Joe Mahoney: Exploring Sci Fi

A caucasian man with salt-and-pepper hair and van-dyke as well as glasses, smiles at the camera.

Today we will be putting the tough questions to Joe Mahoney

He is a time-travel/fantasy/sci-fi author who has been writing for forty-six years. Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions.


-Joe, what first attracted you to the genre?

That's going back a long ways, but as near as I can recall it was a combination of elements. At the age of six my favourite show was Johnny Sokko and His Giant Robot, about a kid who finds and ultimately controls his own giant robot to fight evil.  Then it was Star Trek back before everybody else discovered it. I loved Star Trek on both television and in print. I read most of science fiction writer James Blish's adaptations of the episodes before I ever saw those episodes. Which was cool because even James Blish never saw the episodes before he wrote those adaptations, so his versions often differ slightly from the finished product. After that it was the Robert A. Heinlein juveniles such as Rocket Ship Galileo and Isaac Asimov's robot stories and the damage was done.

-Who are your favourite authors of all time?

Such a tough question. My tastes have evolved over time, but there is some consistency. As a kid I read a lot of Asimov, whose work I still admire. I discovered Stephen R. Donaldson in my late teens; I still have a lot of admiration for his Covenant series. I also read a lot of historical fiction by James A. Michener as a young man. My father (who is also one of my favourite authors) introduced me to Michener. My brother-in-law Ian Gillis introduced me to Tim Powers and I immediately read about six of his novels in a row. I'd never done that before with any other. Novels I keep re-reading are A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine l'engle and Replay by Ken Grimwood, so those two are definitely on the list. I recently discovered Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun series which knocked my socks off. I'm fond of the books of Robert Charles Wilson and Robert Sawyer. And some of my favourite authors are my favourite people too, like Mark A. Rayner, Angela Misri, and Melissa Yi. I must even include author friends who have yet to be published like Tanah Haney and Jennifer DeLagran, who hopefully the world will discover soon.

-Name three of your favourite books, and why they are your top picks.

I keep getting asked this and my answer changes every time depending on my mood and what happens to be on my mind. My answer to your previous question got me thinking about James A. Michener.  Michener has the distinction of having written two books that changed my life. For a long time my favourite book was his novel The Source. This book, which I probably read in my late teens, completely changed how I looked at religion. I'd been raised as a fairly devout Catholic. One of my takeaways from The Source was how religions evolve, transmuting from one to another. I could no longer subscribe to just one religion after acquiring that perspective. There is much more than just that in The Source, though. It's a sweeping historical saga of the history of the Jewish people culminating in the creation of Israel. My favourite chapter in that book (just to drill down even further) was The Psalm of the Hoopoe Bird, which I found quite moving, though I must confess I can no longer remember why, having read it almost forty years ago; I really must reread the whole novel again to see how it holds up. (Michener also wrote The Drifters, which instilled in me a desire to live in Europe, which I did in my late twenties, studying French in France. But despite its influence on my life, I wouldn't include The Drifters in my top three picks.)

My second pick right now would be Jonathan Norrell and Mr. Strange by Susanna Clarke, just for the sheer pyrotechnics and enjoyability. I remember thinking at the time that it was as if she had written it specifically for me, it was so finely tuned to my sensibilities. It's another sweeping tale, this time an alternative history about two magicians who usher into England a brief age of magic around the time of the Napoleonic wars.

Finally I'll mention a book I just read recently, a single volume biography of Winston Churchill called Walking with Destiny by Andrew Roberts. Hugely informative and entertaining, not a single dull passage in this book about a larger-than-life figure who, though by no means perfect, was in the right place at the right time, fortunately for his country and no doubt the entire world.

-Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Like much else in my life, there has been an evolution. I used to be a pantser because I lacked the patience and discipline to plot. Over time I realized that this ultimately took me longer because I would get bogged down and it led to too much rewriting. As I acquired more discipline I acquired a taste for plotting. Now I do both. Much of my plotting takes place in my head rather than on the page. I think of plotting problems as I lay down to sleep, the solutions work themselves out as I sleep and come to me the next day.

-What are your two least favourite vices in a character?

I gotta hand it to you, this is a unique question. I don't know whether you mean vices possessed by a fictional character (e.g., smoking) or vices possessed by an author leading to flawed character creation (e.g., resulting in shallow characters).  How about I list one of each? The first is problematic, though. Why would I hate a vice in a character? Say the character's a bigot. I would despise such a trait in a real person. But a fictional character? There I would think it served a purpose, to make a point or create tension. So I wouldn't hate it the same way. I would understand that it served a narrative purpose. Unless... thinking out loud here (so to speak) the story was so good that I got swept up in it and came to loathe the character for being a bigot the same way I would in real life. Yes, in this way, bigotry would be one of my least favourite vices in a character. To answer the question the other way, as a flaw in the creation of a character, it would have to be when authors create stupid characters. I don't mean deliberately creating a nuanced individual with intellectual challenges (e.g., Forrest Gump in the novel by Winston Groom or Lennie Small in Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men). I mean writing supposedly intelligent characters who make stupid decisions. It's okay if they have otherwise compelling reasons for doing so. But it's not okay if it's the result of lazy writing, the author just not thinking things through. I don't like criticizing the work of other writers (unless specifically asked to do so by the writer in question) so I won't provide any examples, but it's definitely something I keep in mind regarding my own fictional creations.

-What is your idea of happiness?

Happiness is a hot cup of coffee first thing in the morning. It's the obvious affection of a beloved pet. It's getting lost in a good book, maybe one you're writing. It's Sade's Is it a Crime played loud cruising the QEW late on a summer night. It's the first four episodes of Ronald D. Moore's Battlestar Galactica. It's when you know your wife loves you, and your kids too. It's loving them back. It's health. Dark chocolate. Washing dirty dishes in hot water on a cold night. It's cooking Vodka Penne with Hot Italian sausages while listening to your favourite tunes, drinking your favourite beer, and then eating it with the ones you love. It's the way you sometimes feel after a good cry. It's when the right thing finally happens after you thought it wouldn't.

-What are your ideal writing conditions?

I was going to say consciousness until I remembered that some of my best writing happens while I'm unconscious. So I'd have to say that my ideal writing condition would be anytime I'm alive and capable of writing. My point is that I have no interest in thinking in terms of ideal writing conditions. I don't care if the conditions are ideal or not. I care only whether I'm capable of writing. If I'm capable of writing then the conditions are ideal.

-Where or when do you feel most inspired?

Inspiration can strike at any time. I do remember feeling quite inspired after hearing certain speakers talk. I like when people infect me with new ideas, unique ways of looking at the world, and sheer enthusiasm. I also remember being quite inspired after watching The Princess Bride for the first time. I thought, wow, I'd like to create something as fresh and original as that. Still working on that.

-What do you appreciate most in your friends?

A sense of humour. Honesty. Loyalty. Probably in that order.

-Where would you like to live?

Right now? Exactly where I'm living, in Riverview, New Brunswick. We just moved here three months ago, so I'm not ready to move anywhere else just yet!

-Who are your greatest heroes/heroines?

I mentioned Winston Churchill earlier. I know he wasn't perfect, that he was a product of his times and he certainly didn't always make the right decisions, but I have a lot of admiration for his energy and attitude and it doesn't hurt that he figured prominently in winning World War Two. Closer to home there are certain bosses within the CBC that I have admired. And my mother, Rosaleen Mahoney, is a true hero, volunteering well into her eighties to help her community with Meals on Wheels and running the local foot care clinic.

-If there was one recommendation you could give to authors starting out, what would it be?

A great piece of advice I once heard was that to build a really great sandcastle you have to start by shovelling sand. A lot of it. That's your first draft. Get that sand shovelled, enough to work with, then get to work on that sandcastle.

-What are the characteristics you believe make a great ‘genre’ story?

To begin with, the same characteristics that contribute to any great story. It has to be interesting. I don't think it's really any more difficult than that. Is it interesting? Great! I'll keep reading. If it's not interesting, forget it.  The real question is how do you make a story interesting. And that's a more complicated answer, but I think it has to do with questions. Create questions in readers' minds compelling enough to make them want to stick around long enough to see those questions answered. As for genre, it depends on the genre. For speculative fiction I think it's injecting that sense of wonder and those "what if?" questions. What if there were robots? What if you were telepathic? What if you could move objects with your mind? What if we could travel back or foward in time?

-What is the title of your latest story?

The book I just finished writing is a non-fiction memoir called Adventures in the Radio Trade.

-Can you give us a synopsis of it?

Adventures in the Radio Trade is the story of my career in radio, from my time as a disc jockey in private radio in Prince Edward Island to my time with CBC Radio, up to shortly past the creation of the show Q in 2007, on which I was the founding recording engineer. It's mostly an inside glimpse of working for CBC Radio in Toronto from 1988 to 2007. I'm not allowed to publish it while I'm working there, so it will come out the day I retire.

-What sparked the underlying theme?

I found the work I was doing really interesting so I started blogging about it. One day a friend suggested I should turn the blog posts into a book, so I did.

-Are you working on anything else at the moment, or have the germ of an idea for another story you’d like to titillate your audience with?

I'm finishing up a novel called Captain's Away. It's sort of a sequel to my first novel A Time and a Place. It's set in the same universe one thousand years later, with at least one of the same characters. It's a stand alone novel, though. It might be more accurate to call it a companion novel to A Time and a Place. It tells the story of a family, the Doucettes, who are separated on the eve of an interstellar war when the space station they share with hundreds of other families is destroyed. They must find their way back to one another while contributing to the war effort in their own unique way, through their own harrowing adventures. It's classic space opera.

-Once again, thank you very much for taking the time to answer these questions. I wish you all the best of luck in your writing endeavours!

Thank you!

A man is walking toward the viewer through a lit door, casting a long shadow, in graphic novel style.

You can find Joe Mahoney's book here:


Originally published by Five Rivers Press. Since published by Donovan Street Press.


Follow Joe Mahoney through these links:

Twitter: @Joe Mahoney



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Cover of Blue Node: Woman striking a hero pose with menacing tentacled robot creature behind her

If you enjoyed Joe Mahoney's book, you will love Blue Node, the second book in the Spectrum Series.

Why not read our previous interview with Patricia McCarthy?

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