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Stoney Compton
conducted by Toni Weisskopf
 
March 2007

Stoney Compton has had novelettes and short stories published in Universe 1, Tomorrow, and Writers of the Future. He is Senior Graphic Artist for a Bellevue, Washington company, and has worked as a visual information specialist for NOAA, a graphic  artist for the Alaska Dept. of Fish & Game, and KTOO-TV, PBS for Juneau, and a staff artist for a weekly newspaper. He was born in Nebraska, lived 31 years in Alaska, and now lives north of Seattle with his wife, Colette, and six cats.

For Stoney, writing is just one of many ways he has of expressing creativity. “I have always been creative. When I could not afford to keep my printmaking studio in Juneau (another bust in Alaska’s boom & bust cycle) in 1987, I fidgeted for about a month and then bought a computer on time payments and started writing fiction. Although I had taken a couple of creative writing courses in college, I pretty much learned by reading and having others read my work. That takes awhile but you learn just the same.”

Now that he’s started writing, Stoney’s come to appreciate the benefits. “First and foremost is the license to tell the most fantastic stories you can conceive, and people read them and ask for more. That’s just awesome! Second is getting to meet people whose work I have read for years, and be accepted by them as a fellow writer. I must admit that I often feel like an imposter when in the company of people who have won awards or whose ‘day job’ is actually writing for a living.”

Stoney’s first exposure to science fiction came early and in school. “I grew up (mostly) in Nebraska. But at age 12 my mother hauled my sister and me out to California to help out her only sister (she also had 5 brothers). I went to the 6th grade in Azusa, and our teacher, Mrs. Steinbeck (to this day I wonder if she was related to John), would read to the whole class from the huge book, A Treasury of Science Fiction. Until that time I had no idea there were written works of sf out there – I thought you only found it in movies. Then my mother moved us back to Nebraska and the first book I found in the school library with the little rocket on the spine was Rocket Ship Galileo. I became an instant Heinlein fanatic and, like many others, wish I could find something new of his on the bookshelf.”

Some of his favorites outside the genre include: “Stephen E. Ambrose, Richard K. Nelson, John Steinbeck, John Dos Passos, Michael Shaara, Owen Parry, James Lee Burke, Gore Vidal, A. B. Guthrie, Jr., James Warner Bellah, David McCullough, Shelby Foote, Walter Lord, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Walter Prescott Webb, W.P. Kinsella, Clair Huffaker, Barbara Tuchman, and Tony Hillerman, just to name a few. I have read every book I could find by the authors just listed and avidly seek titles I have missed.”

While Stoney is naturally “nocturnal,” he has to adjust his writing career around his day job. “In a perfect world I would get up about 9AM, do the chores the day demands, and then about 5pm start writing. After I left Alaska I was unemployed in Colorado for six months (difficult place for someone over 50 to find a job) and often would write from late afternoon to 4 or 5 in the morning. Unfortunately my present circumstance forces me to rise at 0430 and catch my van pool at 0530. If I’m lucky, I get home around 5PM and start writing about 8PM. I’m usually in bed by 10. I live for the weekends.”

Stoney confesses he loves all his characters, “even the assholes. But I tend to feel more kindly toward my female characters. That’s probably because the two most influential people in my life were my mother, Maxine, and my Great Aunt Maisie. They were both tough, enduring women who got out there and did what had to be done. My mother earned her GED at the age of 58, so you can imagine the scope of opportunity she had while raising my sister and me. There’s a little bit of both of them in every female character I create, protagonist and antagonist alike.”

The invention or scientific leap in understanding he’d most like to see made in his lifetime is “the safe, accurate use of nanotechnology in the health field. The ability to rebuild body parts rather than cut and paste, from brain damage to eyes and fingers.” The characters in Russian Amerika sure could have used that!

Stoney feels it’s not quite fair to ask what single event in history he’d like to watch as a spectator.  “What a terrible question to ask a history freak! I was on a panel at NorWesCon a couple years ago and the same question was asked of the panelists. The Canadian fellow sitting beside me (sorry, can’t conjure his name at the moment) spoke first and completely trumped my wish to hear Abraham Lincoln’s Cooper Union speech. But I agreed with him: to go back 2,000 years and talk a certain carpenter’s son out of his mission by explaining exactly what happened on down the time line. Not only did his zealotry produce the Christian religions, but also the Muslim, and any number of offshoots – all of which are at each other’s throats today. If you could extract the concept of mass religion from politics, we might have a pretty sane world. I realize I’m stepping on a multitude of toes here, but you asked.” I don’t agree with Stoney, but he doesn’t think small, does he?

Russian Amerikais an alternate history novel and I wondered why he picked that particular genre of sf. “I have been an American history freak since age 8. That’s when I started reading biographies and treatises on various wars. My father, many of my uncles, and most of the adult men I knew as a child were World War II veterans, although none of them would talk about it. My family has worn the uniform all the way back to Ethan Allen, who, according to my Great Aunt Maisie, was a distant cousin. My great-great-grandfather was in the 5th Wisconsin during the Civil War (and got court-martialed for calling his captain a “shit-ass kid”; when I read that I knew we were related!). I love the idea of history being a long, connected line extending from me and mine all the way back through time. I read “If The South Had Won The Civil War” by McKinley Kantor when it was first published in the Saturday Evening Post in 1959. The thought of second guessing history had never occurred to me (keep in mind; I grew up in Nebraska), and the idea of extrapolating from any given instant by just changing a small thing really appealed (and still appeals) to my imagination. I have written a number of novels and one of them is an historical novel about Alaska from 1915 to 1917. Spent 11 years, off and on, writing the thing. Since it came out at about 187,000 words, nobody would read it because I was an unknown. Treadwell will see print one of these days. But I enjoy writing alternate history because I get to play with events that shape millions of lives. I just hope I pull it off in a believable manner.

The key events of Russian Amerika take place in Alaska, an unusual setting for an sf novel. I asked him what about Alaska made him want to write about it. “Everything. I spent the majority (so far!) of my adult life in Alaska. I went up for the summer when I was 21 and left 31 years later, mainly because my mother was dying of cancer in Colorado and I wanted to be near her for whatever time she had left. But beyond that, I was tired of winter. But I think it’s fair to say that Alaska defined me. I grew up there; married, had kids, had a divorce, had lovers, tried everything from living in the boonies to living on a houseboat. I worked at whatever came along (everyone in Alaska does for at least a while) until I found what proved to be my most negotiable skill: graphic arts. Living north of Fairbanks my first winter gave me the germ of what became Russian Amerika. When you walk ten miles home after work at night and it’s 40 below zero, you have time to indulge your imagination. Then, years later – after getting a bachelor’s degree, I was fortunate enough to get hired by the Tanana Chiefs Health Authority. After two years of working with and for the Athabascan people I had an entirely new perspective on life. I’m not saying I embraced their lifestyle or went to live in a village (although I was offered a chance, but that’s another story). But I received a different way of looking at life and time. Indian Time is a reality that makes superb sense. Basically it boils down to: “If you don’t get it done today, there’s always tomorrow.” I have a profound respect and admiration for the Dena’ People and it seemed obvious to me to give them the best parts of my novel. My biggest fear is that they won’t like it!

As a first novelist, I wondered if the Baen on-line community affected his work. “Yes and no. Eric put Russian Amerika online for his reader’s group to critique. They helped me a lot, and I love them for it! But I wasn’t aware of how extensive the Bar was until Walt Boyes turned me onto it at WorldCon last year. I appreciate the Barflies, mainly because they will tell you what they think and if you don’t like it: tough! We’re very simpatico there.”

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