Death and Friendship.
Love and Gaming.
Mind and Machine.
The Meaning of Life.
High School Graduation.
The End of the World.
That Kind of Stuff.
If you press them, anyone who games will admit to some variation on the idea of how they'd love to be the hero for real, just once. Just for one day. But right now, I'm on an empty street five hundred kilometers from home, barely able to walk. I'm soaked and shivering, wearing someone else's clothes, and with way too many memories of almost dying rattling around in my head. And right here, right now, all I can think about is what I'd say if anybody asked me how much I want to be a hero...
I try to focus. I need to bring the previous days into some sort of relief that will let me sum things up.
"Me and some friends of mine, we got caught up in something. We thought we were beta-playing a game. An online tactical simulation, but the game turned out to be... you know what, that doesn't matter. But none of it was our fault, and now we have something this guy Lincoln wants. A piece of tech. I want to give it back to him, but I can't trust him to leave things alone after that."
"What kind of tech?"
"A Soviet-era mobile weapons platform, whose heuristic on-board systems developed advanced artificial intelligence capability while it sat forgotten in a bunker in Smolensk." Saying it sounds just about as ridiculous as I expect it to.
"I didn't think you wrote fiction." Connor tries and fails to laugh. It's like he has some sort of esophageal deformity that routes all intent to guffaw straight from his lungs to his nose.
"Not fiction. This is the truth..."
And now, for the interview!
What inspired We Can Be Heroes?
The story behind We Can Be Heroes is one of those uber-geek recollections that really has no interest for anyone except me. But since you ask… :-)
The novel is a kind of homage to my own experience of high school, and being a geek and a gamer, and developing friendships at that age that helped shape the person I was and the person I became. The book starts out in a kind of analogue version of the small town in which I grew up, and features an analogue version of the high school in which my precocious intellectualism was first given voice, and its characters are an analogue version of me and analogue/gestalt versions of the above-mentioned friends, and its baseline emotional story is built largely on a question that really defined much of my own adolescence — How we meet the challenges of a world so large, so impersonal, and so out of control that we as individuals have no ability to face up to it?
Then as a kind of ironic metafictional thing, the larger techno-thriller plotline that sees the main characters on the run from a private paramilitary group with a load of stolen technology is actually inspired by a roleplaying game that was a big part of the high school experience of my friends and I. For me as a writer, it was fun to play with the resonance between the different layers of the story, knowing how they related to each other. And though the book contains pretty much nothing in the way of actual events drawn from real life, I was able to write it very much with the feel of something “based on a true story”. To judge by the initial feedback I’ve had on the book, that sense of the story feeling real — of it feeling very personal despite a fairly high-concept plot and a lot of action — has come through in the writing, and that’s very gratifying.
What draws you to speculative fiction?
Like a lot of bored middle-class North American kids coming of age in the 70s and 80s, I was first drawn to speculative fiction because it represented a great alternative to a real world that seemed pretty profoundly dull. (With the benefit of much hindsight, I’m happy to report that I understand a lot of significant things actually happened during the 70s and 80s. But growing up in a very small town in Western Canada, I wasn’t in a much of position to appreciate them at the time.) And though my interest as a reader covers just about every genre and type of fiction, I continue to focus on speculative fiction and fantasy as a writer because I like to be able to tap into the broad possibilities of those genres.
It’s been said before by people smarter than me, but working within a fictional world limited only by your own imagination is both a blessing a curse. A blessing because you can tell literally any story that comes to mind; a curse because it gets very easy to tell stories that disconnect from the core essentials of dramatic storytelling — morality, the struggle for survival, and what William Faulkner famously called "the human heart in conflict with itself." SF & F writers can too easily get caught up in the world building that's a core part of speculative fiction and fantasy, and character story too often suffers as a result. Even working within SF & F, I'm a writer who believes pretty strongly that real character story is the ultimate point and purpose of fiction, and I like the challenge of crafting effective character story within the wide-open narrative vista that speculative fiction represents.
How do you view the future of indie authors/publishing?
Again making full acknowledgement that this has been said by smarter people than me, the publishing world is obviously at a point of massive upheaval and transition, and it seems pretty clear that the larger publishers (what many call the Big Six or "legacy publishing") aren’t doing a particularly good job of navigating that upheaval and transition. I’m fairly ambivalent about the whole tradpub-vs.-Amazon/indie-vs.-legacy debate that a lot of writers get very passionate about, though I don’t begrudge anyone the right to voice their opinions and back them up with action. But I think the one thing that is clear is that indie-author publishing is a great opportunity for those authors willing to take advantage of it.
I think that in the future of indie author/publishers, you’re going to see a lot more authors making the leap to define themselves as publishers first and foremost, in recognition of the importance of the full process of publishing — writing, story/developmental editing, copy editing, proofreading, cover design, promotion, distribution. And I think that indie author/publishers are going to have to do so in order to separate themselves from the increasing numbers of authors who simply focus on the first and last steps in that process — writing the book, then getting it out there without any real sense of whether the book is ready to be out there. Uploading to Amazon, Smashwords, Lightning Source, or what have you is only the final stage of the publishing process, and the unfortunately large number of writers who don’t understand that are missing out on the ultimate rewards of what indie publishing can do for authors.
If you could have a conversation with any author (living or dead) who would it be?
Probably Joseph Conrad. There are any number of writers who have inspired me that I’d love to sit down with for an afternoon over a beverage. But for me, Conrad had a singular ability to weave intellect and emotion into his narratives in a way that made each aspect of the narrative stronger. A lot of literature does intellectual narrative really well, but at the expense of emotional resonance; a lot of literature focuses on the emotional journey of characters but creates a kind of internalism that comes up short when dealing with broad ideas. Standing right at the transition point between romanticism and modernism, Conrad managed to nail down both the internal and external, the emotional and the intellectual, with a degree of skill that gives his works an incredible resonance for me.
Additionally, I think Conrad's writer’s journey is a pretty interesting one, and I'd love to be able to hear about that first hand. He didn’t speak English until well into his twenties and didn’t publish his first works until nearly forty years of age, but still managed to create some of the most significant works in English literature. That seems pretty cool to me.
What's a random fact about you that isn't a secret, but which few people know?
I spend much of my day in a state of seething rage at the world and all the people in it. (Except for all of you reading this; you’re totally awesome.) This usually comes as a surprise to people who know me casually, though most of those who’ve put up with me for a number of years know of what I speak. I've always had a somewhat dark view of things that I’ve spent many years trying to deal with (thankfully mostly successfully). In We Can Be Heroes, the first-person narrator Scott is a semiautobiographical version of me during my high school days, and his somewhat bleak view of the world is very much an echo of me on my bad days. The book ultimately is a kind of expression of the process of coming to terms with understanding that the world is only as bleak a place as our own fear of the world allows it to be. The Scott in the book figures that out in the course of the events of the novel, which means that on some level he did a better job of getting his life in order than I did. Still, the fact that I was able to write the book means I caught up to him in the end. :-)
Scott Fitzgerald Gray has been flogging his imagination professionally since deciding he wanted to be a writer and abandoning any hope of a real career in about the fourth grade. The time since has seen him indulge in educational forays in science, arts, and film, and the bewildering variety of occupations that have driven his search for the secret of the human condition include information systems specialist, multimedia developer, teacher, facilitator, journalist, production manager, editor, graphic designer, and logger (because this is Canada, after all).
Purchase links for We Can Be Heroes:
Also: I've been interviewed myself over at the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge blog! Hope you'll stop by--I talk about my favorite scientists and post subjects, and even what I might be doing for 2013's Challenge.
What do you think of self-publishing? What author would you meet, if you could? Have you read We Can Be Heroes, and/or do you know Scott?
-----The Golden Eagle