Interview: Author Steven Boyett Has Quite A Story Of His Own
Lisa Duncan Photography
Steven Boyett has a story to tell.
Ask the writer how he made his way from Florida to Los Angeles and he weaves a tale of feeling adrift and getting a lifeline from the man who wrote “The Trouble with Tribbles” episode of the original Star Trek television series.
When talking about learning to play the didgeridoo, Steven tells about meeting Tuvan throat singers, wanting to combine didgeridoo and electronic music and how that led him to become a DJ and podcast pioneer.
On his website, Steven describes himself as “The world's greatest left-handed didgeridoo-playing science fiction & fantasy writer and DJ.”
“I’m also a hobbyist bar tender,” he says with a grin. “When you don’t have a day job, it’s kind of amazing what opens up.”
Steven wrote his first book, Ariel, at age 19. “I’m known for gritty, reality-based science fiction with a post-apocalyptic vision.”
His Mortality Bridge won the Emperor Norton Award for best novel by a Bay Area writer in 2011. He and friend Ken Mitchroney co-authored his most recent book, Fata Morgana, a World War II/science fiction novel that was published in June. “It’s basically a time travel story,” Steven says.
A bitter experience with a movie studio, a searing rejection from an agent and a low-paying temp job shape the storyline that led Steven to abandon his writing career in 2000. He returned to writing a few years later when an idea came to him that he couldn't ignore.
Steven moved to Benicia in 2011 after more than 30 years in Los Angeles. “For about the last five years there, I wanted to start getting out. It was incredibly expensive.” His friend and co-author Ken, a Martinez resident, suggested looking at Benicia.
Steven, 56, now lives in Vallejo and is working on his next book, Avalon Burning.
Why did you leave Florida after your first book was published? I felt like I was treading water—I either needed to go to Manhattan where book publishing is or to LA where the movie industry is.
I wrote friends in New York and friends in LA—this was before email so you had to actually write letters. One of the people I knew was David Gerrold, who wrote “The Trouble with Tribbles” episode of Star Trek. David wrote me back and said, “I think you are drowning out there. I think you need to leave.” He said he was coming to Epcot in three weeks and offered to haul a trailer back to LA for me. …
I only had one moment when I questioned what I was doing—one night in Texas. But I got to LA and I was crazy about it. I was right at home the second I got there.
What convinced you to learn to play the didgeridoo? Didgeridoo saved my life somehow (when he was battling a movie studio, being rejected by an agent and working a temp job). …
This all happened within two weeks and it made me start questioning myself. … I didn’t know if I could continue to do something that was either going to make me crazy or keep me broke all the time. I was in my mid-30s and I kind of lost faith in myself. So I stopped writing. At that time, I meant I was done with this. …
My friend Ken said, “You need a hobby—something you do because you like it.” I’d always wanted to learn to play the didgeridoo. I played like I was in Metallica, not in the traditional way.
What’s the link between the didgeridoo and becoming a DJ? My girlfriend at the time and I loved to go to clubs, and I was in love with the dance culture. I heard FatBoy Slim’s “Song for Shelter,” and I wanted more of that. … I had no musical training but I wanted to record didgeridoo over electronic music. …
Ken taught me not to be a fan, but be at the core of it. He told me to meet people who are the best at what they do, that they will talk to you out of love of the thing. When you meet someone who loves what they’re doing, you can talk to them all day and it’s always exciting and new. …
I wanted to see how music was structurally composed, so I learned to DJ. I don’t learn things well—I scream and yell, “Why is it like that?” My friend Adrian, who’s a DJ, taught me and was very patient. …When I say I’m a writer and a DJ, people think I’m a wedding DJ and I have to explain that’s not what I do. As a club DJ, you guide the night. I played some amazing places: Hard Rock Café in Las Vegas,
Burning Man, the Derby in LA. The experience is shaped by what’s going on with the crowd, and the DJ is leading that crowd. It’s like you have mosaic tiles that you arrange in a picture that’s only going to exist that one time.
Making a room crazy is amazing. But then the podcasts got going and I got so busy. I haven’t pursued it lately.
What convinced you to channel your love of electronic music into podcasts? My girlfriend was a runner and workout instructor, and I did these mixes for her runs. I asked her if anyone else would be interested in these, and she asked me if I had any idea how much she would pay for them.
Podcasts were brand-new when I started “Podrunner” in 2006. The fixed beats allow for an even distribution of your energy as you run. That’s part of the reason it took off. … I started it and the website crashed within a few days because demand was so high.
I didn’t have permission to use any of the music, and I began to get worried that I was going to get sued. I got all the permissions sorted out and so I had a brand-new career that I wasn’t prepared to do. Someone told me, “Only you would find a way to be a DJ and never play in front of anyone.”
Ken told me I needed a hobby and I ended up having a career out of this. … I have two podcasts: Podrunner and Grooveletric, which is more my taste in music. Podrunner was the first thing like it in podcasting.
I was literally one of the first people to make a living with podcasts.
Are you a runner? I hate running. I used to run three miles a night, but I’m not built for running. But I’ve done it a lot and I get it. Other workouts work better for me.
Why did you return to writing? I went about 4 to 5 years without writing, but one day I had an idea of magic as software, which is how I think of physics. Physics is the magic that is the software for the universe. It’d be like you were recoding the laws of the universe. …
I realized I could choose to write, that I’m not compelled to write. The weird thing about that stretch when I was composing is that it was the happiest period of my life. … It means when I write now, it’s volitional.
I think I’m a born writer. … I’ve quit jobs, I’ve lived on popcorn and not paid rent—I’ve ruined my life for a book. I don’t think I’d do that anymore. There’s a writer in me who would do it again, but I’ve torn my life up to write things, and I’ve not written them and been very happy.
I think I chew everything until the flavor is gone. I’m very analytical.
What do you do to relax? I don’t know how to relax. I’m the worst at vacations in the world. I bitch that I don’t want to go, that I don’t have time. I take two days to decompress, then a day later I’m saying I want to go home.
What’s next for you? I want to finish “Avalon Burning” and I’m having an app done for Podrunner. I had one, but an IOS upgrade broke it and it costs so much money for app development.
Now is the time in life where it’s easy to coast – I don’t have concrete objectives. I’d like to do some thinking about that.