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Genre Chick Interview: Tobias S. Buckell

Tobias S. Buckell is a Caribbean-born speculative fiction writer who grew up in Grenada, the US, and the British Virgin Islands. He now lives (through many odd twists of fate and strangely enough to him) in a small college town in Ohio with his wife Emily. His short fiction has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies. His debut fantasy novel, Crystal Rain, will be released from Tor Books on February 7th.

Alethea Kontis: This is your first novel… are you still excited about it? Are you completely sick of it yet?
Tobias Buckell: I’m still very excited about it. I’ve been reading novels for as long as I can remember, ever since I was five or six years old. Growing up on a small island in the Caribbean I never dreamed I would become someone who actually wrote books! The world of authors seemed so terribly and mysteriously distant from me, and yet now I get to hold my own book in my own hands. It’s the greatest thrill. As I get closer to the launch date, it’s like being six all over again, like I’m waiting for Christmas to arrive. Every time I think about it, I just can’t get over how soon it happens, and yet it seems to be taking forever for those last few days to tick on by. I almost can’t bear it.

That isn’t to say I haven’t seen a lot of the book. I had no idea how much work went into a book once you officially ‘sold’ it. Selling the book was just the beginning. After going through the copy edit line by line, I would say I got a little over-familiar with my own words, and that always ends with me second guessing whether I can write at all [laughs].

A.K: What are you working on next?
T.B.:
The next novel is called Ragamuffin. It explores the universe in which Crystal Rain was set a little bit more through a new set of characters. I’m almost done with it, too, for which I’ll be glad, as I found it a much more difficult novel to write.

Crystal Rain was what I call a ‘lost colony’ novel, about a group of people separated from a larger context, and the landscape in that first book is very neo-industrial and neo-Victorian in its technology. That was a reference back to all the exciting and pulpy adventure books that had blimps with brass fittings and gleaming steam engines, which I love. In a lot of the old pulp adventure novels, minorities are never depicted all that well, so Crystal Rain was an attempt to write a novel that echoed the fun adventure but with a strong cast of diverse characters. My own reinterpretation, if you will. Ragamuffin is a novel that hopefully will reinterpret a lot of space adventure SF with the same viewpoint. I call Crystal Rain my “far future Caribbean steampunk novel” and Ragamuffin my “Caribbean space opera.”

A.K.: You have some amazing cover art. Did you have any say in the cover at all?
T.B.: The cover art is by Todd Lockwood, who is an amazing artist. He’s done work for TSR and Magic: The Gathering, as well as covers for R.A. Salvatore’s novels. He has this dynamic perspective in a lot of his work that’s just amazing and brings things to life and he really did something incredible for my book, it really gets people’s attention. My editor Paul Stevens lobbied for him, and Tor’s art department agreed. Irene Gallo is the person who runs their art department, and she is awesome. The initiative there was by my editor, so kudos to him for picking out a wonderful artist and running that by Irene.

I cut out a section of the novel that my editor thought would be a good illustrative scene, wrote up a page description explaining more about the characters and their situation, and Tor sent that to Todd. I got to see the original sketches that were run by the art department from Todd, and I thought he was on the right track and then some. When the art came back I couldn’t believe how lucky I was; it not only captured the spirit of the novel, but it was a perfect snapshot from the book.

A.K.: I know you are a member of Codex Writers and other writing groups–how do you feel writing groups affect your work? Will you continue to participate even now that you’ve “made it?”
T.B.:
There are a number of official and unofficial writers organizations I belong to. SFWA (the Science Fiction Writers of America at www.sfwa.org) is one such official group of writers I belong to. I also hang out with unofficial groups of writers at Codex (www.codexwriters.com), and SF Novelists (www.sfnovelists.com). It’s a way for us to get together and compare notes and chat about various writerly things that obsess just us. Writing is a very lonely activity; you don’t get to go to an office and chat about work issues at the coffee pot. So it’s no surprise that a lot of writers hang out online or gather together in various ways. And though I think I’m far from ‘making it,’ I don’t see my tendency to want to chat with other writers going away.

A.K.: How important do you feel a Web site is to an author?
T.B.:
I think a Web site is essential these days. It’s like a business not having a phone number. Why actively discourage readers from being able to find out more about you?

I’m slightly biased, however, as my entire career wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for my Web page, to be honest. In ’98 I had just moved to the US from the Caribbean and was starting college. I’d been writing some, but not much. I started a Web journal to chronicle my attempts to get published, as well as to join a community of other writers who were journaling online at the time. Within a year or so, my Web journal became more of what is known today as a Web log; a daily posting of links of interest to me, thoughts, and reporting on my writing. Other writers met me online and convinced me to go to workshops, and then to conventions, which was where I met my agent. My agent asked me for a novel proposal, which is almost unheard of, and he liked it so much he asked me to write my first novel, which was Crystal Rain.

Due to my Web log, almost a thousand people a day visit my Web site. We’re hoping that helps spread word about my novel. In fact, I began posting the first entire third of the novel up online a chapter a day on January 15th.

A.K.: In what ways have libraries influenced you and/or your work?
T.B.:
Where I grew up the libraries were nothing like you have in the US. People here are so lucky and they don’t even know it! Libraries here are great resources, and I’m always excited to see a small town with a well kept, large library.

I used to depend on things called ‘book exchanges’ in the islands where I grew up. You would find a corner of a hotel lobby in a marina, or a shelf in a dive shop, full of books. The idea was you would take three books and leave three books. I admit I used these as libraries, as I didn’t always have books to replace the ones I took, but I usually returned them. I used to go through the school libraries in the Virgin Islands in my teens at the rate of a book a day, and when I arrived in the US as a high school senior, kept that pace up. The school librarians got to know me pretty quickly.

A.K.: Were you on Santa’s “naughty” or “nice” list?
T.B.:
[Laughs]. That’s between me and Santa!

A.K.: If you could be any superhero, who would you be?
T.B.:
I’m a Batman kind of guy. He didn’t have any superpowers, no mystical abilities or irradiated bites. He trained hard, studied hard, and worked hard. Anytime he goes into battle he’s depending on entirely human skills. Batman is the Horatio Alger of the superhero world, and I really dig that.

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