Alexander Jablokov will be a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey workshop. He writes science fiction for readers who won’t give up literate writing or vivid characters to get the thrills they demand. He is a natural transition for non-SF readers interested in taking a stroll with a dangerous AI or a neurosurgeon/jazz musician turned detective, while still giving hardcore SF fans speculative flash, incomprehensible aliens, and kitchen appliances with insect wing cases.
From his well-regarded first novel, Carve the Sky, an interplanetary espionage novel set in a culturally complex 25th century, through the obscenely articulate dolphins with military modifications of a Deeper Sea, the hardboiled post-cyberpunk of Nimbus, the subterranean Martian repression of River of Dust, and the perverse space opera of Deepdrive, he has come to Brain Thief, a contemporary high-tech thriller with a class clown attitude.
Alex has a day job: he is a marketing executive for a financial services firm. He does his writing during the mornings, and on weekends. It took him several years to figure out how to get any writing done at all, particularly since he hates getting up early and hates working on weekends, but has somehow managed it.
Once you started writing seriously, how long did it take you to sell your first piece? What were you doing wrong in your writing in those early days?
I started writing in college–I had a friend who had written a novel, and I thought “If he can do that, so can I.” Though it took quite a long time for me to get to a novel. When I got out of graduate school and went to work, I wrote evenings and managed to produce a story or two a year. It took a couple of years to sell my first.
Wrong? I don’t know that I was doing anything wrong, but my productivity was not high. On the other hand, I had a fulltime job and an active social life, so that’s no real surprise. I admire people with the passion to give everything else up for their writing, but I’m not really one of them.
Why do you think your work began to sell?
I have an oddball tech/humanist perspective, and I pay a lot of attention to sentences.
How many stages does your work go through before you send it off to a publisher? How much of your time is spent writing the first draft, and how much time is spent in revision? What sort of revisions do you do?
My writing is mostly about revision. When I get going, I can generate raw text pretty quickly. But that text is mostly…crap. I need to get it out, because otherwise I won’t write at all, but it is not readable by anyone but me. It is also filled with notes and variations. I go through several revisions. Then I let my workshop (the Cambridge Science Fiction Workshop) read it. Then I let it sit for a long time. Then I revise it a few more times. Then, sometimes, I sell it.
I revise everything. Plot changes, characters change. I usually have a few incidents and lines that anchor things and stay. Sure, I wish my initial draft was of higher quality, but there isn’t anything I can do about that.
What’s the biggest weakness in your writing these days, and how do you cope with it?
Productivity (a result of my need for huge amounts of revision) has always been problem. And I have trouble with fully satisfying endings.
Your latest novel, Brain Thief, is described as a thriller with humorous tones and your first novel, Carve the Sky, has espionage elements. As someone who is primarily a science fiction writer, how do other genres inspire you in your writing?
Most of my fiction reading is mysteries and historical novels. Those influence the science fiction I write, because most of them have higher quality prose and scene setting than most SF.
Writers tend to struggle with their time management. As someone with a day job and a family, how do you make time for your writing? How do you not lose sight of your “creative dream” as you described in a recent entry at your blog (http://www.ajablokov.com/reboot-blog/2010/2/22/the-artist-and-the-real-day-job.html)?
It’s taken me years. Early in the morning on weekdays, before work, and then solid blocks of time on the weekend. It helps that as the parent of children my social life is not as exciting as it was when I was single, so I have a bit more free time.
As a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Workshop, you’ll be lecturing, workshopping, and meeting individually with students. What do you think is the most important advice you can give to developing writers?
I don’t know that my career can serve as much of an example, but it does show that you can keep going. Writing is great fun. Just don’t rely on anyone being as impressed by it as you are.
What’s next on the writing-related horizon? Are you starting any new projects?
I’m pitching an alien planet adventure novel. We’ll see how it goes. And I have a number of short works in the pipeline.
For more information about Odyssey, its graduates and instructors, please visit our website at http://www.odysseyworkshop.org.