I was honored to be interviewed by Joe Forrest, a really great writer, web developer, and overall geeky dude who found my books last year.
He is a huge cyberpunk fan, and we hit it off immediately. We have been chatting for a while now and I’m delighted that he felt that I had thoughts and ideas worth discussing. Below is an interview he did with me this past weekend, originally posted on his blog. Thanks Joe!
JF – Hey, Joe! Loving the cyberpunk world you’ve created with Marlowe Kana. It’s definitely an impressive work in the genre. The mixture of influences you inject into the story, the pacing, and the plot itself makes it a hard one to put down. What made you lean towards this genre in particular?
I’ve always loved cyberpunk as a genre, since I was a young reader. I loved Bruce Sterling, William Gibson, Neal Stephenson… Movies like Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell and, of course, Akira are foundational to me. But in my writing, I was always a “humorist” or “memoirist”, sharing stories of my life in an effort to get people to laugh (or at least feel better about their own situations).
I took a break from writing to do other stuff, and then my life upended on me. When the dust settled, most of the bravado and ceremony around my old life and old writing was no longer relevant. I was stripped down to my core. I learned to live a simple life and do simple things that made me happy. When I came back to writing, I decided it was no longer healthy for me to continue making myself the center of my work, so I decided to start writing fiction. Of course, the first genre that appealed to me was one that, when I started Marlowe Kana, wasn’t really en vogue: cyberpunk. In the last few years, the genre has made a comeback, which I’m super glad to see.
But I want to do something different than what I’ve been seeing. I feel that the stories coming out now are simply reflections of the work that was coming out in the late 80’s and early 90’s, complete with Asian fetishization and a heavy focus on how the tech of that time would affect us “in the future.” Well, we’re IN the future now, if you look through the lens of the Cyberpunk genre when it started. But every story I’m seeing still starts from the 80’s and 90’s and fast forwards, disregarding the stuff that’s happened since the genre was popular. It feels more like tribute than advancement of the genre. So, with Marlowe Kana, I really hope to start from now — our social, political, environmental, behavioral, technical, and commercial lives as they are right now — and fast-forward 100 years to see where we’ll end up.
Instead of street vendors selling noodles and circuit boards side by side, or focus on how corporate overlords nefariously rule, I want to talk about how reliant we are on technology for everything from food to socialization. I want to really discuss the role government plays in a world where everyone’s basic needs are met by corporations, and how peoples’ day to day lives are when they no longer have to work to earn a living. What do they choose to do all day every day? What does entertainment look like when you no longer need to escape your “day job” and decompress? What role does that entertainment play on reality, and vice versa? Who pays attention when everyone can broadcast? What does it take to get that attention? How do you keep it? And what role does that engagement play in your strategy, whether you’re the monolithic corporation providing for everyone or just a kid down the street with your own Feed?
JF – Marlowe is up there with Ripley, River Tam, and Number 6 from BSG in levels of toughness in my mind. She has a certain “it” factor for me. The character is simply appealing. What, if anything, drove the desire to go with a strong female lead?
It’s tempting to invoke some bullshit Joss Whedon answer here! The truth is that in our near future, gender lines and gender identity lines, racial lines, sexual orientation lines… these things will blur in ways we can’t fully comprehend right now – especially if technology and nature give us something else to be afraid of, like cybernetic augmentation or environmental disaster. They won’t disappear – there will always be bigots, but they won’t be the dividing lines they are now, just as they aren’t the lines now that they were in the 50’s and 60’s.
When that happens, the idea of “strong female character” will simply be “strong character” and I wanted to explore that as part of my future.
There’s also the fact that it’s far more challenging – and fun – to write a character that forces you to figure out difficult to understand topics and comprehend what life is like for someone who is not you.
Being a white straight cis-male, I knew I would be inviting commentary in writing a non-white, non-straight, non-male as my lead character. I don’t have any canned response to the critiques. It’s important to discuss not only the topic of bigotry and social divides in fiction about our near future, it’s also important to discuss it right now. And it all starts with ourselves, asking our own minds difficult questions. I want my vision of our near future to represent my concerns as best I can, which also mI and exploring all aspects of society as deeply as possible – even in my own current-day socially programmed (but slowly being de-programmed) brain.
JF – Science fiction, specifically cyberpunk, seems to be oddly prescient when it comes to its predictive capabilities. We basically live in a world now that’s very similar to that of Neuromancer and Johnny Mnemonic (minus the more outlandish elements.) Do you think your work has those qualities? How does Marlowe Kana reflect the current world we live in today back to the reader?
The emergent need for basic minimum income as automation becomes commonplace, technological solutions to our eroding environment, emerging hostilities among people in the same “First world” countries threatening global destabilization, American hegemony due to capitalism and luck… these are all concepts I feel are on our front doorstep, seconds away from ringing the bell. Alongside that, the technology we’re already immersed in — always-on streaming, citizen-celebrities, entertainment-as-news-as-entertainment, the idea that the average citizen understands the complexities of local, national, and worldwide sociopolitical change just because they can watch edited and carefully-curated clips of it on a little screen in their homes… Screens EVERYWHERE. All of this is here and now. It’s not the future, it just IS.
When Cyberpunk first emerged, that stuff was the backdrop on which warnings were hung. It all felt so far away back in the 80’s and 90’s… but when you go back and really look at it, nothing found in Stephenson’s or Sterling’s or Gibson’s novels was actually all that far off. Ghost in the Shell delved into artificial intelligence becoming self-aware and the degrading separation between mind and body, and it was interesting and terrifying at the same time — but that stuff was happening even then. It’s just more prevalent now. And that’s the trick to Cyberpunk, in my opinion: it’s the future based on NOW.
A lot of what is coming out right now… It’s still obsessed with the concept of Cyberpunk and the future based on how it first emerged back when screens and handheld units and downloading your brain to long-term storage was super far-off future stuff that may never happen. It still treats these concepts as “science-based fiction” and stops there as if those are the terminal points of our development. And it’s all based on tech, with only a slight nod here and there to the social ramifications.
Bad news… We’re not only there, we’ve moved past it. SO a lot of new Cyberpunk material has nothing really new to say but to take the old concepts, dress them up in purple and pink neon, and say “hey, remember Cyberpunk? That was cool, right?” (Except possibly Black Mirror, which doesn’t classify itself as Cyberpunk, but I certainly think it qualifies).
It’s rare to see authors and creators in Cyberpunk asking new questions. I feel like that space isn’t being filled — or at least, not to my satisfaction as a fan of the genre. Cory Doctorow and Andy Wier are leading the way, and I’m excited every time they release new stuff. It breaks my heart that there aren’t any massively huge Spielberg-budgeted films based on their work.
I want to talk about the future based on where we are now, not some nostalgia-drenched illusion of what we thought now would look like 20-30-40 years ago. I want to perceive, anticipate, and even warn about what the future will be from here, at this point. And I want to ask those questions and make those assumptions and explore those spaces. Very especially, I want to not only look at tech’s effect on society, but society’s effect back on tech once they’ve adopted it and made it a daily / hourly / minute-by-minute part of their lives.
JF – A common question that many writers get is “Where do your ideas come from?” Any writer worth their salt knows this is a loaded question. Where do you gather inspiration for your stories?
Everything I observe. The news. Journals. Life. It’s a tough one to answer not because the answer is complex but the opposite. Ideas are everywhere and no one has a shortage of them – the trick is doing something with them. Capturing them. Turning them into something besides just ideas. It takes discipline and time. Those two things are the keys to having “good ideas” – everyone has good ideas, but it’s rare to the point of special to see anyone take them from simple wisps in their brain and turn them into something someone can see, touch, feel, smell or hear.
JF – Can you describe your typical working day and your working environment?
An interesting question to ask right now, as I’m in transition from writing part-time while having a day job, to writing full time (again). Currently, I get up about 7 am, get ready for the day job, and do a little editing or general note-taking during morning coffee. I work all day, come home, spend some time with my girlfriend and dogs and cats over dinner, then get to work writing. I try to write at least four hours a night weeknights, and at least 8 hours a day weekends and holidays.
Soon, I’ll be doing much the same, only my daytime hours will be spent writing as well!
As for environment – for as long as it’s above 30 degrees and below 90 (and not raining), I’m outside on my porch. I have a really lovely cyberpunk-themed office with incredible lighting and an amazing huge dry erase board that I love, but my heart is always longing to be outside.
JF – Some tech nerd/writer questions: What software do you write on? Do you write story bibles for your worlds? Do you also do your own design work?
These days I work mostly on Google Docs. I’ve tried Scrivener, Final Draft, Pages, ZenWriter, all kinds of things… Google Docs makes it super easy for me to get to my work anywhere, from any machine. My editor can work on it and make edits/notes/suggestions, and we can track changes. I can deliver a piece to anyone I need to because it’s worldwide and free. So, it works.
As far as story bibles: sort of, yes, but only after I’m so far along so I don’t lose track as I go forward. So much of what happens in my writing morphs and changes as I write it, and I feel that establishing the story beats and concepts and planning my destinations before I start my journey are super necessary… but the path I use to get to those destinations, and where I head after them, I like to leave up to future-me. He has a better sense of what’s going on at that point than I do!
I was a web developer and a designer for a living, so I do my own design and web development work. Where I need help, like with illustration or back-end server stuff, I am fortunate enough to have amazing and talented friends I can hire to do that work. And here’s a protip: I don’t care if it’s your significant other, your brother, your sister, your mom… Pay everyone who helps you with their time. It’s fair, it’s proper, and it saves hassles in the future. Even if that payment is in service or trade, pay them.
JF – For those aspiring writers out there, what career advice do you have for them?
Writing is not a get rich quick scheme, or even a get rich scheme. I make a very, very meager living with my writing — but it’s enough to keep me writing, and that’s all I need. I spent a LOT of my life working for nice salaries, and writing nights and weekends because I can’t not write. What I found is that every job you ever have, that isn’t your core passion, sucks at some point. Your core passion is yearning within you to be explored and performed, and if you’re not one of the fortunate few who have been able to make your work and your passion the same thing, you’re going to end up with conflicting voices yelling in your head at one another. And this will suck. So, you buy your happiness, because hey, that salary you command needs to be justified. Toys and trips and external fulfillment get expensive, and to keep the validation coming, you gotta keep earning that salary. It’s a trap — it’s working that coal mining job so you can afford the medication for silicosis.
If you want to write full time, GET LEAN. Live small. Be enthralled by life, nature, adventures, human nature, people-watching… In other words, learn to be happy with stuff that costs little to nothing. Of course, there’s the Stephen King’s and J.K. Rowling’s and James Patterson’s of the world who have been fortunate enough to make millions doing their thing, but there’s also people every week or month or year who win lotteries, and they ain’t you, either.
So, to abuse a baseball metaphor: swing for the fences… But practice running fast, so you can keep making those singles count. If you’ve ever watched the movie Moneyball, you know that singles hitters are worth ten times what the home run kings are, anyway.
JF – What are your future writing plans?
I just quit my job and am returning to writing full-time starting May 1! To make that work, I’ve started a Patreon — http://Patreon.com/joepeacock – anyone who supports
me gets to see behind the scenes as I write my blog posts and novels and screenplays, and can ask questions about the process and see how the sausage is made.
On that note, I’m going to be blogging daily starting May 1 on my site, http://joepeacock.com – and focusing my days on continuing and finishing Marlowe Kana. Once that’s done, I’ve got another novel series that I’ve had on the back burner for years that I’d like to explore. In the meantime, I’ll be doing some tutorials and possibly YouTube videos on the process of writing a novel as I’ve learned it the past few years. I may not be the biggest authority or even a authority. But I’ve gone from writing a humor blog to publishing memoirs; from rants about cyberculture to full-on journalism; and now from exploring fanciful Cyberpunk ideas into a nine-volume novel series. I’ve learned a lot, and I hope to be able to share what I know.