Friday, 5 August 2011

Author Interview: T. C. McCarthy

Novel: Germline

Short Stories: 
"The Legionnaires" in Orbit Short Fiction
"Private Exploration" Nature, Vol 474, 2011
"A.I.P." Story Quarterly Issue 45, 2011
"A Dry and Dusty Home" Per Contra, Spring 2010
"The Best Liar Even" Bards and Sages Quarterly, July 2010 & Bardic Tales and Sage Advice, Vol III anthology
"The Goat King", Arkham Tales Issue 6, 2010

> What's Germline about?

Pavlodar, Kazakhstan, has fallen; when U.S. forces capture its metallic resources using bioengineered troops, reporter-turned-drug-addict, Oscar Wendell, is in their midst. During the ensuing war with Russia, Oscar only has to grow-up, clean-up, and save his girlfriend - a genetically engineered soldier - if he wants to survive.

> What made you want to be a writer?

Being a reader. I used to stay up all night when I was in first grade reading the Taran Wanderer series, the Narnia series, anything I could get my hands on, and at some point I began appreciating books so much that I knew someday I'd write my own. Eventually it became a "I-have-to-be-a-writer" thing. Let me say this, however: the fact that people - who I don't know - are going to pay for my books is intimidating because once the book goes out, I have no control; all readers' opinions are valid opinions and if one doesn't feel as though he/she got his/her money's worth it's my fault. I lose sleep over this. But at the same time it's not like I'll stop writing because it's such an incredibly fun thing to go to a bookstore and see your own work, and I'm so fortunate to have gotten published in the first place.

> You write both literary and science fiction. What are the advantages of writing the different genres?

I LOVE writing literary fiction, and there may come a point where I try writing a mainstream or literary novel. I should also caveat my response up front: I am far less learned on this subject than many of the people I interact with in the writing community. Nick Mamatas once referred to people who pursue jobs in literary academia - without having obtained a decent education on the subject - as "plucky provincials;" that is exactly what I am, having had no formal education in literature. With that caveat, however, my take is that when I sit down and write something "literary" there is far more freedom to experiment and I can try all sorts of things; for example, I could use a thousand semicolons in a row! Also, it's been my experience that literary magazines tend not to shy away from topics or language that genre venues, for example, might never consider for fear of alienating readers. I could be wrong on this, and am open to being told so!

On the other hand, literary stories require a greater attention to detail because you have to get the right language and tone for the magazines you're targeting; one wrong word can make the story feel too heavy handed or melodramatic. The same can probably be said for science fiction stories, but having read a lot of both, I'm not sure that genre magazines (not all, but many) have as high a bar. My literary short stories tend, therefore, to be short. Really short, because they take so much effort.

> Beyond the matter of length, do you find it easier writing short stories or novels?

For me, novels are easier. You have a lot of room to work with, there's plenty of space to get into the head of your characters, and you can pursue subplots that you'd never put in a short story. I have a horrible sales record when it comes to selling my SF short stories. Horrible.

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

No way! Not yet anyway; maybe if I write about a character who lives in Nantucket and has the easiest life in the world - maybe then I'd change places. My main characters tend to be people who are hurting and fallible, but who take control of their lives and manage to salvage something. I'd hate to have it that hard.

> What was the hardest scene for you to write?

In Germline, almost every scene came easily. In book two (Exogene), however, every scene was difficult and I can't think of any one that stood out above the others. Exogene was difficult for two reasons. First, the main character is a woman and so took a lot of thought and observation to figure out what the protagonist was thinking and how she would respond in certain circumstances. Second, she was a genetically engineered human - artificial. So her experiences often differed greatly from ones that normal people would have had in the same situation. I really tried to get it right in Exogene, but that's for reader's and reviewers to judge, not me.

> When and where do you write?

I write between 4 and 7 or 8 in the morning and late at night because it's the only free time I get; I have a family and a full time job. Anna Gregson once quipped that this must be the reason my characters are so nutty, and she may be right because by the end of a book I'm totally sleep deprived.

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

The best thing: getting fan mail that sincerely appreciates what I've written because it lets me know that I've reached at least one person.

The worst thing: not knowing how a given book will be received by a general audience. It's terrifying.

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

I never imagined the schedules would be so tight. After accepting Germline for publication I had six months to write Exogene, and then six months for the final book in the series. It was extremely demanding. Also, I didn’t know how willing to take risks publishers would be. DongWon Song, an editor at Orbit, gave me - a complete unknown - a huge break and that fact isn't lost on me. Orbit displayed a kind of willingness to take risks that really made me think of publishers in a completely new light.

> Do you have any advice for hopeful authors?

Keep going. Keep writing. Ignore rejection as long as you're getting some personal notes indicating you're on the right track; if you're not getting personal rejections, stop and think about whether it's time to look for something else or at least take a short break.

Eventually your work will wind up on the right desk at the right time. Write short stories if that's what you really like, but if you really want to write a novel, write a novel. Your first novel doesn't have to sell and your second, third and fourth will be even better.

And go have a life outside of writing. I'd never trade my career experience for anything because I've run into so many people and situations that help me with my characters and my writing.

> Any tips against writers block?

Work through it. I had deadlines to help me, so whenever I got writers block there was always a date hanging over my head, which gave me no choice but to write no matter if I felt like it or not. I was almost paralyzed sometimes. But as soon as I started reading/editing what I'd already written, or typed more words, the block went away.

> How do you discipline yourself to write?

If I didn't have a contract and deadlines, I would find it hard to write more than a book a year because I have so much to keep me from writing; thanks DongWon!!!

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

Too many to count. No, I'm not kidding.

No comments: