Where Writers And Authors Meet Interviews:
Robert Vardeman was our Featured Spotlight author last week and visitors were encouraged to ask Robert some of their own questions! Here is a link to that Spotlight!Feel free to ask more questions, and we might just be able to get Robert back for a follow up interview!
First, WOW! That’s a lot of books!
What’s your typical writing day like? Do you have a fixed writing schedule?
The major time sink I try to keep at a minimum is the internet, FB, email, newsfeeds. I use my iPad to read the comics at breakfast and whatever news I find both locally and globally. I try to write around 5000 words a day (every day), no matter how long it takes. If I have a deadline, this might increase. I used to routinely do 10k a day but life has been intruding lately and this hasn’t been possible. That 5k words might take 3 or 4 hours or 6. It varies on how much in the zone I am. Other things taking me away from actual writing these days are prepping ebooks for Kindle and Nook, though this might qualify as writing. It takes about 8 hrs per book to get a title ready–right now I am working on a 4 book set, The Jade Demons. But a deadline on a new western series looms so less on ebook prep and more on writing has been the rule. (in 35+ years of writing, I’ve never missed a deadline)
Bob… omg this is like the single biggest honor as a HUGE Star Trek fan (I wouldn’t put me in Trekkie status…. I am actually going to post the questions we ask on Written By….. with Virginia’s permission…. both the writing process questions and the interview questions…. Sorry if it’s a lot but I am excited
1. Do you assume that you first need to do the research and then the writing?
Short answer: yes. I might research for years before starting a book, especially if it requires historic details or scientific elements (the former doesn’t really change, the latter is a moving target).
Are you uncomfortable writing without having thoroughly completed the research?
If I hit a spot where I need to do more research, the internet has made this way easy. I used to drive to the UNM library and spend a day taking notes. Now I can do a quick google and usually find what I need. But the bulk of the research is done before I begin writing.
2. What social supports can you establish to promote regular writing? Can you arrange, for example, to discuss ideas for writing projects with informed friends?
Tony Hillerman started a group in 1978 called First Friday (because that’s when we meet). I am one of the original members (maybe only surviving one, now that I think about it). Writers from all genres, YA, mysteries (of course), sf, westerns, romance, nf, translators (Girl with Dragon Tattoo, for instance) and even an IP law prof . We swap war stories but never mss. We will trade material for research but mostly it is a chance to convince ourselves we are not unique and that every other writer is being treated in the same lousy way. A “you go!” group. As to discussing ideas, plots, characters, I am loath to do this since it saps the vitality when I get down to writing.
3. Do the people you live with respect your need for quiet time when developing projects?
My wife died some years ago but she understood that staring blankly out the window was, indeed, working. My son has since moved to the West Coast. Mostly, he wanted me to leave him alone while he was here. And my cats respect nothing, finding perfect spots to sleep between me and my monitor.
4. Do you know people who can provide you with encouragement when you are feeling discourage about the worthiness or potential of an idea?
I get together regularly with people able to do the “rah rah” pitch. One is an artist (I dedicated my Jackson Lowry book “The Artist” to him) and another is a research biologist/writer/film maker. And Scott Phillips (screenwriter for “Drive”) and I have shared editing projects, tables at book signings and endless emails on our travails. In addition, I show up at Michael Stackpole’s “Office Hours” every Wednesday evening in Second Life to talk about writing, markets, marketing and oddities we have come across. Sometimes upward of 20 avatars show up. (And it is open to anyone wanting to ask questions about writing–Mike, in addition to being a NYT bestselling author, teaches at ASU and is a topnotch gamer)
5. What specific strategies do you typically employ when revising your work? What changes would you like to make about how your revise?
When I used a typewriter it took 3 passes to get a ms revised to my satisfaction. On computer the first draft is much slower but equal to a 2nd or even 3rd draft before since I go back and make changes as they occur. If the change/addition/deletion is too big, I’ll make a note and take care of it on a 2nd draft. Some say that rewriting is where the real writing happens. My first draft now is pretty good and usually doesn’t take much work to turn into a completed ms. The way I revise works, so no change comes to mind. What would be great is to not to have to revise at all, that the first draft=final ms. And I’d like world peace, too.
6. When revising, are you willing to reject what you have written and start fresh with a new organization or a new thought as necessary?
The question “how long does it take to write a book?” is not one I can easily answer. I might think on it for years, research for years, sometimes even work on a synopsis for a long time. But the synopsis is pretty extensive and gives me the chance to see what’s needed, what’s not, where pacing problems are likely to show up. I have written the first couple chapters of a book and deleted them to start over. The synopsis is likely unchanged but how the material is handled might not be right. I really try not to go “squirrel!” in the middle of a book and go chasing off on a different path. Better to finish what I started and put that squirrel into a new project.
7. How would you describe your typical writing voice, persona, or style?
I tend to like action/adventure stories, so, long on shoot ’em ups and less on political intrigue. Most of my work is 3rd person but “The Artist” called out for first person. I found getting into the head of Charles Russell (or where I think his head would have been) easy and submerged myself in his personality. As to style, not very flowery though I don’t exactly take Stephen King’s warning against adverbs all that seriously.
8. Complete one of the following sentence fragments The biggest editorial problem that readers have identified with my work . . The problems that I want to work on are . . . Readers always tell me I should…
The problems I want to work on are all related to characterization, making dialogue distinctive and giving reasonable motivations while developing outrageously memorable characters.
9. What strategies can you employ to help you accomplish your writing goals?
My goals are shifting a bit now. Westerns are great fun to write but the $$$ is diminishing fast, making them more of a hobby than a vocation. I need to shift my time away from these projects to more sf. I have a steampunk series I am shepherding, plus a 1930s mystery that has been begging to be started for 4 years now, plus a new sf anthology marketing idea and and and… Getting the time freed up to do all this means writing fewer westerns now.
10. Can you demystify the composing process?
Do you mean the actual writing? Nothing mysterious about it. I come up with a story I have to write, that I want to see to completion, characters that fascinate me and who come alive in my head. Once I find the door into the story (usually a chapter or two in), it’s a madhouse rush to see how things play out.
11. What changes can you make in your environment that will help you achieve your writing goals?
I hate telephones. When I’m working I seldom answer, but I do check the caller ID, jic. This is an interruption I could do without. I change the music I’m playing to match the rhythm of what I’m doing. Radar Love by Golden Earring and Autobahn by Kraftwerk are super songs to really crank to. Mostly I use the music to drown out distracting background noise. Getting rid of the cats usually entails feeding them (again)
12. Does a small voice within you whisper that your ideas lack originality or that someone will dislike your manuscript or that you don’t have time to finish? What do you do in that situation?
Constantly. The voice is usually strongest when I finish. I have learned to ignore it. At this point I will have gone over the ms a dozen times (if it goes to dead tree book, maybe more) and I usually hate it.
13. What myths about writing or do you hold that intrude on regular writing?
Tortoise and hare time. Steady wins the race every time. If I try to do some merciless word count for a day (15k, say) I am burned out for days. It’s better to maintain an even pace. And I do not work better under pressure. That only cuts into my sleep time, makes me groggy and even less able to work.
14. What changes in how you write will help you achieve your writing goals?
How I write is the product of 35 years of experimentation. I’m pretty happy with the process now. Roger Zelazny once told me it took him 10 years to learn to do 100 things automatically. I finally hit the point where I understood that. If you see a situation enough times, you learn to weave through the words in the way that’s best for the story without consciously thinking about it or writing yourself into a corner. The more you write, the more you know how to do, the more tools you can use without thinking (or overthinking) about what you’re doing and giving yourself more time to concentrate on the characters and how they fit into the plot.
15. Has rejection in the past influenced your perception of yourself as a writer or what you write about?
Writers have to have eggshell egos. Hard on the outside but all too often brittle and squishy inside. I got one reject early on from an editor claiming I was personally responsible for the death of the short story. Years later, I dug it out and realized it was a form reject. I’ve come to believe (or rationalize) that because an editor doesn’t buy a story doesn’t mean it’s not good, it’s just not for that editor or line or publisher, possibly for reasons I know nothing about. Another editor will love it. All you need to do is keep submitting. Geo. Proctor and I did a short story that was sold 3 times but never published (magazines went belly up–all were payment on publication so we never saw a dime) The story got retired because we were tired of destroying markets. (The irony of this is that the title was “A Killing in the Market.”) No one likes rejection and for a writer it can too easily become personal–that story is *you*, dammit. But the rejections aren’t personal, they’re business. The editor can be the stupidest person on earth for rejecting and the first to see the next story. Which is the way business is.
16. In what ways do you attempt to work with your intuition when writing?
Writing isn’t a science, it’s an art. Feeling what’s right is the only possible way to write.
17. If an unrelated thought occurs to you when you are writing, do you tend to ignore the thought or do you pursue it ? See “squirrel” comment above. There are infinite stories out there to be written. Finish the one, then do the next…but *finish* the first without getting sidetracked into an infinity of mirrors.
18. Do you have a writing ritual i.e things that you do to begin writing like lighting candles or things you do when you are finished?
I usually play a few games of solitaire to numb the brain. When the pressure of ideas begins rebelling against this nubmness, it’s time to write. I knew one writer who always sharpened 3 No2 pencils, put them in a cup, then turned on the computer and went to work. The pencil sharpening was something she equated with getting ready to write, though she never used them. And I have found human sacrifices to the Elder gods useful on occasion.
19. What, if anything do you listen too when writing?
Who are your favorite bands/artists to listen to? See above for two choices for really getting out the words. I love Pink Floyd, listen to a lot of Celtic, dig back on Pandora for Ian&Sylvia, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan. Newer stuff includes Decemberists, Gin Wigmore, Lily Allen, Abney Park. When I am concentrating the music disappears. When I need to think about what I’m writing, the music’s there to keep extraneous sounds at bay until I get back to the writing.
Background – 1) Who are you? (tell us a bit about you personally)
I never wanted to be a writer. I wanted to be a nuclear physicist. I still remember the chill I felt when it was announced Sputnik had been orbited. I took exactly 2 English classes in college (the minimum) and hated both of them. Graduated with a BS in physics and ended up with an MS in materials engineering. I worked at Sandia Natl Labs in the solid state physics dept (with nucelar materials), had been accepted at Berkeley to work on my PhD but writing intruded. Ever since becoming a writer, I ponder every year or two what else I’d like to do and no answer crops up, so I keep writing. I used to do bonsai and still have one ming aralia in literati form. I love movies, never having been able to afford going to them when I was a kid. Current hobby which I don’t pursue often enough is geocaching. In high school I played judo and tore up my knee in a match during college, so I took up fencing since it didn’t require twisting motions. I won the city epee title one year and taught foil at UNM for a semester. Lots of other extraneous things but this is probably TMI.
2) How old where you when you first started writing?
3) What made you fall in love with writing?
I’m not sure I love writing as much as being OCD about it.
4) How long have you been writing? 36 years now
5) What was the first piece you ever wrote?
My best friend Geo Proctor was a reporter for the Dallas Morning News and had published several short stories and a novel. I was visiting and he suggested we coauthor a story. We did. It sold (see above) and I tried my hand at a proposal for a fantasy. It sold within 3 months. I did a spy book and an sf. All sold. My first published book has just been released in ebook format– it dates back to 1977. (Sandcats of Rhyl– http://tinyurl.com/mzh53da A real kick not only having it reprinted but put into audio book, as well.)
Influences – 1) What is your favorite genre? Science fiction, without a doubt.
2) Who are your favorite authors?
The oldies but the goodies. Robert Heinlein first and foremost, Arthur Clarke, a lot of the old pulp writers like Sax Rohmer and Kenneth Robson (Lester Dent). If I could stylistically write like Angela Carter with Stephen King’s characters and Jack Vance’s worlds with Roger Zelazny plots, I would die happy.
Brief Explanation of why. 3) What is your favorite book by another author?
I can’t say I have a favorite book. There are so many I like for such different reasons. Starship Troopers and Childhood’s End come to mind. But I have been reading lots of mysteries. Sheldon Russell’s Yard Dog is about perfect as a mystery. Unusual setting with vivid characters, plot that dances right along and tension all the way through to a reasonable and logical conclusion. 4) What’s your favorite character archetype of literature? I’m not sure I understand exactly since I’m not a literary type. Heroes are heroic and win against overwhelming odds. Does that cover the question?
5) What is your favorite theme or element in writing? It seems to me the answer is the same as #4.
Process – 1) What do you think makes good writing?
The story has to be involving. Depending on the type of story, the characters have to drive the plot (or in action plots, the adventure elements have to be outstanding and unusual). I can enjoy a purely literary story for the way the words are put together, who cares about plot or character if the writing flows like silk under your fingers? Mostly, I’d have to say good writing is whatever holds my attention and I do not start rewriting the pages in my head.
2) Where do you get most of your ideas?
I read a fair amount of nf. It’s almost impossible not to yell yes! at some of the scientific discoveries today (I just saw that a self-repairing plastic has been invented–what might that be used for?) A really good novel will spark ideas along the line of “that’s fun and ought to be written about–but the author’s doing something else entirely, so I should do it” Sometimes I have a characrer and wonder what sort of predicament would be most fun. As to actual location, in the shower or going for long walks both let the mind slip out of gear and ideas boil up from the muck beneath the surface.
3) What room is your favorite to write in?
Not a matter of favorite as much as necessity. My office has the internet connection (tho I do have wifi router), my computer, desk, comfy chair, books on all 4 walls and a good view of the mts out the window. Everything is at hand and I don’t need to lug stuff around, which I’d have to do if I wrote elsewhere. How people write in coffee shops or on planes or airports or even libraries is beyond me. Too much distraction.
4) What is your favorite place for thinking? Wherever I can read.
5) Do you base your characters on people you know? Not really. This is risky in the extreme. My characters are all composites or complete inventions. I have “Tuckerized” some characters, using names of real people but only after they have agreed (and agreed to the personality of the character–for some reason all of them have asked to be good guys. I much prefer the bad guy but…)
Favorites and General questions – 1) Tell us briefly about your book(s)
I have written sf, fantasy, high tech thrillers, mysteries, spy books, westerns both epic and traditional, short stories that are sf, horror, mystery, western. Well over 200 titles. What you need to know: the protagonist wins. Maybe not the way that is “obvious” or in an accepted way by society, but on a personal level the protagonist *always* wins.
2) What is your favorite thing you’ve written?
This is like asking which of your children is your favorite. When I finish a book, I pretty much hate it (imagine reading your favorite book a dozen times back to back, no respite–how do you like it then?) I never go back and read the published books. There are too many new ones to do. Recently the book I’ve found most satisfying is “The Artist.” It’s a western but not a shoot ’em up, though it has rustlers in it. it’s actually about a wrangler figuring out he loves the range but being an artist is an obsession.
3) Who is your favorite character(s) in any of your works?
One that resonated for me and readers was the giant spider, Krek, in the Cenotaph Road series. Rouven, in the Accursed trilogy, has terrible things happen to him but he never flags. A character I’d like to do more with is Vanessa Court in “Hot Rail to Hell.”
4) What scene in your writing has made you laugh the hardest or cry the most?
I don’t do humor all that well. Most tearjerker was ending on a short story, “Under Triple Moons.”
5) Is there anything you purposely include or eliminate in your writing?
My descriptions of characters tend to be sketchy to let the reader turn them into their own image. I always enjoy submerging myself in a story, and I want to make this easy for my readers, too. My scientific background included writing research papers and using passive voice. Overcoming this to use active voice and removing “weasel words” is like, well, you know, a constant challenge.
Finally the best questionnaire.. ever…. by Bernard Pivot 1) What is your favorite word? Sold!
2) What is your least favorite word? Rejected…
3) What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
A new idea (or one new to me) and figuring out how to involve characters with it. Science fiction really isnt–it’s technology fiction. How does the invention/macguffin affect people? About the only real science fiction story is Greg Benford’s “Timescape”
4) What turns you off?
I used to read everything through to the end until I decided my time was better spent reading books that I enjoyed (for whatever reason–they could be fun, so bad they were funny or just flat out good reading). Why a book fails can be a perfect storm of mistakes. Mostly, lousy copyediting or unintentionally bad grammar and spelling do it for me. “It” being to throw the offending piece across the room, unless I’m reading on my iPad in which case I delete.
5) What is your favorite curse word?
Frelk. This was Samuel Delany’s creation in “Dahlgren,” a book I otherwise didn’t care for all that much.
6) What sound or noise do you love? A cat purring.
7) What sound or noise do you hate?
Phone ringing, doorbell ringing, the screeching of tires followed by a crash.
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
If I tried it, it would be mine. I’ve worked as a bartender, sold hot dogs at football games and managed a seafood restaurant, worked as a physicist, edited (still edit 4 annual Fantasy Football magazines–also have coedited “Career Guide to Your Job in Hell” and “Golden Reflections”), taught (still an instructor at Long Ridge), am finagling on a consulting position for a uranium mine, and have been a space pirate, captain of the king’s guard, a master sorcerer exploring parallel worlds, gunfighter, bank robber, spy and and and…
9) What profession would you not like to do?
Any assembly line work. I know I would do fine for 10 minutes, then start thinking of ways to improve the process. In 15 minutes, I would be fired for trying 17 different ideas, none of which would work.
10) If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
Would you like to (holy) ghost write “Bible: The Sequel?”
Stephen Ward says:
1. Have you ever been to Spain? Do you kinda like the music?
I ate paella once. I almost met the Duke of Alburquerque. Flamenco reminds me of Celtic music.
2. How much sex is in your books? Profanity? Enough. Not much.
3. Are you attracted to pretty flashing lights?
Only if they are on the Mother Ship or in the Glow Cloud.
4. You have written a lot of books. Do enemy agents use them to pass messages back to their homeland?
Yes, they do. You can find what these messages are by purchasing every edition of all my books and taking the 17th word on the 23rd page and putting it together into an acrostic.
5. Are you boring?
Not now. I know how to use an end mill and often use a masonry drill on cinder blocks. I am definitely boring then.
6. Suppose you are in a store minding your own business when suddenly you are confronted by a naked woman asking you to help find her clothes. Do you start jotting down notes for a book idea or do you help the young damsel in distress (even if it takes all night)?
I would use a Sharpie to jot notes on her naked chest all night long.
7. Have you ever wanted to title a book, “I Wish All You Motherf–kers Would Leave Me the Hell Alone”?
How did you find out the title for my autobiography?
8. Virgin Laughin’ Jannings (ROFL) expects participation at “Where Writers and Authors Sulk”. What can you bring to the proverbial table?
My very best sulk. (From Admin Virginia: ROFL)
9. Do you have a sense of humor or are you basically a miserable drag?
I have never been to a miserable drag strip.
10. Do you cheat on your taxes? Never. Ask the NSA.
11. Do you edit your stuff or pass it off to an overpaid parasite?
I don’t pay my parasites.
12. Are your characters made up or subtle representations of people you like, hate, have gotten it on with or celebrities you’d like to meet?
Yes, yes, and yes. I won’t speak to the one I left out.
13. Have you ever dressed in drag? If so, what is your alter-ego’s name?
I would bascially be a miserable drag.
14. Some time continuum sweeps you up and suddenly you are confronted with Adolf Hitler and he wants to hear a joke. What joke would you tell him? http://youtu.be/8gpjk_MaCGM
*sigh*, Bob, Stephen is ‘very random’.
I have some questions for you, were you a fan of the Star Trek books before you wrote yours or were you only familiar with the TV series?
When David Hartwell at Simon & Schuster got the license in 1980 to do ST books, the only ones that had been published were the novelizations of episodes (James Blish did a very good job on them) and the Bantam ST books which all read as if the authors (some top of the line ones, too) simply dusted off rejected ms and changed the names. My “Klingon Gambit” was the first ST book Hartwell bought, though it was published as #3 after Roddenberry’s novelization of the first movie and Vonda MacIntyre’s “The Entropy Effect” because she got a lot of pre-pub ink killing off Spock or Kirk or somebody–I forget now. This made the National Enquirer, so S&S wasn’t passing up promo like that. After that came the 30 yrs flood of ST books.
What was your emotion when you found out your Star Trek books were getting published?
The real thrill comes in seeing the books on the stands for the first time. A mingling of disbelief, accomplishment and and fear no one will like it.
Why do you like writing science fiction and fantasy?
Unlike historical genres, the universe is wide open to anything and everything. Fitting a western into a distinct time is fun, but details can trip you up. Creating an sf or fantasy universe is a bigger challenge in a way because I have invented the details that will trip me up–and try to smooth them over as I write. How they are explained is pure imagination and playing god in this world is wonderful.
Do you have a preferred age group that you write for?
I have written YA in the past but really don’t understand the new market replete with child abuse, torture and what seems to me inappropriate sex. I’ll stick with adult work, thanks, where I know that torture and inappropriate sex are ok (and will never venture into child abuse).
How do your story ideas come to you? Do you sit down and just ponder them out or do they pop into your mind while you are doing something non writing related? There is no single way. A new gadget might spark a story or a character or a situation or scene. A nifty title can generate a story or a whacking good first (or last) line. A few times the entire story has come to me, but this is rare. I usually have to work it out in a synopsis, starting at some point, working forward, back or in both directions. Is anything non-writing related?
Do you have any advice you would like to share with your fellow writers? No matter what, keep writing and submitting. Determination will sell your stories because you will get better with practice–and what you’re working on now is sooooo much better than that story you read in…
From Robert Vardeman: I think this wraps it up. Thanks for the chance to let me answer some questions, have a bit of fun (and avoid working for another few minutes!) For your readers, they can take $5 off any e-book purchase from my online store from now until the end of the month. Store: www.robertevardeman.com and the coupon code is vlblog5
From Admin Virginia- I thoroughly enjoyed reading your answers Robert! They were all great fun! Thank you for being such a great sport and providing us with some excellent entertainment and advice!