Interview: Rick Griffin on 'Ten-Thousand Miles Up'
Isiah Jacobs: Welcome back, Mr. Griffin! It's a pleasure to have you on the show again!
Rick Griffin: Thank you for having me
Isiah Jacobs: Just so you know, if you come back five times, you get a free coffee mug, so make sure you have my producer stamp your card before we're done.
For starters, you lied to me, sir! Last time you were here, I asked you if you had any other projects in the works, and you didn't even mention this story! What gives?
Rick Griffin: Well I first wrote this story back in 2010 and for a long time I hadn't had any plans on updating and releasing it.
Isiah Jacobs: So then why did you decide to release it? Trying to get your claws on another award for next year?
Rick Griffin: Well I'm still in the middle of finishing Heaven is Other Roko, and I thought it was taking a while to get done. As is usual with my anxiety, I didn't want to get stuck in a position where I only barely finished one story this year, so I decided to look back at old stuff I'd written and find something else I could clean up and publish fairly quickly.
Isiah Jacobs: So do you have an ancient crypt of all the slanderous furry stories you've written? And you'll release one every six months, making it seem like you never stop writing? Like Stephen King?
Rick Griffin: It's not that extensive. This just happened to be the most complete story that I felt I could "finish" and which I haven't planned to turn into a much, much larger story. I originally wrote this story for my final Fiction Writing class in college.
Isiah Jacobs: So, how many stories do you have locked away? I like to keep tabs on all my guests. I need to know how many mind controlling books they plan to release.
Rick Griffin: Well let me pull up my file here . . . Of the short stories I have at least started to some significant degree and haven't published (for money, anyway) there's about 8. Three of those I have put on DA and/or FA. I have a fairly popular short story "Sissthra" which I plan on making into a novel, Snakes Conquer Earth.
Isiah Jacobs: Is that one going to star Samuel L. Jackson?
Rick Griffin: I think it would be poor showing on my part to not reference Snakes on a Plane at least once. I don't think the Jackson stand-in will do very well, though, considering the snakes are roughly fifteen feet long and have arms and super weapons. I have another short story the premise of which I find great called "Dragonskin" which I'd also like to turn into a novel, though I'm not particularly sure how to manage it yet.
The other story I wrote for said class, "My Brother The Dragon", I would also like to clean up at some point but I'm not quite sure how long it needs to be or if I need to alter the setting in any way as it was quite a bit sparser and more vague than I prefer.
Other than those short stories, I have several that I have finished/started from NaNoWriMo, such as Book of Changes (which I am retitling to Escape this World and begin working on after I am finished with HIOR), Blasphemer's Prayer, Housepets! An Infinitesimally Brief History of the World, and Dungeoneers, which was scrapped for various reasons but I'd still like to do.
Other than those, I have several major projects for series I absolutely need to do, such as the main sequence for In the New Age which will possibly be two sets of trilogies, another sci-fi novel called Nowhere Man, a setting where the ancient Egyptian gods are superheroes called The Last Ennead, a ridiculously large fantasy setting called Empires, etc.
Rick Griffin: No, that'd be a standalone novel. I'm not entirely sure how much I can salvage from the NaNoWriMo version of it because it's still difficult for me to pin down what I'm trying to do with it, and subsequently how it should be organized.
Isiah Jacobs: I'm going to have to bleach my mouth for saying this, but I am personally excited at the idea of a Housepets! novel. But anyways, let's actually get to the reason why you are here today.
Ten-Thousand Miles Up. I'm going to assume that is a drug reference. How much did you have to smoke to get that high?
Rick Griffin: That's not really a question about the story, much less the title . . .
Isiah Jacobs: I'll just say a lot. So, this is another science fiction story, but this one takes places in space, and has pirates in it. Why pirates?
Rick Griffin: Well, because when I started by considering what story I wanted to write, I settled on a Space Opera. Space Operas often have space pirates, and space pirates are fun so I ran with it. In general, a lot of my initial ideas on the plot for this story was to make something exciting and suspenseful. Pirates have a way of injecting those qualities into a story.
Isiah Jacobs: Were you influenced at all by the Pirates of the Caribbean films?
Rick Griffin: No; Pirates has a premise of pirates-are-free, which I don't attempt to convey. I more gleaned off of actual Space Opera stories, like Titan A.E. and Ice Pirates. Both of which are stories where the pirates in question want to settle down, not continue being pirates for whatever reason. It's also a bit more like Treasure Island in that regard.
Isiah Jacobs: Ok, I was really hoping that you would mention that! Treasure Island is the most classic pirate themed novel! You have no idea how much more I would have despised you for that!
Rick Griffin: Hey, I can take ideas from classic lit but I also have no qualms about taking ideas from campy movies too.
Isiah Jacobs: So there wasn't a particular character that inspired the way Sinon acted? Like Captain Jack Sparrow?
Rick Griffin: No, Jack Sparrow would be too distinct to copy directly. In general I wrote Sinon to just be a sleazebag.
Isiah Jacobs: Like when he's first introduced! That was an awesome introduction scene! As far as furry literature goes. Now, this time around, I didn't really find a whole lot of hidden themes, like in Argo, but I'll tell you what I did find. The geroo are essentially kangaroos, is that correct?
Rick Griffin: Yes
Isiah Jacobs: HUZZAH!
Isiah Jacobs: And the ringel are raccoons?
Rick Griffin: Yes! Two for two! Both species are so named for obvious reasons. Now, the krakun are very obviously dragons. But why the name krakun?
Rick Griffin: Well it's just a derivative of 'dragon'. I was going to do with drakun, thought that was too on-the-nose then changed the initial consonant to also be a k.
Isiah Jacobs: All it did was remind me of a giant squid. But I'm not here to question why you wrote what you wrote. Only to criticize it.
So, in a nutshell, briefly explain what this story is all about, please. So that those unfamiliar with your work can get an idea of it.
Rick Griffin: I despise having to explain my work but I'll try. Basically you have this deep-space ship that's crewed by a slave race, the geroo, to a dominant species the krakun. Their mission is to find planets suitable for terraforming. Because normal travel in space takes a very long time, they have a 'gate' built into the ship that opens a portal to another gate, allowing for instantaneous travel--so long as they gates are already in place. Anyway, as they approach this planet, some pirates hail the slave ship and make a deal with the geroo to steal the top-secret terraformer technology from their masters.
Isiah Jacobs: And the geroo are actually looking for planets habitable for the krakun. As I understand it, the krakun are in charge of a company called Planetary Acquisitions, but they weren't always the owners, is that true?
Rick Griffin: No, it always was a krakun company.
Isiah Jacobs: So, in the beginning, in reference to decommissioning a program, is it talking about the terraforming program?
Rick Griffin: Not the whole program, just the branch that built 'slave ships' to do the task.
Isiah Jacobs: Alright, that was just a small part that was a little confusing. So, any more hidden meanings with the names of the characters?
Rick Griffin: Nope.
Isiah Jacobs: Well then, that brings to mind another question. This is something that is not only prevalent in TTMU, but also HIOR: new names for certain species and exotic names of individuals. What's your reasoning for this?
Rick Griffin: Well the problem lies in if I say "they are kangaroos" then someone not familiar with furry will go "Like, kangaroo kangaroos? From Australia?" Whereas the geroo are aliens and not from Space Australia, their design is only based on kangaroos because that's what I wanted.
For HIOR, it's different; it's a fablesque sci-fi setting where you have both the characters and animals they are based on in the same world; therefore in order to avoid confusion I don't use their animal names, though with the final iteration I decided to go with names that are similar to but lexically different from the actual animals they are based on.
As for exotic names for individuals, I try for some manner of immersion when it comes to sci-fi settings, and so character names roughly correspond to the language they would be speaking, not English.
Isiah Jacobs: Well, now that I think about it. Ateri kinda sound like how an Australian would pronounce artery. So I'm going to assume that's the language they speak. The lore of this universe has an interesting way of naming planets, in that it's named after their species, followed by -tec. For example. Krakuntec. Is there any particular reason for this type of naming?
Rick Griffin: This was largely for its sound and feel. Camp sci-fi has a habit of naming planets and/or important individuals with an -or/-tor suffix, if not overuse the letter k, for instance, so I decided to go with something you didn't normally see, making a suffix that ends in c. C is very much the same as k in many circumstances, and yet it is maligned because it doesn't appear imposing.
Isiah Jacobs: So, the C is supposed to make the planet sound nice? A planet where a bunch of giant dragons have enslaved all of the nearby races doesn't sound very nice.
Rick Griffin: Not sound nice, just sound different. I don't like beating "evil" into the heads of the audience by making the "evil" language overuse glottal sound and open vowels. "Krakun" is an example of such a word, but the villainess's name, Pokokuro, sounds almost playful despite using those same sounds.
I don't like painting someone's role in the story solely by their trappings. Such things work in small doses, but it ought to be the character's actions that convince the reader of how they should be considered.
Isiah Jacobs: Sort of like how offended Sinon is when he walks in on Ateri and Jakari doing it in a closet.
Rick Griffin: Having Sinon react like that was in part to make it slightly removed from a "general furry" throughline, where all species are sexually interested in all other species. It might be fantasy, but sexual behavior patterns don't really work like that.
Isiah Jacobs: I think Sinon would make for a great Republican Candidate. So, without giving too much away, the geroo, especially Ateri, are made out to be underestimatedly brilliant. Is this one of you ways of subverting ideas of a certain animal? Like what we discussed last time?
Rick Griffin: Partly. I think kangaroos get the short end of the stick when it comes to animal stereotypes; they're a little dopey and are surprisingly good fighters and that's about it. In some cases it's fine to go with certain stereotypes; in this I do stick to raccoon stereotypes and dragon stereotypes, but they're displaced from the 'animal' side. Dragons are overly greedy and interested in wealth, but they channel it by owning major corporations.
Isiah Jacobs: And the ringel being sly and devious and sticking to the shadows?
Rick Griffin: Yeah; I do lean on animal stereotypes to convey some information such as that, but don't use them as hard-set rules.
Isiah Jacobs: So, the the main character, Ateri, seems to be very resilient and stubborn in his motives. I mean, he's been punished twice before for attempting to coordinates with pirates. The first time he received 100 lashings, the second he had his eye gouged out. That takes a lot of balls to even consider a third attempt. Was there a specific inspiration for Ateri's character?
Rick Griffin: In particular, no; I tend to think of him as an archetype. He's straightforward, no-nonsense and will sacrifice himself to get what he needs. A lot of ship captains in fiction tend to be like that, though I think a lot of writers miss the 'sacrifice himself' part, usually because they're writing to serials.
Isiah Jacobs: So you view ship captains as the Jesuses of the Sea?
Rick Griffin: Well if you want to take it that far then anyone who sacrifices himself for others is Jesus, but I just see it as something the good characters need to do. It's just better from an emotional standpoint when the character puts his life on the line and has history or evidence to back it up.
Isiah Jacobs: I don't like evidence, it has all these "facts." We're told we are creatures of evolution, I'm not buying it. I prefer to stick to the truth. Now, another really interesting thing I noticed about Ateri is that he is deceiving, cunning, and treasonous. All of the traits of an actual pirate. He even wears an eye patch! Was this intentional?
Rick Griffin: Yes. He is meant to be on par with the pirates, because the idea is that noble ideals don't always have noble appearances.
Isiah Jacobs: I agree! Before I let you go, how has HIOR been coming along? Close to finishing it?
Rick Griffin: I have it mostly lined up but it's still going to take a while because I have other must-finish projects to do first
Isiah Jacobs: Are they top secret?
Rick Griffin: No, one is just a big art commission, and the other is filing my taxes.
Isiah Jacobs: Oh! Well just be sure to use that for the right reasons! Like blowing it all on useless artistic crap like food! Thank you so much for joining me, sir! The story's called Ten-Thousand Miles Up and it's available now on Smashwords and Amazon! [Preview parts one, two, three and four.]