Author, Klingon expert, and certified hypnotist Lawrence M. Schoen is one of the guests of honor at illogiCon this weekend (Jan 10-12) in Raleigh. He holds a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology and psycholinguistics. He spent ten years as a college professor, and has done extensive research in the areas of human memory and language. This background provides a principal metaphor for his fiction, for which he was a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2007. He received a Hugo Award nomination for Best Short Story in 2010 and a Nebula Award nomination for Best Novella in 2013. He currently works as the director of research and analytics for a series of mental health and addiction recovery facilities in Philadelphia. And now, thanks to a short interview with Durham author Ada Milenkovic Brown, he’s part of the “Coming to Town” interviews family. Welcome!
Interview by Ada Milenkovic Brown
What is your reaction as an expert on the Klingon language to NC Councilman David Waddell from Indian Trial, NC who tendered his resignation in Klingon?
With respect to the Klingon in his resignation, I’m told he made use of Microsoft’s BING translation package. It’s an amazing piece of software that only gets better and better as it learns. Some of the world’s best Klingon speakers have been working with BING’s engineers to teach the system the warriors’ tongue, but it still has a ways to go. As such, there were several places in the councilman’s resignation letter that weren’t quite right. When it happened, my email box filled up, pretty evenly split between friends who wanted to be sure I’d seen it and members of the press who wanted some comment. I’m assuming Waddell did it as a publicity stunt, one last hurrah in the lime light as it were. But let’s assume for the sake of argument that the Indian Trail city council is made up of Klingons. If so, and if they believe Waddell’s resignation was honorable, than their response would have simply been “pItlh” which is a Klingon expression that basically means “done!” and the matter would be closed. In an interview, Waddell had indicated that his reason for resigning had to do with various council policies that he felt stood in the way of him getting anything done. If so, a better bit of Klingon might have been to cite the popular Klingon aphorism: “meQtaHbogh qachDaq Suv qoH neH” or in English, “Only a fool fights in a burning house.”
How do you feel about William Shatner mentioning you in a recent interview?
I had the great pleasure to meet and chat with William Shatner when we were both guests at a convention in Sydney, Australia back in 1999, but I wouldn’t expect him to remember me, so I guess my answer is that I’m both amazed and flattered. The question that he poses in that interview, “what is language, and how is language devised and can you have subtlety in a made-up language?” are some of the basic ideas that draw people to the study of constructed languages like Klingon. A good constructed language does anything a naturally occurring language can. But regardless of the language, not everyone can speak with subtlety, write lyric poetry, or deliver inspirational oratory. I think you need to put some of the responsibility back on the speaker, and not expect the language to do all the heavy lifting.
Please tell us the latest about the Amazing Conroy and your current projects.
Much of my fiction to date has been near future, humorous science fiction stories and novels about the Amazing Conroy, a stage hypnotist working seedy lounges and interstellar cruise ships as he entertains aliens who have never heard of hypnosis, all in the company of his companion animal, Reggie, a creature that looks like a miniature bison, and that can eat anything and farts oxygen. It’s been a fun ride. But I just finished a very different kind of novel for Tor Books, and I’ll be turning it in as soon as I return home from Illogicon. The working title is BARSK: THE ELEPHANT’S GRAVEYARD and it’s a more serious book involving racism, politics, telepathy, clairvoyance, and the ability to talk to the dead. It’s the kind of book that doesn’t fit easily into any existing niches (and thank you, Tor, for buying it anyway!), so I’ve been describing it as kind of like THE SIXTH SENSE meets DUNE, but with ELEPHANTS. It is hands down the best thing I’ve ever written, and I’ll be interested to see how people respond to it.
Now that you have become certified in hypnosis, how do you think that will help you as a spec fiction author and specifically while you’re here in the Research Triangle of NC as Guest of Honor at IllogiCon?
One of the things I expect to do in 2014 is provide content for the website Hypnosis4Writers.com, which will be a source for free trance materials aimed at helping authors work through the kinds of problems that writers often face, issues such as motivation, imposter syndrome, and writer’s block. It’s a nice combination of my skills as a cognitive psychologist, a hypnotherapist, and an author. More importantly, it’s a way for me to give back to the SF&F community and “pay it forward.” At the convention this weekend, I’ll be doing a short talk about hypnosis, how it works and what it really is (as opposed to the popular culture understanding of it), and even a quick demonstration if time allows. I promise not to use my powers for evil and will not implant post hypnotic suggestions to send the attendees to the dealers’ room to buy copies of my books. Though, I admit, it is tempting.
Several of NC writer Ada Milenkovic Brown’s stories were short-listed for grants by the Speculative Literature Foundation. Her work has appeared in Intergalactic Medicine Show, PodCastle, Crossed Genres, Stupefying Stories, and several anthologies. She thanks Bull Spec’s publisher, Samuel Montgomery-Blinn, for listing her alternate history “Nadirah Sends Her Love” amongst his best of 2011.