Twilight Times Feature
with Robert Marcom
Interviewer: Lida Quillen
1. Does your creativity express itself in ways other than writing?
I sing, dance and fold beautiful origami, but only while I'm deep asleep. I thought I would learn to play the guitar, but I was informed by all who heard me that I was seriously mistaken. I'm told what I did to a guitar could not be called "playing" in the strict interpretation.
2. Do you feel you were creative, even as a child?
As a child, I did all the things children do with pencil, crayon and child's molding clay, plus a few things that void the warranties of the aforementioned. My father sometimes brought his grown-up friends into my room to see my collection of dinosaurs, sculpted from modeling clay and set in a diorama of my design. I entertained my mother with drawings of horses and birds and I entertained my teachers with spectacular tales involving activities and explanations. In other words, I often found the creative truth to be preferable in the scholastic environment.
I soon found that there are facts that are just as interesting as fiction. For instance, the moon, at this particular moment in the History of Everything, is exactly the correct size and distance from the earth to block out the sun. I thought Mark Twain made up this possibility for one of his stories, until I happened to awaken in the middle of a science class. You could have knocked me over with a pillow.
3. Could you share with the story behind the story? In other words, how did your writing lead you to your first novel?
My first book was a non-fiction CD book about astronomy and cosmology. I love astronomy, because you can be out in a field late at night without attracting undue attention from the police. You should have a telescope and a case of beer, though. I studied the stars, read up on cosmology and cosmic topology. I found out things that would have required that I be burned at the stake in the recent past. My urge to relate these things to other people, combined with my need to be loved for my horses and birds, has led me to write and illustrate my own work.
Although my publication credits include both non-fiction and fictional works, I would still rather make it up as I go. My love for science, and my conviction (twenty years to life, overturned on appeal) that the future will be very weird, expresses itself in my speculative fiction.
4. How did you prepare for the creation of your first novel? How much research was necessary?
My preparation for my first novel continues. I've written and had published four non-fiction books, as well as poems, essays and many short stories. I am still writing my first novel. The initial spasm that led to this future recipient of the Hugo Award was a conviction that human society would do to the universe what it has done to Love Canal. For those of you too young to remember that scandal, Love Canal is the big-business ecological equivalent of Enron economics.
Did you know that the southern U. S. once had its own variety of parrot? Now, it appears we may be able to drive cockroaches to extinction as well. Generating sufficient outrage at this thought prepared me to take on the task of writing sixty to eighty thousand words of speculation.
Research is a relative term. I say this in order to justify watching TV in my bathrobe at four o'clock in the afternoon. I've had to watch both the Discovery Channel and The Learning Channel for many hours. The topics are far-ranging. Astrophysics, ecology, psychology, planetology and human sexuality are all necessary to the telling of the tale. My wife does not buy the sexuality topic, but believe me, sex sells when nothing else does.
Research is both a lifelong project and a scramble to find the details you need for the next paragraph. As a writer, you are a solver of problems that didn't exist until you created them. (Come to think of it, so am I.) The problems you create must have believable solutions, and so you research.
The more reality you can manage to bring to your fiction, the easier it is to create your fictional world. Robert Heinlein tells the tale (Grumbles From the Grave, Ballantine Books, 1989) of he and his wife, Virginia, spending an afternoon on their living room floor with a roll of butcher paper, doing trans-orbital calculations. He wanted to be sure that the interplanetary journey he was writing into one of his "juvenile scifi" stories was actually possible. RAH did not have The Discovery Channel.
The direct answer to the question is that I find it impossible to say how much research I would have to do, because it's one of the things I do without being threatened.
5. What kind of reaction do people have to your writing?
My essay, "They Laughed When I Sat Down To Write," published in Inscriptions Magazine says it all about how others
reacted to my ambition to write for publication.
They all have to eat their words when they visit me at four in the afternoon and I'm still in my bathrobe, researching in front of the TV. Sometimes they say things like "No, really. Who wrote this?" And, "What a mind you have." Or, "Would you mind not standing so close?"
My friends try not to react in my presence. They usually don't believe anything I say until a publisher tells them whether it's fact or fiction. I put a great deal of time and effort into both, as far as anyone knows.
Reaction from my readers is usually more generous. Sometimes they react by buying something else I've written. This would be one of my favorite kinds of reaction.
6. Do you find anything difficult in the writing process, and if so what?
I try to write about things that I find interesting, and being interested in those things, it is only normal that I read about them, get involved with people who think about them, and so forth. That makes sitting down to write about things I like easy.
For instance, my interest in the sea led to my employment on shrimp boats. My short story, "The Redemption of Chug" resulted. My interest in rocks with funny pieces in them led to a lifelong avocational study of geology. The book, "Earth Rocks," evolved. I became curious about how things were done in the times of yore, so I studied archeology. I would still be an archeologist but I became interested in writing. Soon to be released: Digging Up Texas.
All seriousness aside, writing is bone-grinding work if you're doing it properly. Nobody wants to be exposed to the raw dazzling brilliance of your spontaneous creation. They would rather have something grammatically correct and easy to understand. In other words, your style will have to be beaten back into the box and you will have to rewrite the stuff until it's comprehensible.
Everything becomes more difficult, if you take it seriously. If you don't take language, grammar and content seriously, you won't be a published writer. Writing success seems to me to be the logical outcome of being interested in something, having something interesting to say about it, and writing it down in an interesting way. Then, you must rewrite it until it's easy to understand and to think about. This is not easy. If you do this studiously, dutifully and long, and without thought of recompense, there is an outside chance you will be discovered and rewarded. But, don't count on it.
I think the only thing that bothers me about writing is that it is a crap-shoot, and you don't get to throw the dice. Your publisher does. Of course, they also finance the bet.
7. Do you currently have any writing projects?
As a writer hoping to make a living from thin air, I'd better have, no? I am working on a book that tells the fascinating tale of the archeology of Texas for Republic Of Texas Press, which can be yours in the Fall of 2002 for only $22.50. That's a buck and a half per thousand years of human occupation. I'm illustrating it too, unless my editor can think of a reason to prevent it. See samples at my Web showcase: http://home.houston.rr.com/netauthor
"I could tell you about some other projects, but...," he glared ominously.
8. Is there anything else you would like to add?
Only zeros to my bottom line. Thanks for the opportunity to blather thoughtfully.
Author Bio Robert Marcom is the Chairman of the Electronic Authors & Artists Guild and the founder of and moderator for Net Author, an online writers community. He resides in Houston Texas where he is gainfully unemployed as an author, illustrator and photographer. His non-fiction works A Voyage Through The Cosmos and Earth Rocks! are available from Waltsan Publishing.