Sunday, 23 March 2008

Author Interview - John Varley

Novels: Ophiuchi Hotline



Steel Beach

The Golden Globe

Red Thunder


Red Lightning

Rolling Thunder


Pitch your latest novel OR the first novel of your series.

>Rolling Thunder is the third in a series that began with Red Thunder and continued with Red Lightning. It will conclude with Dark Lightning. It is the saga of the Strickland-Garcia-Redmond clan, who meet up with a disgraced NASA pilot and his disabled-genius cousin, who has invented a new method of propulsion that revolutionizes space travel, and power generation of all kinds. They build a spaceship out of spare parts and fly it to Mars and back. The second book is the story of the second generation, Ray Garcia, and his experiences after a starship collides with the Earth while moving at nearly the speed of light, causing a tsunami that devastates the Eastern United States, and the resulting war between Earth and Mars. Rolling Thunder is the story of the third generation, granddaughter Podkayne, who travels to Jupiter’s moon Europa and witnesses the birth of something strange and frightening there, which may have dire consequences for humanity.

What are your favourite three books (not by you, either in the field or out of it)?

>Catch-22 by Joseph Heller saved my life, because when I read it I vowed that I would never go into the military. Thus I avoided the Vietnam War. It’s also the best novel I’ve ever read, period.
Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry.
Of books I’ve read recently, I’d recommend The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger.

In the books you've written, who is you favourite character and why?

>My favorite character is always the one I’ve just finished writing about, so right now it’s Podkayne Strickland-Garcia-Redmond, the heroine of Rolling Thunder. Soon I expect that my favorite characters will be her twin daughters, Cassandra and Pollyanna, who will star in the fourth and last book of the Red Thunder series: Dark Lightning.

If you could, would you change places with any of your characters?

>I love to travel, and my characters do tend to get around, so I’d probably be happy to change places with any of them. However, characters in stories do tend to get into scary places, and get hurt a lot, which doesn’t appeal. But as to actually being any of them … well, I already am, at least in part.

What is your university degree in?

>I dropped out of Michigan State University after a year and a half, when I realized I didn’t want to be a physicist anymore. My education was completed instead on the roads of America, in the Haight-Ashbury during the Summer of Love, at Woodstock, and on the streets of Los Angeles. I’ve never regretted it … which is not to say I counsel anyone not to pursue a higher education. I only point out that it’s not for everyone.

Do you think it is easier to write fantasy or science fiction?

>In science fiction there is often a lot of research that has to be done, and lately, the monetary rewards tend not to be quite so great. In fantasy you get to make up all the rules, and write for a larger audience. The problem is, I can only write what I’m good at, and that happens to be SF.

When and where do you write?

>I used to start and midnight and work until sunrise. As I’ve gotten older and don’t sleep so well that has turned around. I’m now often up before the sun, and usually stop work around noon. Who knows what I’ll be doing in another 10 years?

What's the best/worst thing about writing?

>The best thing about (book) writing is that you get to be your own boss. (Screenwriting is an entirely different thing.)
The worst thing about writing is that you get to be your own boss. You may not be a very good one. If you’re lazy, like me, sometimes you need a real bastard boss cracking the whip.

Any tips against writers block?

>Nothing has ever worked for me … but I never tried the remedy Gene Wolfe says works every time for him. It’s too extreme. He merely tells himself that, until he has written X number of pages, he can’t read anything, watch television, engage in hobbies, or go to the movies. This leaves him nothing to do but walk, sit, drink, and eat, and he soon gets back to work.

How many rejection letters did you get for your first novel or story?

>None. I sold my first short story to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction after an editor-suggested cut from 12,500 to 10,000 words, which greatly improved it.

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