P. David Gardner is a minor league Science Fiction author who published about fifteen eminently forgettable novels under various names back in the Ice Ages (the 1980s), who is now gratefully and perhaps even somewhat gracefully returning to the fold. He is currently finishing up a young adult post-apocalyptic novel, the first in a trilogy. Though he does already have a publishing track record, as dusty as it may be at the moment, you just never know about these things, so fingers crossed and full speed ahead.
1 What are your favorite Science Fiction books or shows?
Far too many to list, but standouts for me include:
Book authors: Neil Gaiman, Harlan Ellison, Christopher Moore, Octavia Butler, Douglas Adams, Ursula K. LeGuin, David Brin, Greg Bear, and many more.
TV: Firefly, Battlestar Galactica (remake), Being Human (BBC version), Star Trek (except DS9).
Movies: Gattaca, Blade Runner, Twelve Monkeys, Children of Men, Serenity.
2 Do you always keep a towel handy?
A whole drawer full. One can never be too careful.
3 Most writers talk about their “First novels which have been shoved in the back of the drawer, never to see the light of day” but you have some First Novels which did see the light of day. What led you to publication the first time around?
The fifteen or so paperbacks that I published in the ’80s were a wee bit of a strange mix of science fiction, westerns and mysteries. Each was no longer than 50,000 words, sold to a minor imprint called Carousel Books, which has been out of business for a long time.
At the time, I was working for the publisher as a graphic designer, and the opportunity arose when their most prolific writer suddenly hit the big time and moved on to a major publishing house. There was a hole to fill, and I volunteered. The editor took a swift glance a manuscript that I pulled from my files, and pronounced that I “could write.” He started buying one manuscript a week from me.
Now, you have to understand that this editor, a very harried-looking chain smoker and fast-food junkie whom I think never slept, did not particularly care whether a story was well plotted or executed. He just wanted quantity, all on a timetable that allowed him to push out four books a week, more regular than his bowel movements, I’m sure.
What does that say about me as a writer? I saw the opportunity, I had an inside line, and I took it. Wouldn’t you? Just because the work was tossed off quickly doesn’t negate the fact that this was my first taste of being an “author”, and I liked it. Not that I hadn’t published previous to this (I had been a reporter for many years prior to this job), but this was my first publication as an actual author of books.
They were definitely churn-em-outs of not particularly high quality. I spent no more than 20 hours on each one, because I had to write them in my off-hours and could not afford to spend too much time on them. Also, these were all-rights sales for a flat fixed fee ($600 each). I know that they were not particularly great works, but I believed they were better than most of the junk that Carousel published. Still, they were fairly forgettable, and off bookstore shelves pretty fast.
5 Did you have any influence over the editing of these, or the name under which they were published?
Not at all. Once I handed a manuscript over to the editor, I never saw my words again till I had the printed and bound books firmly in hand. Well, except for this one time when I snuck into the editor’s office when he was out on a burger run, and saw one of my manuscripts just laying there on his desk. I could not resist taking a quick scan through it. I saw that the amount of editing he actually did was pretty minuscule. It was as if he was doing the bare minimum, perhaps as little as most of the writers did too.
I did not have any say in the titles, nor in the author name used. In fact, the author’s name changed with every title. I was told that I could not use my own name because I was an employee of the company, and should word get out, it might discourage or panic the other writers.
6 Why did you stop?
The Carousel “gravy train” petered out after three or so months. My editor was cutting me some checks, and my department head saw the amounts and freaked out, because they were higher than my salary. The next thing I knew, the publisher called me into his office and said that I could not write for Carousel any more. He said that they were afraid of losing me as a graphic designer. He was right. I was just about to jump ship, thinking I could become a full-time writer just off Carousel’s purchases alone.
I tried for a time to publish elsewhere, but had no luck. I began to doubt myself. I convinced myself that my stroke of luck was purely that, that I didn’t really have the chops to hack it in the big league. So my output slowed, then stopped, as I continued working in publishing as an employee rather than a freelancer. There was a steady paycheck, even if it wasn’t all that much, and benefits. And I got comfortable with that. Too comfortable.
We are our own worst enemies.
I wrote my first angst-filled poem in fifth or sixth grade, and from that point on, I knew I wanted to be a writer, a perfect hideaway for an introverted kid. My father, a NASA/JPL engineer, sneered at my pitiful attempts at writing science fiction. He loved hard science and facts only. But that didn’t deter me one bit.
The technology bug hit me when my father took me to see the computers that ran one of the deep space dishes at Goldstone Tracking Station in the Mojave Desert. A single huge console eight feet high by six wide by four deep contained I think about 1K of RAM. The blinking lights and paper tape (and later punch cards) sucked me right in.
8 Did your computer building skills help you get girls?
I built my first computer a few years after graduating high school, an Altair S100 bus based system that was so huge and so underpowered, but was so nice to see working when I was done. I built a few more over the years as well, as components got smaller, cheaper, faster, and better. I still dabble a bit in hardware, but now I tinker mostly with OSs such as Linux, and networks and security.
“Oh yes, all of that that got me lots of girls,” he said as he rolled his eyes. Nerddom was not popular until the ’90s, so I missed the curve by that much.
9 What have you been doing between the Ice Age and present day?
I continued working in publishing for newspapers, magazines, books and software makers. I wrote the occasional short story and started quite a few aborted novels, but they never went anywhere because I had lost my mojo and no longer believed in myself.
Then I got married, and suddenly the lack of an adequate paycheck got even much more important. I had an opportunity to shift into computer programming, and I took it. I was not particularly good at programming, but was fortunate to be able to shift over into documentation. When the company needed Internet access, I demonstrated my skills there and shifted again, this time into Network Administration and Security.
10 What made you decide to start writing again?
I was injured at work and had to go on disability for a number of years. I was terminated after a time, when I received a 35% disability rating. Even though I am finally almost fully recovered now after seven years, I have been unable so far to find a job in this economy and market.
About a year ago, I was cleaning out my file cabinets and came across an old short story that I had written in the 1980s. I grimaced as I saw some of the hackneyed cliches that I had used. But looking at it through more experienced eyes, I thought that the idea itself was pretty sound. I started playing around with it, and the next thing I knew, I was writing, a lot.
But that idea is now in the “to do” file, because in the meantime, I had kind of a daydream, and that became Chapter One of “The Sentinel’s Son”, my novel-in-progress. As I continued writing it, I thought, “I have something here.” I shared it with a few people and they agreed. I regained my self-confidence and carried on, and now here I am, closing in fast on finishing the first novel, and getting ready to submit.
11 Was The Sentinel’s Son always intended to be a trilogy?
No, originally it was going to be a short. Then as the storyline resolved, it became a novel. Then, as more of the story expanded, it became a two-parter. When my first reader saw my synopses, she wanted to know what was going to happen at the end of the second book, because I kind of left things hanging. So it’s now a trilogy, though I have yet to plot out the third book. I’m about 75 percent done with the first book, and 20 percent done with the second.
12 How do you see the editing process happening with this book?
As a former editor, I tend do a lot of self-editing. Some is to my own detriment, as I tend to go back and edit the prior day’s output before I move on, and this only lengthens the writing process. But I prefer to write this way because I can catch continuity and other errors faster, when the story is much more fresh in my mind. I will give the manuscript a thrice-over when I’m done, and let my first reader volunteers at it as well, and rewrite as needed. Once I let the manuscript go out the door, I trust the agent, editor, and publishing house to do the rest.
Self-publishing used to mean vanity publishing, where the author would send their manuscript and a pile of cash to a vanity publisher, who would turn that into a few boxes of books, which would end up back on the author’s doorstep in due time. Marketing? None. Distribution? See your doorstep? Very few self-published authors back then could compete against the New York crowd, so conventional publishing was the only way.
Things have changed now. Vanity publishers became PODs (print on demand), but in all other respects seem to remain the same. Ebook readers revolutionized reading and ultimately writing. Authors can now submit their manuscripts and have access to readers (and potential income) the very next day, for little or no cash outlay, where conventional publishing cycles mean that authors don’t see a reader or a dime (unless advanced) for almost a year.
Ultimately this is good for the writer, but not so much for the reader (and it can eventually bleed back to the writer). So much crap is being put out there for download that it’s harder for a reader to find the good stuff. Some don’t seem to mind plopping down 99 cents on a stinker because it’s not much of an outlay. It seems to me that good writers have to resist the urge to try to compete against the 99 cent marginals, because it only devalues their own worth as authors as well as unfairly elevates the worth of bad writers.
I’m sure things will shake out in the end. Fortunately we have many book lovers out there on the Internet who are blogging and reviewing titles all the time, and caring readers will find them and be able to cut through all the crap and get to the recommendations for the good stuff.
14 What avenues of publication did you consider this time around? Which did you choose?
I am sorely tempted to try the self-published e-book route. I’ve read the horror stories, and the success stories too. And I have to admit that it’s an attractive prospect, having the ability to start making some income and developing a readership sooner rather than later.
But as a publishing luddite, I think I’m going to try the conventional route first. Meaning, I’ll seek an agent, who will then sell to a publisher, who will then make and distribute books. The format to me is irrelevant, though I would not mind holding hard copy in my hands, of course.
Come December, when my first book should be ready to market, I may change my mind, depending on what’s happening out there. I’m keeping up on the changes, and am definitely not adverse to change.
I think that these days, author web sites are an important tool that writers have to use to help market themselves. I see that even the larger conventional publishers are starting to urge writers to self-promote in advance of publication. The opportunity is there, why not take it?
Though I would prefer spending all my time plotting and writing, I realize the value of self-promotion. Even if you don’t see many hits on your site(s) at first, as time goes on, and your name becomes more recognizable, readers will want to find out more about you and your work, and it’s important to be positioned early for that.
16 With your previous novels having been published under various other names, how are you planning to make your name recognizable now?
I do already have a blog running for my book series, and a few author and book pages on Google+ and Facebook, but I haven’t yet done much with them. I want to more fully develop the author pages as time goes on, but I intend to spend more time on the book pages. Right now they’re sort of a “Lookie here, ma, what I’m doing!” type of thing. I definitely want them to be more interactive and fun for potential readers, adjuncts to my stories. At least that’s the plan, man.
17 What is your favorite electronic or digital writing tool?
Hardware: My Mac laptop, followed closely by my Linux desktop.
Software: Scrivener for plotting, organizing, research and writing. LibreOffice for final manuscript formatting, though I am trying to learn Scrivener’s formatting tools enough to be able to skip this and go full-on Scrivener.
18 What is your favorite non-electronic writing tool?
Sometimes I use this thing called a “manual word processor,” a strange cylindrical tube that dispenses ink or graphite onto a surface called “paper”, but I can barely recognize my own writing later on, and it’s usually just a massive waste of time.
Like many other writers, I struggle constantly to get into that mode.
Where is unimportant, what is happening around me is. I love writing outdoors, on the patio or in a park, but only if there are few distractions. I’d love to write at the beach if I could keep the sand out of my laptop.
The demands of daily life and family can be distracting as well. Fortunately, my understanding wife allows me the time to work relatively undisturbed, and this helps a lot.
Ultimately though, nothing is ideal, so I often just make do with what I have at the time, being as adaptable as I can be without getting all grouchy.
20 Who shot first, Han or Greedo?
Greedo was robbed, I tell ya. Damn political correctness. There oughta be a law.
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