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By Rob Bedford (2006-01-13)Tobias Buckell has been honing his craft in the Speculative Fiction genres for a number of years now, having published over 25 short stories. Tor will be publishing his debut novel Crystal Rain in February 2006 (sffworld.com review). In this interview, Rob and Tobias discuss the novel, short stories vs. novels, and a new author community, SFNovelists.
Rob Bedford. First off, how about the TV-guide version of you and then Crystal Rain?
Tobias Buckell: I'm a Caribbean born science fiction and fantasy writer in his mid twenties. I've had 25 or so short stories published in various magazines and anthologies.
Crystal Rain is my first novel, and in it I went back to the islands for my inspiration. Some have called it a 'Caribbean Steampunk' novel. The book is about John deBrun, a man who lives among Caribbean exiles on another planet. His country faces an impending invasion by Aztecs and he has to find out a lot about himself in order to to do something about it to save his family.
RB: How long was the story gestating before setting it to the page?
TB: Not too long. I wrote the proposal over a couple months, but it was first turned down by the editor who requested it. I sat on it a year until I met my agent, who asked to take a look at it and fell in love with it (agents almost never take on partial first novels, it was a one in a million thing).
RB: Who would you consider your strongest fictional influences?
TB: The strongest fictional influences or the authors I like to read the most? I'm not sure what influences me, because I read such a wide range and so quickly. I was always a fan of the big three, I started reading when I was five, or maybe even younger. I started off with Clive Cussler, Arthur C. Clarke, and Heinlein, and then started reading lots of Hardy Boy novels! I've always loved a ripping good adventure tale, with a sense of wonder buried somewhere in there to jump out and surprise you.
In my teenage years I was quite taken with William Gibson and Bruce Sterling for using the Caribbean in a way that didn't paint it as a tourist destination, but as a play within its own right. Bruce Sterling in particular, with Islands in the Net, which was set on Grenada where I grew up, really opened my eyes to the idea of mixing SF and that particular background of mine.
RB: When did you start writing fiction and when did you publish your first piece of fiction?
TB: My mother says that when I was five or six she used to leave me with a matchbox full of printed out words in it. I would sit on the floor and create sentences for hours. I wrote my first short story at fifteen and submitted it to the Writers of the Future contest. In college I got very serious my sophomore year, writing and submitting stories to the detriment of class attendance. And grades. My first sale came when I was nineteen, and I saw it published just after my twentieth birthday. The story, Fish Merchant, published in Science Fiction Age, has a character who plays a very important role in the novel Crystal Rain.
RB: The world you laid out in Crystal Rain is pretty intricate, yet it seems there is much more than you have revealed. Are there plans to revisit the characters or the world of Nanagada?
TB: Yes, actually. I'm working on a new novel called Ragamuffin. Crystal Rain was my Caribbean Steampunk novel, and I'm hoping Ragamuffin is my Caribbean Space Opera.
RB: That said, along with the short stories you’ve written published which take place in this world, would you say these books form a series?
TB: I'd like to explore the worlds around Pepper a lot more, which is what my next book Ragamuffin does. I've been conditioned to hate the word series, so I'm trying to do series much like Bujold, or Pratchett have done them, wherein I use a cast of characters and worlds but in a very loose manner. I hope to set it up so that you don't have to read each previous book, and I'd like to leap around the various characters and locales and let others rest for a while. However Crystal Rain and Ragamuffin are fairly closely linked to each other, sharing some characters and focusing on the area around the world of Nanagada.
We'll see if that works :-)
RB: Every month it seems a new debate over Fantasy vs. Science Fiction seems to spark on the Internet, with some interesting ideas put forth. With elements of both of these, which branch of Speculative Fiction would you say Crystal Rain falls into, or like a lot of readers, do you find the more encompassing term "Speculative Fiction" the better way to go?
TB: Well, what would the internet be without vociferous debates that ended with someone calling someone else a Nazi? It's like heat death, something we plunge into despite ourselves. I usually use the term Speculative Fiction just to head it all off. One can argue about the definitions all they want to, I try to avoid being proscriptive as I enjoy both.
I feel Crystal Rain is SF, though I did set out at the beginning to give the feeling of the world as a world with myths, as all worlds have, about how it was founded. It was part of the worldview of the inhabitants, so I tried to bring that into the novel so that we could taste some of this from the character's perspective.
RB: You’ve been very prolific with your short stories, how different is your approach to novel length fiction? Is it an apples and oranges thing or is there a closer similarity?
TB: Vastly different creatures, novels and short stories. Short stories I usually write in a couple days to a week in feverish surges of activity, often staying up all night to finish the piece. Novels offer up no such instant gratification, taking a year or so each. I found I had to develop a lot of persistence to remain in love with the piece over such a long period of time. Taking occasional breaks to work on short fiction helped!
RB: Are there any plans for a collection of your short stories?
TB: I have enough published stories out for a collection, but so far getting a collection together hasn't worked out. So not yet, alas. I certainly wouldn't mind it. I tell myself that the longer it takes the more critical we can be with what stories are included, but I should work harder to see about getting something going. There's just only so much time in the day, and the second novel needs finishing yet, so the collection has gotten the short shrift.
RB: What types of writerly goals do you set for yourself on a daily and/or more protracted basis?
TB: I try to get my butt in front of the keyboard every day. I used to be a lot better at it when working the night shift, as I'm pretty much an insomniac. I now work an eight to five, and struggle to find the best time to write. Just for laughs I'm often up at 5:30am to workout and write these days, in the hope that if I apply some elbowgrease to my career maybe I'll one day soon be able to work those weird hours again. I keep a spreadsheet with what I wrote every day on it, and I seem to average about a page a day. Nothing spectacular, but it gets the job done.
Click below to read the second half of the interview