Sunday, 17 January 2010

Robert Jackson Bennett - Author Interview

Novel: Mr. Shivers


> What made you want to be a writer?

I can’t remember exactly when I realized this, but when I was a kid and was just starting to read on my own, I started to notice that some stories did something to me. Not all of them did it, only a few. It was sort of like just opening up the hood of a car and poking around in it, rearranging a few gears or so. The change wasn’t always huge, and it wasn’t always a good change, but it was there. I figured that I’d like to do that, maybe, that I could someday reach out and poke people and make them feel the same thing I was feeling, or see the things I saw, if only for a second or two. It seemed like a nice idea.

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

I’m not going to mention any works in progress, ‘cause that’s cheating, so I’d have to say Connelly, the protagonist of Mr. Shivers. He’s got a watchful inwardness that I find extremely appealing. He’d sit on a hill for days watching what’s in front of him, just figuring out what he wanted to do. And he’s also an extremely wounded creature, something so spiritually marred that he can barely move or speak. Somehow I knew exactly what he’d do, or what he’d say and how he’d say it. He was the easiest thing in the world to write.

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

Oh man, absolutely not. The fantasy world I created is meant mostly as a crucible, something with immense pressures and temperatures so you can put a person in it and see what they’re really made of. Pare them down so you can find out what makes them tick. There’s always that urge to push ourselves to extremes to see what shows up in us, but what if you chose wrong? What if something showed up you didn’t want to know was there? Under the right circumstances, that can happen all too easily.

If I could live in any fantasy world, I suppose Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere would be an interesting place. Sure, there’s a hundred ways you can die, but you can say the same about normal life.

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

This is my first novel, and I started it somewhere when I was twenty-two and finished it when I was twenty-three. Writing doesn’t stop there, though – it seems to keep going on, whether it’s in editing or for promotions. A lot of the time I feel like I’m still writing it. Maybe it won’t ever stop.

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

I went to the World Fantasy Convention last October, and that was a hoot and a holler. I sort of feel like I’m out on my own a lot of the time, writing and reading the stuff I do, so it was nice to meet fans of all shapes and sizes and chatter on with them. Also, they had parties on the upper floors about every night, so if you wanted to pound absinthe and rub elbows with Jeff Vandermeer and Garth Nix, you had plenty of chances.

> When and where do you write?

When I wrote Mr. Shivers, I was a tech support agent for The Home Depot, a home-supply store. It was a call center, but nothing genuinely technological – sometimes I got the impression that when they needed new hires they just swung by a bus station and asked if anybody wanted to make a buck. My job was supporting the paint machines, which took a painfully long time to reboot, anywhere between five to twenty minutes, and since rebooting was the first line of defense, we had a lot of waiting during a call. So, whenever that down time happened, I’d open up Mr. Shivers and just start pounding away on it. I’d say about forty to sixty percent of that book was written waiting for the damn paint machines to start. Maybe that’s colored the book, I can’t tell.

Nowadays I write at home. I try to write in silence, while over-caffeinated. It helps my mind, but it’s rough on my heart.

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

The worst thing is that writing is sort of like building a house from the inside-out in the dark. You have a general idea where you want the living room to go and what kind of wallpaper to use, but you can’t be sure if you actually got it where you want it or not. You’ve got to wait for someone else to come along so they can see it from the street and tell you what you’ve done, or even if it’s going to stand up on its own.

Sometimes it turns out you were actually building a cabin instead of a mansion. Other times you’ve put the toilet in the kitchen. And sometimes you’ve just knocked it out of the park when you thought you just had a real fire hazard on your hands. It’s hard to tell.

Sometimes you can, though. Sometimes you can just feel it working, fitting together, becoming a whole. That’s the best thing about it.

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

In these internetty days, you can do everything from your home or office. This means you can get a book published almost purely by email, and only talk to people on the phone a handful of times. That surprised me. I bet it’s easy to have a real career going and never see your agent or editor face-to-face. I’ve only seen mine once for both.

After a while, it kind of feels like being in a shack out in the middle of nowhere with a telegraph and trying to keep track of the stock market, or a war. You get these odd little messages letting you know what’s happening, but you never see it in person. Sometimes you wonder if it’s actually going on, or if it’s a hoax. When the box of hardcover books with your name on them arrives you can be pretty sure it’s actually happening, but I was still suspicious.

> Do you have any advice for hopeful authors?

Read widely. Read everything, and not just in the genre you want to write in. There’s some really interesting stuff going on out there in the corner of bookstores, and it’d be a shame to miss it.

> How do you discipline yourself to write?

It’s more about how I discipline myself not to. For me, it’s an addiction. Every time I get an idea I pull out the Blackberry and send myself an email. One day my wife’s going to throw that damn thing out the window. It’ll be interesting to see if I jump after it, if she does.

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