. They’re all appropriate for young adult and older readers, too.
The six-book sword and planet Scout series begins with Scout’s Honor, my first book, and currently ends with Hart for Adventure, my most recent release. Hart is a bit of prequel to the other five books in the series. The books feature swashbuckling action, airships (because airships are cool), a bit of romance, and even space pirates.
The Fugitive Heir, my most popular book, kicks off the three-book Adventures of Matt & Michelle. This pure space opera series begins when Matt, the heir to a vast fortune, heads off into space with Michelle, one of his bodyguards, intent on finding his long-lost parents. Matt’s emerging psychic powers, romance, gun fights, and space pirates complicate matters. The next two books delve deeper into Matt’s psychic powers as he and Michelle struggle against an interstellar government intent on controlling all psychics.
Two books feature Captain Nancy Martin, who first showed up as a minor character in The Fugitive Heir. Her first book, The Counterfeit Captain, is my take on the old science fiction trope of the generation colony ship that’s been lost so long no one remembers they’re on a spaceship. I followed it up with The Undercover Captain, which is something of a space opera missing-persons thriller.
The Recognition Run is the first book in my Recognition series. I entered it in the 2017 BookLife Prize contest, where it was a semi-finalist. You could call it Anastasia in space, as it follows Jeanine, a young woman who doesn’t know she’s the last surviving heir to an interstellar duchy. While the first book deals with Jeanine’s attempts to claim her title, the second and third books—The Recognition Rejection and The Recognition Revelation—expand the story beyond that straightforward premise to include a threat to the entire star kingdom and all humanity.
The Lost Planet is a standalone space opera adventure, and the first of my books featuring alien races. As a century-long cold war between the Terran Republic and the Regency, a vast alien empire, turns hot, humanity’s survival rests on the shoulders of Glen, a young man who doesn’t know how to be human, and Elise, a young woman who has never been out on her own. They must evade Regency pursuit, solve the millennia-old mystery of the disappearance of the Progenitors, and hope they can discover a weapon to turn back the invading Regency armada. In my opinion, this is my best book to date.
I also have a book of three illustrated children’s stories, I’m in Charge! & Other Stories, plus two books in a new, grittier, pulpier series. The first book, Fortune’s Fool, released in September.
What draws you to Superversive writing?
I like heroes who have a moral core. I like villains who are comprehensibly villainous without the author resorting to the tired “victim of society” trope that’s so popular among certain writers. I like fast-paced action where story is paramount. I like it when the hero triumphs over the villain. I like it when the guy and the girl fall in love and make a life together. I like happy endings. It’s insane that these preferences are Superversive rather than the norm.
What are you working on at the minute?
I have a novella titled The Scales of Sin & Sorrow with beta readers now. It’s a sequel to Fortune’s Fool. I’m publishing these books under a pseudonym – Jeff Boyd – because they’re not typical of my previous books. They’re darker – especially the second one – and the characters use harsher language than I used in any previous book. I don’t want longtime fans of my typical work snapping these up thinking they’re getting something similar to the Scout stories.
Beyond that, I’m between projects now, and trying to figure out what to do next. I began a sequel to The Lost Planet but have shelved it because I’m not sure the book needs one. At least, not one from the points of view I used. A seventh Scout book is my most likely next project. I just have to work through a few details before I start writing.
Do you read much and if so who are your favorite authors?
I suppose it depends on your definition of “reading.” I listen to a lot of audio books, though my listening time tailed off since my day job told us to work from home. My one-way commute went from 25 minutes to 15 seconds. I also still read books, just not as often or as voraciously as I did in the past.
My favorite author is Lois McMaster Bujold. I love almost everything she’s written. The last Vorkosigan book was decidedly subpar, in my opinion, but her Penric series of fantasy novellas have more than redeemed that mistake.
How can readers discover more about you and your work?
They can swing by my website—which needs work, but the information is up to date—or check out my Amazon author’s page. The advantage of stopping by the website is you can sign up for my mailing list (no spam, I promise).
Thanks for sharing Henry. Be sure to check out Henry’s books and be sure to check back next Sunday for our next chat with a Superversive author.