Who is Ryk E. Spoor?

Ryk Erik Spoor, borRyk E. Spoorn July 21, 1962, in Omaha, Nebraska. Since then I’ve lived in Vermilion, South Dakota; Atlanta, Georgia; Latham, Schenectady, Albany, Watervliet, and Troy, NY; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. My parents were both teachers (one at local public schools, the other a professor at the medical and pharmacy colleges).

I’ve gotten degrees of different levels in mathematics and science, psychology, and information science, worked as a burger-flipper, cashier, bookseller, QA and Production Manager, and currently am R&D Coordinator at International Electronic Machines. I’ve also been an RPG game consultant, a proofreader and editor, and some other odd jobs I’ve forgotten.

I married my wife, Kathleen, back in 1995 and we now have four children ranging in age from my oldest son Chris at 15 to our daughter Domenica at about 2.5 years. Plus we have a small poodle. Besides writing, which has become more second profession than entertainment, I enjoy tabletop RPGs, some computer gaming, reading, fishing, and various fandoms, as well as hanging out online and talking with people. I have been online since 1976 and my online handle, “Sea Wasp,” I first started using in 1977.

How did you become a writer?

I’ve wanted to be a writer for a very long time. When I was about six years old, I wrote a story in the first grade – “Lunuai Luna the Luna Moth”, about how a caterpillar reacted to its transformation into a completely different creature – and the teacher liked it so much that I ended up reading it to the third grade class. It was while I was reading it that it finally dawned on me that people wrote books – that is, people, like me. It was at that moment that I knew I wanted to be a writer.

It took some time to get there, of course. I started sort-of writing pretty soon after that, or at least playing out ideas of stories, then drawing crude comic-book stories, and finally, when I was about 10, I started writing stories longhand (or when I could get access to a typewriter, I’d type them. I submitted my first story – the shortest I’ve ever done, 211 words if I remember correctly – to a magazine (I no longer remember which one) when I was 11 (it was not accepted for publication. They did not recognize my genius!).

It was also at the age of 11 that my sixth grade teacher, Mr. Dickinson, handed me a battered, slightly scorched old copy of E.E. “Doc” Smith’s Second-Stage Lensmen. This was, of course, far from my first SF novel – I’d been reading fantasy and science fiction since I was 6 or 7 – but the grand, eye-popping scale of the Lensman universe, the unabashed magnificent drama and overwrought prose that still, for me, somehow worked, absolutely nailed my Sense Of Wonder, and became my ultimate goal. I wanted to capture that, the sense of endless optimism and courage and joy and determination and above all the awe and beauty, the wonder of it all, distill that into words and be able to hand it over to someone else the way Doc had handed it to me.

Naturally the first thing I did was write a rather clumsy Doc Smith pastiche with a sort of Mary Sue insert, with some elements of Eric Frank Russell added. I still have that story to remind me of where I came from. No, it’s not salvageable. Though there were a few elements that did continue on; the roots of some of my writing do in fact run that deep.

I continued writing from then on. In 1976 I started hanging out with the small group of computer geeks in our high school and was able to sneak online at times, using my first alias “Kimball Kinnison”. The next year, I was actually allowed on the machine officially… and I also discovered the role-playing game “Dungeons and Dragons”. As a codified, organized “let’s pretend”, the game appealed to the most basic impulse of a writer, and it became one of the foundations of my entertainment life – and a structured method for world design. It was in 1978 that I first drew a map of, and named, my fantasy campaign world Zarathan, which grew and changed over the years to become the world seen finally in my novel Phoenix Rising. At about the same time I first had the ideas that would eventually become the first three Jason Wood stories (which were published as the sections “Gone in a Flash”, “Photo Finish”, and “Viewed in a Harsh Light” in Digital Knight).

While much of my universe developed over the next several years, and the essential elements of other stories were constructed, it was quite a few years later that the final major change in my life happened: I started dating Kathleen Moffre.

I had known Kathy for many years before this, but I had not been dating her for more than a few months before I had to go to Pittsburgh. In that short time, though, we had begun to share a number of things, most importantly a particular fandom – the anime show Saint Seiya – and a common love of role-playing and of writing stories.

We combined these interests and played out stories that we would then write up as actual fan-fiction. Beginning with Kathy’s solo story “Fallen Angel”, our Seiyaverse stories eventually exceeded a million words – Resurrection (composed of Requiem, Ghosts, Rebirth, Awakening, and Meteor), Fallen Angel, Cry Wolf!, Wild Card, Snow Queen, Corruption, The Key, Vacation, and many more, of which quite a few were posted to the Net in the early 1990s – some of the earliest online Saint Seiya fics, and considered by many to be some of the best. The universe eventually encompassed that of Yoroiden Samurai Troopers (beginning with “Starpower”) and climaxed in the appearance of the Z-warriors (in “Brave New World”).

By my (and Kathy’s) current standards, they were clumsy efforts – showing some power and interesting approaches, but not accurate to the background (we had only some episode guides and our own, not-Japanese-speaking guesses, as to what we saw on the screen). But Kathleen’s focus was on characters, on the interactions of the various people in the stories, and she forced me to learn and understand this. If I can write characters of any level at all, it is because she taught me how.

It was also during this period – while writing the fic “Cry Wolf!” – that I suddenly had the revelation that clarified everything about my own universe: why particular crucial events happened, how, and what that implied for the later events in that universe. Once I had that single inspiration, all the uneven edges, the unanswered questions, disappeared. And I could finally really start writing my stories.

Still, more years went by, Kathy and I got married, we moved, we got jobs, I wrote, but nothing came of it. Then one day, I got into an online argument with Eric Flint.

At the time, I had no idea who this Eric Flint guy was; but someone took (an out of context) part of a post he made on “Baen’s Bar”, Baen’s private discussion board, about his forthcoming re-issue of James Schmitz’ work. The quote made it sound, basically, like Eric Flint thought he knew how to write better than Schmitz, and was going to fix Schmitz’ stuff for him before the reissue.

Now, James Schmitz was one of my favorite writers, author of the marvelous The Witches of Karres and the Telzey Amberdon series; in an era where heroes were almost exclusively male, his were almost always female, and were just as tough, courageous, competent and believable as any male heroes. Along with L. Frank Baum (whose heroes were almost always girls who could handle disasters that could break strong men), Schmitz had taught me that anyone could be a hero and it didn’t matter if you happened to be a boy or a girl.

Schmitz also happened to be long dead.

So to me, this was some guy I didn’t know from Adam, saying he was going to “fix” the work of one of the finest and most inspirational authors I’d ever read. Moreover, I couldn’t understand why there was an “editor” involved at all. It’s a re-issue! You just take the stuff, you type it in again, and you print it. There you go.

So I posted my own response, pointing out that this was taking material that had already been edited and then mangling it with the dead man now unable to even say whether he approved or disapproved of the changes.

Others joined in. Including Eric Flint himself.

The flamewar went on in multiple threads totaling over 2,000 posts. Despite the constant arguing, however, Eric did not insult me as a person, and I didn’t go after him as an individual either; we also both made a couple of minor misstatements and then apologized and corrected ourselves; anyone familiar with typical online flamewars can probably recognize that this is somewhat unusual.

After a couple of months, Eric responded to a post with “why the hell are you still arguing over what you think I meant when I said something? Go read the damn book already, it’s on the shelves!”

To which I responded, roughly, “Because I’m not sure I want to BUY something just to read it when I’m not sure I want to own it at all!”

To which he said, “… you know, that’s a fair point.”

So he then sent me the original and edited files – with annotations showing what he’d edited, and why.

Causing me to respond, “Well, fine, now you’ve gone all REASONABLE on me, I guess I’ll have to give this a chance and read it!”

To my surprise, most of Eric’s changes really were trivial – and some (such as the removal of excess exclamation points) had precedent in that Schmitz himself had done the same thing when reissuing other old stories shortly before he died. There were a few edits I felt WERE damaging, and one that was an absolute stroke of GENIUS (and I couldn’t figure out how both Schmitz and John W. Campbell had missed it).

Eric also told me, in confidence, something that was not revealed publicly until much later: that the “update the language” and similar changes were done at the express direction of Jim Baen, and thus Eric’s only choice was to either do what he was told, or have the re-issue not go through at all (or have someone else, perhaps not familiar with Schmitz’ work, be put on the job).

So I went back online and essentially gave a thumbs-up to the re-issue.

Following that, Eric wrote me and basically said, “You know, we’re going to be doing a bunch of these re-issues of various authors, and I just KNOW I’m going to hear the same kind of crap every time, so I was thinking…”

And I become something like his Honorable Opposition, vetting the changes to the Usenet community. And learning a bit about the publishing business in the bargain. At one point, he happened to ask where I was; I said I was near Troy, and he said “No kidding? My mother in law’s in Schenectady.”

So he ended up visiting me the next time he came up to the area. During his visit, my wife brought up the fact I was an aspiring author (I would not have done so myself; I felt it was improper of me to do that). And in Eric’s words,

“So I felt obligated to ask what he wrote, and that’s when Spoor showed how clever he was; he said the only thing he had really completed was this vampire story. Now, I find vampire stories about as interesting as watching paint dry, but Spoor knew that, me being the contrary and cantankerous old bastard that I am, this would just force me to be extra diligent in reading it.”

So I sent him the three Jason Wood stories I had written.

Then one day I get a call from Eric. Now, he’d only called me once before – to verify when he was coming to visit – so I figured he was calling to let me down easy, with the courtesy of a live voice instead of a note telling me that I sucked.

“Hey, Ryk. Yeah, hey, this is eminently publishable stuff.”

“Er… WHAT?”

“Yeah, it’s quite good. I figured I’d read just the first story, found I’d read all three. Anything that can do that, it’s sellable, no doubt. There’s just one problem…”

Oh, here it comes, I thought.

“It’s too short. Total’s about, what, sixty thousand words, no one’s gonna look at a new novel that’s less than ninety to a hundred thousand. But don’t worry about that right now, lemme send it to Jim, see what he thinks.”

Oh my god, oh my god, he’s going to send it to the PUBLISHER, the actual guy who owns the COMPANY?

“Um, okay, sure!”

A week or three went by, and Eric then called back to tell me that Jim liked it, but agreed it was too short. But if I could make it longer, they might consider taking it.

There was… a small problem there, however. I had never really thought about more Jason Wood stories. The three “tricks” that made the three stories work I’d thought up something like twenty, twenty-five years before.

But there was also the possibility of being published dangling in front of me.

So I went downstairs and sat myself in front of the computer and said I would not leave until I figured out how to continue Jason’s adventures. Part of it was easy: Jim Baen had wanted something to clarify how Verne Domingo got out of the drug business, and why, so I could put a little bridge story there, between “Gone in a Flash” and “Photo Finish”. And after “Viewed in a Harsh Light” there was a fairly obvious sort of bridge to start tying up loose ends. But after that there’d have to be a new adventure.

The adventures all hinge on some known supernatural something and playing on its weakness in some unexpected but very fair way. So look at every well-known mythical/supernatural creature until you find the answer.

Two hours later, I suddenly had the inspiration for the story that became “Mirror Image”, and two months later I’d added another 55,000 words to the now novel-sized collection. I sent it off and tried to desperately put it out of my mind; hoping would just give me indigestion.

Then came the call from Eric. “Hey, Ryk. Jim’s gonna buy your book.”

“Wh… what?”

“I said, Jim Baen is going to buy your book.”

And I let out a shout that everyone could hear two stories up.

And THAT is how I became an author, long version.

 

My Fanworks Policy

     Overall, as anyone reading my prior  essays on the subject  can tell, I have nothing against fanworks. These basic principles stated below only have to do with my position with respect to how your work may intersect with mine.

 

  • It’s MY world (or worlds, depending). You’re welcome to play in the world in any way you like, as long as you don’t lead yourself to believe you own any of it. That means the following:

1.  You can’t sell any stories based on my stuff without my permission (and “permission” will include you signing an agreement that gives me a cut, just in case you wonder, and there’s no guarantee of such an agreement; I have to like what you’re doing)

2.  Your writing a story with idea X does not prevent me from writing a story with idea X. The fact is that I know vastly more than you do about my worlds, and if any idea in that world makes any sense at all, the chances are that yes, I already thought of that idea and if I ever use it, I’ll be doing so based on my own thoughts. IDEAS ARE CHEAP AND COMMON. I have more ideas for my stories than I will ever finish writing.If, by some wild chance, I (A) happen to read your fic (unlikely, as I actually rarely read fanfic) and (B) find you have come up with an idea I did not and MUST USE, I’ll contact you. But in all likelihood, any similarity you see to anything I write is coincidence (and coincidence can get surprisingly close; see, for instance, The Web Between the Worlds by Charles Sheffield and The Fountains of Paradise by Arthur C. Clarke, which have some amazing similarities; there are a number of other examples out there)

 

For other forms of fan-expression, there may be other legalities; for instance I see a lot of character sketches from various media being sold at convention art shows, and I think that’s legal if it’s your own interpretation and sold in very limited (<10) quantities. Commercial-scale reproductions, then we’re talking “you need a license”.

 

Personally, I love seeing artwork interpretations of my stuff. I can’t draw for crap and have no time to really learn how, so such things fascinate me. Fanfic, not so much, mainly because, well, writing’s what I do, and since I know my characters and world so much I can’t help but twitch if something’s done wrong from my point of view.

 

So, in short, I have no objection to any fan activities you may do unless they (A) are intended to be non-licensed commmercial ventures, and/or (B) negatively impact my ability to continue to do my own writing and other commercial activities in my universe(s). This is not to be construed in any way as a ceding of my ownership and rights in any and all of my creations, but merely as something that I think is a proper “fair use” of my creations.