Due to my love of the work of Edgar Rich Burroughs, I came across Scott’s novel, Return to Barsoom and fell in love with it. Thankfully, Scott has agreed to share more about his work and his insights as an author here on No Wasted Ink.
My name is Scott Dutton. I primarily practice as an art director/graphic designer. I have considerable experience in magazines, and currently work in marketing in a corporate environment. Outside of that, I am one of the many designers moving to ebooks as part of the future of publishing. I intend to create and design my own written/illustrated works, as well as providing packaging services to authors that understand the business advantage quality design brings to the marketplace.
When and why did you begin writing?
Storytelling has always been central to my life. I was fascinated with the science fiction and fantasy television shows of the 60s and 70s, Star Trek, Irwin Allen’s shows, and so on and that led directly into comic books. I started drawing and creating my own stories to entertain myself, and showed a talent for writing that was encouraged by teachers. It wasn’t until I got into my early teens that I began writing and drawing my own comics.
I went to art school for my training in design and illustration, and throughout my 20s worked part-time in comics, but was not overly successful at it. It wasn’t until I self-published my own work as part of the small press that I found my voice. During this time, I also did straight prose work, but lacked the focus to finish anything substantial.
Can you share a little about your current book with us?
Return to Barsoom was one of those projects started in my early 20s. I worked on it off and on for about 20 years, finally finishing it in 2009. It served two purposes, bringing my ideas to Burroughs’ world and to demonstrate my design capabilities to the emerging ebook design market.
What inspired you to write this book?
I very much loved reading Burroughs’ books, beginning with Tarzan of the Apes when I was 12. Later, I read the John Carter of Mars series and the bulk of his other works. By far, I felt his best concepts and a continuing freshness were found in the Mars series.
As I talk about on the book’s page on my site I loved the books, and it’s natural if you immerse yourself in that world to think about what you might do with it if you made it your own. There are a lot of pastiches out there that play out very closely to how Burroughs’ thought of the world. They choose to be reverential to the original stories. That’s a valid approach. For myself, I thought that would be a bit constraining and unremarkable at that time.
We’re now a hundred years beyond the society that created John Carter of Mars, and much of how we view our place in the world has changed. I describe Burroughs’ approach as colonial fiction; the virtuous western man will invariably rise to the top over other cultures. In Tarzan, it was over the apes and black African culture. In John Carter, it is the decaying and warring factions of red and green men.
Having come of age in the latter part of the 20th century, I think we now know the myth of western superiority, or at least we should.
That fit in with what we know about the real Mars. If you start from the position that we’ve lost contact with Mars since the 1940s (the last Burroughs story), and we know our Mars is a cold, desolate place, it brings some mystery and a chance to discover what happened since then for new and old readers alike. It also allows me as a writer to reset that world’s culture and assumptions. That was what inspired me: how could I respect what Burroughs had created, while bringing a modern or post-modern reality to how we think of people. What does an adventure story look like when you apply that to it?
Did you need any special permissions in order to write a story based on the Barsoom series by Edgar Rice Burroughs?
If I was intending to commercialize my Barsoom books, yes, but there are no restrictions in writing your own versions to be distributed freely. There’s a long tradition of fan fiction, and as long as you’re not taking a bite out of the rights holders’ pie, they’re likely to leave you alone. By comparison, Dynamite Comics is being sued for unfair competition with their Tarzan and Mars comics. And as far as I know, Simon & Schuster haven’t come under fire yet for their original Under the Moons of Mars collection.
I prefer to play things pretty straight, and see myself falling somewhere between fan fiction and a published book. While I own the rights to my story and the original characters created for it, I wouldn’t try to monetize my Barsoom work unless I worked out a licensing agreement with Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc. first.
How did you come up with the title of this book?
It comes from the lead character’s desire for the simpleness of youthful adventure before the weight of adulthood levels most of us.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I very much believe in Roland Barthe’s idea of the death of the author. Once I was done writing the book and said what I wanted to say, I no longer mattered. What the reader sees in it and takes away from it is entirely up to them and has its own validity.
If you had to choose, is there a writer would you consider a mentor?
I was inspired by a number of authors over the years. They’re listed in the dedication to the book.
Who designed the cover of your book? Why did you select this illustrator?
I designed it myself, using a JPL/NASA image as a base. I chose this very specifically over the traditional science fiction/fantasy style painting to clearly show I was making a break from the romantic past and Burroughs’ style. I don’t think we need that illusion anymore, and the cover sets the stage for creating a new perception of what Barsoom can be.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Write regularly. Observe everything. Be engaged in the world, not just a genre. Understand your times and the path history took to get us here. Write from your heart and guts. Find your own voice. People are motivated ultimately by their emotions and you must be true to how people act and react.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Comments and criticism are always welcome, especially so when I’m not directly making a living off writing adventure stories.
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Writing adventure fiction that respects the past while taking it into the future.
Published by Catspaw Dynamics (my design and publishing trade name)
Scott Dutton designed the cover, sourcing a JPL/NASA image of Mars.
You may download the book for free here: Return to Barsoom