Who did you look up to at the time?
I'm not sure? Alan Dean Foster? I remember getting his Star Trek Log books, based on the animated series for Christmas from my grandparents and absolutely loving them. I think that may have been formative. I grew up in an isolated region, we didn't have Star Trek on television - only CBC in English and French. So that was one of my first exposures to science fiction. I think that and maybe some really old pulp magazines back when I was in the hospital.
And I remember Clifford Simak, and a novel called 'Runaway Robot' back in junior high school, that clicked with me so much harder than anything else at school. Decades and decades later, I'd find that little YA novel at an antique/junk mall, and snapped it up right away.
I think the first writer that really struck a chord way back then was Edgar Rice Burroughs. He's not really politically correct these days. But his Tarzan books were at the local library. The thing with Tarzan though was that I wasn't really interested in Tarzan in 'Africa' the ones I loved where were he went to Pal Ul Don, or journeyed to the Earth's Core, or hung out with Romans and Ant-Men. The exotic, fantastic out of this world stuff.
H.P. Lovecraft, that was a discovery. As was Steven King, who was just starting out - I remember reading Salem's Lot when it came out, so Carrie must have already been out, but I missed that one.
The next town over had just opened a shopping mall, and it had a bookstore. There was a little science fiction section. I loved that - Asimov, Clark, Heinlein, everyone was there. This was, I think, the seventies and eighties, when all these old pulp writers were getting reprinted in paperbacks, and so there was a revival. I remember Asimov in particular publishing a lot of collections, his own and other peoples, and even curating a 'Before the Golden Age' series. I remember Harlan Ellison's Dangerous Visions. I remember Conan was big, although I never got into Conan. I was more interested in exotic worlds than power fantasies. That was when I encountered Burroughs Martian novels, which I passionately love to this day.
Name three of your favourite books, and why they are your top picks.
A Princess of Mars, anthropological levels of detail, the first truly alien 'aliens' and an insightful sympathetic approach to their world and world view, a genuinely likeable and engaging hero, and a romance. It was a novel with a heart as big as a house. I've read it a dozen times.
Sharp Teeth, by Toby Barlow, a cheesy werewolf novel written entirely in free verse, but with some of the most goddammed beautiful language you'll ever see. There were points where I had to stop reading and just sit there letting the words run through my head again and again. I bought half a dozen copies just to give away.
Best Served Cold, by Joe Abercrombie. Set in a fantasy version of renaissance Italy, a female mercenary betrayed and crippled, slowly crawls her way back to revenge. Love the characters, love the ruthlessness, the vividness of the setting, the turns and twists of the story. A book so good, once again, I gave it away as a gift.
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I've done both, and every approach in between, and they've worked out successfully. I think that plotting, working out your road map, starting from point A and then writing B, C, D, until you get to Z works.
Other times, I've just had a collection of ideas or scenes in my head and proceeded to write them in almost random order, and keep writing, filling in more and more scenes until ZAP! It's a novel! I suppose that would be quilting?
Total pantsing is hard. Typically, on a big project, the architecture of the work, the story evolves in my head, so it's not true pantsing. If I'm Pantsing a novel, well, a lot is getting invented along the way, but the decisions that get made circumscribe the work and I'm thinking a lot.
Mostly I do serious pantsing with short stories. Basically, where you just write, with no idea what the next line is until you're writing it. That's hard to do, our brains are always trying to cheat. You have an idea for a story - is that true pantsing if you develop it from there. I think I've only done a few stories that were total balls to the walls pantsers where I literally discovered what happens next almost at the same time as the characters in the story. But it's exhilarating.
What are your two least favourite virtues in a character?
Confidence/arrogance/righteousness. The Establishment hero. The annointed chosen one. I hate those dicks. They're special, and that's an excuse for every awful thing they do. As for the rest of us, we're just cannon fodder. The reality is that no order is perfect, any system can produce cruelty and victims, and simplifying the equation to good vs evil is often damaging and robs us of a lot of nuance.
Hypercompetence/Perfection. The greatest swordsman in the world turning everyone into cutlets. The science genius who pulls miracles out of his butt. That feels unrealistic, and even boring to me. Characters are most interesting when they're challenged, when they have to struggle, and it's not ordained that they're going to win.
I like flawed people struggling to navigate through an uncertain world. So I suppose, basically reality, but with more Gee Whiz! Spaceships and Magic! And where the good guys actually have an effect on the world.
What is your idea of insanity?
Hmm. I've known a few schizophrenics and talked to them. And it's always seemed to me that their logic holds up for them. It's like we were walking on a path together, and their path diverged, and it just diverged further and further, making sense to them, but only to them. I've known autistics and aspergers and have a sense of that skewed neurodivergent outlook. And I've known bipolars and depressives, alcoholics and addicts. All of these would be insane in clinical ways.
I know the legal definition of insanity in Canada, which is essentially literally being unable to understand your condition. Not so much believing that your neighbor is a vampire and you have to stake him, but being fundamentally unable to understand that you are driving a stake through your neighbor and killing him. I've never met anyone that out there, and maybe I don't want to. I can't conceive of such a mind.
But if we're talking colloquially, having known people who would have been considered clinically insane, and having seen, known or read about people who did terrible, irrational things - like school shooters, or wife beaters but who are considered sane... I think that insanity is not so much a diagnosable mental illness, as a divergent path, a road, a line of thought or decisions, an emotional framework whose internal logic works and is meaningful for the person, but which is inaccessible to us and which produces utterly horrible or damaging actions. Adolph Hitler, Pol Pot, Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, the guy who just torpedoed FTX, many other people would be clinically sane - but their actions are in a larger sense, irrational, immoral and often toxic. That's insanity to me. Colloquial, not legal clinical.
The thing is that for such people, the logic works for them. It makes sense, it meets needs. That's what makes them so dangerous. Because by their lights, their conduct does make sense, and more than that, it works. You can't really do anything with people like that but oppose them. As opposed to people whose dysfunction brings them pain, at least they have the option of looking for a way out. But the other kind... it works for them, why change, why even want to change?