Saturday, March 26, 2011
AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Rod Rees
Rod: It’s a long story. I was prompted to begin writing SF after watching the travesty of a re-imagining of the Jekyll and Hyde story that was the BBC’s ‘Jekyll’. Now although I love and revere Stevenson’s tale I nevertheless accept that like many things approaching their one hundred and twenty-fifth birthday (me, for example) it could certainly handle a wash and brush up. Unfortunately as wash and brush ups go the BBC’s effort was more akin to a really good sand blasting in that it stripped all the good things away and left...well, not much actually. And like many before me, as I sat there aghast watching this twaddle, the thought crossed my mind, ‘I could do better than that’.
So I sat down and wrote a book called ‘Dark Charismatic’ ... and wrote and wrote and wrote. Two hundred and twenty thousand words to be exact, each word carefully, lovingly and laboriously crafted. And the final two were ‘The End’. Having written the bloody thing I was troubled by a rather belated thought: what do I do with it now? And the answer was, of course, get an agent. So I googled ‘agents + science fiction + fantasy’, chose the three I though potentially most receptive – that is, they had kind faces – and sent off the first three chapters of my magnum opus. And, to cut a long story short, on the strength of ‘Dark Charismatic’ I was taken on as a client by John Jarrold.
Unfortunately, even John couldn’t place ‘Dark Charismatic’ with a publisher (fools!) but undeterred (or stupid) I decided I’d write a second book and thus was born ‘The Demi-Monde’ in which I tried to remedy the faults (of which there were many) of ‘Dark Charismatic’.
John sent out ‘The Demi-Monde’ and 48 hours later it (and the three others in the putative series) had been taken in a pre-emptive deal by Quercus. I got pissed that night!
Scott: Do you feel under much pressure having to write another 3 books in this series now that you’ve secured a deal, or have you pretty much mapped out the books already?
Rod: I did a LOT of preparatory work for ‘The Demi-Monde: Winter’ especially regarding my ersatz religions and the rationale for the Demi-Monde itself (most of this is on the website www.demi-monde.com) but I was totally unprepared for how quickly the book was taken by a publisher. The next three books in the series – ‘Spring’, ‘Summer’ and ‘Fall’ – I had only the vaguest idea about.
But now, eighteen months on from being signed, I’ve delivered both ‘Spring’ and ‘Summer’ to Quercus and am well into ‘Fall’ so a lot of the mechanical pressure is off. What I worry about now is whether ‘Spring’ is good enough (I worry a lot). In fact I’ve just completed a huge, self-imposed re-edit of ‘Spring’ in order to inject more pace into the book. I really want it to be a show stopper.
Scott: The concept of the virtual training of the troops in a setting close to Hell is pretty full on, did you have to do much research into the armed services and virtual reality to make this a believable story?
Rod: Lots and lots. I’ve always been interested in military history so I had a grounding in what I needed to do, but I wanted to make sure the jargon and concepts relating to Asymmetrical Warfare were correct. I also wanted the technical aspects of creating a virtual world to be at least credible: I’m no expert in cybernetics but …
All this research I synthesized into a ‘The Demi-Monde: Product Description Manual’ (it’s also up on the website) supposedly written by ParaDigm CyberResearch, the builders of the Demi-Monde virtual world. This was my reference point all the way thru the writing of the DM stories.
I’ve written about this whole world-building process on my blog, in an article entitled ‘Building a Bespoke World’.
Scott: A lot of new writers often ask about the amount of pages or words that a published author produces each day. How much time would you spend writing on a typical day, (if a typical day exists for a writer that is)?
Rod: The simple answer is that I have a target when I’m writing of 3,000 – 3,500 words per day and I keep going until I’ve reached this per diem. So, given no distractions, I can produce 200,000 words of rubbish in four months.
As I say, this is the simple answer: it becomes more complicated when editing is taken into account.
Much of what I write is rubbish. I tend to over-write, read it, become disgusted and go back and cull. And it is this editing process which is the time killer. The second book in the DM series - ‘Spring’ - took one month to research (compared to ‘Winter’s’ three months), four months to write and four months to edit: nine months in total.
I attend a writers’ group in the UK called Renegade Writers and I was asked how many times I edited/revised my books before I submitted them to my agent. It wasn't something I'd ever thought about before so my answer - twenty or thirty times - was a little off-the-cuff. Unfortunately it was a pretty accurate estimate.
A couple of years ago a guy called Macolm Gladwell suggested that 10,000 hours of practice is necessary to become proficient in anything. The Beatles needed 10,000 hours hammering out their music in the clubs of Hamburg, Beckham needed 10,000 hours to perfect his free-kicks and I'm guessing that every other expert in their field has invested a similar amount of practice time in honing their skills. Now I'm not suggesting that I'm of a similar proficiency to these experts but I think that this sort of practice mileage is necessary if any natural talent you have is to be given a chance to shine. Golfer Ben Hogan is reputed to have coined the maxim 'the more I practice the luckier I get'.
This 10,000 hour idea coincides with the proposition - Ray Bradbury made it, I believe - that an author needs to have written one million words before he or she can have any claim to have mastered their craft.
That's why I get so annoyed when I see established authors advise would-be authors that the route to success is to read the masters. This is bollocks: the way to success is to write...and write, and write and write. And then to edit the shit out of the crap (sorry for the tautology) you've written.
Unfortunately shows like the X-Factor have inculcated the impression that there's a short-cut to success but in the vast majority of cases there ain't. We still (just) live in a meritocracy which is defined as:
SUCCESS = (TALENT x HARDWORK) + LUCK
and the greatest element here is HARDWORK...10,000 hours of it!
Scott: How do you approach your writing? Do you tend to develop a story in your mind and then proceed to conduct some research or is more of an organic method where you write the story first and research any technical aspects later?
Rod: Difficult to be precise as it depends on the mood I’m in. Obviously I have a general idea of where I’m heading and I always like to have the denouement of the story clear in my head before I begin (this is especially important with short stories). Unless I do this I simply drift.
With the Demi-Monde, because many of the characters are historical figures I have to research them in order to make them believable. For example Percy Bysshe Shelley makes an appearance in ‘Fall’ and so I’ve been reading biographies about the man and anthologies of his poetry. Once I have all this in place I can write knowing that my fiction is based on fact.
But then characters do have a habit of evolving and leading you in new directions so you’ve got to allow them some elbow-room.
I guess I did three months of research on the DM before I felt confident enough to start writing the story.
Scott: As a writer it is interesting to hear what other writers read in their spare time. It is often surprising to hear the genres and variety of books other authors read. Can you tell us what are you reading at the moment and what you five favorite books are?
Rod: I read very little fiction these days, I simply don’t have the time. Most of what I read is background research on my characters, on the milieu and on religions/philosophy. Currently I’m trying to get thru ‘The Net Delusion’ by Evgeny Morozov and ‘Why the West Rules – For Now’ by Ian Morris.
These works of fiction are my favourites:
‘1984’ by Orwell: A brilliant, brilliant book. A work of genius. The ideas Orwell conjures are breathtaking and disturbing. One minor criticism: I think if it was being edited today the first line would simply read ‘The clock struck thirteen’.
‘A Clockwork Orange’ by Burgess: A stunningly amoral book and perhaps the greatest treatise on free-will ever written. Kubrick’s film adaptation was terrific too.
‘The Outsider’ by Camus: The most passionate passionless book I’ve ever read.
‘The Dice Man’ by Reinhart: Wonderful. Simultaneously convincing and surreal.
‘Man in a High Castle’ by Dick: The book which got me interested in alternative history.
‘The Throwback’ by Sharpe: The funniest book I’ve ever read.
Scott: I’ve read some articles about The Demi Monde online already and the story has been likened to movies such as The Matrix? Do you think this has come about due to the style of the Demi Monde website and promotional material released to date?
Rod: I hope so, because that was one of my objectives when I created the Demi-Monde website.
Thanks to the internet, factual reality (sorry, more tautology, folks) and fictional reality (a wonderful contradiction in terms) are merging. BI (Before Internet) the imaginary was distinct and readily distinguishable from the real. AI (After Internet) this separation is blurring. More, as the Internet is becoming increasingly all-pervasive, fantasy has begun to merge with reality. On the Internet reality and surreality, and fact and fiction have to co-exist. There was a nice phrase in a recent article in the Sunday Times by Camille Paglia about Lady Gaga (‘What’s Sex Got to do with It?’) which said ‘In the sprawling anarchy of the web, the borderline between fact and fiction has melted away’.
My suspicion is that today’s reader is - and increasingly will be - looking for an altogether more immersive (dare I say, a more visceral) experience than one which can be found within the covers of a printed book. They want to explore the backgrounds of their favourite characters, be able (especially with the SF and fantasy genres) to make a deeper, almost forensic examination of the world the writer has created, they want to interact with the characters and with each other, they want to see the writer’s visualisation of his or her book and, most importantly, they want to become involved. This nuReader wants all his or her senses engaged and, like it or not, it will become incumbent on writers to create worlds and characters which transcend the printed word. This will be the only way they will be able to persuade a cyber-savvy generation to suspend disbelief.
My vision is to give readers of the Demi-Monde the opportunity of immersing themselves more fully in my virtual world and to better understand the nuances and detail that can only (because of considerations of pace and length) be alluded to in the book.
Of course, there’s a cost to all this and I’ve not been able to go as far as I want. I work with a pal of mine – Nigel Robinson – a designer who makes all my crazed imaginings real and we’ve got some ideas for the future which are really out there. Which leads me on to your next question …
Scott: From the promotional material I’ve seen and after reading the first book, I can see this series as a movie, video game and role-play game. Have you been approached about any of these mediums yet?
Rod: All this would be great. It’s every writer’s dream to see his characters break free of the page but as yet …
Scott: Thank you very much for your time. I look forward to the next book in the series.