Thanks very much to Mr. Law for doing this interview with me. You can find check out my review of The Complete Guide to Writing Science Fiction here.
First, tell us a little about yourself and your relation to the speculative fiction field–a little history if you will.
From my earliest memory I always wanted to be a scientist and from that grew a love of science fiction. In my teens I got interested in writing and at eighteen I was working as an editor/writer/letterer for a comic book company formed with some friends that I helped run but got nowhere. I went on to write and edit (as well as help run) a variety of comic book companies over the years. I started my own SF zine but couldn’t get it off the ground in the traditional format, so this eventually revised the format to an eZine that I ran for a few years. I got married, finally received my science degree and have been working as a software developer ever since. In more recent past I have been co-running an ePublisher, Virtual Tales, which though publishes various genres, is very heavy in SF/Fantasy.
What are you currently reading (fiction or non-fiction)? Who are some of your favorite writers of past and present and why?
Actually, I’m listening to a lot of audiobooks now. Between homeschooling my eldest daughter and spending time with my other daughter and wife, I don’t have a lot of time for reading, other than what I do editing, though I am looking forward to when my children are older and I can enjoy more traditional reading again. Audiobooks fit well within my life as I can listen to them on the way to and from work. What’s more, there are hundreds you can get for free off the Internet. Obviously many of these public- domain stories, but you would be surprised at what has become public domain, such as H. Beam Piper’s stories. I have “Little Fuzzy” on CD that I read years ago which I am looking forward to enjoying again soon. But beyond public domain, many authors have embraced the audio format with original fiction. One of the biggest is Scott Sigler, a SF/Horror writer, who claims to have produced the first podcast-only novel, EarthCore, though this novel has gone on into print. This is not a typical genre I read, but Sigler is a master of the audiobook format. Currently, when I do have a chance to read I’ve been slowly working my way through A. J. Cronin’s “Keys to the Kingdom”.
As for favorite writers here are some of my current ones:
– Spider Robinson
– G. K. Chesterton
– F. Scott Fitzgerald
– Louis de Wohl
How did you come to be editor of The Complete Guide to Writing Science Fiction Volume One?
Actually, this grew out of the Complete Guide to Writing Fantasy, which was started by Darin Park and originated within an online group of fantasy writers, which I belonged to, as well. I was busy with other projects and not as interested in fantasy at the time, so I never attempted to get involved with this initial project. However, after this there was always talk of doing a similar SF guide, but it never got off the ground. Eventually, my time freed up and I proposed such a publication. Neither of the original editors was available to front the project, so to get it running, I offered to do this myself with Darin agreeing to help out. We queried the original publisher Dragon Moon Press, who expressed an interest, wrote up a proposal, and here we are today.
Why do you think the project was difficult to get off the ground? Is it because SF is a difficult genre to do guides for, or that it’s not usually used as a medium for ‘how to’ books? Or is it just a more typical answer of nobody really stepping up until you decided to? (This isn’t meant to offend, but I find that there are so many more guides for fantasy than there are for SF, though there are quite a lot of SF books, so I’m curious if you might have insight into what makes SF guides a little less popular).
In general, I don’t think people realize all that it takes to get a collective writing project off the ground. They think it is a “neat idea” but they are writers rather than editors, so they aren’t aware nor interested in the aspects that make it possible to pull off such a project and, as such, a lot more projects are started then actually ever get completed. As for SF guides, in general, I believe many people see fantasy as easier to write because you just make everything up (not true, but it is the assumption). Whereas SF is based upon science, which requires more research and knowledge to carry it off effectively, there is the perception that creating a fantasy writing guide is easier than SF.
How exactly did you choose the articles in The Complete Guide? What is the process like for making a collection/guide such as this?
As with the previous publication, this grew out of an online writing group, so this is where the first articles came from, as many of the previous contributors to the Complete Guide to Writing Fantasy also write SF and sent us article proposals. We also sent out a general call to various writing groups and organizations for submissions. We had a list of articles/topics that we wanted to get covered, so in additional to the general call, we asked specific authors to contribute articles in their area of expertise. A number of which accepted.
What would you say sets this guide apart from the myriad of other books on writing SF that are already out there? What makes it more valuable to new writers or even veteran writers?
There are several things that make this different. One is the topics that we cover. There are many excellent SF writing books out there; however, virtually all of them either only cover specific topics within SF or are more general writing books that just use SF as the basis. Our guide is the only one that specifically covers SF, and, admittedly, the subject is so large that this is simply only volume 1. The guide is valuable to new writers in that it covers all the basics from world building to plotting and final editing and revision, but from a purely SF basic. If you want to write SF, this is the book for you. For a more veteran writer, we have chapters about helping to get an agent for your book or after your book is published, how to market it. In essence, this book can help guide you from starting out to making your way within the field as you get published and become more experienced.
You wrote an article that addressed the field of graphic novels. What advice would you offer to a writer who wants to work in that field? Is it as difficult and cut-throat as the fiction business?
Don’t assume this is an easy road to success and publication. You still have to have the mechanics of writing down pat. Writing a comic script isn’t simply putting down the words, you have to write as much or more than any other writer to ensure that your words are properly interpreted on the page. To become successful, you really need to hook up with a talented artist, as people will initially pick up a comic purely based upon the illustrations rather than the story. However, your fiction is what will keep the readers coming back for more. In one sense, it is easier to break into the field as there are always small publishers starting up, and if you have a few thousand of your own money, you can get published and distributed your own title, though if you don’t have any business sense, this money will likely be wasted without anything to show for it.
This probably less of a follow-up than a random rant. I don’t think anyone should ever assume that the road to publication, whether doing comics, novels, short stories, etc. is easy. It’s difficult for almost everyone and can be filled with loads of failures. Some writers get hundreds of rejections before getting anywhere. Jay Lake, who has published a lot of stories, has hundreds of rejections and still gets them. So there’s nothing easy about it. The only good rule is to write. Personally I find comics/graphic novels to be an exceptionally difficult medium. I’m talking with a friend who is an artist to turn a novel I wrote last year into a free graphic novel, and thinking about how to translate it to something that is primarily visual is really difficult because my mind doesn’t quite work that way. So I fully agree with you that it is a lot of work (I didn’t start considering this project until after I’d sent my questions to you, so between then and now I’ve learned a lot about this subject).
I believe there is the assumption by some writers (and publishers) that it is easy to take an existing novel or shorter story and simply translate it into a comic, whereas this really isn’t the case. Just as with written fiction and writing for the screen, there are aspects which work better in one medium than another. Personally, I see comics as the middle ground between the two, allowing to encompass the visual aspect of the screen with the written aspects of a paper book. As with any form of writing, it takes a while to learn how best to utilize the medium to tell your story.
The Complete Guide includes several works by huge authors in the speculative fiction field (Orson Scott Card, Piers Anthony, Kim Richards, and others). What was it like working with these authors?
These writers were a pleasure to work with as. They tended to give me exactly what I wanted the first time with little need for editing and were easy to work with for changes I requested.
Were there a lot of articles that you couldn’t put in this volume? Do you have plans to put together a second volume, such as Dragon Moon has done with the fantasy guides?
Most of the articles we did try to fit within this volume but yes, there is definitely going to be a Volume 2 and, I hope, a Volume 3. Volume 2 is going to be more of a technical reference guide than the first one was.
What other projects, if any, are you working on and would you mind telling us a little about them?
Typically I have too many fires in the iron, but I like it that way. Beyond Volume 2 of the SF Guide, I’m also working on a series of fantasy writing guide for Dragon Moon Press on specific elements of fantasy field. The first guide is on Magic and is scheduled to be released at the World Fantasy Convention later this year. I also have a young adult novel in its 3rd of 4th draft that I hope to finally put to bed this year and find a publisher for. I also plan to work on a series of illustrated Catholic children’s books that I wish to write and self-publish. Other than this, I’m busy with the publishing company I co-run.
Do you read a lot of YA fantasy/SF? If so, what about that level of writing do you enjoy?
I read a wide variety of stories from YA to adult, as well as children’s books my four- year- old asks me to read to her. As for YA, in specific, I like stories that can be considered more “all ages” rather than first chapter books.
Since you’re writing a YA novel, I figure I might as well ask. What differences beyond the obvious (language) do you see in writing YA over adult? Do you find it a significant challenge in comparison to other projects you’ve worked on?
I’m fairly comfortable writing for a YA audience; however, the most difficult part is writing story content and language that is age appropriate without talking down to the reader.
There has been a lot of hubbub in the genre field talking about the future of science fiction, particularly by authors like Brian Aldiss. What do you feel is the future of SF? Is it a grim future or a good future, or neither? Do you feel that SF is neglecting environmental subjects such as global warming?
SF has been around a long time, in one form or another and will be for some time to come. The genre fills a need for people to think out what-if scenarios. It also gives voice to cautionary tales, when the author sees a concern in the world and wishes to bring attention to it. Personally, I see other issues such as euthanasia (how close are we to becoming a world of “Logan’s Run”?) and abortion greater concerns. We are becoming a society of death and while people in the past were concerned with overpopulation you look at the birth rates in much of the western world and you see quite the opposite is happening. While I am optimistic by nature it is troubling. SF at its best can be warning people about the problems of today and the consequences to the future and perhaps we aren’t doing a good enough job of that.
What are your favorite things about science fiction? What attracts you to the genre?
Science Fiction is the genre of possibilities and how to solve the problems of the world, these are both what attracts me to the field and my favorite things about it.
And for a completely random, fun question: Ninjas or pirates? Why?
Pirates. Never heard of a good Ninja, except purely through humor. These are killers whereas pirates can have a “heart of gold”, whatever their otherwise nature may appear, and a chance of redemption. A possible roguesh goodness appeals to me.