Today’s guest, Lyle Blake Smythers, is stopping by as he tours his novel Feasting with Panthers.
Lyle Blake Smythers is an actor, writer and librarian in the Washington, D.C., area. Since 1976 he has performed in over 100 stage productions, including three appearances at the National Theatre. He has published fiction, poetry, satire and literary criticism in Manscape, FirstHand, Playguy, The William and Mary Review, Insights, School Library Journal and Children?s Literature Review. He is a former children’s librarian and is currently providing cataloging support for an ongoing project at the Library of Congress.
Welcome, Lyle. Please tell us about your current release.
We found the first one-eyed man at dawn ...
So begins the highly original fantasy tale of warrior poet Catalan, when he and his band stumble upon a handsome acolyte near death in a mountain pass. But when the acolyte reveals his mystical vision, the poet finds himself at the center of a War Game between two mysterious sorcerers. To unravel the mystery, Catalan and the agents of the War Game must seek the missing pieces of an enchanted chess set in a quest complicated by deceit and treachery, in which nothing is what it seems.
What inspired you to write this book?
The original kernel that gave life to some of the multiple plotlines came from an old edition of the Arabian Nights I found as a child. My family was traveling through the mountains of southwest Virginia, on our way to visit relatives near Galax, and we stopped in a tiny hamlet called Fancy Gap. We wandered into a used furniture place that had a table of used books for sale. I picked up an old copy of the Andrew Lang retellings, one with terrific illustrations. Soon I was riveted by the great stories inside. I was already familiar with the well-known ones about Sinbad the Sailor, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, and Aladdin, but soon I got to lesser-known ones that were equally intriguing. One that really interested me described a porter in Baghdad who carried a package home for a customer and found himself mingling with strange visitors in her house, men who had missing eyes and shaved heads. Each had his own story to tell, and wondrous stories they were.
Even in elementary school, I had started to write my own stories. Adventure stories, science fiction, my own version of Tarzan tales, bizarre people and creatures hidden in darkest Africa. Somewhere along the way I resolved to find a way to retell some of these stories of one-eyed men and the dangers they had faced and overcome. Fast forward some thirty years.
I was visiting a friend in Baltimore and we went to a Star Trek convention. At this point I had started to tinker with an outline for the Arabian Knights novel, but was getting nowhere. I wanted a unifying thread more significant than just a chance encounter with strangers in a strange house. At the con they were showing a variety of fantasy/SF movies and I ended up in LADYHAWKE, the medieval fantasy story of two lovers trying to find each other again while under two very different shape-shifting curses. What caught my attention was the motivation behind the person who put them under their spells: They had been cursed out of REVENGE. I had it. My characters would be subjected to the horrible perils they faced because a powerful magician was wreaking revenge. On whom? And why? It didn’t take me long to work that out. And my book was born.
I wanted to work within the framework of standard heroic fantasy but add fresh elements to give the reader an experience never felt before. Not just sorcerers and a quest (they are there) but a hallucinogenic drug, green snow, a boy turned into a monkey, a convention of puppeteers, an outdoor festival where people come to see a magic trick only performed once a year. Also bloody revenge. I started to have fun with it.ouo a used furniture place that had a table of used books for sale. I picked up an old copy of the ings, one with terrific illustrations. Soon I was riveted by the great stories inside. I was already familiar with the well-known ones about Sinbad the Sailor, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, and Aladdin, but soon I got to lr-known ones that were equally intriguing. One that interested me described a porter in Baghdad who carried a package home for a customer and found himself mingling with strange visitors in her house, men who had missing eyes and had his own story to tell, and wondrous stories they were.
What exciting story are you working on next?
My work in progress is a blend of dark fantasy, New Weird, and urban detective noir. A little China Mieville, a little Jeff Vandermeer, a little Philip K. Dick, a little Raymond Chandler., in a realistic, complex real-world setting combining elements of both science fiction and fantasy. Two supernatural beings from Irish mythology, the hero Finn M’Coul and Viledark, the Hog Who Ate the Sun, are running a private detective agency on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., when they come across a new sex drug that increases the male orgasm but also kills and only works on gay men. Their search for a missing boy leads them to Sin, a psychotic supervillain who claims to be the original model for Fu Manchu. I have not yet sold this book to a publisher.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
When I was in the sixth grade I was a big fan of the adventure novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs, his Tarzan books, the John Carter stories set on Mars, and the Pellucidar books that took readers to a strange world at the Earth’s core. I started writing my own story, entitled Expedition Into the Unknown, a highly derivative work that took some men in a giant Devil Drill to the Earth’s core for adventures among strange people and monsters. It was not terribly good but I had fun with it. When I got to junior high school I said, “This is awful” and abandoned it. Since then I have been preoccupied with making my own stories.
Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I currently work full-time as a librarian and do a lot of acting at night and on weekends. Because of my busy schedule, I can go as long as one or two weeks between writing sessions, during which time I am frequently thinking about what’s coming next in my work in progress and making notes to myself. I frequently find myself writing in a leather armchair at the cigar shop where I buy cigars, because they have a smoking area inside that is climate controlled. It’s a nice place to relax, look over my notes, and start trying to make more literary magic.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was in elementary school, the local TV station was showing reruns of the old Superman show with George Reeves. Probably inspired by that and by my love of stories, words, and books, I thought at one point that I might be a newspaper reporter. I changed my mind several times over the years, before finally ending up a librarian.
Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
Oh, about the title. When I was in grad school, getting the Master’s in Library Science that carried me into the professional field of books and more books, I saw a PBS documentary on Oscar Wilde. It was entitled “Feasting with Panthers,” a phrase I immediately seized upon.
As many people know, Wilde was convicted and imprisoned as a sexual outlaw. Writing from prison, he said this of his sexual encounters with boys or young men half his age:
“They, from the point of view through which I, as an artist in life approached them, were delightfully suggestive and stimulating. It was like feasting with panthers. The danger was half the excitement. I used to feel as the snake-charmer must feel when he lures the cobra. They were to me the brightest of gilded snakes. Their poison was part of their perfection.”
I knew that I had to use that title somewhere, somehow. It wasn’t until I was well launched on my fantasy adventure, with its unusually large sentry cats, that it occurred to me where the title belonged. Once I had made that decision, I found myself using the image of a large dangerous creature as a symbol several places in the narrative, notably during the climax. And, yes, there is blood.
I hope that you will join me on this strange journey.
Right now Feasting can be pre-ordered from Barnes & Noble at bn.com and from my publisher at http://pinknarc.com/ and it will be available shortly from Amazon. Readers who have comments or questions can leave them here or reach me through Pink Narcissus. I am also on Facebook.
We are going to be giving away a free copy of the novel, either a print edition or an e-book, to one of the readers of this blog. Interested readers should leave a comment here that includes their email address. I will select the most intriguing poster to be the winner. Readers who follow me during this entire virtual book tour and post at each blog stop will be entered for a drawing to win a print of the outstanding cover art by Duncan Eagleson.
Thank you so much for this opportunity to be here.
You're quite welcome. I appreciate you stopping by and sharing a bit about yourself and your writing today.
Folks, remember to leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of his book. And you can stop at his other tour stops and leave a comment, too to increase your chances of winning.