Part II of our Interview Spotlight finds Charles Stross at the front and center of the cyber-punk world. With a career that didn’t begin with writing, Stross has grown into a fantastic tour de force who specializes in Hard SF and Space Opera. Read on for the inside scoop on his entry into the writing world and some advice to budding authors! And check out his blog here to stay updated with this exciting author!
ASP: In your blog, you mention that you have sold “
sixteen lots of novels and two short story collections to date,” as well as a number of short stories. Of these works, which did you most enjoy writing, and which one was your “trouble child?” Of which are you most proud?
Stross: I don’t often enjoy writing; I enjoy having written. The act of writing is, in and of itself, exhausting and hard work. What sustains me while I am writing is the process of generating ideas and turning them into prose. Characters, worlds, scenery, and plots all unfold and recomplicate themselves, adding density, and depth along the way. And this is an intensely fulfilling experience.
The fastest novel I have ever written took just 24 days from start to finish; the longest novel I have ever written took 5 and a half years, which grew from a series of stories into the book Accelerando. I suspect that, in purely literary terms, the 24 day novel was a better book (it was The Fuller Memorandum). Duration of writing time doesn’t automatically correspond to difficulty, but it is a good approximation. Of course, while I was writing Accelerando, I was working on other projects. In fact, I think I wrote four other novels during that period.
As for the novel I take most pride in, it’s always the one I’m working on right now! But with 20/20 hindsight, I have a soft spot for Rule 34. It took a monumental amount of hubris just to try to write something like that.
ASP: You took a roundabout path to becoming a full-time novelist – at different times working as a pharmacist and programmer prior to becoming an author. How did you get started as a writer, and what drove you to become a science fiction writer in particular? What recommendations would you give to aspiring authors?
Stross: My advice for aspiring authors is this: if you know you want to be an author from an early age, do not listen to school career advisors who tell you to become a pharmacist! It’s a really bad mistake. (They said “don’t be silly, you can’t earn a living as a novelist. Why not qualify in a real profession, which will pay the bills?”) Luckily, while at college I acquired a word processor for writing, and fell into the black hole of personal computing in the 1980s. That early word processor did not have a word count function. Bizarre, yes, but true! So a few years later, I went back to the university and graduated with a computer science degree – thus making me the only academically qualified cyberpunk novelist (I have degrees in drug dealing and hacking).
Of course, the school careers adviser who told me to study pharmacy was not giving me the worst possible advice. It would have equally catastrophic if they had advised me to take a degree in creative writing at that time. The art of fiction is the portrayal of the human condition under circumstances that are counterfactual; twenty-somethings simply don’t have enough life experience to do this convincingly at novel length. If you look at the typical age of an author when their first novel is published, they are very seldom aged under 30. This is because you need a degree from the university of life before you can portray having a life convincingly. In my case, I started writing fiction when I was eight years old and it continued as a hobby for more than 20 years before I found myself in a position to contemplate doing it full time. The lucky side effect of my career advice was that I was at least able to earn a living while I learned to write.
Charles Stross, 47, is a full-time science fiction writer and resident of Edinburgh, Scotland. The author of six Hugo-nominated novels and winner of the 2005 and 2010 Hugo awards for best novella, Stross’s works have been translated into over twelve languages.
Like many writers, Stross has had a variety of careers, occupations, and job-shaped-catastrophes in the past, from pharmacist (he quit after the second police stake-out) to first code monkey on the team of a successful dot-com startup (with brilliant timing he tried to change employers just as the bubble burst).
Interview done by Linsey Duncan & Kevin Cullen