Interview with Hugo and Nebula award-winning author Robert J. Sawyer

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: I’m pleased to be interviewing one of my favorite writers, Robert J. Sawyer! Mr. Sawyer has won 51 awards for his fiction, including the Hugo and the Nebula, and the top science-fiction awards in Canada, China, France, Japan, and Spain, plus an Arthur Ellis Award from the Crime Writers of Canada. 220px-Robert_j_sawyer_in_2005The ABC TV series “Flashforward” was based on his novel of the same name. His physical home is in Toronto, and his online home is here!

The big news is that your 22nd novel RED PLANET BLUES has just been released. It’s a detective novel set on Mars done in the noir style, first person and everything. What made you want to write this?

ROBERT J. SAWYER: It’s become increasingly hard to tell traditional detective stories set in the present day. Everyone knows about CSI-style forensics: it’s almost impossible for a killer not to leave behind fingerprints or DNA. And our public and private spaces are increasingly covered by surveillance cameras; there’s almost no room left —- on Earth anyway —- for the traditional whodunit. But RED PLANET BLUES is set on a lawless frontier Mars -— where the security cameras have been smashed —- and it involves a technology that lets people transfer their consciousnesses into gorgeous android bodies, which don’t have fingerprints and don’t shed DNA. But who is actually inside any given body is anyone’s guess, letting me tell a good-old fashioned mystery … out on the final frontier.

VENTRELLA: From the opening chapters, it almost feels as a mixture of various pulp fiction styles. Was that the desire?

SAWYER: Absolutely. “Pulp” shouldn’t be thought of as a dirty word. Two of the most successful commercial fiction genres today are science fiction and mystery, and both have their roots in pulp magazines of the 1920s through 1950s. It seemed natural to bring those two genres together in that particular voice.

VENTRELLA: Was it difficult trying to capture that style of writing?

SAWYER: It was, but it was also very rewarding. Untitled-2 I immersed myself in noir mystery fiction to get the voice right, and Raymond Chandler, one of the fathers of that genre, wrote a very helpful essay entitled “The Simple Art of Murder” in 1950, which he gives lots of advice on how to write that form.

VENTRELLA: In some ways, a good science fiction novel is like a good mystery, although usually the “mystery” involves scientific discovery, doesn’t it?

SAWYER: Yes, indeed. I’ve always felt that science fiction has much more in common with mystery than with fantasy, anyway. Science fiction, after all, is about things that plausibly might happen; fantasy is about things that never could happen —- in that sense, they’re antithetical genres. But science fiction and mystery both prize rational thought, and both ask the reader to carefully pick up the clues the author has salted into the text —- in mystery, of course, to solve the crime, and in science fiction to puzzle out the unfamiliar backdrop against which the story is being told.

VENTRELLA: How did you approach writing a more traditional mystery? Did it require more outlining and preparation, for instance?

SAWYER: Absolutely. Mystery is a very complex narrative form – every piece has to fit together, and in the end it all has to go snick-snick-snick at it falls into place. That requires a lot of planning.

VENTRELLA: This seems like it was a fun novel to write. What novel gave you the most writing pleasure?

SAWYER: I think I enjoyed writing CALCULATING GOD the most; it was an absolute joy to write, in part because it was in a way an alternative version of my own life: I’d originally hoped to become a dinosaur specialist at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum, just like Tom Jericho, the main character in that novel.calculating-god-tp

VENTRELLA: Looking back, do you have a favorite novel (or series)?

SAWYER: My favorite series of mine is the WWW trilogy of WAKE, WATCH, and WONDER, about the World Wide Web gaining consciousness. I loved the range of characters I got to write: blind teenage math genius Caitlin Decter, her autistic father Malcolm Decter, the chimpanzee-bonobo hybrid Hobo, and Webmind itself, the vast world-spanning intelligence.

VENTRELLA: Which of your characters was the hardest for you to create?

SAWYER: Alex Lomax, the protagonist of RED PLANET BLUES because he’s so unlike me. He’s violent, coarse, hard-drinking, uneducated, and a loner; I’m a pacifist, I try to be kind, I don’t drink, I went to university, and I’m gregarious. But for RED PLANET BLUES to work as hardboiled detective fiction, Alex had to have the traits I gave him.

VENTRELLA: What book has surprised you the most upon completion?

SAWYER: TRIGGERS, which has just come out in paperback in North America after a successful run in hardcover. It was unlike any book I’d ever written before -– an out-and-out page-turner thriller. I found it very challenging, but ultimately very rewarding, to write.

VENTRELLA: A common theme in your books involves science versus religion. How do you try to approach that issue without possibly alienating certain readers (or does that come into play at all)?

SAWYER: As a writer, your job isn’t to be blandly acceptable to everyone; it’s to be the favorite author of a narrow segment of the reading public. If I wasn’t alienating some people, I wouldn’t be doing my job. My editor at Tor, David G. Hartwell, used to say to me sometimes, “You know you’re going to lose some readers if you keep that bit in,” and I’d say, “Yes, I understand that,” and we’d both nod and move on. triggers-by-robert-j-sawyer I’m interested in being provocative and in getting people to think about things they perhaps haven’t pondered for years.

VENTRELLA: Here in the US, it seems that religion has trumped science much more than in Canada or Europe, especially in our political fights over creationism in the schools, abortion, and gay rights. Do you think we will ever evolve past religious belief, or will we still be believing a thousand years from now?

SAWYER: I think if we don’t evolve past fundamentalist religious belief, we won’t be here a thousand years from now; it’s fundamentalism that will lead to the wide-scale terrorism at home and abroad. As technology advances, and more and more destructive power is in the hands of individuals, someone will destroy us all, unless we as a species grow up. I tried to portray what that grown-up society might be like in my Hugo Award-winning HOMINIDS and its sequels.

VENTRELLA: Memory – or maybe “consciousness” – seems to be another thread common in your books. Who we are and what we perceive. Do you find that subject comes up subconsciously in your work or do you generally plan stories around that particular theme?

SAWYER: I’ve said that science fiction is the genre of intriguing juxtapositions, and that being a science-fiction writer is the best job for a science generalists – someone who likes to be involved with multiple disciplines. Well, there’s no more multidisciplinary area than consciousness studies, in which neuroscientists, computer scientists, cognitive theorists, quantum physicists, and philosophers all come together and spark off each other. Inner space is far more interesting to me than outer space, and so that’s what I write about.

VENTRELLA: I just finished FLASH FORWARD and noted how it ended with an idea that you later used for ROLLBACK. Had you considered making ROLLBACK a sequel originally, or did you just want to write about immortality in a similar way? fLASHfORWARD

SAWYER: I don’t like sequels. FLASHFORWARD and ROLLBACK both involve radical life prolongation because those are inevitable technologies; it’s going to happen, and if you’re writing about the future you have to acknowledge that. But the two books are unrelated to each other.

VENTRELLA: You’ve written about immortality in various ways in more than one novel. Is this because you’d like to be immortal? Is there something special about the topic that interests you?

SAWYER: What interests me about it is not dying. Sure, I’d like to live a very long time – I’m 52, and haven’t read 1% of the books I’d like to, I haven’t seen even a quarter of this planet (and I travel a lot), there is, rounded to the nearest percent, 100% of the human race I haven’t yet met. More: we still are trying to work out fundamental problems in social interaction, social justice, and international relations -– we’ve been struggling with them for thousands of years. Maybe that’s because, in all those millennia, no problem has ever been worked on for more than a few decades by any one person. We need the time to dig in and solve the really big conundrums; nature’s natural lifespan doesn’t provide enough time -– but science will.

VENTRELLA: How much input did you have in the “Flash Forward” TV series?

SAWYER: Lots. I met with David Goyer and Brannon Braga before I did the deal to let them adapt my book, and we discussed every change they wanted to make. I was consultant on every episode, spent a lot of time on the set and in the writers’ room in Los Angeles, and wrote the 19th episode, “Course Correction.”

VENTRELLA: Do you feel that the action bits they added were necessary for a TV audience and an on-going series? Did they distract too much from the story?

SAWYER: Sure, they were necessary for the TV audience. That’s why we added them. A novel can be cerebral -– people talking about ideas, or thinking about them without doing or saying anything -– but TV is a visual medium: things have to be happening constantly on screen or viewers turn away. As for distraction from the story, not at all: we had more story beats, more continuing characters, and a more involved plot, than just about any other show on the air at that time.

VENTRELLA: You’ve certainly had other works optioned before. Is there anything in the pipeline we can look forward to?

SAWYER: It looks like the movie version of THE TERMINAL EXPERIMENT is finally going to happen, and I’ve just been commissioned to write a screenplay adaptation of TRIGGERS for a feature film, and I have high hopes of that being made, too.9780765345004_p0_v1_s260x420

VENTRELLA: What is it about science fiction that attracts you?

SAWYER: The variety: I can write hardboiled detective fiction (RED PLANET BLUES), courtroom drama (ILLEGAL ALIEN), romance (ROLLBACK), thriller (TRIGGERS), allegory (FAR-SEER), and more, all without leaving the genre. Science fiction is the least-restrictive genre to be working in.

VENTRELLA: Science fiction doesn’t seem to sell as much as before; do you think we’ve just become so used to our gadgets and modern technology that reading about spaceships doesn’t hold the wonder it did when we were kids? (I’m about your age, by the way…)

SAWYER: No, I think it’s something you alluded to earlier: if you don’t teach the core truths about science –- cosmology, evolutionary biology, and so forth -– people lose interest in what the Canadian poet Archibald Lampman called “the wide awe and wonder of the night.” Yes, there’s not much science fiction about spaceships, but that never was what science fiction was all about. But it is about science, and a culture that devalues or distrusts science isn’t one that’s going to embrace a literature that’s built on it.

VENTRELLA: Who do you like to read?

SAWYER: Most of my reading is nonfiction -– Robert Wright, Steven Pinker, Ray Kurzweil, and so on. But within the science-fiction genre, I love the works of Julie E. Czerneda, Jack McDevitt, and Robert Charles Wilson.

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Interview with Hugo and Nebula Award Winning Author David Gerrold

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Today, I am honored to be interviewing Nebula and Hugo award winning author David Gerrold. David-GerroldDavid Gerrold is the author of over 50 books, several hundred articles and columns, and over a dozen television episodes. TV credits include episodes of Star Trek, Babylon 5, Twilight Zone, Land Of The Lost, Logan’s Run, and many others. Novels include WHEN HARLIE WAS ONE, THE MAN WHO FOLDED HIMSELF, the “War Against the Chtorr” septology, The “Star Wolf” trilogy, The “Dingilliad” young adult trilogy, and more. The autobiographical tale of his son’s adoption, THE MARTIAN CHILD won the Hugo and Nebula awards for Best Novelette of the Year and was the basis for the 2007 movie starring John Cusack, Amanda Peet, and Joan Cusack. His web page is here.

David, you’re probably best known for your first sale, the Star Trek “The Trouble with Tribbles” classic episode (which you’re probably tired of talking about). It’s kind of a Cinderella story for writers, in that your sale would never happen these days. Or would it?

DAVID GERROLD: I think it would be a lot harder for a new writer to break into a prime-time show the way I did. Back then, most shows were written by freelancers. Today, most shows are written by staff writers, and there are less episodes in a season, so there just aren’t as many opportunities. And it’s a lot harder for an unknown writer to get his outline in front of a producer, let alone have it pass the “Is this good enough to take a chance?” test.

Back then, it was a lot easier for a writer to establish a reputation. Guys like Richard Matheson and Robert Bloch and Charles Beaumont and George Clayton Johnson were well-known as go-to guys for a good script. Today, because shows are mostly staff-written, it’s a lot harder for a TV writer to establish a reputation outside of his specific show, until he becomes a producer.

VENTRELLA: You’ve also written for one my favorite shows (Babylon 5), as well as scripts for Logan’s Run, Twilight Zone, and other TV series. star trekHow much control do you have over these scripts? In other words, do they get edited greatly by Hollywood types or are the end results usually what you wanted?

GERROLD: It depends on the producer. Joe Straczynski (Babylon 5) is one of the very best. He knows what a good script looks like and he respects writers who bring their passion to the story. He trusts writers. He doesn’t rewrite scripts unnecessarily.

Other producers (unnamed) can’t drink their coffee without first peeing in it to improve the flavor. Every writer has horror stories.

VENTRELLA: Your novel THE MARTIAN CHILD has to be one of your biggest successes, and that must be very satisfying to you given the biographical aspects of the story. Do you think the personal nature of the story hindered you in any way?

GERROLD: Actually, I think the personal nature of the story was enormously liberating. I didn’t have to make stuff up. It was already there. And because the focus of the story was about the relationship between myself and my son, I had an enormous wealth of material to draw upon. The story was about how much I love my son. Whether he’s a Martian or anything else, he’s my Martian. That’s the point.

I think the success of the story has to be that every parent who read the story or saw the movie recognized the experience of falling in love with their own child. I think it’s the best love story I’ve ever lived.

VENTRELLA: Were you happy with the resulting film–both as a film and given the changes that were made to the main character?

GERROLD: Where the movie stayed true to the love story, I enjoyed it enormously. I felt that there were things added to the movie that were unnecessary—-like all that business with sun block and weight belts.martian child I wanted one sequence from the book included, which I felt would have illustrated the core of the entire relationship-—that’s the “pickled mongoose” sequence, where Dennis learns how to tell jokes. I think it would have been a better movie with that included.

VENTRELLA: Money considerations aside, do you prefer books to scripts?

GERROLD: Scripts make more money, but disappear faster. Books are harder work. They’re a much more personal creation. I view books as a special kind of love affair with one reader at a time.

VENTRELLA: Through Land of The Lost and the Star Trek animated series, you worked with a number of great science fiction writers. Do you see that sort of thing in television today?

GERROLD: There was a moment when a producer (unnamed) who should have known better, said, “Don’t hire science fiction writers. They think they know more about my show than I do.” And based on the evidence, most SF writers do know more about science fiction than most TV producers.

On the other hand, there are brilliantly written shows like Dr. Who that demonstrate that an intelligent writer-producer can push the envelope over and over again.

VENTRELLA: You were originally involved in the first season of Next Generation but left as the lawyers took over … Has TV (and the movies) turned away from the people who know science fiction best to instead rely upon standard television scriptwriters too much? If so, are there exceptions?

GERROLD: See above. The exception is Dr. Who.

VENTRELLA: What’s your opinion on all the various Star Trek incarnations? Which is your favorite? (Not counting the episode where you had a cameo…)

GERROLD: A lot of good people have worked on a lot of different incarnations of Star Trek. But my favorite is still the original series, the episodes produced by Gene Roddenberry and Gene L. Coon—when Star Trek was about exploring a very big, very unknown universe. Book1-AMatterForMen-DavidGerroldIt was about challenging our heroes with the question, “How does this universe work? What is our place in it? What does it mean to be a human being?” Those stories were humane, subversive, disturbing, thoughtful, and ultimately caused a whole generation to think outside the boundaries of what we had previously believed to be possible. To me, that’s what Star Trek should be—a humanistic challenge, not just a franchise for selling toys and tickets.

VENTRELLA: Did you ever have a project you really wanted to do that fell through? Do you have any new ones you’re trying to get done?

GERROLD: The Star Wolf TV series. I think that would have been a wonderful show to work on.

And yes, I have some new projects I’m working on.

VENTRELLA: Most authors agree that they write for themselves, not others. Do you agree with that assessment? Is that a good idea for a starting writer?

GERROLD: I write for myself. I let others pay for the privilege of reading over my shoulder.

VENTRELLA: I remember reading your novel THE MAN WHO FOLDED HIMSELF when it first came out, and I still recall much of its plot–probably because I love a good time travel story. More importantly, the fun of the book was not the adventure, but the possibilities and consequences of time travel and world changing. Why did you decide to go in that direction instead of a straight-ahead adventure?

GERROLD: Because that’s where the story wanted to go.

VENTRELLA: Did you ever consider doing a sequel? Someone else gets the belt?

GERROLD: A sequel would be anti-climactic. There’s nothing else to say. (Well…that’s not quite true, but I’m not going to give it away here.)

VENTRELLA: Some established authors these days have begun placing their out-of-print catalogue in e-book format and selling it on the web, avoiding a publisher completely.the-man-who-folded-himself-7 Have you considered such a thing? Why or why not?

GERROLD: It costs money to print a book and distribute it. It doesn’t cost anything to make it available as an ebook, and the income goes directly to the writer. Having your back-list available to the audience is good business. I’ve got several stories available on Amazon.

VENTRELLA: I’ve been given advice, as a small time writer, to avoid politics on Facebook and my blog. I’ve ignored that advice. I note that you also post your political views from time to time, as well as visiting a political bulletin board. Do you think this has hurt your sales in any fashion, or do you not care?

GERROLD: Larry Kramer said it, “Silence equals death.” Martin Neimoller said it, “First they came for the communists,and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist. Then they came for the socialists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”

I think that it’s important to speak up. Not speaking up is surrender. And the status quo is always the enemy. But if you’re going to speak up, do your research first. I believe that the evidence is the strongest argument.

But there’s an even larger context that I would advise. Be pro-, not anti-.  If you’re going to speak up, then speak up for people, speak out against injustice, speak up for making a difference, speak out against hate-mongering. If you identify a class of people and vilify them, you’re making enemies. But if you identify a category of people who have a just cause and speak out for them, you’re showing your compassion for others.

I think that if we remain silent, our silence is interpreted as agreement. Nope. I’d rather be unpopular for speaking out than accepted for the lie of silence.

VENTRELLA: Speaking of politics, one of the biggest issues for me is the anti-science position many take these days–arguing against climate change and evolution for political or religious reasons instead of scientific ones.13806 As someone who relies on science for your fiction, what’s your opinion on this? What should we do?

GERROLD: The answer to hate speech is more speech, honest speech, accurate speech, thoughtful speech, humane speech, rational speech, compassionate speech, forgiving speech, loving speech.

The answer to stupid speech is evidence, rationality, accuracy. And occasionally, a healthy bit of ridicule.

VENTRELLA: Who do you like to read for pleasure?

GERROLD: Terry Pratchett, John Varley, Spider Robinson, George R.R. Martin, Victor Hugo, Charles Dickens, Alexandre Dumas, Laura Joh Rowland, Frederik Pohl, and about a thousand others who are stored on my Kindle and who I have not yet gotten to.

VENTRELLA: Fantasy has grown tremendously in popularity over the past twenty or thirty years and now outsells science fiction. Why do you think this is? What is it about fantasy that appeals to readers that they can’t get from science fiction?

GERROLD: Science fiction is harder to write. There’s so much new science happening every day that it’s impossible to keep up.

Fantasy doesn’t have the same restrictions, but writing a great fantasy might be even harder than writing good science fiction. I think George R.R. Martin proves that.

VENTRELLA: What advice would you give to a starting author that you wish someone had given you?

GERROLD: Quit.

If you’re going to be discouraged, be discouraged now and save yourself all that time and frustration.

But if being told to quit just pisses you off, then maybe you have the determination to keep going no matter how frustrated you get.9780812576085

VENTRELLA: Given your career, you’ve met a number of other talented and/or famous people. Who did you most enjoy meeting?

GERROLD: Robert A. Heinlein, of course. Theodore Sturgeon. Arthur C. Clarke. Spider Robinson. Anne McCaffrey, Frederik Pohl, Randall Garrett, Robert Silverberg, Harry Harrison, but especially Harlan Ellison who has been a lifelong friend.

Outside of the writing community, the entire cast of the original Star Trek series, especially William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, De Kelley, and Nichelle Nichols.

Beyond that, Robin Williams, Virginia Madsen, Candice Bergen, Pat Tallman, Brent Spiner, Jonathan Frakes, Levar Burton, Chase Masterson…I could go on for hours.

Oh yes, and one particular former Mouseketeer I had a kind of crush on once.

VENTRELLA: With a time machine and a universal translator, who would you invite to your ultimate dinner party?

GERROLD: Suetonius, Voltaire, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, Kurt Vonnegut, and Gore Vidal.

 

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Interview with Actress and Author Claudia Christian

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA:  I am tremendously pleased to be interviewing Claudia Christian today.  As you probably already know, Ms. Christian is an actress best known for playing Ivanova on one of my favorite TV shows of all time, Babylon 5! claudia_christian_24147 She’s done much more than that, of course, and her more detailed bio and filmography can be found here.  Today, however, we’re here to discuss her new book!

 Ms. Christian, I’ve just finished your new book BABYLON CONFIDENTIAL. This does not read like a typical Hollywood tell-all, but instead as a very personal diary of sorts.  Do you feel you accomplished what you set out to do?

CLAUDIA CHRISTIAN:  I wanted to spread the word about The Sinclair Method and save lives, so far I have accomplished both!

VENTRELLA:  You’re very forthcoming about your alcohol addiction and quite candid about other parts of your life.  Did you ever say “Nah, I’m not going to talk about that”?

CHRISTIAN:  No, I did not. I don’t believe that you can expect people to buy into something unless you are 100% honest.  besides, there is so much shame attached to addiction that I wanted other addicts to see the worst that I have been through so they could not only relate but also forgive themselves.

 VENTRELLA:  The title seems both a tribute to Babylon 5 but also the BABYLON HOLLYWOOD books that I used to read years ago.  How did you choose the title?

CHRISTIAN:  Morgan and I threw around titles for awhile then submitted them to the publisher, this one won.

 VENTRELLA:  The last few chapters of the book are almost a guide for those in a similar situation.  Have you heard from readers who were inspired by your tale to change their lives?

CHRISTIAN:  I have indeed! I have dozens of people on TSM and have helped support them, guide them and am thrilled to say that they have a nearly 100% success rate!

VENTRELLA:  The book reads like a rollercoaster – disappointment followed by great times followed by tragedy … Was there ever an attempt to sugarcoat something?BABYLON CONFIDENTIAL 

CHRISTIAN:  I’m not one to sugar coat things though I did lighten a few experiences to save face for other people. No need to be cruel in a book. I tried to be honest, period.

VENTRELLA:  Was writing the book painful or cathartic?

CHRISTIAN:  Both!

VENTRELLA: How did the writing cooperation work with Morgan Buchanan?

CHRISTIAN:  Fantastic … thank God for Skype!

VENTRELLA:  Are you happy with the reception the book has received  (Reviews, sales, comments, etc.)?

CHRISTIAN:  I am indeed though I wish more mainstream media would pick up on TSM.

VENTRELLA:  I first became aware of your work through Babylon 5, one of the best science fiction shows on TV.  Ivanova was everything we wanted in a strong leader, and many of us were tremendously disappointed when she didn’t appear in the final season (where she should have been captain!)  Anyway, sorry, let me get on with this;  I could gush about how well written, acted, and directed that series was for this entire interview.

At one point in the book, you make the comment that writer/producer J.  Michael Straczynski (who you call “Joe!”)  felt that if an actor was giving him trouble, he could always write a way to get rid of him – and in fact, that happened a few times.  Is that what happened to Marcus Cole (who played Jason Carter)?  ( I hope not, because that death was a great scene and deserved to be there!)

CHRISTIAN:  I cannot comment on things that JMS did simply because I am not in his mind…W22 114

VENTRELLA:  More importantly, do you think that happened to you?  You did not date him as he apparently wanted … I know the 5th season was not close to that incident, but do you think that he might have fought more for your return otherwise?

CHRISTIAN:  I had another job and we could not work out the schedule. It’s in the book very clearly stated how it went down.

VENTRELLA:  There were a few follow-up B5 films and sequels after the 5th season.  Have you ever been asked to be in any of them?

CHRISTIAN:  No … I only did the two TNT Babylon 5 films after the series ended and those were both fun.

VENTRELLA:  What is your one favorite scene or episode from B5?  (I have a prediction but I want to see what you think…)

CHRISTIAN: Death incarnate!

VENTRELLA:  Thought so.  (Here’s a link for those of you who are unaware).

You’ve done voice-overs in commercials, Disney’s “Atlantis” and video games such as Skyrim.  How does this kind of work compare to being in front of a camera?

CHRISTIAN: You don’t have to look good when you record!

VENTRELLA: Why do you think “Atlantis” wasn’t a bigger hit for Disney?

CHRISTIAN: Too dark and old school for these little kids nowadays … they like pink and frosting… 🙂helga

VENTRELLA:  And what is it about the name “Sinclair”?  There was Captain Sinclair in “Babylon 5”, and then your character in “Atlantis” was named Helga Sinclair, and then you were finally able to break your addiction with The Sinclair Method.  Coincidence?

CHRISTIAN: Who knows?! Conspiracy theorists arise!

VENTRELLA:  In BABYLON CONFIDENTIAL You spoke of some terrible experiences with crazed fans at conventions and the like.  (I do a lot of conventions and sadly, there are indeed people like that who attend, although the vast majority are wonderful people.)  Do the good experiences outweigh the bad enough to make attending the conventions worthwhile?

CHRISTIAN: Of course the good outweigh the bad …I love the fans.

VENTRELLA:  You also wrote a small book called MY LIFE WITH GEEKS AND FREAKS which does not seem to be available any more.  What was that about?

CHRISTIAN:  My experiences at conventions. It was a love letter to the fans, really.

VENTRELLA: Will that become available again?

CHRISTIAN: I think so.my-life-with-geeks-freaks-claudia-christian-paperback-cover-art

VENTRELLA:  Did your publisher purposely use “Star Trek” font for the book cover as a kind of inside joke?

CHRISTIAN:  Probably…

VENTRELLA:  When I read about the avant garde film “Tale of Two Sisters” I thought it might be so-bad-it’s-good worth renting, but after reading the reviews on IMDB, all of which pan it completely, I’ve changed my mind.  That must have been a very interesting experience.  Do you feel that was the worst film you’ve been in or is there something else out there you dislike more?

CHRISTIAN:  Thinking a film is bad is subjective; some people like that film … I have no idea what the worst film I have ever done is but I’m sure no two people would agree on that.

VENTRELLA:  I had never heard of the British TV show “Starhyke” until reading your book and now I want to see it!  It’s apparently never been released on DVD in America although I was able to find some clips on YouTube.  That looks like it was a lot of fun.  Why wasn’t there a second season?

CHRISTIAN:  Lack of funds.

VENTRELLA:  Then there’s “Taboo.”  Tell me about that!  How did that come about?

CHRISTIAN: I love making music…..taboo

VENTRELLA: Do you plan on  doing any more music?

CHRISTIAN:  Not really, too busy with other projects and I am not a very good singer; I just did it for the fun of it.

VENTRELLA:  You mention your huge personal library.  What do you like to read?  Who are your favorite authors?

CHRISTIAN: I love historical fiction and biographies. I love CJ Sansom, Peter Ackroyd, Bernard Cornwall, Neil Gamain, Edward Rutherfurd, etc. etc.

VENTRELLA: Have you ever read any of the Babylon 5 books?  Do you ever go “Ivanova would never do that!”?

CHRISTIAN:  No I have not, I’m not a sci fi fan.

VENTRELLA: What other projects are you working on?  When will we see (or hear) you next?

CHRISTIAN:  Tor is releasing “Wolf’s Empire” in 2014 ,another book by Christian-Buchanan

I am also still working on promoting TSM and will be doing so for the rest of my life, it’s my raison d’etre.

Interview with Author Melinda Snodgrass

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Today, I am very pleased to be interviewing Melinda Snodgrass! Melinda Snodgrass studied opera at the Conservatory of Vienna in Austria, graduated from U.N.M. with a degree in history, and went on to Law School. She practiced for three years, and discovered that while she loved the law she hated lawyers — so she began writing science fiction novels.

In 1988 she accepted a job on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and began her Hollywood career where she has worked on staff on numerous shows, written pilots and feature films. Her novels THE EDGE OF REASON, and THE EDGE OF RUIN are currently available from Tor books. She has delivered the first two novels in a new Urban Fantasy series featuring blood-sucking lawyers, THIS CASE IS GONNA KILL ME, and BOX OFFICE POISON, and has a story in the latest Wild Card book, FORT FREAK. She is currently adapting Wild Cards as a motion picture for Universal Pictures. Her passion (aside from writing) is riding her Lusitano stallion Vento da Broga.

Let’s start by talking about the law. It seems that many writers of speculative fiction are also lawyers (myself included). What is it about the law that makes people want to escape so much?

MELINDA SNODGRASS: I went into law thinking it was all about truth and justice. It isn’t. It’s about process, and after three years in law school I realized that was okay too. Law = civilization, and our job as attorneys is to reach some level of basic fairness. I also think that much of law is contracts, and family law. The big Constitutional cases rarely turn up in an average law office, and that was what really interested me. I am great admirer of the Constitution. It is a beautiful document that was designed to grown, stretch and change, and aside from one disastrous episode (prohibition) it has always been interpreted to expand rights. That’s it’s genius.

VENTRELLA: Absolutely agree. It’s why I like being a criminal defense attorney — I do get to argue the Constitution from time to time.

You’ve used your legal experience well in your work, and especially in the excellent Star Trek: Next Generation episode “The Measure of Man.” How did you decide upon that plotline and theme? (Reading Dred Scott?)

SNODGRASS: Yes, it was the Dred Scott decision. It worked perfectly to set up a conflict between Data and Star Fleet command. I also had a navy pilot buddy who gave me the most powerful point of all. He told me that when a ship is at sea, and you can’t utilize JAG officers then the Captain always defends and the first officer prosecutes. To pit Ricker and Picard was just too perfect.

VENTRELLA: Did the story change much between your script and what we saw on screen? If so, what changes did you like and/or dislike?

SNODGRASS: There were virtually no changes. The only thing that happened was a number of scenes got cut because the script ran very long. Now all of those deleted scenes have been restored to the new Blue Ray DVD release that is going to happen in December so folks will be able to compare the “as aired” version with the extended version. There are a couple of scenes I’m really glad are back in.

VENTRELLA: Let’s discuss writing for television. How did you get your break there?

SNODGRASS: I owe it all to George R.R. Martin. He had gone out to Hollywood to write for first the New Twilight Zone, and then for Beauty and the Beast. He called me, and said “Hey, I think you’d be pretty good at this screenwriting thing. It works to all of your strengths – strong plotting, powerful characters, and good dialog, and if you write a spec script I will show it to my agent.” I picked Star Trek because I had loved original Trek as a kid, and I didn’t want to put George on the spot if I wrote a crappy B&B script.

VENTRELLA: How does writing for television compare to writing a short story or novel?

SNODGRASS: Different mediums and you always have to keep that in mind. A short story or a novel can stand if it’s got enough atmosphere and is evocative even if it’s light on plot. That just won’t work in a screenplay. Also interior dialog can work in prose, and it has to be changed to actual dialog to work on screen. You have to be able to see it and hear – film is a visual medium.

VENTRELLA: While there are plenty of science fiction shows on TV these days, there really aren’t any traditional space-faring shows like Star Trek or Babylon 5 or Firefly any more (except perhaps for Dr. Who). In fact, even in literature, there seems to be less and less. Why do you think that is?

SNODGRASS: Expense is the primary reason. Special effects cost a lot of money. I also think there is the fear of comparison to Star Trek, and that it can’t be made different or interesting. I don’t agree that space dying out in literature. I think we are seeing a renaissance of space opera. For awhile writers did seem to think space based stories were too juvenile, but with the success of books like LEVIATHAN WAKES, and the whole collection of British space opera writers I think it’s a booming field. I, for one, am very happy about that. It’s what I like to read, and my next big project is a space opera series.

VENTRELLA: How did you get your first “big break” in publishing?

SNODGRASS: I had written my first novel in the Federal-court-judge-rides-circuit-in-outer-space series, but I couldn’t get any traction. David Hartwell offered me a chance to write a Star Trek novel, and I did. He also counseled me to write only one. I have followed that advice to the letter. The Star Trek novel was THE TEARS OF THE SINGERS.

VENTRELLA: I remember reading that years ago and really enjoying it!

Aspiring authors often seem to think that writing a book is easy and your first one is sure to be a huge hit. What writing experience did you have prior to publication?

SNODGRASS: As I said before I had trouble getting traction with my S.F. books until TEARS. But I’ve been very lucky. I broke in right at the big boom in romance. I had quit the law firm, and I needed to pay the mortgage so I wrote six romance novels under pseudonyms while I also worked on my CIRCUIT novel. The romances sold, had the advantage of teaching me how to write to deadline, and finish a book (something people have trouble with), and they paid my bills.

VENTRELLA: You certainly have not shied away from politics and religion as themes. In fact, your Edge novels deal with that theme. What spurred you to write that series?

SNODGRASS: It was New Year’s Even 1999. I was sitting with Steve Gould, and Laura Mixon, Walter Jon Williams, and several other friends in the bar at El Pinto in Albuquerque. We were drinking margaritas and watching the celebrations around the world as we entered the twenty-first century. We being science fiction writers were bitching that it was actually going to be the twenty-first century, but then a new bitch occurred to me, and I asked the group, “Where is my Moon base and my air car? Why are at the dawn of the 21st century, and people put more credence in guardian angels and healing crystals and tarot cards then they do in science?” Then I thought, maybe there’s an outside force driving us to be ignorant and hateful. That was the start of the idea.

VENTRELLA: You’ve also discussed religion and politics on your blog and Facebook. Now, as a starting writer, I’ve been advised to avoid these subjects, but I ignored that advice. Do you think writers should avoid these issues for fear of alienating potential readers?

SNODGRASS: I think people should write stories that interest them. Stories they would like to read. Of course there are going to be readers who won’t like those stories, but that’s life. Some people like chocolate ice cream and others like vanilla. You can’t produce something that makes everybody happy so you may as well write what makes you happy. Writing is hard, you shouldn’t write something if you don’t enjoy it.

VENTRELLA: To relate back to an earlier question, do you think the current anti-science nature of the religious right has had an effect on hard science in literature?

SNODGRASS: I don’t think it’s affected us in the science fiction field. I think we just ignore the gibberish about evolution not being true, or the Earth being 6000 years old. Most of us love science fiction because we love science and the wonder of discovery.

VENTRELLA: Many people would also know you from the Wild Card series with George R.R. Martin. How did that association begin?

SNODGRASS: George and I were in a role playing group with a lot of other writers – Walter Jon Williams, Victor Milan, John Jos. Miller. Vic had given George Superworld for Christmas and we were playing the game obsessively with George as our game master. One day we had played until 2 or 3 in the morning, George had stayed over at my house, and he wandered out for breakfast and said, “there has to be some way to turn this obsession into money.” That’s when we started to discuss it as a shared world anthology. We cooked it up in my dining room over pancakes and bacon and lots of coffee. I came up with the aliens and the virus because George didn’t want the usual stupid superhero origin story – “struck by lightning while standing in a toxic waste dump”.

VENTRELLA: What do you think makes the Wild Card series so popular?

SNODGRASS: The characters and their interactions. The real world problems they face. Steve Leigh wrote an absolutely heartbreaking story for FORT FREAK about a long time character who is three people fused into one body dealing with the onset of Alzheimer’s in one of the members. It literally brought me to tears. You’re not going to see something like that in most comic books.

VENTRELLA: Who are your favorite authors?

SNODGRASS: God, that’s a really hard question. Outside of the field I often reread John le Carre and Georgette Heyer. In the field I have so many writers I love that it’s hard to narrow it down. Heinlein juveniles. Clifford Simak’s WAY STATION, new young writers like James S.A. Corey and Ian Tregillis. George doesn’t need a plug from me. Most of the world knows his genius and abilities. And I tend to reread The Lord of Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien over and over. I like mysteries very much – Dorothy Sayers, Elizabeth George, Michael Connelly. I could fill pages so I’ll stop with that.

VENTRELLA: What are you working on now?

SNODGRASS: I am writing the Wild Card movie for Universal pictures. I have sent a big hunk of the third Edge book to my agent. I’m writing up the proposal and chapters for my space opera series, I have another urban fantasy book due at Tor that I’m writing under a pseudonym, Phillipa Bornikova. George and I are trying to put the next Wild Card book – LOWBALL to bed. I’m really busy. Sometimes I want to take a nap.

VENTRELLA: And finally, since this is a blog for aspiring authors, what advice do you think needs to be said that hasn’t been emphasized enough?

Write what you love. Treat it like a job. And don’t break your promises to your readers/viewers. Give them the ending that you promised in the opening chapter.

Interview with author Ryk E. Spoor

MICHEAL A. VENTRELLA: I’m pleased to be interviewing author Ryk E. Spoor today!

Ryk, like many genre writers (including myself), you read science fiction from a young age and then got into gaming. What is it about role-playing games that encourages people to become writers?

RYK SPOOR: Well, on both sides of the game – GM or player – the game itself is telling a story. It may be a very simple story, especially for beginning players or people just in it for a beer-and-pretzels amusement, but a story about how these people go out, confront problems, solve the problems, and achieve their goals. So pretty much by its very nature, RPGs make you into a storyteller … which certainly encourages you to start writing down the stories that affected you most. It’s all downhill from there.

On the GM’s side, of course, it’s even more so. You’re the person who constructs, or at the least controls and directs, the entire world. You know what the villains are doing and why, you have to figure out how they deal with things when your players do something you don’t expect (and they always do something you don’t expect), and so on. That’s pretty much what a writer does – invent a world and tell us the stories in that world. For some writers, there’s even the equivalent of those annoying plot-busting PCs; some writers find their characters taking off on their own.

So honestly, I think the fact is that the very essence of a well-run RPG is storytelling, and anyone who does that a lot will have stories they want to tell.

VENTRELLA: On a previous blog post, I wrote how important it is to make connections if you want to get ahead in the world, with publishing being no exception. Your story is a bit unusual in that regard. How did you go from being a fan/troll to a published author?

SPOOR: Heh. The short version is that I insulted the right person at the right time. I could give you the long, long version, but since this is a written (and presumably to be webbed) interview, let me just point you here; the key part starts with the sentence, “Then one day, I got into an online argument with Eric Flint”, which is a little less than halfway down that page.

VENTRELLA: Had you ever submitted any stories for publication before that?

SPOOR: I actually had submitted a short story when I was 11 to a magazine (I no longer know even which one). It was some years later that I started submitting the Jason Wood stories that eventually became DIGITAL KNIGHT. All of the rejections for those stories read the same way: “This was a great story, everyone in the office loved it, but it’s way too long for magazine publication.” Of course, as individual stories, the Jason Wood stories are also far too short to be novels; they’re novelette or novella length works, which has for years been pretty much the worst length to try to publish.

The three stories which formed the core of DIGITAL KNIGHT – “Gone in a Flash”, “Photo Finish”, and “Viewed in a Harsh Light” – were eventually collected by me and put up for electronic purchase as “Morgantown: The Jason Wood Files” at hyperbooks.com; this was long before the e-book explosion happened, of course, since they were up for several years before Baen ended up publishing me.

VENTRELLA: Who were your favorite authors when you were growing up and what was it about them that appealed to you?

SPOOR: There were a lot of them. When I was very young, the most influential was L. Frank Baum, author of the Oz books. I loved Oz – the world, the people, and the subtly macabre and more complex-than-I-appreciated universe. Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” books were very strong influences because they were a glimpse into what it was like to grow up in a world that was this one …yet not the one I knew.

My dad had quite an SF library that I went through as I got older, but it was my 6th grade teacher, Mr. Dickinson, who introduced me to E. E. “Doc” Smith’s Lensman series by lending me a battered, somewhat cigarette-scorched copy of Second-Stage Lensmen. Doc became my single biggest influence for years; he defined “sensawunda” to me, and I in fact wrote GRAND CENTRAL ARENA specifically as a salute to him.

VENTRELLA: What is your writing process? Do you outline heavily, for instance?

SPOOR: Depends on the book, to a great extent. I have to outline when I’m working with a co-author, like Eric Flint; we discuss the general idea, then I work up an outline, he kicks holes in it, I fix it, we agree on the outline, and then I go to work.

For my own work, it still depends somewhat on which books. In DIGITAL KNIGHT, all of Jason’s major adventures were “outlined” in a single concept: the “trick” or “twist” that he uses to take down the supernatural opponent du jour. Knowing that, the only other thing I had to do was figure out who my main character was; the rest started writing itself.

For PHOENIX RISING, I’d plotted the basic outline of Kyri’s adventures out partly during my gaming time, as Kyri was originally an RPG character. But a lot of her adventures simply fell out of the fact that I know the world so well that by now I can just write it.

With GRAND CENTRAL ARENA I had to first construct the universe; some of that I discussed in my appearance in John Scalzi’s The Big Idea; I actually did write out an outline for it, so I could pitch it to Baen, but once I had the outline I started writing. In many ways the finished product doesn’t look all that much like the outline.

But if I know what I’m writing, my process is basically just to sit down, put on my earphones, and write. I average about 1200 words per hour once I get moving, and I don’t rewrite or edit for the most part; I can’t see flaws in my own writing unless I wait something like five years, so I depend on my beta-readers and my editors to tell me when I’ve screwed up.

VENTRELLA: Tell us about PHOENIX RISING.

SPOOR: Oh, I could talk about that all day. PHOENIX RISING is the first volume in the Balanced Sword trilogy, although since I don’t yet have a contract for the other two volumes I have done my best to give it some kind of closure on its own. The basic story focuses on Kyri Vantage, who loses first her parents and then, later, her brother to unknown forces despite what everyone had thought were strong protections against evil; when she discovers just who and what was behind this, she is forced to become a living representative of a desperate, weakened god in order to bring justice to her home and eventually, she hopes, discover and destroy the true source of this evil; the events, of course, have a far greater impact and importance than Kyri recognizes at first. Other threads in the book follow the other two main characters, Tobimar Silverun and Poplock Duckweed, as they first meet each other and then eventually catch up with Kyri at a crucial moment.

This is a terribly important book to me. I wrote the first draft of Kyri’s story in 1992, and I’ve wanted to tell her story ever since; more, this is the first appearance of my fantasy world of Zarathan, which I created back in 1978 and have been building ever since. Zarathan was mentioned, very briefly, in DIGITAL KNIGHT, but there was no real vision of what it WAS in that book.

PHOENIX RISING is also quite complicated; there are threads of plot seen which are part of other stories – for instance, one character who plays a significant role for a part of the book is actually a main character in the projected Spirit Warriors trilogy, and there’s another couple of characters we see a few times who are major players in my other projected trilogy Godswar; basically the problems sweeping the world in PHOENIX RISING are so huge and complex that no one group of heroes can deal with them all; you need at least three separate groups. For the reader, I hope such things give them the feeling of a larger, more real universe, one in which there are a million stories outside of the story we’re following.

Zarathan itself is my main fantasy RPG world (to refer back to your earlier question), and I’ve been running games in it for well over 30 years now, building it, rebuilding it, and coming to a deeper understanding of the universe every day.

VENTRELLA: If I am not mistaken, you have created a universe with both fantasy and science fiction elements for your stories. How have you made the twain meet?

SPOOR: Essentially, the rule to me is that normal physics holds sway unless something changes those rules explicitly. Magic does so, some psionic capabilities do, but that means that science works just fine; it’s just a subset of the laws of nature rather than the whole thing.

It’s really not hard to combine them; as Dave Hargrave, writer of the Arduin Grimoire series of RPG supplements, put it, where’s the alien with the ray gun going to stand out more: on the streets of our cities, or in the fantasy RPG city with the fireball-flinging wizard, magic-sword wielding barbarian, and the dragon flying overhead?

The only trick, so to speak, is to have clear rules as to how the various powers behave and interact. Technology, psionics, and magic all have various advantages and disadvantages in my universe and play off each other in various ways and situations.

Really powerful magic, though, is restricted to Zarathan itself, at least until after a certain event happens, but while I’ve written one story set after that event, overall that’ll be a while before I get there.

VENTRELLA: There seems to be a trend away from science fiction, toward fantasy, steampunk, and “urban fantasy” these days. To what do you attribute that change?

SPOOR: There’s several factors. The “low-hanging fruit” in SF was all taken years ago, and general knowledge of the way science works – and doesn’t work – disseminated more and more through the population, making some of the old-school approaches no longer viable. You can’t have your characters just tinker up a spacedrive in the basement and cruise around the solar system in a homemade rocket and expect anyone to take you seriously any more.

The big news in science has also gotten, on average, a lot less immediately accessible. This is part of the overall progression of knowledge; back in the late 1800s to very early 1900s, it was still possible for one person to be “A Scientist” – someone who was an expert in more than one of the general disciplines of physics, chemistry, biology, etc. Nowadays, it’s hard to be an expert in a splinter branch of any of them. Back then, the average (reading) layman could probably grasp in general terms most, if not all, of the key problems and ideas being explored by scientists of the day; today, many of the concepts, especially in physics, require that you understand some very esoteric concepts before you even grasp the question, let alone the answer.

Fantasy is not easier to write, really, but it’s easier to make graspable because the complexity of the rules governing the world aren’t going to be more complex than the writer wants them to be. Plus, in most cases, the fantasies assume they take place on Earth or a very Earthlike world, so the reader is expected to “fill in” lots of detail all by him or herself. From a writer’s point of view, it’s also safer. No one’s going to go to Tolkien or Brooks, or me, for that matter, and tell us that our magical worlds don’t work the way we think they do. But writers of hard SF? Yeah, we’ll have people telling us when we get it wrong. Stridently, in some cases. The fact is that even if you do a lot of research, you’ll have to stop the research somewhere and get to writing … and it’s an ironclad guarantee that you stopped just before getting to some key fact that a particular group of fans consider critical.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t have similar screwups in fantasy, but those are all going to be the kind of screwups you can get in ANY story: failure of internal consistency.

I also think it’s a change in optimism that happened over the last several decades. During the late 1800s through the 1950s, science was romantic, awesome, and wondrous. It was going to solve all our problems. We were going to create new species of plants that would grow food anywhere, make space colonies on the moon and turn Mars into a second Earth. We were going to analyze the workings of the brain and abolish mental illness; we were going to cure cancer and solve the mysteries of the universe.

But science doesn’t actually work that way, and as it ran into the fact that some problems are very resistant to solution (commercial fusion and true artificial intelligence, still 20 years away and have been all my life!), the general public began to also see some of the consequences of misuse of technology (pollution, etc.) and associate this WITH technology. The shiny glow of hope faded and the chrome-plated future got tarnished. But shining worlds of high fantasy can’t be rendered hopeless by the same process … and one can also, of course, apply the same overlay of grimness and edginess to fantasy as one can to SF, so the net result is much more fantasy and less clear SF.

(of course, we’ll note that this assumes that there’s a clear division between SF and fantasy, which isn’t the case)

VENTRELLA: Creating new worlds is fun but also difficult in that there is the need to explain the world without massive info dumps. How do you do it?

SPOOR: I’m not sure I’ve mastered it yet. Sometimes I feel like I do nothing in the beginning of a new book but try to dump the info into the readers’ head.

The main techniques that I use are the tried-and-true methods of either (A) having the characters discuss key information as part of a normal conversation – usually with one character who has some reason not to know the key info, so they’re not “As you know, Bob …” type discussions, or (B) having the information emerge from the events of the story.

This latter technique is one that is best used for pieces of information which will actually become vital sometime later in the story – Jane’s doing X, which happens to cause Y to happen, leading her to realize (along with the reader) that Z is one of the characteristics of the world. Twenty chapters later, Jane realizes that applying Z will get her out of the situation she’s in. This allows the reader to follow along and maybe guess what Jane’s going to do with this new-found knowledge. I did this in Grand Central Arena to plant all the clues for how Ariane would be able to defeat Amas-Garao in the final Challenge.

VENTRELLA: I’ve recently realized that all my stories have the everyday person who is stuck in a situation and must overcome great odds through bravery and intellect – the reluctant hero who has no extraordinary skills. Have you find any connecting threads for your protagonists?

SPOOR: I like my heroes Heroic and my villans Villanous, for the most part. I don’t usually have reluctant heroes, although inexperienced and sometimes clueless heroes, that’s fine. As I tend to write my stories (just as I run my RPGs) at a high power level, they all tend to be at the least very highly competent and at the most quite superhuman in order to survive the threats they’re up against.

All of my characters – heroes and villains – tend to be smart. That doesn’t mean they don’t make mistakes or misjudge things, but that they try not to do obviously stupid actions. The really smart ones often think many steps ahead. I want to see smart heroes VS smart villains

Most of my characters tend to be fairly modest, often underestimating their own abilities. The few arrogant ones (like A.J. Baker) usually get smacked down fairly regularly.

High Melodrama is my preference in writing, and most of my characters share that preference in their behavior. I have to rein in that tendency when writing hard SF like Boundary, of course.

VENTRELLA: How do you get inside the minds of your characters to make sure they all don’t talk and act alike?

SPOOR: Heh. Sometimes I don’t think they do. I actually don’t have a … technique per se. I just get to know who they are and then I know what they’d say, and how they’d say it. I couldn’t tell you why, but I know when something is right and when it isn’t, so I write it the way that sounds right.

VENTRELLA: Ryk, we met while on a panel together at Albacon some years ago. How important is it to attend conventions to promote yourself?

SPOOR: I honestly can’t say; I can’t afford to go to many at all, so if it’s important, I’m in deep doo-doo. Aside from Albacon, I used to go to Genericon; other than that I was at I-Con once, the World Fantasy Convention when it was up in Saratoga, and Worldcon when it was in Boston, but I haven’t done much promoting. I’m terrible at promoting, actually. I hate it; I’d rather spend my time writing, unless the promotion’s something fun and flashy in and of itself.

VENTRELLA: What bugs you most about the publishing industry and what would you change about it if you could?

SPOOR: I’ve had generally good experiences with publishing, so I have minimal criticisms, aside from saying that the publishers who are clinging to DRM are gonna shoot themselves in the foot. About the only thing that’s annoying is long delays in reaction times, but alas, there’s so much slush and so hard to get people to read it, so there’s not likely to be much change there.

I think publishers need to look at reaching out to the self-publishing industry and offering professional services such as editing in an organized sense. This might be one thing that can keep them alive in the changing landscape of publication.

VENTRELLA: Who do you like to read for pleasure?

There’s so many names. The old classics like RAH, Heinlein, etc., still work. Terry Brooks usually gives a good entertaining read. My preference is for worlds that are overall brighter than this one, or whose heroes at least shine brightly, so a lot of current writers tend to skirt the edge of that threshold, like Harry Connolly and Charles Stross.

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of manga, especially Naruto and Fullmetal Alchemist – some of the best stories I’ve ever read, actually.

Out of genre, some of my favorite comfort reads are Nero Wolfe novels or the adventure classics like Scaramouche, the Count of Monte-Cristo, Scarlet Pimpernel, etc.

Honestly, however, I’ve had a lot less time to read since I became an author. I probably read more stuff to my kids than I do to myself.

VENTRELLA: What advice would you give to a starting author that you wish someone had given you?

Heh. I never learned from advice, so I’m terrible at giving it. Only two things, really; they’re pieces of advice someone did tell me eventually, but not when I started writing:

1) Never make it easy on your characters.

2) Don’t let anyone tell you there’s one particular way to write; “There are nine-and-sixty ways to compose tribal lays, and every single one of them is right.” That said, writing takes work, it’s not magic.

VENTRELLA: What is the biggest mistake you see aspiring authors make?

SPOOR: Again, two, I think.

1) Thinking they have some precious, original idea that someone will steal. No, you don’t. Any idea you have, someone else already had. Probably five or ten someones. And they did it at least twenty years and maybe as many as two thousand years before you think they could possibly have done it. No one’s trying to steal your ideas. Especially other writers; we have more ideas already than we know what to do with.

2) Not reading. Especially in the genre. This would partially alleviate #1, because you’d be seeing all the other ideas. Unfortunately, a lot of new authors appear to be coming in mostly from non-print media. You really should read quite a bit of the older stuff, then the newer stuff, before you try to drop into the business, otherwise you’ll think you’re onto a new twist on an idea when it’s actually a twist we’ve seen a hundred times. I averaged a book a day from the time I was 7 or so until I was probably in my mid to late 20s. I don’t expect everyone to hit that level, but reading a bunch of the foundational classics of the genre is awfully important to ground you in this business.

VENTRELLA: What question do you wish interviewers would ask you that they never do?

SPOOR: “Would you like this check for a million dollars?”

Honestly, while all interviews skip over one question or another, all of them together seem to have hit all the questions I’d expect someone to ask. Maybe, in a few years or ten, I’ll have had enough interviews to notice something missing!

Ryk and me on a panel together at Albacon 2010

Interview with Bram Stoker Award-winning author John Shirley

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Today I am pleased to be interviewing John Shirley.

John Shirley is the author of numerous novels, story collections, screenplays (“THE CROW”), teleplays and articles. A futurologist and social critic, John was a featured speaker at TED-x in Brussels in 2011. His novels include EVERYTHING IS BROKEN, The “A Song Called Youth” cyberpunk trilogy (omnibus released in 2012), BLEAK HISTORY, DEMONS, CITY COME A-WALKIN’ and THE OTHER END. His short story collection BLACK BUTTERFLIES won the Bram Stoker Award, and was chosen by Publisher’s Weekly as one of the best books of the year. His new story collection is IN EXTREMIS: THE MOST EXTREME SHORT STORIES OF JOHN SHIRLEY. His stories have been included in three Year’s Best anthologies. He is also a songwriter (eg, for Blue Oyster Cult), and a singer. Black October records will soon be releasing a compilation of selected songs, BROKEN MIRROR GLASS: Recordings by John Shirley, 1978-2011. The authorized website is here.

John, since this is an election year, let’s start off with politics. You’ve certainly not shied away from politics, on your blog and on Facebook. Do you worry that this may alienate potential readers?

JOHN SHIRLEY: For me, I can’t worry about that and be a self respecting person.

VENTRELLA: Your novels EVERYTHING IS BROKEN and THE OTHER END are all about politics. What inspired you to write them?

SHIRLEY: I wouldn’t agree they’re all about politics. EVERYTHING IS BROKEN, however, is a political allegory as well as being a noir novel, a coming of age novel, a disaster novel (as opposed to a disastrous novel!), a suspense novel, and it’s set a bit in the future. So it’s got science fiction going on too. The trick of course is for all this to blend seamlessly. But good recipes can have a number of strong ingredients.

EVERYTHING IS BROKEN is a kind of LORD OF THE FLIES for the 21st century, perhaps. Its political center has to do with the value of community, of government itself (at its best); it shows what happens to a small coastal community, hit by a disaster, when its been stripped of its resources, its preparation, by Libertarians and Tea Party types and Privatizers. And it has ticked off some of those people. But there’s always plenty of support from the other side of the fence. It’s doing rather well. Lots of people are concerned about throwing the baby away with the bathwater—a sense of community being the baby in this case.

THE OTHER END was inspired by a desire to take the apocalypse away from the Christian right and give it to progressive people, if they want it. Why should the Christian Right define Judgment Day? And what would you do if you could create your own Judgement Day? And yes there are political overtones to much of it…It’s a fantasy about a Judgment Day that doesn’t come, exactly, from anyone’s usual idea of God…and that looks for real, social justice.

VENTRELLA: What’s the best reaction you’ve received from these political books?

SHIRLEY: Recommendations. Good reviews. Eg, “That staple of cautionary science fiction, the near future, becomes especially ‘near’ in this disaster novel from one of fantastic fiction’s most hard-hitting talents–EVERYTHING IS BROKEN emerges as a violent, vivid, viscerally upsetting and wholly unflinching nightmare of a novel, which profoundly illustrates the very point of having a civilization in the first place, and the risks we undertake by dismantling infrastructure in the name of short term savings. It’s not just a compelling read, but an important one–GRADE A.”—SciFi Magazine

VENTRELLA: Are you optimistic about the future or do you worry that the crazies on the right will cause more harm before things change?

SHIRLEY: If you mean the near future, the great worry, for me, is the Citizen’s United decision by SCOTUS, empowering billionaires and giant corporations and amoral people like the Koch Brothers to freely propagandize, to distort the President’s record, to spread the falsehood that Reaganomics, Tea Party economics, and so on, actually works to improve the economy. Actual economists dispute that fallacy. But people are buying into it. And as the Super PACs unleash more and more propaganda, politicians become more afraid of taking a stand, afraid of someone mounting a super PAC against them—and Congress becomes even more dominated by money, at the expense of ethics. If you mean the farther future—at this link is a transcript of the speech I gave to TEDx in Brussels last November, on why I’m “optimistic because everything will be terrible.”

VENTRELLA: Some of the threat of the tea partiers and their like is their anti-science position. What do you think causes that mindset?

SHIRLEY: They feel more comfortable with ignorance. It’s a sort of numb buffer around them so they don’t have to face life as it is. But also they’re being manipulated. Big Oil is opposed to accepting science on global warming, and they manipulate these people to mistrust science.

VENTRELLA: Have politics always influenced your writing? In other words, do you find yourself visiting political themes in your work?

SHIRLEY: A fair amount—and if it’s not that, I’m reaching for something meaningful, in some respect. Existential meaning matters too. Spiritual meaning. Philosophical meaning. And the human condition. I admire writers who dramatize the realities of the human condition. But it’s great when someone can combine some controlled degree of didacticism with entertainment—sometimes they have a major social impact. I’m thinking of the novel UNCLE TOM’S CABIN, the works of Charles Dickens, Upton Sinclair, and Steinbeck. Kurt Vonnegut novel’s, too, affected people deeply, he had a lot of social resonance; so did the novel CATCH-22 by Heller.

VENTRELLA: What themes have you found yourself revisiting, even if subconsciously?

SHIRLEY: The struggle with addiction—in the past, I had to carry on a bare knuckle fight with it. Fortunately I won. . .My observation that people suppress their empathy, their compassion, all too easily; that they barricade themselves away from it. That dehumanization is sadly all too human…And issues of the necessary balance between too much government and too little. I’m not in favor of too much; but on a planet with 7 billion people, we cannot have too little. Environmental issues also crop up in my work—my novel DEMONS combines most of those concerns in one work of allegorical horror.

VENTRELLA: Do you think that science fiction and fantasy help to provide a better media in which to make points about current issues?

SHIRLEY: They’re ideally suited for it. Look at 1984, or BRAVE NEW WORLD, or Atwood’s anti-fascist science fiction, or Vonnegut’s social statements in SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE. Philip K. Dick warned about mind controlling media and new tech that might be misused that way, in a lot of his books. Then there was John Brunner’s work, like THE SHEEP LOOK UP. You can model different kinds of societies, dystopian and utopian and everything between, in science fiction, like creating a literary computer model.

VENTRELLA: You’ve done so many different genres—what leads you to try so many new things? Does the story come first or the setting?

SHIRLEY: Sometimes it’s the marketplace, but it’s also a creative restlessness. I don’t like to be pigeonholed. It’s also freshening, energizing, to move onto another genre. It’s like traveling in a country you haven’t been to before—it’s stimulating.

VENTRELLA: You’re quite prolific: What keeps you going?

SHIRLEY: Partly necessity—I don’t have a day job. I do have quite a lot to say, a lot of stories to tell. I simply feel better when I’m productive, too. It’s what I am; I’m a writer to the bones. I’m not good at much else. Can’t fix a car.

VENTRELLA: You’ve done quite a few novelizations and tie-ins, such as BATMAN: DEAD WHITE, PREDATOR: FOREVER MIDNIGHT and DOOM. What are the advantages and disadvantages of writing already in someone else’s world?

SHIRLEY: I did those things mostly for money—the most successful one was the Bioshock novel, BIOSHOCK: RAPTURE–but it’s also because they’re in arenas I enjoy. I do love Batman, was glad to play in that sandbox. They gave me a fair amount of latitude and it varies from editor to editor. The Bioshock game people were very hands on and that was difficult. One disadvantage is, one might have to revise more than one is really being paid for. But I always manage—in some cases, the project changes while you’re writing it. They’ve sent you a movie script, but at the last moment it was changed; you were supposed to write about this game but the second one just came out and they want you to do that too … And I prefer to adapt rather than argue.

In the case of Bioshock I knew the videogame world I was writing about pretty well and had enjoyed it so that helped. I enjoyed the Predator films and it was fun to write that book but one issue that comes up is, some fans are very possessive about the franchise they love. Some fans of the Predator comic book thought I ought to have followed its internal rules, its canon—but I didn’t read the comics, wasn’t required to. I just started with the movies and launched from there. I never contradict the underlying source material I’m using…but I do get to be creative within it, and that can be a bit of a buzz.

VENTRELLA: You’ve written scripts for movies and television–have you been pleased with the results?

SHIRLEY: It’s mixed. I wrote “The Crow,” with David Schow—couldn’t be pleased when Brandon Lee was killed in the course of the production. There are always issues of struggling with producer notes, and so on. As for television, it’s very much committee writing, and it’s hard for someone like me to learn that…but I did learn. I just wrote a recent television pilot, which we’re now shopping around, but I can’t talk about it except the name: Intruder Town.

VENTRELLA: Which do you think has been most successful?

SHIRLEY: I’ve had more television scripts that came out close to what I wanted, than in movies. The most recent movie I wrote was a low budget horror film. I was not happy about it. Can’t say more about that.

The Deep Space Nine episode I wrote came out nicely, thanks to Ira Behr, the producer. But it can be very frustrating and one can’t be too identified with the writing. You have to separate yourself from it more than if you’re writing a novel or a short story. . .

VENTRELLA: How much changed between your script and what is seen on the screen?

SHIRLEY: It’s the exception if there aren’t a lot of changes. There are always exceptions—Woody Allen’s films are auteur work, he’s the director, producer, writer, they naturally come out close to what he envisioned. Clint Eastwood, I think, once he has a good script, stays with it—eg the script for Unforgiven. But mostly it’s like your script has to run across no man’s land, with bullets flying…it’s lucky to get across it intact.

VENTRELLA: Do you find novels easier to write than short stories?

SHIRLEY: Short stories are finished faster of course, but that aside, there are things one can do in novels one can’t do in short stories. As long as you have a really strong sense of pacing, and don’t drop all the balls you’re juggling, you can get into more facets of character, more ideas, than in a short story. A short story is like a knock out punch; a novel is a whole long fight with many rounds and lots of footwork.

VENTRELLA: Which is your favorite?

SHIRLEY: Apples and oranges really…

VENTRELLA: Who is your favorite character?

SHIRLEY: From my work? Maybe Rickenharp from A SONG CALLED YOUTH—the cyberpunk trilogy is out now, as an omnibus, freshened up, updated, re edited, from Prime Books, and Rickenharp is perhaps the realest character…because he’s most like me. I’ve been a rock singer, he’s the leader of a rock band, I’m a lyricist and so is he (I wrote his lyrics, sometimes quoted briefly in the novels). He has drug issues and other issues—so do I. There’s a “street minister” character in my horror novel Wetbones I identify with a lot too, as he’s found a spiritual way out of addiction…

VENTRELLA: What would you ask that character if you could meet him or her?

SHIRLEY: Rickenharp? I’d ask him if he’d go to the recording studio with me, play some guitar, write some songs. And I’d ask him if he was self sacrificial—or self destructive.

VENTRELLA: And what do you think he or she would answer?

SHIRLEY: He’d say how much you pay me to the first question and laugh and say two sides of the same coin for the second.

VENTRELLA: Writers who are trying to make a name get hammered with lots of advice: The importance of a strong opening, admonitions about “writing what you know,” warnings to have “tension on every page” – what advice do you think is commonly given that really should be ignored?

SHIRLEY: Almost any of it can be ignored (apart from advice to be grammatic and literate and write in good sentences) if it’s irrelevant to what you’re doing. I have had to learn to write “more sympathetic” likable characters, but there are also times when I don’t need them to be sympathetic or likable. Ultimately one writes what works. Probably most people would have advised Anne Rice not to write a vampire character so sympathetically, in Interview with the Vampire, before it was published—but they’d be wrong! The book worked like gangbusters, breaking a rule. If you have the talent, the voice, the insight, make your own rules. If you’re not sure, follow the rules.

VENTRELLA: What is the biggest mistake you see starting writers make?

SHIRLEY: Nowadays it’s thinking they don’t need to be well read, they don’t need to know the difference between you’re and your, they don’t need to read outside their favorite genres—any half way decent writer had better read widely.

VENTRELLA: I’ve been surprised to find many writers who are also musicians (myself included) – why do you suppose that is?

SHIRLEY: I don’t know for sure. Jack Vance plays banjo. You really never know…But you know there’s a musicality in good sentences; there are good sentences in music…it’s all art, too…

I was always in rock bands. Like Sado-Nation—you can see me on youtube if you search for Sado-Nation with John Shirley there, performing with them in 1979 when I was quite young. So it’s always been a second track for me; and there are a lot of musical references in my books, and I listen to loud music, often, when writing and no it doesn’t distract me.

VENTRELLA: Who do you listen to? Who are your favorites?

SHIRLEY: I’m an old time Blue Oyster Cult guy, and in the late 90s I started writing lyrics for them (other lyricists for them include Patti Smith and Michael Moorcock), have written 18 songs they’ve recorded so I’m pretty partial to those. Mostly those are on their albums Heaven Forbid and Curse of the Hidden Mirror. I was in punk bands, and was a big fan of the Sex Pistols and the Clash and the Ramones. I am also a fan of psychedelic music, like Jimi Hendrix, Blue Cheer, or Roky Erickson. I like the Stones, the Beatles. Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart. I’m a big Iggy and the Stooges guy too. Outside of rock I get into John Coltrane, certain classical composers like Stravinsky.

VENTRELLA: How did your collaboration with Blue Oyster Cult come about?

SHIRLEY: Mutual friends knew they were looking for a lyricist. Plus my first novel was named after one of their songs, TRANSMANIACON, and they were aware of it.

VENTRELLA: With a time machine and a universal translator, who would you invite to your ultimate dinner party?

SHIRLEY: CS Lewis, Tolkien, because I love the way those guys talk, Ambrose Bierce because I admire him and I want to ask what the hell happened to him, Edgar Allan Poe, same thing, Cyrano De Bergerac, Yeshua of Nazareth (a Gnostic teacher now called “Jesus”), Gotama Buddha, GI Gurdjieff, Ouspensky, Mark Twain, Marcus Aurelius, Pythagoras…

And I would sit Wyatt Earp right next to me…I’m pretty into the Wild West and have written a novel about Earp, that I am going to send out when I get around to revising it…

Interview with Hugo-Nominated Author Janet Morris

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Today, I am pleased to be interviewing Hugo-nominated author Janet Morris. Janet is probably best known for her Silistra series. She has contributed short fiction to the shared universe fantasy series “Thieves World” and then created, orchestrated, and edited the fantasy series “Heroes in Hell,” writing stories for the series. Most of her fiction work has been in the fantasy and science fiction genres, although she has also written historical and other novels. Her 1983 book I, THE SUN, a detailed biographical novel about the Hittite King Suppiluliuma I, was praised for its historical accuracy.

Janet, let’s start by talking about the Kindle promotion going on right now.

JANET MORRIS: There is an Amazon giveaway (May 15-17) of the author’s cut reissue of BEYOND SANCTUARY as a Kindle book. This is the only time this book will be offered as a free Kindle download.

It the first novel in the “Author’s Cut” group of reissues: each “Author’s Cut” volume is compeltely revised and expanded by the author(s) and contain new material never before available. The other “Author’s Cut” volumes that have been released as ebooks and as trade paperbacks are TEMPUS WITH HIS RIGHT-SIDE COMPANION NIKO (2011) and THE FISH THE FIGHTERS AND THE SONG-GIRL (2012). The next “Author’s Cut” edition will be BEYOND THE VEIL (2013), second of the three “Beyond novels” in the Sacred Band of Stepsons series. We will eventually reissue all the Sacred Band of Stepsons books, and then more of our backlist, in this ‘author’s cut’ program. It’s very satisfying to get all the errors and deficiencies corrected, and have a chance to enhance these perennial sellers.

Most Sacred Band novels will not have giveaways; we chose BEYOND SANCTUARY as a good starting place for those new to the series and, in its enhanced and expanded form, as an attraction for those who loved these books and stories in the 20th century. We are planning to do a few Sacred Band stories as Kindle shorts as time goes by, but nothing specific has been decided.

VENTRELLA: You started your publication history with the Silistra series. How did you make that first sale?

MORRIS: I wrote HIGH COUCH in 1975 and its two follow-ons, THE GOLDEN SWORD and WIND FROM THE ABYSS thereafter for fun: following the story for my husband and our friends. I knew no one in publishing and had no aspirations to break into the business.

One friend said her husband knew an agent and the book (HIGH COUCH) should be published but I would need to provide the manuscript in a clean, double-spaced copy, not single-space with handwritten corrections. I had my dad’s ancient typewriter (non-electric, non-correcting; the “p” key stuck) and was a terrible typist. I found out it would cost $1.00 per page to have the manuscript typed by a professional, which meant a $250.00 investment. So I didn’t do that for over a year; by then my second book was finished. In 1976 my friend sent the typed HIGH COUCH manuscript to an agent, Perry Knowlton, president of Curtis Brown, Ltd.. Perry called me and said I was a natural storyteller and he wanted to represent me and the book, and did I have any other books? I said I did but they weren’t typed up. He said, “Get them typed.”

Perry remained my only agent until his death. By the time I had the other books typed, he had sold HIGH COUCH for five figures to Frederik Pohl and Sydney Weinberg at Bantam and I was able to quit my day job. Then Perry sold THE GOLDEN SWORD and WIND FROM THE ABYSS to them in a package. By then I was writing THE CARNELIAN THRONE. By the time THRONE came out, Bantam had over 4M copies of the first three in print.

They bought THE CARNELIAN THRONE also, and my next series went to auction in two countries simultaneously based on sample chapters: I still don’t like to write outlines.

Silistra got many foreign rights deals, but only the French one is a divergent manuscript: for a sizable additional sum, I provided extra ‘erotic passages.’ ‘Erotic’ in those days was much less explicit than now, but even so, SILISTRA shook a lot of people from complacency: it wasn’t feminist, nor was it conservative; it featured pansexual characters and dealt with philosophical and sociobiological questions about sexuality and abuse of power; the main female character was powerful and had a sword: all these elements were challenging to the fantasy and SF community. And the book didn’t fit a neat category. In what was then a very hidebound and immature market, it blazed tough trails and still today doesn’t fit any simplistic or political model.

VENTRELLA: How has the publishing world changed since then?

MORRIS: E-publishing is a big change. Deconstructionism is rampant: the continual division of the novel into smaller and smaller subsets of its constituent elements (such as mystery, thriller, erotic, adventure, romance, horror, etc.) either mirrors or leads the deconstruction of politics and of society. Writing outside established marketing categories is increasingly difficult; the mid-list book, which was an incubator of talent, is all but gone in print publishing.

As an ox-gorer and a windmill-tilter who writes mythic novels with political subtexts and who never has been easy to categorize, I think e-publishing is a good thing. I no longer have to cut a big idea into three volume-sized chunks: I can write the book at the length it needs; I don’t have to fix or endure additional errors from semi-educated production people; I can control my covers and the book’s sell copy. The downside is there is much more free reading material (some worth the price, some not), and a lower educational level among some groups – but there have always been books and writers for every echelon of society.

VENTRELLA: Do you see a future where self-publishing will be accepted?

MORRIS: Sure, eventually. When we decided to return to fiction (after taking 20 years off to create the nonlethal weapons mandate, the nonlethality concept, and other initiatives in the defense policy and planning realms), we wanted to keep our fiction e-rights and at that time my agent (Perry Knowlton’s son, Tim, at Curtis Brown) said it was impossible to make a deal like that with a major house. So we decided to put together a small publishing house that did e-books and trades and make strategic alliances with other small publishing houses who produced quality hardcovers. We did this because the self-publishing road is still stigmatized, and because the production learning curve is steep. Kerlak did our first two hardcovers and gave me what I wanted: sewn binding, linen boards, generous print size, etc.

The stigmatization of self-publishing is primarily from the big chains, who look down on POD but POD was what attracted me to small publishing: no remaindered books; no books going to dumpsites; no torn-off covers returned and no tax liability for unsold stock. When we do reissues, we do “Author’s Cut” editions in which we can correct and expand and enhance each book that we’re releasing with better covers and production values than the twentieth century originals: an approach possible now but not practical even ten years ago.

Machiavelli commented in THE PRINCE as follows: “There is nothing more difficult to carry out nor more uncertain of success nor more dangerous to handle than to initiate a new order of things: for the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in those who would profit by the new; this weak support arising partly from the incredulity of mankind who does not truly believe in anything new until they actually experience it.” We found this when initiating the nonlethal weapons programmatics: twenty years later, we are where we should have been in five years in nonlethals, and at absurd cost because nothing is adopted until big things take that viewpoint onboard commercially. Similarly, with publishing, as vested interests deal themselves in and competitive entities are created, things will stabilize – hopefully with new players, but with many of the old entities in new guises.

VENTRELLA: Will the rise of smaller publishing houses and e-books mean that these may someday be better accepted? For instance, will SFWA someday accept more of these publishers? Would that be a good thing?

MORRIS: Eventually the writers organizations must accept reality. E-books and small publishing are part of the new reality. SFWA, like all bureaucracies, protests that it protects its membership while it actually protects primarily itself. When SFWA sees that it must change to survive, it will change. Adaptation is always necessary for survival.

VENTRELLA: Now let’s talk about something more fun: Writing! What led you to write fantasy?

MORRIS: My work doesn’t fit many contemporary definitions of fantasy. I really write mythic novels and stories, sometimes in an SF and sometimes in a fantasy context, but there’s nothing ‘sweet’ or ‘pastel’ about my work: my characters face challenges and so do my readers.

When I write something that publishers call ‘fantasy’ I am writing in what I think is the most important tradition of fiction: starting with Homer and up through Shakespeare and Milton, the most important themes to tackle are those of the mythopoeic domain, tales of the body and mind seen through a temperament and a cosmos divorced from current reality so what is said can be more clear. For me, myth is the ‘common’ language of us all – or has been until these days of stories reduced to their lowest mechanical nature. My stories have a historical cognizance, a literary cognizance, and a philosophical/ scientific cognizance.

Bantam once wanted to separate a book of mine into two books: a short ‘wisdom literature’ book and a longer ‘mainstream’ book. I didn’t do that, but in retrospect it was a well-thought impulse on the publisher’s part.

I’ve also written nonfiction; a rigorous historical about Suppiluliumas, a Hittite king; a pseudonymous ‘novel’; other pseudonymous ‘high-tech thrillers’ (or what you will) with strong technology drivers. I make more money when I write under one male name than when I write under one female name or, as reality dictates, as “Janet Morris and Chris Morris.” But I write the book, each time, that forces me to write it, whether fiction or nonfiction. If the book is fiction, I write only when the story and characters demand that I give up my real life because what they will say is more important.

VENTRELLA: How do you create a realistic, believable fantasy world without just looking like every other realistic, believable fantasy world out there?

MORRIS: We say about THE SACRED BAND, our newest mythic novel, that it is “an adventure like no other.” This book had waited since the late 1970s to be written.

My books are remarkably unlike most of what else is available in contemporary fiction, so making the story or milieu ‘unique’ is not an effort for me. We started ‘The Sacred Band of Stepsons’ series and characters in the ‘shared world’ universe of Thieves’ World®, and so wrote in a milieu populated with other writers: making my work ‘fit’ their construct was a challenge. I have a deep love for the third, second and first millennia BCE, and my ancient characters always are touchstones to historical reality: I don’t “try” to make my fantasy world different from reality: I try to take you into the mythos of humanity. Silistra had a complete language, a glossary, a unique context, a rigorous rationale actually based on sociobiology and genetics, but had sword-wielding women and horses and ancient skirmishers as well as high-tech outsiders trying to understand it. The “Dream Dancer” series, also ‘science-fantasy,’ was set in space habitats primarily. It’s very easy for me to establish a credible world construct and posit behaviors there: I have predicted several major events in the real world over a number of years based on that ability to identify the most likely course of action that a country or individual will take in a given context. Now this skill is beginning to become a field of study called “intuitive decision making” and also “implied learning.” We once called it “speed understanding.” Writers often have this ability, and it allows creators to make their characters and societies credible. The writers who don’t have it can’t make their characters, or worlds, credible enough to please me.

If you want to write something completely unique, you will probably fail or at best write something without redeeming value. The mind works in certain patterns: the mind organizes facts in story form; it is your commonality with that body of human thought that makes a good book, not its estrangement from the common values that humans share.

VENTRELLA: As one of the original THIEVES’ WORLD gang, you’ve had a huge influence on modern fantasy fiction. It’s one of the first (or maybe the first?) shared world anthology. (I copied it completely and stole this idea for my TALES OF FORTANNIS series, by the way.) Where did the idea for this originate?

MORRIS: TW had one volume published when I was asked to come aboard: “Thieves’ World,” which had Joe Haldeman and Andy Offutt and Bob Asprin and others. Bob had the original idea for the “worst town in fantasy, the grittiest, meanest, seediest place possible.” He asked me to write for it at a convention and I said, “How serious are you about gritty?” I had written a very short piece about a woman who killed sorcerers for a living, and I proposed to bring those characters into Thieves’ World, plus an immortalized and very unhappy mercenary who regenerated. Bob said okay, I could bring the characters and take them out again afterward.

I started the story “Vashanka’s Minion,” that introduced Tempus (a/k/a the Riddler, Favorite of the Storm God, the Obscure, the Black). He has a metaphysical link to Herakleitos of Ephesus, and lives as a warrior in a Herakleitan/Hittite cosmos that I overlayed on what Bob and Andy already had done. But when Tempus got down to the dock and Askelon of Meridian got off the boat, Tempus said, “You, get out of my story. There’s not room enough here for both of us.” So Askelon didn’t arrive in Thieves’ World until “Wizard Weather,” although Cime, Tempus’ sister-in-arms, did show up. Tempus forms the Sacred Band of Stepsons in Thieves’ World #2, meets the patron shade of the Sacred Band in #3, and puts the Band together.

Then the TW books start to succeed and people get cranky. I called Bob and asked for a letter because I wanted to take my characters out of the shared town and do a group of novels with them, since Bob was complaining my characters were “too big.” So we agreed on that plan. These tensions made the stories more fun: people came and went; I took my characters into my own constructs such as Wizardwall and into the real ancient-world settlements of Nisibis and Mygdonia. Everyone contributed something useful to TW, and its fabric is still very rich.

I got Lynn Abbey’s permission, after Bob died, to bring the Sacred Band back to Sanctuary for a big novel to tie up loose ends that was set ten years after the Stepsons left town in TW #11 and well before Lynn’s own novel, since that milieu wouldn’t work for me. This project became THE SACRED BAND. As agreed with Lynn, THE SACRED BAND was followed by a novella, “the Fish the Fighters and the Song-girl” (the title story from the second “Sacred Band Tales” anthology), which takes the Stepsons back out of Sanctuary again and sweeps up all my TW stories not previously collected. So now, between “Tempus with his right-side companion Niko” and “the Fish the Fighters and the Song-girl” all our ten TW Sacred Band stories are assembled in two volumes, along with other Stepsons tales not available elsewhere.

As for fun quotient, I get more joy from the Sacred Band of Stepsons than from any other characters. And the SBS character list is expanding….

VENTRELLA: Another great series you’ve run is the HEROES IN HELL series (which now apparently includes LAWYERS IN HELL, which could be the name of my autobiography). What future themes can we expect to see?

MORRIS: If I’d known you, I’d have invited you to contribute to LAWYERS. In the 21st century Heroes in Hell books, next up is “Rogues,” to be followed by “Dreamers” (or “Visionaries,” I haven’t finalized the title), then “Poets,” then “Pirates” (or “Swashbucklers”). “Doctors” is a distinct possibility. There are many stories left to tell in hell, especially now that we have met hell’s landlords and heaven has sent down auditors to make sure hell is sufficiently hellish.

VENTRELLA: How do you work with the authors to make sure there is consistency in the world setting for these collections?

MORRIS: Each hell book takes a year to write and assemble, and the writers must coordinate more completely than was possible before the internet: we have a “secret” working group on Facebook where the writers interact and arcs and meta-arcs are chosen and polished. They choose characters. Our “Muse of Hell,” Sarah Hulcy, has put up 130 orientation docs, so there’s plenty of available information. When they choose the characters, we check to see if those characters have been used previously, and if the characters are available and meet our criteria, they can “claim” those characters for the time they write for the series. If they leave, they can’t take the characters: characters come back to me and stay in hell to be recycled.

Then they work on a short “two or three sentence” synopsis. I must accept the synopsis and the characters before they start to write. They can use legendary, historical, or mythical characters. They can’t use characters from modern fiction (post 1900) and they can’t use recently dead or living people. Then writers are allowed to post in-progress snippets which the group can read, and comment upon – or not. Chris and I write “guide stories” (two or three), setting up the current long arcs and the general tone of the volume at its beginning and end. Between these “bookends,” the other writers must set their stories.

When the stories are generally selected, I edit for continuity and tone, and Sarah Hulcy follows me with a copy-edit. Chris Morris is the final editorial reader, and with the three of us working on the stories for continuity and cohesion, we get a strong result and a better book than we could have produced before the internet.

VENTRELLA: I assume your anthologies are primarily invitation-only (correct me if I am wrong). How do you deal with stories that don’t meet your standard or are rejected for other reasons?

MORRIS: We are invitation-only. The milieu of our hell belongs to Chris and me. The authors know that from the outset. We usually won’t let them write a story we don’t think will work: by the time we’ve approved characters and synopsis, we know what the story will be and how we’ll use it. If someone simply fails to write a useful story, they probably haven’t met our guidelines. Our hell universe is easily recognizable. Each writer has left a clear trail of participation. If they want to rewrite a story we won’t accept and take out the arguably HIH context and characters, of course they can try.

VENTRELLA: Let’s discuss your novels. Which is your favorite?

MORRIS: In fantasy: THE SACRED BAND (Janet Morris and Chris Morris; Paradise, 2010; Kerlak, 2011), the mythic novel of the Sacred Band of Stepsons uniting with the Sacred Band of Thebes and returning to Sanctuary. In historical: I, THE SUN (Janet Morris, Dell, 1987).

VENTRELLA: Who is your favorite character?

MORRIS: Tempus and then Niko and the Sacred Band of Stepsons fighters.

VENTRELLA: What would you ask that character if you could meet him or her?

MORRIS: Tempus lives in my skull. I meet him on a regular basis and I’m happy to have a character so available. He’s been there since 1979. I went to the White House and he said, “Kinda small, isn’t it?” I would ask him, in all seriousness, whether he truly believes that “character is destiny,” a line he shares with Herakleitos.

VENTRELLA: And what do you think he or she would answer?

MORRIS: “The sun is new every day.” We call him the Riddler, remember.

VENTRELLA: Do you prefer writing fantasy or science fiction?

MORRIS: Fantasy, because very little in SF can transcend the gimmickry of a technical conceit, yet without that conceit at its heart a book isn’t truly science fiction. Furthermore, so little emerging thought and technology is employed by sf writers today that the genre is lagging far behind reality both in the cosmology area and the technology area: sf is no longer a place to experiment, but is now very derivative.

VENTRELLA: Do you find novels easier to write than short stories?

MORRIS: A novel is a major commitment, and must move smoothly along its trajectory. A “short story,” if it’s more than three thousand words, actually lets you focus more deeply on a circumscribed area or event. I think short stories and novels are different; each form is unique and equally demanding. I prefer novels but short stories are good exercises in discipline.

VENTRELLA: Do you tend to outline heavily or just jump right in? What is your writing style?

MORRIS: I don’t “outline” in the way that you mean. I get characters, and their background; I immerse my intelligence in a milieu that’s fully realized: a place with weather and politics and problems and a special nature. I use square post-it notes to write down certain things that must happen during a sitting: a line of dialogue, a particular event, where I need to be when the section is done; a section or chapter or story title. I know where I want the story or chapter or novel to end; I know where I want to start each section: how I get there is the fun for me.

Often times the question for me is which viewpoint character will have the best take on a particular set of events. When I have (twice) sold a project based on outline, it took all the fun out of it.

VENTRELLA: When creating believable characters, what techniques do you use?

MORRIS: I wait. I lie on the bed or go for a drive with paper in my pocket and wait for the characters to start to interact with me, or to tell their story to me. I need to “see something moving” and other writers who write this way all agree – if there’s something moving in your mind’s eye, there’s a character there.

Abarsis was a good example: I knew I wanted to do “A Man and His God” in which at the end the Slaughter Priest would die in Tempus’ arms. I got a character called Abarsis. I thought he and the Slaughter Priest would be two different people but the character wanted to be “Abarsis, the Slaughter Priest.” This was a very big, very strong character and I argued that if Abarsis was the Slaughter Priest then he would die. He said that was fine. Susan Allison of Ace called me up after she read it and confessed that the story made her cry. And Abarsis came back as patron shade of the Sacred Band: the character knew more than I what to do and how, in order to be memorable. Sometimes with good characters you must let go and let them forge ahead. This requires belief in your Muse.

VENTRELLA: You’ve collaborated with other prominent authors, at least one of whom lives with you, which makes it easier. How have these worked? (For instance, do you share writing equally? Does one author do the basic work and the other expand from that outline?)

MORRIS: With whatever writer, we talk about the story line, points of interest, what needs to be accomplished. If it’s Chris, he may come up with a title or a concept. I usually do draft or if I write with others, I’ll often write first: I like beginnings. With some writers, I send sections and they pick up the action; with others, I’ll do a draft and then they will add to it after I’ve done all I want to do, from beginning to end.

Everyone has a special genius, and working with each person is different. If the other writer starts, that’s a different process for me: I work on the story they’ve sent in Track Changes, do what I want to the entire manuscript. Then they accept or reject or we go back and forth. I worked a number of projects with a writer who was outline-driven and I could never figure out what those notations were supposed to evoke, so I’d call to discuss it. The outline made the other writer feel better. I can do a series of chapter titles and use those as an outline, but beyond that, outlines don’t help me. I often work with other writers who don’t like to outline either, or outline in the most cursory way.

VENTRELLA: Writers who are trying to make a name get hammered with lots of advice: The importance of a strong opening, admonitions about “writing what you know,” warnings to have “tension on every page” – what advice do you think is commonly given that really should be ignored?

MORRIS: All advice should be ignored. Every real writer is different. Every story has a nature, an organic way it wants to unfold. Tell a story that sweeps you up, that you want to hear, that keeps YOU on the edge of your seat. Some stories start best with dialogue, others with narrative: writing is catching the wave of creativity. The wave must be there for you to catch.

Writers learn from reading other writers whom they can admire, and writers whom they detest. Before Silistra, I bought a paperback by a famous writer and when I was done I threw it in the wastebasket, said “I can do better than that,” and did. When I read, I try to read writers who can teach me something, who are better at some things than I am. But print-through is always an issue: often when I am writing fiction I read only nonfiction, and vice versa.

The only person who should ask you to make changes in your book is some editor who has paid a lot of money for it. Even then, changes are risky: the story unfolds on the first pass the way the universe unfolded in the first moments of creation: in the way that it must.

VENTRELLA: What is the biggest mistake you see starting writers make?

MORRIS: Writers who have no characters and force a story bore me. Writers who are good at one thing – such as dialogue – may do that one thing too much: talking heads don’t work except very occasionally, when they can work very well. Knowing when to do something is part of the art of writing. Sometimes I act as an acquisitions editor. If you want to sell to me, you’ll tell me who, where, what, and why, and then finally how – all on the first page, hopefully in the first couple paragraphs: where I am, what it’s like, who cares about what’s happening. I want to fall through the words into a different place. But most of all, you must make me care almost immediately.

VENTRELLA: With a time machine and a universal translator, who would you invite to your ultimate dinner party?

MORRIS: Homer, Hesiod, Tiye, Virgil, Marcus Aurelius, Herakleitos, Einstein, DaVinci, Xenophon, Kikkuli, Thales, Plato, Odysseus (assuming he was Homer’s grandfather), Epaminondas, T.E. Lawrence, Marlowe, Shakespeare, Byron, Mary Shelley, Evelyn Waugh, Emil Zola, Dwight Eisenhower, Sun Tzu, Aspasia, Aristotle, Marguerite Yourcenar, Henry James, Suppiluliumas, Anksepaaten, Herodotus, Sappho, Emily Dickinson, Richmond Lattimore, Solomon, the Biblical “J.” And I’d really like to have Roger Penrose as toastmaster, but he’s still alive.

Interview with Hugo, Nebula, and Campbell Winning Author David Brin

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: I am tremendously happy to be interviewing one of my favorite authors this week, David Brin! The number of award-winning books he has authored is amazing, among them EARTH, STARTIDE RISING, GLORY SEASON, THE POSTMAN, SUNDIVER, and the UPLIFT series. His KILN PEOPLE is a fast-moving noir detective novel, set in a vivid future when people can literally be in two places at once.

His hard science fiction comes from someone who knows his stuff — he has a doctorate in space sciences among his degrees and honors and is a fellow of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies.

He also does graphic novels: TINKERERS shows a future when the nation’s manufacturing has declined and searches for answers, and THE LIFE EATERS explores how mystically-obsessed Nazis might have hoped to use a bizarre kind of magic.

And then there’s his popular nonfiction romp that stirred lots of controversy, STAR WARS ON TRIAL: SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY WRITERS DEBATE THE MOST POPULAR SCIENCE FICTION FILMS OF ALL TIME.

His web page is here. And, if you are interested in writing advice from a real professional, David has a section on his web page for you.

David, a theme in many of your work is about enlightenment and human progress. Humanity only started progressing recently in human history, primarily because of science. Do you think enlightened literature (specifically science fiction) has helped to bring this about?

DAVID BRIN: Of course it has. Science fiction arose to prominence in the United States and Britain exactly in pace with the climb to scientific pre-eminence in both nations. It flowered then in Japan and is now burgeoning in China, even as it has fallen into harder times in the U.S. See the correlation?

But it goes beyond simply inspiring a new generation of vividly motivated technical types. Science fiction also reflects the concerns of the times. Self-preventing prophecies like 1984, “Soylent Green” and “Dr. Strangelove” made us ponder, soberly, the possible ways that liberty, or the planet, or life itself might be lost, girding millions to dedicate themselves, striving to prevent the portrayed worlds from coming true. That’s power.

And SF offered the opposite – portrayals of us coping, learning, growing, improving. Stories of hope, like “Alien Nation” and – of course – “Star Trek.” Alas, these have grown unfashionable, much to our loss.

VENTRELLA: There’s a noted backlash against science in America these days. Certain political personalities rebel against things they know nothing about, denying climate change and evolution. How does one fight against this kind of stupidity?

BRIN: First, we must expose who benefits from this callous, cynically destruction thing called “culture war”… which has spoiled the generally pragmatic American genius for negotiation and practical compromise. We tend to not be dogmatic types… unless we are at war. Indeed, I look at the furious rage that now infests us, manifesting in outright war-level campaigns against scientists, teachers, doctors, journalists, economists, professors, skilled labor, civil servants… against all the “smartypants” clades… and I am compelled to realize – we are in Phase Three of the American Civil War.

VENTRELLA: Do you worry that lately we as a society may be moving backwards?

BRIN: Back in the 1950s, Robert Heinlein foresaw this kind of an era. He forecast the year 2012 as when a briefly maniacal United States would “elect” a non-plurality president – a fundamentalist preacher named Nehemia Scudder – who would them proceed to clamp a theocracy upon our land. Scary stuff and dismally prescient.

VENTRELLA: One of my favorite novels of yours is EARTH, which made some staggering predictions about the near future, many of which have already come true. How much of that novel was the result of research and how much was pure guesswork? Have any of your predictions surprised you?

BRIN: Actually, my fans have noticed the unusual number of “hits” or predictive successes that seem to have been scored in EARTH. These accurate foretellings … and some that were embarrassingly off-target(!) are now being tracked here.

VENTRELLA: Do you see a future for religion?

BRIN: While I am scientifically trained, with my union card as an astrophysicist, and I am proud to be a member of a rational civilization that does not need threats of hell to behave far better than any other. I refuse to go to the opposite extreme as so many have, and deride our neighbors who believe. (Indeed, I have some levels of spirituality, myself.) Yes, some versions of God are excluded now by our clear-eyed view of reality and the cosmos, but some have not been and I see no harm in acknowledging some tasty… possibly theologically redolent… ambiguity.

In fact, see me get all biblical! Science-friendly theology? At the recent Singularity Summit 2011 I gave a talk to all those folks who think that technology will soon empower us to construct super-intelligent artificial intelligences, or perfect intelligence enhancing implants, or even cheat death. The title: “So you want to make gods. Now why would that bother anybody?”.

VENTRELLA: What themes do you find yourself revisiting in your work that may pop up without planning?

BRIN: I am behooved to revisit the Uplift Universe and answer many riddles. I hope also to keep channeling ideas as bizarre and enticing as I had in KILN PEOPLE. Some will say this happened in EXISTENCE (coming in June from Tor Books.)

VENTRELLA: What is your writing style? (Do you outline heavily or just jump right in? Do you tend to start with a scientific idea, a character concept, or something else?)

BRIN: All of the above. I like to surprise myself!

VENTRELLA: How has your educational background influenced your writing?

BRIN: Let me admit and avow that writing was not my own first choice of a career. True, I came from a family of writers. It was in my blood. But I wanted something else — to be a scientist. And by the fates, I became one.

I also had this hobby though — writing stories — and it provided a lot of satisfaction. I always figured that I’d scribble a few stories a year… maybe a novel now and then… while striving to become the best researcher and teacher I could be.

Don’t mistake this for modesty! It’s just that I perceive science — the disciplined pursuit of truth — to be a higher calling than spinning imaginative tales, no matter how vivid, innovative, or even deeply moving those tales may turn out to be.

I know this seems an unconventional view.

Even now that civilization has made it clear that it wants me to write and not do research (by paying me better) I still try to bring the thinking tools of science into all that I write, even light fantasy.

VENTRELLA: What’s on your plate these days? What can we look forward to?

BRIN: Keep your eyes peeled next June for a sprawling near future novel called EXISTENCE. My first big-Brin-book in some years, it’s filled with epic scope, adventure, and more huge ideas than you’ve ever seen packed in one place! It also has some “uplift portions”… and a first contact scenario that I guarantee you’ve never seen before. Stay tuned!

And yes, folks want more Uplift. I do hope to get back to Tom, Creideiki and the others soon. (I assume you’ve read the second Uplift trilogy, starting with BRIGHTNESS REEF? ) Till then, see the story “Temptation” downloadable here. Some will argue that EXISTENCE is Uplift!

VENTRELLA: Any news on SKY HORIZON?

BRIN: SKY HORIZON is a short but exciting novel in the Heinlein tradition won the Hal Clement Award for best SF novel for young adult readers. The limited run, from Subterranean, is sold out. I’ll announce when a mass market edition is available… as well as the sequel, written with the great young author Jeff Carlson!

VENTRELLA: Any other news you’d like to share?

BRIN: I was a cast member on the History Channel show “The ArchiTechs” as well as History’s most popular show ever: “Life After People.” I’m now appearing frequently on the science shows “The Universe” and “Alien Worlds.”

Interview with author Joshua Palmatier

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Today, I am pleased to be interviewing Joshua Palmatier. Josh and I have been on panels at various SF conventions together, and we’ve had some great discussions about writing and fantasy. Joshua is a fantasy writer with DAW Books, with two series on the shelf, a few short stories, and is co-editor with Patricia Bray of two anthologies. Check out the “Throne of Amenkor” trilogy — THE SKEWED THRONE, THE CRACKED THRONE, and THE VACANT THRONE — under the Joshua Palmatier name. And look for the “Well” series — WELL OF SORROWS and the just released LEAVES OF FLAME — by Benjamin Tate. Short stories are included in the anthologies CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE URBAN KIND (edited by Jennifer Brozek), BEAUTY HAS HER WAY (Jennifer Brozek), and RIER (Alma Alexander). And the two anthologies he’s co-edited are AFTER HOURS: TALES FROM THE UR-BAR and the upcoming THE MODERN FAE’S GUIDE TO SURVIVING HUMANITY (March 2012). His web pages are www.joshuapalmatier.com and www.benjamintate.com, as well as on Facebook, LiveJournal (jpsorrow), and Twitter (bentateauthor).

Josh, your Tate books take place in the same fantasy world as the Palmatier books, although not at the same time or with the same characters. Why have two different authors? When new authors are trying to get that important name recognition, doesn’t this put you at a disadvantage?

JOSHUA PALMATIER: Well, the two names were actually a strategy brought up by the marketing department at my publisher. The idea was that we’d release the new books under the Ben Tate name and make it an open secret. Hopefully, the Joshua Palmatier fans would learn of the name switch and buy the new Tate books, while the Tate name would bypass the ordering structure of the bookstores so that they’d carry the new books on the shelves and pull in new readers. It was an attempt to increase the audience for my books. The sales for the Palmatier books were OK, but not as high as hoped, so the publisher was looking for ways to draw in additional readers. At this point, I would have to say that the ploy didn’t work, although I think there were numerous factors as to why it didn’t work.

VENTRELLA: Is the voice the same in the two series?

PALMATIER: That’s one of the reasons that I didn’t protest too much when the publisher suggested the name change for the new series —- the voice of the new series is significantly different than the original. So even though it’s set in the same world, it had different characters, was set at a different time period in the history of the world, on a completely different continent, and -— like the Palmatier books, which were focused on one character, written in first person, and were essentially “urban fantasies” set on an alternate world —- the new series was much more epic in nature. There are multiple POV characters and threads that the reader follows, and the action takes place over two different continents and over a much larger time span. So the feel of the books are different than from that original series. Both are dark in nature though, as the covers of THE VACANT THRONE and WELL OF SORROWS suggest.

VENTRELLA: How did you get your first “big break” in publishing? Did you have an agent first?

PALMATIER: My “big break” was sort of interesting actually. I wrote my first book (unpublished) and started sending it out to editors and agents at the same time (one editor at a time, but multiple agents). I spent the next ten years writing three additional novels, sending each out to editors and agents and getting rejections from all. But most of the rejections were good, meaning they said, “I’m not interested in this project, but the writing’s good and I’d like to see whatever you write next.” This was encouraging, and it allowed me to focus my attentions on those editors and agents who were interested. I basically kept a running list for each, in order of my preference and tweaked based on the responses I got.

So when it came time to send out THE SKEWED THRONE, I started at the top of my editor list (Sheila Gilbert at DAW) and the first seven agents on my list. I heard back from those first seven agents quickly (all rejections), so sent out the next batch of seven, all while DAW still had the book. I was also getting my PhD in mathematics at the same time, at the point where I was defending my dissertation. I got a call from one of the agents, Amy Stout, while prepping for that defense. After a lengthy discussion on the phone over representation, I signed on with her and told her that DAW currently had the book. Amy called up Sheila and started talking. Meanwhile, I continued my job search and defense.

I was away at a mathematics conference, doing interviews and such, when Amy called back to tell me that DAW wanted to buy THE SKEWED THRONE. I was thrilled! But they also wanted to talk about the sequels. So in the midst of finishing up my dissertation and job hunting, I worked up the proposals to THE CRACKED THRONE and THE VACANT THRONE and almost immediately had contracts for the entire trilogy. My first sale! I was on my way!

But keep in mind that it took me ten years and I wrote three other novels before THE SKEWED THRONE found a home. And I lost count of the number of rejections.

VENTRELLA: Aspiring authors often seem to think that writing a book is easy and your first one is sure to be a huge hit. What writing experience did you have prior to publication?

PALMATIER: *snort* Writing a book isn’t easy. I said before that I wrote three other novels before I sold one, but that isn’t quite true. I started writing while I was in high school and kept writing all the way through college. It wasn’t until grad school that I sat back and asked myself whether I was going to do this for fun, or if I was going to try to sell something. So it was ten years and four novels total from the moment I decided to get serious. There were ten years of “fun” writing before that.

And that “fun” writing was actually my entire set of writing experience. I took a few classes here and there in college as part of my other degrees (electives and such), but for the most part, those ten years of writing were me teaching myself how to write. I wrote my first true novel five different times, each time learning more about the craft and what was good writing and how much mine sucked. It wasn’t until the 5th draft that I finally thought I’d written something that could potentially be published. (And those first few drafts were bad. I mean bad. Indescribably bad.)

I also pretty much trained myself in how to send that manuscript out to find a publisher to call home. That simply amounted to a bunch of research and time on my part, reading up on what “manuscript format” meant and what publishers wanted in a “query” or “partial.” All of that’s even easier to research now with the internet, and I strongly suggest aspiring writers take the time to do the research and make a list of publisher and agents they want to submit to when they’re ready.

But of course, you have to have that stellar book first, and that part ain’t easy at all.

VENTRELLA: Tell us about the books!

PALMATIER: I was waiting for you to ask. *grin* All of my novels are dark fantasy, the Tate books more epic in nature than the Palmatier books.

I’ll start with the “Throne of Amenkor” series, which begins with a young girl, Varis, barely surviving in the slums of the city of Amenkor. She’s on her way to becoming lost, like so many other souls in the slums, when she runs across a Seeker—an assassin sent by the Mistress of the city to mete out justice—named Erick. Erick trains her to protect herself and uses her to hunt his marks in the slums. Of course, these marks lead Varis beyond the slums into the heart of the Amenkor and deep into its politics. Eventually, she’s hired to kill the Mistress herself, protected by the magic of the Skewed Throne.

The series continues beyond that, with attacks from a race called the Chorl from the sea, and eventually leads to Amenkor’s sister city of Venitte. But I don’t want to spoil anything. Everyone will just have to read the books to find out what happens.

My Tate novels are a little different, set on a different continent and sort of combining the settling of a newly discovered continent with fantasy elements. Colin’s family has fled the coming war in their homeland to the new continent across the ocean, landing in one of the few settlements on the new coast. But the politics of the old world have followed them to the new. In order to escape, Colin’s father accepts responsibility for a wagon train heading into the unexplored plains to form a new settlement inland. They head out . . . only to discover entire new races of people, a beautiful new world, and unexpected and magical dangers. Attacked by one such race, the wagon train is driven into a dangerous and dark forest, where Colin’s life is changed forever when he is forced to drink for the Well of Sorrows in order to survive. But the waters of the Well transform him into something more than human. Struggling to maintain his grasp on humanity, he attempts to use his newfound powers to end the war between the three clashing races —- the humans from his homeland, the dwarren, and the Alvritshai.

VENTRELLA: You are the editor of a new anthology about fae coming out soon. How did that come about?

PALMATIER: Ah, the role as editor. That actually came about at a bar. You see, a bunch of my fellow friends and authors had gotten together for a signing and afterwards we, of course, hit the bar for a few drinks. While chatting, someone brought up the idea of doing an anthology centered around a bar, and thus AFTER HOURS: TALES FROM THE UR-BAR was born. I wrote up a proposal for that and sent it out. DAW liked the idea and thus my editing career (with Patricia Bray) was born. After the bar anthology, Patricia and I proposed a few other ideas and DAW bought THE MODERN FAE’S GUIDE TO SURVIVING HUMANITY.

VENTRELLA: As someone who has edited a short story collection and is working on a second, I find that the hardest thing to do is reject stories, especially from friends. How have you handled this?

PALMATIER: Well, for the first anthology, AFTER HOURS, Patricia and I only invited around 17 authors to contribute. A few had to drop out because of their own schedules, so we ended up not needing to reject anyone for that anthology. However, for MODERN FAE we invited over 30 people to contribute stories, so of course we had to pick and choose from the selection there. Pretty much all of those invited were friends, of course, but we were up front with everyone and in the end we simply handled everything professionally. Both Patricia and I were able to separate the friendships from the editorial job, so while rejecting some of the friends (some of them friends for decades) was hard, we just . . . did it. Like ripping that band-aid off all in one go. Everyone knew that getting rejected was a possibility, and I think everyone understood why certain stories didn’t make the cut.

VENTRELLA: When editing an anthology, do you ever do any rewriting of the stories submitted yourself?

PALMATIER: All of the stories in the anthology were edited, of course. Neither Patricia nor I do what I would call “rewriting” though. Each of us reads the story and we compare notes on what we thought and how we think the story could be improved. One of us then sends out our notes about suggested revisions (we divide the authors up into two teams —- Team Patricia and Team Joshua). It’s up to the authors to revise the story, with the idea that at this stage there’s still a chance that the story will be cut if the revisions aren’t satisfactory. But all of our authors have reacted professionally to our suggestions, so we’ve never had any trouble. I think everyone realizes that we all want the best stories possible in the anthology and we’re all working toward that one goal. I think both anthologies are spectacular.

VENTRELLA: What resources do you use in creating your fantasy worlds?

PALMATIER: I use everything when creating my fantasy worlds. *grin* By this, I mean that I use bits and pieces of many different cultures all tweaked to fit the circumstances of the world where these characters and these stories are being told.

For example, in the “Well” series, I have three main cultures clashing on the plains. The human culture has aspects from the settlers who were setting out into the American West, but it’s obvious that they aren’t those settlers. For their homeland, I meshed numerous European cultures. The dwarren are reminiscent of some of the American Indian cultures, but various additions of my own, enough that I wouldn’t say they’re based on any one particular culture. What I’m trying to capture is a flavor, but I want that flavor to be unique —- familiar enough to be comfortable, but different enough to intrigue the reader.

Of course, you need to be familiar with numerous cultures in order to do this well. I wouldn’t say that I have any particular resources for this. I simply read and absorb as much about other cultures as I can.

VENTRELLA: With so many fantasy novels out these days, what have you done to make your series stand out from the rest? What’s different about them?

PALMATIER: Hmm . . . well, I’d like to think the writing. But, I also try to make the characters as interesting as possible and play around with the magic.

I think for a fantasy, you really need to pay attention to the magic and think about what makes your magic different from everyone other fantasy novel out there. In the “Throne” series, I have two main magical components that I focus on — the White Fire and the Skewed Throne. These two magics are obvious: the White Fire is a wall of white flame that passes through the city for a second time during Varis’ lifetime (it passed through once before 1000+ years ago). No one knows what this Fire is, but it touches and affects everyone in various ways. For Varis, a piece of the Fire appears to settle inside of her and she eventually learns how to use it. The Skewed Throne is designed to store all of the personalities of those who have touched it inside, so that the ruler has the ability to access this information and knowledge and, in theory, become a better ruler. The problem is that in Varis’ time, there are so many personalities stored inside the throne that it has essentially gone insane. For the “Well” series, I have the water inside the Well of Sorrows as the main magical component. This water gives the person who drinks it limited powers over time, but it also taints the drinker and eventually alters them into . . . something else.

These are the key elements that I think make my fantasy different than other fantasy novels out there. But again, that isn’t enough on its own. I think my books are darker and more realistic than other fantasies on the shelf at the moment, and I think that if you don’t have interesting, relatable characters, then all the cool magic in the world isn’t going to save you.

VENTRELLA: When creating believable characters, what techniques do you use?

PALMATIER: Wow, that couldn’t have been a better segue if I’d planned it. So, yeah, the characters are incredibly important. People won’t keep reading if they don’t care about the characters, no matter how interesting the magic or the plot. Everyone wants someone to root for. I don’t think there are too many tricks to creating believable characters though. The only real technique is to get inside of that character’s head and to seriously ask exactly what it is that the character would do in such a situation. It isn’t easy, and it takes practice to get yourself into that headspace (because it’s a slightly different headspace for each character), but you literally need to “become” that character for those scenes. You have to put yourself in that person’s world and feel them. At least, that’s how I do it. What would they think, what would they say, what would they do in this situation? Those are the key questions you have to ask in every scene.

VENTRELLA: What is your background? How did you decide to become a writer?

PALMATIER: Well, I decided to become a writer in the 8th grade, when an English teacher assigned us a “Twilight Zone” story and I wrote a rip-off of the Atlantis story with spaceships. But the teacher’s comment was, “This is good, you should write more.” I think that’s the first time it seriously crossed my mind that PEOPLE WROTE THE BOOKS I WAS READING! And that person could be me! It was a stunning revelation. I immediately began writing, doing short stories for Andre Norton’s MAGIC IN ITHKAR series (even though I never sent anything in) and eventually sitting down to write a typical “me and all my friends get transported to a fantasy world!” kind of story. It sucked of course, and I never finished it. But it was the first effort at writing something longer, and it taught me that writing wasn’t easy. I started my first SERIOUS effort at a novel shortly after that, and that one I finished (even though it sucked).

I never really had a “background” in writing. My degrees are in mathematics (something has to pay the bills) and I never really took any particular writing classes for the sole purpose of “learning” to write. I took a few creative writing classes in college, mostly for the elective credit. Everything else I taught myself.

VENTRELLA: You’re a math professor, right? Don’t those kinds of nerds usually end up writing hard science fiction?

PALMATIER: Ha! Yeah, science fiction. I think there are two reasons that I don’t write science fiction. The first is that, as a reader, I was never really drawn to science fiction. Everything I read when I was younger leaned more toward fantasy. I “discovered” fantasy and science fiction by accidentally checking out an Andre Norton book from the library. After that I was hooked. I read everything of Andre Norton’s I could get my hands on . . . but even then I gravitated toward her fantasy, not her SF. So I was a fantasy reader early on. It only made sense that I’d want to write fantasy on my own.

The other reason I write fantasy and not SF, I think, is because I needed something totally different from the mathematics to focus on while in grad school. The writing was, essentially, my “break” from all of the hardcore equations. In fact, it was such a break that Varis, my main character in the “Throne” books, hated mathematics. So when I got tired of the math, I’d switch gears and focus on the writing and the fantasy; and when the writing slowed down, I turned back to the fantasy. I think they complemented each other rather well.

In fact, I think the structure that’s the basis of mathematics helped me write better fantasy novels—keeping the plot in line and not scattered, keeping the magic realistic, with rules of its own, etc. And the fantasy helped the mathematics as well, since you need to be creative and think “out of the box” in order to come up with new ways to solve previously unsolved problems (which is what you do for your dissertation in math—solve something no one has solved before).

VENTRELLA: What was the biggest mistake you made in your career?

PALMATIER: I think the biggest mistake I made was writing the sequel to my first novel when it hasn’t sold yet. You see, I wrote that first novel and started sending it out to agents and editors. But it was the first book in a trilogy (of course), and I was so confident that it would sell that while it was out doing the rounds I worked on the sequel and got it finished. But of course, that first novel never sold. So I wasted a year of writing working on the sequel, when I should have been writing a different book completely in case that first book didn’t sell. Looking back on it, it’s obvious, but at the time I had no clue. I may have gotten published earlier if I hadn’t lost all of that time.

VENTRELLA: What do you see as the biggest mistakes starting authors make in their writing?

PALMATIER: Well, I still see people making that same mistake I made: writing that sequel when the first book hasn’t sold yet. You should work on something else, because then you have another novel to shop around, and if that first book sell you can still write the sequel. But the biggest mistake I see aspiring writers making is that they don’t take the time to do the research you need to do before you start sending manuscripts out there. Every writer needs to sit down and research the publishers and editors and get a good idea of who they’d like to publish their work. Make a list, with their top choice down. Do the same for agents, paying particular attention to make certain the publisher and agents are legitimate. Do a second list for top agent down. Research each one to see what they want from the writer (some want just a query letter, some want a partial, some will take the full manuscript, etc). Make certain the manuscript is in the proper format. Once all of this research is done, then send out the manuscript. All of this research won’t take up much time (in comparison to the time it took to write the manuscript in the first place) and it makes your submission professional. Publishers want good books first and foremost . . . but they’re also looking to work with someone who approaches them in a professional manner.

VENTRELLA: What piece of advice do you wish someone had given you when you first began writing?

PALMATIER: I think I was rather lucky in that I did get good advice pretty much right at the start, and that advice was, “Have patience.” You won’t get a contract immediately. You’re going to get rejections, and you have to realize that the rejections aren’t personal. So you have to accept the rejections (with perhaps some wine or chocolate and a few good writer friends for support) and persevere. Keep sending that manuscript out, submitting down your list, and keep writing that next project. Because by the time you get through your list, if you keep writing, you’ll have another novel ready to send out. By then you’ll have a revised list based on the rejections you’ve gotten, and that revised list gives you a better chance of success.

Joshua and I on a panel together at the 2012 Arisia convention

Interview with Hugo nominated author Michael Flynn

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Today I am pleased to be interviewing Hugo-nominated author Michael Flynn. Mike and I met at the Greater Lehigh Valley Writer’s Group and have run across each other at Philcon and other conventions before, but we’ve never really had a conversation together, so this should resolve that.

Mike, what was your first big break into the business?

MICHAEL FLYNN: I entered a contest by Charlie Ryan, who was editor at the old Galileo magazine. It was for never-before published writers. So I wrote a story “Slan Libh,” about a fellow who has invented a time machine and decides to use it to feed his ancestors during the Irish Potato Famine. Charlie decided to buy it for the magazine instead, which was a larger payment. However, the payment was “due on publication,” and that never happened. Galileo went belly-up. My brothers, ever willing to offer encouragement, suggested the magazine folded because they had been reduced to the desperation of buying my story. For a while, Charlie tried to shop an anthology, but nothing came of it. So, I took the rights back and tried it at Analog, where Stan Schmidt bought it. It appeared in the November 1984 issue.

Two of my first four stories made it onto the Hugo ballot, which certainly did not hurt. This led another writer, the late Charles Sheffield, to urge his own agent to take me on as a client. Charles became a very dear friend, and not least because I only found out years later that he had done that.

VENTRELLA: Did you have any formal writing training before submitting your first work?

FLYNN: Nope. Just the usual English classes in HS and college. Never did workshops, either. OTOH, I did read voraciously.

VENTRELLA: You’ve done quite a few short stories. Do you find them more difficult than longer works?

FLYNN: Stories are less forgiving than novels, in that there is no space for self-indulgence. A novel can meander a bit and still keep the plot going, and has more room in it for scenes devoted to character-building, scene-setting, and the like. But shorter fiction must do all that with a greater economy of words. I find that they take longer to write relative to their length and from an economic perspective not at all cost effective. But I still write them because there are some stories that don’t need a novel to rattle around in. Take a story idea and put it in a novel, and you lose density. The whole seems fluffy. But put an idea in the right length of story and it is more dense and powerful. At least, that’s the way I think of it.

VENTRELLA: Your work is usually classified as “hard science fiction.” Do you agree with that classification?

FLYNN: Well, I’ve often considered them to be “high viscosity” science fiction, a term I coined in a moment of whimsy, but which seems appropriate. Some reviewers have made such comments as “…unlike most hard SF…” without seeming to notice that they were undermining their own idea of what hard SF means. There is an unexamined assumption that hard SF gives insufficient attention to character. But that may have been more a matter of decade than of genre. A story stands on four legs – idea, plot, setting, and character – and can remain upright on any three of them. I don’t insist that all stories have the same strengths. A captivating idea executed in a page-turner plot in a vivid setting can tolerate characters from central casting.

To this we can add the actual wordsmithing, or style. The rumor is that hard SF is less “literary” in style. I’m not entirely sure what that means, except that it leads reviewers to write things like “…unlike most hard SF…” when they notice stylistic acuteness.

VENTRELLA: How do you define “hard science fiction”?

FLYNN: As “science fiction.” Emphasis on both words. It should be a story in which some element of speculative science or technology plays a vital role, and does not serve as simple stage props. And the author takes some pains to “get the science right.” So “Flowers for Algernon” is hard SF, but “Star Wars” is not.

Of course, no one gets everything right, and sometimes the speculative science turns out to be wrong; so it’s more a matter of intent and thrust than it is of successful calculations and prognostications.

VENTRELLA: Science fiction is being outsold by fantasy these days. Why do you think that is?

FLYNN: The Modern Ages, which were among other things the Age of Science, have ended and we have moved on and/or back.

VENTRELLA: Do you find that there is less respect for science these days?

FLYNN: Yes. Partly, this is due to scientific hubris by which (mostly) fanboys of science set Science-with-a-capital-S as the colonial power of the intellectual world, invading other domains of human thought and disparaging philosophy, humanism, religion, and other endeavors. Partly, it is due to feminism, environmentalism, and government funding. Modern Science differed from Medieval Science in an important respect. The natural philosophers of old were in it to comprehend and appreciate the beauty of nature; modern science was redefined by Bacon, Descartes, and others to be subordinated to the production of useful products “to increase Man’s dominion over the universe.” They meant Man in a very masculine sense, and the exploitation of nature as completely open-ended. Hence, the feminist and environmentalist critiques in the Postmodern Age were not without some merit. Thirdly, as Eisenhower warned in his Farewell Address, the government-science funding complex meant that eventually science would be subordinated to political goals. All these strands contributed to undermining regard for science in the Late Modern Ages. When the American Chemical Society funded an exhibit on the contributions of science to modern life, they were astonished when the Smithsonian came up with an exhibit that presented American science as a series of moral debacles and environmental catastrophes: Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Silent Spring, Love Canal, Three Mile Island, and the explosion of the space shuttle.

VENTRELLA: Let’s discuss FALLEN ANGEL, your collaboration with Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. How did that occur?

FLYNN: Niven and Pournelle had promised FALLEN ANGELS to Jim Baen, but were under contract to deliver a book to another publisher. But there was no bar to writing a Niven-Pournelle-Third Author collaboration, so they invited a friend to do the rough draft while they worked on the other book. But time went by and the other writer did nothing, so they invited him out. Then they went to Jim Baen and asked him to pick a collaborator. Jim had just published my first novel, IN THE COUNTRY OF THE BLIND, and was about to do a story collection, THE NANOTECH CHRONICLES. Larry and Jerry liked what they read, and so Jim Baen contacted my agent who passed it on to me.

VENTRELLA: How did you handle collaboration?

FLYNN: Superbly.

OK, seriously. (The three of us were on a con panel the year FALLEN ANGELS came out, we were asked that question, and gave that answer in unison.)

It befell thusly. I was given rough drafts of the first two chapters, and outline of the remainder that became sketchier as it went along, and character sketches for a bunch of characters, both fictional and real fans who would be Tuckerized. I was a speaker at a quality control convention in San Francisco and Larry came up and we talked story and batted plot ideas around.

I rewrote the first two chapters, added two more; visited East Coast conventions to harvest more characters, and showed the results to Larry and Jerry. They liked what they saw, made some suggestions, and gave me the green light.

“Showed” doesn’t cut it. This may have been the first novel written by modem. There were problems. I had a Mac, they used DOS boxes. We wound up sending files — dial up modems! Forsooth! — to Jim Baen, who was able to figure out the proper modem settings and translate from one to the other. So “showed” electronically.

Eventually, they made a breakthrough on the main book, then started doing rewrite behind me. There was two of them and only one of me, and I could write only part-time; so they began to catch up fast.

Funny thing was that I met Larry only twice — as aforesaid and at a Norwescon — and Jerry not at all until after the book was finished and I found myself on a client assignment in LA, where we all got together.

VENTRELLA: When creating worlds (either science fiction or fantasy), too often writers ignore politics. You have not done so. How do you make sure you are creating a realistic political world?

FLYNN: I used to be a filthy politician. Not the kind that runs for office — They asked once and I declined — but the kind that runs caucuses and so on. I was precinct committeeman, district captain, and eventually House District Leader. So I’ve seen politicking from backstage. Then, too, as a consultant, I have encountered all sorts of corporate-regulatory interactions. As for other settings, I read a lot of history.

VENTRELLA: When you create a story, do you begin with the characters or do you have some basic plot idea?

FLYNN: Yes.

Typically, its one thing or another. Setting, Idea, Plot, Character. Any of them can be the stimulus. For example, “Melodies of the Heart” started with an idea. In his book, THE MAN WHO MISTOOK HIS WIFE FOR A HAT, Oliver Sacks tells of cases of “incontinent nostalgia,” in which the patient re-hears music from her childhood and sometimes re-sees scenes of her childhood. That is, they don’t remember hearing or seeing in the past as such, but are hearing and seeing these things in the present time. So the notion occurred to me of a woman who as time goes by re-hears tunes from further and further in the past until one day the doctor realizes that the tunes are now “too early” and begins to wonder how old the woman is.

Okay, so what was the story? Doctor listens to old woman hum tunes is not a story. Even doctor discovers old woman’s age is not a story. Who is the doctor? Who is the woman? Why would it matter, to either one of them, how old she is? From this I developed the characters of Mae Holloway and Dr. Wilkes and why it mattered very much to them both. So this was a case of Idea then Character then Plot.

OTOH, I recently sold a novelette, “The Journeyman: On the Short-Grass Prairie,” to Analog. In this story, the Character came first: Teodorq sunna Nagarajan, the Wildman bodyguard in UP JIM RIVER. I got a kick out of his character, and the idea of writing his backstory appealed to me. Likewise, “Elmira, 1895,” started with the characters of Sam Clemens and Rudyard Kipling; while “Places Where the Roads Don’t Go” started with an abstract idea suggested by Searle’s Chinese Room and Lucas’ Goedelian Proof. It may the first hard SF where the S is not physics but metaphysics. “The Iron Shirts,” recently selected for Gardner Dozois’ annual anthology, was suggested by plot elements, as will usually be the case with alternate histories.

VENTRELLA: Tell us about the FIRESTAR cycle.

FLYNN: I was at a con once with Charles Sheffield. I forget which. And we were at the Tor party. Tom Doherty was holding forth on what Science Fiction needed, which he told me was “near future, high tech, and optimistic.” I pondered on that for a while, since I had been playing with an image of someone listening outside a high school classroom and not hearing learning taking place. The listener became an industrialist, for industry was already hurting for educated workers. But it was a very vague idea. Listening to Tom Doherty started to make it percolate. Setting up a school system to deliberately produce technologically literate students.

Then David Hartwell, an editor at Tor, called and asked if I had ever thought of writing a book for Tor and I said yes and he said what kind of book and I said, “near future, high tech, and optimistic.” Well, you know that had to be a good fit.

The original concept was of a single book covering the maturation of a cohort of students at one of these schools as they grow into the middle managers who save the world. (I had also read Strauss and Howe’s book GENERATIONS.) It was to cover a thirty-year arc; but after 200 pp. it was clearly not going to fit into a single book.

Interestingly, although the near future of FIRESTAR is now the recent past — it’s set during 1999-2007 — Tor has recently issued a second edition without any updating, making it a sort of alternate history.

VENTRELLA: What other works are you most proud?

FLYNN: I would have to say EIFELHEIM, since it was a Hugo finalist for best SF novel of the year. It did win the Seiun Award for the Japanese translation and the Prix Julie Verlanger for the French translation. The SPIRAL ARM series is shaping up nicely. THE JANUARY DANCER made #6 for SF paperbacks in October, which is not bad considering that #1-#4 was George R.R. Martin’s GAME OF THRONES books. And both UP JIM RIVER and IN THE LION’S MOUTH have gotten good reviews.

There is also THE WRECK OF THE RIVER OF STARS, which did not sell as well as it should have. It is a bit darker.

On the short fiction front, I have always been fond of “Dawn, and Sunset, and the Colours of the Earth,” of “Melodies of the Heart,” “House of Dreams,” “The Clapping Hands of God.” The forthcoming “Places Where the Roads Don’t Go” may also pass the test of time. I think. There is also a story series set in the Irish Pub, of which I think “Where the Winds Are All Asleep” is probably the best.

VENTRELLA: What would you advise a reader to go to first if they wanted to check out your fiction?

FLYNN: EIFELHEIM, because it stands alone. THE JANUARY DANCER, because it is first in the series. For short fiction, a collection THE FOREST OF TIME AND OTHER STORIES is available in ebook format, and a new collection CAPTIVE DREAMS is forthcoming. The latter overlaps one story with FOREST OF TIME, but contains three stories written specifically for the ebook.

VENTRELLA: What are you working on now?

FLYNN: Answering these questions.

Oh, wait. Books and stories…. I just sent a short, “Elmira, 1895,” to Analog, fate unknown. A fourth SPIRAL ARM book, ON THE RAZOR’S EDGE, is in the can. For the moment I am working without contract on two possible novels:

1. THE SHIPWRECK OF TIME, about tantalizing hints found in Old Books, Old Film, and Old Bones, in a story that runs from a scholar in 14th century Freiburg-im-Breisgau to historical researchers in 1960s Milwaukee, a documentary film maker in 1980s Denver, and a police detective in contemporary small town Pennsylvania.

2. THE CHIEFTAIN, an historical fantasy (yes, fantasy) revolving around David O Flynn, chieftain of the Sil Maelruain in 1224. The magical element will be not the wizard and warlock kind, but prayer and saints, a bit of a change in pace.

VENTRELLA: How have the changes in the publishing industry affected you and what do you see for the future in publishing?

FLYNN: The only effect is another channel for books, the electronic one. However, going forward I think Mike Resnik and Barry Malzberg are right, and the whole print industry will be turned upside down. Self-publishing is becoming easier; but may become too easy, flooding the market with so much self-indulgent publishing that one may have a hard time separating wheat from chaff.

VENTRELLA: What piece of advice would you give an author wanting to write science fiction?

FLYNN: 1. Learn science.

2. Learn fiction.

At least in third-party publishing, the sort of writing that got by in the 30s and 40s will no longer do, and a certain stylistic mastery will be expected. Editors will often work with promising newbies, but editors may pass away if electronic self-publishing drives third-party publishing out of the pool. The same is true of agents. You may need one to convince Tor or Ace to publish your book; but you do not need one to convince yourself. (And that is the big trap.)

It is also more difficult to write good SF about the science of the 40s or 50s or 60s. Much of what was once speculative science is now mainstream. There was a time, and not too long ago, when a story about a kid using a home computer to garner the information needed to solve a problem wold have been high SF. Now, it’s your son or daughter doing a homework problem. So learn where the cutting edge is today; and if you must use the tropes of yesteryear, give them a new spin that makes them fresh.

Writing fanfic is okay for practice and for beginners; but fanfic will always be derivative and imitative. Whatever you write had got to be genuine and genuinely yours.

flynn

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