And now for an interview with Graham Storrs, author of TimeSplash, sharing his insights on strong science fiction writing, marketing tips for authors and his writing plans for 2010.
LZ: How did you come up with the premise for TimeSplash?
GS: First off, let me just say thank you for inviting me over and for giving me the chance to talk about myself and my book. It is much appreciated.
The idea for TimeSplash came to me in a flash, right in the middle of a conversation. Unfortunately, it was a conversation with a publisher, while I was supposed to be pitching another book. I was explaining the model of time travel I had used in the manuscript she had just read, and how there are all kinds of different models of time travel I could have picked. I said the word “timestream” and suddenly I had a vision of a brick being lobbed into a broad, smooth river. “Hey, wouldn’t it be great,” I blurted out, “if…” and then the premise for TimeSplash came tumbling out. The really bad thing about this was that I could see she liked the new idea better than the one in the book she’d just read!
LZ: What became of the book you pitched to the publisher the day TimeSplash dawned on you?
GS: The book is called Time and Tyde. It’s a psychological thriller set in the present day about a man who has his life invaded by a visitor from the future who is strangely obsessed with him. It’s sci-fi, I suppose, and time travel, but definitely not the usual genre novel. And that seemed to be the big problem the publisher I spoke to had with the book. She liked it, she was very flattering about the writing, but she couldn’t see quite what market to sell it into. If you’ve ever read the K-PAX novels, you’ll know the kind of not-quite-full-on-sci-fi book I have on my hands with Time & Tyde (although it is nowhere as ambiguous as that!) I’ve spent nearly two years refining and improving the manuscript since then. I think it might be the best thing I’ve ever written. So, when the TimeSplash launch is over, I think I’ll go back to it and make a concerted effort to find it a publisher.
As an interesting aside, I wrote to Gene Brewer, who wrote K-PAX, and asked him how on Earth you find an agent for a book like that. It turns out he didn’t. He sent it straight to publishers and collected 48 rejections before someone had the good sense to buy it. Forty-eight rejections, for a book that good! He — quite rightly, I believe — insists that K-PAX is not sci-fi.
LZ: As per your web site’s bio page, you write “hard sci-fi.” Can you define what that is for readers?
GS: Hard sci-fi is just science fiction where you try to keep your story within the realms of what the various sciences say is actually possible, or what serious scientists speculate might be possible. If you write hard sci-fi, you really need to understand physics or genetics or whatever science is relevant to your story, so that you don’t write anything unrealistic. “Softer” sci-fi will allow unrealistic things into the plot – like faster-than-light travel, or “beings of pure energy.” Some sci-fi is so soft that it actually includes magical elements too – like telepathy and other “mental powers,” undead creatures and so on.
LZ: What do you find most appealing about writing science fiction?
GS: Personally, I really love the challenge of “keeping it real.” After all, it’s all about the story. It’s about how people deal with difficulties, with each other, and with their own limitations. I think sci-fi is the perfect way to explore issues about the human condition and the world we live in. The more unrealistic you make the “world” of your story, the harder it is to keep the characters behaving like real people.
LZ: What books or authors have influenced your work the most?
GS: That is a tough one. There are authors I love – J.G. Ballard, Michael Frayn, Daphne du Maurier, Ray Bradbury, Jane Austen, Aldous Huxley, H.G. Wells, Ursula K. le Guin… I could go on and on. Some of them I love for the poetry of their writing, some for the brilliance of their minds. I’m pretty sure they have all influenced me in one way or another. At least, I hope they have.
There is one writer who may have had a much more direct influence though. This is a sci-fi writer I loved in my teens but whom I haven’t read since. I picked up one of his books last year and re-read it and I was astonished at how much my writing style is like his. The writer is John Wyndham.
LZ: Why do you think John Wyndham’s style resonated with you all these years?
GS: I like writers who write clearly and simply, who don’t let their enthusiasm for the language get in the way of a good story. Wyndham is a great ideal to aspire to as a writer. He never lapses into obscure or poetic language. His style is elegant, precise and lean. He can describe deftly and sparsely, without the clipped hardness of Hemingway, and I really love that.
I tried to read Perdido Street Station by China Miéville recently and couldn’t. The language is beautiful, no doubt about it, but the descriptions are long, verbose and elaborate. I got about 250 pages into it (it’s over 700 pages long!) and thought he could easily have finished the story by that point if he hadn’t spent most of the book describing everything at such extraordinary length. Wyndham’s books are extremely short by modern standards yet so cleverly and delicately written that not a word seems wasted. That isn’t to say I don’t like other, more rhapsodic writers (I adore J.G. Ballard and Ray Bradbury) but the crispness and cleanness of Wyndham’s writing is always refreshing.
LZ: As an author, what marketing advice do you have for writers just starting out? What works? What doesn’t?
GS: This is a potentially huge topic, so I’ll give a very broad response.
The thing that works, above all else, is networking with other writers. Join a crit group. Go to writers festivals. Join the social networking sites. But meet other writers and spend time with them. You will learn so much, not just about the craft and the process of writing, not just about the convoluted weirdness of the publishing industry, but about the opportunities you need to advance your career. I’m a wannabe troglodyte and social interaction for me is like rolling naked in nettles, but I would not be published if I hadn’t networked.
The other thing you have to do is to write. You have to keep producing the work. You have to keep improving your skills. Then, when your networking finally turns up the opportunity, you have the novel or short story you need, finished, critiqued, revised and polished, and all ready to go.
What doesn’t work is the opposite—keeping your ambitions to yourself and not even writing much.
LZ: What was the most memorable feedback—positive or negative—regarding your writing you’ve ever received? Why did it resonate strongly with you?
GS: Someone wrote in their blog not long ago that my stories have the same place in her heart as those of Ray Bradbury. It’s a wildly flattering comment, of course, but it hit me like a blow to the chest when I read it. I’ve got that place in my heart too, that place of wonder and magic that Ray Bradbury fills like no other writer. I know exactly what she means, and it would be incredible if it were true. If one person felt that about my writing – just one! – I would need no other success, ever.
The most striking negative feedback I ever got was a sci-fi magazine that rejected a story of mine once. If you submit to magazines you will know they can take anything from a few days to a few months to reply with a rejection – and it’s usually at the few months end of the range. With this particular magazine, it took just over four hours from sending it to getting the rejection email! I guess they really, really didn’t want it and could tell at a glance! I sold the story later to another mag, but it was a salutary reminder that what I write just isn’t to everybody’s taste.
LZ: According to your Lyrical Press author page, you’re “someone who thinks a lot about the future.” That being said, what’re your writing plans for the rest of 2010?
GS: I have another book almost finished at the moment. It’s a fast-paced, sci-fi thriller, like TimeSplash (but, unlike my last two books, nothing to do with time travel). I’m enjoying it, but it will be over soon.
I have a few other projects I could go back to (the second part of a two-book sci-fi comedy, the third part of a three-book space opera, a couple of other standalone novels) but I can feel something else building inside me, something bigger and more grandiose. I don’t know what it is yet but I’ve got the feel of it and, from time to time, mental images of scenes from the story pop up. It might amount to nothing but, if I can tease it to the surface, that’s the one I want to do next.
Of course, I will be spending a big chunk of 2010 promoting TimeSplash. Books don’t sell themselves (unless you’re Dan Brown) and they need publicizing. I’ve got two months of guest blogging planned for March and April as part of a post-launch blog tour, and a 24-hour round-the-world Twitter tour planned for the day of the release. After that, there will be competitions and other online promotions. It is going to be a very busy year.
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To purchase TimeSplash, visit www.lyricalpress.com/timesplash.
For a more in-depth look at TimeSplash or to contact Graham Storrs, visit http://timesplash.co.uk/.