The blogsphere is literally exploding with talented writers and poets, very few of whom get the attention they deserve. INTERVIEWS will introduce you to a new generation of writers and thinkers. So watch this space, who knows what you’ll find . . .
Science Fiction, fantasy and romance writer J. C. Conway talks about military science fiction, the influence of myth on his work and the need for writers to ‘study the craft’
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When and why did you first begin writing?
I write because I love telling stories. I started as soon as I learned to read and write. As a child, adults frequently praised my creativity. I had some wonderful, inspiring grade-school teachers that encouraged me to write whatever I wanted (which at the time was robots, dinosaurs, giant insects, army heroes, invading aliens and mass destruction, in no particular order). I found friends with similar interests and things progressed from there. Not that much has changed.
The majority of your writing focuses on science fiction, romance and fantasy. What about genres interests you so much?
First, I write science fiction because I was raised on it. I grew up during the space race. My earliest pleasure-reading books were about Tom Swift, Jr., boy inventor. In 7th grade I moved on to E. E. “Doc” Smith’s classic space operas like the Lensman Series, and later discovered the legions of writers that really challenged basic assumptions. They amazed me with their vision. To me, good science fiction involves plausibility or extrapolation, however remote. Since change is inevitable, it is illuminating to explore human reactions to change, even if it’s only to show that certain traits (for better or worse) might always remain the same.
I write fantasy for similar reasons. My introduction was through C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and the early version of the fantasy role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons. I later discovered T.H. White and other imaginative authors creating fantasy worlds from different aspects of myth and legend. Fantasy removes the plausibility of science fiction and instead creates a rich backdrop of nature or magic, which works much better for some stories.
I discovered romance much later. You would not have caught me reading it in my youth. But that was a mistake. In honing my writing skills I encountered many romance writers in classes and workshops. Through them I found a strong writing community whose skilled members help and encourage each other enthusiastically. I also learned more than half my plots are riddled with romance. Human relationships are a deeply-rooted part of our psyche. People change as a reaction to each other. I love the personal depth of a good romance, and I have learned it’s a genre that is both passionate and fun.
What books have influenced your life and your writing the most?
I love Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. I loved it the first time I read it in 5th grade and I still love it today. I haven’t put my finger on the reason, but it inspires me. If I can do that—whatever it is—I will be very happy.
In terms of life, most of Sir Arthur C. Clarke’s books have an optimistic edge. They help me see the future as boundless, despite certain human shortcomings. Ray Bradbury’s works are warm and intimate. They inspire me to be kind and interested in people. Ernest Hemmingway’s stories help me somehow feel more real and remind me to be here now and do what I do. Douglas Adams reminds me not to take myself too seriously.
Are there any particular themes or messages in your writing?
It really depends on the story I’m telling. I like to keep it fresh. My stories are funny, serious, terrifying, heart-warming, creepy, inspiring … anything goes depending on the protagonist and where I want to go with his or her issues. But I’m certain you will see some themes repeat. My protagonists struggle. They are generally in crisis one way or another—some world-shattering, some purely personal dilemmas. Many are cynical. Women are strong. Most of my main characters change for the better (but see Judge Bell in “Separation Anxiety”). My sense of humour is fairly dry. I am optimistic about the future and what people can accomplish. I like stories that make me think. I believe in satisfying endings—which may or may not be happy depending on how I see the requirements of poetic justice.
Which of your published works did you enjoy writing the most and why?
The one that stands out in my mind is “A Flash of Insight,” which appears as the first story in the science-fiction anthology Battlespace. I enjoyed writing that story because it developed over a long time spanning several leaps in my writing style. It started with a simple concept, a lone star pilot on a suicide mission to deliver an important breakthrough to a blockaded Earth. I toyed with many variations and really got to know the protagonist. Once the full story finally sank in, I then had the technical problem of organizing it. From start to finish the real action of the story was quick. Unfortunately, it required background for context—the bane of story flow. I finally resigned to the need for flashbacks (which I had been avoiding) and was able to craft the main story as a frame in a way that felt right. Finally, the Science Fiction Show called for submissions to a charitable anthology with a military science fiction theme. The fit was perfect and it was great to see a story I’d made such progress on accepted for a noble cause.
What’s your most important tip to new writers?
Study the craft. As fun as it is, writing is hard work. If you are an aspiring writer you already have the requisite inspiration and your voice is your own. Don’t shy away from instruction, embrace it. The more you get the better. It will not interfere with your originality. It will give you the tools you need. After that just keep reading and writing.
What are your current projects?
I’m seeking a market for my first novel, the fast-paced young-teen adventure I mentioned earlier. Seventh- and eighth-grade boys and girls have beta read the manuscript and love it. I’m also revising a romance novel about two archaeologists very attracted to each other but suffering serious professional differences. I’m close to completing several short stories and novelettes, including a Pandora’s-box scenario with a professor who thinks he knows best, and father-son conflict in the face of a world-sized catastrophe. For November’s NaNo I’m planning a science-fiction romance about a man trapped in an out-of-control colony ship travelling at highly relativistic speed and a woman in the far future struggling with whether and how to save him.
Lastly, could you recommend three books for TTR readers interested in science fiction, romance and fantasy?
Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress—agreat classic science-fiction story that is often overlooked but definitely worth reading. It’s written in first-person point-of-view and is also available in a very well-produced audio format.
T. H. White’s The Once and Future King—a wonderful fantasy rendition of Arthurian legend. This was a bestseller in its day and is still a very moving story, and quite distinct from the present popular media fantasy trend.
Stephanie Laurens’ The Reasons for Marriage—a terrific historic romance that delves deeply into the hearts and minds of two protagonists with conflicting views and an unsettling, growing passion.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: By day J. C. Conway is a complex-litigation attorney and by night a published writer of short stories. His first published story “Exit Strategy” appeared in February 2012 at 365 Tomorrows. He is a member of Romance Writer of America, the World Science Fiction Society, and the Yosemite Romance Writers. He has had two winning stories in genre fiction in the 2011 Writer’s Digest Annual Writing Competition, and a grand prize submission in the Yosemite Romance Writers’ 2012 Smooch Contest.