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Putting The Fun Back Into Boring Books

“Many books are longer than they seem. They have indeed no end. The boredom that they cause is truly absolute and infinite.” — Novalis 

Books can be tedious at times.

As someone who loves and values reading more than almost anything (other than my family), there are some books that feel like a chore to get through — novels that would be better suited as a doorstop, or being slipped under the wonky fourth leg on a table. For the most part, we can choose to either throw these books away, set them on fire, or pass them along to a friend (or an enemy) so we don’t have to suffer them any longer.

But what about a novel that’s part of a series? You can’t skip Book Three and expect to understand four and five — you’ll be missing out on vital information. You could give up on the series altogether, but after loving the first two books, why would you want to? Or what about a book someone’s bought you for Christmas or your birthday? It would be rude to toss their present aside after twenty pages, even if it is filled with terrible prose and unbelievable characters. Also, what about the times when your writer friends want you to read their latest self-published tome about aliens, pyramids and murder? Or when you need to finish a novel in time for your bi-weekly book club? Under those circumstances, you have to force yourself through the boredom.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can still have fun during the torture.

Here are a few ways to enliven your experience . . .


“I picked up one of the books and flipped through it. Don’t get me wrong, I like reading. But some books should come with warning labels: Caution: contains characters and plots guaranteed to induce sleepiness. Do not attempt to operate heavy machinery after ingesting more than one chapter. Has been known to cause blindness, seizures and a terminal loathing of literature.” — Laurie Halse Anderson, Twisted. 


Notes

Whenever my wife buys me a book, she litters the pages with thoughtful handwritten notes. On page 19, I’ll stumble across a message that says, “Remember our last holiday? I love you,” or on page 36 she’ll write: “Knock knock, who’s there? Me. Keep reading,” or something else that’s cute to me and probably nauseating to anyone else. If you have a partner (or even a family member or good friend who doesn’t mind doing this), notes can be a great way to keep you pushing through those pages. It’s no longer about finishing the chapter to get closer to the end, but finishing to reach the next note. Also, these positive messages will make you feel good, which may trick your brain into thinking the novel is causing these happy feelings — meaning you end up liking it.

Try it out. If not for yourself, do it for someone else.

Fill their book with notes.

Just make sure you do it with their permission. If you end up scribbling all over their first edition Harry Potter, they may just end up throwing the book at your head.


“There are no uninteresting things, only uninterested people.”

― G.K. Chesterton 


Rewards

When I don’t feel like doing something — such as writing, or breathing, or cleaning the dishes — I usually give myself an incentive: for every page of writing, I get to eat a cookie. If I complete the washing up, I can watch a film. If I continue to breathe all day long, I get to sleep. You can do the same with your reading tasks. Instead of expecting to gain some kind of pleasure from the boring words, you have to use the words as a path to your happiness. For every chapter you read, you get a reward. It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant or ridiculous like a car, or a new dress. It can be something as simple as a snack, or a nap, or a TV show you’ve been meaning to watch.

By setting up your reading time as a task, you’ll be more inclined to finish it. You’ll know that if you can push your way through the next three pages, you can finally get around to starting season 2 of Orange Is The New Black or House of Cards maybe.

This again links pleasure (albeit delayed) to your reading experience. 


“Is life not a thousand times too short for us to bore ourselves?” 

Friedrich Nietzsche


Rewrite It

This one is aimed more at the writers among you, but it can be just as enjoyable for the non-writers too. If the book you’re reading is tiresome, why not try and rewrite it? Not fully — unless you want to invest a year of your life rewriting someone else’s material so you can then delete it, or get sued by the author — but a few scenes here and there. If you’re reading a series, you can pick out one of your favourite characters and write a short story about him or her. Or you can reimagine the scene in your own way. If you didn’t like how it went, this is your chance to change that. If a character you liked died, why not bring her back to life? Afterwards, you can post your fan fiction online for others to read. Or you can keep it to yourself.

But at least the book will seem better.

Well — your version anyway. Which is a start . . .


“The truth is that everyone is bored,

and devotes himself to cultivating habits.”

― Albert Camus


Anyway, that’s it for now.

I’m sure there are plenty more ways to make reading fun, so if you have any tricks of your own, let me know in the comments. Until then: keep pushing through.

You’ll finish that 900-page book eventually.


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This week’s guest blog is a guide to useful tech tools for writers. It’s written by American blogger Caroline, whose work you can also find at Culture Coverage. I’ll put her details below the post if you want to check out any of her other articles or follow her on Twitter


[If you’d like to write a guest blog for this website about a subject of your choice, email here for more details.]

tech-tool
Useful Tech Tools For Budding Writers

It’s likely there’s someone you know who aspires to write that Great American Novel. Maybe you’re that person. Your mind swims with ideas for characters and plot, but the second you get in front of your computer to write, it all disappears. Maybe you get distracted by your social media accounts or simply watching videos on YouTube. Maybe you think you need a writing teacher to guide you through the process (George Kelly thinks otherwise). Whether you’re on your desktop or smartphone, there are several useful tools you can use to help increase your productivity.


Evernote

Available for both your PC and smartphone, Evernote is an excellent tool for jotting down random thoughts, storing photos or making note of other interesting tidbits you come across during your day. You never know when inspiration will strike. Whether you upload the images from your smartphone or desktop, you can access whatever you add from any device.

If that’s not enough, your notes are also searchable, encoded with GPS, and easy to organize via tags and folders. You can even share your notes publicly to get feedback or simply share the research that went into your piece.

[Editor’s Note: I personally prefer SimpleNote. Check it out here.


Virtual Private Network (VPN)

If you’re like many writers, you do your best work outside of the home. This can be a library or a coffee shop, but your location will likely have free WiFi. Even with a WiFi password in place, connecting to a public hotspot can still open your computer up to hackers. In order to protect your information, you should use a VPN service. When you go through this service, you encrypt any information sent over the web, making it nearly impossible for hackers to get access to it. You can check out some of these VPN reviews by Secure Thoughts to find one that suits your needs, as there are quite a few on the market.


Dragon

There’s something intimidating about a blank Word document. The cursor blinks at you waiting for words to pour forth from the keyboard, but it’s too much pressure. If you often feel this way, it might make more sense to talk through your story rather than write it down. Dictation tools such as Dragon have come a long way in terms of accuracy. All you need is a mic and the software and you’re ready to get started. It might be a bit strange at first talking through a novel, but it might clear up your writer’s block.

Even if you don’t use it for actually writing your book, it’s still a good option for outlining the story and making notes on plot lines or character background. You can also use it for other tasks. Writing emails or making a post to social media might get a whole lot quicker with dictation.


Place to Write

If you’re a Mac user, you’re in luck. Place to Write offers some excellent creative writing aids like a character builder, plot generator and more to help jumpstart your imagination. You can customize the appearance by choosing a theme if you so choose. For those who work best on a deadline, you can also set writing goals and timers. You can even share what you’ve written easily via email or social media.


Hemingway App

Looking to improve your writing? There’s no better way to learn than from the best. Of course, it’s a bit hard to do if the writer is dead, but you get the next best thing – an app named after a famous writer. All joking aside, the Hemingway app is a great tool for those who want to improve their writing. It immediately identifies potential problems with your text, such as complex words, long sentences or overuse of adverbs, and highlights them with different colors. You can then change it yourself or view the suggestions to get a better understanding of how to fix the issue.


Wappwolf

There’s nothing worse than losing all of your writing because you need to wipe your hard drive. If you’re not doing it already, you should really have multiple backups of your project in various locations such as your hard drive, an external hard drive and a cloud server. The problem with having so many backups is the time it takes to update all of these locations (and then there’s the organizational nightmare). That’s where Wappwolf comes in. Rather than uploading to four different locations, it allows you to save a file to a single folder. The software then automatically uploads the document to your preferred locations. It’s a huge time saver and ensures that all of your backups have the most updated version of your novel.


There are dozens of other useful tools you can add to your arsenal. It’s up to you to choose which one fits your needs the best. Of course, none of these tools will help if you don’t actually start writing(!)

Do you have a handy writing tool that you always use?

Tell us in the comments.


HeadshotCaroline is a freelance tech and entertainment writer. As a freelance writer she often suffers from writer’s block and uses multiple apps on her smartphone and computer for motivation and inspiration. She hopes you’ll be able to use some of these tools to help your own writing.

You can find other articles by Caroline here, or follow her on Twitter here


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Allison M. Dickson

STRINGS Front CoverAbout a year ago I started adding writers on Facebook. I didn’t discriminate. I sent a friend request to anyone with “author” in their bio, or anyone who posted on writing forums. I figured it would be nice to have some like-minded people on my news feed. I wanted to see less anger and relationship issues and more posts about books and writing.

Allison M. Dickson was one of the writers I added, and she stood out early on. I could tell from her posts she knew how to write. But even though I looked out for her updates, I didn’t think about purchasing any of her work. I’ve been burned too many times in the past. I usually only pay for authors guaranteed to entertain me, such as Stephen King, Ben Elton, Dennis Lehane, etc.

Then one day Allison offered up her novel, Strings, for free. I downloaded it and left it on my Kindle for another three or four months, thinking I probably wouldn’t enjoy it anyway. Otherwise I would have heard about her, right? She’d be on every bookshelf in every shop or library. Well, that was my mistake. When I finally got around to reading Strings, I realised how wrong I’d been. It had everything I liked in a book: mystery, horror, gruesome murder scenes, a twisted sense of humour, plenty of swearing, and most importantly: great writing. If she hadn’t offered it for free, I might never have read it. But now I’ll definitely be parting money in the future for Allison’s books. And I hope some of you will check out her novels too. 

I recently got in touch with her and she was kind enough to take time from her schedule to answer some questions about Strings, her upcoming projects, and her writing process. Check it out.


GK: I got through Strings pretty quickly. It’s a great book, but probably the most gruesome and twisted thing I’ve ever read (I mean this in the most complimentary way). What’s the response been from people who know you? Were they surprised by the content? Did anyone try to section you?

AD: Overall the response to Strings has been incredibly positive, which has surprised me. Even my mother loved it, and I mean in an effusively praising way, and not the pat response of, “Nice job, dear.” Yeah, a lot of people are surprised by the visceral content, but what I’ve found with this book in particular is that people tend to enjoy it despite the gruesomeness. They surprise themselves by their ability to weather it, and it feels like an achievement for them by the end. That was actually one of my goals when setting out to write a book like this. Could I make people put aside their squeamishness and stick with these frankly awful characters all the way until the end? I think I’ve more or less succeeded there.

GK: Strings started off as a short story. What inspired you to expand it into a novel?

AD: The original short story, “The Good Girls,” ended when Nina had her first encounter with the freak in the Ballas house, with Ramon sitting outside listening to it all go down business as usual. It was intended to be a short tale about how people suffer from inertia. They go into something terrible expecting it to be different, only to find they’re not all that special after all. There were readers who wanted to see what happened after the events of that story. Where does Ramon go? What was the Madam’s story? Does Nina actually survive? These turned out to be really easy questions to expand upon.

GK: And in-line with the last question, what was the original inspiration behind the story? A lot of stories start with a WHAT-IF . . . Were you like: WHAT IF I WROTE THE WORLD’S MOST FUCKED UP BOOK?

AD: Actually, that’s not too far off. One of my main drives, thematically, was to see if I could write an entire book where there are no heroes or good guys, but where you root for them anyway. I love stories that challenge our sympathies. Even the worst people have something relatable. But the initial seed for the story was talking about hermits and social isolation with a friend of mine, and what an experience would be like for a working girl to visit someone like this. The visual elements of the “web” in the Ballas house was inspired by scenes from The Aviator, the biopic about Howard Hughes.

GK: I read somewhere (it might have been your Facebook) about a possible sequel. Do you have that planned out yet, or is it still in the idea stage?

AD: The sequel to Strings is called The Moon Gone Dark, and it’s near completion and scheduled for release in April of 2016! I’m excited to show people what these characters have been up to since the first book wrapped. There are a lot of surprises.

GK: If you found yourself trapped in the Hank Ballas residence and he gave you one last request before he (or his spider-son) skewered you, what would you ask for?

AD: Drugs. Lots and lots of drugs.

GK: For some reason, the madam reminded me of Yzma from The Emperor’s New Groove. I kept picturing her in every scene. If Strings was turned into a film one day, do you have any actors or actresses in mind for the characters?

AD: I would love to see the madam being played by Frances Fisher or Tilda Swinton. Those were the two I had most in mind while I was writing. Ramon, I always imagined being played by Jimmy Smits. Krysten Ritter would make a smashing Nina.

GK: I noticed a Stephen King influence throughout the book, especially during the inner monologue stuff. Who are your other influences?

AD: You’re definitely spot on with Stephen King. He’s always been a huge influence on my work. Gillian Flynn is also a really big influence of mine. We both seem drawn toward creating dark and difficult characters.

GK: I’ve seen you post a lot recently about a Ted Bundy novel — it’s an interesting concept. Could you explain it for those who don’t know?

AD: I’m very excited about this one (and so is my agent!). Several months back, when Ann Rule passed away, I decided to finally pick up her most famous book, The Stranger Beside Me, which is the definitive Bundy book. In it, she discussed her time working with Bundy at a crisis hotline at the University of Washington. Particularly, she mentioned how great he was on the phones with people and that he might have very well saved a number of lives during his tenure there. I immediately started to think about one of the lives Bundy might have saved, and how dark legacies and unintended consequences tend to be born from seemingly good acts. It bounces across several decades in time and follows three generations of a family in the aftermath of Bundy’s unwitting influence of saving the life of someone who maybe shouldn’t have gone on living. In many ways, it’s darker than Strings, though the gore level is quite low.

GK: Do you have any other novels on the back-burner? I sometimes find I have five or six ideas and I’ll be flipping between them until I finally decide which one to go ahead with next.

AD: Oh yes, there are several irons in the fire at all times. After I finish the Bundy book in January, I have to put the finishing touches on the Strings sequel. After that, I plan to get some more short stories written. I will then have the next book in the Colt Coltrane series to start working on in the spring of 2016. Hopefully in that period of time, my agent will be able to find a publisher for the books of mine she currently has.

GK: You co-wrote a novel (The Oilman’s Daughter) with Ian Thomas Healy. How did that come about?

AD: Ian and I have been friends for a long time, and we had always wanted to work on a book together. The concept of a steampunk space opera originated in his mind, and we took it from there. We’re really good at bouncing ideas off of one another, so the actual plot and story outline came together really quickly for us.

GK: How did you find the process of co-authoring? And how did you work it between the two of you — a chapter each? A character each?

AD: He took on the role of the dashing young hero, Jonathan Orbital, and I took on the brash and gritty space pirate, Phinneas Greaves. From there, we alternated chapters, following the outline we put together. Once one of us wrote a chapter, the other would edit it and then he would assemble it into a master document. Though we had a number of things come up that forced us to take a hiatus (I moved from Washington to Ohio the year we started it, and so several months went down the tubes), the actual writing time was pretty quick and streamlined.

GK: When you went back to edit it, were there any arguments about what to keep in and what to change, etc.?

AD: That’s one place where I think we had some growing pains. The first finished product went around to some agents and publishers and beta readers, and that’s where we were finally made aware of some flaws in the book. We couldn’t quite agree on what needed to be fixed. Most of it was character development related. In the grander scheme, not that much work, but we agreed to trunk it because we each seemed to be going our own separate paths in our careers. I had Strings coming out and his Just Cause series was finally taking off. But after a couple years we agreed to revisit it and release it ourselves under his Local Hero Press imprint. So the book was a very long time coming, but we’re thrilled with how the book came out and hope people love it.

GK: How long were you writing for and how many books had you written before you had something traditionally published?

AD: Well, I was very lucky in that when I returned to writing fiction in 2008, I had one of my first short stories (“Aria”) accepted into an anthology a few months later. Not long after that, I had a few more short stories published in online magazines. I didn’t actually finish writing my first novel until 2009 or thereabouts. I self-published my first two novels after they’d been rejected by many agents (I don’t recommend doing this, by the way), and eventually took them down from the market. They will likely remain in the trunk for all of eternity. My first traditionally published novel was Strings in 2013, and it was the fifth novel I’d finished. In many ways, it was the right debut for me.

GK: What’s your writing process? Are you a morning person or a night owl?

AD: I’m both, actually. I don’t have a regular day job, so that affords me the ability to get a chunk of writing done in the morning and afternoon. When the kids get home, it’s all about them. I don’t pick things back up until after my husband goes to bed, and I work for a couple hours and call it done. It really depends on the book whether my day sessions or my night sessions are more fruitful. Right now, the Bundy book seems to be a daytime book.

GK: Sometimes I read a book and think — I wish I wrote that. Can you think of any novels you wished you’d written?

AD: Oh so very many. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, The Dark Tower Series by Stephen King. So many.

GK: Finally, what are 5 books you’d recommend?

AD: Some recent favorites of mine have been Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll, Save Yourself by Kelly Braffet, A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay, and Bird Box by Josh Malerman. I am also currently loving a number of the stories in Stephen King’s latest collection, Bazaar of Bad Dreams.

If you enjoyed the interview and would like to find out more about Allison and her upcoming books, you can check out her website here. Also, you can buy her books, including Strings, right here.

She might not be on every bookshelf of every shop and library . . . but she should be.  


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Rob Boffard: Part II

imgresIn PART I, Rob Boffard spoke about his debut novel, Tracer, which is due for release on July 2nd 2015. He also gave advice on how to approach an agent and some insight into the publishing world. Check it out here

In PART II, I delve a little deeper into his writing habits. 

GK: You have a strong journalistic background. Was the plan always to transition into a novelist?  

RB: I never planned transitioning into being a novelist. It just sort of happened! I’ve always enjoyed writing, and I was a journalist because to my mind that seemed like a career where I’d be able to do it regularly (plus, I love journalism anyway). I discovered over the years that while I was perfectly capable of being a journalist, the part I enjoyed most was actually putting pen to paper and writing the stories. It felt like a natural progression.

GK: How have your years of journalism informed and/or improved the way you approached the writing business?

RB: The advantage of being a journalist was that it gave me the opportunity and impetus to write regularly. I excised a lot of bad writing, because if I didn’t then my editors wouldn’t accept it. Being freelance has also taught me a great deal about managing money and selling my stories. It also helps me deal with rejection, because even now I still get my story ideas rejected on an almost weekly basis — sometimes daily. I’ve learned to move on very quickly.

GK: What would you say is the main difference between being a journalist and a novelist? In a sense you were creating stories and shaping narratives before, and now you’re doing the same but they’re all fictional.

RB: Absolutely. In many cases, it is actually quite rare for an editor to let me see their changes to a particular article before it is published, simply because of the nature of journalism and daily deadlines. Obviously I love it when that happens because it gives me a chance to make the story a lot better, but I don’t get too fussed when it doesn’t. When we first began editing Tracer, I told my editor that I would happily make any change she suggested as long as there was a good and logical reason behind it. So far it’s an approach that has paid off, because every change she has suggested has made the story better. I can only think of one change that I actually vetoed, although I’m going to keep that one under wraps.

GK: Many first time authors can be precious about their work — not wanting to change or rewrite certain things. You said earlier (in PART I) that “endlessly tinkering” with your book was a difficult process but essential. How important do you think it is to rewrite? And what advice would you give to the stubborn writers who refuse to change their work?

RB: You can’t publish a story without rewriting it, even if the rewrite isn’t extensive. No one’s first draft is ever quite good enough. If you think yours is, then you’re wrong. It’s that simple. The only time that isn’t the case is if you’re some kind of insane genius, and since those come along about once every hundred years, I’m going to assume that’s not the case.

GK: What’s your writing process? Do you try to hit a certain word count a day? Only have banana and eggs for breakfast? Wear your lucky pants and socks combo every morning before you start typing? Or do you just make it up as you go along?

RB: Pretty boring answer I’m afraid! I aim for around 1500 words a day, and often end up getting closer to 2000. I write in the morning after my fiancée leaves for work. I do a bit of a work out, listen to some loud and aggressive hip-hop, have a shower, blend up a smoothie so I can get my fruit fix, then all I have to do is tear myself away from the Internet and actually sit down and write. But it’s a rare day that I don’t hit my word count.

GK: I won’t ask where you get your ideas — I hate being asked that question myself — but how do you cultivate your ideas? If you get a flash of something, do you write it down that day and get to work on it? Do you let it simmer? What’s your process for nurturing an idea into something deeper and more satisfying?

RB: Interesting question. My ideas tend to come in bright flashes at the most unexpected times. I don’t usually write them down as they are pretty clear in my head, but sometimes I might make a few notes if the idea is particularly complex or is an intricate solution to a problem I’ve been having. After that, it’s just a case of interrogating the idea for weak spots. Once I start writing it down, I usually know pretty fast if it’s a keeper or not. 

GK: Are you the type to plan out your book in advance, or write as you go along? And if you’ve done both, which have you found to be more useful?

RB: Tracer was the first novel I’d ever written and I had no idea how to do it, so I did an outline more or less on reflex. It worked well, so I did it for the second one too. I also found that in both cases I went quite a bit off the original plan, and was more than happy to do so. After the second book was done, I launched straight into a completely different novel which I didn’t plan at all, and I found that to be quite a stressful experience. With an outline, even a very rough one, I feel like I’ve got something to help me find my way.

GK: Seeing as you began writing the sequels to Tracer whilst in the middle of going back and forth on the first one with your editor, did anything from that experience shape or change how you approached the writing of your sequels? Did you learn about a particular writing flaw of yours — maybe a propensity to overuse certain words/phrases, perhaps? Or did you just steam ahead with it knowing you’d deal with it in the rewrite stage?

RB: Yes, absolutely. I learned that there are certain things that I forget to do (like include physical descriptions of the characters, which is pretty important!). But I also don’t believe in waiting for things to be perfect before I start a project. I decided that I was capable of editing and writing at the same time, and changing things on the fly if I needed to.

GK: Any advice you could pass on to the aspiring authors out there reading this?

RB: None whatsoever. Almost all writing advice is snake-oil. The only thing that’s ever worked in all circumstances is: read lots, write lots.

GK: Great, I think that’s everything. Thanks for your time. Is there anything else you wanted to add?

RB: Thanks for the interview, and check out Tracer this July. It’s bad-ass. 

If you enjoyed the interview, please share/tweet/Facebook/ignore everything I just said, and also check out Rob’s website. He updates it regularly and there’s plenty more information on Tracer along with some cool artwork of his characters. And if you end up buying Tracer (which you can pre-order here), make sure to email me/comment below and let me know what you think. I’ve read it and it’s a fantastic novel. 

I’ve got a feeling the name Rob Boffard will be making some waves over the next few years.


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Rob Boffard: Part I

imgresI first heard of Rob Boffard when he wrote a long piece for Huck about the world of battle rap (read it here). As a freelance journalist, fresh from his hometown in Johannesburg, South Africa, Rob had been writing and selling his articles to publications for years: from Music Tech to Wired to The Guardian. On this occasion he’d covered a Don’t Flop tryout event that I’d participated in, and had nothing but complimentary things to say about me. After reading it online, my fiancée hunted down a physical copy of the magazine for my birthday, and then I searched for Rob on Facebook to applaud him on his writing. Not only because he’d written such nice (and obviously true) things about me, but also because I genuinely enjoyed his work. I could tell this guy had a real spark with words. I suggested we meet up for drinks. 

Over time we built up a friendship based on our mutual passion: writing fiction. We began to correspond regularly, sending short stories and novels back and forth, offering advice and criticism, and sometimes meeting up for more drinks so we could drunkenly rant at each other about the torment of novel writing. Eventually Rob snagged an agent, and a short while later a three-book deal for his Outer Earth trilogy with the Science Fiction publishing house Orbit

Since then he’s moved to Canada with his fiancée, and been chasing deadlines.

He kindly took time from his busy schedule to talk with me.

We not only discussed his new book, but Rob also gave an insight into his writing process and offered some valuable tips for any aspiring authors out there.

Check out PART I below:

GK: Firstly, let’s talk about your debut novel Tracer. It’s set for release on July 2nd 2015. Can you tell us what it’s about?

RB: Sure. It’s set on a space station, Outer Earth, which holds the last of humanity. Outer Earth is old: broken down, rusted, falling to pieces. There are couriers, called tracers, who take packages and messages across the station. One of the couriers, Riley, discovers she’s been transporting something pretty gruesome, and uncovers a conspiracy that could destroy Outer Earth . . .

GK: It’s the first in a trilogy. When you originally wrote Tracer, did you envision it as more than one book? Or was that the publisher’s decision?

RB: I didn’t know what Tracer was going to be! I just wrote it. Only when I got to the end did I realise that I wasn’t done telling the story. Orbit liked that, and bought the books as a trilogy before I’d even finished writing them.

GK: And are they all finished now? 

RB: I’m editing book two at the moment, and the first draft of book three is about two weeks away from completion. Crunch time!

GK: And then how long do we have to wait before we can read them?

RB: Book 2 is out in February 2016, and Book 3 in July 2016.

GK: Moving on to the book itself: as someone who’s been privileged to have read Tracer before it hits shops, one of the refreshing things I noticed when reading your novel is that you have a diverse cast of characters (a compelling mix of races, creeds, and sexes) without it seeming forced or done for the sake of filling a quota. Was it a conscious decision to have so many different — and many would say “marginalised” — voices in your novel? And do you think it’s important to provide a platform of characters that represents the true diversity of real life?

RB: I need to be very careful with this answer, because I know that it’s a tricky topic, particularly in the sci-fi community. We absolutely do need more diversity in fiction, including more protagonists who come from marginalised groups. That’s a no-brainer. That being said, the diversity in Tracer wasn’t a conscious choice, mostly because I was doing my very best to not write a crap story, and that was taking up most of my conscious brainpower! But I knew very early on that Outer Earth was likely to be a melange of different cultures, races, genders, religions. That’s just how, logically, a place like that would turn out. I let that guide me. I didn’t consciously try and make my characters diverse, but subconsciously that’s obviously what happened, and I’m delighted that it did.

GK: Your main hero Riley is a great character: a smart, witty, determined woman who manages to be both vulnerable and made of steel. What was it like writing from a female perspective? Did you find it any more challenging than writing the male characters? And did you get any input or feedback about Riley from the women in your life?

RB: I didn’t think too hard about the female perspective. I knew it was important, but I figured that if I concentrated on writing a believable character, that would come through. From the reactions I’ve got so far I think it came out okay. That’s not to say I have it perfect, or don’t have more work to do in future books. For someone like me — male — it’s an ongoing education.

GK: One thing that struck me about the world you created (Outer Earth) is how legitimate and realistic it seems. Did you do any research into how a space station would work before you started writing? Or did you just make it up as you went along?

RB: I did a huge amount of research on orbital physics, and what the station would be like. This was not something I was willing to make up on-the-fly. I went down and spoke to a genuine rocket scientist at Kingston University, and he helped me put together a station that worked. I also spoke to an expert on fusion energy, an entomologist, and a few other scientists as well. I was quite content to make up the actual story, but I wanted my physics to be straight.

GK: I can definitely see Tracer hitting the big screen one day. If that happens, do you have any ideas about who you’d like to play Riley (and any other cast members) in a film version?

RB: So many ideas. I would love this to be made into a movie, although of course that is a very long way off. There’s a New Zealand actress called Shavaughn Ruakere who I think would make a killer Riley. Either her, or Olivia Thirlby from Dredd. Michael B. Jordan would make an amazing Carver; or a young Ryan Reynolds, circa Blade 3 (not possible now, obviously). Man, so many other names . . . A young Zhang Ziyi as Yao, Sam Worthington as Kevin, Dev Patel as Prakesh. Jada Pinkett Smith would be the PERFECT Okwembu. Darnell, I don’t know . . . someone fucking huge. Basically what I’m saying is, if this ever gets made into a movie I am writing it into the contract that I have casting power. 

GK: Many aspiring authors don’t understand just how long the process is from the sale of a book up until publication. Could you give us a little insight into what goes on behind the scenes once a book’s been accepted? And how have you found that process? 

RB: After the hangover from celebratory drinks has faded away, it’s all about getting the book ready for publication. You work pretty closely with your editor on every stage of the book, making sure it’s as good as it can be. For me, this felt like lying under a car with my arms deep in the guts of the engine, endlessly tinkering. It’s a very difficult process, but absolutely essential. In the background, the publisher is busy with cover design, blurb copy, working on a marketing campaign . . . at this stage, that’s all still going on, as we’re a few months from publication. 

GK: Any positive/negatives you’ve noticed since being part of that world that you were previously unaware of? Any pitfalls that you could advise others to watch out for?

RB: Good question. I think you have to be prepared for the amount of work needed to actually get a manuscript to a point where it can be published. To my mind, it actually felt like more work than writing the book in the first place. But I have to stress that it’s an enormously positive process. You come out of it feeling like you really accomplished something.

GK: There’s a common belief amongst many unpublished authors that finding an agent to represent their work is more about luck than talent: you either hit the lottery or you don’t. Could you tell us how you found your agent? What did you do — hockey mask and gun to the face? Fireworks through the letterbox? Or something more traditional?

RB: I’m a big believer in tradition, which for me meant duct tape and bolt cutters. No, I think you need a bit of both — luck and talent, that is, not assorted weapons. You not only have to have the drive and talent to get your manuscript to a semi-readable state, but you do need a tiny bit of luck in finding the right agent for it. Simply because an agent rejects you doesn’t mean that your manuscript is bad; it just means that they may not be the right agent for it. I got about eighteen rejections before I found my guy, and that came simply through the process of cold submitting. No shortcuts, no magic button. I just kept at it.

GK: Any advice you could give authors on how they should approach an agent?

RB: Be polite, accept a no and move on, and don’t think that submitting anything other than a standard cover letter and the first bit of your manuscript will work. Agents have seen every “clever” submission under the sun, and they’re far more likely to respond to you if you work within their parameters.

GK: When you signed with your agent, what was your initial reaction? And then, later, how did you feel when you found out you were finally going to be published?

RB: Both of them are among the best feelings in the world. It’s not just that someone has expressed interest in your work, it’s that they’re prepared to then work hard on your behalf (initially without compensation, in the case of the agent) to make sure that it gets out into the world. When I found out that Orbit had made an offer, I was sitting in bed in Vancouver on a Saturday morning. It was a bit early for whiskey, but we had the mother of all fry-ups . . .

That’s it for PART I. In the meantime, check out Rob’s website here for more information. 

In PART II, we discuss Rob’s background in journalism, his writing routines, and the importance of rewriting your work before sending it off. Make sure you check it out here.


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