Welcome to my guest page. Here, every few days, I’ll be sharing a conversation, over tea and cakes, or maybe a glass of something stronger, if they are not driving, with a friend about their work in progress, or latest book release. I’ll be talking to all sort of writers and authors at different levels of their writing careers.
Today we have Jim Aikin with us in the Clubhouse Tearoom.
Thanks for the invite Paula! Oh, also … people tend (90% of the time) to let their fingers type “Aiken” without noticing. That’s dead wrong. It’s Aikin.
Oh, do they. Yes, I have the same problem with my surname sometimes to Jim. Well, may I start by asking you When you first begun your writing journey and what drew you to your chosen genre?
I didn’t know much about science fiction at that time, but I figured it
was probably a genre where having a good imagination would be a plus. My
first two novels were published (by real New York publishers) as science
fiction, but they weren’t hard SF. These days, when I’m writing
non-real-world fiction, I stick to fantasy. Most of the stock SF
premises are just too unlikely for me to get invested in them.
Also, in 1980 there were magazines that bought short fiction, and that
gave me an incentive. Those magazines are still around, I believe,
though I’m sure they’re struggling. Writing short fiction is, in my
opinion, essential to the learning process. I know some people start out
by writing a novel, but that strikes me as a recipe for disaster.
There’s way too much to learn about fiction technique! Writing a
dreadfully bad novel can take you a year; you can write a dreadfully bad
short story in two weeks. Also, if you join a critique group (which I
highly recommend — I was in a good one), it will be easier for the
group to critique short stories than to wade through a novel.
Tell us a little about latest writing project. Is it a new idea, or one you have been mulling over for some time?
I’ve a couple of projects percolating. I seem to be shifting from
fantasy to mysteries. The next thing I self-publish is going to be a
historical mystery set in ancient Rome. Once I have that proofread,
formatted, and uploaded, I have an anti-cozy to work on.
The Rome mystery was first drafted 20 years ago, but I never attempted
to shop it around, and that was just as well. The new version is
considerably better. I hauled out the pile of paper a few months ago,
edited it while retyping it, enlisted a couple of beta readers, and so on.
How many unfinished projects do you have on your computer?
Do you mean just fiction-writing projects, or should I include music
projects in the count? Either way, I don’t think I could come up with a
number. I have lots of ideas, and I try them out. Sometimes they work,
sometimes they don’t. Often it isn’t apparent for a while whether a
given idea is going to work. I have another novel that’s halfway through
the third draft (!) that may not work.
Do you write a synopsis first or write the first chapter?
A story begins with an _idea_. That may be an actual written chapter, a
written scene, or just a file full of notes. I do outline; I’m not a
pantser, and I don’t understand pantsers. The story may diverge from the
outline as it goes along. New ideas come up. But trying to wing it
strikes me as much too likely to lead you into a blind alley.
Choosing only five of your favourite authors, & can you list them in order 1 begin the top of your list and say how have they influenced your writing?
No, I can’t. Oh, do you want a longer answer? I can certainly name a bunch of writers
whose work I love, but (a) I wouldn’t try to put them in order and (b)
it’s not at all clear how or whether they’ve influenced my own writing.
With one odd exception. My second novel, “The Wall at the Edge of the
World” (published by Ace in 1993, and I’ve just self-published a
reissue) was inspired, to some extent, by a novel by George R. Stewart
called “Earth Abides.” I had read it as a teenager. However, when I
re-read it a few years ago, I discovered that it’s an awful book. What
stayed with me was the vision, not the actual writing.
My faves include, in fantasy, Terry Pratchett, Lois McMaster Bujold, and
Tim Powers. In mysteries I love a lot of authors — Ross MacDonald,
Donald Westlake, Carl Hiaasen, Sara Paretsky, and so on.
What did you learn when writing your book? In writing it, how much research did you do?
The next book I’m bringing out, the mystery set in ancient Rome,
involved a huge amount of research. At the time I first drafted it I was
living in Menlo Park, so I would drive up to Stanford and buy books from
the campus bookstore. I have a shelf four feet long that’s packed with
Roman history books. For a fantasy that’s not set on Earth, obviously
less research is needed. I don’t remember doing any research at all for
the Leafstone quartet (The Leafstone Shield and its sequels).