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INTERVIEW: Jon Armstrong on Fashionpunk

Jon Armstrong grew up outside Seattle, State College, PA., and Columbia, Maryland. His first book, Grey (avaliable as a free eBook download), was published by Nightshade Books in 2007, and its followup, Yarn, was released earlier this year. You can stay in touch with Jon through his website (jonarmstrong.com and Twitter (as @Jon_Armstrong)

Recently, we had a chance to speak with Jon about science fiction fashion, writing and his works.


SF Signal: Hi Jon, thanks for taking the time to talk with us. How did you come to begin writing science fiction?

Jon Armstrong: I spent more than two decades working on various novel-length projects without success. My modus operandi was write a draft, celebrate for a few moments, reread it, hate it, and then start another. That’s how it went for except for one project. It began in the early 80s as a short story and over time I expanded it. Then every year or so I would returned to it. Sometimes I would get excited by the language, the imagery, or the world and I would take it in a new direction. I don’t know how many times rewrote Grey, but each time I pushed it a little farther along. I think the difference was that the science fiction world I invented was fun and freeing, where most of my other more mainstream projects ended up boring or constraining me.


SFS: Where did Grey, and later, Yarn, come from? Are there any particular influences?

JA: One of the biggest influences was my Junior year spent abroad. I was a suburban kid and the combination of an urban space, a foreign land, and the high-tech world of Japan seemed exactly like a version of the future. While I flew there with dreams of Kurosawa’s samurai, the tea ceremony, and bonsai, I returned with an appreciation for vast cultural differences, the plasticity of the future, the cult of gadget, and a love of quality.

SFS: Your debut novel, Grey, and your latest novel, Yarn, has been called ‘Fashionpunk’ science fiction: what exactly is Fashionpunk?

JA: I must admit, if I invented Fashionpunk– and I don’t remember– I’m sorry I did. While it gives a quick handle for my first two novels–they’re not cyber nor are they punk. Oh well.

SFS: Why fashion, over something like computers, gadgets, or other types of technology?

JA: I developed an interest in fashion while an exchange student in Japan. Needing a coat, I found a store whose inventory was black and white clothing as contrasted with much of the garish, neon, costume-like clothing that dominates the press coverage of Japanese fashion. Through discussions with the owner or the store, I became aware of how much technology and engineering is behind the scenes. When in New York City after college I followed up this interest by taking courses in fashion history, technology, and design at the Fashion Institute of Technology. When it came to writing scifi, I suppose the old adage applied: Write what you know.

SFS: Both novels have a particular zany style to the world-building – it’s almost as if commercialism has run rampant and completely crazy – how do you think culture will be down the road?

JA: Wait, you don’t think our culture has run rampant and completely crazy now? All right, a little more seriously… When working on Grey and Yarn, I kept asking myself how can I push this farther? Vladimir Nabokov used to say that real writing begins with the seventh rewrite and I suppose in a way I was trying to get to the seventh level of speculation. By pushing my intuition on top of other layers of intuition, I felt like I was reaching something that won’t exist for a while. For example, if I thought of something like a word pairing or a product name, I would Google it. Many of these things that I assumed I had just invented were already ether real or someone had written them on a page or two here and there. When I found only a few references, I felt I was onto something! If the idea was just now becoming conscious, it was my job to take it farther and build my world over that edge.

Whether I’m successful in predicting anything wasn’t the goal, but it was an exercise in imagination. Having put out my disclaimer, I sit in fear for the future I have wrought.

SFS: Yarn plays out over two time lines, a present day, and a flashback. Why go that route?

JA: The two times serve and warp and weft of a woven piece of cloth. Their intersections, the way in which they work toward and against each other create the story. That sounds pretty damn clever! I wished I’d thought of that before! The truth is that I had tons and tons of back story and carved it down as much as I could. I was a little surprised that others haven’t complained that the book actually ends in the past, which in a way completely changes everything we’ve just seen in the present.

SFS: Yarn also felt quite a bit more toned down from Grey – it felt a bit more serious, more focused, without losing some of the fun – was this a deliberate thing, or just a natural evolution of your writing?

JA: The protagonists of the books and their lives served as the source of the book tones. Although Michael Rivers in Grey wants to have a calm, serene, grey existence, he is born of spectacle and can never leave it. Tane Cedar of Yarn comes from complete obscurity and is much more measured and deliberate.

SFS: What do you have coming up next?

JA: I’m working on several projects, one of which is Loom, the third in the “Grey Series“. I hope this one will be a wild ride on its own, and also link the two books Yarn and Grey. I am also working on… get ready for it… a FoodPunk novel. Which is set in the same world as Grey and Yarn, but takes place mainly in a gourmet fast food restaurant mentioned in Yarn, Melancholy Mouse Burger. I’m also working on a murder mystery and a young adult apocalyptic trilogy. Oh, and I’ve got a short story about the world of skin care (SkinPunk) coming out in September in F&SF Magazine.

About Andrew Liptak (180 Articles)
Andrew Liptak is a freelance writer and historian from Vermont. He is a 2014 graduate of the Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop, and has written for such places as Armchair General, io9, Kirkus Reviews, Lightspeed Magazine, and others. His first book, War Stories: New Military Science Fiction is now out from Apex Publications, and his next, The Future Machine: The Writers, Editors and Readers who Build Science Fiction is forthcoming from Jurassic London in 2015. He can be found over at www.andrewliptak.com and at @AndrewLiptak on Twitter.
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