Ken Scholes moves with a big man's grace. He's an unassuming fellow hailing from the deeply wooded shadows of Mt. Rainier in Washington State on the verge of one of the strongest literary debuts in the recent history of fantasy and science fiction with his novel, Lamentation, coming out from Tor Books.

The first book in the five-volume Psalms of Isaak series, Lamentation is a sweeping epic fantasy that begins with the mysterious destruction of Windwir, the great scholarly city of the Named Lands, and chronicles the Lands' descent into warfare, terror and eventual redemption. Advance praise from renowned authors Orson Scott Card, Harry Turtledove and Jonathan Strahan has set the stage for Scholes to step into the shoes of the late James Rigney (1948—2007), aka Robert Jordan, whose blockbuster Wheel of Time series anchored Tor's fantasy line for most of two decades.

Scholes, 40, is a successful short story writer who first rocked the science fiction world with the story “Edward Bear and the Very Long Walk,” which appeared in the spring 2001 issue of Talebones magazine. Five years later, with many more published stories, Scholes sent “Of Metal Men and Scarlet Thread and Dancing with the Sunrise” to Shawna McCarthy at Realms of Fantasy, a leading magazine in the genre. McCarthy bought it and told Scholes, “Go write a novel using the characters in this world.” The result was Lamentation.

For his first draft, Scholes used a colored font for the original text from “Of Metal Men” and other (unsold) Named Lands stories so he could see where he'd interpolated new material. “At the time, I thought it was a very clever notion,” he says. “I'd planned four short stories interconnected around the desolation of Windwir and the Androfrancine metal man Isaak. And when you put all of the titles together, they formed a rhyming stanza. Which of course, I can't remember now.” Eventually, Lamentation became more of a traditional novel, well suited to the current market for epic fantasy.

Lamentation draws extensively from Scholes's personal history and the contemporary American experience. “The central image of the original short story,” Scholes explains, “is Isaak, the mechanical man, weeping in a blast crater, surrounded by the ruins of the holy city Windwir. The city was destroyed in an anonymous act of terror. The world is falling apart while everyone tries to understand why.”

A strong religious thread runs through all of Scholes's work. Today he's a genial humanist agnostic, but in his teens he was a preacher and a touring gospel musician. He enlisted in the army in 1985, while still in high school. “I preached my first sermon at 17 in a tiny Baptist church in Wilkeson, Wash.,” he says. “While I was in the army in Europe, I also did some preaching there, at both English- and German-speaking churches, where I spoke through a translator. When I left the military, I became a youth minister before getting my own congregation in Bellingham, Wash. I was a somewhat Pentecostal Baptist. So I now have glossolalia in my novels—speaking in tongues, prophetic utterances.”

The second Psalms of Isaak novel, Canticle, is now in production for a fall 2009 release, while Scholes, five-book deal comfortably locked in, works on book three, Antiphon. Having developed the world of the Named Lands in great detail, he seems ready to make it his literary home. “I'm also planning more books set in the Named Lands before and after this particular series of events,” Scholes says. “I'm looking forward to having readers digging deeper into that world and its people with me, playing with the mythology and the history.”

Expectations are high for Lamentation, and in October Fairwood Press released Scholes's short story collection Long Walks, Last Flights, and Other Strange Journeys to capitalize on the excitement. Even so, Scholes has a smalltown boy's tendency to demur. “This still makes me blush,” he says. “I guess something worked.”

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Award-winning writer Jay Lake's novel Green is due out from Tor Books in 2009.