Monday, 11 August 2008

Mark L. Van Name - Author Interview

One Jump Ahead

Slanted Jack

(edited with T.K.F. Weisskopf)

Web site

> Pitch your latest novel.

Slanted Jack, my latest novel, is a con man story set in the far-future Jon and Lobo universe. With the structure of a mystery and the sense of wonder and setting of a science fiction book, it tells the story of the craftiest con man Jon has ever known reappearing in Jon's life and enlisting Jon's help in saving a young boy who may--or may not--have some very unusual powers. Before Jon knows it, three very powerful groups are chasing him, every avenue of escape demands an unacceptable cost, and he's trapped in a situation he never wanted. I don't want to spoil the plot, but I think you'll have a lot of fun going along with Jon and Lobo, his incredibly intelligent assault vehicle--which is also his home and his only consistent friend, as they try to save the boy--and themselves.

> What are your favourite three books?

I honestly don't have favorite books; I love so many I couldn’t single out any particular three. So, if you'll permit me, let me instead recommend a few series that had big effects on me. When as a young boy I read the Sherlock Holmes stories, I learned to believe in the power of the brain, of intelligence, to solve problems. As a very young kid I also devoured the Tom Swift, Jr. books, which though not particularly well written still planted in me a lifelong love for SF. The mystery series of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, John D. MacDonald (I'm thinking here specifically of the Travis McGee books), and many other mystery writers taught me both the power of series fiction and the value of a lone man doing his best according to the code in which he believes. I could go on and on, but I'd certainly recommend all of those writers.

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

I have so many favorites it's difficult to pick one. Because I've chosen to write multiple books about him, I'd have to choose Jon Moore, the protagonist of the Jon and Lobo books. He's also probably the character who's most like me, though we're different in many very important ways (and not just the science fictional ones). Jon intrigues me both for his past and his powers, and I like and respect the code by which he tries to live. Of course, I would, given that I created him.

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

Like most human beings, I have a complex life full of obligations, commitments, and people I love. So, if I were to answer completely realistically, I'd have to say, no, because I won't leave those people.

To indulge for a moment in idle speculation, if I weren't so involved, then sure, you bet: I'd definitely change places with Jon. I think I could manage his life better than he does, and I'd love to see the distant future.

> If you could live in your fantasy/sf world, would you? Would you live in somebody else's?

As I said above, realistically, no, I wouldn't leave my family and extended family and friends.

If I'm allowed to postulate that I'm not so involved with so many people, however, then again, you bet: I'd go to my far-future SF world in a heartbeat. I've always wanted to see more of the future; I expect I will always have that desire.

As for living in someone else's fantasy or SF world, the answer would, of course, depend on the world. I definitely wouldn't want to live earlier in our history; I love modern medicine and contemporary science and all the other good stuff of life today.

> What was the first novel that you wrote and how long did it take to write it?

My first novel was One Jump Ahead, which I sold. Writing the novel itself took six months, but the timetable isn't that cut and dried. I had already written two stories set in the storyline of the novel, so I was able to start with them at certain points in the book. I rewrote each section heavily and multiple times, but they still helped speed up the writing process. Because I have a day job, plotting and writing a book now seems to take most of a year. I hope to pick up my pace, but right now I focus first and foremost on doing the best job I can; the rest will take care of itself.

> What was the hardest scene for you to write?

The hardest scenes thus far are ones that haven't appeared in print yet, because they're all part of Overthrowing Heaven, the third Jon and Lobo novel and the book I'm writing right now. I don't like to give away any information about a work in progress, but I will say that Jon is having a lot of trouble dealing with a certain incredibly smart female character. Writing some of the scenes that feature her is challenging both because she's so smart and because her job and her worldview are extremely complex and non-traditional.

> What is the strangest question you have ever been asked by a fan? Or tell an interesting fan story.

I won't knock any fan of mine, because I'm flat out grateful every single time someone invests his or her hard-earned cash and even more precious time in my work. Those fans with whom I've corresponded have generally been great: polite, enthusiastic, and interesting. One of my favorite moments came in a blog comment in which a frequent correspondent invited me to a yummy sounding dinner at his house if I were ever to be in the area. He may think I've forgotten, but I haven't; watch out, Fred, if I'm at a nearby con!

> What was the most fun book signing, convention, etc. you've attended and why?

Balticon 42 this past Memorial Day. My first novel, One Jump Ahead, won the Compton Crook award for best first science fiction, fantasy, or horror novel. The Balticon folks give you both a nice plaque and a thousand-dollar check for that award; that's already beyond nice. Then, they make you a guest of honor--my first time as one, of course--and treat you very well indeed. They were super. Any other con folks that would like to write me big checks and/or make me a guest of honor and treat me so nicely should definitely feel free to do so.

> If you still have one, what's your day job?

I'm the CEO of Principled Technologies, Inc. ( PT is a technology assessment company, which means we spend a great deal of time working with the producers of technology products--hardware, software, Web sites, and so on--understanding, analyzing, testing, and comparing their products to the competition. At any given time, we're typically studying products that won't appear for several months, so in a sense we live a few months in the future.

> What is your university degree in?

I have a B.S. in Applied Mathematics-Computer Science and an M.S. in Computer Science. I've worked in computer-related fields my entire professional life.

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

I've never written any traditional fantasy, but I've written multiple stories that are fantastic in the broader sense, pieces you might class as magic realism or contemporary fantasy. My novels are all science fiction. I find the two types of stories equally easy--or, to be more accurate, equally difficult--to write.

> When and where do you write?

I spent over twenty years farting around with writing fiction, getting hung up on all the hard stuff and producing stories only every year or two or three. A few years ago, I finally reached my limit of disgust with my own behavior, and I tried to give up writing fiction. I couldn't do it. So, I decided that if I wasn't going to stop, then I would make myself do it in earnest. Since then, I write every single day--sick or well, holiday or workday, tired or relaxed, it doesn't matter; I write. My rule is simple: I'm not allowed to go to bed until I've dedicated at least thirty minutes to doing nothing but writing. I have no mandatory word count; zero would be acceptable if I really invested the half hour and just couldn't produce. Zero has never happened, however, and most days I write longer than half an hour. The combination of my self-imposed regimen, my busy life, and my growing company means that I often end up writing very late at night. When I can, though, I write earlier, ideally a few hours after waking up.

> What's the best/worst thing about writing?

If you could get most writers I know all alone and somehow coerce them to tell you the truth, they'd say that the best thing about writing is having written. Then, they'd immediately add other aspects. Having written is indeed cool; I like seeing a book of mine, hearing from people who enjoyed it, and so on. That said, like most writers I know, I love many other aspects of writing. For one thing, I feel compelled to do it, so it's great when I'm doing it. My favorite moments are probably those when my imaginative concentration is sufficiently focused that I'm there, in the story, recounting it as it happens. Those times are great.

The worst thing about writing is coming to grips with the fact that nothing you ever accomplish will be enough. Everyone still won't love you. Everyone won't buy your book. For writers, to paraphrase what my pal, Lew Shiner, wrote about a singer in his excellent novel, Say Goodbye, there's never enough love in the room.

> What is something you didn't know about the publishing industry before you had your first book published?

I had friends in publishing and many writer friends, and I'd worked for many years for a magazine publishing company, so I was fairly familiar with the field. Even with that knowledge, however, I'd have to say that I didn't truly appreciate all the many people and bits of work that it takes to bring a book to the bookstores. I suppose that's always the case: the closer you look at any industry, the more you realize there's a lot going on.

> Do you have any advice for hopeful authors?

This will sound sarcastic, but I don't mean it to be: If you can possibly not write, don't. It's a mug's game, with a very low chance of success and a certainty that you're in for emotional pain.

To be more upbeat, if you have to write, then just do it. Write every day, don't stop whether you sell or not, keep the noise--the reviews, the sales, all the business crap--out of your head, and simply write.

> Any tips against writers block?

As I said earlier, I spent over twenty years fighting what from the outside one might call writer's block. From the inside, I've come to believe that fear would be a more accurate label. Amazingly, since I decided over three years ago to write every single day no matter what, I haven't had writer's block at all. So, my advice is this: write every day, even if you think it's crap, and just plow ahead. When you finish, do the next draft.

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

I sold my first full-length story after about five rejections. I sold my novel to the first publisher to whom I sent it. Neither of those facts, however, tells the whole story. In my files I have something in the neighborhood of eighty rejection letters, and many of them sent me into tailspins that resulted in years without writing. Since I made my resolution to write every day, I've received multiple story rejections, and each has hurt--but then I've gotten back to work. Doing the work is everything.


Maria said...

Veeeery interesting sounding book. I don't read much sci/fi but the people aspects (and the car) are right up my alley.

I really liked his thoughts on writing too. So true, so true. Never enough love in the room. Sometimes no love at all!!!

Jessica Strider said...

Lobo's actually a spaceship but the book is fun to read. If you look back through the postings I reviewed it something like a year ago (can't remember exactly when).

Maria said...

Car, spaceship, they're all the here, drive there. :>)

I LOVED the book. It was a great read. Thanks for pointing me in the right direction!

Jessica Strider said...

Glad you liked it!