Sci-fi Saturdays: Interview with Serdar Yegulalp
My colleague Serdar over at Muse Hack is, like me, a writer. But it’s more than just that – he’s an accomplished writer, with several novels under his belt, the newest of which, Flight of the Vajra, having come out yesterday. Since it’s always good to talk to fellow writers, I thought I’d get a quick interview out of him.
But first, the bio:
By day, Serdar is a journalist for the world of business IT and consumer technology, having written for everything from the original WINDOWS Magazine of the 1990s to Computerworld, Infoworld, TechTarget.com, and the briefly-rejuvenated BYTE. By the other half of the day, Serdar is an independent SF and fantasy author. In 2006 he founded his own publishing imprint, Genji Press, as a way to bring his own vision for speculative fiction to a broad audience, and where he blogs about the issues involved in doing so. He currently lives and works near New York City.
So with that in mind, let’s get this started, shall we?
Flight of the Vajra is far-future space opera, set in a universe where mankind has made astounding progress with material technology and can bring into existence most anything that can be conceived of. Starship designer Henré Sim, our protagonist, has gone into self-imposed exile after one of his luxury cruisers was destroyed, killing his family (and very nearly him in the bargain). He’s lured out of obscurity by Angharad, a pontiff of the galaxy’s biggest religious order (known informally as “the Old Way”), who has a mission for him that may well change everything. They’re joined in turn by a whole slew of other characters: a girl who’s trying to run away from the circus; a cosmic playboy and his diplomat girlfriend; and two galactic peacekeepers, one only modestly human and the other not at all.
As I grew up, my tastes shifted, in part because I felt like I’d exhausted the pool of SF authors I found personally interesting and relevant. There was a period of about ten years during which I read pretty much no newly-published SF — and in fact no SF at all — and where I satisfied my curiosity about other things: Dostoevsky and other classics, doubly so now that much of this is being retranslated well; many Japanese authors; folks like Hans Fallada who didn’t get a fair shake when they were still alive; and folks like Machado de Assis, who were massively important in their own languages but barely known in English.
By the time I came back to SF I felt like I’d returned to a disaster area; there was so little going on that I wanted to read that I decided the sanest response would be to write some of it.
I’ve been able to hold to that schedule for several years now. Vajra was a major exception; it took two years and change, in big part because most of my books tend to be fairly compact (120,000 words tops) and Vajra was 360,000.
I try to put in at least 1,000-1,500 words a day when I’m actively working on something. That makes it possible to produce a whole manuscript in about 3-4 months.
Larry Marder of Beanworld has been another great inspiration — not just because of what he created (it’s a story where the main character is essentially a fantasy ecosystem!), but the fact that he did it entirely on his own terms and in his own way. Ditto Phil Yeh; I stumbled across his book The Winged Tiger in a used comic shop years ago and it’s one of the few things I have that has survived one move and two purges of stuff.
John Cage, the avant-garde musician, also comes to mind. I have a love-hate relationship with his work and his philosophy, but that’s exactly why I’ve kept up a relationship with it. It helps to have at least one friend whom you love dearly but disagree with on many things, and Cage served that function for me on an aesthetic level. I keep his book Silence next to the PC as well — albeit on the other side of the monitor from Strunk & White – and open it at random when I need a whack on the back of the head.
Learn to promote as well as produce. It’s difficult and time-consuming, and it requires that you develop a set of skills which may seem like wheeler-dealer b.s., but such skills are absolutely essential to building an audience. Nobody reads you if they don’t know you exist.
Learn to edit your work, or failing that, get an editor. It’s hard to see your own mistakes, harder still to rid yourself of them. I keep a copy of Strunk & White’s Elements of Style (4th Ed.) next to the computer, and in the back I’ve noted down a great many common mistakes worth avoiding (ensure vs. insure, impel vs. compel, since vs. because, etc.)
If you do self-publishing, learn professional production skills: typography, design, layout, the technical details of prepress. Too many self-published books come off as amateur jobs because they’re produced by people who aren’t aware of their general level of incompetence. A stock photo with some Photoshop filters is not a cover. Spend some money on good fonts!
Don’t do anything you can’t see yourself doing every single day of your life. If you write because no one could stop you if they tried, that’s the best reason. If you’re writing to become rich and famous, there are easier ways to do both of those things. Nothing is worth doing simply for the sake of attention or accolades.
Get out of the house and away from the screen every so often. Keep your eyes and ears open, and put your prejudices aside. You’ll have that much more to infuse back into your work when you return.
Keep on mastering your craft. You are never an “expert;” you’re just less ignorant than yesterday. Never be too proud to believe you have something to learn.