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Wednesday, 13 February 2013
Author interview no.589 with science-fiction writer R Peter Ubtrent
Back in December 2012, I interviewed author R Peter Ubtrent for my WordPress blog. I hope you enjoy it...
Welcome to the five hundred and eighty-ninth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with science-fiction author R Peter Ubtrent. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Peter. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Peter: I’m R. Peter Ubtrent and I live in Edgewood, New Mexico. That’s close to Albuquerque. I have several degrees, including astrophysics and a Masters in Military History. I repair clocks and watches when I’m not writing and I started writing in high school because I loved the way fiction books could take you to another place and time and I always had ideas like that floating around in my head.
Morgen: I read a lot of fiction in my teens but it never occurred to me until eight years ago (when I went on a college evening course) that I could write it myself so I felt I’d missed out on all those years but I have that more experience to write about. :) What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Peter: I write Science Fiction. I’ve considered writing fantasy and historical novels.
Morgen: What have you had published to-date?
Peter: I have nine books in print so far. There is a stand-alone time-travel thriller called Eternity’s Handmaiden, a six-book space opera called the Dark Pilgrim Series, and a two-book set called The Sslithax Heresy.
Morgen: You’re self-published, what lead to you going your own way?
Peter: I tried to go the traditional way but kept getting rejection letters, and nasty ones at that. I had had friends and acquaintances read my manuscripts and they all said they were good so I didn’t understand what the publishers wanted. Then I started to read some of the things that were getting published and realized that I couldn’t write that badly or that predictably and that was obviously what the publishers wanted so I figured the only way I could get my books out there was to self-publish.
Morgen: Ah yes, the right thing for the wrong person, I’ve been there. Are your books available as eBooks? How involved were you in that process? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Peter: They are available in eBooks as well as print. I had to do most of the work to get them ready for eBooks. Don’t see the need to pay someone when I can do it myself. I only read paper books. Have a library of over 1200 of them.
Morgen: I probably have getting on for the same number, dotted around the house, but read both formats. For me, I love having the option, especially when something is eBook only. Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Peter: I really like the Dark Pilgrim series. I think it’s my best work to date. Out of that series, I guess I’d have to say that Dark Throne is the one I like the most, though it’s a close call. Ailanthus and Christl are two of my favourite characters. They developed far different than I at first envisioned. I think that Chris Pine would make a great Ailanthus and Hayden Panettierra (Heroes star) would make a great Christl.
Morgen: The cheerleader… a great series. :) Did you choose the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Peter: I did yes, and I think they can make or break a book. Doesn’t matter how good the writing is inside, if it doesn’t catch people’s eyes, then they won’t read it.
Morgen: They do have to draw them in, especially given the number of new books out there. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Peter: I’m currently working on a trilogy that blends fantasy and science fiction. It’s turning out to be a good write. I’m enjoying it!
Morgen: Great! I’ve just started a dark crime series and feel the same. Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Peter: I try to write every day. It’s one of the things I always tell people when they ask for advice. I’ve yet to encounter writer’s block. I usually have the opposite. I can’t type fast enough to keep up with my mind when it starts evolving a plot line.
Morgen: Me too, lucky aren’t we? You said that your characters developed differently than your vision of them, do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Peter: I don’t really plot out my stories. I know where I’m starting and have a foggy idea of where I want to end and then I just let the story tell itself as I write. I tell people that when I write, it’s as if I have a muse standing over my shoulder whispering into my ear what to write and many times, when I’m done with a chapter I’ll sit back and say, “wow, I didn’t see that coming.”
Morgen: I love that. :) Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Peter: The majority of my characters come from people I know or have met somewhere along the line. It’s amazing how many different personality types one knows with just your acquaintances. If I don’t have some I know to fit a character, I just think about from that character came, their upbringing and what they would do in certain situations and write them as if I were talking to them. As for names, many of my names come from Latin plant names. I know it sounds odd, but you can find quite a lot of interesting names in plants. As for making them believable, I write them as if they were standing there talking to me and I can ask them questions. If I write something that doesn’t sound right or that character wouldn’t say, then I have to make sure that either I’ve got the character in the mind-set I need him or I need to re-write the scene. I listen to them talk in my head – which sounds real psychotic-like I know – and if their conversations sound good, I go with it!
Morgen: Picking Latin plant names is a great idea. You’ve just talked about rewriting scenes, do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Peter: I find that I write the majority of the story in the first pass. I tend to have lots of typos because my mind is going faster than my fingers can type and so my fingers tend to leave out words to catch up. I always write the whole story and then let it sit for a few weeks if not a few months, usually going on to write the next book in the series. Then I go back and read the entire book again, correcting typos as I go. Then I read it one more time and usually lend it to a friend to read to catch the typos I invariably miss.
Morgen: It’s a very good idea to leave a story and come back to it. It’s all too easy to miss obvious mistakes because your brain sees what it remembers. And getting a second opinion is so important – I belong to four writing groups, two of which are critique (and have five online first readers) and they always spot something. Do you have to do much research?
Peter: Not really. I have a degree in Astrophysics and so I know the science pretty well and the other stuff is just made up anyway, so what’s to research? I tend to draw a lot of my politics and courtly interactions from history.
Morgen: What point of view do you find most to your liking?
Peter: Third person. I’ve thought about writing in first person, but my books tend to have many sub-plots and even more sub-sub-plots and it would be difficult to convey to the reader the sense of what is happening 300 light years away from the main character if they can’t see it or hear it happening.
Morgen: Do you write any poetry, non-fiction or short stories?
Peter: I’ve written poetry in the past….
Morgen: Me too. I say I don’t “get it” and only write when asked to (if it’s on my writing groups’ calendars mainly) but I don’t read it and have never been taught it so that doesn’t help. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Peter: I have an entire book I wrote in high school that’s a fantasy / science fiction blend and I thought it was great, but then I realized that it was simply a combination of Lord of the Rings, Dune and The Book of Swords. I don’t think that will ever see the light of day….
Morgen: Fan fiction is incredibly popular. :) Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Peter: I had rejections at first when I was trying to sell my first book to a traditional publisher. It certain doesn’t feel good when someone you don’t even know, who is supposed to be an expert in the field tells you that your work is crap, but you get over it, eventually (sniff, sniff).
Morgen: That’s harsh but then there will always be people out there who don’t like what you’ve written (Goodreads has been particularly tough on my short pieces) but hopefully there’ll be plenty of people who do. Do you enter competitions? Are there any you could recommend?
Peter: I have the first book of the Dark Pilgrim Series in the Reader’s Favorite contest as of this writing and it has made it into the finals.
Morgen: Oh. congratulations. Do let me know how you get on. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Peter: I don’t have an agent. I think agents are just like the traditional publishing houses. They’re looking for that next big thing and have no clue if it were to walk up to them and punch them in the nose. They want celebrities and war-veterans with stories and the like. They want to make money off of your work for doing nothing…..
Morgen: They often do, sadly, although Joe Public’s getting fed up with ‘celebrity’ books, especially when they’re not actually written by them. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Peter: I don’t really have the time to market my books as the “experts” say you should and I’m not about to hire someone to do it for me. Someone else asked me about my “brand” and I didn’t know what he was talking about either.
Morgen: Unless you write something like Harry Potter, readers do tend to go by an author’s name. It takes a lot to build it up so we become a name with the person behind it. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Peter: Not selling as many books as I’d like to. My favourite aspect has to be when I re-read something I’ve written and try to figure out how I ever wrote something that good.
Morgen: I hope this helps a little (I know these interviews have generated sales for many of the authors involved). I must admit that my sales have been a trickle, which has surprised me, given how far this blog has come but then the focus is on my guest rather than me so it’s understandable. I’m starting to get out on other writers’ blogs, especially now I have a novel out. :) You just have to keep going… What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Peter: Write, write and write some more. Try to write everyday and when you aren’t writing, work through the story in you mind. You’d be surprised what great ideas can form as you’re pruning the roses and thinking about your story at the same time.
Morgen: 300 words a day is 100,000 words a year. Incredible when you think about it. Everyone can write 300 words a day. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Peter: Wow. What a question. Let’s see… Only three, huh? Mozart, certainly. He could entertain us. J.R.R. Tolkien. He could tell use stories. And Leonardo DeVinci. He could show us things he’s invented. I’d serve Rosemary braised Lamb shanks with garlic and chives mashed potatoes and a pineapple / cheese side (it’s really very good) Maybe an Amaretto bread-pudding for dessert.
Morgen: What a great party… I think I may have to gate-crash. :) Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Peter: Honor is like and island with no beaches and rocky cliffs. Once you have left, you can never return.
Morgen: I’ve not heard that before – I like it. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Peter: I repair watches and clocks with my father. I build model planes and tanks and ships. I build wooden ones also, ships that is. I’m an avid gardener and I love to ski in the winter.
Morgen: Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Peter: I’m on a few, but I don’t find them of much value really…. Though one of them did direct me to you!
Morgen: That will probably be LinkedIn, which found me over 1,000 authors to interview! I’m currently booked out until July and I’ve had to make the difficult decision to scale them back to just two weekend morning slots (but increase the author spotlights to five; weekday mornings) and start charging for the interviews (everything else will still be free) as it’s affected the output of my writing and really that has to be more of a priority than it has been (I can’t rely on tenant income for ever). What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Peter: I think that there will always be writers and with the explosion of eBooks, many, many writers whom the traditional publishing houses reject will be able to get their books read. People always like a good story and there are still plenty of them to be written!
Morgen: There are. Imagine how boring it would be if we all liked the same things. Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Peter: I’m still trying to think about who I’m inviting to dinner…
Morgen: Oh dear… maybe we should make it a party rather than select few. :) Thank you, Peter.
I then invited Peter to include an extract of his writing…
"Do you ever feel guilty?" she asked as they walked slowly through the park, the grass vibrant under the simulated sun, trees randomly scattered about in copses of leaf-covered shade giving a patch-work quality to the area. Tall buildings rose above the trees like tritanium-clad artistic pillars, housing the dwellings of the bi-peds who had constructed this false paradise under the winter-encased surface. Noises of the city filtered undiluted through the leaves and trees and gnarled trunks in waves of quiet engrossment, intertwining with the chirps and vocalizations of the birds, who perched and flew and sang without a clue that they lived two hundred meters underground. The temperature was cool, yet had a touch of warmness to it speaking of a sun shining down in rays of golden splendor.
It had been years since he had walked on grass, the softness translating itself through his boots like idyllic massagers to his sore soles. His feet had trod the hardness of stone floors and metal decks of his righteousness for most of his life, the simple pleasure of walking casually along in shaded splendor not part of the occupation of High Confessio. This simple walk, this quiet time within the confines of nature was like a balm to his soul despite the fact that it was all trothless deception.
He didn't fail to see the mockery of it all.
"Guilty about what?" Coronalis questioned the taller, younger Azania as she matched him step for step.
She had changed from her heavy, oppressive cowled cloak to a light and airy sun-dress whose pleated skirt ended just above the knees. It was comprised of a thin smoky rose-colored material that didn't do much to cover what she had beneath. She was more buxom then he had at first thought yet her figure was as fit and trim as he’d suspected. Her smile, which had felt and looked so wrong to him back in that interrogation room, was slightly more comfortable on her now, but it still spoke of wrongness, as if smiles were illegal for her to possess, for any of The Restoration to possess.
and a synopsis of one of his books…
On the planet Caelus, magic was as natural as the sun or the grass. It thrived in the trees and the water, in the wind and the rain. And it thrived in the people. The people of Caelus were cultured and wise, creative and intelligent, using the abilities their gods imparted on they them with care and wisdom. That peace was about to end. When Caelus is picked at random as the next target for the insatiable Va’Shan Empire and the shock troops of the Destructor’s Hand, Caelus will change forever. Thus begins the epic journey of Lothar and Lorelei, lovers about to be Merged, both thinking the other is dead and trying all in their powers to survive one more day with the hope that they will be able to find each other. Realizing that they are the last of their kind, they struggle to find sense in a new world where the Cleansers hound them mercilessly and their hatred and prejudices rob them of common sense. Blending the magic world of fantasy with the hard, steel world of science fiction, A Requiem for Caelus is the first in the Va’Shan trilogy.
R. Peter Ubtrent was born in New York City but moved to Albuquerque at the age of eight. Although he has lived in both California and Florida, he seems to have settled in Edgewood, New Mexico for the moment. Peter has been writing since high school and has bachelor’s degrees in History, Astrophysics and Sec. Education, as well as a Master’s in Military History and a PhD in Military Studies. When he’s not writing, Peter works in his gardens or builds wooden and plastics models or reads avidly. He has been married to the lovely Genevieve for over sixteen years.
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