In a role reversal to Ideomancer’s September interview, Featured Author Greg van Eekhout answers a few questions from fellow writer Tim Pratt.
Tim Pratt: You’ve just taken the great leap into full-time writing, at least on a trial basis. Do you have any specific goals for the next six months, either artistically or practically? Or, to make it a bit less lofty: what are you planning to work on?
Greg van Eekhout: Well, primarily I hope not to turn into Elvis or Howard Hughes over the next several months. I basically have about a six-month window of opportunity in which I get to be a full-time writer, and at the end of it, I need to have a novel written and a handful of short stories. I’m a bit skittish about discussing the projects in much more detail than that, but I will say that the novel is a contemporary fantasy that’s been gnawing at me for a long time, and it’s got valkyries and zombies and big, scary dogs.
TP: There’s a lot of talk online, at conventions, and in magazines about various perceived movements in current SF — the New Space Opera, The New Weird, Interstitialism, and so on. Do you identify with any of these movements, or have any comments about such movements in general?
GvE: Back in the 70’s there was a line of Mattel action figures, Big Jim’s P.A.C.K. There was Warpath, who was a kind of scout or tracker guy; and Dr. Steel, a strongman with a steel hand; and The Whip, who was the weapons guy; and Big Jim himself, the brains of the outfit. I always thought that kind of categorization was a bit forced. Why couldn’t The Whip use Warpath’s stunner arrows? Why couldn’t Dr. Steel toss The Whip’s boomerangs? And why was Big Jim the only guy with a radio? What if he got separated from the rest of the P.A.C.K.? It was just a crazy way for men of action to organize themselves.
That’s kind of how I feel about these movements.
TP: Let’s hear a little about your writing habits. Any special places, personal rituals, habitual oddities, or strong preferences? Where and how do you do your best work?
GvE: Well, basically I spend $1.70 every time I write, because I like to write in cafés, and it’s no fun without a big-ass mug of strong black coffee. And by mug, I mean something made of ceramic with a handle. Something with some satisfying heft. None of these paper cups for me.
I get most of my writing done in the morning, which is really important for me. That way, no matter what else happens during the day — bad time at the office, traffic ticket, bee sting, a monkey steals my sack lunch — at least I started the day off doing what I love doing. There have been so many times when being able to think back on that little bit of space carved out for writing has gotten me through a bad day at work. Day Job crap could be flying all around me, and I’d close my eyes and remind myself that I started the day off writing, and that means the day was a success.
TP: Tell us a bit about your influences, literary and otherwise.
GvE: Wow, I’d love to say Borges and Coletrane, because I think that’d make me look classy and smart, but I’d be fibbing. In no particular order, some of the creative people who’ve most directly influenced my work would be Ray Bradbury, Roger Zelazny, Stephen King, Jim Henson, Bill Watterson, Tim Powers, Dan Simmons, Rod Serling, and whoever was doing Mad Magazine when I was 8 or 9 years old. I think a screen adaptation of IT done with Muppets would absolutely kick ass.
TP: Do you ever attend writing workshops? Do you like working with other writers in that kind of setting, or do you prefer working in isolation?
GvE: I went to Viable Paradise in 1999, a week-long workshop held every year on Martha’s Vineyard and a great option for people who can’t take six weeks off to do a Clarion-type thing. And this past August I went to the Strange Horizons workshop at Rockaway Beach, Oregon. The key to a good workshop is proximity to the ocean, really. In both circumstances, I got helpful feedback on my submitted pieces, but even more valuable than that was the opportunity simply to hang out with other writers. There’s the stereotype of the writer as some twitchy, poorly socialized, unbathed misanthrope, but that doesn’t map to my experience. The writers I’ve met at workshops have been hilarious fun. Smart, interesting, warm and generous people.
Writers certainly can work in complete isolation if they wish, but I don’t know why anyone would want to when instead you can walk down a beach with half a dozen people who share your passion for Moleskine notebooks. So, yeah, I like workshops and hope to attend more of them. But I do admit I go to socialize as much as I do to get my work critiqued.
TP: You’ve written a number of well-received short stories, and you’ve mentioned a desire to write a novel soon — are there any other forms you’re interested in trying, or that you have tried? Poetry, comics, screenplays, opera librettos, Iron Chef slash fanfic, etc.?
GvE: Hey, who told you about my Iron Chef thing? That’s messed up, man.
Like many writers, I want to try my hand at everything. Comics in particular have been a lifelong love of mine, and I’d love to collaborate with a talented, like-minded artist some day. That said, I do have to face the fact that my talents are probably not suited to every medium. For a time I wanted to be a cartoonist, and I thought greeting cards might be a good outlet for me. I even met with a guy who owned a printing press and wanted to give Hallmark a run for its money. He took one look at my samples and said, “Okay, these are actually disturbing. Your stuff is actually creeping me out.” So, you know, I’m going to focus on short stories and novels for a while before branching out too far afield.