An Interview With F&SF Author SJ Chase

schaseAdam Gaffen for Amazing Stories: So tell us a little Bit about yourself?

SJ Chase: Before I succumbed to the Dark Side (meaning the software industry) I was a certified Mad Scientist and did basic research at places like Brookhaven and the Naval Research Laboratory . Lasers! I’ve also restored old houses, know the deep secrets of bar code specifications, and I can be polite in Scottish Gaelic. I enjoy reading military history and making ergonomic catnip mice.

ASM:Tell us about your books

SJC: I have seven books out currently, with another on the way– two fantasies: Firehearted and The Last Mage Guardian, and five science fiction: the Sequoyah trilogy (The Long Way Home, Raven’s Children, and Queen of Chaos), The Scent of Metal, and The Bureau of Substandards Annual Report. My books tend to be character-based action/adventure tales, with a thread of humor (in the case of the Bureau of Substandards, quite a lot of humor.)

last mageASM: What is your favorite genre to write in?

SJC:Science fiction and fantasy. Don’t ask me to choose between them; they both suit perfectly depending on my mood. Sometimes you feel like a dragon, sometimes you don’t.

ASM: Are any of your characters in the books like you?

SJC: Not in the least! I am very boring and risk-averse. Adventures are nasty things that make you late for dinner. I also tend to put my characters through a lot of danger to earn their happy endings, and I prefer staying warm, dry, and un-shot-at.

ASM: What is your next book?

SJC: The Dragonhunters, sequel to The Last Mage Guardian.

chase3ASM: Can we get a sneak peek?


It was a very great spell. Even Sonam could tell that. The master’s face was contorted with effort, sweat beading on his lined face, but Sonam made no move to help, obedient to the master’s command. A little blue kai-ling flew up and then tumbled away with a high-pitched shriek, wings flailing, and he smiled. The barrier was working! “There,” said the master, wheezing and reaching up a shaky hand to the cliff wall to support himself. Sonam quickly ran to his side. “It’s done.” A cough racked his frail body, followed by another, and another. Sonam pulled out the flask of medicine tea and raised it to the master’s lips. The coughing stopped, but the man could barely move. “Good lad,” he whispered. “Sir should rest,” Sonam ventured. “The dead rest, Sonam. Have you warned the people?” Sonam nodded. “It should hold for a year at least, but it will grow weak before then. They must be ready.” He pressed a hand to his chest, wincing. “No time…” He turned his glance to the young man. His eyes were hard and bright blue. Sonam ducked his head, not presuming to meet the gaze of such a powerful shaman. “Show me your disguise.” Sonam caught the threads of his soul together and spun them in the proper way, to bend light and divert the eye. What the master spoke of, in his own chopped language, as “magic.” He had no metal mirror, but he could see his hands were now pale instead of brown, and his worn tunic, stuffed with silk floss for warmth, was now a thin blue jacket with narrow sleeves. “Good enough. I’d be wary of bright sunlight and direct looks, if I were you, but it will serve. Do you have the card?” Sonam took the small piece of pasteboard from his sleeve and held it out. It read I am mute in Alban and Gaulan. “Remember, Aeropans do not carry things in their sleeves as you do here. You are to be commended on your fluency in Alban, but you still retain enough of an accent to be marked as a foreigner. A pity, but it can’t be helped. Once you get to your destination, it won’t matter and you can speak freely.” He moved slowly, leaning on Sonam, his labored breathing loud in the thin air. At last they reached the mouth of the cave. Long ago someone had sketched the outline of a Bon warding spirit on the wall inside, perhaps intending to return and paint it later. The red lines were faint, but the tusks and wild rolling eyes were clear. A mat lay in the back of the cave. Sonam helped the master lie down, then gave him another sip of the medicine tea. He winced. “I won’t miss that, at any rate. Tastes like bog water. Ah, but I should not complain. It’s kept me alive this long. Now, the satchel by the entrance has all my money, some letters that may help you, and the passport I altered. I’ve told you as much as I can of the way you must travel, and how to avoid being seen by the enemy. Do you have any questions? Do not let your notion of respect prevent you. As my apprentice you have the right to ask, and given the difficult task ahead, the necessity. Do not fail your people.” Sonam could not help the tears that formed. “Must it be this way, sir?” The master closed his eyes briefly and sighed. “Yes, Sonam. I beg your forgiveness and understanding. I ask much of you, but I have no choice. I am spent…take this.” He took a green velvet bag from an inside pocket. “You may open it, but never give it to anyone else. Only show it to another magician, and then only in great need.” Sonam took the bag and stowed it away carefully. “Now I must leave you. May you have a safe journey and a quick return.” He closed his eyes again. The master’s face tightened, his lips opening, and then the air about him went hard and clear and his body froze motionless. The spell that Sonam knew as the Uncorrupting Way now preserved his master until he could bring help. Now he had to hide him, to keep him safe. Sonam bowed, picked up the satchel and hesitated at the sketch of the spirit. He knelt and prayed, pleading that the spirit would guard his master. Once outside the cave and a safe distance away, he called to his soul again and the spirits of the stone. A few pebbles fell, then a stream of dirt, and finally a thundering rockslide completely hid the entrance of the cave as if it had never been. Sonam hurried down the narrow mountain path, whispering his master’s instructions like a meditation chant. In the country of Bretagne, near the town of Baranton, in the house called Peran. Tell the mage Oron that Alastair MacCrimmon begs his aid.

chase4ASM: Do you need special conditions to write?

SJC: Air, gravity…I can write just about anywhere–I am getting a lot done on my daily bus commute, and I have also used a voice recorder on long drives– but I prefer a large chunk of time with no distractions and music without voices. Movie soundtracks work well.

ASM: Are you a typer or longhand writer?

SJC: I do rough notes in longhand if I can’t get to a computer. Since I type fairly fast and I have lousy handwriting, typing is best…

ASM: Who inspires you?

SJC: Johannes Kepler. He was brave enough to toss out a beautiful theory because it did not agree with ugly little facts. And then he stubbornly figured out the theory that *would* fit the facts!

ASM: Favorite authors?

SJC: H. Beam Piper, Terry Pratchett, Mark Twain, Steve Miller and Sharon Lee, James H. Schmitz, Martha Wells, Georgette Heyer, and a host of others.

chase2ASM: Authors who influence your writing?

SJC: H. Beam Piper, definitely. He wrote solid science fiction that was fun. And Georgette Heyer had a mastery of character dialogue and memorable minor characters that are delightful.

Quick shots:

Favorite color? Green. A deep solid forest green, none of this wimpy chartreuse nonsense
Favorite food? Carne asada
Favorite writing snack? Chocolate. It is brain food. Really, there are studies!
 Favorite Song? “With Cat-like Tread”, sung at the top of my lungs, naturally
Favorite vacation spot? What’s a vacation?
Favorite beverage? Tea, Lapsang Suchong, hot
Favorite books? Sorcery and Cecilia, To Say Nothing of the Dog, Little Fuzzy, The Element of Fire, Agent of Change
Favorite Movies? Princess Bride, Rare Exports, Ladyhawke, Galaxy Quest, 300
 Favorite TV Show? Burn Notice

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