A series of interviews about a sequence of movies is an unusual way to relate a story about the discovery of alien life. How did you decide on that structure?
I like the challenge of writing stories in non-story formats, such as a legal vetting letter (bit.ly/2c66A4t) or a Buzzfeed listicle (forthcoming at Daily Science Fiction). One of my personal projects is creating a spec fic version of The New York Times Magazine. For instance, my story in AE, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” is modeled on the “Diagnosis” column. I have another story on submission that’s structured like a feature piece. “Fade to Mars” is based on my friend Bruce Fretts’s interview with Andrew Jarecki after the finale of his HBO documentary The Jinx. I began writing the last interview first, then realized that I needed two previous interviews to set it up, thereby creating a lifelong interview that paralleled the lifelong movie in the story.
I’ve read this story at least four times now for various purposes, and I only noticed in the most recent reading that you put yourself in as a character in the story! And there are only two characters, really . . . so I might just be oblivious. But in any case, that’s a surprising choice. What influenced it?
Someone had to be the interviewer, so I figured, why not me? I love cameos, such as Vonnegut walking into his novels or, more prominently, Rob Reiner directing and playing the director in Spinal Tap. It certainly made things less complicated. I’m glad you didn’t notice story-me, though, because an interviewer should be invisible, like the never-named reporter in Citizen Kane. The story isn’t mine. It’s Brynne’s, although she and story-me did build up a rapport over the years. They try to meet at film festivals whenever they . . . Cannes.
It’s Brynne’s joke, not mine. I just can’t resist using it.
Do you have any familiarity with how movies are directed, or did you have to do research for the story?
I’m fascinated by how movies are made. One of my favorite shows on YouTube, for instance, is Every Frame a Painting. For me, DVDs are all about the commentaries, much to the dismay of my family, for whom they are not, especially the thirty-six or so hours of commentary to The Lords of the Rings extended editions. And as a book editor, I’ve worked on several film books, such as Dan Auiler’s Hitchcock’s Notebooks. So a lot of the movie material came from me stitching together stuff I happened to know. I even threw in a few Easter eggs. Byrnne’s line, “Early on I decided to cut anything not about getting the tile home,” mimics Peter Jackson’s strategy of cutting everything from Tolkien that didn’t get the ring to Mordor.
I figured the science would be much tougher to devise, but the Google kept shining on me. I can’t believe I found that story about Cernan filming the lunar module. And the rover cannon is based on technology developed in the ’60s. Oddly enough, in looking for the link to the source I used, I found a piece in Universe Today from April 2016, long after the story was written, about using a hydrogen cannon to launch payloads into orbit. So maybe I’m prescient. “Fade” also seems to have predicted Brexit.
Could you tell us about your recently released novel, The Dragon Round?
It’s The Count of Monte Cristo with a dragon. My hero, though, makes some choices that differ from Edmond Dantès’s.
You wrote poetry previously—
Yes, for fifteen years.
So why shift to writing a novel?
I’d always wanted to write a novel, but I’d never had a decent idea until one day at Wiley, where I was a senior editor. My colleague, Eric Nelson, and I were talking about a book his son, Asa, was reading, and he said, “Why would anyone write a book for kids without a dragon?” And I said, “Why would anyone write a book for anyone without a dragon in it? Wait . . .” Then I went back to my office and quickly outlined a series of six books, each of which would cover a pivotal moment in human-dragon interactions in the same way that each chapter of World War Z covers a pivotal moment in the zombie war. I showed this to Eric, who said, “So what’s in Book Two for someone who’s read Book One?” the second taking place long after the first. I realized I’d actually outlined a series of series, went back to my office and wrote a short outline to the sequel to The Dragon Round, which will be called The Dragon Tower.
I should add that, at the time, Eric and I knew we’d be laid off in a few months because Wiley was selling our editorial line. Afterwards, Eric became my agent, and sold the book to S&S, which was only fitting because, without him, there would’ve been no book. And if I hadn’t been laid off, there might not have been a book either. I received a fantastic severance package, and given that The Dragon Round is about a ship captain screwed over by his company, Wiley thus provided both the impetus and the means for me to write it.
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