Episode 75: Robert G. Penner

Automatic TRANSCRIPT

Conversations with scientists about the creative process host. This emerson's guest. Jean kennedy a welcome to episode seventy five of the world shapers podcast and the first episode of twenty twenty one. I'm your host. Edward willett This is the podcast right. Talk to other science fiction and fantasy author about their creative process. And i say other because i am myself an author of science fiction and fantasy my latest novel from new york publisher. Daw books is the moon. It world Which you can find everywhere it's book three in my world-shapers series and i'm currently writing a new space opera for dog books called the tangled stars that'll be out next year I also have a recent release of from three really recent releases from my own shadow. Pop press shadow press dot com including one by e c blake ec. Blake is suited him of mine and he was actually a guest host on here way back in the early go you can find it on the website. He sounds a lot like me. Only has a texan accent is put back on the accent. I used to have. When i moved up here from texas. When i was a kid. So you can check that out of your. What is lake also wrote for books he wrote. A trilogy called the masks of agreement which is kind of a young adult fantasy dystopia trilogy and very well received. And he's now put out a new book called blue fire through shadow operas If you want to check that out at shadow press dot com. It's an epic young adult fantasy to other recent releases of from pop. Press are re releases of books that were originally published by osman doran press bundoran unfortunately is gone now so the rights reverted to me and i put out two editions of right. To know and falcons egg these are Far future space opera adventures collectively. They're known as peregrine rising So check those out if you bike Far future space opera outerspace adventure and checkup blue fire. If you'd young adult fantasy adventure the other books. I really want to mention. Of course are the ones connected to this podcast. And the first one was shapers of world's that's an anthology featuring first-year guests of the podcast. It's available now in trade. Paperback book everywhere. It features new. Fiction from sean maguire. Tanya huff david weber l. d. madison junior dj butler. Christopher rocco john c. Right me and shelly. Edina and from john sculley david bridge. Haldeman judy eastern eva fonda the doctor charles e gannon gareth l powell derek kukushkin end for raya dire that shapers of worlds that came out from shadow. Pop press. it's available through whatever bookstore you might want to order through You can find it on amazon. You can find it everywhere. You can also download the book version directly from shadow. Pop press you can also buy the print version from shop press. Although i admit i cannot compete with. The shipping costs that to amazon manages to get away with. It cost me a lot more to ship them out now. There's going that that book was kick started back in march twenty twenty and i'm working towards the kickstarter for a volume two Shapers worlds volume two. Which will feature guests from the second year of this podcast and that is also an amazing list of authors much longer actually twenty four authors currently planning to be part of that they'll be new fiction from kelley armstrong marie brennan. This is an alphabet order. Helen dale candice. Jane dorsey lisa foil. Susan forrest james. Alan gardner matthew hughes heli kennedy. Lisa kester adria lay craft. Ira naming garth. Nix tim pratt. Edward salvio brian. Thomas schmidt jeremy shaw and again me edward well then. They'll also be stories from jeffrey a carver. Barbara hambly nancy. Kress david dein. Sm sterling and kerry von so. That's a really excited about that. That kick we'll go live. I hope in march. And don't worry. I will let you know about it here. On the world shapers podcast. Great backers rewards starting to come in from out of those authors as well. So it's it's going to be very exciting right. I think that will do it for the introduction. It's time to get onto this episode's guest the first guest of twenty twenty one robert g. penner rubber pinter's the author of strange labor when publishers. Weekly's best science fiction books with twenty twenty is also the editor of the online science fiction. Zine big echo and has published more than thirty short stories and a wide range of speculative and literary journals under the pseudonym of williams squirrel is a canadian currently living in the us but will be coming back to rejoin me in canada shortly. So robert r rob welcome to the world shakers. Thank you great to be here. I don't believe we've ever crossed pads in person but we do have a kind of a secondhand connection in that. The publisher of strange labor radio press is based right here in regina saskatchewan. Where i live and i know john kennedy. Who's over there very well. And in fact the anthology that came out of the first year of this podcast shapers of worlds is being distributed through it disco canadian distribution company through the good graces of radiant press. So there's kind of a connection their connection. That's the real deal. So we'll talk a little bit about your canadian roots and how you got interested in when all this science fiction stuff so but where where did you grow up i was. I was born in winnipeg But very shortly after birth off my parents took me and my brother off to africa where they were in development workers with the central committee so on the first six years. Of my life zambia. Then we came back to winnipeg for four five then to swaziland. And then back to winnipeg. But i do identify as a winnipeg an interesting combination of countries. It is so how did you become interested in. While i presume like most of this you started as a reader. When did you first find your interest in reading and writing and was it science fiction that started with to come to that later it was very young. But when when we zambia when when we were small children my dad we weren't fairly rural ambience. That much to do in my dad renaissance the whole of the lord of the rings a couple of times in the whole of the narnia series and some of those classic fantasy Books when we were very small on so we grew up. Both me and my brother are already very engaged. In sort of speculative fiction and and the pleasures of like fantasy And when we got back to winnipeg can had access to the big public library libraries my brother. My older brother started taking on a lot of science fiction libraries and i followed. His path had two older brothers and one of them in particular. Read quite a bit of science fiction so that was the stuff that was always around the house. And so i kind of picked it up. And that's how. I got a really interested in it as well How old were when you came back to winnipeg i. I was six. My brother was was five or six and my brother was eight. I'm so we were still very young but let said because of the environment we grew up in we were. We were sort of hyper literate. Because that's alder there was for entertainment So by by the time. I was ten or eleven. I was reading science fiction fairly regularly an already. I'm thinking about about writing right. As as as play as an extension of reading and usual childish fantasy life writing was just a part of it. When did you write your first sort of complete thing. I mean i. I remember that stay dry was writing. I would write a few pages of something that i never finished anything until a little bit later. So how was that for you. You could say. I still haven't But i think the first time was probably a game. Tanner eleven like pieces Nothing very extensive But by ten or eleven. I was writing little short stories. I think about when. I wrote my first complete when castro glass hyper ship test pilot was called so you could sort of. I thought i thought science fiction characters have weird names hints. Yeah i wish i could find. It said my mom typed it up for me and it's tucked away in a box somewhere. And if i ever find it. It's going on like that just as people so did you. Right into your writing through high school. Was that something that you had to not as much i'd say in high school like trailed off quite a bit in terms of my writing and then when when it went. I mean you're just busy with a lot of things in high. School had just wasn't super high on my agenda. I was my friends and i at that stage. Replaying fairmount like dungeons and dragons and traveler and things like that. So that's a type of writing to when you're preparing games. Yeah but series writing wasn't until i i think i was. I was back in university until i went to university in the in the late. Eighties early nineties. And then i started writing more and more game and some ways it might have been triggered. A game by isolation might might late teens. They spent some time working on a farm in germany and and there was nothing left and again. There's nothing to do but but read so. I read an awful lot. And i think that sort of Reinvigorated my my sort of my emissions To right so probably late eighties early nineties. I started writing again. And it was a combination of both and and i'm a periods of isolation. Doing different kinds of work where where i was thrown upon my own imagination for entertainment. What did you did. You study any writing formerly like to take classes or what you i. When i started university. I did take some. I took a couple of english. Lit courses At the at the university of winnipeg And that influenced me. I'm at red river. Red river community college has a journalism. Pr program creative communications. I did that. I'm in my early adult as well. I'm so that was some fairly formal training. But but i would say the biggest influences in terms of sort of establishing style and voice would have been just just reading just picking up independent books in experimenting on my own on. I did tend to always be fairly experimental writer. I think music the type of music. I was listening to influence that kind of music listening to old punk rock in while especially punk rock but sort of more alan garnish pop music When there was a lot of room for sort of play in experimentation. I'm even something like the talking heads. There's an awful lot going on lyrically. That isn't very typical. And just gets a young writer thinking about what's possible with language if you really push stretch You referenced from like rocket interview with you. I read about too big echo. I was wondering if that kind of music you're listening to. It was also actually for writing. I listen to a lot of i. Guess what you'd call on countries stuff like steve girl and dwight yoakam and that's a lot more sort of standardized style of writing. I think that country country western probably also shaped series combination of punk rock and country in western. Probably shake my style and my voice one of the interesting things about country music is that there's a lot more storytelling in it. I think that in than other forms of music so many so many country songs are actually little stories. One sort or no absolutely and mike. Dad listened to a lot of country well. He grew up playing country music and so there was some country music fairly early on in my life as well wasn't a big fan or anything but there was always you know i mean i learned about wilf carter and hank snow in that kind of thing fairly fairly early on as you say. That's like they write little stories And so. I was aware from quite young of this idea of of the little story as being highly entertaining. So when did you start writing. Little stories for her get the published went at the publication. Things start happening at how very late so We moved down to the states about seven or eight years ago. And i had just started writing a gain. I'd finished up in history and one of the ways to distract oneself from preparing for class. I think was to to write in this fiction. And so it started writing a lot more fiction at the tail end of my my phd but then when we moved down here my partner was working on. And i was on. I was on a visa that required me not to work was not to make any money here while i was on that visa and so there was really nothing to do. But i'm shopping cooking and take your kid and right so i started really writing a lot rate when we first moved down here and started publishing in small Fairly fairly regularly. And compulsively. I'd say so s- i would say that the really picking up the energy that was about seven or eight years ago on. I started really writing and down here. We i was lucky as well. There's a guy called andy. Stewart whose published occasionally for a fantasy science fiction and. He has a new book. Novella coming out with a tour and he happened to be living here and at the same time so we we had similar reading and writing interests and we started working together a lot on in reading each other stuff that also was a big invigoration entirely writing science fiction. Kind of stuff for you. You mentioned literary writing as well in your little brother. Yeah i do both When i was younger it was more it was very much more literary all of this I dunno like sort of male confessional charles bukowski type stuff that a lot of young men might be interested in and i found it ultimately a little boring and started retreating into sort of my my childhood looking for for for more inspiring things. More fun things to write about nine began to realize that speculative fiction on really gives you a lot of freedom to just do whatever you want in terms of your writing on as started reading more revisiting. All texts And trying to experiment and write science-fiction In ways that i hadn't before certainly not. Since i was a child. I'm there's this idea that. I think academic sometimes have that you can just start writing science fiction and it's fantasy and it's very easy and it's i mean it isn't one sense in in that play but in another sense there's quite a steep learning curve on. I started reading an awful lot of short form. Science fiction fantasy venues and more novels and avella's and sort of trying to understand the craft from a speculative perspective and was on the last seven or eight years in that was also andy was again a fairly big influence He'd been declaring on. He was a part of that scene in ways. I wasn't And had a very good i. For what sort of. Contemporary science fiction and speculative fiction was like And so that was all in the last seven or eight years. I'd say started really thinking hard about it That doesn't mean. I stopped reading literary stuff for reading it. That was going on at the same time but was that influence. Indies influence was very significant while we often say in the field that it's conversation Field in conversation with itself. Then you know. It's it's very easy for people i think come into it and haven't read mightly experienced it. Write something that would have been perfectly fresh. Fifty years ago at the field has dealt with that or is now taking that idea in unexpected directions. There's all sorts of things going on that When i when i was young writers and i do quite a bit work with young writers. I will often get stuff that it's pretty clear. They've watched science fiction. Mike starter like that but they haven't actually read it absolutely And so i was shocked. At how in some ways how hard it was to to write something fresh look really fresh original because it's been an awful lot of very clever people being very grateful for a long period of time and it's pretty hard to just walk in and think well i can start writing stuff And impress people so we'll move on to the novel. This was this your first attempt at a novel. Strange labor or something. I i saw published Sir have a political horror thing a little while ago. But i wouldn't. I wouldn't call it a novel. Warren more of an experiment. I would say in terms of just a fairly straightforward narrative novel. This was my first serious attempt. Well pretty good initial attempt that consider so. I guess the first thing to do is to give listeners synopsis of it without giving away anything you don't want to get on. The basic idea is that is that people wake up one morning And and the vast majority of the population has become overwhelmed by a compulsion to to leave the cities in in dig. These massive earthen mazes elaborates and a handful of people that are not sort of Compelled to do so And may have to find a way to live in this new world where everyone has left. The city's in their building working themselves to death to build these. These massive amounts these earth mounds. These people don't talk. They just communicate somehow to themselves almonds. We have isolated. The small is elated. Community of people aren't digging Who have to make sense of this new world and find a way to live meaningfully. I'm sort of in the margins. That's the book on and so the structure of the narrative structure is a young woman. I'm traveling across the united states. What was the united states because she wants to find out what happened to her parents. They joined the diggers. Or whether they're like her. I'm so it's this sort of combination of kind of an ear weird post apocalypse with with a fairly traditional road novel so she meets various people on the ways and and various little communicates communities that are striving to make sense of the world This new world. They find themselves in. That's the book you could say. Structure goes back to o. Say the odyssey traveling to strange. Yeah and it's i mean it's it has a fairly epizotic field in some ways to like odyssey where it's just one thing after another It is yeah. It doesn't actually hearken back to that very old style of storytelling and what was the inspiration. And the general. What is your where your you. I know it's a cliche. Where do your ideas come from. But it's a legitimate question and you know how. How do these things come to you. What sorts of things spark story ideas and this idea in particular That was a dream fragment it was a very small element of originated in a dream fragment and just playing around with it after that it was originally at short story And the short story became the end of of the novel so in a lot of ways the writing was writing back story for this short story that i really liked and couldn't couldn't get published. I don't i guess in terms of where the ideas come from just life what has odd thoughts you write them down Occasionally dream Occasionally it might be something more pointed like a very specific idea like what if idea But but i'm a a mood writer so most of my most of my ideas come from trying to capture certain mood or feeling about the world rather than a very classic. Stein's fiction axiom. Like what like if x them. Why kind of writing. Which i really enjoy and i wish i was better at but It tends to be more certain particular moods or atmospheres that that trigger ideas and narratives rather than sort of a scientific notion strange labor. Do you explain at some point. Or is it more about the mood of the strange world Nobody knows what's going on and nobody finds out. How does that explain. I don't so there's not. I can't even give it away. 'cause i have my own ideas but in a lot of ways. I think the book wasn't wasn't about this interesting thing that happened. But rather this thing has happened And how do people respond. And and how do they make. Meaning out of something. They don't understand so if you were going to boil it down to a single through the philosophical idea it would be that These people are stuck in this incomprehensible universe that they can't make sense of and they need to somehow keep living despite this And so if you do. Provide a solution to that. Problem kind of undercuts the whole purpose which is to try to think about what it's like to live in a universe. You can't quite understand and still live. Well is is it that the question we all face. Yeah it is and i. That's part of why i was reading it. Just trying to think through on sort of personal problems on a in in an aesthetic way. You're you have a phd in history has your knowledge of history. Does it plan to these sorts of things. i mean. there's been many times down through history when people have found themselves Circumstances completely out of their control and not understanding. What's going on. Do drawn some of that knowledge of history and in writing things like this. I do um strange. Labor isn't a particularly historical book or anything like that But one of the things. It's really interesting in history. Like sort of professional archival history is is you tend. You tend to always start finding yourself looking back at the big events sort of through the margins. Because you're doing. Our car will work. Because you're looking at these really subjective experiences of history in some ways you stop king historically right you stop thinking in terms of these big economic and social sweeps on any find yourself often thinking in very personal terms because you get attached particular archival voices or perspectives. And these people never know what's going to happen. I'm they're stuck in the world and they're trying to understand there. You are like two hundred or three hundred or four hundred years later and you know what's happened but you're still sort of obliged to try and enter the world that these people exist and try to understand what it looks like and what it feels like when you don't understand what's happening or what's going to happen that very very lick working historian perspective of like how you enter the world of someone who's dead. Who's living in the far reaches of the past and doesn't know what's happening or just going to happen. How do you understand their experience of the world. And how they make sense of the world and what sort of the raw material the cultural in the social and the economic raw materials through which they live in this world on that you have a sort of a post-facto of that they're stuck in the middle of When you're writing a novel it's actually quite similar. You've got these characters that don't have access to the world in the way you do And i think For me the practice of history really showed me ways to sort of think about it will. What do they have access to. How can they think what are the raw materials of their life. And how did they construct. meaning that So in that sense it sort of sort of a meta sense His was very important to the writing a strange labor And other than that. I mean you have access to interesting facts. I guess you can. You can use the spice and flavor in a novel as well. The way most people might not. But yeah i think philosophically history has been very important on specifically to strange labor but to my my writing in general just for that. This is this way of sticking yourself into the head of someone who doesn't have the same access to the facts as you do but trying to do so was respectfully in thoughtfully as possible. There have been several authors. I've interviewed who have a background in history. So it's interesting and folklore case of china mcguire folklore at plays into it as well So the idea said it started as a short story. And then you had to create a backstory. So what did your planning and outlining process. Look like this. Is your first one would kind of deciding how to do it yet is. It's you play around a little but it was. It was actually a it made it easier to know what the ending was so in a sense. Everything's focused on getting to a certain point. The problem. the biggest problem i faced was that i'd like the back. I like the original short story very much in the characters in the short story very much so i didn't want to mess it up Wanted to keep it sort of true to the original troll tone and in style of the piece but it was just it was just. It was fun. I think it was mostly just fun. You say i. I've got to get to and i'm starting at a An had to get there. There wasn't there wasn't a whole lot of planning. Initially i started writing and it just it just took off from there You mentioned the aussie earlier. And so one of the things that was a little difficult was to keep it like structured and not episodic i think the biggest danger was just turned into sequence of events that That kind of very plotti way of getting aid. Be to see I think that was the big danger on particular for a novice was was trying to have a fairly classic novel listrik structure and get to where i wanted with. Just being like a straight linear procession. Yeah started writing. When i was about halfway done i kind of have to reevaluate the structure and of start. Maybe start think. I started thinking about in terms of of acts while if the final if the theoretical short stories act three. What has to happen glenn and act to. How can i give it structure in meaning so the reader doesn't feel like they're just being dragged. Did you ever write anything. Down as formal as outlying aura. The sops something reservoir feeling your way through taking notes as necessary to know synopsis. Too late but lots of lists lots of flowcharts. I'm a big flow chart fan So so there was. I would say about a third of the way through. And i started writing flow charts making flow charts and just trying to figure out what was happening when and how and once i started working with radiant press. I had to do that a little more seriously. Because they wanted more sort of background than i provided in the original draft which were very serve excess national and they wanted a little more back so them and then you start doing this thing where you're tracking the back stories as well as the the current store so i have to think about miranda's the main characters name rand had to think about her previous life and start working that into the material And that's probably when. I started writing a novel. Proper started struggling with the usual kinds of problems on that novelists struggle with But there was there was definitely. I think flow And catalog carnage getting rearranged on tables in all kinds of desperate efforts to to to to fight through the problem of structure you mentioned the character and other officers other characters had. How did you discover the characters. You need it for this story. And how much time thinking Detailing of them did you do before you started writing. Did they also emerge as the story advanced. The main characters were there in the original on the two main characters with the original short story on and they were just there just started writing the story and i needed these characters and and i came up with him when he started doing the novel on. Then you need to put in a lot more sort of Like unique lot words about them in need a lot more shape and form so i started thinking about the more and sort of pomp dramatic turns as characters. What's this character like and somare. I'm i've mentioned this in a previous interview before. But there were two main characters miranda and dave and my partner really liked maranda. But she didn't care much for dave who was sort of The foil for miranda. And i really liked dave so a good portion of the middle of the book is me trying to convince the call my partner. That dave's dave's okay that they've the alright and that was very productive way to do it. I'm because it really cause anything water the things she doesn't like about dave and you don't want to get rid of them because you think it's part of who dave is but then you also want to start showing eliminating aspects of his his characters so for me. The most satisfying part of the writing. The writing process in terms of character building was building and gave up in such a way that that he was fuller and more understandable than he had been in the beginning I enjoy reading characters. It's one of my my favorite things about writing. I don't know if i'm particularly good at it. I sometimes feel like the tend to look a little the same But i guess that really is a lot of the the pleasure for me in the writing. Is you get these fairly basic characters. And then you start building them up into into three dimensional forums in trying to establish how they're distinct from each other and so well ultimately all our characters are really aspects of ourselves. Because we're the only ones that we really understand if we undertake particularly distressing when the cold in like dave. 'cause that's awful lot of dave. What is your actual writing process quicker. You a certain number of hours a day or you go out and under a tree with quill pen It's shifted a little lonely. I got here. I get my daughter off to school. And do the or whatever and then have a few hours and i would put in writing Once got visa that allowed me to work that change then you find yourself sort of scrambling and scratching for reading time a lot more In the last couple of months. I'm we've all been locked in with the pandemic. It's actually been a lot easier so my daughter now online at school so once i get her set up in the morning i mean i have a couple of hours just just to rate So it's actually been the last six months or so. It's actually been relatively easy right. You just get up you take your have some basic chores and emmaus workin you get everyone fed and then and then you right on for a couple of hours until you get tired Particularly over the christmas holidays. I've just it's been very easy. Get up in the morning. Start writing on the novel. Did you write a quite sequentially started at the beginning kept pressing through until you got to the end. You mentioned that halfway through you had to kind of reevaluate. but you didn't sequentially. Yeah i do. i don't i don't know what it means but i'm the novel i'm working on now again. Just i just start at the beginning and start writing. And i mean obviously at a certain point you gotta go back and reevaluate rethink it me structure and you never know how much of it you're gonna have to destroy But yeah. I ate a b. to see basically how i proceed or of your people who write Working do scenes and stitch them all together later but most people. I think find it easier to just tell the story in that worry about fixing it later. Yeah and i every once in a while. If i'm if i'm feeling stock i might jump ahead. Write and go well okay. I know this. I know this once team has to happen later. I'm going to flesh out at least and maybe that will help me and go back. But in general yeah. It's just full steam ahead. I'm trying to get to the end. Are you a fast writer. Or slow writer. I would kirk office as as fairly fast. I'm kind of depends on an jonah. I find people right fairly quickly. whereas like in literature right in the literary behind literary stuff they seem to write a lot slower I'd say i'm kind of in the middle. I'm probably very fast for literary reiter answer a little slow for Kind of kind of a guy. I remember years ago hearing if someone who had spent like eleven years writing. I don't know half a dozen short stories up again. I can't even fathom that. I could not write that slow of my life depended on it but i'm sure get bored. There's actually a new on netflix. This great movie with with Meryl streep plays a writer Margaret atwood as raider and. She's horrified She's on a boat and she's horrified when she meets a mystery writer who turns books out like two or three a year and spent for years on a single book. that's a different two different approach for sure. So you've mentioned That you were trying you know. Part of your work was making your wife like dave. Did you have any other sort of first readers or beta readers that we showed work to give you feedback. You mentioned your friends there. Andy stewart's incredibly lucky to find him. You're at a small town in western pennsylvania and both our wives reteaching at the university. Here on so we were very lucky to find each other and yeah so he was a beta reader. I'm he gave me an awful lot of feedback and he was very very useful because again because he was he was much more grounded in sort of The culture of speculative fiction. I was And so i tend to be fairly pretentious. Let's call it avant garde experimental and it was very useful to write with him because he would he would help me ground myself. I'm just always reminding. Keep keep reminding myself that you're writing for an audience. You don't have to if you just want to write for yourself. That's fine but i was trying to write for an audience so and it was very good at trying to get me to think through sort of technical issues about well okay. So what's your idea. And how do you want to communicate. It's onto your readers efficiently so that they're not constantly having to try to catch up with you. I'm so he was tremendously important in that lanes of keeping me grounded and not soaring off into the experimental stratosphere or anything like that. Say when you're reading you beat any of the new wave stuff from the sixties and science fiction. Actually i didn't wasn't the back of my mind i was reading I was when i was reading strings. Labor i was reading Mostly modern literary texts postwar europe. Like right post war era. I'm not kind of influenced. And since then i've started going back to the to the new wave stuff. I was a little leery what i was doing it. I didn't wanna read anything that was would be too closely connected to in style. I'm so one of the things that would always happened. People would say oh you have to read. The road provide legal. You're writing something like this exactly. I was terrified of reading. Go near until i was finished. And now i feel i feel free that there's all these books that people told me. I should read that now. I can go back to. I mean you. Just don't wanna read a book and then someone's done it way better than you Already a hooped. While i was a kid and when the new wave was happening and i was reading science fiction and it did not click with me at the age of say ten or twelve at. I've never gone back to see what i think. Those stories now. The only one. I really remember. I don't remember the story. I just remember the weird typography. It was a story that was printed in a spiral on the page that you read from the outside and following the words around in a spiral to whatever happened in the middle. I don't remember the story that image at the spiralling on the page. That was always the danger for me was ending up in the spiral so once you had a draft. What did revision process like mike. You've gotten some feedback did you were you working on language. Or you've mentioned structure. What were some of the things you had to continue polishing in. I guess this ties end as well to the editorial process because you mentioned that some of that feedback came from radiant. So maybe before we talk about that. How did you find radio at press. A small press but said excellent soft but it is. it's very small. press a small press. Actually i heard about through a friend. stephen whitworth who who runs the prairie dog in regina. That's how i heard about them. Before sent to condemn. I'd sent it to a whole bunch of agents all over the united states and one of the agents fairly big name got back to me and he said we'll send me more curious and so it did and he was disappointed with the rest of the book and so i talked to him a little bit. Data wanted to find a why why he was disappointed in any felt like in the middle. It got sort of trait in typical of post-apocalyptic fiction so whereas in the beginning he found it very fresh and original. Engaging it's sort of just became. I blew it all up. I just destroyed the middle of the book And started writing a so. That was the first sort of major intervention. Was just getting rid of the middle of the book. Not quite entirely but i would say like twenty percent of the book i just i just delete it so i had this big hole in the middle that i have to fill up And so the middle part of the rewrite was all that was trying to restructure the middle of the book and ways that were satisfying and not stereotypical or cliche. And then once. I have that done. I sent it to radiant presque stevenson all. You should try these people And and deborah prescott back to me and she was interested and then we started working and that was sort of the next stage of development was. She's a very good reader. Are mentioned some other good readers have a look at it and a lot of their critique was what i'd mentioned earlier was that the characters needed more back story because i was just being to existential didn't want i didn't want the region have any access to the world sort of before this happened except in the most superficial ways and read is reluctant. You know what you need to build your characters up a little more. You have to give the raiders at least something to hang onto And so a lot of the should the next stage of development was really really quite pleasant work of just trying to build up these characters. Little more through. Flashback stuff This little bits here and there just to try and give them give them depth so those who gave the major revision stages other than copy editing. Was this agent. Got back to me. He said the metal was disappointed. Disappointing i blew it up and restructured it that i got hold arabian press. And they were interested in conversations with deborah. She told me what her concerns were in particular characterization and I guess as far as they're concerned I saw them in that in that draft and then after that it was just a tweaking and fine tuning the radio. The choose some pretty good the burbs kim stanley robinson for example. That's a pretty big name to have attached to your your first novel as a favorable comment it is. It's actually still kind of confusing that you read the book and responded In that way. A lot of those blurbs got because i was writing that as running that science fiction zine big echo i interviewed a lot of these people and so capital And then i spent it's To get the blurbs So that wasn't my plan. The interviews are zine. But i realized oh. I've talked to all these people that are pretty clever known and and kind maybe they'll help me out and they did generally people in the field. Are that so pay. It forward idea. That line talked about something that i think a lot of people on the field or very very good about and then it went into come out. It was an october october. So as What was your reaction when you saw the finished book and then the response that you pet to positive goods. I'm it's exciting Book and it is a weird time for it to come out so we had been expecting to. Do you know like readings and that sort of thing that can't happen. I'm very easily. So i was stuck in the states as well which didn't make things easier But it was exciting. It would have been fun to do a little more of the typical kind of readings bookstores. And that sort of thing but it. It's just. I mean it's just aren't to have a book right like you do all this writing your whole life and you do all this reading and then all of a sudden your writings in an actual bucking an actual thing and a little. It's a little disconcerting to see it there on an exciting at that point. It's out of your control ended end going into the heads of readers who are getting all sorts of things out of it that you might not even have no you put in there absolutely. I'm so we got one really good review on and that was from publishers weekly's and that's a pretty good one and the reader was fantastic So this this anonymous reader gave it a great regained and they saw a number of things that i hadn't really been paying attention to so for instance in terms of these people digging. I'm versus people digging. There's a suggestion in the book that it has something to do with sort of Nearest to picardy right that there's something near logically different about the people that aren't digging than the people that are digging and so what that reader picked out was that there's a theme here but what it means to be neuro. Typical your typical. Or what have you like. What do these distinctions mean. In terms of what it means to be human that cetera. And i hadn't intended a particularly sensitive or thoughtful. Take a boat that in the book yet this reader picked it out and showed it showed this thing about my book that i never thought was particularly valuable as something that can be valuable to some readers so that was very exciting. Very inspiring actually to see something in your book. That's positive that you hansard of deliberately thought through or put their but the sensitive reader can pick it out and show it to you and say look what you did here. This is good. There's a there's a story that before. On the podcast came out of isaac asimov's opus one hundred which was the first of his autobiographical books. He talked about going to columbia university. I think it was a class where professor was teaching his famous story nightfall and he said at the back and listen to that afterwards. He went up to the professionally. Said said well that was very interesting. So that magic asimov. I wrote that story. And i did put anything stuff in there and the professor said well. I'm very happy to meet you but just because you wrote the story. What makes you think what's in it at interesting god and i think there is certainly we all put stuff in that. We don't know necessarily where it comes from. And then readers find things there that we didn't necessarily think we were putting in specifically and i think it's because i always like to say that writing is actually feels like a loner activity. Something do yourself but a truly collaborative it is. I think that we're instrumentally important than it's collaborative. All the way down so from the very beginning when i start writing project in it's yours and it's your own until you're your beta readers and then if you start publishing you're always having conversations with the publishers and with editors and readers get it there's a whole nother conversation and you really have very little control over the types of meanings that people are going to extract from a text and it could be a little scary when you start thinking about it about how little control you have of the language wants. It's left your once. it's left your grasp. Sometimes they can completely misconstrued what you had in mind but you don't have any either so that's the danger i wanted to go back to the zine which you'd mentioned it i'd mentioned big echo Where did that come from. And you'd mentioned that you had know number writers that you'd interviewed and i was looking at it online. And in some recognizable names had provided the short stories for it. So how did that come about. Boredom things It came from morton mortems. We moved down here. And i had some time on my hands and i had a friend Who does graphics and web pages and also love science fiction. And he was actually. He is in regina to and all of those people. That's right almost all So i said well. Why don't we put together a zine and he said okay and so then we did on and the issue. When you're putting together like that is you don't have money and you can't pay so it's really hard to get on the writers your necessarily interested in so the first year so was a lot of hustle of cold calling writers liked and asking if they'd been intra be interested in contributing something And one of the. I think in the first summer one of the first people i contacted was rudy rucker. Because he's got a cyber cyberpunk fan. I'm he's got. He ran a zine called blurb which was quite similar in and i contacted him and asked if he had anything lying around. we could use In big echo. And he was very excited about it and as you say about heinlein paying it forward. He's a very very generous kind of an artist on and so he gave us a story. That was the biggest name we'd had up to them And then he also mentioned in our conversation that the next time he had a book out if if we wanted we could interview them. And then that just got me thinking of interviews and because it was rocker i could contact. People knew who rudy rucker was and say. Hey really record did this with us. And now we're doing interviews and wondering if you'd be interested so bruce sterling and corey doctoral were both amongst their first interviews. And i'm pretty sure that's a lot of it. I mean both also very generous guys who have a lot of interviews awhile ago. Yeah he's never you never run out of things to say and he's always happy to speak to a lot of people and so both of those guys came on very early on and helped us out and made a big difference once you get a few of those big names in. It's a lot easier to attract other writers on kim stanley. Robinson was actually. He got in touch with him through andy on who mentioned a couple of times already. Andy knew him from california. I think the. I think you might have been taking a class with with stan. I'm not sure so again. It's a lot of it just has to do with like a little bit of hassle right in the beginning and then and then social networks kicking in In in good ways but the field is bigger than it was say. Back in the golden age of but It's still a fairly small group of people that know everybody so everybody knows each other. So i thought i saw on the website that you had the final issue big echo. So is it. Is it done now. We're wrapping up on. I'm just tired It's not a particularly outgoing or or extroverted person on so the the hustle. Part of it is a little difficult for me and not super comfortable as editor. I i don't like a tweaking people's voices or anything like that so it was hard work in that sense. It's also fairly niche. So we're looking for a very particular type of writing and there's only a subset of a subset of science fiction so there's not that much out there it's not. It's not particularly popular science fiction. We were interested in so it was just just kind of running out of gas. It would have been a lot a lot of work to keep to keep up the standard we set and tired so we wrapped it up. We're gonna put out an anthology shortly on probably in the next couple of months. Echoing theology for minimal cost just to try generate a bit of revenue. Just keep the website up just to keep costs so that will probably be the last thing we do with echo. But it's been it's been awfully fun has been a heck of a ride and again i a comeback to the game. What you mentioned about the generosity of people in the field It's really. it's really quite amazing that you can just cold. Call someone say. Hey and putting together zine would you be interested in depending on where they are in their career. They might help you out and generally do. But we're getting close to the end of the time. So i need to ask you the big philosophical questions which is ultimately three of them. Why do you. Why do you think any of us right. And why do we write stories of the fantastic in particular as opposed to limiting ourselves to stories of the here and now so those are the three questions. Why do you write any of us right. Why right science fiction status for me. It's i mean the to the to serve key aspects of inner. Our pleasure therapy. I mean it really ever since i was small. I've i've had a hyperactive assertive. Creative life. I love the play of imagination And it's a way to just keep doing it That you can. You can always be experimenting in playing with language and ideas on with writing It's just fun. it's just flat out fun. I know that's not true for everyone. I know for a lot of people. It's horrifying the idea of writing. But for a i was always an introverted kid. I was always hyper creative. It was just a way a way of of entertaining myself. And that whole thing about if you can't if you can't find a book You enjoy then you need to write your own. I think that's that's true. It's just yeah it's just you can write a book you'll love and it's fun to do And the therapy. I tend to write fairly fairly dark stories on the whole And it's just a way of working through sort of emotional on psychic stresses Assertive certainly when you're living through The last four years of the trump administration As a as an immigrant in the united states the pandemic and there's a lot of psychic stress. Any all the time and so writing about it in a fictionalized zing on the anxieties to feel his way of coping with her as well. I'm so for me that was always important. Why do people right. I think mostly for the same reasons. The the pleasure in the answer to the therapy of it goes hand in glove Think also the collaborative to thing you mentioned is also important. This idea of like you can do for the pleasure and the therapy. You can do that. nobody else has to read it. But there's this next step. Were start getting other people to read it as well. And there's a sort of this collaboration and conversation going on and that's that's very important. All sorts of ways dwell just the sheer fact of exchanging ideas exchange of ideas and views and perspectives. On the world is obviously important but just also again. And i'm the pleasure of having a conversation with someone about about an idea is wonderful on. It's one of the one of the best things about writing Is when you do write something and you get positive feedback from someone. You don't know like someone says oh. I really enjoyed this. This was good or this was fun. That's a tremendous charge It's a big rush I think once that starts happening to someone they probably right more and more and more because it's a really wonderful thing In in a very innocent sort of way to just do something fun and to share it and have people. You don't know saying you know what that was great that was fun and the the final part Why speculation why. Why different tastic. Why science fiction again. I think for me it was really freeing I've been reading a lot of social realism and super serious. It illogical type stuff about like boo capitalism on life sox angry loud music and then and then i started rereading spec fiqh and science fiction and there was just a freedom to it and more more honest sense of one of the reasons we right and we read is for fun on you can be super serious science fiction you know like but there's always an element of fun to it and freedom of someone taking an idea and running with it as far as they can And pushing it to its limits are. That's very exciting and invigorating. So i'm i'm on the least vanish person you'll ever meet But one of the things. I like a lot about science. Fiction and fantasy. Writing is the fan community on the enthusiasm. Just a flat-out enthusiasm for having a stock in good time when reading text To me that's one of the most attractive things about science fiction and fantasy is that is. The audience really wants to succeed because they want to have fun when they're reading the text as well. I think that's to me. What are you working on now. i'm running a historical fiction different kinds of genre a little bit draft into sort of speculative material About the for trade on the nineteenth century for trade in in the hudson's bay territories So it's from the perspective of phd. I wrote about the for trade missions in the fur trade at some other things as well. I'm going back to some of that archival material. I'm trying to turn it into a into a novel. Sounds very interesting. And where can people find you online. If anywhere online arm. I got twitter. Feed will ask bill screw. I think it's probably the safest way to find me is. There's a for the out. We have a webpage. Robert g. dot com and there'll be links on that page to the other social media sites. Okay well thanks so much for for being on the world shapers enjoyed. The conversation will be too. I did much. I'll tell the. I'll tell the radio press that i had talked to you. So they ratchet suggested. Because i didn't know about the the i knew that they were going to publish some speculative fiction because i talked about it and and then the yours came along and then. It's you know getting lots of attention. So i was very happy to be able to talk to you and also it's not very often. I talked to somebody that has any kind of connection to regina saskatchewan so that that was nice to john had nothing but good things to say about you who is very enthusiastic. Great right walk. Thanks so much by the so. Thanks again to robert g. pinner for being my guest. I enjoyed that chat tonight. I hope you enjoyed listening to it. coming up on the podcast We have Kelly rice gerald brandon. Walter john williams. Those are the ones that i have confirmed for the next three episodes. So check back to hear those. And if you'd like to listen to any of the previous seventy four episodes this is number. Seventy five You can find them all. At the world. Shapers website that satu- the world shapers dot com Complete a complete list of episodes that you can download listen to their. You can also find transcripts of most of them. There's a few that don't have full transcripts but most of them do You can find the world shapers. Also on twitter at the world. Shapers find it on facebook app. The world shapers. You can find me on twitter at t e willett tease on willett. You can find me on facebook. Edward don willett and you can find me on instagram. At edward willett author educator. Find me at my own website. Which is edward willett dot com also checkout shadow. Pop press dot com. Which is where you can find Shapers of world's among many other places that you can't buy it directly from there if you wish and you can also find me at edward willett shop dot com where you can buy autographed copies of my books should you to and i. I kind of hope you do. I should mention before it closed that the the world shapers podcast is part of the scotsman podcast network and other than that. I think i've covered everything so again. Thanks for listening to the world. Shapers podcast this time and come back many more times in the future as i to talk to other science fiction and fantasy authors about their creative process and how they shape and create the world's at that we have enjoyed so many adventures in over the years. That's it for this episode of the world shapers.

Coming up next