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[SFFWRTCHT] A Chat With Author Tobias Buckell

Tobias Buckell grew up in Grenada and the Virgin Islands. He´s won Writers Of the Future and is a Clarion graduate and Campbell Award For Best New SF Writer Finalist. His stories have appeared in magazines like Clarkesworld, Subterranean and Speculative Horizons and in anthologies such as Fast Forward 2, Seeds of Change and All Star Zeppelin Stories. His novels are Crystal Rain, Ragamuffin, Sly Mongoose, Halo: The Cole Protocol and Arctic Rising coming Feb. 2012. He lives in Ohio with his wife and twin daughters. Find Tobias online at and also on Facebook and Twitter as @tobiasbuckell.

SFFWRTCHT: Let´s start with the basics: Where did your interest in Science Fiction and Fantasy come from?

Tobias Buckell: It started when I was six or seven, I was an early reader. I started reading whole books. And came across Childhood’s End. Blew my mind. Never been able to get away since.

SFFWRTCHT: I know Asimov and Clarke were early interests who were some other authors who inspired you?

TB: The Cyberpunks. In high school. Total influence. Gritty, real world, pan-global. They were looking at the rest of the world in a way I wasn’t finding in Science Fiction that meshed with my life being outside the US.

SFFWRTCHT: When did you start writing seriously and how long until your first sale?

TB: I got it in my head as a sophomore in high school to start writing. Sold my first pro story at nineteen to Science Fiction Age to Scott Edelman. My first sale for money was to a small ezine called Jackhammer.

SFFWRTCHT: Was it hard to get access to SF in the Caribbean?

TB:  It was hard to get Science Fiction or new books in general sometimes. They’re more expensive due to shipping. I got most of my books used from ‘book exchanges’: shelves in common areas with a sign that said “Take one, Leave one.″

SFFWRTCHT: Did you study creative writing at all in school? How´d you learn your craft?

TB: I am a creative writing minor/English nerd, yeah. But most of my learning came from practice every night from fifteen-on. I started writing nearly every day at that age. First, in class, out of boredom, but dedicated myself to it in college. I read books about writing; any that I could get hands on. Workshopped. Attended cons. Went to Clarion.

SFFWRTCHT: So where did the idea for Anika Duncan and Arctic Rising come from? An airship pilot for the UN Polar Guard is hunting a smuggled nuclear weapon that has made it into the Polar Circle.

TB: Arctic Rising came out of an impulse in short stories to explore ramifications of melting Arctic. For the first time in history ships are sailing through Northwest Passage, and oil companies are rushing to get permits to drill in the Arctic. It’s a legal rush already going on, invisible to us all.  I was also reading freely released Navy and Army documents about near-future concerns they had, stuff that was just too good not to use. I love stealing the work others have done for me.  The US Army, Navy and Air Force are more green hippies than green hippies in some ways.

SFFWRTCHT: Would you describe it more as SF or current events? And are you anticipating any sort of political backlash from readers?

TB: I’d describe it as near future SF. Judging by the vitriol over my short stories, yeah, I’m betting it pisses people off. Oh well.

SFFWRTCHT: I think it will rile up people on the opposite side of the issue from you but it’s entertaining regardless. How long did you spend writing the book before you sold it?

TB: Arctic Rising took me three years, but I almost died and was recovering my health for one and a half years of those, so little progress.  The book was presold to Tor, so I wasn’t worrying about having to sell it, just trying to get it done .

SFFWRTCHT: Do you start with characters sketches or outlines or just let it unfold as it comes?

TB: I split the difference. I have a rough outline and add to it as I go along, filling in ahead of me more than far, far ahead.

SFFWRTCHT: What are the key elements in writing a thriller?

TB: I don’t know if there are key elements. I think readers expect you to blow some stuff up at the least, right?

SFFWRTCHT: Definitely. Check. You’ve got that. How did you go about getting the right pace and tone? Did you have to keep trimming?

TB: Mostly you need to keep things interesting. I opted for as lean and sharp as I could. I read a lot of thrillers, so I can’t say I did anything deliberate. Just tried to write the kind of book I wanted. Since it’s an SF thriller, the tone should be actually very similar to most of my existing work, but a different plot and setting.

SFFWRTCHT: To me, it really captured well the pace of movie thrillers I’ve seen.

TB: Thanks, that was truly the effect I wanted, but then, that’s been my goal since Sly Mongoose.

SFFWRTCHT: In this market, it seems many genre writers are leaving SF for fantasy permanently. What keeps you (mostly) in SF?

TB: Well, bullheaded love of the genre. I think I got into this to write what I love. If I only wrote for money, I’d be a copywriter. I don’t want to starve mind you, but I do balance toward love.

SFFWRTCHT: We talked earlier about market pressures to write longer books but you kept this trim. Any desire to go longer?

TB: One day I’ll commit epic, but to be honest, I prefer reading epic to writing it. I like throwing daggers at a point.

SFFWRTCHT: Is there message to this story? A lesson?

TB: I hate moralizing. It’s a book where I try to explore what I see as the ramifications of the Arctic disappearing. Some of those are positive, as I side note in the book (more arable land in Canada/Russia). Many are negative. I truly believe the added up totals tilt away from awsm but I was trying to avoid obvious totaling in the book.

SFFWRTCHT: What are the key elements of a good space opera?

TB: I think a good space opera has to have some really great *&^%ing special effects that pop the back of your head out! And it has to go big or go home. Big ideas. Big scenes. Big!

SFFWRTCHT: How do you capture those special effects in words?

TB: I make explodey sounds when I write.

SFFWRTCHT: Do you find it makes you more marketable that you mix genres so well? Is that a growing trend?

TB: I don’t even think about whether I mix genres, those descriptions usually come after the fact. I think in some ways it makes me less marketable, but more fun.

SFFWRTCHT: Your debut novel was Crystal Rain. Where´d the idea for Nanagada and the old fathers come from?

TB: I wanted to write a lost colony type SF novel, with a Caribbean world.

SFFWRTCHT: How long did it take to write?

TB: Crystal Rain took a few years. Six months for the first draft. It was my first book. I did a lot of rewriting.

SFFWRTCHT: Did you start Crystal Rain as a planned series or did things develop later?

TB: I’d had this idea for the Xenowealth and played with it in short stories. I knew I could do more with it. So I wasn’t sure if it would go bigger, but suspected it.

SFFWRTCHT: You just raised funds through Kickstarter to complete the series on your own. How´d that come about?

TB: The Xenowealth series did well, but sales never took off. We were gaining readers direct sales, bookstores spiraled. So we decided to go in a new direction with Arctic Rising and stop the series. Recently realized I had an opening that I could write it early next year by doing this.

SFFWRTCHT:  What aspect of writing was hardest for you to learn? Are there areas that still pose difficulties for you?

TB: I guess I struggle with internal monologue. I write more like a scriptwriter: description/dialogue/plot.  I spend a lot of time on characters, but because I don’t like monologue narrative I get dinged as non-character writer. So I read more, experiment, test stories out, try to get better at more aspects.

SFFWRTCHT: Do you approach writing short stories differently than novels?

TB: Short stories are bullets to a target. Novels are immersion in a world. In a short story, the rhythm is different.

SFFWRTCHT: What´s your writing process like? Specific time set aside to write? Grab it when you can?

TB: My most creative writing time is 11pm-2am, I prefer doing outlining/brainstorming/first drafts then. I do editing and other drafting during daytime.

SFFWRTCHT: Do you use special software? Music?

TB: I use Scrivener to write with. Love it. I listen to all sorts of music. Often music soundtracks.

SFFWRTCHT: What role do beta readers play for you in the process now that you have a publisher?

TB: I workshop novels at the Blue Heaven workshop. I haven’t figured out a large beta reader process yet. It’s on the to do list.

SFFWRTCHT: Do real world events often inspire your stories?

TB: I tend to use history more for characters and plot. Read a ton of history books. Of late, more interested in today.

SFFWRTCHT: What role do your experiences of a cross cultural childhood play in influencing your writing/worldview?

TB: Well, I try to make sure there are cross cultural characters in my work, is mainly how. I know it influences other stuff deeper. Most of my writing features smaller groups trying to navigate geopolitics that are larger than themselves! I think growing up in a small country in the US’s backyard sort of makes you an outsider for the rest of life.

SFFWRTCHT: Or perhaps at least gives you an outsider’s perspective?

TB: Yeah, it does. I see things differently, more globalist.

SFFWRTCHT: Who are some of your favorite SFF writers from non-Western nations? 

TB: Karen Lord and Nalo Hopkinson, my fellow Caribbean authors. Was like drinking from a well.

SFFWRTCHT: Do you have any plans to mix fantasy and SF or even steampunk or other genres?

TB: I can’t mix fantasy and SF easily. Too much of a rationalist, I think.

SFFWRTCHT: You do a lot of blogging. Is that something you do for fun? Promotion? Both?

TB: I blog because I do it for fun and engagement with readers. It’s not for promotion, honestly, though I track effect. The blogging started in 1998 as a way to plugin to larger community. It mostly comes out of a desire to see stuff I would have liked to have seen. It levered my career higher than I would have expected 2000-2006.

SFFWRTCHT: What projects are you working on for the future that we can look forward to?

TB: I’m currently rewriting a YA novel called The Star Tree and finishing up a YA called The Trove. After those two are wrapped up, it’s on to writing Apocalypse Ocean thanks to Kickstarter.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt’s latest release, “Rivalry On A Sky Course,” is a prequel story to his space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention. He authored the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.‎ Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

19 5-star & 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $4.99 Kindle or Nook $14.99 tpb