Today, we’re very happy to have Christian Schoon over today for an interview! Christian’s novel, Zenn Scarlett, is a science fiction tale about an aspiring exo-veterinarian (that is, a vet that specializes in often large and dangerous alien animal species) and her struggles as she works through her apprenticeship in a Martian cloister.
Please give it up for Christian!
The Book Smugglers: Your eponymous main character is studying to be an “exoveterinarian” – a particular type of vet who specializes in the care and treatment of exotic, alien creatures (most of them large, dangerous, and profoundly fascinating). Did you have fun dreaming up this idea? Were there any other books, films, or shows that inspired your extraterrestrial zoological premise?
Christian: First off, thanks to the Book Smugglers for inviting me into their lair and showing me the secret hand-sign to flash in order to keep their readers from grabbing their book-stashes and running for the hidden exits…
As for dreaming up Zenn Scarlett and her world, the character herself more or less materialized one day fully formed and ready to start classes at the cloister. Seriously. Very author-cliché, I know, but with my innate wired-for-SF-ness and long-standing fondness for animals, the idea of a young girl specializing in diagnosing and treating alien animals on Mars just seemed to conjure itself. Inspirations came, unsurprisingly, from all the SF books, shows, TV, comics, games, toys, t-shirts, key chains and coffee mugs in my entertainment-omnivorous past. And, from an early age, I tended to look at SF from a certain POV. So, when the banthas lumber by in Star Wars, I’m thinking: hey, who feeds these guys? What do they feed them? Do banthas need vaccinations for bantha-mange? Who gives them their annual shots? Are tauntauns kept in ice-corrals? Who shovels out the taunta-poo? And that rancor beast. Does he get parasites? How much does the exovet get paid for a house call to treat him? (A bunch, I imagine.)
The Book Smugglers: Zenn Scarlet is set on a Mars – the Ciscan Cloister Exovet Clinic on Mars, to be precise. Why did you choose to set your book in our solar system and on the red planet out of all the possible planets and worlds in the universe?
Christian: Ever since reading the Barsoom books in all their pulpish glory, I’ve had a thing for Mars. (A thing undimmed by Disney’s much maligned John Carter, which rocked, far as I’m concerned). Plus, Mars’s lower gravity makes it physiologically less-stressful for large-bodied creatures like whalehounds and swamp sloos, who evolved on bigger, higher-G planets. Since most of the creatures are at the cloister for medical reasons, less bodily stress is a good thing. And, Mars is iconic in so many ways as an SF environment; it holds a very special place in SFery, and once I’d decided the Ciscan Cloister needed to be off-world, it just felt right to me, off-world, but not overwhelmingly alien for my Earther readers.
The Book Smugglers: Over the past few years, Science Fiction has seen a strong surge in popularity within the Young Adult category. Did you always envision writing Science Fiction for Young Adults? How did you approach writing for this particular audience? Did you encounter any hurdles along the way?
Christian: I’ve been an SF fanboy, well, since my earliest boy-ness. Later, when I started writing and, in some cases, selling TV scripts in LA, I wrote almost exclusively for teen/tween genre shows – Saban’s Power Rangers, Warner Bros. animated Batman, Hanna-Barbera’s Gravedale High and some others. So when I decided to try my hand at novels, SF was really my first choice. But speculative fiction in general feels welcoming to my sensibilities, so fantasy, horror, etc. are also areas I’d be more than happy exploring. Since I had some experience writing for the YA audience in my scripts, this too was a natural choice that I fell right into. But re: my approach to YA, I really don’t pull any punches as far as character, plot, vocabulary. I write what I’d like to read; turns out that’s just about right for others who enjoy YA’s energy and openness to experience.
The Book Smugglers: On your website, you call yourself an SF person and an Animal person – tell us about your passions for both scifi and animals.
Christian: Sci fi nerditude noted above. And animals were a part of my life growing up in small-town Minnesota – my uncle’s farm and all its critters and river and wildlife were a quick ½-hour hike away. And I missed this kind of environment when we lived in LA. Now, since moving to buy a rambling old farmstead near Iowa City, animals have pretty much taken over. My wife and I volunteer with several animal welfare groups, and we foster abused horses here on our pastures and in our barns. We’ve also helped our own awesome vet in her work re-habbing and treating exotics from black bears and cougars to Burmese pythons and alligators. These experiences fed directly into the writing of Zenn Scarlett and I’m very much obliged to this vet and others like her for allowing me to rummage thru their brains.
The Book Smugglers: Given that you frequently post about NASA updates (such as the bountiful presence of earth-sized planets in our galaxy!), what do you think is the probability that we’ll find alien life on other planets? And what type of life do you think we’ll find?
Christian: I actually try to be agnostic about life beyond earth, because there’s no evidence yet and because the Rare Earth Hypothesis school of exobiological thought has some powerful arguments; depressing, but powerful. But, I’m a failed agnostic — I feel there’s a very high probability we’ll find convincing evidence for life on other planets, and we’ll find it in my lifetime (fingers crossed). As for what forms it will take, now we’re really wandering deep into the spec territory of spec fic. Might just be microbial, but that’ll do for starters. If we find any sort of life beyond Earth, even if it’s only bacterial, it’ll be just breathtakingly significant; statistically, it’ll open up the possibilities for finding lots more life; and that in turn ups our odds of finding complex, sentient life. And then, hey, unobtainium for everyone!
The Book Smugglers: What are your favorite Science Fiction novels (YA or otherwise)?
Christian: I really like Pullman’s His Dark Materials series; this gets shelved under fantasy, but I’d call it science fiction/fantasy (And, frankly, there are elements of Zenn Scarlett that slip over the edge into this hybrid sub-genre). Also a fan of William Gibson, read all of Ray Bradbury as a YA myself, along with masters like Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, Burroughs, Herbert. More recently, Beth Revis, Phoebe North, E.C. Myers, Mike Mullin. And, of course, all of my Strange Chemistry lab-partners who range across the entire SF and Fantasy spectrum (I encourage all Smugglers-fans to click over to the SC site and check ‘em out!)
The Book Smugglers: We Book Smugglers are faced with constant threats and criticisms from our significant others concerning the sheer volume of books we purchase and read – hence, we have resorted to ‘smuggling books’ home to escape scrutinizing eyes. Have you ever had to smuggle books?
Christian: I’m happy to report that my spouse has always tolerated my book-hording ways; but she knew from the first date what she was getting into, so this particular die was cast right from the start. Our perennial problem, familiar to you smugglers no doubt, is of course shelving. And we’ve got MILES of shelves. But we still have to pick our way thru stacks of books teetering on tables, spilling off desks, leaning in corners. And while I appreciate the heck outa my Kindle when it comes to saving space… I still prefer the feel of recycled wood-pulp in my greedy little fingers.
And: thanks to Thea and Ana for letting me stop in and spend some time here in the secret room behind the sliding wall-panel down in their basement. May your smuggling be bounteous, your book-haul mountainous.
About the Author:
Born in the American Midwest, Christian started his writing career in earnest as an in-house writer at the Walt Disney Company in Burbank, California. He then became a freelance writer working for various film, home video and animation studios in Los Angeles. After moving from LA to a farmstead in Iowa several years ago, he continues to freelance and also now helps re-hab wildlife and foster abused/neglected horses. He acquired his amateur-vet knowledge, and much of his inspiration for the Zenn Scarlett series of novels, as he learned about – and received an education from – these remarkable animals.
You can find out more about Christian and Zenn Scarlett on his blog, on twitter (@cjschoon), and on the publisher page for the book. You can also preorder the book on Amazon, or add it to your goodreads shelf.
Thank you, Christian!