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Interview with Author Collin Piprell (part 1)

You guys, you may have noticed there's something secret happening around the CDP headquarters. No? You haven't? Well there is. Trust me. Let me explain---no, is too long, let me sum up (<-- yes, that's a quote from a movie. I simply can't help it). Yesterday was March 5th, 2017, which means that in only one month, MOM, the first book in Collin Piprell's AMAZING science-fiction series, drops on the unsuspecting world. That's not a secret. But what IS a secret is that you can buy it NOW, here, on the CDP website (and only here), a whole month early. Also, it's marked at a reduced price. Yes, you read that correctly. That's how excited we are about sharing it with you.

To celebrate, the perpetually shy author-creature has come out of its den---a very rare occurrence---to give us an interview.

However, once we got started, we found out that our author-creature is long-winded. I know, I know, long-windedness is so strange for authors! We considered shortening the interview, but Collin is so wise and came up with so many great things to say, we decided to break it down into two posts instead. So this is The Interview part one. Part two will be posted on Wednesday.

Let's do this. First, the cover:

Now, the interview (WARNING: mild bad language ahead):

1. Where did the idea for MOM and the Magic Circles series come from?

Many years ago I came across a reference to the “grey goo scenario.” In terms of bad shit, this topped asteroid strikes, nuclear wars and disturbed children at the helms of global superpowers.

Two days to convert the entire planet into blur dust. All you needed was one little disassembler-assembler nanobot, one “blur,” to escape the lab or for terrorists to let one out into the wild. Just one feral bot so tiny you’d need a powerful microscope to see it.

[T]he first replicator assembles a copy in one thousand seconds, the two replicators then build two more in the next thousand seconds, the four build another four, and the eight build another eight. At the end of ten hours, there are not thirty-six new replicators, but over 68 billion. In less than a day, they would weigh a ton; in less than two days, they would outweigh the Earth; in another four hours, they would exceed the mass of the Sun and all the planets combined – if the bottle of chemicals hadn't run dry long before.

– Eric Drexler in Engines Of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology (1986)

Eventually, it seemed to me, someone was bound to come up with self-replicating nanobots, and human beings being human beings – “homo saps,” as MOM’s villain Brian Finister likes to describe us – one of these tiny buggers would either escape or be deliberately released. Could humanity survive a contretemps of those proportions? Something even worse than installing Trump & Co. in the White House?

I hadn’t written much science fiction – only a few short stories – and never imagined myself spinning a sci-fi novel. But next thing I knew, I had some characters and a setting (a barely failed grey-goo scenario) and something began to take shape. Not that this process was straightforward. Far from it. It involved a long and sometimes painful process of banging my head against the draft bits as the plot gradually emerged. (I’ve blogged on that process: “Story: A conversation with the page” and “The Muse wears black leather.” )

Genesis 2.0, the sequel, was at least twice as hard. Not to mention twice as long and, according to some, not including my mother, twice as interesting.

Resurrections, the third in the series – which is really all one story – promises to be at least as demanding to write, though I’m trying to keep that one shorter.

2) What is your writing process?

That’s hard to say. My ideal is to get obsessed with the story and then wake up of a morning and go straight to the writing. No Internet, no breakfast, no exercise. Just write till the torrent starts to dry up. More often, though, I’m distracted by all manner of things and, by the time I get back to the novel, my creative energies and focus have been scattered to hell and gone. (Again, I’d refer you to the two blog posts mentioned above.)

There’s another way I’ve proceeded, however, and to good effect. I’m a big fan of the writerly retreat.

With MOM, I took some draft chapters and a pile of notes up to a friend’s lakeside cabin in the mountains of Japan. I had very limited access to the Internet, and nothing but an old rotary-dial black Bakelite phone that rang once a week when my friend would call from Tokyo to ask whether I’d burnt his cabin down yet. It was a frigid late October, and the owners of the other cabins scattered about the lake had all left for their city homes.

My routine was to get up with the sun, check the gravity-fed water supply, get the kitchen fire going for tea, do a little exercise on the deck overlooking the lake before wrapping myself in scarf and quilted jacket and getting down to the writing. Some hours later I’d walk about 40 minutes through spectacular scenery to a village where I’d practice my 12 words of Japanese while buying provisions, and then walk back to have a hot meal before returning to the computer. Around nightfall I’d make dinner and then retire with tea and a book to an easy chair by the kerosene stove in the living room, put my feet up on a hassock, cover myself with a lap rug and sink into the book in a way I hadn’t done in memory. No anticipation of ringing phones, no wondering about email or Facebook, nobody knocking on the door, no guilt about goofing off since no one could expect me to do more than I’d already done that day. Eventually I’d burrow into a heap of comforters in the bedroom, sleep like a baby, get up at dawn, do a quick work-out on the deck, and go at it again. And so it went. It never got even a little stale, and by the time I returned to Bangkok via Tokyo, Bob was my uncle. I had the entire book in draft.

I did something similar with another novel some years before that, except that one involved nine weeks aboard a derelict yacht a friend was delivering from Israel to Thailand.

I look forward to more writerly sojourns to come.

I also often spend long hours in coffee shops. I’ve found just a few that offer perfect mixes of distraction. However paradoxical this might sound, these particular distractions help me focus in on my writing. (See, e.g., “Good distractions and bad distractions” and “Writerly occupational hazard: New frontiers in creative foreplay.”)

3) How do your ideas come to you?

The process can begin with an idea, e.g. an interesting problem, the way MOM first did. Or a whole book can emerge from a snatch of dialogue, an idea for a character, or some bit of color you think you have to note, maybe not knowing why it’s so interesting, but the next thing you know it’s ramifying, maybe days or even years down the road. (Remind me to tell you sometime how Kicking Dogs came to be, or Yawn: A Thriller---a book, incidentally, that needs a kick in the pants, a new title, which I have already in hand, and a new publisher.)

But the plot, the final structure of the story, generally emerges from the hard business of writing and revising.

4) What do you most want the reader to know about MOM and/or the series?

The series as a whole presents a single story, new characters appearing in each novel to engage with whomever among the core characters have survived earlier events. There are serious themes underlying it all, though these need to remain in the background if the yarn is to be truly readable. One of the more obvious themes is that of new directions in evolution, and how we humans might still play a significant role in developments.

But the dramatic conflicts always have to come first.


And, BREAK!! Now go over to the Shop page, and BUY THE BOOK!!

Part two of The Interview is coming on Wednesday.

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