L.A. Times Book Prize Honor Recipient & Sci-Fi/Fantasy Author Logan J. Hunder

Logan J. Hunder is a Canadian author from Victoria, British Columbia. After graduating college with a degree in Criminal Justice, he directed his writing abilities towards novels where his insistence to crack jokes would be less frowned upon. His debut novel, Witches Be Crazy, has received praise at the Los Angeles International Book Festival. Hi latest book is Astro-Nuts, in which Mars and Earth are like a divorced couple that don't like each other but have adjusted—somewhere in between, a diplomat sits aboard the HMSS Milk, swipes a vial of weird, incredibly dangerous, consumptive goo known as "Space Jam"—while the SS Greased Lightning ship notices the derelict vessel drifting through space, and despite not picking up any mayday calls, the captain insists on checking it out anyway…unbeknownst to the crew, the only way to guarantee safety over the goo is to destroy it. In addition to penning novels, Hunder is also a proudly serving member of the Canadian Navy.

Skewering the conventions of the science fiction and fantasy genres is something of a specialty of yours. What is it about these genre tropes that are just begging to be lampooned?

Every genre that is firmly established will inevitably start to develop its own conventions or tropes. Examples include: superheroes motivated by the early expiry dates all their parents seem to have; westerns got their roving gangs of bandits that nobody is tough enough to stand up to; sci-fi with its oxygen leaks and evil robots, and hell, the vast majority of fantasy at this point is just playing around with all the proprietary eponyms (elves, dwarves, wizards, etc). I don’t even need to list the genre for you to know what I’m talking about when I say, “The butler did it.”

It’s not a bad thing by any means, since "don’t fix what ain’t broke" is often a perfectly reasonable philosophy by which to approach problems and projects. But in the ongoing war of attrition trying to stay fresh in the torrent of new media being released every day, attempting to make something funny that was not initially intended to be is a great avenue to explore when looking to breathe new life into old concepts. It’s like flipping over your pillow to get to the cold side.

Plus it works for me because I doubt I could take anything seriously for more than a few pages.

“...it’s much harder to write yourself into a corner when you can make the rules by which you play.”

How did you come to enjoy writing within the science fiction and fantasy genres and what do you feel the genre conventions of science fiction and fantasy afford you as an author?

Sci-fi and fantasy in particular resonate with me because they lend themselves best to the imagination. Much of the appeal from genres like, say, romance or crime fiction, comes from the fact they’re based on the world we really live in. Yeah, sure, it is highly unlikely that a single billionaire in my age demographic with a body like Adonis and a bizarre amount of free time is going to be smitten by my mid-twenties dad bod and haircut I did myself—and equally unlikely are they going to chop my head off and incorporate it into the human themed Newton’s Cradle they’re building because of a backstory I’m not going to bother coming up with.

But it theoretically could happen.

Fantasy and sci-fi—literally by their very names—are stories predicated on the notion that the happenings are going to be beyond the realm of what definitively exists. And that offers a lot of room for artistic liberty! In my first novel, Witches Be Crazy, there’s a desert with no discernible wildlife besides a snake that’s roughly the size of a sequoia. Why is there only one? Where is the thriving ecosystem that could support the ungodly dietary requirements a creature like that would have? And why, when finally coming across creatures that could help satisfy its gargantuan calorie needs, does it just smash its head against them in what is probably the least snake-y thing it could possibly do?

It only felt fair that I rip on my own material for a change. But the point is, while the concept presented above is silly as all hell, it could potentially be explained away. Maybe it has a giant brain tumor that presses on its pituitary gland causing inhibited growth which is then sustained by the fact it lives in a desert and survives via photosynthesis. Maybe that same tumor also causes it to constantly hear heavy metal music and it just wants to head-bang. Find out in Witches Be Crazy 2: What the Deal is With That Snake You Never Really Wondered About Until Now.

I guess what I’m trying to say is it’s much harder to write yourself into a corner when you can make the rules by which you play.

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Are there any science fiction or fantasy authors and books that have influenced you and your writing?

Pfft, no way, man. Reading is for nerds.

So, in previous interviews, I’ve mentioned my affection for the real titans of the genre like Terry Pratchett and Piers Anthony. But the majority of the stories I consume actually tend to be quite serious. In the case of Astro-Nuts, I drew a considerable amount of inspiration from The Expanse series by James S.A. Corey. Existential threat level weapon, tense political strife, suffering disenfranchised masses caught in the middle of it all… So much opportunity for laughter.

While it’s not without little flecks of humor, stories like The Expanse series, that have particularly sombre or grim atmospheres, tend to make the best fodder for farce. I guess because they have "farther to fall," so to speak. Kind of like how it’s always harder to tease someone that’s already willing to make fun of themselves. We all have that friend or coworker who takes themselves way too seriously, and it can at times be impossible to resist the opportunity to go for that oh-so-satisfying dig.

So basically, I write comedy because deep down I’m just a big ol’ bully.

The central conflict of your latest book, Astro-Nuts, centers around a vial of weird, incredibly dangerous, consumptive goo known as "Space Jam" and the only way to guarantee safety over the goo is to destroy it. Is that a nod to 1996 movie of the same name?

In short: 100%.

It will surprise exactly nobody familiar with my work that I enjoy riddling things I write with references to our pop culture zeitgeist. You can find them scattered all over my novels like patio furniture after a hurricane. I find coming across one elicits similar feelings to hearing an old song you used to like but haven’t heard in quite a while. With Astro-Nuts, I got to play with that quirk of mine even more by imbuing one of my characters with a similar affection.

In the case of "Space Jam:" while the 1996 movie itself is not directly mentioned, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume an unabashed lover of so-called "ancient media" like Captain Cox would have had it cross his mind when coming up with the moniker for the suspicious goop.

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“A great many aspects of the publishing process...would not have crossed my mind if it were not for the team of actual professionals I have holding my hand...”

Piers Anthony, New York Times bestselling author of the Xanth series, called your previous book, Witches Be Crazy, “Fast moving and original…a wild fantasy adventure.” As an author making his debut at the time, how did you reach out to a bestselling author and get him to endorse your book?

A great many aspects of the publishing process—while in hindsight might seem obvious or common sense—would not have crossed my mind if it were not for the team of actual professionals I have holding my hand through each leg. Among the nuggets of wisdom I received was the idea to reach out to those established within the field—a gross understatement for one as prominent as Piers Anthony, but alas.

Anyway, you, my guardian angel of an agent, are thankfully not only an idea man but an action man. You put the idea in my head to shop my book around for some endorsement, and then went the extra mile by helping me draw up a list of potential "blurbers." From there, it was up to me to try and dial up the charm or crank up the groveling as I oh-so-brazenly slid into their DMs. Naturally, when being so brazen as to ask for plugs, it was only logical to start with some of the titans of the industry like Piers Anthony or Kevin J. Anderson. Since I was swinging, may as well swing for the fences!

As a fledgling member of the community, I likely would not have fared nearly as well with my requests, if I did not have you and your agency legitimizing me. Not only legitimizing, but putting me in contact! Holy crap you know a lot of people. If you aren’t going to have a lot of friends, then make sure your friends have a lot of friends.

Were there any other book titles you had in mind along the way for Witches be Crazy and Astro-Nuts, before you settled on those titles?

Both books, actually, had different titles to the final product at time of writing. In fact, hashing out the final title was one of the sticking points in the development of both. There’s many presentation choices to be addressed when getting a book ready for distribution, and while most seem to flow quite smoothly for my team the title always seems to be one that spawns a bit of debate. There’s my side, the auteur writer prattling on about his artistic vision and "this book is my baby" crap, and there’s the side of my editors drawing from their wealth of experience in regards to the psychology of a passerby reading a cover.

In the case of Witches Be Crazy, the title I had pitched when submitting it to agents and publishers was "Hunting Her Highness," a title of which I am still admittedly quite fond. It fit the plot of the book very well and I personally find alliteration to be catchy and pleasing. But in the same vein of admissions, I have to concede that the decision to change it to Witches Be Crazy probably had a significant positive effect on sales as there is no shortage of reviews that say they found the title to be quite eye catching.

As for Astro-Nuts, there was again a bunch of back-and-forth amongst the various shot callers in the novel’s production. Its biggest competition, which eventually lost out, was "Lunartics." Both titles had similar components, i.e. portmanteaus of words denoting space and colorful characters, but Astro-Nuts ended up getting the game winning point by moonlighting as a double entendre as well.

Another title that was briefly in the running was "Zero G-Unit." I liked the catchiness, but the reference is pretty dated at this point.

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How did you find your current literary agent and go on to get your first book published?

As far as writing related questions go, this is one of the ones I get asked the most.

There are countless articles (a generous way to describe blog posts) that cover this exact topic, and I read a great many of them when I was just a "rando" with some free time and a Word file. So if anybody is looking for a more in-depth explanation, they are quite easy to find. But when you strip away all the fluff and superfluous information, most just told me to go find an agent directory. Thus I went to my search engine of choice and sought out just that.

I made sure to specify it was a literary agent I sought out, lest I accidentally become a movie star or something.

From there, it really just became an exercise in winging it. It’s been some years now, so I can’t remember which exact directory I found you on, but at the time I just took the Tinder approach and peddled my pitch to any that I thought might be interested. Each agent generally had a list of what genres they were interested in, and what they wanted a submission to look like (i.e. X amount of pages, synopsis, elevator pitch, etc.). So basically I just played nice with their requests, and tried to avoid tearing my hair out while waiting for responses. If they like it, they shoot you a message back, you chat a bit, and if you hit it off then you just take it from there! I can only imagine how maddening this process was before the internet.

Also, pro tip: There’s nothing wrong with making a one-size-fits-all opener for your emails, you will be sending out a lot of them, after all. However, to save yourself the same embarrassment I experienced, do be sure to swap in the name of your intended recipient if you’re going to copy and paste it, the way I did. Otherwise, you may end up with the prospective agent equivalent of calling out the wrong name in bed.

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“There’s countless little moments of catharsis, both expected and unexpected, that I’ve come to enjoy.”

What have you learned from book publishing and which aspects of book publishing have you come to enjoy?

I enjoy the bulk of the process, from the healthy outlet for creative expression it provides me, all the way to that fuzzy feeling I get when I see my work sitting on a shelf at my local book store. From the jotting down notes whenever I have an unexpected or bizarre moment of inspiration, to shoving the finished product into the hands of those close to me and watching them struggle to feign polite interest. There’s countless little moments of catharsis, both expected and unexpected, that I’ve come to enjoy.

If I had to focus on one aspect that I both did not anticipate but also provides a great deal of gratification it’s the amount of teamwork that goes into getting these beasts off the ground. Back before I’d dipped my toes I always thought the entire production of a novel was just one guy in his underwear clicking away on a chip dust-encrusted keyboard, masterminding every aspect of the final product, before sending it away to shadowy corporate types with rubber stamps who would either throw it in a dumpster or ship it on over to the presses.

Oh, funny you should ask, no I have not received any level of business education.

I’m sure the process varies on a case by case basis depending on individual levels of genius and/or penchant for being a diva, but for me the part that can often be the most engaging is when I’ve already clicked and clacked out the framework of the story and my editors break out the fine tooth combs and surgical masks. What does it need, what could it use, what could be changed, and what could it lose? There is the requisite prolonged series of intermittent dialogues where ideas are swapped and suggestions are pitched by both sides that not only forces me to regard my work from previously unexplored angles, but also inevitably tightens the whole thing up by the time we’re done.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers hoping to make their debut in book publishing?

It should go without saying, but finish the damn thing! So many people out there have ideas that they either haven’t explored at all, or started to at one point in time, before shelving it for one reason or another. Maybe they didn’t like it, maybe they didn’t think other people would like it, maybe it could be any number of reasons—some of which I myself am guilty of. But no matter how good or bad it is, it’s not going to get any traction if it’s not done.

If it is done, then make the effort to get it out there. I get it, it can be hard as hell to take the plunge. Here you have this collection of thoughts that you poured your entire being into, stressed for hundreds of hours over the smallest of details, and came to regard as if the story itself was as real as the paper it’s printed on… and all you can imagine is some guy in a mustard-stained tank top, slouching on a chair, flipping through the pages for five minutes, before soliloquizing, “Thish ish shtupid” through a mouthful of chicken fingers.

Your personal reservation may be less specific or deranged, but I’m sure the principle is at least similar.

I guess the real advice I’m trying to convey here is trust yourself and have a little faith. If not in the quality in your product, in the mere fact that absolutely every creative work ever put forth has had and will always have people that think it’s great and people that think it’s garbage. I read every review of my stuff on Goodreads—contrary to the advice of my peers and shrinks—and between those that think I’m a comedy savant and those that, to put it lightly, think I’m either a semi-literate child or a horrible human being, I have never before been so aware of that golden rule.

And to those that are shaking their heads and saying “I’ve already done all that,” all I can really say is your work just obviously hasn’t found its way into the right hands yet. But at least email is a thing now. My hat goes off to those who forged their way in this industry back when it ran on snail mail.

Is there anything interesting you’re working on next and can you tell us a little bit about it?

Trying to find that perfect balance between maintaining the trajectory of my military career, and continuing to write zany stories, hasn’t quite been as smooth as I envisioned it to be in my head. Especially, since I’m so selfish to try and have a personal life on top of it. But the few-year gap between Witches Be Crazy and Astro-Nuts was entirely too long for my liking! And I know my fan feels the same way! So, yes, I am indeed working on a new thingy and yes it is going to be awesome.

It is a tale of murder. And mystery. If a genre for that doesn’t already exist, then consider it officially invented. The story follows a town caught up in quite a heinous series of acts, indeed!

But thankfully, our dauntless detecting protagonist just happens to have taken up residence recently. A man with a preceding reputation for solving entire murder cases in mere minutes, based on a cursory inspection of the crime scene. A real Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot type… Or so you would believe if you asked around. Because what other explanation could there be for how he solves murders so quickly and accurately!

It couldn’t possibly be because he temporarily resurrects the dead guy and asks who killed him.

Yes, the only thing Luke Murdock has in common with Mr. Holmes is addiction problems and shameless anti-social behavior. People are just more willing to put up with it when it has the whole "eccentric genius" qualification to explain it all away. Plus, the claim he talks with dead people has not gone over so well with the masses in the past, so it’s best to keep it a secret lest he almost get burned at a stake. Again. Of course sometimes that’s easier said than done