Sunday, March 11, 2012

Interview with Ted Kosmatka - March 11, 2012

Please welcome Ted Kosmatka to The Qwillery as part of the 2012 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Games, Ted's debut novel, will be published on March 13, 2012 by Del Rey.

TQ:  What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?

Ted:  I tend to get very caught up in the rhythms of the sentences and the specific structural composition of the story, not just as scaffolding for the conveyance of ideas but also, to some extent, as a physical image on the page. At least for short stories, I’m always trying for a certain aesthetic balance, and if I lay the pages out on the floor end to end, I can get a sense of the shape of what I’ve written. It’s not until that moment that I can understand the story as a whole, rather than as a series of discreet scenes that may or may not gel into a single rhythmic piece. It’ all madness, of course, and I have no idea to what extent it actually serves the writing, but walking the story on the floor is sort of this ritual thing I do, so that’s certainly a quirk of mine. I also tend to revise and revise and revise; and the end product is always shorter than what I started with as a first draft. It’s a horrifying moment to realize that you’ve made progress on a story by cutting out two thousand words.

TQ:  Who are some of your favorite writers? Who do you feel has influenced your writing?

Ted:  I can’t get enough of Will McIntosh’s writing right now, and I’m always first in line to read China Mieville’s latest. I think Jack Skillingstead has been producing great stuff for years, as has J. A. Pitts, Eric James Stone, and Camille Alexa. I recently started reading George R.R., just to see what all the hype was about, and now I wonder where he’s been all my life. His writing just sings. There’s a newer writer Kelly Swails who has written stories I really liked a lot. I wish I wrote as well as Daryl Gregory. People who like my stuff should go read him instead. Rachel Swirsky has had another great year in short fiction. It’s also nice to see David W. Goldman getting recognition. Two excellent writers I’d love to see more from are Joy Marchand and Lon Prater. One of my favorite short story writers is Michael Poore, and his first novel UP JUMPS THE DEVIL is coming out in a few months. I was lucky enough to read an advance copy, and it’s amazing.

TQ:  Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Ted:  I’m a combo platter. I pant the beginnings, just to see if anything interesting develops. If the beginning is good, I’ll then panic and realize that I have to actually turn it into a story somehow, and then the logical, plotting side of my brain kicks in and starts putting up walls and support pillars, trying to actually build something useful out of what I’ve already laid down. I couldn’t imagine pantsing an entire story.

TQ:  What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Ted:  That has changed over the years. It used to be not having enough time to write because of my job--having to work swing-shift and double shifts. Always being sleep deprived. Years ago, there was even a time when the lack of a working computer put a serious cramp my progress. Now my biggest challenge is probably still time management, but I no longer have a seventy-hour work week that gets in the way. My work hours at my day job are now very reasonable. Instead, the main competitor for time is the two pre-school age children at home who miss me during the day and want me to spend time with them in the evening. It is still all very much a juggling act. In regard to challenges more specific to the writing itself, I will admit that I’ve come to accept that there are certain aspects of writing that I’m just not good at, and will never be good at. I’m no grammar ninja, for example. It’s embarrassing to admit. It’s like being a physicist who was a C student in math. The details and terminology of high-level grammar just won’t stick in my brain. What’s a gerund, you ask? Or a dangling participle? I have no idea. I’m actually kind of impressed that I remembered those terms, if only to identify them as a grammar words I can’t remember the meaning of. I have to keep reading The Elements of Style every six months, and still I tend to ignore it, or forget it, and allow my own personal grammar to shape the stories, sacrificing everything for a line that sounds right to my ear. I pity my editors.

TQ:  You are also a writer in the video game industry. How is writing a novel similar (or not) to writing for video games?

Ted:  They’re totally different. The kind of writing that writers do at video game companies is extremely varied, but almost none of it is in the same wheel-house as novel writing. It pulls from different source in your head. Game writing involves a lot of idea generation, and meetings, and collaboration. There is a lot of writing that doesn’t end up in an actual game. And nothing is done in isolation. There is a team of smart people who have your back on everything you do, and most of the time they’re coming up with better ideas than you could think of by yourself anyway. But with novel writing, it is totally different. It’s just you and the blank page, and it’s all about the disgorgement of tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of words that somehow get laid down in a way that doesn’t repel a reader. With a novel, you’re on your own, and the medium you’re working with is intrinsically, by its nature, boring as hell. It’s just letters and marks on a white background, after all. Somehow the writer has to make the reader want to sit there and stare at that for hours on end. It’s an almost insurmountable obstacle, and every time it happens, and the reader keeps reading, it is a little miracle, I think.

TQ:  Describe The Games in 140 characters or less.

Ted:  My elevator pitch you mean? Here goes: "In the future, genetic engineering becomes an Olympic event, and the decision to trust a rogue AI has disastrous consequences." I think that’s less than 140 characters.

TQ:  What inspired you to write The Games?

I’d written lots of short stories where the ideas were based around these little twists in science that allowed me to explore one idea very deeply. But when I thought of the premise for The Games, I knew that this was different. It was a bigger idea that I could take my time in exploring. I wanted to look at the idea of bloodsport from several different angles and explore ways in which science and sport might intertwine. Also, I’m very interested in the concept of artificial intelligence. I’ve been reading for years about future AI’s that seem now to be inevitable. But a part of me wonders if it isn’t more interesting to ask, once we’ve created them, what might they create?

TQ:  What sort of research did you do for The Games?

Ted:  Like most writers’ first novels, I think my whole life was research for this book. Every class I ever took in school. Every interest I had as a child. I studied biology in college and spent a lot of my free time reading about genetics. So all of that went into the book. I even bred mice for a while as a kid as way to sort of dip my toe into the idea that one can do more than study genetics as a system; one can be a practitioner of it. All of that worldview found its way into the book.

TQ:  Who was the easiest character to write and why? Hardest and why?

Ted:  The easiest character to write was Evan, for some reason. I think he represents that selfish facet that I imagine exists within the mind of anyone who cares deeply about some intellectual pursuit—the part that wants to allow yourself to become obsessed with your interests to the exclusion of all the other aspects of your personality that make you human. The hardest character to write was Ben. He was funny and witty; and those funny, witty characters are hard to write unless you happen to be one yourself, and I’m not. (though that doesn’t stop me from trying to be; my lame jokes are legend in my family)

TQ:  Without giving anything away, what is/are your favorite scene(s) in The Games?

Ted:  There was a scene that I wrote very late in the process of editing—and I mean very late—after the book had already been accepted, and I was doing a final clean-up of the manuscript, where I suddenly understood something about Baskov that illuminated his entire character and motivation for me. It struck me like a bolt, and it was suddenly there, and it came out in a really short exchange between him and another character. Just a few sentences. But those sentences explain everything to me about Baskov. So that is one of my favorite scenes. And then, of course, there are the fight scenes. Some film directors are in love with big explosions, but I’m in love with creatures fighting. Huge, unnatural beasts smashing together in impossible violence. The bigger the better. The bloodier, the better. I just love action scenes set against a scientific backdrop.

TQ:  What's next?

Ted:  I’m working hard on video games. I'm also almost done with a new novel called, for now, The Prophet of Bones. It’s an alternate history where science has proven that the Earth is only 5,000 years old.

TQ:  Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Ted:  Thanks for having me. I appreciate you taking the interest in my work.

The Games

The Games
Del Rey, March 13, 2012
Hardcover and eBook, 368 pages

This stunning first novel from Nebula Award and Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award finalist Ted Kosmatka is a riveting tale of science cut loose from ethics. Set in an amoral future where genetically engineered monstrosities fight each other to the death in an Olympic event, The Games envisions a harrowing world that may arrive sooner than you think.

Silas Williams is the brilliant geneticist in charge of preparing the U.S. entry into the Olympic Gladiator competition, an internationally sanctioned bloodsport with only one rule: no human DNA is permitted in the design of the entrants. Silas lives and breathes genetics; his designs have led the United States to the gold in every previous event. But the other countries are catching up. Now, desperate for an edge in the upcoming Games, Silas’s boss engages an experimental supercomputer to design the genetic code for a gladiator that cannot be beaten.

The result is a highly specialized killing machine, its genome never before seen on earth. Not even Silas, with all his genius and experience, can understand the horror he had a hand in making. And no one, he fears, can anticipate the consequences of entrusting the act of creation to a computer’s cold logic.

Now Silas races to understand what the computer has wrought, aided by a beautiful xenobiologist, Vidonia João. Yet as the fast-growing gladiator demonstrates preternatural strength, speed, and—most disquietingly—intelligence, Silas and Vidonia find their scientific curiosity giving way to a most unexpected emotion: sheer terror.

About Ted

Ted's work has been reprinted in eight Year's Best anthologies, translated into a dozen languages, and been performed on stage in Indiana and New York. He's been nominated for both the Nebula Award and Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, and is co-winner of the 2010 Asimov's Readers' Choice Award. He lives with his family in the Pacific Northwest, not far from the water.



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