Q & A with Edward Aubrey, Author of Static Mayhem and Caprice.
Edward Aubry (Sherman_Bierce) on TheNextBigWriter is a long-time member whose work has fused elements of science fiction, fantasy, and horror into entertaining and original fiction. His first novel, Static Mayhem, reached #1 on the site’s All Time rankings and won the 2008 Strongest Start Novel Competition. His second novel Caprice, also reached the site’s All Time rankings. Both novels were published by WorldMaker Media. He is now fast at work at his third novel, Unhappenings, which recently made round two of Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award Contest.
Static Mayhem, the first book you posted on TheNextBigWriter won the original Strongest Start Novel Award in 2008. It's a terrific blend of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Where did the story come from?
A lot of places, really. Static Mayhem was a combination of several story ideas I had been kicking around in my head for years. I wanted to create a world that was a mixture of tropes from both science fiction and fantasy (which are vastly different genres, even though they are routinely lumped together). I had also been ruminating over the idea of telling a post-apocalyptic story that did not conform to any particular norm. It took a long time for me to realize that those two ideas were very naturally connected. After that, it was all about structuring a reason for that world to exist in the first place, and a conflict to drive it as a story, and not just a premise. Some of the characters were taken from half-finished story ideas, and others were created as I went. It was a very gradual, very organic process.
How long did it take you to write?
That depends what you mean by “write.” The earliest kernels of material that ended up in this book go back to about 1980. But I would say the first time I ever seriously sat down with the intent to write this novel and put words to paper was around 1994. I wrote a first chapter, an epilogue, five more disconnected scenes, and a very sketchy outline over the course of the next few years. I kept coming back to it as a project, but most of the work I did on it was in my head. Then, in 2002 I finally kicked myself into gear and wrote the first complete draft. That part took nine months. The revision process lasted on and off for another seven years or so.
You're now workshopping another novel Unhappenings. Any teaser on what it's about and the inspiration for it?
Unhappenings came about a little bit like the way I created Static Mayhem, but over a much shorter span of time. I had two separate time travel ideas I was trying to refine into stories. One of them was a bit of a reaction against The Time Traveler’s Wife. I loved that book, but there was an element to it that I found disappointing, which was the completely deterministic nature of her universe. Since it was impossible in that story to alter history, once the characters learned of terrible events to come, they were helpless to do anything but wait for them to unfold. It makes for wonderful tragedy, but as a reader I found the inevitability frustrating. I wanted to tell a story in which every trip through time makes permanent changes, and the traveler would be the only one aware of them. That’s been done before (Back to the Future, for starters), but I wanted to add the twist that a traveler would be aware of any changes, even those he did not have a hand in. So, my protagonist’s life is constantly being revised as he lives it, and much of the time he doesn’t even know why. The other story idea came from the observation that time travel is typically used either by heroes who want to right wrongs of the past, or villains who want power. I wanted to explore the idea of a person using time travel for a completely selfish and petty goal. Not to change the world, or even his own life. Just one tiny facet of it, without any regard for how that would affect anyone else. After a year or so of trying to make those ideas work on their own, I realized they were the same story from two different angles.
You're both a math and an English teacher. How have those disciplines impacted your writing?
I’d love to say being an English teacher was what gave me the skills to do what I do, but the truth is it was the other way around. I earned my English teaching certificate after I had already written two novels, and I did it on a dare from another English teacher. I love having the credential, but honestly all I’ve used it for is bragging rights. So far, I have yet to teach an English class, apart from occasionally filling in for a colleague. That said, my experience as a math teacher has had a huge impact on my writing. Mathematics is, at its core, a mode of thought that requires extraordinarily precise communication. The fact that I have spent so much of my life in a field where I needed to be certain I was saying exactly what I meant, and meant exactly what I said, has given me skills that transfer directly to writing fiction.
When do you like to write? What writing habits do you have and what is your process for writing a book?
“Habits” is a very generous word for how I write. I write whenever I find the time. Some days, that means staying an extra hour at work, some days it means staying up until after midnight, and some days it means writing a chapter on Mobile Office on my phone in a waiting room. The day I finished the rough draft of Unhappenings, I worked from 8:00 AM until midnight, in seven different cafes. That was amazingly fun, and exhausting. As far as process, I put most of my energy into prewriting. Part of that is outlines, and part of that is running through scenes in my head dozens of time before writing them down. Most of Static Mayhem was written on my commute to and from work, and all in my head. By the time I sit in front of a keyboard, I am often just transcribing scenes that have already been fully realized, rehearsed and memorized for days.
How has TheNextBigWriter helped you become a better writer?
I never write alone. The thing that made it possible for me to finish my first rough draft of my first novel was joining a writers group. Without constructive feedback, writing is just self-indulgence. The whole point of putting words into a fixed medium is to communicate with other people. Skip that step, and you’re done before you start. So, being on The Next Big Writer was invaluable to me as I honed Static Mayhem from an idea into a book. The rough draft was already done when I posted it there, but the final draft is vastly different, in part from amazing observations of my peers on that site. Even suggestions I didn’t use were helpful, as they helped me refine my intent with every scene. I have learned a lot over the last ten years as a novelist, but I still don’t trust myself to write a complete story without any kind of net. I want readers to tell me what I am missing, or what doesn’t work.
What other writers have inspired you?
Kurt Vonnegut. Lois McMaster Bujold. Neil Gaiman. Dan Simmons. Joss Whedon. Each one of those writers has strongly influenced a different aspect of my writing, although I’m the first to admit that I don’t think my stuff sounds like any of them. Vonnegut has helped me to keep my language direct, and to recognize that simplicity can be far more powerful than complexity. Most people lean on Hemmingway for that lesson, but for me it was Vonnegut. Much of my sense of character development and dialogue I credit to Lois McMaster Bujold. Neil Gaiman is where I turn for validation of my imagination. Dan Simmons has an ear for prose that gives me chills. And Joss Whedon has a feel for story structure that has hugely influenced what I do with the tropes of my genres, both in how I use them, and how I turn them on their ends.
Anything else you would like to add?
Writing has grown from a lark into a hobby that largely defines who I am now. The fact that I have managed to build any sort of following has been incredibly gratifying. I see myself doing this forever. After ten years, I am finally writing a sequel to Static Mayhem, which will be my fourth novel. After that, I will find another story. This has been a great ride, and I have no intention of getting off.
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