Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Interview with Kelly McCullough

Kelly McCullough's first novel, WebMage, a fantasy-cyberpunk hybrid, was released by ACE books July 25th 2006. It has now been joined by a sequel, CyberMancy.

Kelly is a fellow member of sfnovelists, and I'm happy to present an interview with him for your reading pleasure:

1) What was your inspiration for writing Cybermancy?

There are a number of reasons I wanted to write this. First, I wanted to write something else in the WebMage universe (this was before WebMage sold) because I really like hanging out with these fun, funny characters, and I love the world. Second, there was unfinished business left over from WebMage, most notably Shara's injury/death which happens off screen. Finally, and maybe most important for the arc of this book, the Persephone myth has always made me terribly angry. Here is a young goddess who is condemned to be eternally bound to her abductor and rapist, Hades the god of the dead. It's appalling and the injustice of it something that I found that I really wanted to write about.

2) Who are your favorite authors and books now and when you were growing up?

I was raised on Tolkien and Asimov and Shakespeare, and I still love them all, particularly the Lord of the Rings, Richard III and a Midsummer Night's Dream. I discovered Roger Zelazney and H. Beam Piper when I was a little older, and Zelazney is certainly one of my strongest influences. My favorite writer as a writer myself is probably Tim Powers. I always learn something when I reread him.

3) What is it about fantasy/science fiction that attracts you?

The fact that the genre puts no limits on my creativity. What I'm most drawn to as a writer is world. I love to invent whole worlds with their own internal logic and rules, and realistcally where else do you have to scope to do that? I also love both as a reader and a writer the sense of being taken completely out of the here and now.

4) Why did you decide to make Ravirn a hacker/sorcerer?

I started the WebMage series from the idea of a magical internet that tied worlds together like webpages and used code for spells. If I wanted to really explore that concept in depth I needed someone who could do more than just use the magical equivalent of web-browser, I needed someone who really understood how the coding worked. That meant a hacker and in the context of the world I was writing, that automatically made him a sorcerer too.

5) What (besides writing) do you do for fun?

Well, writing really is near the top of my list for play as well as being my job. I really enjoy sitting down to work every day. But I also love walking and biking with my wife. I'm an avid videogamer, mostly role-playing stuff like Final Fantasy, but also puzzle games and stuff like Ratchet and Clank, all of which I play with my wife. Like most writers, I'm an avid reader, though more non-fiction than fiction these days.

6) What sort of research did you do to write this book?/What kind of
preparation do you do when you are writing?

I didn't need to do an enormous amount of new research for Cybermancy, since it's the second book in a series. I did do a refresher on my general Greek Mythology and especially on the details of Hades and the Persephone story. I also have to constantly update my computer knowledge base, but that's just part of my ongoing non-fiction reading. I really do more general research than I do specific stuff for any given book. As a part of being a writer I try to have at least a couple of serious non-fiction books going along with keeping up general and scientific news. That's probably a good two hours of every day, often more and part of what I think of as my job.

7) Ravirn loves hacking and cracking. Is that your favorite activity too?

Actually no, I'm aware of programming and hacking (my mother's a computer geek as are a number of my close friends), but I've never been much interested in the mechanics of how my computer works.

8) In Cybermancy, Ravirn finds himself breaking into Hades to bring back a dead friend in the mode of Orpheus. How do you put yourslef in situations like that as a writer to try to make them believable?

It's tough sometimes. Ravirn is stronger faster and more durable than I am. Many of the things he attempts would pretty much kill me. On the other hand, since he's a figment of my imagination and hence only a part of me, I like to think I'm smarter. I also get to manipulate the world he lives in to make things harder or easier as seems appropriate. The other thing to remember is that believable and real are not necessarily the same things. There are all sorts of things that happen in fantastic fiction that are completely unreal but believable in the context of the imagined world. There's a shorter answer and maybe I should have given this first: I really like playing make-believe.

9) What are you writing now?

Two things actively, with a third hovering off to one side. My main project is MythOS which is the fourth book in the WebMage series and will be out in 2009. I'm also writing the first book in a new contemporary fantasy series. I was really inspired by a recent trip to Halifax and this book is the result of that trip. I'm trying to get the first three chapters down while the experience is still fresh. It's kind of a reward. Once I've got my WebMage done for the day (never less than 1,000 words) it's kind of fun to play with some other characters. I've also got the second book in YA fantasy set in World War II that I've been playing with. The first book went to my agent a few months ago, and I really love the idea, but I promised myself not to start until I've finished MythOS.

10) Did you always want to write? Or did you stumble into it? How did you get where you are now?

No. If you'd asked me what I wanted to be when I was between the age of 11-22 I'd have said an actor or a stunt man or maybe set designer. My degree is theater and I grew up on and around the stage. But then I met the woman who I would later marry and realized that between the hours and the travel, theater wasn't entirely compatible with having a happy home life. At about that same time I got my first computer. One day I was kind of trying to figure out what I could do with my life if I gave up theater, and it occurred to me that it might be fun to writer a novel. So I did. I'm no working on 12th and 13th and I've never looked back.

11) What does a typical writing day look like for you? How long do you write, that sort of thing?

On a good day I get up around 8:00, hop on the treadmill and use my laptop to read the news while I put in 3-5 miles. Then breakfast and a shower and off to my office for 5-8 hours of writing time. I do that five days a week with occasional variations for research days, editing, dealing with promotion, that kind of thing.

12) Where do you write?

In summer I work in a second floor screen porch overlooking a really lovely park in the small town where I live. In winter I sit in our south-facing TV room and soak up the sunshine reflecting off the wood floors. That's the routine, but I'll write anywhere and have, including tucked into a corner at the Air and Space Museum in D.C., on planes, in coffee shops, etc. My real office is my laptop.

13) What is easiest/hardest for you as a writer?

The easiest thing is world. My brain is really wired to create large-scale magical systems and the historical structures that go with them. Hardest is character. I'm not a natural character writer and I've really worked hard to get where I am with it.

14) This isn't your first book, tell us a little bit about what else is out there?

Right now, it's really only WebMage and some short stories in various magazines and anthologies-a couple of those are available for free reads at my website, I've also got a collection of hard science fiction short stories in an illustrated collection called Chronicles of the Wandering Star, but that only available to teachers since it's part of a middle-school science curriculum. The funny thing about that is that since it's in a number of large school systems, probably more people have read that than all my other stuff combined despite the fact that you can't really buy it.

15) What is the purpose of fantasy/science fiction, if any?

Two things really. One is true of both F&SF and Fantasy, the other is true of SF alone. The first, to carry us out of ourselves. I think one of the greatest services fiction does is to allow you to be someone else someplace else for a while. It allows you to transcend the day-to-day and that's really important for the human psyche. The second, to explicate and advocate reason and science. The methodology that
is science is one of humanity's most powerful tools and SF is the fiction of science. It can both generate a sense of wonder in the reader about subjects scientific and put those same subjects into story which can help a reader make sense of the ideas.

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

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