Book Country Member Spotlight Q&A
You might recognize Herb Mallette as the glasses-wearing cartoon avatar known for his pithy contributions to the Book Country discussion forums and his thoughtful peer reviews. He’s also a lifelong writer from San Antonio, and has been editing professionally for the past twenty-five years. He’s a big science fiction and fantasy fan (some of his favorite writers include Jack Vance, Michael Shea, Iain M. Banks, and Edgar Rice Burroughs), and has a wicked sense of humor. Last week I chatted with Herb about his writing life, his love of science fiction and fantasy, and his soft spot for Pixar movies.
Nevena: How and why did you start writing?
Herb: As a child, I loved to read, write, and draw. I wrote my first story at age five on a page in Dr. Seuss’s My Book about Me. I started drawing comic books around seven, and by the end of middle school, I was determined to be either a writer or a comic book artist. Because I had the fortune or misfortune to be good friends with a kid whose artistic talents vastly exceeded mine, I mistakenly concluded that I wasn’t cut out to be an artist. So in the tenth grade, when my chemistry teacher re-ran a particularly boring filmstrip, instead of watching it I started my first novel. By the time I graduated, I’d finished two books and become addicted to it.
Nevena: You write fantasy. What draws you to it?
Herb: Fantasy and science fiction inundated my childhood with realms so colorful and exciting that I had no choice but to pursue them. I used to write in both genres. Nowadays I find fantasy more liberating because it allows me to make up all the rules.
Nevena: Is there a cliché that you’d like to see erased from the genre?
Herb: The dour, gruff dwarf is probably my least favorite fantasy cliché, but I don’t know that I’d eliminate it—to each his own.
Nevena: Could you tell us more about your own fiction? What are you currently working on?
Herb: Right now I’m writing a prequel to my four-book Delvonian series. The existing books start with The Last Tragedy and wrap up with a trilogy, The Aveliad. The prequel features four characters from The Aveliad on their first adventure together, when they’re just forming the relationships we see unfold in the trilogy.
In my work, I aim for a high level of adventure sprinkled with human commentary. It’s very important to me to be entertaining, and only slightly less important to provoke thought in readers who want to be so provoked.
Nevena: Wow, that’s poetic! Why should Book Country members read and review The Last Tragedy, the book you’ve posted to the site?
Herb: People should read The Last Tragedy if they’re looking for clever, engaging characters moving through an unusual world in a beguilingly entertaining plot. The good guys are witty and resourceful; the villain exquisitely malicious. As for reviewing it, people should do that if the excerpt on Book Country makes them want to say something.
Nevena: Sounds good! What’s the biggest challenge you’ve encountered in your writing? How did you overcome it?
Herb: Real life. I have a day job and a family in a world that, if you watch the news, is often quite depressing. Writing is a way that I can raise a light against the gloom, both for myself and, hopefully, for others. But it’s sometimes hard to find the time, energy, and spirit to stay brave in the things I am trying to express. As for overcoming… Well, the world needs heroes, and when I was a kid, many of mine were writers, so I push onward.
Nevena: What’s your favorite part of the writing process?
Herb: Surprising myself, especially at the end of a book. I love getting to an outlined event, realizing it doesn’t do what it needs to do, and then hitting on a solution that whoops the pants off the original plan.
Nevena: Why did you join Book Country? How has it helped you in your growth as a writer?
Herb: Writing about writing helps remind me (or, if you prefer, helps me delude myself into thinking) that I do kind of know what I’m doing. Reading about writing helps me learn from the perspectives of others.
Nevena: What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
Herb: At a book signing, I told sci-fi/fantasy writer Michael Moorcock that he was indirectly responsible for my writing several bad fantasy novels in high school. Without batting an eye, he replied, “As it happens, I’ve been directly responsible for several myself.” That wasn’t exactly advice, but it showed me that no matter how successful you might become as a writer, you need to retain your sense of humor and not take yourself too seriously.
Nevena: Is there anything you want the community to know about you?
Herb: I am ridiculously susceptible to the emotional effects of certain movies. I have cried buckets at almost all of the last several Pixar films, for instance, as well as the recent return of The Muppets to the big screen. When filmmakers manage to put real human beauty onto the screen—especially through elements of the fantastic—something just turns a switch of joy in me until I am a quivering wreck. My favorite movie scene of all time is the asteroid field sequence from The Empire Strikes Back. Just listening to the soundtrack for that scene makes me stream tears, and there have been times when I’ve gotten the accompanying music stuck in my head at work and literally had difficulty concentrating on my job. Please don’t tell my boss.
Nevena: Pinky promise! Thanks for sharing, Herb, and for being such a spirited voice in the community.