Our brand new sci-fi title, the cyberpunk thriller Sleep State Interrupt, by T.C. Weber, is back from the printer. It’s also available as an e-book from all of the usual outlets.
The following interview should be of interest not only to sci-fi fans, but to writers of all genres, as T.C. has a lot to say about the craft of writing, generating plots, and creating believable characters.
If you’d like to check out Sleep State Interrupt, we’ve put up the first four chapters in pdf form, and the author has put up a site for the book, which has a lot of additional information.
Q: What was the genesis of Sleep State Interrupt?
A: I’ve always been worried about the concentration of media and the decline of journalism, and the threats those trends pose to independent, critical thought and democracy. Then it was just a matter of inventing characters who would also be concerned about it and adding details of a near-future world. I lived in Baltimore and have been involved in music scenes and community organizing, so it was easy to include those as background elements. I have some experience with IT and video/news production. I consulted with experts to fill in the details, especially the tech-related ones.
Q: What advance preparation do you do prior to beginning a novel? Write mini-bios of the characters? Research the locale? Research any scientific matters essential to the book? Anything else?
A: All of the above. The basic story comes first. Then the plot and main characters. I create detailed character sheets, psychological profiles, and even put play lists together for the POV characters. The world also has to be developed. For Sleep State Interrupt, I didn’t need to research the locales since they’re in my backyard. But I did explore predicted technology for 2020-30 and interviewed experts. I’ve written other books, though, that required much more up-front world building. The Drift Horizon (which I’ve been editing off and on for quite a while) is set in a completely different version of Earth and I wrote a sort of Rough Guide/Lonely Planet for the country most of the action is set in.
Q: Are your characters based on people you’ve known, are they amalgams, or are they pure invention?
A: I invent my characters to fill roles in a story. They aren’t based on specific people, though of course real people and events inspire or influence them. I create profiles for my major characters, fleshing out their goals, personalities, backgrounds, appearances, etc. These may change while drafting the story, but usually not a whole lot. I try to make them interesting, since I’ll be spending a lot of time in their heads, I don’t want to be bored. Nor do I want readers to get bored.
Q: How do you generate your plots? Do you work the plot out first and then write? Start out with a general idea of where you want to go and then start writing? Or just sit down in front of a blank screen and start writing?
A: It’s a complicated process. I follow Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake method (http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/articles/snowflake-method/) and Larry Brooks’s Story Engineering (https://www.amazon.com/Story-Engineering-Larry-Brooks/dp/1582979987), more or less. The first step is to brainstorm story ideas and pick one worth writing about. I turn this into a “what if” question (like “What if nearly all information was controlled by a powerful elite? Could ordinary people overturn such a system?”) and a one-sentence novel summary (e.g., “An unemployed journalist and her friends try to stop a power-mad CEO from controlling the world.”) The next step is to expand that sentence to a full paragraph describing the story setup, major plot points, and ending of the novel. Then I develop the main characters and their goals, motivations, back story, etc. I weave the character arcs into the plot and write a short synopsis followed by a long synopsis. I convert this to a scene list in Scrivener, with a virtual index card for each scene (ideally with the scene arc outlined). Then finally I start writing, starting with the opening scene and filling out each scene in order. As I write, the story changes, sometimes quite a bit, but at least I have a roadmap to follow.
Q: You write both fiction and nonfiction. What would you say are the similarities and differences between writing nonfiction and writing fiction?
A: There are a lot of similarities. In both cases, you need to think creatively, organize your thoughts, be disciplined, and write clearly. Fiction is much more fun because you can write whatever you want and create your own worlds and people.
Q: How do you get inspired to write?
A: It’s more a question of habit than inspiration. You just have to sit down and get to work.
Q: What’s your writing routine? Do you write every day, and if so do you write at the same time every day? Do you set a goal, in terms of writing time or number of words?
A: I try to write something every morning before going to work, even if it’s just random thoughts or a few paragraphs. If it’s relevant to a current project, I pick it up again after dinner. When working on a novel, my goal is to write one scene each day, schedule permitting. Long scenes may take several days. My time goal is 10 hours/week of writing new material (not including editing or marketing chores). I don’t write nearly as fast as some of my colleagues who can churn out 5000+ words/day, but maybe someday.….
Q: Writing, by its very nature, is an isolating activity and, if you spend much time on it, probably has a negative impact on social life. Do you just live with that or do you do anything specific to deal with it?
A: That would be true if I wrote 12 hours/day, but it’s more like 1-2. It would be a lot easier to write first drafts sequestered in a remote mountain cabin (with bad weather so I didn’t spend all day hiking), but that’s not possible.
Q: When did you start reading science fiction, and what authors and books were you reading then?
A: I read a wide variety of fiction and non-fiction, and have from an early age. This question stumped me so I called my mom and asked. She couldn’t remember either and thought I was mostly interested in history as a child. After further brainstorming, we came up with Asimov, Heinlein, and Clarke. My mom also said I liked Star Trek, and I remember loving monster and kung-fu movies.
Q: Have your opinions of those changed over time? If so, how?
A: I still have a high regard for Asimov and Clarke. I can’t stomach Heinlein’s quasi-fascist diatribes. He also had libertarian leanings, though, which I’m more amenable to, as long as the power of the rich and corporations are held in check.
Q: Do you have any current favorite sci-fi subgenres? If so, what and why?
A: I don’t have a favorite genre of fiction even in the broader sense. I’m mostly interested in reading a story that has something to say, and says it well. It could fall under any genre. I admit to being impatient though; if a book starts to really meander or plod, I’ll lose patience and pick up something else.
Q: Who are some of your current favorite sci-fi writers, and why?
A: Based on her ideas, Ursula K. LeGuin. Based on his cleverness and characters, Kurt Vonnegut. Scope: Isaac Asimov. World building: Frank Herbert. I also like William Gibson and Neal Stephenson a lot. Neuromancer and Diamond Age are unforgettable . I could go on and on. I’d also like to mention Baltimore’s own Sarah Pinsker — her prose flows perfectly.
Q: Sleep State Interrupt has a satisfying conclusion, but it’s open ended. You’re now writing the sequel. How is that coming along?
A: I was making steady progress until halfway through, then had to focus on editing an unrelated book, and now am picking it up again. As of this writing, the characters’ obstacles appear insurmountable and I’m not sure how they’ll get to the ending. It’ll take a lot of brainstorming. Lesson: don’t stop in the middle of writing a first draft!
Q: How do you deal with writer’s block?
A: I only get “writer’s block” when my characters get in a situation that seems impossible to escape. Then I have the characters talk it through until they come up with a solution. Only a small part of the conversation may make it onto the page, but it’s just like real life — some problems require a lot of brainstorming and hypothesis testing.
Q: What are your other current writing projects, and would you briefly describe them?
A: I’m working on five projects at the moment. I’m writing a sequel to Sleep State Interrupt titled The Wrath of Leviathan, in which the protagonists are on the run and fighting a government and media backlash. I’m also writing a farce about local politics titled The Council, but it’s temporarily on hold until I finish Wrath of Leviathan (The challenging part is being more absurd than reality!) I am editing an alternate history novel titled Born in Salt, set fifty years after a fascist coup overthrew President Roosevelt. Ben Adamson, a 19-year-old Illinois farm boy, tries to free the woman he loves from the ruthless Internal Security Service without betraying his friends, and seeks to bring down the government in the process. I am rewriting another alternate history novel titled The Drift Horizon, in which humanity has been shaped since the dawn of agriculture by mysterious entities called the Guardians. These entities have since disappeared, and a catastrophic disaster has pitched the world into a war that may end civilization forever. Finally, I am working on a shared horror novel with three other writers, set in Baltimore in the 1920’s. Think Lovecraft meets Fitzgerald meets H. L. Mencken.
Q: What do you enjoy most about writing?
A: Writing is hard work and involves a lot of drudgery (particularly editing). But it’s rewarding to see characters and worlds come alive. My favorite moments are when a character veers from the outline and does something unexpected, especially if it’s something a lot smarter and more inventive than the outline called for. Unfortunately this doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I throw away the outline and go with it.
Q: What’s your advice for aspiring writers?
A: Make lists of ideas. Write something every day, even if it’s only a paragraph or short poem. Expand your best ideas into story synopses. Take the best synopses and write complete stories. Have fun.