|What's your background?
My father was the son of a fisherman in a tiny village on the coast
of Newfoundland, and fished himself from the age of twelve to help
support his family. My mother was the daughter of a senior army commander
and grew up in the privileged confines of Embassy Row in Ottawa. I
was born in Toronto and grew up various places in southern Ontario
in a typical middle class urban North America setting that was as
alien to them as it was to me. As a result of this three way culture
clash I learned that the social ground truths taken for granted by
most of my peers were in fact supremely mutable . When I was a teenager
my father's work took him to every continent, and often my mother
went with him. They filled our house with strange trinkets from places
I had only read about, and that fired my desire to explore the world.
By then I was already an avid reader of science fiction and there
seemed to be little difference between exotic lands distant in space
and other worlds distant in time or imagination. In every case small
changes in the base assumptions led to wide differences in the way
people lived their lives. I dreamed of being a writer the way younger
children dream of being cops or firefighters, though I planned a career
in computer systems. To me the infinite maleability of software was
another route to the creation of my own world.
How did you start writing?
I really began as a teenager, putting together small stories for my
own amusement, but my first love was computer science. After school
I worked on a few development projects, and eventually found myself
writing accounting software for a small consulting company. Most technology
companies are fun, but this one was straight out of Dilbert, pointy
haired boss and all. I found the work stultifying, with little room
for creativity. To make matters worse the company was ruled by timesheets,
and any time spent away from my desk had to be logged off and made
up later. Writing software is a creative endeavour, and, for me at
least, it's often more productive to go for a walk and come back with
a fresh perspective than it is to stare blankly at the screen for
an hour. I was adamant that this rule would not serve to force me
into giving them free overtime, making up the time spent on a walk
after hours, so in order to get my head out of the code without actually
leaving my desk I simply switched my screen and typed the story that
became Prisoner of War, set in Larry Niven's Man-Kzin Wars series.
When it was done (long after I had left that job) I polished it up
and sent it to Larry, not really expecting to hear back from him.
However, I did hear back from him, and he wanted to publish the story.
The rest, as they say, is history.
What are you working on now?
My current main work-in-progress is Destiny's Forge, which is a full
length novel of the Man Kzin Wars, which covers the final, climactic
war between humans and the Kzinti. It's planned length is 200,000
words, but as I approach that figure it's clear it's going to be a
fair bit longer. It's going to be a good, thick book.
How long does it take you to finish a book?
It depends on the book, of course, and what else is going on in my
life. I wrote Mission Critical in six weeks flat, for an average of
ten thousand words a week. This about what I can produce when there's
nothing else going on in my life, but of course this is rarely the
case! Between academic and military demands I average around ten thousand
words a month. A hundred and twenty thousand words is a typical book
length, so I produce roughly a book's worth of material in a year,
within wide bounds.
Do you work on several projects at once?
Usually I have a few projects on the go. In the two years I've been
working on Destiny's Forge I've completed two novellas and a screenplay
in addition to various academic endeavours and military taskings.
How many drafts do you go through to complete a story?
Word processing has changed the meaning of a draft. As a story progresses
and evolves I am continually revising it to maintain continuity both
forward and backward, and sometimes will move whole sections around
to make it flow better, processes that would once be saved for second
and third drafts. Once it's finished I will go through it from top
to bottom at least twice to correct spelling and grammar and catch
continuity errors, but these revisions are not really drafts, in that
I won't change the story structure while I'm doing this. The process
is less efficient than writing the whole thing, then going through
and fixing it in one or two complete passes, but for me it results
in a better end product.
What's your favourite book?
There's no single answer, there are a lot of great books out there.
Books I've read more than once include Watership Down, Tom Sawyer
and Huckleberry Finn, Dune, Damon Runyan's short stories, lots of
Edgar Allen Poe, the Hobbit, the Sherlock Holmes, the War of the Worlds
and many hundreds more
What are your influences?
Larry Niven of course, since a lot of my work is set in his universe,
and Donald Kingsbury, who has been tremendously helpful in giving
me guidance to get my career off the ground. When I was young I read
most of the classics of science fiction, not even understanding at
the time how classic they were. I think it's impossible to write anything
in the field today which doesn't find its way back to people like
Arthur C Clarke, Robert Heinlein, Poul Anderson, Isaac Asimov, and
Frank Herbert, and before them to HG Wells, Jules Verne and, ultimately,
Mary Shelley. I also find a lot of inspiration in film, although oddly
not much from science fiction films, the notable exception being Bladerunner.
I am a very visual thinker, and good film creates mood and motion
in that I can translate to the page in a very satisfying way. You
can find scenes in my writing which owe their stylistic sense to scenes
from Apocalypse Now, Clear and Present Danger and Frankenstein, among
others, although the plot, setting and characters involved are completely
Do you work in other genres?
Science fiction is my mainstay, but I have done a few projects outside
of that scope, including a spy thriller, a screenplay on the air war
in Vietnam and a stereotypical trash romance (admittedly written more
for fun than profit). They haven't sold yet, which may explain why
science fiction remains my mainstay. I also have some non-fiction
science books that I want to write.
Is writing a full-time job for you?
I don't have a day job any longer, which is a pleasant place to be
in. I am a reserve infantry officer in the Canadian Forces, and from
time to time I take postings with the CF. Also, my love affair with
science in general and computer engineering in particular continues.
For the last few years I've been doing research with the Innovation
Lab at Dalhousie University on computer vision systems. My latest
project is a VLSI vision chip, basically a silicon retina, done in
conjunction with Dr. Peter Gregson at the IDLab.