Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Did you know the TV Show, FlashForward was written by a Canadian, Robert J. Sawyer?

ROBERT J. SAWYER - Answers questions about his writing and his tombstone.

Photo by Cristine Woods

Robert J. Sawyer, a Member of the Order of Canada, is one of only eight people ever — and the only Canadian — to have won all three of the science-fiction field’s top awards for best novel of the year: the Hugo, the Nebula, and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award; in February 2017, he also won the Robert A. Heinlein Memorial Award in honor of his body of work.  The ABC TV series FlashForward was based on his Aurora Award-winning novel of the same name.  His 23rd science-fiction novel Quantum Night is just out in paperback from Ace after a bestselling run in hardcover.

Robert agreed to answer a few questions for this blog. Two are ordinary questions and the other two are a little more off the wall. Robert's good with off the wall. Read on and learn more.

Ordinary Interview Questions

What is your least favorite part of the publishing / writing process?

There’s only one part of creating a novel that I don’t actually enjoy, and that’s writing the first draft.  I love doing research, and as a science-fiction writer, of course, tons of research goes into every one of my books.  For my most recent novel, Quantum Night, I spent an entire year doing nothing but research into the science of evil.  The notion of evil is often dealt with and fantasy books, where it’s considered a pure force and is often personified as a demonic character, but in science fiction it’s rarely ever tackled.  But I delved deeply into evolutionary psychology, game theory, experimental psychology, early-childhood studies, political science, and many more areas to really understand why humans sometimes treat other humans reprehensibly.  Despite the downbeat topic, the research itself was enormous fun.

And I love revising my fiction: honing it, making what was already good better and making what was bad good.  I do at least three or four complete drafts of every novel, plus a half a dozen top-down line edits, and then incorporate the feedback of at least a dozen beta readers, some of whom are bona fide experts in the scientific areas that I’m touching on, and others are simply keen eyed readers or fans of science fiction.
But the stage of actually pulling a first draft out of the air is often, for me, akin to pulling teeth.  A sculptor can go to an art-supply store and buy a lump of clay then immediately get to work; a writer, on the other hand, has to make his or her own clay out of nothing.

We do know this isn't your first book.  How many books have you written prior?

Quantum Night is my twenty-third novel, and it also, quite possibly, might be my last.  I sold my first short story in January 1980, when I was nineteen.  My first novel came out in December 1990, when I was thirty.  There are a lot of themes that run through my body of work — rationalism, the power of science over superstition, the importance of being an ethical agent in the world, celebrating multiculturalism, pacifism, and more — and in a very real sense I make my concluding statements on these themes in Quantum Night.

Also, the publishing industry has changed a lot in the decades I’ve been involved with it.  Although the big-five New York publishers — and I’ve been published by four of the five — have been reporting record profits, few authors can say the same thing.  I’ve been lucky: I have lived long and prospered in this industry. But every single penny of cost savings made possible by new technologies, such as computerized manuscript production, short-run printing,  ebook distribution, and so on, not to mention the vast reduction in the number of bookstore accounts that have to be serviced — has been kept by publishers, rather than sharing the bounty with their authors.  And in most cases, services publishers traditionally provided, such as publicity, advertising, commissioning real art instead of just photo-shopping a couple of inexpensive stock images, and so on, have also dried up.

I was lucky enough to have one of my novels, the Aurora Award-winning FlashForward, adapted into an ABC TV series of the same name, and I’ve had several pilot-script commissions, feature-film screenplay commissions, and other very lucrative work in the film and TV industry.  TV was my first love, anyway; my bachelor’s degree is in Radio and Television Arts from Ryerson University in Toronto.  I’m concentrating my efforts there at the moment, but of course will keep an eye on the grass on the other side of the fence to see if it ever turns green again.

Don’t get me wrong: Quantum Night was a top-ten mainstream bestseller in my native Canada, and hit #1 on the hardcover bestsellers’ list in Locus, the US trade journal of the science-fiction and fantasy field; it also got a starred review — denoting a book of exceptional merit — from Publishers Weekly. But this is the true golden age of TV writing, with the best work that’s ever been done in that medium being created now, and I’m finding working in that area both artistically and financially very satisfying.

Robert certainly is prolific.  Although his readers and fans will miss new books coming out, they'll be watching for his work on TV. Be sure to check out how the industry has transformed his book, FlashForward,  into a TV series.

Crazy Questions That No One Ever Asks Authors

What do you want your tombstone to say?

One of the standard story-generating engines for science fiction is to take something we normally consider only metaphorical and treat it as literal.  So let’s go with that: let’s assume that by the time I die, hopefully a half-century or more from now, tombstones really will talk.  I’m told I have a good voice for public readings, and I think the best thing I ever wrote was chapter 22 of my Hugo Award-nominated novel Humans, in which a modern day Neanderthal from a parallel version of Earth comes to this reality:

In that chapter, my character is visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, and he waxes poetic about the fact that there is no afterlife, and so we should be committed to peace in this life.  If in death, that reading reminds others how precious life is, that would be satisfying.

What is something you want to accomplish before you die?

Well, this has taken a morbid turn!  But, all right, here goes: my Hugo Award-nominated novel WWW: Wake has a scene in it that recalls Christmas Eve 1968, when the astronauts aboard Apollo 8 looked back for the first time at the entire Earth as seen from space.  The photo they took did wake up humanity, making us realize that you can’t see international boundaries from space, and this whole wide world of ours is floating, fragile and precious, in a sea of infinity.  That’s something I’d like to see for myself.

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