Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Q) What was the defining moment or event that sparked the desire to become a published author?
A) Early on, I was an avid reader of Agatha Christie, then when I had read them all, Ellery Queen and John Dickson Carr. I loved the puzzles. But Joseph Wambaugh became a favorite, too. After a while I wanted to try writing traditional puzzle mystery, and wrote two, THE HANDS OF HEALING MURDER and THE EYES ON UTOPIA MURDERS, published in 1980 and 1981. The Cat Marsala mysteries sometimes involve puzzles--HARD TACK is a locked-room mystery. I got interested in police produrals later on. But it started with the challenge of producing a puzzle that was fair but hard to solve.
Q) As a writer you have penned numerous graphic and riveting murder mysteries, which include Death of a Thousand Cuts, one we could easily discuss for hours on end. As a musical playwright you cater to children with successful efforts such as The Magic of Young Houdini. What within you draws you to such extreme genres of writing? And how do you remain focused without allowing one to infuse into the other?
A) My husband composes music and he got me into writing the books [scripts] for musicals. The requirements of keeping audience interest between acts and between scenes is more urgent than keeping a book moving. A book has to make the reader want to turn pages, but there is nothing as urgent as keeping interest going when the lights go down between one scene and the next at intermission. Doing plays made me more conscious of forward motion, which helped me in writing books.
Q) Naturally I have to ask, as a playwright, novelist, and crime researcher, which one, if any of these three, are your ‘first love?’
A) I am happiest writing novels. Plays and musicals are subject to the input of actors and directors. There's nothing more exciting than hearing an actor give more meaning to a line than you even knew was there. But in writing books you have more control over what the reader sees.
Q) A prolific and gifted writer, you aren’t shy about making it clear that it is hard work that produces success. Amongst the many experiences in your resume is ‘assistant tiger handler.’ Would you share with us how that came about?
A) I became an assistant to our tiger handler during the run of "The Magic of Houdini," a musical comedy that my husband and I wrote. The stagehands didn't want to get near the tiger--actually a black leopard, one of the stars of the show. He was used in the illusion where the young lady enters the cage and is turned into a leopard. We've all seen this performed, I think. With the stagehands unwilling to help, I learned how to be the handler's aide. But I have to emphasize I was the assistant. The handler was the person who really knew how to handle the animal.
Q) What advice can you give to a struggling writer trying to become published?
A) It would be great to have magical advice to give unpublished writers, but I haven't any. Maybe this, though: 1. Every published writer was unpublished once. 2. Write every day, even if you have to throw it out. 3. Edit. Not necessarily right away. Write the whole book and then edit, if you like to work that way. But rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. I don't remember who said "Easy reading is hard writing," but it's true.
Friday, June 11, 2010
I know what you had for breakfast and what your friends think about you. I know your schedule, your bank account passwords, what your home looks like, what you look like, who your children are, and I know all of their dreams and fantasies. I'm the World Wide Web... and I just woke up.
Such is the genius of best selling author Robert J Sawyer in his latest novel and the first of a new trilogy, WWW:WAKE. With twenty novels, dozens of awards including a Hugo, Nebula, John W. Campbell Memorial, and ten Auroras, in addition to other top honors in the United States, China, Japan, France, and Spain, as well as his home country of Canada, Mr. Sawyer is without a doubt not just a premier science fiction author, but one of the truly great literary talents of our time. http://www.sfwriter.com/
Q) What was the defining moment or event that sparked your desire to become a published author?
A) The very first science-fiction book I ever read, back when I was 12, was a novel called Trouble on Titan by Alan E. Nourse. My older brother gave me a used paperback he'd acquired somewhere. It began with an essay by Nourse (whose last name was pronounced "Nurse," and who was a medical doctor) entitled "I've Never Been There," about the joys of being a science-fiction writer. In that essay, he encouraged others to give it a try -- so from the very first time I read a science-fiction novel, I knew it was something I wanted to do, and indeed was being encouraged to do. I regret that Dr. Nourse passed away without me ever getting a chance to thank him.
Q) Your wife, Carolyn Clink, is a published science fiction poetry writer. Dinner conversation at your house must be an event most of us would buy tickets for in order to have the opportunity to listen in. What activities do the two of you enjoy together when you want to 'step away' from the chaotic world your writing and research immerses you in?
A) The publishing game is so competitive and in such dire straits these days that I really don't feel I can relax too much; you've got to make hay while the sun is shining. But my job does let us travel a lot, and we often try to tack on a few extra vacation days. We both love visiting archeological sites -- whether it's a Native Canadian dig in Saskatoon or Greco-Roman ruins in Turkey. And we both like live theatre; just yesterday, we went to see a gripping production of Glengarry Glen Ross here in Toronto.
Q) Your work is not "classic" science fiction. It is a rational analysis of our past, present, and the future we mold daily. In my opinion, cataloging your writing as "science fiction" is as accurate as saying da Vinci was nothing more than the Jules Verne of his era. If you had the power, what new literary category would you classify your writing as?
A) Thank you for the kind words. I like to think that what I write is philosophical fiction -- "phi-fi," not "sci-fi." It's a rational, intelligent exploration of ideas and very fundamental questions, such as where did we come from, where are we going, why are we here, and what, if anything, does all of it mean. That said, I'm proud to be known as a science-fiction writer. My website is sfwriter.com, my corporation is SFWRITER.COM Inc., and my vanity license place says SFWRITER.
Q) As one of the few authors able to rely on and enjoy the income from your writing, you do not rest on your laurels. Instead, you make yourself available as a guest speaker around the world, readily communicate with fans, and openly share your interests and life with anyone interested. How do you maintain that level of frenetic activity, find the time to write, and still stay sane?
A) Sanity fell by the wayside long ago! Seriously, I remind myself every day of just how lucky I am. Yes, I work hard, and yes, I'm talented -- but so are lots of other science-fiction writers. I was lucky to win the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America's Nebula Award for Best Novel of the Year back in 1996; any of the other nominees that year -- John Barnes, Nancy Kress, Walter Jon Williams, and Gene Wolfe -- would have been an equally credible winner. I was lucky that ABC actually made a prime-time TV series out of my novel FlashForward; that virtually never happens. And so on. So, whenever I find myself complaining about having to take another trip, or give another talk, or go to another Hollywood pitch meeting, I remind myself that there are thousands of other people who would kill to have the problems I have. I'm a lucky son of a gun, and I know that.
Q) What advice can you give to a struggling writer trying to become published?
A) First, the tough-love: if you can think of anything else that would make you happy, do that instead, because just about everything else is easier and has a higher likelihood of success; writing fiction is a business in which there is no clear career path, and no correlation between how good you are and how much you'll make -- it's practically random.
Next, the pep-talk: write every day. Don't talk about writing, don't read books about writing, don't take courses about writing. Just write -- lots. Make the sacrifices -- give up vacations, or lunches, or nights out with friends -- so that you can find the writing time. Nothing is more effective at improving your writing than actually writing large amounts of material.
Finally, write things you're passionate about. Don't write to make a buck, write to change the world -- and, if you're good, and if you're lucky, the money will follow.