Getting Under Your Skin: An Interview with A. J. Colucci

Author A. J. Colucci

A.J. Colucci spent 15 years as a reporter, magazine editor and writer for corporate America.  Today she is a full time author of science thrillers, stories that combine true science with the riveting plot and breakneck pace of a thriller. Her novel THE COLONY received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, noting, “Michael Crichton fans will hope that this is but the first of many such outings from the author’s pen.” Visit her website  or find her on Twitter.

Alex C. Telander: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

A. J. Colucci: For as long as I can remember. I think if I’d had a pencil in utero, I would have come out with at least a couple short stories.

Alex: Where did the idea for The Colony come from?

A. J.: I was watching a Discovery Channel special on killer ants and got hooked. It was mesmerizing to see a colony of 22 million African driver ants, working like a military unit, to take down every living creature in a farmer’s field.  I knew it would make a great book.

Alex: What sort of research did it require?

A. J.: Science thrillers require an enormous amount of research. I started in the library and then spent about a thousand hours on the internet. But I’m an information junkie so subjects like ant morphology and pheromone manipulation are incredibly interesting to me. I was lucky enough to have a few first-rate entomologists and a military expert to verify my facts.  I think I probably qualify for some kind of entomology degree.

Alex: Do you plan on writing any sort of sequel or using some of the characters in a future book?

A. J.: I am so busy working on other projects right now, but maybe someday Paul and Kendra will have another adventure.

Alex: How possible in today’s world is the core concept of The Colony?

A. J.: Insect warfare goes back to biblical times, and even earlier. I’ve read that early humans threw bees nests into caves like a primitive form of tear gas.  In the 1950s the U.S. military did a lot of testing of entomological warfare, including operations Big Buzz, Big Itch and Drop Kick. You can look it up – I kid you not.  Testing for Big Itch involved dropping fleas from the air in cluster bombs. At least one test failed when the fleas were accidentally released into the aircraft and they attacked the crew. I believe Big Buzz and Drop Kick used mosquitoes.

Alex: What do you hope readers get from reading your book?

A. J.: Mostly entertainment.  There’s plenty boredom, monotony and despair in the world, so if a book can sweep you into an exciting adventure for a few hours, that’s great. You can get your chills and thrills without having to jump out of an airplane. Of course, it would be nice if readers considered my underlying message of faith in humanity. Ants work for the good of the colony, never for themselves. We could use some of that.

Alex: Do you have plans for your next novel?

A. J.: I’m actually in the first round of edits on my new novel, which is coming out Spring 2014 from St. Martin’s Press. It’s another science thriller about a group of people who come to a remote island in Nova Scotia for the reading of a will, but the island starts to have strange and violent effects on the characters. I like to write about nature because it can be a brutal place—kill or be killed—but it’s also filled with a sort of beauty and logic that makes humans look ridiculous.

Alex: Do you still write nonfiction?

A. J.: Unfortunately there’s not enough time. I think most authors would agree that establishing oneself as a novelist is a full-time job. A single book takes at least a year, and I hope to write many.

Alex: Is it hard to switch between writing fiction and nonfiction?

A. J.: Not for me. The two are so different and require separate parts of the brain. Although much of The Colony was based on fact, so it felt like writing non-fiction at times. For instance, I interviewed a former director at the U.S. Department of Defense about the best way to destroy the ants – he took it very seriously and suggested a neutron bomb, and then he gave me information on deployment and damage.  I also had an entomologist from the USDA brainstorm with me on how to get the pheromones spread over the city.  So when I sat down to write those chapters it felt realistic.

Alex: Was there a particular reason you chose to use “A. J” for your published name?

A. J.: The initials A.J. are meaningless, but I chose a pen name because I’m a private person and the idea of splashing my name all over the place was jarring. Also, my genre is a tough one for women to break into. I didn’t want to turn off guys that were more comfortable reading names like Michael Crichton, James Rollins and Scott Sigler.

Alex: Who are some of your favorite authors?

A. J.: Besides the three I just mentioned, I’ve built up an endless list over the years in thrillers, horror, literary fiction and old classics. Vonnegut, Orwell, Baldacci, Lehane, Atwood, Hosseini, Hemingway, Dostoyevsky. My tastes run amok.

Alex: What do you like to read?

A. J.: I’ve always read a lot of literary novels and but when I’m writing, which is most of the time, I tend to read thrillers.

Alex: What are you reading at the moment?

A. J.: I just downloaded Gone Girl because when a book is a runaway hit, I just have to know why.  Sometimes I never figure it out. Like with Fifty Shades of Grey. What’s up with that?

Alex: What do you like to do in your spare time?

A. J.: I do things with my family, take the kids on a hike or to the beach. I like getting together with other authors, something that’s new to me and such a huge privilege. It’s one of the few perks of being published.  Other than that, I’m reading or writing.

Alex: So if the events of The Colony really happened, what would you do?

A. J.: I guess prepare to die, because realistically there’s is nothing in our arsenal that could stop them.

Bookbanter Interviews

Okay, after a long week of work, the entire collection of Bookbanter interviews comprised of 40 audio episodes and 37 written interviews over a three-year period are now available on this site.  To navigate, you can select Bookbanter interviews in the right column at the top to see five examples of each type of interview, or you can go to a specific interview page.

Audio: Audio interviews feature exclusive author interviews with the likes of Brandon Sanderson, Mary Roach, Justin Cronin, James Rollins, and many more.  These interviews can be listened to or downloaded for free.  You can find the audio interview page here.

Written: Written interviews again feature exclusive interviews with a variety of authors including Brian Wood, Mira Grant, Peter Straub, Naomi Novik, and many more.  You can find the written interview page here.

Faces of Publishing: This was a series of interviews conducted in 2012 with the people behind the author and the book who help make it happen.  They include publicists, editors, agents, and more.  You can find the Faces of Publishing page here.

The Man of Many Minds: An Interview with Ben Loory

Ben Loory

Ben Loory

Ben Loory is a short story writer who has been published in Gargoyle Magazine, Quick Fiction, Keyhole Quarterly and The Antioch Review. His story “The TV” (featured in his debut collection) was published in The New Yorker. Stories for the Nighttime and Some for the Day is his first short story collection. In the interview he talks about how he became a writer, how he writes short stories, where he gets his ideas, and what he likes to do in his spare time. Read the interview . . .

Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day

An Interview with Ben Loory (January, 2012)

Ben Loory

Ben Loory is a short story writer who has been published in Gargoyle Magazine, Quick Fiction, Keyhole Quarterly and The Antioch Review. His story “The TV” (featured in his debut collection) was published in The New Yorker. Stories for the Nighttime and Some for the Day is his first short story collection.

Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day

Alex C. Telander: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Ben Loory: I don’t know that I ever really wanted to be a writer; I always wanted to be a rock star or a film director. But the first didn’t work out, and the second was hard to get into, so I ended up going to film school and studying screenwriting because I thought that might be the best way in. Somewhere along the line, I became obsessed with story structure — with what stories were and how they worked and all that — and I started writing short stories just to figure it out. I became a writer almost by accident. (On the other hand, I’ve read like a maniac my entire life, so I suppose in a sense it was inevitable.)

Alex: Who are some of your influences?

Ben: Oh, there are a ton: Aesop, Kafka, Philip K. Dick, Hemingway, Borges, Brautigan, Wodehouse, Stephen King, Richard Laymon, Samuel Beckett, Ionesco, Pinter, Gogol, Highsmith, Jim Thompson, Donald Barthelme… I could go on and on. There’s a lot of Roald Dahl and The Twilight Zone and The Far Side and Warner Brother cartoons and Hitchcock and David Lynch and Howard Hawks and MAD Magazine… and I definitely took a lot from the poetry of Stephen Crane and the essays and short stories of Henry James. Everything I’ve ever encountered comes out at one point or another, I think. Though sometimes it’s hard for me to see.

Alex: Do you remember the first thing you wrote?

Ben: The first thing I remember writing was a story about a duck and a man with a balloon. I think I was about five. This is funny because it’s pretty much the same kind of thing I’m writing now. (Although now I guess the balloon would have sharp teeth or be singing or sailing ships or something.)

Alex: How about the first thing you published?

Ben: I had two stories published in an issue of Knock Magazine (#11, I think)– “Toward the Earth” (about a woman falling out of an airplane) and “The Greatest Thief in the World” (about the greatest thief in the world). But the issue was guest-edited by my friend the novelist Jonathan Evison, so I’m not exactly sure if that counts. The first story I ever had published by someone who didn’t know me was called “Fernando” (about a guy whose name was not Fernando) and it was published online by Scott Garson at Wigleaf.com in the summer of 2009.

Alex: What made you decide to stick with short stories?

Ben: I wouldn’t really say that I ever made that decision. The only decision I ever made was to never plan anything and just write what presents itself when I sit down to write. So far, it’s pretty much just been short stories. But if something longer started coming, I’d write that. I’m agreeable.

Alex: Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day features a large number of quite short stories. Do these story ideas just come to you and you write the story, or is it something you have to work at?

Ben: I pride myself actually on never having ideas. It’s sort of my modus operandi. I sit down to write with a blank screen and nothing planned, and just wait for the first line or image to come. Whatever that line or image is that pops up, that’s the first line, and I follow the story through from there to the end. What I’ve learned from years of writing stories is that stories are everywhere, they’re in everything, they’re a dime a dozen, a million… Writing is not a matter of coming up with a story, it’s a matter of following a situation– ANY situation– through to its inevitable resolution. It’s more a matter of perseverance than inspiration. Adherence to the logical unfolding of the premise.

Alex: Have you, or do you have plans to writer longer prose, possibly a novel?

Ben: I try not to make plans; they just confuse my brain. But life is a big place, so we’ll see.

Alex: What are you working on now?

Ben: Writing more stories, lots of stories, all kinds of stories, all the time. I’m also working on a screenplay and learning to make gazpacho and trying to decide what to do with my life.

Alex: What do you hope readers get out of reading Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day?

Ben: I have a theory that the point of storytelling is to actually strip away the stories we all tell ourselves, the promises and excuses and rationalizations that get in the way of us seeing ourselves and our lives as they truly are. Ideally I think a story collection — like any other work of art — peels back the outer skin we’ve built up and allows us to feel and think and breathe and live again with renewed spirit. So, yeah… that goes for my book as well. Sounds pretty high-falutin’ but there it is.

Alex: What are you reading right now?

Ben: I’ve been reading a lot of books by Jeffrey Ford lately, who I recently discovered at the Readercon conference back in July. I really love his collection The Drowned Life; there’s a story in it called “Present from the Past” that I think is pretty much perfect. I’ve also been getting into Cesar Aira; he’s an Argentinean writer who apparently writes every book straight through from the beginning without ever revising. Which seems like a recipe for disaster, but his book An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter was absolutely mind-blowing. Like W.G. Sebald mixed with Joao Guimaraes Rosa and envisioned as a spaghetti western.

Alex: What do you like to do in your spare time?

Ben: Eat food, walk around, listen to the Melvins. I’d like to take up gardening but I don’t know where to start.

Alex: Do you have any advice for writers looking to get published?

Ben: I’d say don’t worry about getting published, worry about writing as well as you can. If your work gets to the point where you completely stand by it, word by word, line by line, then it will probably find a home. There are more places to get published now than ever before. Secondly, I’d say make friends with other writers. Actual friends, not Facebook-y kinda friends. Friends who you know and like and trust. There’s nothing like having the advice and support of people whose opinion you value. And it will push you to work all that much harder.

Alex: Do you have a set writing schedule you keep to each day?

Ben: Not really, no… I’ve never been one for schedules. I try to write a story a day, but I don’t have a strict start time or a word count I aim for or anything like that. Mostly I write at night, but that tends to be very isolating, so then I switch around and try to write during the day… it never lasts. Basically, I swing wildly from pole to pole, getting up super early for a couple days and then staying up all night for three or four weeks. It’s not much of a lifestyle but I don’t know how to change. (A recurrent theme in my life.)

Alex: What do you use to write on?

Ben: I write on a laptop. I can’t read my own handwriting. I’m a complete and total slave to my computer.

15. What are your thoughts on ebooks and the future of the printed word?

Ben: Really, I try not to think about that stuff. I have a kneejerk dislike of ebooks, maybe just because they’re called “ebooks,” but of course that’s where the future lies. (Though the future also once lay in 8-track cassettes…) My concern is really with the work itself. How it’s delivered is beside the point.

Going at 88 Miles Per Hour: An Interview with Ernest Cline

An Interview with Ernest Cline

Ernest Cline

Ernest Cline is an unabashed nerd who wrote the screenplay to the popular cult hit, Fanboys, and then spent some time writing his first novel, Ready Player One, that was eventually sold to Crown Books, as well as being optioned for a movie. In the interview he talks about how he got started in writing, what sort of work it took to write Ready Player One, and what he’s working on next. Read the interview . . .

Ready Player One

An Interview with Ernest Cline (December, 2011)

Ernest Cline

Ernest Cline is an unabashed nerd who wrote the screenplay to the popular cult hit, Fanboys, and then spent some time writing his first novel, Ready Player One, that was eventually sold to Crown Books, as well as being optioned for a movie. In the interview he talks about how he got started in writing, what sort of work it took to write Ready Player One, and what he’s working on next.

Ready Player One

Alex C. Telander: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Ernest Cline: I knew I wanted to be a writer shortly after I learned how to form sentences on paper. Writing was the first thing I ever excelled at.

Alex: How did you get started in screenwriting?

Ernie: I’ve always been obsessed with movies and how they’re made, so much so that I began to collect screenplays for all of my favorite films. Then I began to read every book I could find on the craft of screenwriting. My first real attempt at writing a screenplay was my script for Fanboys, which eventually wound up getting produced.

Alex: Once you’d written the script for Fanboys, it took a while to get purchased.  What did it take to make this happen?

Ernie: In the first draft of the script, I wrote a part for Harry Knowles to play himself, then I gave him a copy to see if he’d agreed to do it. He read the script in one sitting, then posted a glowing review of it on his website, which is read by everyone in Hollywood. That set off a domino effect that got a producer interested. He optioned the script from me and we continued to develop it. Eventually the script found its way to Kevin Spacey and he signed on as a producer. Then he contacted George Lucas and asked for permission to use the Star Wars license in our movie. George said yes, and shortly after that, the Weinstein Company bought the project and within months we were in production. All of that took about 8 years from the time I finished the first draft.

Alex: Where did the idea for Ready Player One come from?

Ernie: The very first idea was “what if Willie Wonka had been a video game designer, and he held his Golden Ticket contest inside his greatest video game, a sprawling virtual universe?” Everything else grew out of that first idea.

Alex: Did it take a lot of research and how much did you enjoy researching it?

Ernie: I didn’t really do much research at all, since I mainly drew own my own love and knowledge of classic video games and 80’s pop culture to create the story. But while I was writing, I would often pull up old music videos or video game emulators, just to refresh my memory. And to avoid actually working on the book.

Alex: Are you an MMO fan, and if so, which MMOs do you like to play?

Ernie: I used to be an MMO fan, before I forced myself to quit playing them cold turkey. The first MMO I ever played was Richard Garriott’s Ultima Online. Then I developed a full blown addiction to EverQuest for several months and forced myself to quit playing, mostly out of self-preservation. I haven’t played an MMO since, because I learned my less with EverCrack.

Alex: Do you think the type of MMO you created in Ready Player One which takes over so many people’s lives will happen in our future?

Ernie: If anyone ever develops an MMO game as immersive and realistic as the one in my novel, I think it would be highly addictive – like having a holodeck in your living room.

Alex: Do you plan on any sort of sequel or future book set in this world?

Ernie: Yes, but that story is still just a rough outline at this point.

Alex: Ready Player One will also – hopefully – be a movie.  Can you talk about this?

Ernie: Yes. The film rights were snatched up by Warner Bros. and I recently finished writing the first draft of the screenplay. Now they’re looking for the right director to continue developing the script.

Alex: Do you think Ready Player One could become a video game also?

Ernie: I hope so. Warner Bros. created a really cool MMO game to promote their Matrix films and I would love for them to do something like that with the OASIS in Ready Player One.

Alex: Let’s talk about your unusual flux capacitor-bearing vehicle.  What’s the story behind it?

Ernie: I’ve wanted to own a DeLorean since I was ten years old, but it always seemed like a childish dream. But when I sold my novel (in which the protagonist drives/flies a DeLorean), it occurred to me that I could finally buy my dream car and drive it across the country on my book tour, and also feature it in my author photo. Then it would be a “business expense.” So I did just that, and the car was a huge hit on my book tour. My DeLorean even has its own website – ecto88.com.

Ecto88

Alex: You also seem to have an unhealthy obsession with Ghostbusters, what do you have to say for yourself?

Ernie: Who you gonna call?

Alex: What are your thoughts and hopes for Ghostbusters III?

Ernie: That Bill Murray plays a ghost in it and that it doesn’t suck.

Alex: Do you have any other books or projects you’re currently working on?

Ernie: Yes, I’m writing a little indie coming-of-age movie that I hope to direct.

Alex: Who are some of your favorite authors?

Ernie: Douglas Adams, Kurt Vonnegut, Neal Stephenson, Jonathan Tropper, Richard K. Morgan, et al.

Alex: What are you reading now?

Ernie: REAMDE by Neal Stephenson.

Alex: What do you like to do in your spare time?

Ernie: Hang out with my daughter and play Super Friends.

Alex: If you were able to travel to the future using a time machine, what would you bring back?

Ernie: An abundant source of cheap, clean, renewable energy. That would come in handy right about now.

Swimming with the Fishes: An Interview with Juliet Eilperin

Juliet Eilperin

Juliet Eilperin

Juliet Eilperin is a journalist who started working for the Washington Post in 1998, covering politics. In 2004 she switched to covering the environment, which led her to writing about our world’s oceans and then sharks. Demon Fish is her first book. In the interview she talks about how she got started as a journalist, what it’s like writing for the Washington Post, and whether she thinks humanity will ever come to full accept sharks. Read the interview . . .

Demon Fish

An Interview with Juliet Eilperin (November, 2011)

Juliet Eilperin

Juliet Eilperin

Juliet Eilperin is a journalist who started working for the Washington Post in 1998, covering politics. In 2004 she switched to covering the environment, which led her to writing about our world’s oceans and then sharks. Demon Fish is her second book.

Demon Fish

Alex C. Telander: When did you know you wanted to be a journalist?

Juliet Eilperin: I got into reporting at college, where I covered the university’s administration for The Daily Princetonian. I loved figuring out how people in power were making decisions that affected people’s lives, and I’ve done that ever since.

Alex: What is it like working for the Washington Post?

Juliet: On the whole it’s a great job—I’ve got generous colleagues and I never run out of story ideas. Plus, your articles have real impact, which is fantastic.

Alex: You’ve worked there for some time; what are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen at the Washington Post and in print journalism?

Juliet: We’re short on money and staff, like almost every newspaper in America. It’s a huge challenge to produce quality journalism when the vast majority of the public doesn’t feel like paying for that service.

Alex: How did you switch over to environmental reporting?

Juliet: I got burnt out covering Congress, and asked to switch over to the environment in the spring of 2004. It was the smartest move I ever made.

Alex: Where do sharks enter the picture?

Juliet: I started covering oceans because they don’t get that much coverage from the mainstream media. After diving with sharks in Bimini in 2005, I decided sharks were a compelling way to explore what was happening to the sea across the globe.

Alex: Did you or do you have a fear or phobia of sharks?

Juliet: No, I don’t have a phobia, though I’d say I’ve got a healthy dose of fear when it comes to the most dangerous species.

Alex: What was it like researching and writing Demon Fish?

Juliet: It was fascinating. I got to travel the globe and both meet people from an array of cultures and backgrounds, as well as explore the underwater world. I enjoyed the research more than the writing, but in the end, I’m happy with the final product.

Alex: What do you hope readers get out of reading your book?

Juliet: I hope people get a sense that we’re more closely connected to sharks, and the sea, than we might think. Also, I’d like it if people felt better about sharks after reading the book.

Alex: Are you still in contact and possibly following up with some of the people you met and discussed in Demon Fish to see how they’re doing now?

Juliet: I see a lot of the scientists and policymakers I interviewed for the book on a regular basis, and I’ve been in e-mail contact with some of the fishermen since the book’s come out. I’d love to get back to some of the remote places I visited, such as Papua New Guinea, but I’m not sure when that would be.

Alex: Do you feel that researching and writing about sharks is something you will continue to cover in your career?

Juliet: I think I’ll write about sharks in the future—I just had a big  piece on them come out in the Post on Oct. 26—but they won’t be my exclusive focus.

Alex: Your first book was Fight Club Politics.  After writing Demon Fish, do you feel you understand politicians and politics any better or perhaps see them differently?

Juliet: I think sharks are, for the most part, more ruthless than many politicians, but they’re more direct, which is refreshing. And I’d certainly opt for jumping in the water with most species of sharks over attending a press conference featuring a bunch of politicians.

Alex: Do you have plans for another book or project?

Juliet: I’m writing a magazine piece for WIRED about the future of the solar industry, so that’s a departure for me. At some point I’ll probably write another book, but not right away.

Alex: Who do you like to read/who are some of your favorite authors?

Juliet: I enjoy reading Tom Zoellner and Barry Estabrook for non-fiction, and I like a range of fiction, from British classics to Andrew Sean Greer and Sam Lipsyte. Then there’s David Eagleman, who’s talented enough to write both fiction and non-fiction beautifully.

Alex: What are you reading right now?

Juliet: I just started Jennifer Egan’s “A Visit from the Goon Squad.” I just finished “The Hare with Amber Eyes” by Edmund de Waal, which I really loved. It also made me feel a little insecure, since here’s a fantastic work of non-fiction written by a potter.

Alex: What do you like to do in your spare time?

Juliet: I spend time with my family and friends, read, hike, and cook from time to time.

Alex: Do you feel that humanity will come to look and respect sharks differently in time, or is it more of a losing battle?

Juliet: I think we will come to view sharks differently over time, which is a good thing. I think the only question is how long it will take to make this shift, and what will happen to sharks in the meantime.

A Man of Many Worlds: An Interview with Robert Chrarles Wilson

Robert Charles Wilson

Rober Charles Wilson

Robert Charles Wilson is the award-winning author of Spin. Some of his other books include the two sequels to Spin: Axis and Vortex, as well as Mysterium, The Chronoliths, and Julian Comstock. In the interview, Wilson talks about how he got into writing, where the idea for Spin came from, what he’s working on now, what he hopes people get out of reading his books, and what he likes to do in his spare time. Read the interview . . .

An Interview with Robert Charles Wilson (October, 2011)

Robert Charles Wilson

Rober Charles Wilson

Robert Charles Wilson is the award-winning author of Spin. Some of his other books include the two sequels to Spin: Axis and Vortex, as well as Mysterium, The Chronoliths, and Julian Comstock. In the interview, Wilson talks about how he got into writing, where the idea for Spin came from, what he’s working on now, what he hopes people get out of reading his books, and what he likes to do in his spare time.

Click on any of the covers to read a review of the book:

 

Julian Comstock Mysterium Chronoliths Spin Axis Vortex

Alex C. Telander: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Robert Charles Wilson: I’ve been writing — writing science fiction, no less — since I learned to read.  I don’t have an explanation for this, but it’s probably a diagnostic indicator for some kind of personality disorder.

Alex: Do you remember the first thing you wrote?

Robert: The stories I wrote in grade one survived for years in my mom’s attic.  They were self-illustrated and usually involved astronauts landing on an distant planet, where they were attacked by monsters.  One of them was called “In the Seas of Neptune.”  Apparently, my understanding of the nature of the solar system needed some fine tuning.

Alex: How about the first thing you got published?

Robert: I sold my first story to Analog when I was nineteen years old.  (Perhaps not coincidentally, it also involved a distant planet and a monster.)  I didn’t sell another one for ten years.  That was my real apprenticeship as a writer — the time you spend learning your craft by failing at it.

Alex: What were the steps that led to you getting your first book published?

Robert: I had sold a short story to Shawna McCarthy when she was editing Asimov’s Science Fiction. She moved to Bantam as a book editor and wrote to ask whether I had anything at novel length.  “Yes,” I said — one of those lies for which young writers can perhaps be forgiven.  The end result was A Hidden Place, my first novel.

Alex: Where did the idea for Spin come from?

Robert: For me, ideas seldom pop into existence fully formed; they accrete, like barnacles. So that’s a hard one to answer.  But I guess I can say it emerged from some thoughts about the Fermi paradox, and some further thoughts about the age of the universe and what a small slice of geological and astronomical time we experience in a single human lifetime.  I wanted to confront my characters with deep time, deep change — the aging and death of the sun, for instance.

Alex: Did you always plan for it to be a trilogy?

Robert: Spin is a stand-alone novel and can be read as such. I think of it as a book with two sequels.

Alex: Now with Vortex finished and published, do you feel your original idea with Spin has changed at all, or did you arrive at the final destination you planned on?

Robert: Any work of fiction, long or short, evolves as you write it. The trilogy wasn’t an exception.  I guess you can say it arrived at the conclusion I expected, to a first approximation.  But it surprised me often along the way.

Alex: Your books always feature strong, well developed characters, which can be rare in science fiction.  Is this an intentional thing on your part?

Robert: I don’t see characterization as some separable or dispensable aspect of fiction. It’s one of the mainsprings.  You can’t simply imagine a new world, you have to populate it, you have to inhabit it.  That’s what characterization does: it particularizes the abstraction and renders it as human experience.

Alex: Do you ever plan to write more in the world you created in Julian Comstock?

Robert: That book was great fun to write, so I’m occasionally tempted to revisit it. But no, I have no real plans to do so.

Alex: Science and evolution feature in a number of your books.  Why is this?

Robert: To me, evolution and the scientific vision of the world are perennially fascinating ideas. They take the long view.  They tell us that what seems fixed and stable has changed over time.  “All things flow,” as Heraclitus said.  That’s the thematic heart and soul of science fiction, as far as I’m concerned.

Alex: What do you hope readers get from reading your books?

Robert: Entertainment. Maybe a shiver up the spine now and then.  An unexpected thought.

Alex: Can you talk about what you’re working on now, and what your next book is?

Robert: I’ve contracted to write three stand-alone novels: Burning Paradise, The Affinities, and The Last Year..  Of these, Burning Paradise is three-quarters finished and I should be able to hand it in early in 2012. It takes place in an alternate history in which the twentieth century has been uniquely peaceful and prosperous — for a rather troubling reason.

Alex: Who are some of your favorite authors?

Robert: I still read and re-read the classic sf authors. Contemporary ones, too, though I know the field less well than I used to, simply because I read for research and because my taste in reading precludes a steady diet of science fiction and fantasy.

Alex: What are you reading right now?

Robert: The police procedurals of Norwegian writer Jo Nesbo. I have Neal Stephenson’s Reamde on the shelf, and I’m looking forward to that.  Recently enjoyed Steven Millhauser’s We Others — he’s a truly amazing talent — and Patrick Rothfuss’s Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear.

Alex: What do you like to do in your spare time?

Robert: Nothing extraordinary. Listen to music.  Hang out with my wife Sharry.  Some days I’ll head into downtown Toronto and poke around in the kind of shops — increasingly rare these days, alas — that sell second-hand books and vinyl records.

Alex: Is there a particular world in your books that you would like to live in?

Robert: God, no!  There are characters I wouldn’t mind meeting, but the worlds they live in are generally way too threatening for my taste.