Dooley: Tell me a little bit about yourself. Who is KS Augustin?
Augustin: First off, thanks for hosting me here, Diane. KS Augustin is essentially a mongrel. I got called that at school and it’s true. I’m a mix of Asian and European genes, mores and cultures, which would drive anyone crazy…so I decided to start writing instead! So far, it’s kept me sane. Well, relatively anyway.
Dooley: When did you start writing and why?
Augustin: I could say that I think there’s a genetic component to the writing bug. Not the whole thing, but definitely a component. The Augustins have been known to be writers and I suppose I follow in a couple of my ancestors’ footsteps. I “published” my first story in Primary-6 when it was included in the school’s annual magazine. It was a bit overwhelming having high school seniors coming to me in class and asking if it was okay to include my story in the magazine! I still remember that feeling of primary-school terror mixed with pride and excitement. The story itself was a little crime tale, which I haven’t really written since. Hmmmm, something to think about. Thanks for the prompt, Diane!
Augustin: I started out as an Army brat, so I was used to moving around from a young age. I think that’s now translated into a low boredom threshold when it comes to surroundings so yes, we tend to move countries the way other people might change houses. How it’s affected me is by showing me just how similar everyone is. Sure, the outward trappings may be different, and there may be certain culture-specific ways of expressing emotions or ambitions, but the underlying human psychology is the same. We all want to be loved, we all want to be appreciated, we want to help our family and friends. Those things don’t change, no matter what country we live in.
This is a very important part of my writing, I think. It gives me hope that I can, for example, set a story on an alien planet and yet everyone will be able to relate what the protagonists are going through. In other words, globetrotting has filled me with a kind of warm glow towards humanity…as long as I stay away from the news.
Dooley: Of all your published works, do you have a personal favorite?
Augustin: My personal favourite is always the last release! Then, six months down the track, I’ll be wondering why I didn’t do this or that and my next release becomes my favourite. Writers can be fickle like that.
Dooley: What do you feel are your strengths and weaknesses as a writer?
Augustin: Hmmmm. That’s an interesting question. Strengths? I think I’m a good writer. A couple of my editors have called me a “precise” writer and I like that. Weaknesses? I turn out very jerky, very choppy first drafts. Sometimes, when I’m going over my drafts, I’ll think to myself: “What the hell was I trying to say here?!” I’ve also got to curb my tendency to go adverb crazy. And, every novel, there’s usually a word or two that I seem deeply attached to. Luckily, editors have picked up on such over-use and have hit me over the head with it, for which I’m eternally grateful.
Dooley: Who are your favorite authors and why?
Augustin: Yeah. Right. I don’t really have any favourite authors. It’s like having heroes. I don’t have any of those either. (I subscribe to the Pappy Boyington philosophy on heroism when he said: Show me a hero, and I’ll prove he’s a bum.)
So while I admire Doris Lessing and what she tried to do with the Canopus Archives, I think it got a little too “smart” for me in places. I like some of Iain M Banks’ work but, lately, he’s degenerated into unedited tedium. I’ve always had a lot of respect for M John Harrison but he lost a fan with his treatment of the female characters in “Light”. Richard K Morgan turned out a brilliant debut with “Altered Carbon” and then I think he took the path of least resistance with “Market Forces”. I’ve been a huge fan of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan books, but I think she phoned it in with “Cryoburn”. Do you see what I mean? There are individual books that I think are great but, just because a couple of books are good, doesn’t mean that I consider the author one of my “favourites”. Nobody’s on auto-buy. It also depends on my mood. Today, I might be in the mood for a Vonnegut; tomorrow, for a LeGuin or Lackey. It all depends. Incidentally, my favourite colour is grey, so make of that what you will!
Dooley: What books are on your current to-be-read pile?
Augustin: I’m going through a number of Ellen Datlow-edited anthologies at the moment and having the time of my life! They’re great! In addition to that, I picked the three books off my bedside table to answer this question and, besides Datlow, they are: “The Outsider” by Colin Wilson, “The Cowards” by Josef Skvorecky, and “Beyond Growth: The Economics of Sustainable Development” by Herman E. Daly. I’m also waiting on “Engineering Infinity”, a hard sf anthology edited by Jonathan Strahan, that I ordered recently from The Book Depository.
Dooley: Your latest release is War Games. What is it about?
Augustin: Laisen Carros is an undercover agent for the Fusion. She’s been sent to Menon IV to essentially lose a war without making it appear that she’s losing a war. The problem is, she’s done some questionable things in the name of her mission and thinks she’s beyond redemption. Her rationalisations are growing thin, she’s got personal demons from her past she still hasn’t dealt with and she’s starting to wonder if there’s any difference between her and the people she’s supposed to bring down.
Just as she’s going through all this self-doubt, Lith Yinalña comes along. Lith is everything Laisen isn’t. She’s idealistic, passionate, energetic. She believes in things. And part of that impassioned belief is the task to kill the person Lith believes Laisen to be. So you have two people on opposite ends of the spectrum, if you will. And much to each other’s dismay, they start falling in love with each other. But, of course, this doesn’t happen in a vacuum. You have all the politics and machinations of the military structure thrown in as well, so it’s a case of double- and triple-think, as Laisen tries to get out of this whole mess alive. How will she do it? That’s what you have to read War Games to find out.
Dooley: You’re self-publishing War Games. What prompted that decision?
Augustin: I was offered a contract by a well-respected small (print) press for the novel and ended up walking away because several of the contract clauses were ludicrous, in my opinion. War Games got shelved. Then, last year, self-publishing became the major topic amongst writers, agents and publishers. And I thought: hey, why not? I contracted professionals early this year to do the cover art and editing and here I am!
Dooley: What does the future hold for KS Augustin?
Augustin: The thing about self-publishing is that you have to commit to the hamster-on-the-treadmill work ethic. As a general rule, it looks like you have to have steady output for two or three years before anything starts to pay off. So, by publishing War Games, I’ve essentially locked myself into a particular groove for the next three years. I’ve got a pure space opera due to come out at the end of this year (Quinten’s Story) and another one, and a cyberpunk thriller, planned for 2012 (Genesis: Republic Diplomatic Corps and Overclocked, respectively).
I’m also writing an urban fantasy series under the pseudonym Cara d’Bastian. I started this project at the beginning of 2010 and then I just dropped it and walked away when I read about Cindy Pon’s difficulties with her books, featuring a minority protagonist, and the white-ing of covers, and so on. Under such circumstances, there just didn’t seem to be any commercial potential for a UF series set in south-east Asia with Asian characters and south-east Asian mythologies. Well, when self-publishing came up, guess where my thoughts led? 🙂 The first book in the series, The Check Your Luck Agency, is currently back with me after some pointed comments from my Developmental Editor. It’s due for release in October, with two more books planned (Return of the Hantu and Night of the Pontianak) for release next year. It’s going to be a head-down-bum-up, as Australians like to say, three years. We’ll see whether it pays off.
Augustin: Thanks again for having me here, Diane. I hope I didn’t piss off too many of your readers. 😉