JordanCon 9 Pre-Con GOH Interview

This is our pre-Con mini interview with author Guest of Honor Charles Gannon, for JordanCon 9.

1) Question: Have you gone on any literary pilgrimages?

Answer: Not exactly pilgrimages *just* for writing: I'm not wealthy enough to afford that! But I've travelled to different places or made side jaunts to be able to combine a research opportunity with other travel.

For instance, I did that in Mallorca when writing my first novel with Eric Flint in the Ring of Fire series: 1636: The Papal Stakes. I needed to get a very, very detailed look at the Castel de Bellver, where, conveniently, they had just recently discovered a secret escape passage. Too cool.

I have gone on writing retreats--particularly necessary when all my kids were really little. So my combo Xmas and Bday present was to get away to write. And then, I'd try to go someplace a) affordable, b) quick to reach, and c) convenient to a reasonable research site. The one I remember best was going to Florida (in January: yay!) where I took the better part of a day to examine the NASA museum and facilities at Cape Kennedy. Granted, the tech I saw and what I write about are very, very far apart. However, the ethos and work ecology of space access--where you have an extraordinary number of moving parts in cutting-edge vehicles where just one failure can become catastrophic . . . well, you get a different kind of authenticity out of immersing yourself in that environment for a day!

2) Question: What is your writing Kryptonite? (What just destroys your flow?)

Answer: Interruptions. I write from deep immersion--which is where a lot of the detail in my stories comes from, I believe. When I am in the trance, I am far more "there" than "here." And one of the good things about having a mild case of ADD is that I get hyperfocus at such moments: I can write like that for hour after hour after hour.
But then: interruptions. Which, I'm sad to report, usually emerge from the other great and wonderful endeavor of my life: the four kids I love so much. My wife has a 70 hour a week job about an hour's commute from home. I'll let you do the numbers on how often she can be the "primary contact parent." And although we are fortunate and have help, there are lots of times when an emergency or unexpected circumstance comes up and I am the guy next to the red phone. Actually, happens a LOT with four kids. Total kryptonite.

3) Question: What’s your favorite novel? How about your favorite childhood book?

Answer: *A* favorite novel? No, I can't answer that. I have too many, and for very, very different reasons. Some influenced me stylistically; some changed the way I looked at the world; some ignited my desire to BE a writer. So I'm just going to rattle off a "no-particular-order" collection of novels which will probably make you scratch your head and say, "wha--?"

One of the things to bear in mind--and it is significant--that only three of these books were read AFTER I was 25, so I think the unconscious criterion here is "influential."

As I Lay Dying
o The Tactics of Mistake
o The Octopus (Norris)
o Starship Troopers
o Wise Blood and Collected Works (Flannery O'Connor)
o The Lord of the Rings
o V (Pynchon)*
o House of Zeor (Jacqueline Lichtenberg)
o The Dispossessed*
o Downbelow Station *

* read after 25

A few explanations:
House of Zeor was unique because, in addition to being a fantastic book in an epic series (which was, I knew, my metier from age 12, if you can believe it!), my dear friend Jacqueline met me when I was 12, offered to look at my writing (I goggled!) and then showed me what she was writing. And in talking writing during my unofficial and sporadic resort to her as my (I didn't know it then) mentor, I got to compare what *I* was trying to do with someone who had done it, was willing to talk about it, and was ALWAYS full of smiles and encouragement.

Now: the big question--"Why aren't any of the WoT books on the list?" Firstly, I've always been more (not solely, just more) drawn by science fiction. I do not maintain that either genre is better or worse: they're just different and they achieve different things.
More significantly, I came to Robert Jordan's work in the 90's, and at a most unfortunate time: right after I got married, hustled to complete my doctorate, and then did my first Fulbright (in the UK) where we had our first child. Number two came soon after. So suffice it to say that my reading was frequently interrupted for long stretches AND my attention was usually focused elsewhere.

And that is a real crime when it comes to Wheel of Time because, of the many fantasy series I've since dipped into, it was intensely interesting and INVOLVING. Reading it, I could feel someone working the same vein I was, just from the fantasy side of the mine. It's detail, its historicity, its slow reveal of mysteries, its utilization of inversions of what we think we know when a new piece of information arises and spins our assumptions around 180 degrees--those were the same brushes, and the same palette that I intended to use as I started my own epic. I only got two books read before I was sucked into prepping four new literature and writing courses every semester. At which point, with two kids as well and three moves, that was the end of any pleasure reading. And in a sense, I've never been able to return to a life where I just picked up to book to read it because it "looked interesting." Time has become so precious a resource, with so many professional and family claims upon it, that ultimately, all my reading is intensely focused by and upon the needs of my career. Alas.

4) Question: On average, how many hours a day do you write at a typical sitting?

Answer: Firstly, there is no average day or typical time expenditure when you have four kids! What I can tell you is this. If possible, I will start writing at 8:30 AM and stop at 7 PM. I will break for a 40 minute session on the treadmill (where I do other work), and meals. The longer I write without any interruptions from the outside world, the *higher* my hourly word-count goes. I have written--raw copy--9000 words in a day. That is far from typical, even if I am uninterrupted. I know some authors who can do double that--but they tend to be binge writers who then collapse after a week or two of something like 8K-16K per day, average. And I don't know any who do that and have kids who are still in high school or younger.

One last point of interest: the slowest writing pace is in the first 20 % of the story. The reason: no matter how much action there is, you are also weaving in the "set-up," and if you don't get all the pieces in place and turning in the right narrative directions at the outset, you will HATE yourself later on for giving you such a sloppy and uncertain structure to work with. I am not wholly a plotter, but moreso than a pantser: I have voluminous notes accumulated before I start any book, and have them arranged into "segments" (rough, multi-chapter "movements"). However, many of those elements might get pushed further back in the book or out of it entirely (often to appear in a later work). And the closer I get to the details--to the action, the dialog, etc--the more I feel like I'm transcribing a scene unfolding, unbiddgen in my head, rather than "writing" it.