Interview with a Sci Fi Writer

This was part of a project a student, and a fellow fan of the long lost and lamented City of Heroes, did for his class. He asked me to help him, and I was glad to oblige. I assume the questions were standardized for honest professions, and so the answers for Writing, which is a subset of the Clown profession, come off as slightly skewed,  as, for that matter, do many clowns and all science fiction writers.


  • What is your occupation and job title?

Space Opera writer.

  • Why did you choose this career?

I did not choose it; it chose me.

  • How long have you worked in this field?

My first sale was in April, 1995.

  • How did you get your job with this company?

I don’t work for a company. My first sale of a novel to a major publisher was in 2002.


  • What type of education and/or training is required for this job?

Knowing enough grammar to avoid abominations like and/or is helpful but not necessary.

Formal education in the craft of writing is counterproductive. The first thing to do when embarking on a career of being a science fiction writer is to avoid all workshops and formal education in the craft of writing like the plague, to throw away all ‘How-To’ books, and avoid asking writers like me what type of education or training is required for this job.

To be a writer, you write. You write with all the bursting grimness of your naked soul unconquerable, and yet somehow in a professional and calm fashion.

Be prepared to throw away your first million words of finished prose as worthless. By that I mean, your write a thousand words a day, or about a page and a half. You write a short story a week, but take off a week for Christmas and Easter. At the end of three years, you will have one hundred fifty short stories that are terrible. File them away in a drawer or, better yet, burn them. You will have learned how to write in that time, and you can start.

Write another short story a week, and this time, send each one to a publisher.

  • What kind of technology skills do you need to successfully do your job?

None. Knowing how to write with a quill pen clenched in a fore-paw is not needed, if you know how to type on a typewriter, or speak into a tape recorder; but you may have to get a friend, or marry a woman, who has one or more of these skills. Also, knowing how address an envelope, lick it shut, and apply proper postage is useful, but not necessary, as more and more editors accept electronic submissions.

  • Is a license or state test required to qualify for this job?

None. The idea of a state test for writing yarns about buxom space princesses being rescued from bug-eyed space monsters by stalwart space swashbucklers is risible.


  • What kind of experience was required for this job?

Reading the current and past literature, so as to grasp the tropes and protocols of the reader expectations, is useful but not a necessity: the best selling authoress of the current generation, J.K. Rowling, has probably never read any book in her own genre, fantasy.

  • What personality traits are important for this job?

Persistence, persistence, and sheer bloody minded persistence. Talent and artistic insight are not needed, but can from time to time be useful, if kept in check.


  • How many hours do you work in a typical week?

Sixteen to twenty. I also have a day job.

  • Are certain times of the month or year busier than other times?

Not to my knowledge.

  • What kinds of things are you required to do as part of your job?

Write yarns about buxom space princesses being rescued from bug-eyed space monsters by stalwart space swashbucklers. Be polite to my extremely kind and gracious patrons. Mail the manuscript to the editor by the deadline agreed.


  • Are you required to supervise other employees as part of your job?

No. I have characters, but that is a different matter, and they do pretty much as they please without influence or direction from me.

  • Do you take work home?

The question is not applicable. My writing job is one I do at home.

  • Do you have flexibility in your work schedule?

Very much so.

Salary and Benefits

  • What are the salary ranges for different levels in this field?

Writers are paid through advances and royalties from sales. There is no salary.

  • What types of fringe benefits are offered to you for your job?

Most publishers will give me a crateful of my own books as a courtesy. Sometimes I am invited to speak at science fiction conventions, or to give interviews.

  • How are “raises” earned?

By selling more books.

  • What is the opportunity for advancement in this area?

If you please the readers, and they buy more books, you can gain notice and fame, more people might buy your books.

Personal Satisfaction

  • What do you like best about your job?

I cannot imagine how to answer this question. It is like asking me what I like best about heaven. I get paid for writing down juvenile daydreams about buxom space princesses being rescued from bug-eyed space monsters by stalwart space swashbucklers. It is akin to being God Almighty during the first week of creation: I create worlds, provided I only speak the word.

If there is a better job in the universe, I cannot imagine it.


  • What do you like least about your job?

I cannot imagine how to answer this question. Did I mention the part about getting paid for daydreaming? How about the creating worlds like a god part? Did I mention that?

  • What kind of personal satisfaction do you get from your job?

I cannot imagine how to answer this question. I have had fans write me and tell me my books caused them to dream and dare and laugh and cry and question their life and see the face of God in the stars. That is an unexpected satisfaction. That is magic; it is deeper magic older than the dawn of time. Did I mention the part about getting paid for daydreaming?

Very Important Questions….

  • What changes do you see in this area within the next 5-10 years?

The science fiction field has recently been invaded by an alien and unsightly destroyer, authors and gatekeepers who have more interest in politics and public posturing than in telling stories about buxom space princesses. They are rapidly sucking all the fun and talent out of the science fiction world, and leaving behind and bland conformist mush of political correctness.

I would like to see these creatures, and all Leftists, Liberals, Social-Justice Warriors, Nags, Harridans, Termagants, Pharisees, Ne’er-do-wells, Race-baiting neckbiters, and Morlocks, slain by the edge of the sword, so that their blood runs in rivers up to the bridles of the horses, and carrion birds gather to despoil the corpses in such numbers as to darken the sky.

I think having far fewer socially activist authors, or none, would greatly bring honor on the genre and would delight the science fiction community generally.

  • What advice would give a student interested in this career field?

I apologize for the length of this reply, but I can answer completely and thoroughly and tell you everything anyone can tell you, everything you need, in ten brief commandments on how to write.

  1. In order to be a writer, you must write.Give yourself a page-per-week quota or an hour-per-week quota, or whatever is needed, so that you will write when you are not in the mood to write.
  2. In order to write, you must use proper spelling, punctuation, grammar; or, if you violate these rules, the violation must be deliberate, to create an artistic effect.Avoid politically correct jargon at all costs. Do not use ugly constructions like “he or she”; it will date your work, and the cool people will laugh at you.
  3. In order to be a writer, you must sell what you write.No manuscript should spend a single night on your desk; the same day you get a rejection, put the manuscript in the mail to the next editor. Let the manuscripts spend their nights on the editor’s desk.
  4. In order to sell what you write, read the editor’s guidelines for his magazine or publishing house and follow them.These guidelines are available in a reference book called Writer’s Market. Get the reference book for the current year. If the guidelines say double-spaced white paper single sided, and no samurai vampire stories, do not send him “Lightning Swords of the Nosferatu of Kyoto” printed on blood-red paper, single-spaced, double sided. Failure to follow the guidelines shows you are a dude, a greenhorn, a tenderfoot, a punk, a novice, not someone meant to be treated with professional courtesy. Your story is your child: no mother would send her child out to look for a job without fixing his tie and shining his shoes.
  5. Include a self-addressed stamped envelope with proper postage affixed, if you want the manuscript back.
  6. You will receive on average ONE HUNDRED rejection slips before you make your first sale.
    This is an average. This means that if someone, say, Lester del Rey, makes his first sale on his first attempt without getting a rejection, that someone else, say, Ray Bradbury, will get two hundred rejection slips. Do you recall the million wasted words I mentioned above? It was Ray Bradbury who first formulated that rule.
  7. If your manuscript is good or bad, send out your manuscript again. Genius does not count. Only persistence counts. The world will not recognize your genius until after you are dead. But the world can recognize your persistence now.
  8. If the manuscript is good, send out your manuscript again. The editor who rejected it last month or last year may have different needs or a different budget this month or this year.
  9. If the manuscript is bad, send out your manuscript again. The worst thing you ever wrote will someday, somehow, be some schoolboy’s favorite story ever. Your readers are your employers. Respect and fear them. Do not approach this work with pride or selfishness or any of the other emotions to which men of fragile artistic spirits are inclined. It is a profession. Act professionally.
  10. Selling writing means your manuscripts go out, and money comes back in. Money always goes toward the writer. Money never goes away from the writer. This means you do not hire a manuscript doctor, you do not pay a reading fee, you do not enter a contest which charges an entry fee. Those are scams. Agents are paid on commission, paid when and only when they sell your wares, whereupon the money comes from the publisher and goes toward you; You do not pay the agent a retainer.To sum up: To be a writer, you write. You write by writing grammatically correct English, not Politically Correct Newspeak. You sell what you write. You sell what you write by following the editor’s submission guidelines. You include a self-addressed stamped envelope. You continue to submit stories whether they are good, bad or mediocre. You treat it like a job. Money goes toward the writer.Do not wait to be inspired. So-called inspiration consists of sitting down at scheduled times for scheduled amounts of time and actually doing the work of writing. It is the same inspiration used by a cobbler to make a shoe, or a carpenter to make a chair.

    Writing is not accomplished by inspiration. It is accomplished by not making excuses to not accomplish it.

    Let me add one more rule to my list of ten rules. This is the Eleventh Commandment, the unwritten rule:

11. When you get a rejection slip, be thankful.

 Yes, you heard me. Not only are you NOT to take it personally, you are to have thanks and gratitude in your heart for getting rejected.

 Rejection slips come in three grades: (1) impersonal form letters (2) form letters with specific reasons for rejection (3) personal notes from the editor explaining the rejection.

 You are to be thankful for getting an impersonal form letter because it means one more rejection slip of the one hundred or two hundred you must collect before you make your first sale has been checked off. This means that your manuscript, which has been sitting on his desk for seven months, is now free to be submitted to another editor, perhaps even to that one special editor which God or Fate or Blind Chance or the Seldon Plan of History (take your pick) had intended from the first to be the place where your manuscript would find its home. It means a fresh chance, another turn of the Wheel of Fortune.

 You are to be thankful for getting form letters with specific rejection reasons because you can use this information to improve the story or improve your sales pitch, and because there is no other place in the universe you can get this information.

 You are to be thankful for personal notes from the editor explaining the rejection, because this means you have graduated to the rank of being a real writer, even if you have yet to sell a single word of your art, because editors do not take the time to explain themselves to rank amateurs. It means you are good enough to make the sale, and you just so happen not to have made it this time. It is encouragement.

 The main reason why you are to be thankful and grateful for rejection slips rather than bitter and insulted is that professionals are thankful. Above all, you are thankful Fate has allowed you even a slender chance at entering a profession made of wonder. You get to write down daydreams and people pay you money for it. A few blows to the ego are a small price to pay, and are probably good for improving your character anyway.

 If you take things personally, your professional life will be purgatory.

 Writers know writing is the best profession in the world, and they are grateful for all it, good and bad alike, rejections and sales alike. That is what makes them professionals.

Be Grateful. Give thanks. Rejoice.

Final and Personal Questions….

  • When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

From childhood up. If there was ever a time before which I desired to write science fiction, I am unaware of it.

  • Did you write any stories as a child or while you were in school?

Yes, continually, without pause.

  • If so, what were they?

One was a Lovecraftian pastiche called THE NIGH FORGOTTEN SUN; another was a rip-off of Keith Laumer’s time-travel spy thriller DINOSAUR BEACH called AGENT OF NESX. One I actually typed up and sent out was called ‘Cosmic Messenger’ which was about the last man alive in this universe committing suicide just before he was about to be rescued unexpectedly from a still surviving and higher universe. Other juvenilia exists in the forms of notes and unrealized dreams.

All such things were, as most childish writing is, crude imitations, more or less slavish, of admired writers.

  • You once said  that you have used characters from your books in creating video game characters online [For City of Heroes]. Have you ever created a character for a video game and then later put him into a story?


  • Have you ever based any characters on characters of other media, such as movies, T.V., or other books?

Yes, all of them. Phaethon from my THE GOLDEN AGE is a cross between an ancient Greek Myth, an amnesiac superman character from A.E. van Vogt’s Null-A series, and a supercilious Jack Vance aristocrat. Raven son of Raven from LAST GUARDIAN OF EVERNESS is based on my character from a role playing game, as is Amelia Windrose from ORPHANS OF CHAOS; Aton Pendrake is a cross between a character from Maxwell Grant, Mallory, George W. Trendle, and Ayn Rand.

  • Some people like to write while listening to music, while some prefer silence. Do you prefer music or silence?

Music, because it drowns out the noise of screaming and commotion of the unholy and unspeakable experiments being performed on innocent victims writhing in my basement, unless, of course, that is the noise of my teenaged boys playing video games. It is best not to inquire.

  • And if you prefer music, what kind of music helps you to write?


Showtunes, particularly from Disney movies, Japanese pop-music from anime, opera from Wagner’s Ring.

  • What helps to inspire you the most? For example, walking in nature, sitting at coffee shops, playing sports or games.

The muses inspire writers. As a science fiction writer, my main inspiration comes from Clio and Urania, the muses of epic and astronomy.

Just kidding. I do not wait to be inspired. Waiting for inspiration is the mark of a tyro. I write because I cannot not write.

Writing consists of courage in the face of blank paper. If you can face the blank piece of paper without whimpering in fear and without once giving into the temptation to get up, walking in nature, go to a coffee shop, or playing a sport or game, you have the grit needed to be a writer.

If not, find another line of work.

Honestly forces me to admit that I have, just this day, right now, given into the temptation to tell a young interviewer how to write, rather than facing the dread and dreaded blank paper myself and writing.

So with these words I take my leave and return to my task.