Thursday, March 11, 2010
Interview with author Robert Appleton
Today, my guest is author, Robert Appleton. Mr. Appleton wrote Godiva in the Firing Line, which I reviewed this week. He has agreed to answer some questions about his writing life.
1.How long have you been a writer, and what made you decide to become a writer?
I was always a strong writer in school, but was never encouraged to pursue it. Talent is confined to the classroom; I quickly found, when I left, that motivation and ambition are far more marketable assets. So, being a shy lad, I was stuck in limbo for a while, doing anti-creativity jobs like serving popcorn or ::shudders:: administration. Thank God I woke up! In 2004 I started writing poetry, improved rapidly, and was soon published. That was the catalyst for my return to storytelling, what I should have been doing all along. But I’ve heard that from so many writers—it’s more of a calling than a canny career choice, and it finds you when you need it most. I consider myself lucky to have realized this dream while I’m still (relatively) young.
2.Are you a full-time or part-time writer, and how do you organize your writing life?
I’m between jobs at the moment, so I’m able to write full-time. But when I’m in a day job, I try to work as few hours as possible. I know from experience how destructive a 9-5 job is on my creativity—I’m dead when I get home. So I don’t mind scraping by financially so long as I can write often and unhindered. The rewards are worth it.
3.Please describe your writing process from initial idea to completed story.
That initial story idea has to be a survivor, because it has a LOT of competition. I come up with a compelling story arc first, then divide it into chapters, using the chapter headings as cues. I then flesh out each chapter until I have an outline a few pages long. At the same time, I agonize over character profiles, backgrounds. Those tools become my road map for the first draft, and it’s surprising how little the end result, even after multiple drafts, varies from the initial outline. Guy Fawkes should have hired me as a plotter. He’d never have been caught.
4.Do you have a military background, and how did you research Godiva in the Firing Line?
I don’t have any military background. The research for Godiva mostly involved conversations with my brother, who’s something of an amateur military historian. We decided that the relationship between soldiers and politicians fundamentally hasn’t changed since man first picked up spears. When it comes to recruitment, the soldier is made to believe he/she is indispensable; once the fighting starts, governments prove time and again just how little they care for their troops. Insufficient equipment, politically motivated rules of engagement, and, worst of all, a criminal lack of regard for veterans. Godiva’s story hopefully sheds a bit of light on that relationship.
5.You seem to easily slip into your female character. Was this easy for you and why?
I always enjoy writing female characters. It feels like exploring new territory after the reams of male-dominated stories I read growing up. And writing women in what are traditionally men’s roles—soldiers, survivalists (my Eleven Hour Fall trilogy), secret agents, etc—is even more fascinating. I have to try to imagine the differences in how a man or a woman might perceive the same dilemma, and then respond in character. It’s not always easy, but it’s always fun.
6.How did you create the world your characters inhabit?
I went for a kind of rough SF allegory of the Iraq War, but only because that’s the most modern scenario. One of the most interesting parts of the story, for me, is Celiba-C, the sexual neutralizing drug that all combat soldiers must take. With it being a mixed gender armed forces, the potential for irrational behavior under duress is deemed too high. The ideal soldier is a robot with human intuition, and in effect that’s what the top brass are trying for here. But Godiva worries about the knock-on effect of her “sex” being removed from the equation; will that affect her friendship with Dash, or even the camaraderie of the squad as a whole? Without that, her corps will be fighting unit without a heart. Maybe it will be better that way. Maybe.
7.That other types of writing do you do, which genre do you prefer, and why?
I’ve tried everything from space opera romance to a WW2 crocodile thriller (based on true events), horror, fantasy, time travel, historical, steampunk. But science fiction is my preferred genre because it addresses my favorite question of all time: “What if?” It’s limitless in scope and imagination. I’ve also written hundreds of poems, mostly metric verse, and many of those have speculative elements.
8.What are your thoughts about a writer having an agent?
I haven’t tried for an agent yet, but for e-publishing, you don’t need one. From what I hear, they’re harder to catch than Bigfoot, and they’re possibly as endangered.
9.What was your process for getting published with Damnation Books?
I knew the owner Kim Richards when she was on the staff at Eternal Press (before she bought it as part of her empire!!!), and was impressed with her work there. So when she announced her new publishing house for dark fiction, I knew it was going to be a class act. I first submitted a short, twisted horror story, Val and Tyne, which she accepted. The editing on that was first rate and the artwork intriguing, so I subbed something a bit longer— Godiva in the Firing Line. Kim really seems to like “different” in a story, because each of mine, and pretty much every title I’ve seen at Damnation, has its own unique flavor you won’t find anywhere else.
10.Where can people learn more about Robert Appleton and your work?
My author website is at http://www.robertappleton.co.uk and my blog is http://robertbappleton.blogspot.com Recently I’ve been busy promoting The Mythmakers, my new space opera romance at Samhain. I wrote a fun blog piece for that over at SFF Insider.
11.Any tips for new writers?
Take small steps for a while. Learn your craft through feedback, revision and practice. Read as much as you can, not just your favorite authors but other aspiring writers as well. See where they’re going wrong and where you can improve. Don’t try to break the rules of craft before you’ve learned them thoroughly. And finally, when you think you’re good enough, and others (who should know) agree, aim high and keep writing. Don’t gamble all your hopes on one project. Waiting is a killer in this game, so always have something to be working on, no matter how small.
Robert, thanks for being my guest today and sharing your road to publication.