Born in New Jersey, Robert N. Lee has lived all over the place since, including Vietnam, Hawaii, the Pacific Northwest. He now lives in Florida with the love of his life. He has held somewhere around fifty jobs, ranging from commercial hot tar roofing to cooking in restaurants to designing software and web services for SAP, Microsoft, McAfee, the World Health Organization, and Planned Parenthood. He has seven cats, two dogs, and two human children. His first novel, Them Bones, will be out from Print Is Dead/Creeping Hemlock real soon now. His Xbox gamertag is Vee Ecks and he is robertnlee various places online. He does not do Facebook. Robert’s story “98 Ianthe” appears in Issue #17.
Tell us how “98 Ianthe” came about.
I was doing research for Them Bones, and had to come up with a name for a New York City analog. It figures into Them Bones and is the primary setting of a sequel, Beautiful World. It’s what New York is in movies and songs and books; the dream of New York City, I guess.
I read some of the old Bernie Krigstein 87th Precinct comic books back in the eighties, when I drew comics myself. That led me to read some of the Ed McBain books the comics were based on. Which I liked, but what lingered in my mind about them for decades after was the ersatz New York City invented for the books – to save the author fact-checking, and so they could be written in weeks.
87th Precinct’s Isola is Manhattan, except it’s not. The drive from Wall Street to the Battery doesn’t have to map to the real life version, it can go as long or short as as the author wants and the reader agrees. The bridges and boroughs all have different names and live wherever the story needs them, but they’re roughly analogous to real life. The rivers run backwards. It’s so cool.
So I wanted to do New York-but-not New York in these books, remembered the McBain books, and picked Ianthe for the name of the city – the name had significance in source material for the books and phonetically hearkened to McBain’s city name, at least. And I came up with my own names for my own Fantasy New York’s boroughs and bridges.
Googling “Ianthe” the first time, thinking about my brand new fantasy city, I hit on the asteroid, 98 Ianthe – which is a real asteroid. I already had an idea pinned where I could see and think about it, which was something like “SF STORY ABOUT OLD FUTURE PUNKER WHO WAS IN A BAND NAMED AFTER A WAR AND NOW HE WORKS WHERE THE WAR HAPPENED.” And: one of those moments, I knew that story was going to be set on an asteroid and on that particular asteroid. I couldn’t stop repeating the title in my head, I was in love with it. The story came fairly quickly from there.
I bet no one ever makes a joke about your name—so I’m also going to skip that. What is it about science fiction that draws you to writing it? Has it always been science fiction?
No, my first published stories were all horror, and I still write horror stories. Them Bones and its sequels are definitely horror. I don’t know if I have a literary First Love, I’m platform-agnostic about genres. Pansexual. Whatever: I read anything I want. I’ve been writing romance stories lately in other genres’ trappings because I love love stories, seeing how that goes.
But I’ve loved science fiction since my dad made me watch the George Pal version of War of the Worlds in second grade, and then when I loved it, he brought home the Mercury Theatre radio version and the HG Wells book from the library. That was it, I was hooked forever, I’ve never stopped reading science fiction since. I think it helped turn me into a big movie geek, too – the radio drama led to Orson Welles, led to…
I started writing science fiction and fantasy stories a couple years ago, and so far I love it. To be honest, I like reading horror, but I hate writing it. I hate doing nasty things to people and their dogs. Even though they are people and dogs I made up. Not that this prevents me writing horror stories, anyway, but it’s nice to write something that isn’t about death and confusion and loss, on occasion. I’m writing a science fiction story now that ends with a little girl hugging a puppy in space.
Although this science fiction story, “98 Ianthe” is about death and confusion and loss. Fuck me.
Tell us about your first novel, Them Bones!
It’s the first book of a trilogy, it’s set in an alternate world version of 1990s Portland, OR, it concerns zuvembies and apocalypse, it’s a reboot of a Lord Byron poem. ^Up there is a clue to which one. George A. Romero read the proposal for the series and it pissed him off. I took that as a good sign.
What is currently in your cd player/iTunes/Spotify/8 Track?
The new Daft Punk record, like 3,645,928,203 other people across the known universe.
What is your favorite Bradbury story/novel?
“All Summer In a Day.” I wish I could write a story that sad, or hell: that nigh-universally outrage-inducing. Everybody hears the Beatles singing “I get high” the first time they hear “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” and everybody who reads that story wants to murder the rest of those kids. Forever. I bet even kids who lock other kids in closets on the regular hate those kids.