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Interview with Katie O’Rourke at Today’s Author

Bridge Daughter by Jim NelsonAn interview with Katie O’Rourke went up this morning at Today’s Author. I discuss writing genre fiction and the connection between Bridge Daughter and cyberpunk:

One science fiction author who inspired Bridge Daughter in an oblique way was William Gibson, a writer I admire a great deal. His early cyberpunk novels were a blast of fresh air in the 1980s. I was especially drawn to their near-future feeling, the way their world did not seem wildly alien to the world we lived in back then, just more gritty and claustrophobic. His world was the 1980s fast-forwarded instead of a new world invented from the top down. That partially inspired me to set Bridge Daughter in a world almost exactly as our own, save for the biological difference.

Read the entire interview at Today’s Author, and check out Katie O’Rourke’s web site and books on Amazon, including her Kindle Scout winner Finding Charlie.

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Review of Bridge Daughter and interview with Jeanz Book Read ‘N’ Review

Bridge Daughter by Jim NelsonSandra “Jeanz” of Jeanz Book Read ‘n’ Review has posted a wonderful review of Bridge Daughter. She also graciously interviewed me about the book, both its background and inspiration as well as the future of Bridge Daughter as a book series.

From her review:

Would I want to read another book in the series? Yesss! I would read the next book now if I could. In my opinion this book genuinely is a strong start to a potentially brilliant series. so I definitely want . . no need to read more.

Would I want to read other titles by Jim Nelson? I will certainly take a look at anything written by this author, especially if it is more like titles similar to this.

And from her interview with me:

What made you chose a Sci-Fi, dystopian genre?

The genre kind of came and found me. This is my first science fiction novel. When the inspiration for bridge daughters hit me, it came as a surprise—where did that come from?—but I wasn’t shy to explore the idea. I was a huge fan of science fiction when I was young, although I shifted away from it in my twenties. Today writing science fiction feels a little like returning to my home town.

Read the entire review and interview at Jeanz’ web site. You can follow Jeanz on Goodreads. And, if you haven’t already, order your copy of Bridge Daughter now on Amazon.

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Philip K. Dick on realism, consistency, and fiction

Philip K. Dick: The Last Interview and Other ConversationsI recently dove into the so-far-superb Philip K. Dick: The Last Interview and Other Conversations (from Melville House, publisher of the increasingly-intriguing Last Interviews collection) and am enjoying every page. I’ve written before about my semi-tortuous negotiations with PKD’s novels, and am finding (some) justification for my issues in these interviews with him.

With PKD I remain hamstrung: he’s more of a speculative fiction (and philosophical) writer than the run-of-the-mill hard sci-fi writer, which is right up my alley; I absolutely love his questions of existence, identity, and freewill that lay the foundations of his novels; and he’s a Bay Area writer to boot. And yet I find him to be a flawed writer, one who was so-very-close to writing perfect novels but had trouble overcoming basic hurdles, such as the cardboard characters and sci-fi’s obsession with “ideas” over story.

(For the record, my list of great PKD novels, in no order, remain A Scanner Darkly and The Man in the High Castle. I’m sure PKD’s fans find that list ridiculously short and astoundingly obvious. I still pick up his work now and then, so who knows, maybe I’ll find another one to add. PKD was more than prolific.)

In The Last Interview, PKD mentions to interviewer Arthur Byron Cover his early affinity for A. E. van Vogt. (I recall being fascinated with van Vogt’s Slan in junior high school, a book built from much the same brick as Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land.) PKD observes:

Dick: There was in van Vogt’s writing a mysterious quality, and this was especially true in The World of Null-A. All the parts of that book do not add up; all the ingredients did not make a coherency. Now some people are put off by that. They think it’s sloppy and wrong, but the thing that fascinated me so much was that this resembled reality more than anybody else’s writing inside or outside science fiction.

Cover: What about Damon Knight’s famous article criticizing van Vogt?

Dick: Damon feels that it’s bad artistry when you build those funky universes where people fall through the floor.

It’s like he’s viewing a story the way a building inspector would when he’s building your house. But reality is a mess, and yet it’s exciting. The basic thing is, how frightened are you of chaos? And how happy are you with order? Van Vogt influenced me so much because he made me appreciate a mysterious chaotic quality in the universe that is not to be feared. [Emphasis mine.]

It’s the questions after my emphasis that make the book’s back cover (“How frightened are you of chaos? How happy are you with order?”), and for good reason: they seem to strike near to the questions asked in all of PKD’s work.

But I’m interested in the line about the building inspector. Damon’s review of Null-A is dismissively brief (but I suspect what’s being referred to here is Knight’s essay “Cosmic Jerrybuilder”), and I’ve not read Null-A, but in principle I line up behind PKD on this one. Reality is not as sane and orderly as many writers would have us believe. If I’m critical of contemporary literature’s fascination with “hard realism”—obsession, really—it’s because I think PKD has put his finger on a kind of shared truth: reality is fragile, but what a thorough facade it provides. It’s one thing for the average person to think they have total understanding of things they have no access to—the heart of a politician, the mind of a celebrity, the duplicity of a boss or coworker—but it’s truly tragic when a writer writes as though they have this reality thing all sewn up.

In contemporary literature, there are many moments where the narrator (either first-person or third-) will have some moment of clarity into another person’s life. Often this moment is the epiphany, although it’s barely epiphanic. (See Charles Baxter’s “Against Epiphanies” for a better argument on this point than I’m capable of producing.) These moments are the obverse of contemporary lit’s obsession with quiet realism, its cult of poignancy. But there’s chaos in our world, and it produces strangeness and unexpectedness that is neither poignant nor tied to fussy notions of realism. These fictional moments of clarity usually reveal what the writer fantasizes the world to be—a charge usually leveled at genre fiction.

My only quibble with PKD’s observation is that I don’t see chaos as an external dark force in the universe tumbling individuals and civilizations about in its hands. We are the chaos. We produce it. I’m less concerned about the wobble in Mercury’s orbit than the ability for just about anybody to murder given the right circumstances. (See the 2015 film Circle for an exploration of just that.)

The human psyche is like a computer performing billions of calculations a second. Most of the results are wrong, some off by orders of magnitude. But the computer smooths out the errors (in its own calculations and others’) to walk a thin line of existence and consistency. And the computer tells itself that its footing is steady and sure, when in fact it’s walking on the foam of statistical noise. The number of calculations it gets right are the rounding error.

Update: Shortly after posting this I discovered Damon Knight partially backtracked on his criticism of A. E. van Vogt:

Van Vogt has just revealed, for the first time as far as I know, that during this period [while writing Null-A] he made a practice of dreaming about his stories and waking himself up every ninety minutes to take notes. This explains a good deal about the stories, and suggests that it is really useless to attack them by conventional standards. If the stories have a dream consistency which affects readers powerfully, it is probably irrelevant that they lack ordinary consistency.

Reading closely, Damon isn’t exactly agreeing with PKD’s comments (or mine, for that matter), but he does concede some flexibility on the supposed rigid strictures of fiction writing.

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Erik Therme (“Resthaven”) on Bridge Daughter

Bridge Daughter by Jim NelsonBridge Daughter‘s not even published yet and it’s drawing attention:

Have any new writers grasped your interest recently?

…I’m also excited about the upcoming novel, Bridge Daughter, by Jim Nelson. The first few chapters immediately drew me in, and I can’t wait to read the book in its entirety.

Erik Therme is the author of Mortom and Resthaven, a recent Kindle Scout winner. Check out his web site at eriktherme.com

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Here, Esquilax! reviews Edward Teller Dreams

Edward Teller Dreams of Barbecuing People-10_1410Dustin Heron, author of Paradise Stories and a good friend of mine, posted a rather nice review of Edward Teller Dreams of Barbecuing People. An excerpt:

In one of the books funniest scenes, the two apathetic rebels stage a sit-in protest for the lack of school pride at their High School. But it’s not a throwaway scene: in this novel, every scene illuminates, tells a joke, develops characters, and moves the plot forward, and big changes for Gene and Gwen hinge on that protest and its repercussions. But the broader and more subtle work being done in that scene is what makes Nelson’s book so effective and moving: Gene and Gwen are children of Baby-Boomers who decades before put flowers in their hair and “changed the world” and continued to congratulate themselves for doing so and who all of a sudden became middle management protecting the status quo they now had a vested interest in.

Read the full review, and while you’re at it, check out Dustin’s entire web site, which features stories, essays, improvisations, and more.

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Interview with NextSpace: “Looking Ahead: Tips for Successful Career Transitions”

Earlier today Charity Yoro of NextSpace coworking posted an interview with me. On a pleasant afternoon a couple of weeks ago, sitting in Old Mint Plaza drinking New Orleans iced coffee (it was a rough slog), we talked about work, writing, and finding a balance between the two:

Capitalizing on the e-book revolution, Jim found that it was pretty easy to self-publish, as long as you could manage independently promoting your product. So last July, long before the announcement of the end of his company, Jim built a website. He published and sold his e-books on Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Nobles, and iTunes.

“You have to approach your craft with the same seriousness and intention as full-time work,” says Jim. “In terms of writing, it doesn’t just happen; it’s a different process.”

Read the whole interview. The photo is me doing my best to look authorly.

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Up at The Tusk, “This Shit Ain’t Ever Going to Work”

Edward Teller Dreams of Barbecuing People-10_1410The Tusk has posted a new piece of mine about the tortured history of my new novel Edward Teller Dreams of Barbecuing People. A sample:

And how could I forget my friend’s father returning home one afternoon from work, tie loose and hair splayed, bedraggled from wrestling some top-secret problem? Most likely not a problem scientific in nature, but bureaucratic. Thirteen years of age or so, a computer geek-in-training (largely because I wanted to grow up and write video games, unaware that a prerequisite for writing video games is to have never grown up), I was fascinated with the engineering problems these nuclear scientists must have faced every day. Sitting cross-legged on the lime-green living room shag playing Axis & Allies (and losing badly), I asked how his latest project was proceeding.

He leaned down to my ear and whispered: “Jim, this shit ain’t ever going to work.” Then he went to the kitchen and cracked open a beer from the refrigerator. By “this shit” he meant the LLNL’s latest budget-busting project, the Strategic Defense Initiative, a la Star Wars, a system of laser-equipped satellites promised to protect our country from ICBM attack and end the Cold War. You know, that Cold War, the mad weapons race the laboratory at Livermore had enabled and fostered and contributed to over the prior thirty years.

Read the whole thing at The Tusk. And while you’re at it, read Nate Waggoner’s brilliant dissection of how authors’ are learning to burnish their own laurels in today’s world of social media and independent publishing, “On Self-Promotion”.