Top 10 Authors – Robert J Sawyer

I came across this author quite serendipitously. A friend saw a novel going cheap on a table of remaindered books, knew I liked science fiction, and so picked it up for me. This has been my lesson that seeing your book on the remaindered book table is not always a bad thing.

After finishing that first book it was only a short time until I had ordered most of his back catalogue online (the only place I could get him at the time). Like me, Robert J Sawyer is fascinated by evolutionary theory, and it creeps into all the books of his that I’ve read so far. I love that. Also like me, Robert J Sawyer has a cast of archaeopteryx hanging in his study, which I took as a sign that on some level we were kindred spirits.

I don’t know if having a deeper knowledge of the science behind his stories helps me to enjoy them more, but I don’t think so, I think they are entertaining in their own right. But as someone who has a bit of evolutionary theory and palaeozoology creeping into more and more of my stories, it seems a no-brainer that I would love Robert’s books.

However, even if evolution is nodsville for you, don’t let that turn you off. His novels are engaging, well paced and just a good read. You don’t have to have done university level biology to enjoy his books, but if you have, then I definitely think you would do well to pick one up and give it a go. I’d recommend starting with his stand-alone novels rather than his series.

Goals and reality

Yet again there is talk of redundancies going around work, and to be honest it has become the norm over the past 12 months. This got me thinking about what I would do if I got a redundancy, and I’ve decided it is time for another mini-retirement.

As a great lover of goals and spreadsheets, I set out my writing plan for the 6-12 months I would take off. I did take time off work to write once before, the problem was it only lasted a little over a month before it got taken over with packing, moving and setting up home in a new state. There is no risk of that happening this time.

But it means I only have a very small experience to draw upon of what writing would be like if I wasn’t working. So I’ve done the Stephen King thing of setting a goal of three months to get a first draft out, but I can’t help but look back at my experience last year where I got a first draft out in four months while working full time. Should I try to pop a short story or two into that mix as well?

Something I do remember strikingly well from my month off before was how little I managed to get done with so much more time. In fairness I was trying the online presence thing back then, and that was my allocated morning job, but it was like I was on go-slow when I had all the time in the world. Would I have the discipline to work as hard at my writing as I do at work?

On most Monday mornings at work, around 10am, I stare out the window and think about how desperately I don’t want to do any work. I usually have a meeting coming up, or a form to deliver and my boss sits next to me, so this little vague-out only lasts for a few minutes. If I was at home with no boss, no deliverables and no meetings, could that vague-out turn into half an hour, then a walk, then getting lunch prepared?

Perhaps along with my spreadsheets and goals I should investigate tools to keep me motivated and working? The last thing I want to do is damage my career with a sabbatical and not come out at the end with three finished first-draft novels and a script (that’s the 12 month goal). But gosh it is exciting to think about. That vague-out tomorrow morning might last a little longer than a couple of minutes this week 🙂

Continuity

I once got a gig on an independent short film as a continuity person. I went to great lengths to make sure the cigarette being smoked was always burnt to the right point in the conversation and that the girl’s scarf was worn consistently in each shot.

I got the job because that’s the sort of thing I pick up when I watch a movie. It’s a ‘skill’ I’ve rarely had to call on when reading a book, until now. This week I picked up a book that is full of continuity errors.

The character walks to another character’s house, and at the end of the chat he takes her downstairs to her car so she can drive home. She gets up early, describing the sunrise in detail, then goes to see a friend who comments that it is nearly 5:30pm so they’ll need to wait until the next day to go to a florist. It is as if no-one bothered to read the book after the first draft was completed.

I don’t claim to never make these mistakes, I can totally relate to changing your mind on something, going back to edit it, not remembering that you referenced the thing you changed later in the story. But that’s why you always do a read through when you think you have finished the book. That’s why you give it to your beta-readers, to pick up on all the little details you got wrong. That’s why you employ an editor if you run a publishing house before you commit the book to print.

This is not a self-published book, it is also not the first edition. I can’t see how it is possible that so many continuity errors have made it into the copy of the book I have. The story is well put together, so I want to keep reading it, but the errors really are starting to hamper my enjoyment because there are just so many of them.

It really has underscored, for me, the importance of beta-readers. I know there are a lot of writers out there who shy away from showing their work to people they know, but will gladly send it off to a publisher. I guess the writer I’m reading was like that, and she managed to get away with it. But I think in 99.99% of cases where this has happened the authors have not been so lucky. In a world where publishers are looking for a reason to say no, it is best not to hand them this mistake. I’m sure that’s why I normally see so few continuity errors in books.

Role of the writer

This week was Adelaide Writers’ Week and as usual I took time off work and sweated my way through several days of interesting writer chats. Unfortunately there weren’t a lot of authors I had heard of, and no long-held favourites, but it was interesting to attend none the less.

A discussion I found really interesting was between two crime authors who had both previously worked as journalists, Jennifer Clement and Margie Orford. When asked why they tackled certain subjects through fiction rather than journalism both women said the great benefit with fiction was being able to present the whole story and let the reader draw their own conclusions.

Journalism is usually slanted in a specific direction and is limited to less than 2000 words, whereas fiction allows you to get to know the victims, the perpetrators and how they came to make the decisions they made. You get a much more holistic and detailed view.

It is very easy to see the actions of a bad guy as wrong, but when you see where that bad guy came from, you realise the solution to these issues can be to take away what causes the bad guys to go bad. You can also see that the true bad guys are often people we see as good guys. Or worse, us.

I found it really interesting how both women talked of the dynamic between reader and writer, and that the story is not complete until it is read. They appreciated that each reader would take away different feelings, beliefs and emotions around the topic.

The authors also felt that books generated wider discussions and could have a greater impact as they travelled in a different way to journalism. Both writers had experienced their articles having a brief, but minimal impact, while their books took them to writer’s festivals and conferences all around the world, and in one case, to the United Nations. That certainly helps for getting your message out there!